Would you know what to do if you were attacked?
A few days ago, I found myself thinking about the details of last Sunday's attack in Santa Cruz while jogging in a dimly lit forest.
A woman who was visiting from out of town was resting on her friend's couch after running the Wharf to Wharf when a man entered the house and attempted to sexually assault her. Police said the attack was "extremely violent," and the woman, unarmed, fought off her attacker twice before finally getting away.
Just months before that, an attack and occurred in broad daylight.
As I ran along wondering how it must have been to be either of these women, a car that was creeping up slowly behind me came to a stop. Ice cold adrenaline shot through my veins. Not the kind of ice that slows you down; the kind that that renews tired muscles in a fraction of a second.
Teeth, nails, knees—I considered how I could injure whoever it was who was creepily sinking their headlights into my backside. My stride length tripled. Ten long seconds later, the car sped by: a young couple, probably looking for a good place to park and do whatever it is young couples come to do in the forest at dusk.
I would like to thank them for bringing to light one serious problem: I have no idea what I would actually do if I really was attacked.
For somebody who refuses to give up running after sunset, this is a serious problem. And when women are being attacked walking on the street or napping on a friend's couch, it's everybody's problem.
In response to the recent violence in our community, the Commission for Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW) is hosting two free self defense classes downtown on Thursday, August 2.
"It's a two hour class that provides people with information about assaults, what does it looks like locally, what kind of things we can do, a lot of it is about empowerment, and trying to dispel some of the fear that comes from assaults in our community," said Kathy Agnone of the CPVAW.
Here are a few self-defense tips every woman should know, courtesy of Leonie Sherman, the self-defense instructor who will teach Thursday's class on how to prevent and avoid attacks:
1. Pay Attention.
"The most important thing for safety is to stay aware and notice what's going on around you," said Sherman. "Have you ever seen somebody almost get run over because they are talking on a cell phone or listening to their Ipod? These things make you less aware of what's going on around you. If you need to make a call, stop, check that your surroundings are secure, make your call and put your phone away. Pay attention to who is around that could help if you needed assistance, who might pose a threat, where you could go if things get uncomfortable."
2. Trust your gut instinct. Shernan says she has worked with hundreds of women who said they felt an intuition of danger around a certain person which ended up becoming true. Shernan says, if you ever get a "physical sensation that somethings not quite right, you're correct, trust yourself."
3. Don't underestimate the power of your voice, and assert yourself.
"Human predators are always looking for easy prey. They observe your behavior, including how you walk and how you react if something feels uncomfortable," said Shernan.
Don't ever be shy about using your voice to set clear boundaries, she said, even if it's on the bus, asking someone to move away from you because they're getting too close to you. Many predators "test" their prey to see if they will react passively. "Lot of times we're told that that's rude, but setting boundaries is not rude," said Shernan.
4. If you're physically threatened, fight back.
Shernan said that growing up she was told not to fight back if she ever got attacked, because it would make the attacker angrier and make the attack worse. This is a total lie. Predators that attack women are more likely to back off if a woman fights back. In one study, 60% of women who fought back were able to deter their attackers by using just one technique, and another 25% were able to deter their attackers with three techniques or less.
5. It's never someone's fault if she gets attacked.
For a full update of assault prevention and self defense tactics, check Patch in a few days. Santa Cruz Patch reporter Maria Grusauskas will be attending the class.
The Women's Self Defense Class is at the Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church at 223 Church Street in Santa Cruz. The sessions are at 2:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. Each session is limited to 30 students, so please sign up by calling 831-420-5363 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the instructor:
Leonie Shernan has been teaching self-defense for 13 years. She offers classes to both men and women and has taught workshops in India, Alaska, Arizona, and all over the country. She also teaches self-defense at public middle and high schools in the City of Santa Cruz.