Rape: A Woman’s Right to Fight Back
By Professor Don Cross, M.Ed.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are rights we may take for granted. But just suppose (or remember your own living nightmare), you are confronted by someone who forces you to choose between giving him what he wants, and losing your life. In that case, you have a right to fight back.
A woman friend who worked on Sacramento’s rape crisis line years ago told me that one year they received over four hundred calls. In that same year the police only received a handful of calls from women facing the crisis of rape. I was surprised and gratified to find that many women escaped rape or injury because they exerted the will to confront their attackers. In counseling sessions, these survivors of rape told how they had recognized the signals of potential attack, effectively resisted, and escaped by many different means.
The women who got away did not allow their fear to paralyze them. They acted on their feeling that something was wrong before the physical attack began. The sooner a woman acts on this intuition of imminent danger, the more likely she is to remain safe in the end. This inner skill of nonverbal perception is crucial with those we feel we should trust, since most attacks on women are committed by men who know them.
I have talked with many policemen about a woman’s right to self-defense when attacked. Their typical response and advice to women is “Don’t resist, you’ll just get hurt.” An attorney friend tells me too many women have gone into court after following this advice, only to be told that it was not rape if they didn’t fight back.
Pauline Bart, in her book entitled Stopping Rape: Successful Survival Strategies (Pergamon Press, 1985), contends that her research shows women who fight back get away more often than women who are passive. She found that women who utilize many different strategies during an attack were more likely to escape with minimal injuries. Strategies include the use of arguments that might weaken the attacker’s resolve, yelling until he abandons his attack, running away, and physically fighting back if necessary. You increase the likelihood of survival from attack if you try strategy after strategy, looking for openings, having faith that there will be one at some point, and trying something else, not giving up. Your survival depends on your ability to gauge the danger of a situation and to plan action geared to your own perceptions and abilities. It also depends on your self-control, willingness to take risks and do the unexpected, and an abiding will to defend yourself that is stronger than the attacker’s will to hurt you. Good self-defense is whatever works.
Women usually carry an arsenal of hidden weapons which can be used to ward off, mark or injure a potential attacker. A key, pencil, pen, brush, comb, umbrella, rolled-up magazine, hair pin, even a credit card, if held properly, can be effectively used to poke, slash or hit vulnerable areas of an attacker’s body. There are also innumerable weapons available in the environment, such as rocks, sand, potted plants, broom handle, car antenna, hair spray. Once you focus the attacker’s attention on his own protection, take the opportunity to get away fast.
The problem with knives, guns, Mace, pepper spray, and stun guns is that no one plans when they’re going to be attacked, and you may or may not be able to get your hands on your weapon in time. Besides that, any weapon can be taken away and used against you. In self-defense success stories, weapons at hand are most often grasped intuitively, when the attack begins. One should never depend on a weapon alone for defense, but only as a tool used in an overall strategy to escape.
There are no ten easy steps to memorize that will ensure survival from attack. The best insurance you can buy to prepare for the slim possibility that you may be physically attacked in your life is to get training in self-defense. In looking for a class, be sure to keep in mind that all martial arts are not the same. Each art emphasizes different qualities and approaches. There are hundreds of different styles to choose from, and at least 100 schools or classes are available in the Sacramento metropolitan area. Most instructors teach some form of karate. Karate is a generic term referring to a large variety of styles that primarily emphasize the “hard” skills of punching and kicking, such as Tae Kwon Do, Kenpo, Shotokan, and Goju-ryu. So-called “softer” arts: Jujitsu, Judo, and Aikido emphasize close-in combative arts that prepare you to escape from holds, take an attacker down to the ground, and immobilize him with joint locking arts, nerve pressure and organ striking techniques.
Before making your decision concerning which school to attend, talk to many different instructors, to get a feeling about their philosophy of self-defense and life in general, watch how they teach, take an introductory class from them, talk to other women at the school about their experience there, and get a feeling about whether the place and the art and the people there are right for you. Be wary of teachers who stress aggressiveness and competition over practical skills. Philosophically, try to find a teacher who advocates a proactive and assertive approach to self-defense.