CHALLENGING THE MYTHS
WHERE DO WE START?
Table of Contents
· TERRIBLE UNTRUTHS
· WHAT CAN WE DO?
· BE AWARE OF BEHAVIOUR
· VERBAL ABUSE
· AGGRESSIVE BODY LANGUAGE AND THREATS
· PHYSICAL VIOLENCE
· USE YOUR INTUITION
· CONSIDER ACTION
· NEGATIVE NORMS
There are so many misleading myths about women, violence and self-defense, where shall I start? How about with the incredibly mistaken idea that one will be able to pick out an attacker by where they are, their appearance, their gender, and what they do for a living. Following from this, of course, is the myth that if these alleged "clues" didn't tip you off, then you will have (obviously) done something wrong and therefore the attack must be your own fault!
It's not true that going out after dark is one of the most dangerous things women can do. Three quarters of assaults occur homes - yours, the attacker's, or someone else's. The very place where we are supposed to feel safe. The next most common place is in a car - often after an offer for a ride "so that you don't have to wait for the bus in the dark". Then we come to public buildings - where you work, shop, or go for recreation. Everywhere else, including the "dark" is the location less than one tenth of the time!
The incipient attacker will look horrifying, right? Three days growth of beard, scruffy, has a weird look about him, isn't that what we've all been led to believe? Assaults come from a wide range of people. The attacker is just as likely to be clean, well dressed, and looking like a normal member of our society. They do not look like a "stranger". If fact, in up to eighty five percent of the cases, they will be someone you know well enough to identify clearly - someone you work with, a neighbour, a date, your best friend's friend, or a member of your family.
We have been taught that "superior" roles such as, doctor, police, religious workers, etc. won't be attackers while persons who are labourers, motorcyclists, plumbers, etc. are likely to be. In other words, the higher the social status, the safer they supposedly are. Actually, assault crosses all socio-economic lines. We see people from these high status roles being charged with horrendous counts of child abuse and assault. Teachers, social workers, truck drivers, and in fact any occupation you can think of has a person in it that is guilty of assault. In Canada there are 26,000 job classifications and not one of them is a guarantee that the person who holds it will not be violent.
Isn't the attacker always going to be an adult male or is that sexist? While males are the majority of attackers, no matter who is the recipient of the attack, there is another possibility. Would you be surprised if a woman assaulted you? In a small number of cases, the attacker is a woman, so be aware of the possibility. Also, groups of pre adults (males and females) are showing a higher profile in assaulting situations, up to around 10%, and usually against other young people.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
When we believe any or all of those or other myths, we then have something to cling to and even feel superior about - at least until we were assaulted. That is the problem with statistics. You can only talk about what has happened in the past and what might happen in the future. When something happens to You, it is Now and 100%. What do we do?
BE AWARE OF BEHAVIOUR
How the other person behaves is really the only reliable indicator of them as being an attacker. Assaultive Behaviour doesn't usually start with physical violent. Instead, Abuse often begins with verbal attacks and builds along the Assault continuum until it becomes physical. This Assaultive Behaviour starts with control and may include any of but is not limited to the following:
Coercion - "You gotta do this to help me."
Anger or Jealously - "You can't talk to other men."
Put Downs - "You're stupid. You're incompetent."
Insults - "You're a bitch, a cunt, a whore."
Demeaning Demands - "I took you out, so you owe me sex."
Misuse of Authority - "I know what is best for you."
Isolation - controlling what you do, who you see and where you go. "You can't."
Emotional Threats - "I'll take your children. I'll say that you are bad."
Threats of Violence - "You'll do what I say or else I'll kill you."
and other verbal intimidation tactics.
AGGRESSIVE BODY LANGUAGE AND THREATS
Looking disapproving at any action or opinions of yours.
Looming over and moving in close to you. Blocking your way.
Raising fists or making violent gestures towards you.
Hitting or smashing objects, particularly yours, to "prove a point".
Fondling or pointing knives, firearms, or other weapons at you or your children.
Touching you without your permission.
Grabbing, slapping, pushing.
Sexual assault, forced sexual actions.
Blows intended to hurt but not to leave bruises.
Hitting, choking, kicking, biting, severe battering.
Violence with the intent to maim or kill.
USE YOUR INTUITION
What if they haven't Done anything yet, but you don't feel right? You are hearing your intuition (gut feelings, hunches) and I WANT YOU TO LISTEN AND RESPOND to this feeling. Unless you are nervous all of the time, about everything in your life, you will find these feelings a valuable early warning device. For the majority of people and situations they are a reliable indicator that something is about to happen.
When you get that "feeling", it's time to change the script in some active way - be more clearly assertive, leave, yell, do something! Assess what effect your actions have and then adjust accordingly. If you cannot get away, you may need to be physical to avoid being damaged. Two thirds of attacks on women include physical trauma other than or in addition to sexual assault.
Other thoughts by other women:
"Try and fight him ... it's more natural to be angry, if you let yourself feel the anger, maybe that'll give you strength ... I used to think you could give him some kind of Jesus rap ... I used to think you could reason 'em out of it, and talk to them like a human being, say "OK you don't want to do this, what are you doing?" ... He seemed to listen to anger, yelling."
(Stopping Rape: Effective Avoidance Strategies; Bart, O'Brien, 1984)
BE AWARE OF NEGATIVE NORMS
The following are only a few of the negative attitudes and prejudices that we face on a daily basis.
"She must be mistaken, he's such a nice person." Appearing nice some of the time doesn't mean that people are nice all of the time. We have seen this over and over again as people with greater physical strength or in positions of authority abuse that position and the people that they consider beneath them. There are many examples where people in positions of power and trust have misused those they are supposed to protect and help.
"Look at how she's dressed." If a female looks like any part of the fashion image that our society bombards us with as being "feminine", then she is considered provocative. If she doesn't act or look this way then she's not "proper". This attitude sets us up to be wrong no matter what we do.
"Never go out after dark." The realities of living in our society with the need to work and interact means that it may be impossible to meet this and other negative, inappropriate, and ineffective criteria that is supposed to keep us safe - and doesn't. For everything that a woman might do there is a corresponding "don't". If you want to know what you are doing wrong ... ask anyone, they'll be happy to tell you. You need to decide for yourself what you want to do. It's Your Choice!
"She shouldn't have been there." Since this is likely to be our own homes, travelling to and from work, or at work and school, this facile comment ignores the fact that women are active, productive society members who have the moral and legal right to be where they are without fear of violence.
"She was asking for it." A perfect excuse for the assaulter! This idea persists, despite the facts that attacks are planned well in advance and caused by what the attacker thinks. You cannot make anyone attack you unless they want to. Males really are capable of restraining themselves.
"Why doesn't she leave?" There are many reasons - emotional and financial dependency in a relationship or a job, the attacker promises that it will never happen again, pressure from her family to make it work, disruption for her children, no place to go, and more.
"No one can do anything to you that you don't want them to do." Try passing that line on the civilian survivors of Hiroshima or Dresden or any other victims of war. Attacks are not an agreement to interact, they are assault, where one person forces their will on another. And they are illegal.
BEWARE OF BACKLASH
"Blame The Victim" is a common tactic that attempts to control and censure women. It is ludicrous to imagine that woman are so powerful that we control the actions of others and that they have no volition of their own. It also reinforces the mistaken belief that men and others assaulters are not responsible for their behaviour and actions and shouldn't be held accountable for what they do. This is demeaning to everyone and deserves to be challenged whenever it surfaces.
As long as we don't fight back against Blame The Victim, we have a long way to go to ensure our own safety. Canadian law clearly states that no one has the right to harm any other person. However, this is ignored by attitudes that imply that anything that happens to you must be caused by you. If we are supposedly so good at controlling the world around us, why are women generally attacked by those they know and the majority of women who die from violence are killed by their life-partner? The reality is that each person is responsible for their own actions and you cannot make another person do something that thy don't want to do without physical force.
Strengthen yourself with knowledge and training. Be active in defining who you are and what you do. Stand firm or others may try to overwhelm you with guilt for the "crime" of having a life.
by Alice Macpherson, Senior Instructor, Gold Rank, Wenlido
Phone: (604) 876-6390