In my work as a clinical psychologist at the Smart Therapy Centre, I sometimes see women who have been attacked by men. Mostly they are attacked by men they know well – usually in the privacy of their own homes. This blog is not about these women. However, occasionally violence against women occurs on the street and that is the topic of this blog.
As well as my clinical work in the area, I was also once personally attacked on the street in an isolated area by a group of three young men. While no one can ever give unequivocal advice for every situation, I believe the combination of my clinical and personal experience has given me some insights to share about this ‘street attack’ situation.
Firstly, research tells us that women who have learnt boxing or some form of self-defence are less likely to ever get attacked by men in the first place. Perhaps these women exude more awareness and physical confidence.
Certainly, when I was attacked, I had no training or skills whatsoever in self-defence. Perhaps my lack of confidence was evident to others. It is also worth noting that even though I have (for decades now) frequently walked around alone at night, I have never once felt even slightly threatened since I got my full-contact black belt in kick-boxing karate five years after the attack.
Secondly, research is very clear that the outcome for attacked women is much better if they never allow themselves to get taken to the second location. In other words, the fight needs to be had in the initial attack location where the perpetrator has less control over the situation. This is where the perpetrator’s vulnerability can most easily be exploited, so even if threatened, don’t get in the boot of the car!
If attacked, the first location is where you need to ‘go for broke’ and give it everything you’ve got. Run if you can, moving towards highly visible areas; behave unpredictably and super-ferociously – even if you are terrified; yell your head off continuously; disable the perpetrator by biting chunks of flesh, kneeing, punching, elbowing or kicking low. Avoid at all costs being taken to the second location where the perpetrator has full-rein and can seriously do harm (or torture) in the privacy of his preferred location.
In my case, I was 7 months pregnant when I was attacked – so I was unable to run fast to escape. My path was being blocked so I could not move through the hostile group. I do remember yelling loudly and baring my teeth menacingly and ‘hissing’ intermittently like a ‘crazed’ animal in a display of aggression (despite being ABSOLUTELY terrified).
Then, as they were closing in, simply as a reflex (because I didn’t know I was supposed to do this), I remember turning side-on to the most threatening perpetrator and elbowing him with both fists joined and clenched into his abdomen (around his solar plexus) HARD with all the force and momentum I could muster. It must have winded him because he hit the footpath instantaneously and he was struggling to breathe. To my complete amazement, the others then ran away leaving him on the ground and leaving me to hobble off as quickly as I could!
Over the years, I have thought a lot about this type of situation, and it seems to me that women need to learn to fight hard and viciously as well as getting serious much faster. In my experience in karate I observed over and over again that men got serious (and extremely vicious!) much more quickly than women – who often continued to try and do ballet-like ‘technique’ strikes but were often unwilling to go in hard and hostile to land the forceful punches and kicks that were necessary to win fights.
Also, in my clinic work, I often hear that women (to their detriment) tried to talk or laugh their way out of situations when the perpetrators were deadly serious from the outset and clear about what they intended to achieve.
It is important to remember that when women do manage to get serious fast (as I have sometimes seen in karate) they can do extremely well in fights against men, and despite the size difference they seem to win as many as they lose. I guess both genders have advantages and disadvantages.
But keep in mind, that on the street, you don’t have to win the fight – just damage the perpetrator enough to shock him, put him off or draw attention. His motivation is always going to be far less than yours when you have your own life on the line. You’ve just got to make it feel ‘too hard’ for him to bother to continue.
There is an old fighting rule that says the person who lands the first hard hit has a huge advantage over the person who receives that hit and often wins the fight. So, don’t be passive! Make sure you use every part of your body as a weapon. There is ALWAYS a vulnerable area exposed by the perpetrator if you look for it.
Remember to ALWAYS be a powerful advocate for yourself. While we all know that it is an unquestionable ‘right’ for women (or anyone) to never be attacked even if we are lying naked in the gutter in an alcohol-induced coma – not all opportunistic perpetrators respect that perspective.
Make sure you learn how to box (best option) or do a serious self-defence course. At night, always be alert on the street and equipped with all your senses (no earphones) and keep very large distances between yourself and men. Frequently turn around and look 360 degrees.
If you hear someone behind, then turn around and boldly face them full-on while they are a long distance away and if they start getting too close then cross the street and keep watching them – making sure they know you are watching them. Always be ready to run (so avoid high or stiletto shoes as they make it almost impossible to move with agility – a great strength of women). If you find yourself, inadvertently wearing high heels or being more alcohol-affected than you intended, then never leave the safety of a group.
Of course, it is sad that this type of discussion is even necessary. It would be so much better if women and men cooperated and cared for each other and were best of friends.
But the reality is, that if we want to stop street attacks on women, then women need to give perpetrators much more than they bargained for!
Particularly, don’t fall for the old advice (largely from men, but often repeated by women) that you’ll get more hurt if you fight back – research tells us clearly that if you fight back (even minimally) you are more likely to get a far better outcome than if you are passive. Certainly, that was my experience when I was attacked.