If you’re like me, an article titled 8 Ways Women Can Protect Against Sexual Assault evokes expectations of advice about not wearing high heels in case you have to run, being careful about talking to anyone you don’t know, and carrying your keys in your hand so you can use them as a weapon. These are just a few examples of the simplistic and superficial messages that have become the hallmark of personal protection education for women.
When it comes to our protection, I believe we deserve better, so I created a curriculum that focuses on deeper aspects of personal protection. Because an imbalance of power is at the root of victimization, empowerment is at the heart of the Protective Power Principles I teach.
In this article, I want to share eight principles that can help you change the way you think about and protect against sexual assault:
Create Your Own Protective Style
As you learn about personal protection, be sure you are honestly assessing your strengths and weaknesses and adopting only the concepts, skills and strategies that are in harmony with your abilities, beliefs, culture, personality, and lifestyle. Traditional self-defense training is geared toward teaching women to become fierce, tough, warrior types, but that’s not for everyone. In fact, quiet, introverted, peace-loving personalities are just as powerful. What doesn’t work is to take protective action in a way that is not authentically you.
Know Your Fear Physiology
The fear response, commonly known as fight or flight, is integral to the way we respond when our safety is threatened. The only way to control this response and overcome fear is to understand exactly how it works, and more specifically, how it works uniquely for each of us. Factors like age, life experience, confidence, past trauma and many others can all affect our individual response pattern, but there are strategies I call action activators (e.g., breathing, visualization, mental rehearsal, etc.) that can help us disengage from the freeze response, manage our fear, and take protective action.
Understand How Instinct, Intuition and Logic Work Together
The value of instinct and intuition cannot be overstated in the context of personal protection, but that doesn’t mean logic is any less important. When we are threatened, we need instinct to act as a primal alarm, intuition to guide us, and logic to plan and carry out a course of action. Understanding how these processes work together and identifying factors (e.g., distraction, denial, intoxication, biases, etc.) that compromise this system is critical to effective protection.
Adopt Option-Oriented Thinking
Without options, the default response to any form of sexual assault is submission. While that may be a viable option in some cases, it should not be our only option. Personal protection education naturally opens our minds to a wide range of possible actions and enables us to make choices about how we can best protect ourselves in any given situation.
Eliminate the Stranger Bias
Even though awareness campaigns have increased and some have called 2014 “the year we started talking about sexual assault,” women still have a biased view about who poses a threat to their safety. When I survey women who attend my classes, many still believe that strangers are the biggest threat, yet those of us who work with victims and survivors know that we are far more likely to be harmed by someone known to us. If we aren’t mentally prepared to use protective skills and strategies against someone we know, trust, admire, or even love, we will always be at a disadvantage.
Develop Interpersonal Skills
Sexual assault is perpetrated on a continuum that ranges from inappropriate touching to rape, which means we need to have a continuum of possible responses. Setting and enforcing sexual boundaries is one way to bring power into balance when we interact with others. In many instances, interpersonal skills that include powerful verbal and non-verbal strategies can be surprisingly effective.
Learn Some Physical Techniques
Some threats can only be stopped with a physical response, which makes it vital that we all learn techniques that can compensate for differences in size and strength. Learning strikes, kicks, and restraint releases are important, but so are things like maintaining balance, manipulating proximity, utilizing momentum. Even if you never have to physically protect yourself, having these skills enhances your overall confidence in your ability, so they are well worth learning.
Decide if a Defensive Device is Right for You
From personal alarms to pepper spray to electronic control devices, there are some highly effective defensive devices available, but it’s up to each of us to decide if they are a good fit for our personality and lifestyle. If you’re considering purchasing any type of weapon, ask yourself a few questions first:
Is it legal in my state?
Am I willing to put the time into learning how it works?
Am I willing to practice with it?
Do I believe in its effectiveness?
Will I carry it?
Am I willing to actually use it?
Will I do what it takes to keep it out of the reach of the children in my life?
If you can answer yes to these questions, carrying a defensive device is probably a good choice for you.
I believe strongly in the effectiveness of these principles (and the others I teach), and I hope you will further explore the concepts, skills and strategies I mentioned, as well as the questions I posed. I also realize there is no way to guarantee any of us will live a lifetime free from harm, so in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I want to leave you with this message:
No matter what someone did or didn't do or does or doesn't do in the face of harassment, abuse or violence, it is never her fault. There is no “right thing” to do in any situation and if there is fault or blame to be dispensed, the perpetrator is the one to bear that burden, not the victim or survivor.
Through her Protective Power Project, Nicole Sundine uses modern methods that resonate with girls and women to teach a non-traditional curriculum comprised of psychological, interpersonal, physical and practical components. She promotes an option-oriented approach to developing the mindset, learning the skills, adopting the strategies and choosing the devices that will enable girls and women of all ages and abilities to stop unwanted behavior and protect against threats to their emotional, psychological, and physical well-being. Learn more about Nicole and the Protective Power Project.