It has been two years since I received the horrific news that one of my shooting sisters was murdered by her husband in his last cowardly act. Since that day, I have been wrestling with the pain of not being able to foresee this or even help her prevent this. We trained together in defensive handguns for years and I was absolutely confident that she would be able to protect herself and her young daughters should a stranger attempt to assault her.
The problem was that my friend was killed in her own home by someone she loved. When she was shot, she did not have her weapon of choice readily available to her. She did not have the opportunity to use the techniques she had learned of quickly drawing her pistol and placing shots on target. She did not prepare for the situation where a person whom she loved and trusted, an intimate partner, would be the one she needed to protect herself against.
I have been scrutinizing how I could have helped her protect herself and came to the realization that it is not any one thing or any one program. It is a combination of many programs each of which are meant to be used in different situations.
Violence against Women by Loved Ones
Intimate partner violence (IPV) or domestic abuse is defined as physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Intimate Partner Violence)
Although intimate partner violence victims can be men, for this article, I will focus on women victims only. Furthermore, I am going to focus on female/male relationships and not female/female relationships, even though there is also IPV with same sex partners and women who self-identify as lesbian or bisexual are at an increased risk for intimate partner violence.
- In female homicides between 2003 and 2014, fifty-five percent (55%) of the victims had some type of relationship with their killer. In ninety-three percent (93%) of those cases, the culprit was a current or former romantic partner. (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Rep 2017; 66:741–746.)
- Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.)
- One in four women experience severe physical violence, sexual violence, and/or stalking from a current or past intimate partner. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.)
- Ninety-four percent (94%) of murder-suicide victims are female. (Violence Policy Center American Roulette Murder-Suicide in the United States, Fourth Edition.)
- The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%. (American Journal of Public Health, July 2003.)
Many of these statistics depend upon the victim self-reporting the crime and many domestic abuse victims are horrified of reporting for fear of retribution, so we can safely assume that the actual percentages are higher.
Even though the likelihood that a women will be killed by someone she knows is greater than being killed by a stranger, society teaches women that the stranger lurking behind the bushes is more dangerous than the intimate partner. This is seen in the media through the repeated coverage given to shocking stranger abductions and assaults caught on surveillance cameras. There is rarely video footage within a private residence of these horrendous IPV attacks, so the media struggles to sell the story without the video. Even the self-defense industry pays more attention to stranger assaults when they teach women to protect themselves from an attack at the gas station or parking lot, rather than the one in their own home against someone she knows.
According to Total Empowerment: A Survival Handbook for Women by Ryron and Rener Gracie, non-strangers, who can include intimate partners, relatives, friends, co-workers or just acquaintances, use a different strategy to their brutal endgame as opposed to stranger attacks which usually take place within minutes of identifying their victims. These phases are intrusion, desensitization, isolation, and assault. The intrusion phase starts as the “friend” selects a target who may be susceptible to their influence and tests boundaries to see how far the intended victim will let them advance. Once the perpetrator feels comfortable that the target is accepting their impositions, they will begin to desensitize them with repeated verbal, physical, and psychological intrusions to boundaries until the intrusions are common place in their relationship with the victim. Once the predator believes the prey is sufficiently desensitized to his advances, he will isolate his victim to reduce the likelihood of outside influences and witnesses. Once the target is isolated, the offender will execute his assault. These same strategies are used by abusers whether they are in a short-term, one time connection or long-term relationships.
An example of a scenario that follows these phases may start when a man meets a women at a social gathering and tells the woman a sexually inappropriate joke for the setting. The woman feigns a giggle. In subsequent encounters, the man continues the unsuitable jokes and adds inappropriate touching. When the woman tries to set boundaries, the man argues that his actions are proper and there must be something wrong with her reaction. The woman begins to doubt her feelings and follows the man’s lead. He will continue to influence the women stressing that family and friends are hurting their relationship and ties with her loved ones must be cut. Once this is complete, the man can perpetrate his final goal.
Self-protection by women is not a “one and done” occurrence. We must protect ourselves at every phase of the offender’s mindset. Self-protection is lifelong learning and continually practicing a variety of skills to defend against a diversity of attacks. Awareness is the overarching theme across all self-protection categories. The perpetrator needs opportunity to complete their assault and also hopes for the element of surprise to assist. By being aware of the surroundings, women can prevent many would be assaults by simply not being available at the opportune time for the criminal.
Women not only need to be aware of their surroundings, but the temperament of their relationships and follow their intuition. Woman are most likely to be killed by an intimate partner when they are leaving the relationship and it is even more dangerous if a gun is available. Make a safety plan to leave, which may include not telling a partner where you are living, removing guns from the equation, notifying police, obtaining a protective order, etc. Even though the aggressive partner may claim they are repentant and have changed their behaviors, do not put yourself back in a violent person’s presence.
Next, women must be able to verbally stand up for themselves and set boundaries. This includes the emotional self-confidence to know it is okay to set limitations with regards to personal space, unwanted touching, inappropriate language and other verbal/mental abuse, without having to be apprehensive about the stigma the man (or society) will impose on the women. Women need to understand that part of the abuser’s attack is to make the woman feel that she is wrong or crazy by saying “no” or leaving the situation. A person with good intentions will never balk at someone setting boundaries and will not exclaim that those boundaries are unreasonable.
Women will also need a variety of self-defense strategies. There should be a plan if the attacker is outside of arm’s reach, another at arm’s reach, and yet another for overpowering physical contact. For distance protection, women can use handguns or pepper spray. Once the perpetrator is closer, we need to beginning thinking about hand wielding weapons like knives or Kubatons and even martial arts that include kicks and punches, like karate. Once the attacker is on you, then the last option should be the grappling martial arts, like Jiu Jitsu. It would be ideal if the only end game women needed to plan for is a quick escape, the reality is each women must be willing to seriously hurt or kill another to protect her life.
Add a fitness component to your self-defense repertoire. Working out makes you feel stronger and smarter. Fitness training also helps with confidence and self-esteem. The workout will keep your muscles from stagnating and ready for an unexpected fight. Cardio will also assure that your body does not give up when you most need it. Do not rely on adrenaline to save your life.
Knowing these tactics may have prevented my friend’s murder. My hope is that I not only learned, but also passed on techniques that can help other women who, unfortunately, find themselves in similar situations. Women must be aware of their surroundings at all times outside their home and inside their home. They must be able to set both physical and emotional boundaries in their lives. In the event of a worst case scenario, their self-defense tool bag must include a mixture of verbal tools and weapons, for long distance protection and a variety of close combat, personal self-defense skills. Each technique requires training over a life-time. Our lives are may be dependent upon it.