Module 2: Fighting Criminals and Using Your Voice
The criminal is always solely responsible for a criminal act. People victimized by criminals never “ask for it” or are responsible for the criminal’s behavior. Nothing in this course should be taken as an indication that we think that victims are responsible for being attacked. We hold the criminal solely responsible for his or her behavior, and society should as well. This can and should be a point of emphasis for this class.
In a perfect world, we’d simply teach these perpetrators to be good people and be done with it. But unfortunately, that solution does not exist right now. So we are left with the only alternative: preventing crimes of opportunity by removing the opportunity.
That starts with recognizing dangerous situations. Following recognition, avoidance is our top priority. But we’re human and we all make mistakes, and some situations cannot be avoided. So we must also learn to escape. And when all escape routes are closed, we must learn to fight our way out. We have found that without that component of last resort, courses of this nature are ineffective. With it, students feel empowered, confident and safer. As a result, they start thinking more about their safety because they feel like they have power over it. Without the last component, students feel scared and helpless, and so they stick their heads in the sand and hope they are never attacked.
Being confronted by a criminal is a terrifying experience that can happen in a totally unexpected manner. More often, however, it involves an escalation of a situation that we know looks or feels bad but we ignore those feelings because we are impaired, not paying attention, or we didn’t want to offend the criminal or our notions of polite society.
An example is reported by Johanna Evans in the book We Believe You by Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino (some content is edited, because this is a school setting, but we are not intending to diminish the power of her words or her voice in telling her story, nor are we saying it was wrong for her to tell her story in the way she chose to tell it.):
He followed me back to my dorm room, where I stood in my doorway and said “It was nice to meet you.” He pointed out my movie posters and pushed his way in. I started getting ready to go to sleep; went to the girls’ bathroom down the hall, put on my pajamas, brushed my teeth. I came back and said, “Okay, I’m gonna watch the movie [Star Wars] and sleep.”
He said, “Well, can I watch it with you?” He was a Muslim. This was 2006, and I was very passionately against the Iraq war. I didn’t want him to think I was afraid or distrusted him just because he was a Muslim, so I let him stay. […]
I remember having him on top of me, [...] and telling him over and over, “No, this isn’t a good idea.” He didn’t listen to me, and I froze in terror and confusion, utterly unprepared for the situation. […]
I was [violated] watching Star Wars [and] he took that away from me too. […] Star Wars represented my belief that good will triumph over evil.
It’s easy to understand why Johanna felt safe. She was attending Dartmouth, an Ivy League institution. Shouldn’t she be safe at one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the world? We teachers know the answer is “no”, but a naïve college freshman doesn’t have our experience. Indeed, many parents give little thought to their child’s safety when sending them to college.
Unfortunately, Johanna’s education prior to college let her down. She should have been taught that if someone pushes his way into your room, you need to get out of there. Nothing good will come of staying in the room with him. She should have been taught to run down the hall and get the RA or a friend in that situation.
Johanna writes that she was utterly unprepared for the situation and so she froze. She wasn’t equipped with the facts about assault and resistance reported later in this module. No one taught her that if she reached down to her attacker’s private area (he would have given her access) and squeezed his testicles with all her strength, he would have leapt off her and crumpled into a whimpering ball on the floor.
Johanna didn’t want her assailant to think she was afraid or distrusted him because he was a Muslim, so she let him stay. If he was a devout Muslim, of course, he would have been understanding as to why a chaste young woman would not want to be alone in a room at night with a solitary man. But he obviously was not. And let’s be clear, this has nothing to do with the perpetrator being Muslim. Gary Ridgway, the Green River killer, used to go door to door proselytizing about Christianity.
People victimized by crime often report rationalizing or ignoring a criminal’s behavior prior to the crime based on some characteristic. For example, “The guy seemed a little strange, but he was a Christian, so I let him in,” or “There was a group of them, cursing loud, knocking over trash baskets, dressed like street punks, but I didn’t want to seem prejudiced, so I walked right into the middle of them.”
Is it prejudice to take someone at their word or deed and avoid them?
If someone says, "I'm going to hurt you!", is it prejudice to believe them?
Unfortunately, criminals use our compassion and decency against us.
Johanna is a decent, compassionate person. Unfortunately, criminals use our compassion and decency against us. It is difficult to imagine that such monsters exist. You are kind to Ted and carry his books to the car, and in return he hits you in the back of the head, pushes you into the car, and then tortures and murders you. In the words of Gary Ridgway, “I would talk to her... and get her mind off of … anything she was nervous about. And think, you know, she thinks, ‘Oh, this guy cares’ ... which I didn't. I just want to, uh, get her in the vehicle and eventually kill her.”
criminals do not fight fair.
Yet our whole lives that is what we’ve been trained to do. “Fight fair.” Not this time. Never fight fair with a criminal. You must do everything possible to escape. A part of this course is teaching students how to fight criminals in a totally unfair way.
When preparing for a physical confrontation, try and take a deep breath in and out. This will relax you and loosen your muscles, allowing you to hit harder and faster. This is why boxers “loosen up” prior to a match. Also repeat to yourself “I need to be ruthless” or maybe say that word to yourself over and over.
Some people report freezing in fear during an attack. Needless to say, those attacks virtually always succeed absent intervention by a third party. By contrast, those most successful in overcoming a criminal attack typically become enraged and harness that rage to fight back or escape. Yelling violently can help harness that rage and startle the attacker. From the dawn of humankind, our ancestors used battle cries to steel their courage and prepare for an attack. In Scandinavian culture, a warrior known as a “Berserker” – someone who could work themselves up into a crazed frenzy – was particularly feared. Oddly, when not in a frenzy, a Berserker was generally weak and tame.
Anyone can improve the odds of not freezing.
Occasionally visualize what you would do if attacked. Elite athletes frequently use this technique to improve their performance, but it works for anyone.
From time to time allow yourself to get upset – no, outraged – at the injustice of what is happening in our society. Innocents, both male and female, are violated because some sadistic piece of garbage finds it pleasurable to humiliate the victim. The perpetrator gets a sense of power and satisfaction from seeing the victim suffer and feel degraded and ashamed. And in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator gets away with it. In any case, the victim must cope with the aftermath of the assault, an extremely difficult process that too often results in depression, lost self-esteem, and self-destructive behavior, including suicide. If you are ever attacked, that outrage may come back to you.
During an attack you should never feel sorry for your attacker. Your attacker has no sympathy for you. Your attacker’s goal is to humiliate and degrade you – to treat you as an object of his or her pleasure and erase your humanity. To make you feel weak and subservient.
Keep in mind that fighting back generally works and that a predator does not “increase the punishment” for those who fight back. The predator wants you to beg and plead: it gives him pleasure to have that power over you. Moreover, women who are raped despite fighting back have better mental health outcomes after the assault.
Try and remember that you have an advantage. If your attacker was brave, he would not be attacking you. He would attack a big, strong man (if parents are there, add “like your dads” and point to each of them). He attacked you because he thinks you cannot fight back. If he commences an attack by putting his hands on you, strike hard without warning. When you do, scream aggressively.
Prior to an attack, you can also use your voice to dissuade him. Yell loudly and aggressively something to the effect of “No! Get Away From Me!” The students should practice this as a group. Feel free if they do it well to act terrified and run out of the room or hide behind something for comic effect.
Some statistics involving attempted rapes:
Women who scream in fear or pain are the most likely to have the assault completed, followed by women who do nothing at all or plead with their attacker.
Women who yell violently and aggressively escape unharmed 50% of the time.
Women who run escape unharmed 85% of the time.
Women who fight back with a projectile or edged weapon escape unharmed 99% of the time.
Women who strike back forcefully escape unharmed 86% of the time. Attempting to push the attacker away does not work. You must hit, kick, and knee hard.
It is a myth that the attacker will hurt you for resisting. The statistics do not bear that out.
Zoe Rayor contrasts her experiences in We Believe You by Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino (some content is edited, because this is a school setting, but we are not intending to diminish the power of her words or her voice in telling her story, nor are we saying it was wrong for her to tell her story in the way she chose to tell it):
The driver was an Israeli man old enough to be my dad or even grandfather. We were almost to the beach when he pulled into an alley and locked the doors. It took me a second to realize what was happening and then I frantically tried to open the door but couldn’t. I froze. […] I didn’t know what to do, I went into shock and completely let go of control. He yanked my dress off, pulled down his pants, and [violated] me. After he was finished, he crawled back into the front seat, told me to put my dress back on, and then drove me to the beach as if nothing had happened.
Fast-forward two years. […] I suddenly woke up again with someone on top of me, and my body was pinned to the bed. […] He said, “Don’t say anything or scream or I’ll kill you.” […] A million thoughts came into my head. “Is this really happening again? Who the [expletive] is this? Am I going to be [violated] again? Am I going to let this happen?” That last thought came up, and I realized that I was not going to let this happen. I don’t know where my confidence came from, but I decided I wasn’t going to freeze this time. I was going to fight.
I couldn’t move my arms, but I immediately began screaming and my right leg shot up and kneed that [expletive] in the [testicles]. He jumped up and ran, and I chased him. I watched as he fled through the backyard, hurdled over a seven-and-a-half foot fence, and took off.
It is a tribute to Zoe’s courage that she was in a far weaker position during the second assault: jarred awake, pinned to the bed, and threatened with death by an assailant who was younger and more athletic than her first assailant.
Following this module, perform the eye and nose test (video below) and make sure that students do not push too hard on their own eyes and noses. Then, invite students to stand and practice (on pads or a volleyball, not each other) throwing a punch, using the palm-heal strike, kneeing to the groin, and using the eye gouge. One question we get often with the eye gouge is “what if he’s wearing glasses?” The answer is start with a palm-heal strike to the nose and rip the glasses off the face, then knee to the groin, follow with the eye gouge, and then run.
The Eye and Nose Test
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