Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Apparently you call it up on your phone and stick it in the face of the person whose hand is invading your privacy. Frankly, I think good old-fashioned yelling would be more effective, even in polite Japan.
At least someone is thinking about the subject, but if the Japanese really want to solve the problem of men groping women on crowded subways, they need to work on it using law enforcement and campaigns to draw public attention. Any society that can make its trains and subways run on time as well as the Japanese can solve this social problem if they really want to.
While the primary focus of this blog is on what individuals can do to protect themselves, it's important to recognize that there are many other things governments and citizen's groups can do to improve safety for everyone. Making the community safer is an integral part of taking care of yourself.
Here's a good project (also found through the Salon Broadsheet post): Right Rides, an organization in New York City that offers free rides home for women, transgender people, and others susceptible to harassment or worse. The service operates on Saturday night/early Sunday morning and can be reached at that time at 718-964-7781.
Universities often offer similar services and there is no reason why any community cannot organize a similar operation.
Here's something a little more creative aimed at street harassers: Holla Back, a blog that exposes those who expose themselves and otherwise bother women on the street. It may not directly keep you safe, but I'm sure it's personally satisfying.
Monday, October 29, 2007
It turns out that Chris sells pepper spray and related products through a website called Defendthyself.com. He blogs on the subject of these weapons and related self defense issues here. I don't agree with him on many issues -- I don't think weapons are your most important line of defense, for example -- but he does have a perspective to offer if you're thinking about buying pepper spray or similar weapons.
I would not give pepper spray or any other weapon to a child for self defense. Some children might get silly and spray their friends. And it wouldn't be hard for a mugger to take the spray away from a child and use it against her or him.
However, for adults pepper spray and similar products can be useful self defense tools IF you know how to use them. These things are just like any other weapons -- useful tools in the right hands.
But just like guns, they can also do you more harm than good if you don't really know how to handle them. And if you're nervous, you might well use them in situations where they aren't required -- something that can get you arrested for assault.
So don't just run out and buy something. Read about the different products and see if they would make sense in your situation. Make sure they're legal in your jurisdiction -- some products aren't. Find out if the seller offers any training course on how to use it. And if you're the nervous type -- the kind of person who might spray an innocent bystander -- take a self defense class or do some other study to learn calmness before you buy any kind of weapon, whether it's pepper spray or a gun.
A weapon is only good for self defense if you know how to use it.
By the way, Chris, if you're reading this, please let me know if you offer any courses on how to use pepper spray and other products. I'll post the information on this blog.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Compiled and edited by Chas Poor and Dan Wendling, this excellent resource lists more than 2000 items. A search on self defense in content brought up more than 200 listings. Not every book is valuable, but many provide useful information.
Books are valuable resources, but remember: You can't learn to fight from a book. Use these books as an introduction, not as a substitute for training.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The incident occurred in a Virginia Wal-Mart. The girl ran off immediately to find her mother and the man was arrested within a few minutes.
According to The Post story, the man told the girl he was a police officer -- though he didn't show an ID -- and needed to check her pockets for stolen goods. The story says he molested her while doing this; I assume they mean he touched her groin area, though given that he had no right to touch her at all, putting his hands on any part of her body should be considered an assault.
Obviously this young woman is brave and level-headed. As soon as she realized she was in trouble, she responded quickly and appropriately -- she kicked to get the man to let go of her and then she ran off.
I doubt that her kick disabled the man -- even if she studies karate or other martial arts and knows how to kick well, and even though men's groins are vulnerable, I suspect a nine-year-old's kick might not be strong enough to do much damage. But the kick did something just as valuable: It startled the man enough so that he let go of her, allowing her to run.
That's an important lesson for us all: Even if you're in a situation where you must fight , you don't have to be the best fighter on the block. You just have to do something that gives you an opening to get away -- like this young woman did.
Hooray for her. She took care of herself.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Later, I figured out why: I get angry when I feel powerless, so I associate anger with the inability to do anything.
What actually works for me, in fighting or in doing almost anything, is staying calm. By calm I mean a peaceful centered feeling that allows me to take in everything going on around me without reacting emotionally.
I confess, I can't always find this feeling, especially on mornings when I've overslept, am late for work, and there are delays on the subway. Days like that I tend to rant and rail at the little things in life that drive us all crazy.
And it's on days like that when I'm hyper and angry that I do things like scrape the car door on the side of the garage or rush off too fast without checking whether the car door is completely shut or the back door of the house is locked. I'm more likely to get into an angry argument with anyone who harasses me -- not just potentially dangerous people, but a bicyclist who zooms past me too fast on the sidewalk or a homeless man who screams at everyone.
None of this behavior is useful and it can be dangerous.
Being calm and centered is a key element in keeping yourself safe. It's easier to pay attention, to be flexible, to listen to your instincts when you're calm. And if you have to fight, you'll know it.
But it's not enough just to say to yourself "stay calm." You need to teach your body and mind what that really means. There are many ways to do this. You can learn it in martial arts training, particularly in an art like T'ai Chi where you learn long forms. You can learn it from yoga practice. Meditation training can also teach you to find your calm center. All of these practices are valuable ways to learn this very important skill.
You don't have to invest a lot of money in classes to learn this. I picked up some good basic meditation practice in a book by the Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh. There are also meditation centers that offer basic training for small donations.
You don't have to commit to a Buddhist or other spiritual path to learn these skills, but you do need to practice.
Of course, holding onto that calm center in stressful times is difficult. It's one thing to find your center while sitting in meditation; another to have it when walking down a street at midnight. But the first step is figuring out what calm and centered really means.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Get the Facts: Will a Japanese Chindogu Make You Safe?
The idea is charming, intriguing, and impractical, as the designer herself admits in a New York Times piece when she notes that it might be hard to do the conversion quickly "especially if your hands are shaking."
While the camouflage principle behind the costume is rational -- blending in to your surroundings can certainly be a practical way to protect yourself -- I find it hard to believe that anyone being followed could make the switch fast enough to deceive the pursuer. And while the costume looks reasonable in a photograph, I don't think it would bear close inspection.
It would make a wonderful Hallowe'en costume though -- if you're willing to pay $800 for a costume.
The costume is charming, but The Times article brings up more complicated issues. The Japanese are becoming increasingly nervous about crime -- even though The Times says crime rates are dropping in Japan. The article also mentions that men groping women on the subway is a serious problem and suggests that Japanese culture, with its emphasis on avoiding scenes, lends itself to creative solutions.
But these costumes and the other ideas (a purse that can transform to look like a manhole cover, "hoodlum" clothes for good kids) aren't solutions; they're just tools and, I suspect, not particularly effective tools. Tools can be useful, but only if they really work and only if you really know how to use them.
As for the subway groping problem, I suspect making a scene is the best way to stop it. While I hate to challenge another country's culture -- and know that even here in the US most people don't like to make scenes in public -- the gropers are counting on the women to keep quiet. If women stop tolerating this -- by screaming "Take your hands off me" or stepping on the instep of the groper -- the practice will die out. The gropers don't want public humiliation either.
Given that my own self defense principles come from Aikido, a martial art developed in Japan that draws on that country's ancient budo traditions, I find it ironic that some Japanese are responding to crime with quirky tools instead of their own cultural heritage. Of course, I suspect the phenomenon is overstated: Stories about dresses that convert to vending machines are more entertaining than pieces on martial arts training.
Just don't get sidetracked into believing that a costume is going to keep you safe.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Despite the old saying -- "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me" -- words can be very dangerous. As Elgin says:
Hostile language -- often called verbal abuse -- is one of the worst problems people face today. Hostile language is as dangerous to health and well-being as toxic waste, not only because of its own destructive nature but because it so often escalates into physical violence.
She also emphasizes, as I do, that most of us rarely need physical self defense. But, she observes:
that doesn't mean that you never are involved in conflict. On the contrary! Unless you're very unusual, not a day goes by that you don't find yourself fighting with other people.
Here's an overview of the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense system. You can find information about Elgin's newsletters and links to Elgin's books in print (including her science fiction and poetry as well as her verbal self defense books) here. She blogs at Ozarque's Journal and frequently discusses verbal self defense on her blog. She also presents seminars.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to learn to respond effectively to verbal abuse without escalating conflict. It's basic self defense. And like all the other skills of self defense, it's something you can learn.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Rape is what people mean when they say it isn't safe for women to go out alone at night. When universities and businesses set up escort programs for women, they do it to prevent rapes. While armed robbery and other kinds of assault may also be a problem -- and a danger to both men and women -- an unarmed escort is no real protection against that.
The most frightening thing about rape is that it can happen anywhere and anytime. It doesn't just happen to women who walk down dark alleys late at night and it isn't always committed by strangers who jump out of bushes. In fact, date rape and other attacks by acquaintances are not uncommon.
Recently The New York Times City Room blog wrote about a phenomenon called "gray rape." They were following up a report in Cosmopolitan by Laura Sessions Stepp. According to the articles, gray rape is:
sex that falls somewhere between consent and denial and is even more confusing than date rape because often both parties are unsure of who wanted what.
Though I respect the work of Sessions Stepp and am interested in the ideas presented by experts in the Times piece, I think these people are finding more complexity than actually exists. Basically, if one person -- and it's usually the woman -- doesn't want to have sex, it's rape.
- If you're too drunk to consent, it's rape.
- If you were physically coerced, it's rape.
- If you were threatened, it's rape.
- If you were manipulated by someone who plays head games, it's rape.
Now it may not be possible to prosecute the rapist in all those circumstances. Even threat and physical coercion may be hard to prove, and when people are drunk, it is hard to find the facts. In the case of someone who manipulates others with complex head games, it may not only be impossible to prove rape, it may take the person who was attacked some time and reflection to even realize what happened. But that doesn't mean these situations aren't rape.
Fortunately, you can protect yourself from most date rape situations:
- Trust your instincts: This is probably the most important rule. Do not end up alone with anyone who gives you the creeps.
- Drink responsibly: I'm not going to lecture anyone about getting drunk -- I've been known to do it myself -- but learn to stop before you get so blasted you don't know what you're doing. And if you're unwinding after a particularly stressful week, do so with people you trust.
- Say "NO!": If you don't want to have sex, don't be quiet about it. Make it clear. Don't just go along because you're afraid the guy will call you names or damage your reputation.
- Learn to fight: If you know a few fighting skills, you can get away from a date rapist just as you can from a stranger.
- Be creative: The lore of self defense abounds with stories of women picking their noses or doing other things that can change the circumstances. If you're calm, you'll be able to come up with some ideas.
By the way, in the Times report one expert said rape is among the crimes least likely to generate a false report, while another said 9 to 10 percent of acquaintance rape reports are false, even though date rape and its cousins are underreported in general. Those facts may not actually be contradictory, but they need investigating. I'll let you know what I find out.
Monday, October 15, 2007
On the local level here in Washington, D.C., there has been a lot of talk about increased use of cameras as a crime-fighting method. Many people seem to believe that if we have cameras everywhere, we'll be able to more easily convict the guilty and crime will go down because no one wants to be caught on camera.
But apparently that's not happening in London. According to the Standard report:
A comparison of the number of cameras in each London borough with the proportion of crimes solved there found that police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any.Crime frightens us, with good reason. And no politician ever lost votes being anti-crime. Cameras may sound like an easy solution, but they are an intrusion on our privacy. Anytime we give up our right to privacy in exchange for greater security, we need to do it consciously and with real information about whether the system will work.
In fact, four out of five of the boroughs with the most cameras have a record of solving crime that is below average.
Giving up privacy for a false sense of security is not a worthwhile trade off. Plus if we believe the cameras are making us safer -- even though they aren't -- we are more likely to be careless about our personal safety.
I plan to bring this report to the attention of my city council member and other local politicians.
By the way, Bruce Schneier is a valuable source of information on security and privacy issues. You can find his blog here and subscribe to his email newsletter here.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Reminds me of an experience my friend and I had when we were about 15 and walking home from school. We started to turn down a street that we walked down every single day. For no reason that we could explain, we both got "creepy feeling" about going down the street. Definitely a gut reaction. We turned around and walked a different way. Later we heard that another girl had been raped in that area that same afternoon.
This is a perfect example of what to do when your intuition gives you a nudge. You just go a different way. Anyone can do that -- no training required. All you have to do is act when that little voice says, "Something's wrong."
Notice that the commenter was about 15 when this happened. Clearly you don't have to be grown to understand avoiding places that give you "the creeps." You only have to do two things:
Probably these two young women saw something out of the ordinary, and their intuition kicked in before they even knew they saw it. But it doesn't really matter what they saw; the point is that they acted on their intuition. In this case, later facts proved them right -- something was wrong and they protected themselves.
- Listen to your instinctive reaction, instead of dismissing it.
- Go a different way.
One more observation about changing your plans or directions: Try to know as much as you can about the neighborhood you travel through, so that you can easily take another way if necessary. This not only helps you when you get that "creepy feeling," but it's also a valuable resource when the subway breaks down, a bad wreck blocks the highway, or a special event closes your usual route.
Being flexible -- like the other skills of self defense -- is useful for more than just keeping yourself safe.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
First, the world is not safe. The level of risk may be greater or lesser, depending on where you live and what your resources are, but we are all at some risk of attack from our fellow human beings. While we often use the word "inhuman" to describe particularly awful crimes, the truth is that interpersonal violence is as much a part of the human makeup as love and compassion. In addition, there are numerous other dangers in the world -- disease, natural disaster, a vast potential for accidents -- that further jeopardize our safety.
Second, women are as capable as men of protecting themselves and protecting others when necessary. That both genders buy into the myth that they are not keeps women at a significant disadvantage, because they must place limitations on themselves, such as traveling with a male companion or avoiding certain neighborhoods. Acting in accordance with this myth not only perpetuates a helpless mindset among the female population, limiting their sense of potential as well as their careers and dreams, it also impels men to take foolish risks, particularly men who really don't know how to protect themselves but feel that they must do something nonetheless.
These ideas are from my essay "There Are No Front Lines in Modern Warfare -- Or Modern Life," which you can read here. This essay was adapted from a longer piece called "We Aren't Civilized Yet," which appeared in The WisCon Chronicles, Volume 1, from Aqueduct Press.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
His core advice is to trust your intuition, your instincts. If your intuition tells you there's danger ahead, act on it -- cross the street, lock the door, duck into the nearest shop. Later you can figure out what tipped off your intuition.
Here are two important things de Becker says about intuition:
- It is always in response to something.
- It always has your best interests at heart.
The Gift of Fear impressed me so much that I recommend it to everyone I meet. But recently, a woman who had heard me praising it in a group discussion asked me why I liked it so much. "It just scared me," she said.
I was surprised, because the book hadn't scared me at all. I had found it liberating to learn that my instincts would protect me. But I dug it out and reread parts of it, and I can see why she was frightened: de Becker tells some very scary stories. If you're not quite sure you could act on your intuition -- despite his confident assurance that anyone can do it -- these stories can terrify you.
The stories didn't scare me when I read the book because I immediately saw the point: If you acted on your intuition, you could keep yourself from ever playing a starring role in a nightmare. But when I read it, I'd been training in martial arts for years and I already had some understanding of trusting my instincts. For me the book was validation of something I'd discovered already: You can read another person and tell whether they pose a threat to you.
Many people don't realize how well they read others. But in truth, most people can do amazing things if they follow their intuition.
Take an everyday example: You're at an intersection, the light turns green, and yet you wait an extra second or two. And sure enough, the driver you thought was going to run the red light goes sailing through. You don't even have to be driving yourself -- or know how to drive -- to make this kind of intuitive decision: Pedestrians and bicyclists do it all the time.
Given how dangerous cars can be -- according to the World Health Organization, 1.2 million people die in traffic accidents worldwide each year -- your ability to read other drivers is an important survival skill. It may sound ordinary, but that's the point: Following your instinct is an ordinary skill that you already know how to use.
You are constantly picking up signals from other people and your brain is processing them much faster than your conscious mind can think. Try paying attention to all the ways you use your instinct every day -- the times when you can tell someone's upset and know whether to ask questions or leave the person alone; the situations where you know someone is going to ask you to do something you don't want to do and the way you manipulate the conversation so they won't ask; the way you know whether an interview went well or badly.
Learn to appreciate how well you use this skill. And start trusting it. Your intuition can keep you safe.
Monday, October 8, 2007
"Yeah, it's a great gun, all right. Fifth generation Uzi. Light, compact. And never jams." I took the gun off the shelf, handed it to the kid.
Sunday, October 7, 2007
(I'm not giving away any spoilers by telling you that Bain killed someone -- I'm pretty sure everyone who is thinking about seeing the movie already knows Bain becomes a vigilante after she's brutally beaten and her fiance is murdered. The plot deals with her own reactions to what she's doing and whether she's going to get away with it.)
There's nothing inhuman about wanting revenge. Most of us at least fantasize about it even for minor indignities. I wouldn't be surprised if I fell prey to the desire for revenge if someone near and dear to me was murdered. Some deaths can leave horrible voids in the lives of those left behind.
But the fact that revenge is a normal response to a horrific act doesn't make it a useful one. It doesn't really solve anything. If you look at the history of warfare, revenge is often the reason people go to war -- or at least, the excuse for stirring up popular support. The peace accords that have actually worked have been those where people with legitimate grievances have let go of their desire for revenge.
From a self defense point of view, there's another big flaw in The Brave One: It perpetuates the myth that the only real way to be safe in the world is to get a gun and kill the bad guys before they kill you. If you buy that myth, but don't want to become a killer, then you may believe that there's nothing you can do to keep yourself safe.
And that's not true: There are hundreds of things you can do, starting with paying attention -- a subject we've already been discussing here on Taking Care of Ourselves. The choice isn't as stark as kill or be killed. Don't let popular movies or books convince you otherwise.
Friday, October 5, 2007
At the beginning of each month I'll provide a list of upcoming self defense classes in different locations. This month's list include classes in Washington, D.C., northern and southern California, Boston, Santa Fe, and New York City.
Defend Yourself, an organization in Washington, D.C., offers a variety of self defense classes at reasonable prices -- a nine-week class is listed as $209. Their next class begins on Monday Oct. 22.
Here are some October self defense classes taught by local affiliates of the Impact Personal Safety self defense program. I took the Impact course many years back when it was called Model Mugging and found it excellent. It's more expensive than other programs --
about $450 to $550 for the basic program -- but the teachers have extensive training and the program is intensive.
- Boston Impact has a weekend-long basics class for women on Oct. 12-14.
- Santa Fe Impact has a women's basics class on Sundays beginning Oct. 14.
- San Francisco Bay Area Impact has a weekend-long basics class for women on Oct. 19-21.
- Impact in Santa Monica has two series of weekly basics classes for women, one on Tuesdays beginning Oct. 16 and one on Sundays beginning Oct. 28.
- Washington, D.C., Impact has a women's basics class on Sundays beginning Oct. 21.
- New York City Impact and Prepare has a basics class for women and teens on Mondays beginning Oct. 29.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
The report, based on an Urban Institute study (pdf of full report here), suggests that portable music devices and other expensive portable high tech devices are both highly desirable and easy to steal.
There's one more reason why the devices are an invitation to robbery: Those using them aren't paying attention.
On the Marketplace program, economics correspondent Chris Farrell observed, "There was an attraction, it's an expensive item, people walking around aren't necessarily paying attention [emphasis added], and the cost of committing the crime went down."
The same point was made in the abstract for the report, which argues that increased opportunities for crime increase crime:
At the same time that violent crime rates began to rise, America’s streets filled with millions of people visibly wearing, and being distracted by [emphasis added], expensive electronic gear. Thus, there was a marked increase in both the supply of potential victims and opportunities for would-be offenders.
In the full report, the authors, John Roman and Aaron Chalfin, explain why iPods are distracting:
Finally, since iPods transmit sound to both ears, rather than just one in the case of cell phones, iPod users may be less aware of their surroundings than users of other consumer products.
While I question whether people conducting serious conversations on their cell phones are actually aware of their surroundings -- surely if they were they wouldn't be talking about clearly private matters in such loud voices -- the report is right about how much iPods cut off hearing.
The Urban Institute report wants improved crime information, so that authorities can respond to changes in crime patterns as they occur. On Marketplace, Farrell suggested that the manufacturers of expensive, portable high tech devices need to take responsibility for making their products less attractive to thieves.
I'm sure both those things are important, but there's a simpler low tech solution anyone can apply: Don't use your iPod when you need to pay attention to what's going on around you. It is possible to walk down the street without listening to music.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
I'm riding my bike on the trail in Rock Creek Park. A man is running just ahead of me. I call out, "Passing on your right." But he doesn't hear me: He's listening to his iPod.
Fortunately, I've never run down a jogger with my bike, but that's because I'm paying attention. Joggers wearing earbuds aren't; they've blocked a significant portion of their hearing. And that means they aren't going to hear trouble coming along behind them, whether the trouble is a mugger or an inattentive bicyclist.
We've been told to pay attention all our lives. It's often annoying advice, but it's also the easiest way to keep yourself safe. Paying attention not only protects you from attack; it also alerts you to other dangers, like fast moving cars and kids on skateboards careening out of control. Protecting yourself from accidents is just as important as protecting yourself from crime.
When you're out running or walking, you have three primary sense for information: sight, hearing, and smell. Cut off one of those, and you're at greater risk.
So put away the music and take in the sounds around you as you jog through the park or walk to work. Save the iPod for times when hearing what goes on around you isn't necessary to keep you safe.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
The tool is based on research conducted by Jacquelyn C. Campbell PhD, RN, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing along with others. Their research was published by the American Journal of Public Health and is online here.
According to The Post, police officers using the tool get more involved with victims at a domestic violence scene and ask a series of 11 questions based on Campbell's research. The article reports that the program has been successful in getting people to counseling who would not otherwise have gone.
Domestic violence is one significant cause of homicide in the U.S. The Post cites federal statistics showing that 1,181 women and 329 men were killed by intimate partners in 2005.