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

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Safety in the City Pt. 2 - Parking Lots

I have had a few women ask me about what to do in parking lots when they need to get to their car at the end of the night. As a woman, I know that walking to your car when it's dark and there are few people around can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience, and can certainly be highly stressful. Many women know the basics about safety, but I'll include a few ideas that might make you feel safer: 
  • If possible, have security escort you to your car. I know that this sounds overly obvious, but many women tend to shy away from actually doing this out of the worry that they are bothering the security guards or because they think that they are being silly and that they shouldn't have to ask staff to escort them anywhere. Again, this is a mentality that many women need to move away from. We are the only ones in charge of our safety, and we most definitely aren't bothering security guards whose job it is to provide security. Ask nicely, and it shouldn't be a problem. You might have to wait a few minutes if they are busy, but I'd always rather wait a few minutes and be escorted with peace of mind than to venture out alone in a dark parking lot if it's unnecessary. If there are no security guards around, see if a friend or female co-worker can walk with you to your car. If you are alone, you can always enlist another woman to walk in the general direction of your car, or to stand by the door and make sure that you get to your car safely.
  • Walk in the middle of row - Most people tend to walk right beside the rows of cars
    Red arrow - danger zone
    Green arrow - safer, in the middle of the rows
    (...obviously in an effort to avoid being run over). However, when you are walking through a parking lot by yourself and there aren't many people around, resist this urge and try to walk in the middle of the rows. Predators rely on surprise in order to gain control of their victims, so if anyone is waiting for you behind a car, they'll have to jump out from the cars to the middle of the lot, giving you time to react and to hopefully run to safety. 
  • Have your keys out and ready before you even walk into the parking lot. Again, predators are looking for easy victims, and by minimizing your vulnerability, you are significantly less likely to be targeted. Having to spend time fumbling through your purse means that you are distracted and an easy target. 
  • Fake a phone call - Another great tactic is to take out your phone and fake a phone call to a husband, boyfriend or male friend. "Oh, you're just at the end of the parking lot? Great, I'm walking to my car now so I'll meet you in about 30 seconds. Football practice went well? Well, I'm not surprised, you're the biggest guy on the team!" If anyone is in earshot, it will deter them if they think that someone else is around (especially if that someone is the biggest person on their football team). You always want to give the illusion that you aren't alone, whether you fake a phone call, or call out to an imaginary person at the end of the parking lot, or even if you wave back at someone who you are pretending is watching you.
  • Walk with purpose, be alert - Keep your head up, your eyes alert, your hands free (that means phone in your pocket or purse), and your ears open (no iPods). Make use of all your senses so that your intuition has accurate data to work with. Additionally, when you are walking, make sure that you do so with your shoulders back and that you are walking with purpose and confidence. You want to project how confident and strong you are, which will make you less likely to be targeted. 
  •  Park underneath a light, and as close to the door as possible - Again, this is to minimize your vulnerability. Darkness is the predator's ally, because it means that they can move more easily without being detected. 
  • Avoid rear, side, or secluded exits where possible - try to use the main entrance, because it will have the most traffic, and will usually be monitored by security cameras. 
Wear comfortable shoes - in the even that you need to run, having sensible shoes can make a big difference. Additionally, the clacking sound of a pair of high heels in an echoing, empty parking lot is an immediate auditory signal that you are a woman by herself. Certainly not the signal we want to send. 

Remember, it is important to be alert, but to have level-10 anxiety anytime you go through a parking lot is silly. Being in a state of constant anxiety actually dulls our intuitive senses; be smart, follow the tips that I have listed above, but above all, listen to your senses:
  • Do you hear anyone (footsteps, breathing, soft talking, music playing, etc)? 
  • Do you see anyone (shadows moving, reflections on surfaces, a pair of feet behind a car)?
  • Do you smell anything (cologne, deodorant, fresh laundry from clothing, food)? 
  • Is there a legitimate cause for concern that your intuition has picked up on using your senses, or are you simply worried because you're by yourself, it's dark and you're in a parking lot? 
Learning to listen to your listen to your intuition and to develop your intuitive senses should actually be a very freeing experience, and will teach you to let go of unfounded anxieties and concerns. Again, you should always be mindful of your surroundings, take precautions to reduce your risk and be smart in your choices, but to be on high anxiety all the time when it is unfounded is simply unnecessary, a waste of time, and only serves to reinforce your fears and anxieties. 

*Recommended reading: Chapter 2, "The Technology of Intuition" in Gavin de Becker's book The Gift of Fear

Friday, 3 May 2013

The Underreporting of Sexual Assaults and Violent Acts

Sexual assaults and violent acts are chronically underreported around the world, which is unfortunate because a lack of reporting translates into a lack of resources and programs, a lack of understanding of how rampant these issues are, the promotion of rape culture, and a lack of policy making. Prof. Walter DeKeseredy writes, "Perhaps one of the most important [reasons for lack of changes in policies] is that policy-makers tend to listen only to big numbers. Unfortunately, if government officials are led by some survey researchers... to believe that violence against women is not a statistically significant issue, they are not likely to devote sufficient resources to prevent and control one of Canada's most pressing social problems." (1)

We see evidence of an increase in reporting in the Middle East and in Asia. 
The recent, very public and horrifyingly brutal gang rape of a woman in December 2012 by half a dozen men was certainly a turning point in India. Thousands of protesters hit the streets in the days after her death on December 29, 2012 to push the government to make changes, and to hold police accountable for their ineffectiveness and their lackluster attempts to stop the rape epidemic. 

In New Delhi just this past month, two 5-year old girls were raped (and one was tortured) by two men, which follows the rape of two foreign women (one Swiss, one British). Tourism has steadily declined to India by Western women due to widespread and well-founded fears. 

But is this a new epidemic? Of course not. The difference now is that more women are reporting crimes in the Middle East and Asia, and the media is being forced to listen to women speaking up and demanding better policies and better policing practices. This is a huge step forward, and one that North American women can certainly take a cue from, because we are still a far cry away from where we should be in terms of this same problem. In fact, 1 in 3 (2) women in Canada will experience sexual assault, though we know that those numbers are likely higher because most women (young women, in particular) choose to tell no one. Part of the problem for underreporting stems from our narrow definition of what "violence" encompasses.  DeKeseredy argues, "Narrow definitions not only exacerbate the problem of underreporting, but they also trivialize women's feelings and experiences." (3) , 

Changes in policies, the number of programs available to women who experience violence and/or sexual assault and our whole culture's attitude towards rape culture can be shifted, but the changes must occur from the ground-up for anyone to notice. If you ever experience an act of violence or sexual assault, it is in not only your own best interest to report it, but it's in the interests of every woman out there. We are seeing progress all the time, including in Saudia Arabia (, and in Egypt ( it is imperative that we continue to progress in our policies, but progress even further in our thinking about what is acceptable and what is not. 

(1) DeKeseredy, Walter S. Violence Against Women: Myths, Facts, Controversies. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011, p. 7

(2) Ontario Women's Directorate. "Statistics."

(3) DeKeseredy, p. 7.