Revisit: lack of reports of women fighting off assailants

The first month this site existed, I wrote a post asking why there weren’t more news stories about women fighting off their would-be rapists (or other types of assailants). It must happen occasionally; so why do you never see the headline “Woman fights off attacker?” (At the time, I Google’d and Yahoo’d many versions of the phrase “woman fights off attacker/rapist” and found nothing – now that same search brings up a few stories – all dated after my initial post.)

The responses were more interesting than the article, and I recommend reading the comments from the first article and the follow-up if you want to respond to this, because we covered a lot of basic questions, including the point that no one wants to glorify fighting assailants rather than submitting. There is no right or wrong response to being attacked. It’s just that we hear so many stories of women being unable to fight back, or choosing to submit (perfectly valid) that it couldn’t hurt to have the occasional story of a different response.

I did find this news story from Denver, from November 2005 reported as “elderly woman fights off attacker”: to sum up, a man knocked on the apartment door of an elderly woman. When she opened it he tried to grab her. She screamed, and that alone was enough to scare him off.

Let’s go back over this: she screamed. He left. Yeah, sometimes that’s all it takes. But how many women are so frozen with fear from all the horror stories of assault they’ve heard that by the time it occurs to them to scream, it’s too late? How many of us would stand there thinking, “I must be misinterpreting – he can’t be intending to hurt me” until it’s too late? Does a story like this not at least plant a seed of resistance in a mind programmed to be submissive and cooperative since birth? A sense of entitlement to fight back, if you have the opportunity?

And here’s another story from December 2006 in Chicago: a man attempted to drag this woman out of her car. She locked her arm through the inside of the steering wheel and proceeded to scream and honk the horn repeatedly until he gave up and left, cautioning her to tell no one. She instead gave a really good description to police and got the man arrested within an hour.

Another story from November 2006 [since removed] depicts a San Jose woman being pulled to the ground on a jogging trail by an attacker. Sketchy details, but it says she “freed herself”, and he left.

These aren’t stories of women doing martial arts moves or using guns to protect themselves. These are situations in which a woman dealing with an unarmed attacker decides that she has a fighting chance and she’s going to take it.That’s what I was looking for when I wrote the original article.

Comments

  1. Fran Hartman says

    I can remember back in 1985, when we did a college production of “Extremities,” the local rape crisis center gave a number of talk-backs to our audience. They discussed this very issue, and to my surprise, generally dissuaded women from fighting back. The gist of the argument was that many assailants will assert their power via the sexual assault, but fighting back can and often does escalate the attack to the point of murder. While a small percentage of sexual assaults will ultimately end in the taking of the woman’s life – and if that’s the intent, there’s little a woman can do to prevent this (based on their perceptions) – escalating the violence can provoke the assailant to greater demonstrations of their “power” that weren’t the original intent.

    That was a long time ago, and I’m not certain if over the intervening years statistics have proven this wisdom to be incorrect, but this has always stuck with me, and I’ll admit to having this advice in the back of my mind. As a survivor of an abusive relationship, both physical and sexual, I know that I frequently took the tack of non-resistance because it tended to end the encounters more quickly. Based on that personal experience, this did ring true for me. I wonder how many women may choose not to fight back or resist because of similar advice or logic.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Fran, I know in 1990 a local university was advocating non-resistance.

    Not because it could escalate to your death, though: because it could lead to vaginal trauma and other physical injury to you. They also advised that if you could fantasize about something and get yourself lubed up, that would be even safer for you!

    Oh my goddamn. They really advised trying to lie back and enjoy it. Is there a rapist lobby that paid them to say that, or something?

    I guess I’m of the opinion that most people can figure out all by themselves that if someone would rape you, who knows what else he’s capable of? I’m not sure this message of non-resistance could possibly do as much good as it does harm.

    Who’s to say non-resistance doesn’t sometimes escalate the crime to murder? It all depends what’s in the assailant’s head, and that can be any of several different things.

  3. obelix says

    Maybe because I’ve been in martial arts since the early 1980’s but I’ve never heard anyone state that you should not resist.

    In fact what I’ve been told since I was a kid was to scream and fight as much as I could to raise attention and give myself a chance to run, and we are talking 1960’s here. I was given this advice by my parents, school teachers and security consultants.

    Predators go for victims they perceive as weak and easy prey they don’t tend to go for the ones that will give them trouble, so the more trouble you are the more there is a chance that the predator will be surprised and worried about the attention it will garner, and just leave.

    My own experience supports this twice. Once when I was a kid and was followed by someone who tried to get my into their car where I basically refused, screamed really loudly, ran back to my house and told my parents.

    And another time when I was in university and was followed by someone on a deserted street at night (there had been a rash of rapes in the downtown area) and instead of running, I grabbed my book bag, turned around, prepared myself to swing it at the person and in a very loud voice said “what do you want?”. The guy stopped dead in his tracks and promptly ran down the alley he’d come from.

    Never knew if the guy was actually a predator or not but I wasn’t going to take a chance. If he wasn’t then he’ll have learned that following and keeping pace with a woman at night on a deserted street may not be a good idea. If he was a predator then I hope I gave him a heart attack!

    As my sensei use to say, it’s better to fight and get a chance to escape then to just sit there and let it happen.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’ve talked to a number of other people who have also heard the non-resistance speech – some of them read here, so they may chime in.

    I agree that predators generally go for people who look like easy prey, which is why I advocate teaching girls to feel absolutely entitled to err on the side of caution when they think someone might be out to hurt them.

    I got that sense of entitlement when I was a child. Is it THE reason I’ve never been raped? No, it’s one reason. The other is that I haven’t encountered a smart man who was determined to rape me. That’s something that needs to be mentioned in this discussion: many predators will avoid a woman who doesn’t look like easy prey and move on to another that does. But some target specific victims – in fact, given that most women are raped by men they know, it’s not a stretch to guesstimate that maybe most predators target specific individuals. And like any good security expert will tell you, security systems make you home look like tough prey, but if someone wants to break into your home rather than just a home, there’s always a way. And it is never the homeowner’s fault. ;)

  5. obelix says

    Don’t get me wrong I do believe that non-resistance has been taught, I’m just horrified that it’s been taught at all, anywhere! It’s basically teaching women to surrender control to someone else, it’s just incredible that they would say that.

    And yes there is always the fear that it’s someone you know but again the same thing applies. If you don’t fight then it will happen, if you do fight then it may not happen.

    Again maybe I have a skewed view of things since I’ve been doing martial arts for over 20 years by now and I’ve always been fairly aggressive due to doing a lot of sports including hockey from a very young age and learning to stand my ground against the boys.

    I just can’t believe that they would actually teach non-resistance. Everything I’ve seen and been taught says that would should fight, scream, do something to attract attention.

  6. obelix says

    Just to add in case I’m not being clear, I’m not saying that it’s the victims fault at all, no one knows how they will react in a situation like that and any human reaction is valid and every situation is unique. You don’t resist when there is a gun in play unless you happen to be Superman ;-)

    However if they are teaching that non-resistance is the way to go, then they are removing a possible defense from a woman’s arsenal and that is incredibly horrifying to me.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    I didn’t put my remarks in context there, so: I didn’t think you were doubting us about the non-resistance – I was just adding more to earlier points. Nor did I think you were saying a submissive response is wrong or shameful – I just feel that’s a point that ought to be mentioned at least once in every discussion, just in case someone who’s new to these concepts is forming that impression from reading them.

    I almost mentioned in the initial post that I would not advise screaming at someone who has a gun. Now, personally, I might go right ahead and do it – I don’t know, but so far every time I’ve been confronted with a bully who’s threatening me with bodily harm, I’ve gotten in their faces and mouthed off in a way I would not advise anyone else to do. :D

    But that’s kind of my point here. If a person prefers to fight, then even if she gets killed, I’m not going to say she was dumb – she did what seemed right to her. And if someone prefers to submit – ditto. What I’d love to see happen is for women to realize they have a variety of options, and won’t be judged no matter which one they choose. That’s what we’re so painfully far away from.

    Everyone keeps telling women what to do: there’s a lot less reporting of the things women actually do, and it threatens our perception of our own agency.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’m not surprised people didn’t want to get involved in your crime. In the 80’s, they advised yelling “fire” not “rape” if you were attacked somewhere that people might hear you scream. Fire is contagious and could affect the selfish assholes, so they will usually at least come out to investigate which might scare the attacker off. Rape is contained and something people routinely think they need not worry about.

  9. says

    True. By posting that experience, I learned a lot of strategies from various people that might have helped. In another episode of being accosted in a public place, people suggested singling out an individual bystander to ask for help instead of yelling a general call for help.

  10. Jennifer Kesler says

    That’s not a bad idea.

    I do think the more strategies you hear about when you’re calm and receptive, the more ideas you’ll have when you’re scared and panicking. I need to go back and read the comments on your entry there.

    I also wish the law didn’t require folks to press charges against these people. No one has to press a homicide charge. Why are things like stalking, kidnapping and assault different? It implies, “Okay, the DA really doesn’t give a shit about this crime, but you know, if you want to make extra paperwork for us, you shit, I guess we’ll go through the motions. Is that what you want, asshole?” And it sends criminals the message that this crime is just between them and their victim – the law is only reluctantly becoming involved.

    Because when someone asks if you want to press charges, I think my first though would be, “Oh, shit, that’ll REALLY piss the criminal off and I know the cops aren’t going to bodyguard me. Crap, should I do this?”

    It should not be my choice. It should be the local law enforcement’s job.

  11. Fran Hartman says

    Oh, word. I never thought about it that way.

    The thing that stuck with me about doing that play (“Extremities”) was the talk-back with the playwright, a man, who explained what inspired him to write the piece. He worked in a liquor store, he said, and became friends with a regular customer who had been the victim of a rape. She went through the humiliating physical exam, pressed charges, got her character ripped apart on the stand, and lost most of her friends in the process, only to have her assailant get off on a technicality.

    Her rapist walked up to her on the courthouse steps after the trial, and in full view of her lawyers, said, “If you think it was bad the last time, bitch, wait until next time.”

    According to the playwright, she packed her bags, bought a one-way ticket across the country, and left that week. Stopping to say good-bye to him before she left, the last thing she said was, “I just wish that I’d had fifteen minutes alone with the guy.”

    The playwright went home, and in one night, wrote “Extremities.” It was, he says, that woman’s fifteen minutes. He also said that he will never judge a woman who can’t bring herself to report this crime, after understanding that we’re a society that does everything but outright condone the act.

  12. says

    In another episode of being accosted in a public place, people suggested singling out an individual bystander to ask for help instead of yelling a general call for help.

    That’s always a good idea no matter what the emergency because while sometimes people are just selfish assholes who can’t be bothered unless they are shamed into it, a lot of times people freeze up (that would be me) and giving a specific person a specific task helps them shake off the shock start moving again.

    Just another reason why having good strategies* for dealing with this stuff is helpful. It’s just like the idea of drilling “stop, drop, and roll” or walking calmly when you hear the fire alarm into kids – practice makes perfect. But since we can’t always practice for emergencies, having some clear ideas of what we can do when they arise helps us focus and makes it less likely we will end up running around fanning the flames on our clothes – so to speak.

    And while it’s always best to assess the situation as best you can, and there is no right or wrong action, and certainly no perfect solution on how potential victims “prevent” rape, it does seem to me that all the evidence points to fighting backearly usually being the best bet.

    *as opposed to bad ones like “don’t wear revealing clothes!”

  13. Karakuri says

    A huge problem for me in a violent situation is my complete lack of faith in my physical power, and my lack of knowledge of /what damage I could actually do/ to the guy. I’ve been doing martial arts for years, but I still don’t know in what situations my skills would actually be useful. Most times I fought with my teachers, even punching them full in the stomach didn’t hurt them (because they know to clench their muscles there!). Of course it’s hard to hurt a trained karateka, but these are the only examples of when I actually tried to hurt a grown man. So…I am still clueless as to how much I can hurt a grown man who isn’t a martial artist.

    I can’t help but think fighting a bigger opponent will just enrage them and cause even more damage, so “the smart thing to do is to do nothing”. But it’s hard to live with a decision like that.

    Classes where women get to fight off “attackers”, who then tell them what does and doesn’t hurt, would do a lot to break the wall of “mystery” that prevents women from exerting physical force.

  14. Anemone says

    You mean like Model Mugging?

    I took a Model Mugging class about 9 or 10 years ago, and it completely shifted things for me on the inside.

    I remember a long time ago reading a true crime book about a serial rapist, and how he attacked one small woman and she turned around and kicked him in the gut, then gave his description to the police after he ran off. Other than that, I only seem to read about women defending themselves in MM settings. :(

  15. Pearl says

    Many years ago, my 4’11” sister refused to submit to a mugger in a NYC subway who was trying to take her purse. He tried to grab it but she wouldn’t let go. Then he hit her across the face, and her instinct was not to let go of her purse but to scream at the top of her lungs. He turned and ran. Of course this didn’t make the news!

    Several years later, in 2005, I was hanging out at this cafe/restaurant that showed movies. In one movie, a man demands that a woman give him her purse. The woman refuses, so the man hits her to the ground, and she responds meekly. The owner of the cafe (there was about 7 people watching, I was the only woman, hanging out alone), said, “Why didn’t he just take it from her?” Then he gives me this kind of sexual glance, like I was supposed to be humiliated by being a member of the “weaker” sex. I was tempted to mention in response to that weird look my sister’s story, but… why bother? These kind of men (and there are so many) have their own mythologies, and while they might not mug or rape themselves, they align themselves with the ideology of it, because it makes them the “stronger” sex, the ruling sex. And this gives them sexual meaning. That’s why that sexual look at me, a person he had barely interacted with previous to that.

    Anyway, I like this post. Women resist successfully all the time. I have in my life. I owned a gun for a while, when I was living alone in a rural area where gun owning is very common (among men anyway), and I know that simply having confidence because I had the power to defend myself with lethal force kept men away from me. I remember I was alone in my car in a parking lot at the head of a hiking trail, and four men drove up next to me, with sick, sadistic glee on their faces thinking what they were going to do to me. I had my gun in my glove compartment, and leaned toward it, which the unafraid, ready for action expression on my face reflected. Their expressions instantly changed, and they ignored me, got out of their car and left.

    I could go on and on with personal stories of successful resistance, ones I’ve heard and ones I’ve experienced myself. Some resistance stories are all about prevention. I had a friend, not a feminist but unafraid to be smart, would ask a friend to go with her when apartement hunting. When she asked me, it struck me as a brave thing to do, oddly enough. It’s like we are pressured to pretend we are not in any danger in ordinary circumstances like that, which makes us vulnerable to danger sometimes. Later that same year, I was apartment hunting, alone, and as I stepped in the house, the man looked and acted as if I had just stepped out of the pages of the porn he was reading. I immediately slipped out, not waiting to explain why. Thank goodness I had purged my “niceness” training not long before this (not an easy process, that takes a while to do thoroughly, but is so important!)

    One last comment: Back in the early 90s, Minnesota Women’s Press wrote an article on this very subject, and gave a ton of examples of women’s real experience of successful resistance. I remember how that article changed my way of looking at things, gave me encouragement, and helped me see resistance as a wide range of behaviors, not just directly fighting of an attacker, though that of course too. It helps not to worry about hurting or killing rapists, or going to prison for doing so.

  16. says

    Then he hit her across the face, and her instinct was not to let go of her purse but to scream at the top of her lungs. He turned and ran. Of course this didn’t make the news!

    In the 80s, we were taught you should always submit to a man attacking you, and then maybe he’ll let you live. Somewhere recently I heard the reality is just the opposite: studies have found many male rapists/killers are scared off by resistance. Wish I could remember the source of that.

    These kind of men (and there are so many) have their own mythologies, and while they might not mug or rape themselves, they align themselves with the ideology of it, because it makes them the “stronger” sex, the ruling sex. And this gives them sexual meaning.

    A lot of these guys’ MO depends on the victim behaving meekly.

    I had my gun in my glove compartment, and leaned toward it, which the unafraid, ready for action expression on my face reflected. Their expressions instantly changed, and they ignored me, got out of their car and left.

    I guess I actually have a resistance story myself, though it’s something I so rarely think of, it… well, I was 9. I was at a fair looking at an exhibit with my parents, who were maybe 10 feet away. These two young men came up to me beside a display case. Something about them raised my hackles immediately. Then they looked at each other and one of them nodded, and I thought, “Is this what I think it is?” The other put his arm around my shoulders. I ducked and ran to my parents. That was that.

    I kinda repressed that memory for years. I mean, I never had trouble recalling it when I had reason to, but I avoided reason to and would forget about it for years on end. I was over 30 before I could process it as an ordinary, if terrifying, memory.

    When she asked me, it struck me as a brave thing to do, oddly enough. It’s like we are pressured to pretend we are not in any danger in ordinary circumstances like that, which makes us vulnerable to danger sometimes.

    Hmm, I should make a post that simply lists ordinary life situations where women have to consider “Am I in danger if I do this alone?” and men don’t.

    Thank goodness I had purged my “niceness” training not long before this (not an easy process, that takes a while to do thoroughly, but is so important!)

    Extremely! Quite possibly the most important thing we could do to improve women’s standing in society.

    It helps not to worry about hurting or killing rapists, or going to prison for doing so.

    And how do you NOT worry about going to prison for it? It’s one thing with stranger rape, but with someone you know, it gets murkier. To male law enforcement, “rape!” sounds like such a handy excuse for simple murder.

  17. Pearl says

    studies have found many male rapists/killers are scared off by resistance. Wish I could remember the source of that.

    Recent studies of post traumatic stress also show that there is often less lasting trauma when one doesn’t freeze but instead fights back. Peter Levine is one source. Of course sometimes it is life saving to freeze or submit rather than fight, but it is outrageous for anyone to recommend that in all situations. I briefly had a roommate back in the 80s who told me about when she was attacked by someone she allowed into her apartment. She said she had always thought that she would just submit and “get it over with,” “What’s the big deal,” she said she thought, (I guess this is the internalization of society’s trivialization of rape, especially back then), but when he got into her apartment and attacked her, she said she instincually fought him and screamed with everything she had. A neighbor who knew this man heard her screams and came banging on the door, saying “I know it’s you,” telling him to stop. The man did stop. If she hadn’t fought back and screamed, she would have been raped.

    Hmm, I should make a post that simply lists ordinary life situations where women have to consider “Am I in danger if I do this alone?” and men don’t.

    That’s a great idea. I was talking to a friend (my stories are endless it seems ;( about a super who started acting weird, and I felt nervous about having him fix something. My friend recounted when a super was installing something in her apartment, asked her to hold open the window, and when she did, he started assaulting her. She yelled and swore at him and pushed him off (though a foot shorter than him) and he stopped. Then she told me, “That sort of thing is so common.” It makes me think it would be wise to make arrangements with a friend to be there when a repairman, super, etc, comes over. Or have a couple of friendly but protective dogs, and when the repairman says, can you lock them in the other room, you say, “Absolutely not. They are friendly and won’t hurt you.”

    It helps not to worry about hurting or killing rapists, or going to prison for doing so.

    And how do you NOT worry about going to prison for it? It’s one thing with stranger rape, but with someone you know, it gets murkier.

    You’re absolutely right. But when I faced those four men who had clear intentions toward me, I had no thought of prison or worry for their welfare. Instincts kick in when you are in danger like that, in my experience.

    But when it is someone you know, it is a whole different story. I have also been in that situation, more than once. You’re instincts don’t kick in for self-protection, because you can’t believe they are doing what they are doing, or you think they will stop when you say no, and don’t understand why they aren’t stopping.

    It takes so long to comprehend what you are experiencing, to make sense of it in terms of having totally believed you were safe, and in terms of what you thought you knew about this person. I think this is one reason why battered women stay. They don’t make sense of it, so they blame themselves, or they blame some external circumstance, because it doesn’t “make sense” that the partner they trusted would beat or rape them. Or a friend or co-worker they trusted rapes them. Or a doctor who they went to for healing instead uses the opportunity to sexually assault.

    It can be decades before you get your mind around what happened, about who they were rather than who you thought they were. And it can be years before you want to hurt them in revenge. So these kind of rapists, batterers, gropers, have things pretty sewn up. There is little evidence to prosecute them with, and the victim is generally unwilling to hurt them until a long time afterward.

    I don’t know what the answer is in those cases. Avoid quick involvement, I know that’s advised by those who know about these issues. But you can’t avoid being alone with a man, ever. I mean, even a separatist has to take elevators. And even if you are armed, you just aren’t going to kill your co-worker whose company you had enjoyed (this happened to a friend of a friend), or pull a knife on a doctor who was examining one part of your body only to start examining your breast. Or even start screaming hysterically when a boyfriend keeps going after you say no, because he is your boyfriend, and of course he’ll stop, but why doesn’t he?

    I do think there are solutions, actions we can take, but we really have to keep these discussions going, and figure out how to strategically respond, with and without the law.

  18. says

    I think mainly the solutions involve putting social pressure on abusive men to get treatment. Right now, it’s perfectly comfortable to be a man who harms women. It’s easy enough to avoid getting in trouble for it. And even if you get in trouble, if you’re white and middle class and at all charming, you can count on lots of support from people who somehow find it more plausible a woman would put herself through the public humiliation/trauma of a rape trial than that a man they know would be a rapist.

    What if there were more chance of being caught by authorities, or at least ostracized by peers? What if more people learned in school how abusive personalities hide in plain sight among us, how they cover their crimes, how they isolate their victims from any support network, etc.? What if it was harder to do this sort of thing on the sly, and the consequences of being found out were painful? Would more would-be rapists seek treatment to prevent themselves becoming monsters? It’s entirely possible. And it might work, because the whole reason therapy doesn’t work on them now is they don’t really want to change. They’re not motivated to, and you must have a motivation to change for therapy to work. What if society provided them that motive, as it should, instead of wink-nudging the whole problem?

  19. photondancer says

    At a secondhand book sale recently I bought a book on self defence for women written by a police officer, wherein he cited a number of studies that had found it was always better for a woman to scream/escape/fight rather than submit. Because, as you already pointed out in the other column on this topic, submitting merely guarantees you’ll get hurt. He also said that the would-be rapist has a script in his head that expects the woman to be afraid and submit; by refusing to follow his script you confuse him, and that can be used to your advantage.

    The sad thing was that the book had been donated from the library of a girls’ school. I would have thought teenage girls were precisely the people most in need of hearing empowering messages such as his.

  20. says

    Originally Posted By photondancer
    The sad thing was that the book had been donated from the library of a girls’ school. I would have thought teenage girls were precisely the people most in need of hearing empowering messages such as his.

    I think SunlessNick had it right in the other thread: the “ladies, prevent rape” squads really aren’t interested in preventing rape at all. They probably *think* they are, but their lizard brains are playing a trick on them because they consistently offer advice that only makes sense in a world where rape only happens to good girls. And that’s their real, unacknowledged goal: providing rape apology by way of reinforcing the paradigm that if women would just do what men tell them, men wouldn’t have to rape us.

    Which is, you know, totally and utterly the opposite of reality. Rapists are bullies, and when you stand up to bullies, they back down and go looking for a different target. I’m sure there are some exceptions, but in my experience, even diagnosed sociopaths prefer their targets submissive – so much so that they’ll go without the abuse they’re intent on handing to somebody rather than tangle with someone who refuses to back down.

    Once again, I just really feel the need to say: this is in no way meant to suggest that backing down or submitting is “wrong” or “weak” or in any way negative. When you’re in a situation, you do what you feel you have to, and no one has any business questioning, let alone judging. What I AM trying to say is that we train girls to default to submitting, and that’s wrong. Girls should grow up feeling ENTITLED to stand up, push back, NOT BE NICE and err on the side of caution when they’re only fairly sure they’re about to be attacked. Even then, submitting might still be the right approach in certain cases. And it would certainly never be “wrong.”

  21. Pearl says

    Once again, I just really feel the need to say: this is in no way meant to suggest that backing down or submitting is “wrong” or “weak” or in any way negative. When you’re in a situation, you do what you feel you have to, and no one has any business questioning, let alone judging.

    I think this is a really good point. I would question an “expert” that says that any one strategy is “always” better than another. That seems dangerous. And maybe another way to indirectly blame, or oddly, to control the victim?

    I remember watching a 20/20 episode on the serial murderer in Vancouver who was targetting prostitutes. One prostitute who was interviewed said that some men hire women and then beat or rape them, and she doesn’t resist because that’s what they like. It turns them on to overpower a resisting woman. Circumstances and rapist personalities aren’t predictable. It is amazing to me, when I think about all the survival stories, how smart and capable women tend to be in emergency situations they have had no training to respond to. Making instant decisions in a situation they likely have never been in before.

    But back to the original topic, I think we would trust our own instincts and judgements even more if we heard and read these survival stories in the media. If the media focused on them as often as they focus on the stories where the women are victimized. If the media focused on them as often as they focus on “male hero” stories. The many real life stories of women escaping, or stopping an assault by through their own quick judgement and actions I heard directly from the survivers, not from the media.

  22. SunlessNick says

    I would question an “expert” that says that any one strategy is “always” better than another.

    Indeed. As Revena put it: If you are attacked, and you survive, whatever you did was *the right thing to do*.

    Surviving is the whole point of any strategy.

    And maybe another way to indirectly blame, or oddly, to control the victim?

    Blame, certainly. I hadn’t considered control though, and it makes sense. I wonder how often the belief in a Right Strategy to deal with an assault goes hand in hand with belief in a Right Strategy to deal with the aftermath of a rape or assault, completed or not.

  23. photondancer says

    I’m really not getting the follow up posts. This started out as a post from Jennifer saying that women are capable of fighting back against attackers, but somehow such stories never make it into the media. I offered a little mild support for the first half of that statement from a self defence book, and now people are saying it’s all wrong.
    Submitting to an attacker means you will get raped, and quite often injured, and far too often murdered. There is no evidence that submitting straight away will placate all rapists enough that they will graciously let you off with ‘just’ a rape. Fighting back, on the other hand, IS known to often result in the woman getting away with no rape or serious injury, let alone death. Sometimes just a good loud scream is enough to frighten off an attacker. Even in those cases where the attacker succeeds in overpowering the woman, she will generally feel better about herself afterwards than the women who didn’t fight. If the choice is between being a rape survivor and being someone who successfully fought off a rapist, I do think the latter is better and I don’t think it’s evil to tell women that.

  24. says

    and now people are saying it’s all wrong.

    Not at all. We’re all agreed fighting back is better in the majority of situations. But it’s extremely likely that someone reading this post has been raped, and handled that situation submissively. I just wanted to emphasize in passing that in no way should anyone who submits feel bad or question herself for submitting. Then that sideline discussion took on a life of its own.

  25. photondancer says

    Okay, but there’s a big difference between ‘you could have done otherwise’ and ‘you should have done otherwise’. I wouldn’t say so to someone in the immediate aftermath of an attack as they’d be too upset to grasp it and may well feel they are being blamed (the ‘should’ angle). But I would hope that once they’ve calmed down the realisation that there are other options (the ‘could’ angle) in case they are threatened again would be seen as a source of strength, not shame. My problem with the common and instant response of ‘anything you do’ in such discussions, with no or little other response, can have a stifling effect: it takes attention off resistance and puts it back onto submission.

  26. says

    But I would hope that once they’ve calmed down the realisation that there are other options (the ‘could’ angle) in case they are threatened again would be seen as a source of strength, not shame.

    My understanding from counselors is that the emotional response is just not that simple. First of all, when they’ve “calmed down” could be months or years from the original assault, and if they suffer PTSD, certain triggers can unexpectedly return them to the state they were in during the assault or immediately after, and then it takes days or longer to dig back out of that negativity.

    So that’s where I’m coming from in wanting to reassure anyone who’s currently fragile and possibly *already* feeling shame for not having fought harder that there’s no judgment going on here.

    But, yeah. Generally, fighting back is a better option, and that’s what we want women to have in the back of their minds informing their decisions rather than “Gosh, am I being nice enough?” and “I don’t want to make a scene” and “This can’t really be happening – I know this man!” and all the other bullshit rhetoric designed to keep us handy victims.

    On a side note, I’ve been wondering if it’s still better to fight back even when the assailant has brought a knife or gun. I’ve been reading specific cases lately in true crime books, and there are a number of cases when women fight back even when the assailant is armed, and the assailant runs off, which is encouraging. And if you find yourself being assaulted by someone who’s willing to use a weapon on you? I grimly wonder if there’s any *harm* in fighting back, even so, because this is obviously a particularly violent individual, who may well be planning to kill you after the assault anyway? Unfortunately, I can’t find stats for anything that granular, and doubt there are any, but it’s an interesting question. And I suspect it’s been considered by those who are advising women that fighting back provides the best odds for the victim.

  27. Ikkin says

    On the subject of why stories of women fighting back don’t show up in the news:

    I wonder if part of the reason why this doesn’t happen is because the women who do manage to fight off attackers would prefer not to deal with all of the attention that comes from the story being in the news. There’s a strong tendency not to report rape as it is, and someone who’s successfully escaped might be even less inclined to make their attack public, because they’d get less out of it.

    (I’m just going off of anecdotal evidence, though – my friend might have declined an offer from the news, but I can’t assume that means that most women in that situation are asked)

  28. Julie says

    Reporting that you fought off an attack would smack of self-aggrandizement to many women too, I would think. Since so many women are trained not to “toot their own horn”, doing something like actively fighting back would be doing that AND also making yourself a target for, “Why were you attacked anyway?” The same Victim is At Fault mentality would reign there, also. I hope I’m wrong, and I hope I can be proven wrong.

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