Thursday, 31 October 2013

5 Halloween safety tips for the ladies

It's that time of year - the leaves are changing colours, the air is getting cooler, and Halloween is fast approaching. With Halloween, there are parties to go to, drinks to drink, and the chance to dress up. It is with increasing popularity that women are gravitating towards revealing and sexy costumes, so I think that this is a great time of year to keep in mind some important safety tips when you're out and about, enjoying your Halloween festivities: 

1. Watch your drinks - Keep your drink with you at all times. Walk around with your hand covering the top of your cup so that it deters someone from slipping something in it. If someone is going to buy you a drink, walk with them to the bar and have the bartender pass you the drink personally. If you have to put your drink down even for a second, just buy a new one (it's not worth the risk). Roofies are surprisingly easy to acquire and they're cheap. According to one American study, date rape accounts for almost 60% of all reported rapes (Vis-A-Vis, USA, 1992.). 

2. Buddy System - Do your best to party with a friend, and make sure that you each look out for each other. If your friend is taking an inordinately long time at the bathroom, go check on her;
if your friend appears as though she's had too much to drink or things seem out of sort, get her to safety; make sure that you each get home safely; go to and from the party together if possible. Also, where and when possible, take a cab together. There have been a surprising number of sexual assaults in cabs, especially of inebriated women. If you are drunk and by yourself, make an obvious phone call to a friend or boyfriend, "I'm going to be home in 10 minutes. I'm in a cab at Queen W and Dufferin St." Small acts like this can prove to be powerful deterrents. 

3. Cover up while in transit - I have no problem with wanting to dress in your sexiest costume, but just remember that there are inherent risks that are associated with choosing to do so. Firstly, while you will garner attention, you will also attract unwanted attention, which you need to be prepared for. I wish the world was different, but it isn't. As part of your preparation, do what you can to minimize this unwanted attention by throwing on a jacket or sweater over your costume while getting to your destination tonight. When you are in a controlled environment (i.e. the party), it is easier for you to rely on the help of friends, security, and (hopefully) other party-goers if you need help. 

4. Communicate boundaries effectively - If you're chatting with a cute guy, and it's the end of the night, and he is looking for more action than you are prepared to give, make sure that you communicate that appropriately and effectively. "No. I don't feel comfortable doing anything tonight." If he presses you, be firm and simply say, "No" with your voice trailing down at the end, to show that you mean business. It is important that the words that you say match your vocal pitch. If your voice goes up at the end, or shows flightiness or flirtatiousness, then he will disregard the words you are saying in favour for the pitch that you are communicating. Words and pitch always have to match, so if your words mean business, make sure that your pitch also communicates that. 

5. Put your phone and earbuds away - predators rely on the ability to exploit vulnerabilities, and the fact that your eyes are on your phone, or that you can't hear him approaching you from behind because you're listening to music puts him at a marked advantage. If you are traveling by yourself, it is especially important to put your phone away so that you can use your eyes to scan around your environs and know where people are in relation to you. Keep your ears open - do you hear someone walking behind you? Turn around and look. Many women ignore the urge to turn around and see who's walking behind them out of the misguided fear that they will hurt the man's feelings or seem silly for looking. It's always better to look - if he's a nice guy who means you no harm, he'll probably just feel bad for scaring you; if he's a potential threat, now he knows that you a) know what he looks like, b) can identify him in the future if you have to, and c) he no longer has the element of surprise working for him. 

Have fun, and be safe! 

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Why we freeze during an assault - the fear response

We've all seen it: a car comes racing down the road, a deer is in the middle of crossing, and rather than run to safety, it simply stands there, watching as the car gets closer to it. And...well, we all know how the story ends. 

Fear is an evolutionary survival mechanism, though it causes us to do some weird things, including freezing during violence. Chances are, it will probably happen, which makes sense because most people's last response is to fight.

  There are many reasons why people freeze though, so let's go through some of them: 
  • Too many stimuli - your brain is taking in so much information at a rapid rate that it is unable to process what it is seeing effectively. Because most people have never been in anything even approaching a self-defense situation before, your brain has no reference experience, and because of that, it takes your brain time to find its bearings. Unfortunately, in the time that it takes your brain to do that, you can sustain some serious damage. 
  • Disconnect between 9-5 brain and combat-brain - unless you are in the military or in law enforcement, very few people train themselves to be able to shift from their 9-5 brain into combat-mode at the drop of a hat. It sometimes takes some time to shift between your day-to-day mindset into combat mode. Unfortunately, the longer this takes, the longer your freeze will be, and the higher the likelihood that you could sustain injuries from your attacker. 
  • Ethical struggle - this is especially common in martial artists/military/law enforcement people. You may have trained for years, though capacity and capability are not mutually exclusive. Just because you've gone through the motion of how to break someone's knee over and over doesn't mean that when it comes down to actually doing it that you can go through with it. This ethical struggle often causes trained people to pause before defending themselves. An assault is not the time to work out your ethics; spend time well beforehand thinking about what you could or couldn't do in any given situation. Have a few go-to techniques that you feel comfortable relying on, and that you know that you could perform in the heat of the moment without the slightest hesitation. 
  • Evolution - running away from a predator can often trigger the chase-reflex in them. Part of the reason that you freeze is that this survival method helped our cave-dwelling grandparents survive some pretty terrifying predators, and this trait has been passed down to us. Your brain is on autopilot during a high-adrenaline state, and the only thing it tells itself during a freeze is, "this hasn't gotten you killed yet, so keep doing it." This type of behavioural looping pattern can also be seen during other phases of an attack, particularly when you continuously punch an attacker in the arm, for example, even though it's not doing anything to them. Again, your brain is simply saying, "this hasn't gotten you hurt yet, so just keep doing it." Unfortunately, behavioural looping can also get you killed if you fail to break out of the loop and do something different. 
Ways to break a freeze: 
Yell loudly to break a freeze and get the attention
of people nearby who can help
  • Talk yourself through it out loud - paramedics often do this in the early stages of their career, and talking yourself through what you are trying to do can be the trigger to ground you back into the reality of the situation: "Strike to the face hard, strike to the sternum", etc. 
  • Yell, move- Loudly vocalizing or moving parts of your body (like in kicking) can sometimes bring you back to the present moment and out of the freeze. You'd be surprised how conscious you can feel during a freeze, so tell yourself to do SOMETHING! Yelling, of course, has the added benefit of hopefully drawing attention to what's going on, and having people either come over to help, or at least call the police. 
Further reading: 
Miller, Rory. Facing Violence. New Hampshire: YMAA Publication Centre, 2011. 

Monday, 12 August 2013

Improvised weapons for self-defense

Following my post on which weapons are legal for self-defense , I thought it would be a good idea to discuss how to improvise your own weapon for self-defense purposes. Let me state that for any of these items to work in a self-defense scenario, you need to be brutal in your strikes, and hit like you mean it. You are in charge of your own safety, and you may not have many chances to strike or use your improvised weapon, so you need to make them count. 


Purses are both fashionable and functional
Improvised weapons: 
  • Your purse/backpack/briefcase- use your your bag to hit your attacker. It can help create space between you and him, and you can get some good momentum behind your swings. Can also be used as a makeshift shield against knife attacks. 
  • An umbrella - a fairly common item that many people have with them on occasion. Not only can you swing it around like a baseball bat, but you can always use it like this, too:
  •  
     

    • Throw things at your attacker's face - purse contents, loose changes, garbage, etc. It won't do much damage, but it can certainly be a great distraction and hopefully deter further attempts to engage you.
    • Rolled up magazine - Not only can you strike someone with the rolled up magazine, but the end of it makes a great weapon. When a magazine or newspaper is rolled up, the ends become quite hard and makes a formidable improvised self-defense tool. Use it to thrust into an attacker's throat, his temple, his xiphoid process, etc. 
    • Chairs, trash bins, etc. - pick them up and point them towards your attacker to create space between the two of you. If he comes forward, strike him with the object. Alternatively, you can always knock over things that are around you to create space and hopefully slow up your attacker if he's chasing you.
    • Your drink - whether it's a scalding hot cup of coffee from Tim Horton's or a cold water bottle from the gym, your drink will not only act as a good distraction, it could potentially really harm your attacker (scalding coffee to the face probably doesn't feel too great).
    • Ballpoint pen or a pencil - the sharpened end can be thrust into soft tissue 
    • Books (especially hardcover) - can cause some serious damage. Strike to the face, smash into the nose, etc. Bonus points if it's this book you're using:


     Consider carrying the following:
    • A kubaton - developed in Japan and popularized by the LAPD, kubatons are legal, non-lethal and can really pack a wallop.They're relatively inexpensive, and can be found on amazon, ebay and other places online, as well as in some martial arts supply stores. They are lightweight, attach to your key chain and are used easily by anyone. The point provides penetration to soft tissue spots, though there are other uses for the kubaton, as well. If you take a self-defense course or kubaton course, you'll learn that you can use the shaft of the kubaton to roll across joints and cause some considerable pain. You can also use the shaft of the kubaton across joints to get control of the attacker, or to help with takedowns, among other uses. Lastly, if all else fails, you can even just hold onto the kubaton and hit your attacker with the keys at the end.
      Kubaton key chain
    Further suggestions for improvised weapons are always welcome below! 
    Stay safe. 


    Tuesday, 30 July 2013

    What to do if you are threatened with a weapon

    You are being threatened with a weapon. 
    Not a great situation to find yourself in. 

    People consistently ask me, "What do I do if someone has a knife and they want my purse?" 
    GIVE IT TO THEM. 
    "Even you? With all your training? You would give him your purse?"
    OF COURSE! I value my life and my health, and I don't think that wrestling someone over my phone is worth possibly being injured or disfigured for the rest of my existence. 


    Avoid any opportunity to engage or fight off someone with a weapon; it's simply not worth it: 

    • Everything can be replaced - your phone, wallet, credit cards, car, etc. None of this
      stuff matters in the long run. It might be inconvenient to replace, and it might cost you money; however this is still a small price to pay in comparison to the long-term effects of bodily injuries and disfigurements. 
    • You will more than likely get hurt - this is the reality of attempting to fight someone wielding a weapon, especially when you have little or no training. Stab wounds are extremely serious and cause a frightening number of deaths; their wounds can be difficult to treat, and the rate of infection is high. 
    • Run away if you can, and comply with your attacker if it is reasonable for you to do so 
    There are only three general circumstances that I would suggest fighting back against an attacker with a weapon: 
    • You are going to die if you don't 
    • You are with someone who is going to die if you don't 
    • Your attacker is trying to get you into a car or van to take you to a second location
    If you are forced to fight off an attacker with a weapon, there are a few things to remember: 
    • You're probably going to get hurt if you do fight. The goal though is to minimize your injuries, and to attempt to have non-vital areas suffer the injuries (i.e. outside of the arms vs. inside of the arms, where there are all sorts of important arteries that could cause you to die if they were to be cut). Fortunately, the adrenaline that will be coursing through your body will help you to avoid feeling some of the pain if it's not a vital cut, and allow you to keep holding your ground or to run away to safety. 
    • Always cover your head and neck 
    • Shield your body with the outside of the arms, not the inside 
    • Do what you can to run away and get to a safe place where you can call for medical attention (run towards people!) 
    • Keep moving, don't stand still and make yourself an easy target 
    • Be as vocal as possible to attract attention from passersby 
    • Use improvised weapons to inflict damage to your attacker, and to also create space between you and your attacker (knock over chairs, garbage bins, use pieces of rock or sticks - anything around you that you can use to shield yourself or cause damage) - more on this next week. 
    Undoubtedly others will think differently, and I welcome your thoughts and opinions below. 

    Stay safe! 

    Tuesday, 23 July 2013

    Which weapons are legal for self-defense?


    Many women ask me my opinions on weapons in self-defense. 
    "Should I carry a switchblade?" "Should I carry a knife?" "Is it legal to have mace?" 

    The answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO


    *The below answers are for Canadians, and there may also be differences province-to-province. Always check before you buy or carry a weapon. 

    Firstly, and most importantly, many weapons that people think are legal to carry are, in fact, illegal:
    • Mace/Pepper SprayIllegal - In Canada, any product with a label containing the words 'pepper spray', 'mace' etc. or are otherwise originally produced for use on humans are classified as a prohibited weapon. Only law enforcement officers may legally carry or possess pepper spray.
    • Dog Spray/Bear Spray - Illegal - these chemicals are regulated under the Pest Control Products Act. While it is legal to be carried by anyone, it is against the law if its use causes "a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person" or harming the environment. It carries a penalty of up to a $500 000 fine, as well as a max. jail time of 3 years.
    • Switchblades - Illegal - In Canada, switchblades are illegal to sell, buy, trade, carry or otherwise possess. The Canadian Criminal Code defines the switchblade as, "A knife that has a blade that opens automatically by gravity or centrifugal force or by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in or attached to the handle of the knife." Different subsections of the code describe possession offenses and penalties. Belt-buckle daggers, push-daggers, finger-ring blades, and innocuously concealed blades are also Prohibited Weapons in Canada under SOR/98-462 Part 3. If you are found to be in possession of a switchblade, you can get up to 5 years in jail, and your weapon seized.
    • Knives - Legal - There is no length restriction on carrying knives within the Criminal Code of Canada; the only restriction is for concealed carry. Every person commits an offence who carries a weapon, a prohibited device or any prohibited ammunition concealed, unless the person is authorised under the Firearms Act to carry it concealed. The general rule is that if your knife is regarded as a tool (i.e. Swiss Army knife), police are generally ok with it; however, if they feel that the knife is for self-defense or for fighting, they will take it from you and charge you with possessing a dangerous weapon.
    • Nunchaku (homemade or store-bought), shuriken, brass knuckles - Illegal

    Shuriken 
    Brass Knuckles 


    Nunchaku

    • Fixed blades - machetes, khukuris, swords, bayonets - Legal
    Taser 
    • Tasers and stun guns - Illegal  
    Now that we understand what weapons are legal, and which are not, let me advise you to NOT carry a weapon. Keep in mind that if you introduce a weapon to an altercation, it has the potential to be used against you, particularly if you are no adept at wielding said weapon (...and even if you are!). 

    Secondly, if you introduce a weapon into an altercation, there are legal implications (including the possibility of losing the ability of claiming self-defense).  

    If you are keen to carry some sort of protection device, I'm going to be writing about improvised weapons next week. 

    Wednesday, 10 July 2013

    The Costs of Domestic Violence

    Violence touches us all: "...the energy of violence moves through our culture. Some experience it as a light but unpleasant breeze, easy to tolerate. Others are destroyed by it, as if by a hurricane. But nobody - nobody - is untouched." (1)

    Even if your own life experience has been free of violence, you need to understand that violence is still a very real part of your life. Not just in the media, not just through your relationships with people you may know who have experienced violence, but even as a taxpayer: 


    "Many physically and sexually abused women in Canada suffer from multiple physical health problems directly related to intimate violence. Women harmed by such violence seek medical care more often than do non-victimized women, to such a a degree that in Canada the measurable health-related economic cost of violence against women is roughly $1,539,730,387 per year."  (2)


    Consider the amount of work that goes into seeking medical attention for domestic violence: 
    Click to view larger image 

    If you live in the U.S., the costs are considerably higher. as the picture to the right demonstrates. This is a huge drain on taxpayer money, which could, of course, be spent on so many better things and could improve our respective countries in myriad ways. This is also why it is so imperative to focus on prevention. As women, it is not only important to learn self-defense, but to learn how to read the red flags in your partner, and to have enough confidence in yourself and your self-worth to walk away from any relationship where your partner doesn't treat you the way (s)he should. 


    But, there are costs beyond the actual financial drain on our economy. The fact is that women who are abused are also at a higher rate of being murdered by their partners.  Aside from death, there are other long-term physical health consequences of abuse: suicide attempts, chronic pain, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease, substance abuse, pregnancy/loss of an existing pregnancy, and a wide-range of reproductive concerns among other problems. 

    Even though domestic violence can be a politically divisive issue, it really is important for everyone to understand that it affects everyone. The goal should be to keep healthcare costs for domestic violence down by focusing not only on prevention for women, but on better education for men. 

    Folks, no one should ever touch anyone. If you are dating someone who feels that violence is the way that they need to get their point across, it's time to find a partner who is better at communicating, and who respects you enough to treat you appropriately. 

    Stay safe! 


    (1) deBecker, Gavin. The Gift of Fear. New York: Dell Publishers, 1997, p. 8.
    (2) DeKeseredy, Walter. Violence Against Women: Myths, Facts, Controversies, Toronto: UofT Press, p. 95.

    Tuesday, 18 June 2013

    The surprising truth about voice and tone in self-defense


    Vocal tonality is pretty important. Actually, it's really important, especially when it comes to a self-defense situation. Many women run into problems because their tone of voice doesn't match the words that they are using, and often this is because they fear coming off as either being rude, or being a bitch. We have been socialized for a long time to be polite, and don't get me wrong, being polite makes the world a far better place, but sometimes it is really important that you are firm in what you say and how you say it (particularly when you feel as though the situation that you find yourself is making you uncomfortable).

    For example, if you are out on a date with a guy and he starts getting handsy and you aren't
    really into it, women will say "stop", but with a vocal tone that doesn't match their wishes. If you say "stop" but your voice goes up at the end, this is called "Seeking Rapport", which is confusing for the man. Even though you are telling him to stop, your tone is telling him that either a) this is still open for discussion and you just need a little more convincing, or b) he'll think that you're being playful. It is absolutely imperative that you are clear in both what you say and how you say it - your words and tone must match in order for him to really understand your wishes.  That makes sense when we understand that 93% of our communication is non-verbal, and only a measly 7% of our communication is about the words that we actually say. Of that 93%, only 55% of it is body language - the other 38% is the tone of your voice.

    Let's look at three different types of vocal tone: 

    1. Breaking Rapport - this is the most important for our purposes here. This tone of voice communicates that not only do you mean business, but you are showing that you do not want what they are offering and are communicating that clearly. Say "stop" aloud, curving your voice downward as you finish the word. People who train dogs do the same - dogs don't understand what you are saying, but they do understand your pitch. Speak from your chest (not your throat) when you mean business; it's much more commanding, and you will fill your social space with your intent (which, in this case, is for him to keep his hands to himself). 

    2. Monotone - We've all had that teacher or professor who droned on in a monotone voice. A monotone pitch conveys disinterest - this is not the pitch that we are looking for in self-defense. Stay "stop" aloud in a monotone voice - it sounds like you are bored, not that you are actively seeking him to stop what he is doing. 

    3. Seeking Rapport - this is where your pitch curves up at the end. Generally, this communicates fun, playfulness, or that you want something from the other person. 

    4. Neutral Tonality - "Neutral tonality is the best tonality to have. Neutral tonality fluctuates between breaking rapport, and seeking rapport. Neutral tonality is best communicated with a strong voice, speaking from the chest. Neutral is the best of all worlds. Neutral communicates that you’re emotionally stable."(1) 



    When you are in a self-defense situation, remember to be clear in both words and tone. Don't try to sweeten what you are saying by having a cute or playful voice or a bit of a smile - mean what you mean, and say it how you mean it. Don't be concerned with coming off poorly because, in all honesty, if this guy is getting handsy and is being a jerk, then don't worry about what he thinks of you. Your safety is always the most important thing! 


    Works Cited:
    "Become the Intelligent Conversationalist", Kingpin Social, http://kingpinlifestyle.com/become-the-intelligent-conversationalist/

    Tuesday, 11 June 2013

    Techniques to Try: Defense against a front choke

    This is not a good place to find yourself. Ever. 
    You have very little time to react and you need to get air immediately. Very few empty-hand attacks will put you in as much danger, and you need to respond to the threat right away. 
    Front choke 


    Fig. 2 - Yellow (carotid arteries), green (trachea),
    blue (carotid artery and trachea)
    There are three things that can be happening when you're being choked: 
    a) You are losing oxygenated blood to the brain if pressure is being applied to the carotid arteries (yellow line in fig. 2). This can cause you to pass out, but it can also cause brain damage and, of course, death. 
    b) Air is not being allowed into the lungs if the trachea at the front of the neck is being blocked (green line)
    c) It's possible that both the trachea and the carotid artery/arteries are being affected (blue lines).

    You have very little time before you pass out from a choke (literally seconds), so it's good to be familiar with a couple of defenses against a front choke: 

    1. GET AIR 
    • One way that you can decrease the pressure on your trachea/carotid arteries is to flex your neck muscles. Flexing the muscles engages them and forces them to expand and provide some protection for your trachea and arteries. Just like the picture on the right here, you can flex your neck muscles by turning the corners of your mouth downward, and by concentrating on making your neck feel tight and strong . Instantly you should see how different your neck looks, and if you feel your neck before and after you flex it, there should be a noticeable difference. When your neck is relaxed, it should feel soft; when you have flexed your muscles it feels much harder. 
    2. REMOVE HANDS & STRIKE HARD (see this great link on hard striking from IKMF Toronto)

    • Your hands will likely naturally come up to your attacker's hands because you obviously want to pull them away from your neck. Use that natural inclination to quickly pluck their hands away just enough to get some air, and then strike hard. When you 'pluck', cup your hands, and pull the attacker's hands away from the neck by pulling on their wrist(s):

    Look at her left hand - she has grabbed her attacker's wrist, and has pulled away just enough to get air

    Check out this video on how to defend yourself against a front choke by plucking the hands away

    OR WINDMILL & STRIKE HARD

    Note: part of the reason that this technique works is because she is moving. Just like the expression "a rolling stone gathers no moss" suggests, it's difficult to hold onto someone who is moving a lot. Here, all this woman is really doing is windmilling her arm (and if it doesn't work for you the first time, windmill again and again and again and HARD), and she strikes after. 

    3. RUN AWAY AND GET HELP 
    There is no sense in continuing to engage this person, because the chances are that he'll either a) attack you again b) you'll get hurt. Your only concern at this point is to be safe, so run away to a public area and call the police. Report all incidents of abuse and/or assault. 

    SOME THINGS TO AVOID: 
    • Fancy martial arts techniques. While they may be fine for someone who practices martial arts regularly, I am not a fan of recommending them to women with little or no martial arts background. In all honesty, even as a martial artist, I'm a firm believer in doing techniques in real life that are simple, effective, and can allow me to get the hell outta there as fast as I can. My safety and health are too important to me to want to try to prove something. 
    • Avoid trying techniques that will require some real power to get the release. This video is a great example of some really unrealistic moves to teach women with no previous training. You have so little time to get the hands off your neck that trying to strike upwards at the elbows will only be effective if a) you have the strength to deliver a serious blow, and b) you actually remember to do it when your brain is in panic-mode: 


    *There are about a billion variations on this escape, and if you don't like the ones that I've posted above, feel free to share your favourite(s) in the comments section below! Ladies, if you are interested in checking out some different YouTube videos, there are a bunch of great ones. Ultimately you're looking for techniques that are fast, effective, and realistic. The only way you will know which one of them works best for you is to grab a partner and try some of them out. 

    Have fun and be safe. 

    Friday, 31 May 2013

    Safety in the City - 5 safety tips for when you are out partying

    It's the weekend. You and your girlfriends have decided that it's time to go out and have a few drinks and hit the dance floor wearing your super cute new dress and stunning new, impractical heels (sometimes it's all about fashion before function!). What are some things you can do to maximize your safety and reduce risks when you are out and about the downtown core? 
    Look hot AT the club, not while you're getting there










    1. Dress appropriately while in transit - If you wanna dress up in super tight clothing, wear barely-there miniskirts and tops that plunge to your navel, I say do whatever floats your boat; however, you need to be prepared for the fact that you will attract unwanted attention along with the welcomed attention. This might be anyone from your cab driver, to creepy guys on the streetcar, or weirdos that you pass on the street while you're walking to the club/bar. I strongly suggest that you cover up (wear a hoodie) on your way to your destination. Risk- reduction is a huge part of self-defense, and unwanted attention carries some very real risks to your safety. Now, some women say, "I should be able to dress any way I want!" You're right. You should be able to, and indeed you can, though you need to be aware that this also makes you a target for men who will use your manner of dress as an excuse to victimize you. Let me very clear about something though: no matter what you are wearing, no one has the right to touch you. If you are ever assaulted and you have friends who say, "well, you shouldn't have been wearing such suggestive clothing", that's victim-blaming, sister. Push that thought right outta your head and report what happened immediately to the police (and more importantly, don't let an officer or friends make you ever feel that being assaulted was your fault or could have been prevented. If the first officer you talk to says that, ask to deal with a different officer). 

    2. Drinks - Date rape is a real and scary thing. I, unfortunately, have had a few friends experience this terrible reality, and would like to give you a few tips to avoid this at all costs. There's the obvious things to do: don't accept drinks from strangers, go out with friends, etc. But let's go a step beyond that:
    • THIS IS A LOT MORE COMMON THAN YOU THINK IT IS. These drugs are easily accessible and widely available. Don't think, "oh he looks so clean cut/he would never hurt me/he's so well-off, he doesn't seem like the type." Predators are manipulative chameleons who will do their best to make you think that they are charming, nice, trustworthy, and above all, that they would never seem like the type to hurt you. We need to get over this type of thinking, ladies.  
    • If someone is going to buy you a drink, walk to the bar with them and watch the bartender pour it and make sure that the bartender hands it directly to you.
    • Once you have your drink, walk around the club with your hand over the top of the cup. You'd be surprised how easily a predator can slip something into your drink without you noticing. Don't forget, these men literally watch and wait for the split second that you're not paying attention. I've seen people also place napkins over their drinks for the same purpose (which is even better).
    • Don't leave your drink unattended, even for an instant. If you have to go to the bathroom, have a sober girlfriend HOLD (not watch) your drink. If you put your cup down and forget about it, only to remember about it later, forget it and just buy a new drink. Not worth the risk. 
    • Alcohol affects women differently than men because women also produce less alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol, than men. In other words, if a man and woman with the same weight drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman’s blood alcohol content will be higher. 
    • Around the time of your menstrual cycle, you may get drunk more quickly. 
    • Women’s bodies process alcohol more slowly than men’s, so the effects take longer to wear off.
    • Eat before you head out, space out your drinks, and try to drink water as often as possible
    • Don't ever drink from an open punch bowl at a house party. The risk is simply too high. 
    3. Buddy System - You definitely don't need to be glued to the hip all night, but keep an eye on each other, and make sure that everyone gets to and from the party/club/bar safely. If you're going to the bathroom or to check out another room in a club, tell your friends before you go. No one likes to play the babysitter to that one obscenely drunk friend, but it's a small price to pay to make sure someone you care about gets home safely (besides, they will undoubtedly return the favour for you at some point). 

    Your friend might not necessarily be at risk in terms of date-rape drugs though. Think about these tips to help steer a drunk friend away from danger (maybe she's mouthing off to another drunk girl and you see a fight brewing):

    DIVERT your friend's attention away from continuing consumption of alcohol:
    a) Change location: "Let's go some place else for a while"
    b) Change activity: "Let's go sit in the lounge for a bit" 
    c) Change beverage: "Let's grab some water, eh?"
    d) Compliments: "Those are super cute shoes! Where did you get them? Tell me everything."

    DIFFUSE an explosive situation by distancing your friend from the location:
    a) "Let's go outside and grab some air" 
    b) "Let's go to _____'s apartment to wind down"
    c) Let's go there (i.e. across the room) and see who we can find" 

    DEESCALATE strong emotions by introducing friends into the situation:
    a) Get help. "Jenn, Claudia - I need your help over here." 
    b) Make direct eye contact with your friend and always speak in a calm manner. This helps to transfer your own calm feelings to your buddy. 
    c) Ask your friend to step back, take a breath and sit down for a second. 

    4. Getting home - Avoid going home by yourself, if possible, particularly when you are really drunk. Being really drunk means that your judgment is not only impaired, but it also makes you particularly vulnerable to predators (including your cab driver). Additionally, plan out your route home before you start to drink so that you know exactly where you are going and how long it should take. Make sure that either the cab driver or the friend who is dropping you at home at the end of the night sees you safely into your house from the car. 

    5. Know a few phone numbers by heart - always good to know your bestie's phone number off by heart in case your phone is stolen/you lose it and you get into some trouble. If your best firend isn't the most reliable woman, have a couple solid people's numbers memorized who you can rely on at any time of day. Of course, always keep your cell charged before you go out. 

    Above all, be smart and have fun (in that order). 

    Monday, 20 May 2013

    Body Language As Self-Defense

    By: Drew Fabricius

    I think you’d be surprised by how much you reveal about yourself through your body language.  Do you stand erect with your head up or do you slump your shoulders with your head hanging?  Are your movements relaxed or spastic?  
    Our assessments of people happen on a subconscious level (or conscious, if you know what to look for) based on body language cues we get from other people.  Usually, within moments of interacting with someone, we are able to come to a pretty accurate idea of how someone views themselves.  Do they think they are valuable and worthwhile or do they think they are lowly and meek?  We are able to determine this by all of the tiny, minute signals we give off via how we sit, stand, walk, talk etc.  Everything we do outside of the actual words that come out of our mouths, says something about us.  

    Your body language is the manifestation of your beliefs about
    Perfect example of a confident woman.
    Notice how she is completely comfortable
    in her own skin and owns her presence.
    yourself.  If you view yourself highly and think you are worthwhile, then your actions will follow suit.  Conversely, if you believe that you are unattractive and not valuable, you will embody those beliefs.
     This plays a bigger role in our interactions with others than you might think.  Let’s pretend that you are someone who is looking to take a person’s wallet from them.  You’re scoping out potential victims for your soon-to-be crime.  There are not many people out at this time of night but you see two people walking.  One is a man who has a swagger to his walk.  He stands tall, looks comfortable and doesn’t look easily intimidated.  The other man has both hands in his pockets, has his head down and is briskly walking.  It’s almost as if he is EXPECTING to get jumped.  Which is the easier target?  Easy, right?  Like I said, you already have an idea of how these two people view themselves and you haven’t even talked to them yet!  And since this is a blog devoted to self-defense, what better way to defend yourself from would-be attackers than to pre-empt an assault by giving off the vibe that you are a difficult target ie. you are someone who values themselves GREATLY (but not in an arrogant way) and that you expect people to treat you accordingly.  In fact, it would be weird if they did treat you any differently.   Easier said then done, right?  It can be hard at first if you have been someone your whole life who carries themselves as the second person in the example above but change is possible.  


    Your body language and your beliefs about yourself have a yin-yang relationship with one another; they both influence each other.  In order to carry yourself as someone who values themselves, it’s best to change both your body language and your beliefs.  I’ll save a post for another time on your beliefs, so for now let’s just work on having proper body language:

    • Good posture. Make sure your back is straight; shoulders are down, back and relaxed; chin up a bit.  Imagine if there were a string coming out at the top of your head and you pulled it up.  The picture below is how your posture should look:


    • Own your space.  Own your presence.  Be powerful but not arrogant. 
    • Slow down your movements.  They should be slow and relaxed and reflect that overall, you are coming from a place of "I am mature, secure and confident".  You are not in a hurry to get anywhere and you are completely content wherever you are.  Be Michelle Obama. 
     All this may feel weird at first but keep at it and eventually it will just be a part of you.  The amazing thing is that the better you get at carrying yourself in a way that communicates “I am valuable”, the more others will start to treat you that way and this will further solidify to yourself that you are, in fact, valuable.  This ultimately comes down to how you feel about yourself.  If you are strong on the inside, then you will embody strength.  

    Now, obviously, even confident people get attacked here and there.  I am not saying that this is a sure-fire way to avoid confrontation with others completely.  But, I would wager that criminals would think twice about attacking someone who clearly is internally strong.  

    If you want more info on this topic, I highly recommend checking out this awesome TED talk on body language and looking/feeling powerful:





    Friday, 17 May 2013

    Expanding Our Definition of 'Abuse'

    We, as a society, need to change our definition of 'abuse' and widen our understanding of its scope, because operating from the narrow definition as most people understand it has profoundly negative outcomes for far too many women and their children. Many people (both men and women) understand the words 'abuse' and 'violence' to constitute the actual physical act of violence (striking, kicking, pushing, punching) with the result being physical harm. Often there are marks associated with this type of violence, and can serve as proof of a physically violent episode. However, studies have repeatedly found that while living with a physically abusive partner is terrifying, the long-term psychological effects of psychological or emotional abuse are significantly more pronounced. This type of abuse is much harder to bring up for many women, because they feel as though they aren't being hit, so there are no problems. In fact, many abusive men who push or slap their partners don't view themselves as abusive because they aren't punching or kicking them. It's interesting to see what constitutes abuse and violence for many. 

    So, in order to clear things up, let's have a look at different types of abuse for which you must absolutely leave your partner (note that only two of them are physical). 

    Research points to the fact that men who are abusive rarely change, because their abusive mentality is not a mental defect, but rather, it stems from his core values. Lundy Bancroft explains the mentality of abusive men beautifully in his seminal book Why Does He Do That. Ultimately, men who are abusive are: CONTROLLING (they will use myriad techniques to exert and maintain control, regardless of the effects on their partner or their family), entitled (his feelings and needs come before everyone else's all the time), self-centred, possessive, insecure, manipulative, he twists things around so that it's never his fault, disrespectful to his partner because he feels superior to her, he confuses love and abuse, he strives for a good public image, he feels justified in his actions, he minimizes his abuse.
    Abusive partners come in many forms, so let's take a look at some other types of abuse. It is important that women operate with this expanded definition, because failing to do so means that (a) they are willing to stick things out and hope things improve, and (b) are less likely to report their abuse. (See The Underreporting of Sexual Assault)


    • Physical - when your partner uses any type of force to coerce you into doing something, or simply to show his dominance over you. This extends from punching, kicking, slapping to physical confinement in a room and to less obvious forms, such as even poking your partner (if the intent is to cause fear, and for the purpose of control, such as in the case of a veiled threat). Physical abuse tends to get worse over time. 
    • Sexual - any unwanted touch from your partner or a stranger is sexual abuse. Your partner may coerce you into unwanted sexual acts through downright abusive language, or may manipulate your thinking by calling you a "prude". Men are highly influenced by porn, and since violent porn courses through the internet, many abusive men make the assumption that the women who are in porn enjoy the things that they see, so their partner should equally enjoy doing these same things, regardless of whether they are degrading or humiliating. Additionally, many women in porn are submissive, and are reduced to a body and sex organs to the viewer, thereby heightening the abuser's mentality that his partner is his possession and is nothing more than an object. For abusive men, porn has shaped their sexuality and their views of what is acceptable since they were a young boy; when abusive men realize that their partner does not find a slap in the face arousing, he thinks that's evidence of something that is wrong with her sexuality, not him.(1) Some men simply nag and manipulate their partners into sex, even when she is in the middle of sleeping. Unacceptable. 
    • Economic - there are many types of abusers. Some men force their partner to cede control of pecuniary matters to him, and only give money to her when he feels that it is necessary. Many men have conned their partners out of money, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. This is another form of control. 
    • Verbal - the abusive man will often use verbal assaults, telling her that she is no good at anything, that people are uninterested in hearing her ideas and her stories, that she is naive, stupid, uneducated, a bad mother, uncultured, blowing things out of proportion, that things are her fault, that she is a failure, annoying, hysterical, overly emotional, irrational, bad with money, and many other terrible things in order to maintain his control over her, and to make her think that she is nothing without him. 
    • Psychological - constant criticism, put-downs, manipulation, twisting of words around, minimizing the emotional impact his actions/words have on his partner, mood swings, passive aggression, threats, hostility, intimidation - all of these things can make the woman feel like she's going crazy. The abusive man is somewhat of a chameleon, and he does what he can to project a positive public image, though he is sometimes awful to his partner only moments later. This two-faced demeanour makes it difficult for women to approach her friends or family for support, because she fears that no one would believe that her charming partner would be abusive towards her. This type of abuse can cause serious and long-lasting psychological problems for many women, including depression, anxiety, and many other serious psychological and emotional problems. This type of violence is also easiest to perpetrate, and abusers (and unfortunately lawyers, police and judges sometimes) will protect it as "free speech". It's not. 
    I strongly encourage women to leave a partner who is controlling or abusive in any of the ways that have been outlined above (easier said than done. Bancroft's book has an entire chapter on this process. If you can't get a copy of the book, call a women's abuse hotline to ask for help. Here is a great list of resources for women in Toronto and its environs). The types of abuse and the examples I gave are only a very brief overview though, and I strongly encourage women to do extra research and more reading on the topic, even if you are not currently in a relationship. 

    The first step in self-defense is always preventive - avoid these negative relationships to maintain a strong sense of self, and a healthy peace of mind. Look for red-flag behaviours that betray any of the values or mentalities of an abusive man, which I have listed above. 

    You are your own advocate for safety, and knowledge is power. 
    Make the decision to avoid these relationships, or leave one if you are in one. 

    (1) Bancroft, Lundy. Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. New York: Berkley Books, 2002, p. 185