I wrote last week about the fact that here in the US, you never hear news stories about a woman being attacked and turning martial arts training, a gun, or a heavily loaded handbag on her attacker, thus thwarting his plan. It’s impossible to imagine they don’t happen: they just aren’t being reported. The question is: why?
Some of the responses to this entry were fascinating, and since a lot of people don’t read the comments, I thought I’d just post some excerpts here.
There’s certainly been some reports over here – a cursory search of the BBC news website revealed a number of ‘woman fights back when attacked’ stories, including a number of stories where women successfully fought off sex attackers.
This weird aversion to using violence in self defense against a violent attacker is endemic in our culture and unfortunately even pervades our legal system. While you do occasionally see news stories about men who successfully use violence to defend themselves, this news is also rare, probably because violent forms of self defense are so actively discouraged in our culture. In my opinion, the media is merely reflecting the prevailing social and legal attitudes by not reporting on these incidents. As a result, both men and women get screwed.
Back when I was involved in martial arts, my teachers would often address the legal issues involved in self defense. For example, in the state I live in, one can only use equal or lesser force to defend oneself from an attacker. This means if somebody is threatening me with a knife, I cannot pull out my Ruger Mk II, even though a firearm would probably defuse the situation a lot more effectively and peacefully than using my fists or another knife would. If the attacker is only slapping me around, in theory I cannot break his arm. The legal issues involved can be pretty complex, and all one can do is hope the cops are sane and have a smidge of common sense when they take everybody’s statements and decide who gets arrested..
While women are depicted as victims more often than men, I’d say our society would prefer if everybody, male and female, would survive as victims rather than use violence to defend themselves from an attacker to prevent themselves from becoming a victim.
I think it’s harder for the average American woman (not a martial artist, not unusually “butch” to begin with) to respond a threat with violence than it is for the average American man. That said, however, it certainly does happen. More frequent yet are times when an average woman has responded to a threat with very effective escaping techniques.
This comment is getting huge, but as someone who has taught self-defense courses for women, and who has been through all of the sensitivity training one takes before teaching such a course, I do have to add – there is no shame in submitting, either. If you are attacked, and you survive, whatever you did was *the right thing to do*. It wasn’t your fault, and whatever you did in your own unique circumstance was absolutely the correct response. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
There’s definitely something going on, culturally, about repressing the idea that women can either fight back or get away from an attacker. We were lucky enough, when I was working on that program, to have some really wonderful cooperation not only from our Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault, but also from a couple police officers and other representatives of community groups involved with sexual violence. These people were really enthusiastic about the kind of empowering we were trying to do, and very encouraging, as well.
Not long afterwards, however, I had my own personal brush with sexual violence, and the response to it by the campus police was totally bizarre to me. I’ve written pretty extensively about all of my thoughts and feelings about it (which you can read, if you like), but what I really want to share here is something that came up sometime afterwards during a class, when my experience came under discussion.
My professor told us that she had once been told that something like 60% of all women who fight back against an attacker end up with serious physical injuries. The implication of such a statistic is clearly that women shouldn’t fight, because it will only get them injured. I’ve heard similar statistics tons of times before, from many different sources. What my professor pointed out, though, and what never really gets said, is that 100% of women who don’t fight back against a rapist…get raped.
And finally, Redbyrd said:
I think that cases where women are attacked and escaped tend to get reported as ‘woman assaulted’ with any actual injury described as dramatically as possible without bothering to make the point that the woman successfully escaped being raped or murdered. So the cases are there, just reported as lesser attacks rather than successful escapes.
And the conditioning is so pervasive- I was reading an article in a local paper this weekend about bullying, in which the school officials were saying with horror and dismay that many students who are bullied don’t report it.. Well, no shit. That’s because schools, parents and police as a rule don’t due anything. (A girl of my acquaintance did complain about being bullied.. the school’s solution was to keep her in at recess so the other kid couldn’t bother her. Who is being punished here?)
The lessons of the playground are reproduced in larger scale in the adult world. If we teach children that people who stand up for themselves are criminals, we wind up with adult victims.
There’s a lot of fascinating stuff in there, but sticking to the narrow focus of the topic, I’ve bolded that one paragraph of Redbyrd’s. I think she has a point there, and I hadn’t considered it. Maybe a lot of the “sexual assaults” we hear about are thwarted attacks. I thought that bizarre euphemism only referred to rapes, and I frankly wondered why they were sugar coating it. But maybe using that meaningless term allows them to keep the reporting vague, and enhance the fear quotient – “keep watching us for more reports on this crazy monster in your neighborhood, thereby boosting our ratings” – rather than imparting the actual news of what happened.