RED ZONE: A beginner’s guide to self defense

When it comes to sexual assault and rape, knowing how to defend yourself can be extremely helpful. There are many different tactics and techniques to defending yourself in a close-quarter assault situation. That isn’t to say that not knowing how to defend yourself places the blame onto a victim in the event of a sexual assault or rape. The blame should always lie with the instigator of the act, not with the victim.

Unfortunately, there is a certain stigma associated when you bring up self-defense while going through an event of a sexual assault. Keeley Olson, Executive Director of Standing Together Against Rape (STAR), explains that despite the fact that what happened to them is not their fault, a victim can be triggered when self-defense is brought up, and they assign the blame onto themselves.

“Often times, when victims think that if they can’t get out of a bad situation, that it is their fault, ” Olson said.

Self-defense is not the fault of the victim, nor is it a way to prevent sexual assault. Prevention is a wholly different matter entirely. Prevention has more to do with educating people about rape awareness and body autonomy than it does with physically preventing an assault. Olson explains what prevention is when it applies to cases of sexual assault.

“When we talk about prevention, a lot of people think that that means being able to defend yourself against a sexual assault. When I think about prevention, it’s about educating children in Kindergarten and 1st grade about body autonomy. That’s primary prevention, where when you’re working with the younger, the better.”

Jacob Dempsey, head instructor for UAA’s Judo and Jiu Jitsu Club and alumni of the University, explains that just like with any emergency, defending yourself from an attack is something everyone should have a plan for, or at least think about,

“A lot of things you have to make a split-second decision on, which means you have to have thought about this stuff ahead of time. To make those rational decisions during a time where, quite frankly, you’re not going to be thinking rational. Like in any emergency situation, you [have to] prepare beforehand,” Dempsey said.

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Many self-defense instructors also suggest that you listen to your instincts when it comes to identifying a potential predator. Predators usually give victims an uneasy feeling or a sense that something is not quite right.

“People have a pretty good sense when something’s wrong. If you’re gut’s saying, ‘This situation is bad,’ you should probably listen to it and get out of the situation. Generally, as a species, we have a pretty good instinct of something’s not right. We just have to acknowledge it and be willing to act on it,” Dempsey said.

Officer Joe Heynen of the University Police Department and one of the officers involved in UAA’s Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) training program also insists that people trust their instincts.

“Trust your instincts. We’ve got them for a reason. When something is making you uncomfortable or doesn’t feel right. It’s probably making you feel uncomfortable for a reason.” Heynen said.

After you have identified a potential threat, the next thing you can do is to talk down the perpetrator. As odd as it sounds, you may be able to talk your way out of an altercation. Be advised, that you should not start yelling for help unless someone is physically harming you. Prior to the actual assault, it is recommended that you try to talk down the threat.

“If you can talk them out of doing whatever they are gonna do, that is preferred. Once you start screaming, one of two things is gonna happen. It’s gonna get exasperated and they’re gonna move faster. Or, they’re gonna back away, and obviously, the back away is preferred, but, you have to realize that once you start screaming, you may have accelerated the process,” Dempsey said.

If you cannot talk down your attacker, and they continue with the assault, it is advised you try to use a psychological manipulation strategy known as the compliance method. Malachi Bond, a Senshido instructor at the YWCA Alaska, instructs people on how to use compliance method and mental manipulation when defending yourself against an assault.

“If somebody has been targeted, if they’re being stalked, or if they’ve been cornered, their best bet is either to use an overwhelming amount of violence against this individual, legally speaking we call that force, or is to feign compliance, feign submissiveness,” Bond said. “If you are feigning compliance, [the aggressor is] going to mentally think that they have you in a position where they can do whatever they want to you. So, they’re not thinking that you’re going to rip up their face or smash them in the throat or something like that. And when you are able to, you’re gonna go after them.”

The main concern here, especially for females, is that usually, a predator will single out someone they think they can take advantage of. Usually, the victim is smaller than the perpetrator in size and perceived strength. Regardless, there are things a smaller person can do to deter a larger person from assaulting them. It is recommended that you strike the eyes, nose, ears and throat of your assailant as those are the most sensitive parts of the body.

Something else you can do if you are being grabbed or hit by an assailant is to try and break their fingers. If they grab your clothes, that is the perfect opportunity to grab their hands and break their fingers.

broken finger.jpg
Photo credit: Jian Bautista

“Small joint manipulation, so fingers are great things to grab a hold of and twist, and the nice thing about fingers is, you can break them and they’re going to heal. Twisting them in directions they are not designed to go. Once they can no longer grab, obviously that gives you a certain level of safety,” Dempsey said. “If they grab your clothes, now you’ve got this stationary object that you can grab and start peeling the fingers off the wrong directions. Even a small woman can grab a single finger of a man and break it. When you strike back against an assailant, it needs to be decisive, it needs to be something that could potentially end the threat now.”

Once you have injured or stunned the attacker, it is recommended that you try to leave the situation as quickly as possible.

This is not to say that the victim is the only one able to fend off an attacker. Bystanders are also able to help in this situation. There are many things you can do as an individual on the outside of an assault.

“Once there are bystanders, then a lot of times the perpetrator will flee the scene because they don’t want to get caught. They want to try to avoid as much additional notice as they can,” Dempsey said.

It should be noted, that as a bystander, getting physically involved is putting your own safety at risk. You may find that when you try to break up an altercation physically, you open yourself up to attack as well. However, you should try to do everything within your power to assist someone who is being sexually or physically assaulted.

Bystanders are more likely to see the potential for assault than they are likely to see the actual assault itself. If this happens, you can disrupt the situation and attempt to sabotage the perpetrator. Olson describes this with an example:

“Being at a house party… and you see somebody who seems to be really drunk being escorted away by a guy at the party. You can walk up and knock on the door and say, ‘Man, your car is being towed,’ and they guy runs out and you separate the girl from the guy. Or if you see someone put something in somebody’s drink, you alert the bartender,” Olson said.

There are also local programs within Anchorage that women and men can take in order to not only stay physically fit, but to help individuals defend themselves. Bond and Dempsey offer training in specific martial arts such as Judo, Jiu Jitsu and Senshido. Some programs only extended to women, including UAA’s RAD training. As of now, the class only has instructors for the women-specific classes, but RAD as an organization does offer classes to men, children and the elderly.

“Some of the main points that we emphasize is to continually be aware of your surroundings, ensure that people know where you are or at least that you aren’t going to an unfamiliar place,” Heynen said. “Maybe meet in a central location, a neutral location in the public… definitely don’t post a lot of your own personal information.”

In addition to formal training programs, there are many help organizations within Anchorage that focus on assisting women. Either to educate individuals about sexual assault and rape, empower women with the tools necessary to help them defend themselves, or to assist the victims of rape, sexual assault and sexual violence. Four major organizations are STAR, Abused Women Aid In Crisis (AWAIC), The YWCA and Rape Aggression Defense (RAD).

For more information on the specific programs hosted by these organizations, you can contact each of them at the following:

STAR: [email protected] or (907) 276-7279

AWAIC: (907) 279-9581

RAD: [email protected] or (907) 786-1120

YWCA: [email protected] or (907) 644 9601

Jacob Dempsey: [email protected] or (907) 529-5078