Thursday, September 25, 2008

Get the Facts and Learn to Fight: A Program for Young Women

Here's an interesting looking training program aimed at women and girls aged 11-19: Just Yell Fire. (Note: this website automatically runs video with sound when you open it, so be forewarned.)

The people behind this -- who include a 16-year-old woman black belt named Dallas Jessup -- are concerned about the risks to younger women. They discuss date rape and dating issues as well as how to fight back against physical attack.

The name comes from their theory that we're used to hearing people yell "help" when they don't really mean it, so the recommend yelling "fire" instead. When I took Model Mugging -- now generally known as Impact -- we were taught to yell "no" for the same reason.

They offer workshops and they also offer instruction for self defense trainers. They've also done a movie showing self defense skills. I haven't watched it yet, but I'll review it here when I do.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pay Attention: Take Off Those Headphones, Put Away That Video Game, Close That Book ...

Remember when you were a kid, sitting around with a book, or a game, or just daydreaming, and some adult -- a parent or a teacher or maybe a coach -- yelled at you, "Pay attention."

And you said -- automatically -- "I am paying attention."

But, of course, you weren't. You were in your own world, and just trying to keep a small piece of your mind alert for what the adult in question found important, to stay out of trouble. Not very successfully, I might add, or they wouldn't have yelled at you.

Now I'm not here to criticize you for tuning out boring teachers or lectures on cleaning up your room -- far from it. My high school English teacher's take on English poets drove me nuts, so I sat in the back of the room and read Sartre. These days I tend to read and listen to the radio while eating dinner.

But I've noticed something: If there's an interesting news report on the radio, or a song I really love, I tend to read a page without knowing what I read. Likewise, when I get engrossed in what I'm reading, I miss what was said on the radio, often coming out of my fog to find that I've just missed the story I most wanted to hear. And sometimes I find I've finished dinner without noticing what I ate.

And I really didn't listen to the English teacher.

If you're really paying attention to one thing, you're giving something else short shrift. That doesn't really matter when you're home alone with the radio and a book, but it's hugely important when you're walking down the street. Or driving.

I've been musing on this ever since I heard about the tragic rail crash in Los Angeles, in which at least 25 people died. Some reports on the crash suggest that the engineer was text-messaging at the time of the crash -- though I don't know if this has been actually proved -- and there has been a rush to pass a rule against using portable electronics while running a train.

Now you'd think such a rule wouldn't be necessary, that any sane person would know you couldn't drive a train and text message at the same time. But given the number of people who drive cars while talking on their cell phones (and yes, text messaging), it appears that there are large numbers of people who really don't understand how much attention it takes to operate a train or a car, and how much their attention can be dragged away by an interesting text-message conversation.

It's just too easy to get caught up in one of the things you're doing, at the expense of the others, and if the thing you're not paying attention to happens to be dangerous, accidents happen.

How does this tie into self defense? If you're paying attention, you can avoid whatever trouble is up ahead, whether it's bad traffic or someone who gives you the creeps. Protecting yourself from attack by other human beings is really quite similar to protecting yourself from accidents.

Don't handicap yourself by dividing your attention when you're driving, biking, or even walking or jogging. Keep yourself and others safe: Pay attention.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Get the Facts: Gender Affects Crime

Ongoing gender inequity in our society affects your risk from crime.

Over on the Burnt Orange Report, liberaltexan, who I believe is male, has an interesting post on male privilege.

Among the things he points out: Women are significantly more at risk from rape and sexual harassment than men are.

Certainly that means that we need to work together to change those numbers, but while we're doing that, individual women need to be aware of their risk and take steps to protect themselves. As I've pointed out before on this blog, the biggest rape danger to women is not from strangers -- even though that's our worst fear -- but from acquaintances.

Sexual harassment is in some ways a trickier situation, because while it includes many annoying but not dangerous actions, it can affect your career. To protect yourself, you must learn how to make a firm response when something happens -- most sexual harassment policies require that the victim let the attacker know that he was out of line. And you must decide when it's necessary to report an action and take further steps.

But before someone starts raving about how men are victimized by sexual harassment (Don't get confused by the movies, guys: as a fiction writer, I can tell you that all those stories of women harassing men are done because role reversal is more fun to write), let me point out one way in which that gender inequality comes back to haunt men:
Men are at much greater risk from homicide than women.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, 79 percent of murder victims in 2006 were male. In fact, the BJS says men were at greater risk for all kinds of violent crime except rape and sexual assault.

Men are often too cavalier about taking care of themselves, assuming that their strength and gender protect them. They, too, need to pay attention and learn the facts.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Get the Facts: Doonesbury on Military Sexual Assault

Looking for a way to pick up a few facts in a short period of time? Read Doonesbury daily.

Garry Trudeau has a real gift for getting at the heart of serious issues while still being funny. He's recently introduced a new character, Melissa, an Iraq war veteran who was raped by her fellow soldiers. Last week she told B.D. about the Congressional hearings on military sexual assault.

If you've got time to investigate solutions to the sexual assault problems in the military, I recommend Erin Solaro's Women in the Line of Fire. In this book about the current experiences of women in the military, Solaro suggests the problem can be solved if the military issues firm orders that sexual harassment and assault will not be tolerated and holds people accountable. Right now, too many people are winking at the problem and taking a "boys will be boys" attitude.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Work Together: Indian Tribes Should Be Able to Prosecute Non-Indians

As a general rule, women are at the greatest risk of rape and sexual assault from men of their own race or ethnicity. A Bureau of Justice Statistics report (pdf) from the late 1990s estimates 88 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone who is the same race as the victim.

But according to a recent New York Times op-ed, that rule of thumb doesn't apply to Native American women, particularly those who live on reservations. More than 80 percent of Native American women who are attacked say that the rapist was not Indian, law professor N. Bruce Duthu said in the article.

Duthu also cited Justice Department statistics saying one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes. Rape is a serious problem in Indian Country. You can read the transcript or listen to this report that played on NPR last year to get some idea of the scope of the problem.

And here's the other shoe: Under federal law Indian tribes can't prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on the reservation. In practical terms, that means a non-Indian who commits a crime on an Indian reservation only gets prosecuted if someone can convince a state or federal prosecutor to take action -- something that doesn't happen often, especially in run-of-the mill cases.

Back in the 1970s, when I spent a summer on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota, I heard of criminal acts by whites living on the reservations -- acts that went unpunished because the Sioux Nation had no jurisdiction over them. It was obvious then that some white people were deliberately taking advantage of the fact that they were immune from prosecution in the tribal courts. Since that time, according to Duthu, the Supreme Court has upheld the limited jurisdiction of Indian courts.

Congress needs to act now to change this law; it's way overdue. Indian tribes should have the same right to enforce their laws in their territory as any other political subdivision in the country. As long as their authority is limited, Native American women will be targets.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Trust Your Instincts: Older People Can Defend Themselves, Too

The Tulsa World reports that a 75-year-old woman in Moore, Oklahoma, fought off a 35-year-old rapist by kicking him in the groin, poking him the eyes, and hitting him on the head with a cordless phone.

According to the news report, she apparently picked up a few fighting techniques from watching Dr. Phil! I tend to be skeptical about what someone can learn from watching TV, but it apparently helped in this case.

It's just a short news report, but I would assume the rapist wasn't armed. I suspect the woman read the situation and instinctively knew she'd be safer fighting back. And she didn't let the fact that he was half her age get in her way.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Learn to Fight: Upcoming Self Defense Classes

It's September, back to school time. Even if you graduated a long time ago, it's a great time to learn something new. Here are some upcoming self defense classes:


Sun Dragon Martial Arts is offering a 3-hour basic self defense skills workshop on Saturday, Sept. 13. The cost is $35. Sun Dragon offers classes in Seido Karate and is affiliated with the World Seido Karate Association. Their head instructor, Joy Williamson, is certified as a self defense instructor by National Women's Martial Arts Foundation.

Washington, DC:

Defend Yourself is offering a 3-hour introduction to self defense on Saturday, Sept. 13, at a cost of $55. The class will be held in DC near Howard University. They are also offering a 3-hour workshop on guns, knives and multiple attackers on Oct. 18 for $45 in Takoma Park, MD. Defend Yourself's head instructor is Lauren Taylor, who has been teaching self defense for over 20 years and is also certified as a self defense instructor by National Women's Martial Arts Foundation.

DC Impact is offering a 5-week intensive women's basics class beginning Sept. 14. The cost is $595 and the classes will be held near the Gallery Place Metro stop. I took this class years ago back when the program was first starting in DC, and I highly recommend it.

New Mexico:

Impact Personal Safety in Santa Fe is offering women's basic self defense on Saturdays and Sundays beginning Sept. 20. This program is probably similar to the one offered by DC Impact. They provide a sliding scale fee, ranging from $50 - $450, depending on ability to pay.

North Dakota:

The University of North Dakota Women's Center offers Impact classes and even gives college physical education credits for taking it. Their next class is scheduled for Sept. 12-14.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pay Attention: Car Accidents Kill More People Than Crime

The latest edition of AAA World, AAA's Mid-Atlantic region magazine, reminds us that our lifetime risk of dying in a car crash is three times as great as our chance of being murdered.

According to the article "Risky Business," about 43,000 people in the U.S. die every year in car crashes, with another 2.5 million suffering disabling injuries.

Those are sobering figures, but there's good news, according to AAA: Most crashes are preventable. The key to preventing car crashes: Paying attention.

A 2006 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that lack of driver attention accounted for nearly 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes. Incidentally, cell phone use was the the most significant factor, though the AAA article also mentions adjusting the radio and other vehicle controls, eating, drinking, and talking to passengers.

The AAA article also discusses the usual suspects -- drunk driving, speeding, aggressive driving -- but also makes a big point about one other major problem: fatigue. It's hard to pay attention when you're falling asleep at the wheel.

Self defense is not just about protecting yourself from crime; it's about protecting yourself from all the dangers out there. Driving is a dangerous activity, but if you pay attention, you can minimize your risk.

Here's an excellent example of what should be a driver no-no: Jamie Lawrence reports from Korea that his bus driver was watching television while driving down a six-lane street. I'd like to think that this is just another of those wacky tales about driving in other countries, but I've seen too many ads for car TVs to discount the possibility that U.S. drivers are doing the same thing.

Life Interferes: An Explanation and a Recommitment

I obviously haven't been blogging much this year. My life got complicated and some things -- including this blog -- fell by the wayside.

As I mentioned earlier on this blog, I moved back to Austin, Texas, after many years in Washington, D.C., and started a new job as the Austin correspondent for my company. I was optimistic when I made that previous post that I'd get back to blogging regularly, but I had clearly underestimated how much time it would take me to settle in.

Additionally, my first fiction collection came out in print -- Conscientious Inconsistencies -- and I've been devoting some time to that as well.

It's occurred to me that maybe I don't have enough time to do everything I want to do in my life. I thought about dropping this blog and the overall self defense writing project.

But I can't. The subject is too important to me. So I'm starting back up today and promise that from here on out I will post on a regular basis.

Stay tuned.