The alarm blares at 5 AM, and you roll out of bed to gather your workout clothes for an early-morning run. It’s fall now, so the sun won’t make an appearance for another two hours, but you’re out the door, stuffing headphones into your ears and pulling a cap down to ward off the crisp chill in the air.
You’re on your usual route, enjoying the music and thinking about everything you need to accomplish today. It’s just another run. You’ve done this hundreds of times.
But today is different. Today you are being watched—not by mystified passers-by inspired by your dedication and strength. No, you’ve been spotted by someone who sees you as something else…vulnerable, an easy pawn, unaware.
Within seconds, you’re attacked.
What do you do?
Fight smart, not just hard.
That’s key to overcoming the situation, explained Heather Heck, a U.S. probation officer and certified self-defense trainer. She spoke to a group of 20 women about personal safety at a recent MOPS meeting.
One in three women in the world experience physical violence in their lifetime. Knowing how to defend yourself in a violent attack can be the difference between life and death.
Fighting smart means focusing on the most sensitive areas of your attacker’s body: eyes, ears, and groin.
Heck said forming “beaks” with the tips of your fingers and jamming them into your attacker’s eyes can provide the few moments you need to break away. You can also cup your hands and slam them into your attacker’s head to temporarily deafen him or possibly burst his eardrums.
Use your legs or your fist to inflict damage to his groin. In the self-defense class Heck teaches, the move using your fist is aptly called “The Hammer.”
Another effective move is called the side-thrust kick. If you’re free, get down on the ground, lay to one side, and put your leg in the air to fend off the attacker. Heck said the move maximizes a woman’s strength—her hips and legs.
Sometimes, fighting smart means fighting initial reactions.
If you’re being choked, the urge to flail your arms or squirm away will only deflate your energy, Heck explained. Instead, go for your attacker’s thumbs. Yank as hard as you possibly can to break his grip.
During an attack from behind, do what you can to turn to the side so you can injure his foot by slamming yours down as hard as possible on his.
Heck teaches a 20-hour Women’s Basics/Impact Personal Safety class at UND. It’s an immersive experience that offers women a chance to “find their inner animal” to tap into during an attack. Heck said participants focus on one important question:
“Is this person going to hurt me or am I going home to my family?”
Thinking about that sobering question inspires women to defend themselves. And when women resist violence, attacks are less successful. A 2014 study found that women enrolled in an empowerment-based self-defense class were 2.5 times less likely to be assaulted over the following year, compared to women who did not take a class.
Heck shared two stories from past participants of the class: one woman effectively stomped on the foot of her attacker using her stiletto heel. So effective that once she’d run to safety and called the police, her attacker was still in the parking lot, with the heel nailing his foot to the ground.
In another circumstance, a woman who had been temporarily paralyzed in an accident came home to discover she was being robbed. She was raped by the intruder, but she was smart; she “congratulated” the man on providing great sex and asked for his number. She gave that number to the police, who apprehended him.
So what can you do to prevent becoming a victim of violence?
- Be aware of everything around you. No matter where you are, stop being distracted and start noticing the people and environment around you.
- Hold your keys between your fingers if you’re walking or running alone. Not only could you get into your vehicle faster, you have a prime weapon within striking distance of your attacker’s face.
- Don’t listen to headphones when running alone. If you must listen to music, keep it at a low enough volume that you can still hear what’s happening around you or keep one earbud out.
- Use wasp spray instead of pepper spray. Heck explained that pepper spray requires you to be within two feet of the target, which is too dangerous. Wasp spray has a 20-foot trajectory. Keep in mind that cans of wasp spray are pretty big, so you won’t be able to put it in a small bag. You can keep a can in your car or home.
- Know how to use whatever protection you seek. Whether it’s a gun or pepper spray, your safety depends on knowing how to use the weapon, as well as understanding how you could be affected by it. If you use pepper spray when there’s a breeze and some lands on you, how will you and your skin react? You need to know.
- Make yourself as conspicuous as possible. That may mean updating people on your whereabouts or talking to significant other on the phone as you walk alone. If you’re attacked, yell and scream as much as you can to draw attention to yourself. And yell anything, Heck said. Doesn’t matter what you scream as long as you make a huge scene and scare off your attacker.
Knowing how to defend yourself or your family comes down to more than physical moves to ward off violence. It’s also about the confidence of knowing you can stand up for yourself if necessary.
Note: Anyone who enjoys the movie “Miss Congeniality” undoubtedly remembers the scene where Gracie Hart demonstrates basic self-defense moves on-stage. While the scene offers comedic effect, the information is educational and accurate. Refresh yourself on how to SING:
[gdlr_video url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97JIFQzw8NM” ]