By SHELLY BANJO
Like many young women,
Ashley Balley, 20, never thought she would have to physically fight for
her life, especially against someone she knew.
But three years ago,
Ms. Balley stopped by her then-boyfriend's house to find him intoxicated
and angry. The couple began quarrelling about his drinking and their relationship.
As the argument began to escalate, he pinned her down to the floor and
began beating her forcefully. It took Ms. Balley 45 minutes to break free
from his hold. She ran to her car and drove home.
A neighbor called
the police. When the police arrived at the boyfriend's house, he answered
the door holding a gun. In court, he was charged with resisting arrest
and sentenced to five years in prison, where he remains today. Attitude"
that teaches women self-defense techniques and how not to be a target
In 2006, about three
million women became reported victims of violent crimes that include robbery,
rape and sexual assault, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistic's
National 2006 Crime Victimization Survey.
According to the U.S.
Federal Bureau of Investigation's Supplementary Homicide Reports from
1976-2005, most victims and perpetrators in violent crimes are male --
in 65% of homicide cases, both the offender and victim is male. However,
in cases of rape and sexual assault, the victim is almost always female.
In the 2006 Crime Victimization Study, 232,960 women and 27,970 men reported
being victims of rape or sexual result, with white and Hispanic women
the most targeted victim group.
Women ages 12-34 are
most at risk, says Steve Kardian, a retired police sergeant in Westchester,
N.Y., who currently runs a women's safety and self defense program called
Often on their own
for the first time in a new environment, young women need to be even more
aware of their surroundings and resist the "it could never happen
to me" mentality. Self defense experts say staying alert to what
is going on around you, listening to your intuition and acting on your
premonitions will help you navigate harmful situations, whether with an
attacker, at work or in your social life.
Don't Become a
Ms. Balley decided
to enroll in a self-defense class, because she says the attack could have
been a lot worse and she didn't want to put herself in "that position
Women can often avoid
getting into dangerous situations by projecting confidence and remaining
focused and alert. "Don't make yourself prey to your predator,"
says Maria Didio,
founder of Rose and Thorn Self Defense Fighting System for Women in
She and other experts
say attackers operate on an animalistic mindset. "Predators come
on the scene and identity a target within seven seconds. They are looking
for "the easiest target," Mr. Kardian says. For instance, an
attacker might zero in on someone unaware of her surroundings such as
a woman speaking on her cellphone or shuffling through her purse.
Likewise, it's common
for a woman walking alone to pick up her cellphone and feel a sense of
safety from someone listening on the other end. But "your cellphone
is a false sense of security," it distracts the woman and makes her
a more likely target, Mr. Kardian says. "By the time the person on
the other end reports the crime," it is often too late.
On the other hand,
predators will likely stay away from an aggressive and assertive person
who looks like she knows where she is going.
Sharpen Your Intuition
Often young women
try to be polite and not draw attention to themselves, even when someone
is bothering them, but "the predator will only pounce on that behavior,"
Ms. Didio says. Instead, Ms. Didio suggests looking predators in the eye,
screaming, or making a scene. It shows you are not afraid.
But it's not just
strangers who may pose a threat. FBI reports found that female victims
are more likely than male victims to be killed by an intimate partner
or family member and according to the National Violence Against Women
Survey, 22.1% of women (and 7.5% of men) reported they were physically
assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, boyfriend,
girlfriend or date at some time in their lives. In addition, 8% of women
and 2.2% of men reported at least one incidence of being stalked in their
lifetime. The report estimates that approximately one million women and
371,000 men are stalked annually in the U.S.
If you get a weird
feeling about a person or are scared by the actions of someone you are
close to, don't dismiss your intuition and assume you are being paranoid,
Ms. Didio says. Instead, make a decision to act: Remove yourself from
any situation and seek help if you feel uncomfortable, for whatever reason.
"So what if you did something a little out of the ordinary, the point
is that you are safe," says Lori Gervasi, author of "Fight Like
Make a Plan
takes away the fear of an unsafe environment. Learn to protect yourself
"before the bad guys show up," says Ms. Gervasi. Having a plan
in place will make you more confident in any situation because you will
rarely be caught off-guard.
The more prepared
you are, the more control you can exert, says Ms. Gervasi. For example,
if you recently moved to a new apartment, create a strategy for what you
would do if a stranger approached you on your way home, if an ex-boyfriend
was suddenly at your building entrance or if someone broke into your room.
Give emergency phone numbers to your friends and family and locate the
nearest police station and hospital.
For physical training,
young women may want to try martial arts, kick-boxing or a general self-defense
class. Learning how to fight an attacker is like "giving a police
officer a gun, it's just another tool" in her arsenal, Mr. Kardian
Classes can also teach
women about self confidence and trusting instincts, says Caroline Blair,
an academic advisor at Northern Michigan University who was raped by another
student in 2002 when she was a freshman at the same college.
About a year after
she was raped, Ms. Blair began seeing a counselor and got involved with
a program related to speaking out on violence against women. Now she works
to bring personal safety and awareness education, as well as self-defense
classes, to campus and her community.
"Not only are
self-defense classes great for being able to fight back, but they empower
you" to be "more aware of what's around you and teach you to
set limits for yourself and other people," she says.
Write to Shelly Banjo at firstname.lastname@example.org