The story is so common that it’s honestly annoying to type out. Woman is walking down the street/out with friends/on the train home. Man is standing close/making disturbing comments/touching/grabbing. Even in light of the #metoo movement and a general rise in discussion on women’s equality, this narrative is still way too commonplace. It’s practically an expected occurrence: like getting caught in the rain. Everyone gives you pitying looks. Some will tell you there’s nothing you could have done to prevent it… these things happen.
The most recent time that I found myself cast as this archetypal woman in a metaphorical downpour, I was out dancing with some friends when suddenly there was a forearm across my throat and a body pressed on my back. My friends were all in my view, so clearly this arm didn’t belong to anyone I knew. Now, if this had happened two years ago when I had first visited London, I’m not sure what I would have done. Not that there is ever a ‘good’ time to deal with mild assault, but in a crowded club after a couple of shots as it’s approaching 3am is definitely not ideal. Thankfully, the scenario wasn’t foreign: I had practiced it hundreds of times, knew to stay calm while reacting quickly and removing myself from danger.
According to the most recent Crime Survey of England and Wales, one in five women in the UK have been assaulted in their lifetime. It’s awful to think that tactics to simply maintain your personal space and avoid assault are necessary life skills, but until massive societal change happens, it is what it is. Before moving to London, I trained in New York City at Krav Maga Experts. Krav Maga is a self-defence fighting system that focuses on honing instinctual reactions and targeting vulnerable points to best combat an attack. Alon Dagan, one of my regular Krav Maga instructors, stressed the value of women understanding how to effectively respond to an assailant in relevant scenarios. He provided opportunities to simulate realistic attacks where I was at a disadvantage by weight, strength, weapon, number of attackers, or a combination of these factors. The careful examination of effective counter attacks gave me the practical understanding I was seeking. The guidance and thoughtful discussion gave me a better sensibility for avoiding dangerous situations before they get to a physical level. I greatly appreciate the techniques I’ve learned, but the self-empowerment and tactful awareness that Alon instilled in myself and many other students have proven even more valuable than the strikes and defences. During one particularly unpleasant scenario, I remember him pausing to say, ‘You have to be willing to do worse to your attacker than they are to you’. While it may be a harsh concept, it’s a mantra that could very well make the difference between walking away from an incident or becoming yet another statistic.
It’s time to stop the narrative at its source. Advocating for gender equality and social reform is also incredibly important, but I encourage anyone reading this gives serious consideration to similar training. Goldsmiths has Muay Thai and Open Mat Societies along with some fighting sports which could be a helpful start, and there are Krav Maga schools throughout London. Truly, I hope to never have to use my physical self-defence training again, but I refuse to play the part of that scared defenceless woman: that’s not my story.
Words, Rachel Switlick