Skills You Already Have for Protecting Yourself--a response to the assault in the Mission last weekend

As you may have heard, last weekend a woman was attacked in the Mission District of San Francisco. She sent an email describing the incident to neighborhood groups and made a police report. She fought her way out of the situation using her strength and courage, and used techniques that are available to all of us. Here are some of the things she did:

  • She was alert

"I noticed a man walking to me that ‘zero-ed’ in on my presence, locking eyes on me."

Using awareness and intuition are two of the best ways to keep yourself safe. Pay attention to where you are, and what is happening when you are out in public. Texting, looking at a smart phone, or even simply talking on the phone divides your attention and may prevent you from noticing important information. If your intuition tells you something is wrong, listen to it and take steps to get to a safe place (even if you can't articulate why you feel like something is wrong).

  • She used strong, confident body language

"There was no side street to turn down, and I didn’t want to turn around, exposing my back to him . . ."

If someone sets off your internal alarms or gives you a bad feeling, don't look away and don't be afraid to make eye contact. Often we have the instinct to avoid eye contact for fear of provoking someone. A person with no bad intentions will not harm you because you look at him. On the other hand, someone who is looking for a victim will read your body language, and by continuing to face that person you send the message that you will not be an easy target. Facing him also allowed the woman in this case to give a description of the man to police.

  • She used her voice

"I . . . started screaming – first just yelling and then screaming for help."

 Your voice is one of your strongest self defense weapons. Not only did the neighbors hear her and open a window, scaring the man off, but yelling is a good way to start harnessing your adrenaline by breaking the common "freeze response". If you don't know what to say, you can just yell "NO!" as loud as you can.

  • She fought back

"I was able to use all my strength to surge up on my right side to unpin that arm. Since I’m a climber, I’m strong, and I don’t think he was expecting this and was unprepared for that maneuver." 

Every situation is different and you must use your best judgment about whether to fight back. But don't assume that you can't fight if you don't think of yourself as particularly strong. Adrenaline dramatically increases strength and speed. Don't underestimate your ability to fight back, even against someone bigger and stronger. The element of surprise is also very important. Most assailants don't expect their victims to fight back. The moment you start fighting back, you force that person to reassess their plan, and if they were looking for an easy victim you have shown them that's not going to be you.

In response to this incident, we have added two FREE 1-hour Introduction to Personal Safety classes this month, on January 18th and 28th. Both classes will be from 7-8 pm at Sports Basement on Bryant Street, and will give you the opportunity to practice effective body language, use your voice, and teach a simple but effective physical technique.

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