Working in the field of Emergency Medical Services, as well as an advocate and practitioner of Women’s Self defense, I have encountered many victims. I have heard many stories of assault and escalated conflict from numerous women. Some of these accounts were fresh in their minds within hours of the occurrence, others were years ago but still etched deep in their memories with precise details in which they carry with them always.
The one thing that these ladies all have or will have in common, they won’t forget. Something traumatic has happened to them, and like most victims, they will rehearse every detail of that day or night over and over again. They will try to understand why it happened, and how it could have been prevented. They will question if it was their fault, what they could have done differently, and at the height of this internal inquisition, how did it escalate?
From a women’s self-defense perspective, the answer to those question does not lie in the day or the night of the occurrence, but rather in the mindset, habits, and behaviors that span over years and even a lifetime.
As women and girls, we are conditioned to think and behave according to social settings. Even the most open-minded environments still have traces of social stigmas attached. As women and girls, we don’t want to appear “over-emotional”. We don’t want to be told that were ” freaking out” over nothing. We don’t want to be called crazy, or make an unnecessary scene. In fact, most of the time we just want to fit in and feel accepted, so why speak out and face social rejection?
How does this tie into assault victims? Well, I can ask just about any woman or young girl, if she has ever found herself in a situation where she felt uncomfortable? This could be at school, on the bus, online, in the workplace, or in line at the grocery store, and they all have a story.
Some feel their story was smaller like a bad vibe, and some have been in situations that were very scary and they are lucky to have gotten away from. When I asked them how they handled it? More than not, they say that they didn’t say anything, they didn’t do anything, they didn’t tell anyone.
So how did it escalate? Each of these small occurrence, each time we didn’t trust our instinct when someone gave us a creepy vibe, each time we got a creepy message in our inbox but still gave that person full access to our personal lives through our personal profile, each time someone said something inappropriate and we just let it go, or they got to close and handsy and it made you feel uncomfortable, or they cornered you or pushed past your boundaries and you did nothing. All of these things is how it escalated.
We were recently out at the fights watching a great matchup. Both opponents had great footwork and great combinations. They were both strong and focused, but the first fighter had strong sharp kicks. The fighter would come in with a combination in which her opponent dodged, and then the first fighter straight out of the combo would strike a low kick. Her opponent would step back and shake it off, then step back in to re-engage. This happens several times in the match, and eventually, those low kicks stacked up. The first fighter came in for the combo and her opponent lost her footing because of the swelling in her knee and this cost her the fight.
In the same way, when we accept the unacceptable, we are rationalizing and normalizing situations in our minds. When we ignore our basic instincts they become dull, our reaction time sluggish, and our tolerance for bullshit increases. It all add’s up and eventually, we lose our footing. This is how it escalates, we watched it happen.
Self-defense starts with clear boundaries, how to set them, when and how to enforce them. Self-defense is as much a discipline of changing our mindset as it is learning the technique. Where the mind goes the body will follow.