Monday, December 31, 2007

Good Advice: Stop Waiting for Your Prince

I heard an interview with the legendary Eartha Kitt on the radio this morning. Talking about the fact that she made her own way in the world, she said something that I think fits nicely into the concept of taking care of ourselves:
I always thought of myself a sepia Cinderella, and look, I'm still looking for my prince, but the prince turned out to be me. ... Everything I want in my life I have to pay for myself.

Kitt was talking about economic self sufficiency, of course -- despite singing songs like "Santa Baby," she bought her own sables -- but the same principle applies to self defense. Waiting around for your prince is chancy -- he might not ever show up. And even if he does, he might not be able to protect you. Even worse, the guy who can do the best job of taking care of you may not be the one who has your heart.

Learn to take care of yourself. Then you can choose your prince on your own terms -- or choose to do without one at all.

photo of Eartha Kitt by Carl Van Vechten

Monday, December 24, 2007

Learn to Fight: Peace on Earth, But Be Prepared All the Same

Here are some upcoming self defense classes in the Washington, D.C., metro area:

Defend Yourself:
  • Dec. 30: Defend Yourself has a one-day class for teens -- age 14 through college -- from 1-5 PM in Garrett Park. There may be a few spots left. Call 301-608-3708 or email Lauren or Cathie to see if you can still register. Cost is $70 in advance; $65 in advance if you register with a friend; $80 at the door.
  • Beginning Jan. 14: A free, 16-week class for survivors of sexual assault meeting on Mondays sponsored by Defend Yourself and the D.C. Rape Crisis Center. The class will meet in downtown D.C. near a metro stop from 6:45 to 8:45 PM. To sign up, call the D.C. Rape Crisis Center by Jan. 7 at 202-232-0789 and ask for Amara.
  • Defend Yourself will also offer a series of self defense courses in 2008, beginning in January with a class for mothers and their high-school-age daughters and in February with a general self defense class for women 16 and up. Check their class schedule for further details.
DC Impact:
  • DC Impact offers a one-afternoon intro class on Sunday, Feb, 17, 2008 from one 1-4pm at KMDC at Gallery Place, 616 H St, NW, 2nd Floor, in Washington. The fee is $49.
  • The group also offers a women's basic self defense class on Sundays from 1 to 6 PM, beginning March 9 and running until April 13, 2008, at the same location. The fee is $595, but will be reduced by $50 if you register by Dec. 31, 2007.
Registration info and other details are on the class schedule on their website.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Plan Ahead: Where Are Your Keys?

Lauren Taylor has a good practical tip on the Defend Yourself website: Keep your keys in your pocket, not your purse or backpack. That way you'll still have them even if someone grabs your bag. Check out her page for additional information.

The website also has a schedule of her upcoming classes. I'll post her schedule and several others on here soon.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Learn to Fight: Self Defense Training Helps Prevent Domestic Violence

Writing on Salon's Broadsheet, Catherine Price reports that the governor of Kentucky recently pardoned 21 women who either killed or tried to kill men who abused them. The piece indicates that the abuse the women endured was horrible, but in some cases, so was their response to it.

Price observes:
But I think the real question to deal with is what we can do to prevent such situations from occurring in the first place. It's hard to assert that someone who has been raped, stabbed and beaten doesn't have a legitimate reason to want to escape from her or his abuser. But what does it say about the recourses available to victims of domestic abuse that these women felt that they had no choice but to kill their abusers?

There are many more resources for abuse victims these days than there were back in the 1970s, when setting up shelters and rape crisis centers were significant feminist actions. But, as with many needed social services, we can still use more programs.

Links in the Broadsheet article provided lists of various resources, but I noticed one thing missing: There were no links to self defense courses or programs. My answer to what Price calls the real question -- what we can do to prevent domestic violence -- is to help women discover their ability to take care of themselves.

As regular readers of this blog can probably guess, I'm not just looking to give women the skills to fight back against abusive spouses or boyfriends. I want to see women develop the skills, awareness and self confidence that will help them either avoid bad relationships or get out of them quickly once they understand the situation.

That is, I want women to learn to take care of themselves so they can avoid becoming victims. That will also help them avoid becoming killers.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Work Together: Addressing Mass Killings

Last week in Omaha, a troubled 19-year-old took an AK-47 to a shopping mall and killed eight people before killing himself. His suicide note indicated he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory -- or perhaps the right word is infamy.

Whenever I hear about horrible events like that, my first thought is "What could I have done if I'd been there?" Could I have stopped him? Could I have kept myself from getting shot?

In this case -- as in the case of the Virginia Tech massacre -- my answer to those questions as an individual is "No." Sometimes you're just in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is also the case with terrorist attacks.

Oh, maybe if I'd happened to be near him when he pulled out his gun, I could have done something. The pro-gun lobby would suggest that if someone near him had been armed, they could have shot him. I note that Omaha permits concealed carrying of weapons, so it's possible that some people in the mall were armed. If so, they apparently weren't able to respond quickly enough.

The truth is, most of us don't have the skill it takes to handle an armed person determined to kill, especially one who is basically intent on suicide. That's why I don't think concealed carry laws provide any real protection to people.

So what can we do? We can work together to develop laws and a culture that minimize the chances of such mass shootings.

For example: An AK-47 is a military weapon, not suitable for hunting or for home protection. Yet it is legal to purchase them in Nebraska. While the killer in this case had a felony conviction and therefore could not -- I hope -- have bought any kind of gun, he apparently stole it from his stepfather, who I assume purchased it legally.

We should certainly be discussing whether such weapons should be legal for anyone outside the military. This is a separate question from whether people should be allowed to own guns at all. After all, military assault weapons are a different category from hunting rifles and even handguns. I realize the Second Amendment purists will fight this idea tooth and nail, but I suspect many responsible gun owners would be willing to discuss what weapons are appropriate for individuals.

But there's another issue here, and it is probably more important to our collective safety than the gun issue: The killer in this case was a troubled young man and, as the Kansas City Star notes, he apparently wasn't receiving the kind of treatment he needed.

In this particular case -- unlike in the case of the Virginia Tech shooter -- it seems as if there was some effort to help this young man, but it wasn't enough.

Now I know it's difficult to assess mental illness -- there are many troubled people who are not dangerous to others. But we clearly need to pay more attention to the issue. There are rarely enough resources devoted to treating those with mental illness. Even families with good health insurance often don't get coverage for mental health treatment. The rules for getting government coverage often require families to cut their ties to the ill person. Many state and local governments don't have all the resources they need to take care of people.

We usually think of taking care of the troubled and vulnerable among us as a humanitarian issue -- something we do because we're good people. That makes it the sort of program that gets cut quick in a budget crisis.

Perhaps if we start to think of it as a public safety issue, we'll get better results.