Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"NO! Stop!” ( Binge drinking, young women's safety, and assertiveness skills)


How Assertiveness can help Stop an Assault and Improve your Self Esteem:
- and the role of binge drinking on college women's safety.

Part one of three…

Powerful words and powerful action can be one of your best tools when confronted with danger or assault.

Women on campuses throughout the United States face sexual assault and harassment at a level higher than any other group of people.  We are most vulnerable between the ages of 14 and 24 to experience sexual assault, unwanted sexual contact and sexual harassment. In fact the statistics range from 1 in 4 to 1 in 2 women in this age group will be harassed, assaulted or coerced into unwanted sex.

Why is this? I have been counseling high school and college aged women for over 15 years. I have been  an instructor on college campuses, an anti-violence educator and  I have spent a great deal of time researching assault, listening to survivors, interviewing perpetrators and putting together the elements that make young women so often targeted for assault and intimidation.  I want to say that there are many things you can do to drastically reduce the chance that you will be targeted by a perpetrator and become a victim.

Young women are out on the scene, interacting with young men and women, socializing regularly and trying new things. At these ages we are new to all of the dynamics of social interaction, we are often on our own for the first time, and we are appropriately eager to make new connections and relationships. However, there are many things we need to learn and understand about all of this so that we can take care of ourselves and have a good time.  You are learning in your classes how to prepare for your chosen career. Learn just as much about how to prepare to be an aware, assertive and confident social being with the ability to take good care of you and choose wisely based on good information. Then go have fun.

Alcohol is often a factor in assaults. I am NOT blaming the victim. In fact I spend a lot of time working to change the culture of harassment and violence against women in general.  But I am writing for young women right now.  No one should ever be taken advantage of when incapacitated, or for any reason. But the reality is that anything we do that REDUCES OUR AWARENESS and ASSESSMENT/JUDGMENT will place us at greater risk. When I talk to perpetrators of date rape, other sexual assault and even harassment I usually hear (or read between the lies…oops I meant lines) that they are looking for an easier target. So based on this, I want to advocate that you work on reducing the chances you will be assessed as a target by a possible perpetrator.  

There are no guarantees that you will not be victimized. I cannot guarantee that even with 20 years of martial arts experience, and lots of training about assertiveness that I myself will never be targeted. But I can assure you that there are things you can do to greatly reduce the likelihood of assault without diminishing your freedoms.

So what makes a potential victimizer assess us as an easy target?

1.       Incapacity. Usually in the form of being very drunk. Drinking alcohol to excess (sometimes to near blackout) will put you at greater risk.  For both stages of assault where you have a chance to intervene early:  when you are being targeted; and then when you are being tested, you will be challenged to intervene, to assess, to stand up for yourself, to yell “NO”,  or to fight– if you are very drunk.

2.       Lack of capacity or awareness. Use your senses. Don’t diminish them when you are in public or with people you don’t know. Think: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Ear buds for instance, reduce your ability to hear someone approaching you from behind.

3.       Appearing weak, scared or lacking in confidence.  I know. I even hate saying it but it’s true. Many perpetrators, victimizers and abusers assess for this stuff.  So hold your head up, look people in the eye and walk and talk with a confident and assertive tone. If you don’t know how, take a class, or identify someone on TV maybe - who seems to have those qualities and try to mimic them.  See a therapist if low self esteem or serious anxiety or depression have you showing up in the world this way. It helps to actually feel more assertive and capable than just to act like it.

4.       Being alone and having any of the above lack of capacity. Being alone is not in and of itself a big problem. But being alone when incapacitated is a problem. Please, stay with your friend and get her home safe if she is drunk.


Why would anyone use, abuse, assault, force sex or intimidate a woman?

I’ll speak more broadly here; not just about violent assault or coercive sex. You have heard it before: Power. This is not the exclusive reason. But generally speaking, when someone perpetrates abuse or violence, they are getting a dose of power. The reasons for wanting or needing that kind of power in order to feel more secure within themselves are myriad and I won’t go into them here. But your job is to spot people who use others in negative or aggressive ways, cross boundaries or are impolite or pushy and assertively intervene to either get them away from you, get them out of your life, or not invite them in where they can do harm in even subtle ways.

Perpetrators are looking for anything that tells them it will easier to get away with whatever they are planning. And they do usually plan. Then they TARGET. Here is where you want to be effective.  Be assertive in language and physical stance. Take a self defense class, read some books about boundaries and test out setting assertive limits in your life. Ask yourself if you lack confidence or why you choose to drink to excess especially when out socializing. Get help from a therapist or trusted advisor about why you are doing this and how to stop.

Often when we have social anxiety, lack self esteem, feel scared or alone we will do things that leave us more vulnerable than if we approached the world from a place of pride and confidence and deeply held positive regard for ourselves. That is what you deserve. Help is available to get you there.

Last, here are some things to remember especially regarding our recent campus assault problem:

* Be a good friend. Be a responsible bystander (BY NOT BEING A BYSTANDER. Do something)

* Call the police, draw attention to, and yell! if you see someone being victimized or targeted. Victimizers depend on silence.

* Don’t leave your friend alone if she is drunk. Get her home safely.

* If you want to consume more alcohol than will allow you to be coherent, at least do it in the relative safety of people you know and trust well.

* Studies show that when women fight back, by yelling, hitting, shoving or defending their boundaries in any way that the assault is more often stopped than if she is silent. Your voice is a powerful tool!

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