#MeToo shows why women must learn sexual self-defense

This is a special moment of female liberation, sisterhood, and solidarity. Tens of millions of women have used the #MeToo hashtag to share long-held secrets of sexual harassment and assault.

The disgust generated by one extremely slimy Hollywood mogul has triggered a spontaneous worldwide outburst of disgust, righteous anger, and determination to effect social change.

The movement is worldwide and includes women from all races, religions, and social classes. It started with movie stars, but now encompasses Senators, Congresswomen, business leaders, athletes, and most importantly Everywoman everywhere.

Sexual abuse of women has always been a depressing fact of life, often hidden and usually unpunished. But never before have so many powerful abusers been outed, so many women willing to speak up.

The perps include a rogue’s gallery of Hollywood moguls, actors, Fox Network execs & stars, athletes, Congressmen, celebrity chefs, religious leaders, and most shockingly our President. The victims are most frequently working women simply trying to do their job. College campuses are the spawning grounds of abusers and the place where young women are often first victimized.

The #MeToo outpouring reveals how much the risk of sexual harassment or assault lurks in the life of all women. #MeToo lets women know they are not alone. It shows men how serious this problem has been in the lives of women they know and love. And potential sexual assaulters are on notice that they can no longer exploit the silence of intimidated victims.

I have invited Jamie Yancovitz, an expert on rape prevention and female self-defense, to offer her advice.

Ms. Yancovitz writes:

“According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted; 90 percent of the adult rape victims are female. Women of color and members of the LGBT community experience the highest rates of rape. College women are three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence; women of the same age who are not enrolled in college are four times more likely.

A 2005 study by the National Institute of Justice reported that resisting a rape attack verbally or physically reduces the risk of rape by more than 80 percent, compared to nonresistance. This means that once accosted, it is almost always worth screaming and fighting back.

Self-defense training can help women survive violent attack. Training builds self-confidence, reduces the risk of attack, and conquers fear. Even after a single class, women that I’ve trained have said that they feel more confident walking in the streets alone.

I recommend that all women find an appropriate self-defense class in their area, and begin a training program as soon as possible. There are numerous forms of martial arts- pick the one most suited to your needs and interests. Because rapists may use weapons to intimidate and control, it’s a good idea that the training program have a weapons self-defense component.

No matter what style of self-defense you choose, the important things are to be prepared and strong, to learn how to think on your feet, how to neutralize your attacker, and get away quickly. Women can be trained to survive any form of attack, whether it be chokes, grabs, mounts, knives, or other weapons. Women are taught to use their bodies as a defensive weapon against attackers, to subdue an opponent, and get away safely. The goal is to survive, empower, and prevent rape.

Seminars can range from a 4-hour intensive course to a 10-day intensive workshop. They can be private or group classes, or specialized for various needs. As in developing any skill, the techniques learned in class should be practiced consistently outside of class. It is important to refresh your training regularly with instructors.

Training is contagious. I encourage all of my students to share the techniques learned with other women and girls. Each one trained can go on to teach one … or many more woman. Sharing self-defense knowledge amongst women has never been so urgent.

It is well-documented that women are most often attacked by someone they know and trust. According to the National Institute of Justice, 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women are perpetrated by someone known to the victim; about half occur on a date.

Unfortunately, half of all student victims do not define the incident as “rape.” This is especially true when no weapon was used, there is no obvious physical injury, and alcohol was involved — factors commonly associated with campus acquaintance rape. This is one reason rape and other sexual assaults on campus are not well reported.

Although there are never any guarantees, there are many precautions women can take. Awareness is key. Some advice for young women:

1. The night begins with your intention. Planning where you’ll be, who you’re with, what substances will be around, and how you will get home is key. Be smart and mindful.

2. If you choose to drink, never put your drink down. If you take your eyes off your drink, even for a split second, leave it. Get another one. It’s never worth the risk. Remember, you can best fight off an attacker if your cognitive and physical skills are unimpaired.

3. Trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to say, “No.” Know when to walk away from a situation. If you feel like something’s not right, it’s best to quickly find a way home.

4. Remember, nearly 90 percent of sexual assaults are by someone you know, ranging from classmates to neighbors. Half of rapes occur on a date. Always have an escape plan. Know when it’s time to leave.

5. Your first weapon is your voice. Use it to scream, “STOP” and yell for help as soon as you feel danger oncoming. Do not freeze up in fear. Get away as fast as possible.

These are all preventative measures that young women can take to protect themselves from being in a dangerous situation. However, even with all the precautions, women are still vulnerable to attack. Once an attacker makes his first move, it’s time for you to scream, fight back, and get away, and FAST.

The best way to avoid being raped is to be prepared and trained. Self-defense should be a part of every girl’s education, of every woman’s toolkit.”

Thanks so much, Ms. Yancovitz.

I don’t think human nature changes quickly. Or that piously stated moral injunctions have much impact. Or that men will suddenly reform and become less sexually aggressive. Or the disinhibiting substances will suddenly become less available.

Reducing the societal forces that promote rape requires changing the imbalance between male and female power. This is a tall order, but it is happening in many places around the world as women are better educated, more economically independent, and more in control of their lives. But equalizing power takes time everywhere and in some cultures, is being met with fierce resistance.

In the short term, the best way to reduce the male inclination to rape is to raise significantly the risks of exposure and the severity of punishments. The best way to reduce female victimhood is to teach methods of prevention and self-defense.

The current moment is precious, but fragile. #MeToo can be the beginning of a sustained civil rights movement to free woman from the currently pervasive threat of sexual assault. Or it may be just a transient social networking trend.

It is perhaps not just coincidental paradox that women victims are finding their voice at precisely this time when the U.S. is led by a president with a well-documented history of serial sex abuse. #MeToo and self-defense training represent a potent female response.

Allen Frances is a psychiatrist who blogs at the Huffington Post.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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