(Model Mugging self-defense for women article was jointly embedded in “Legacy of Central Park Rape” article which follows)
HOW TO COME TO YOUR OWN DEFENSE
You decide to walk home from your evening out. Halfway there, you hear heavy footsteps closing in from behind. You turn to see a strange man grabbing for you. Should you scream, hit, run . . . freeze?
You wouldn’t be alone if you did nothing at all. Sixty percent of us would become paralyzed with fear if faced with a crisis situation, according to some self-defense experts. Another 20 to 30 percent fight back to no avail, and 10 to 20 percent get away through physical self-defense, verbal persuasion or just plain luck.
Unfortunately, being attacked is something we all need to think about. We’re living in a time when an assault can happen anywhere: late at night in the office; in a parking lot in the middle of the day; on a date. And your assailant could be anyone, from a man in a dark alley to the boy next door. In fact, a woman is assaulted every 30 seconds in the U.S. and raped every six minutes; and one out of three women will be attacked in her lifetime. But it has taken a horrific attack like the Central Park rape to make women realize just how vulnerable they really are. For many, the response has been, ‘‘We’re not going to take it.‘‘ But the question is, what are we going to do about it? The question of whether a woman should fight back when attacked does not have a ‘‘yes’‘ or ‘‘no’‘ answer. A weapon may be involved; there may be more than one assailant; you may be overpowered too quickly. Still, more and more women are discovering that they at least have options when it comes to self-defense, whether it’s learning how to fight physically or to prevent an attack by taking everyday precautions.
“If you’re going to fight back, you have to be able to do it effectively,‘‘ says Matt Thomas , the creator of Model Mugging, a 24-hour course (spread out over two weeks) that teaches women around the country how to defend themselves in real-life situations. Thomas studied more than 3,000 assaults to determine how men attack and, more importantly, how women can protect themselves. His conclusions: Learn to fight from the ground (since that’s where 90 percent of victims end up) and attack vulnerable areas like the eyes, head and groin. And since we’re likely to become ‘‘frozen’‘ by our adrenaline when we’re scared, Thomas teaches how to unleash that energy by reacting with a scream, kick or punch.
Students practice on a “model mugger,” who, dressed in 60 pounds of armor, looks like a cross between the Great Pumpkin and an astronaut. They learn to scream to frighten the mugger away (many people don’t even know what it feels like to scream). Or, he may act “high,” in which case they have to hit him particularly hard because drugs tend to dull the senses. There’s also a bedroom scenario where a woman cooperates with the attacker until she gains his trust, and then tries to hurt him. Eventually, the fight response becomes automatic: Eight years after taking the course, one woman was able to knock out a real-life assailant in less than five seconds.
Carol, another self-defense school graduate, was harassed after coming out of a store late in the evening. The man kept following her and eventually blocked her way. She warned him to leave her alone but when he didn’t, she delivered a quick blow with a flat palm to his chest, knocking the wind out of him. “I was scared,” says Carol, “but I also knew I could injure him if I wanted. It was a very empowering feeling.”
Women are also taught nonphysical ways to avoid an attack. These include being aware; acting confident on the street (not looking distracted); lying to a potential assailant (perhaps warning him that your boyfriend will be home soon); shifting direction if you hear someone coming up from behind; or screaming “no” or “stop.” One woman, for example, had an argument with a cabdriver who got out of his car and started coming toward her. Instead of backing away, she moved toward him while screaming, “No!” as loud as she could. “It threw him off,” she says. “In fact, he got back into his cab.”
Realistically, not every situation is going to be a winning one. In a self-defense course, women are also made aware of situations in which they might have to give in: If the attacker asks for a purse (it’s not worth fighting for); when there’s more than one perpetrator (a woman is told to fight only if she can deal with one assailant at a time); or if a weapon is involved (she should get him to put it down — before she attacks).
One caveat for any self-defense class: Some women walk away with a false sense of security (even bravado) that could put them in more danger. Instead of endangering ourselves by fighting back physically, says Tern Norris, a certified social worker and Staten Island borough director for the Victim Services Agency in New York, our best defense comes from avoiding a confrontation in the first place. She recommends: First, be aware of your vulnerability; second, learn how not to become a victim (don’t travel alone, talk to strangers, go to a party without directions); and finally, trust your instincts. Research shows that many women who’ve been assaulted had a feeling that something was wrong just before they were attacked.
However you choose to protect yourself, fear of crime isn’t going to go away. But while being “on guard” can be both emotionally and physically draining, giving yourself the option to fight back may at least give you a greater sense of control over the odds. As one self-defense student put it: “I know that in the heat of the moment, I will make a very clear decision. I can make a choice — and that’s amazing.”
Original article in Mademoiselle Magazine – September 1989 – pages 227 to 228, 277 to 278, and 280; download file size is 3.29 MB
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THE LEGACY OF THE CENTRAL PARK RAPE
They beat her raped her; then left her to die, and women all over the country shuddered. What is it like, we wondered to be a survivor of crime? And will we ever have to find out?
As she lay screaming for her life, they silenced her with rocks and a rain of punches to her face so they could continue to rape her.’‘ — Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Lederer, on denying bail to three youths indicted in the April 19th rape and beating of a 28- year-old investment banker in Manhattan’s Central Park.
It must have been glorious out there at night, jogging through the heart of one of the greatest cities in the world. Clear, cool, hushed. Like running through a forest. The road felt like silk, the young woman jogged effortlessly through the lush acres of park. She certainly did not give the appearance of an investment banker who routinely handled million-dollar deals. She was only a hundred pounds, blond and elfin, wearing a white sweatshirt, black spandex tights and sneakers.
Every night after a 12-hour workday, she went running in the park for an hour. That night she turned onto the 102nd Street transverse, a desolate northern stretch of the park, a road where cars are not allowed.
That turn changed and nearly destroyed her life. A few minutes down that road she was attacked, allegedly by a dozen teenage boys drunk with exhilaration after a crime spree in the park; a spree that had begun two hours earlier when the group of youths decided to go “wilding’‘—randomly attacking strangers, pelting rocks at a couple on a tandem bicycle, assaulting and striking joggers. When the boys saw the woman, they descended on her with shouts of “Get the jogger,” dragged her 200 feet down a ravine through bent and fallen sycamore trees, hurled her to the ground near a pond, whipped her head with a metal pipe, smashed her face with rocks, punched and pummeled her into a bloody pulp and raped her repeatedly. She struggled and screamed until she lost consciousness and the boys ran off, leaving her for dead. Over the next three hours the woman lay by the pond known as the Loch, losing three-quarters of her blood as she went into shock and her body temperature plummeted to 80 degrees. At one-thirty in the morning she was discovered by two passersby, and when the police came her jaws were already clamped shut, a sign she was near death.
For the next 13 days the 28-year-old “Central Park jogger” (as the public came to know her) lay in a coma in Metropolitan Hospital in New York City, her skull fractured and her brain swelling with fluid. Doctors predicted brain damage so severe she would never function normally again. As the details of the crime poured in, a shaken city learned that the boys who attacked her laughed and joked after they were arrested, and when the police asked why they whipped the jogger with a metal pipe, one of them answered, “Because it was fun.” Only one of the teens expressed any misgivings; he admitted that “it got to me when her blood started to spurt.” The boys sat stony-faced as the prosecutor, a jogger herself, recommended holding them without bail. Their appalling lack of remorse contrasted with an outpouring of love and outrage from strangers. The jogger received at least a dozen bouquets of flowers every day. The mayor prayed for her. One of the city’s tycoons, Donald Trump, placed full-page ads in all the dailies asking for reinstatement of the death penalty. On the Donahue show, a woman cried, “Castrate them!” to a burst of audience applause. An op-ed piece suggested convicting and hanging the offenders in Central Park; another asked for a candlelight vigil; a third pleaded that all women of the city go to the park and join hands.
People cried when they learned the victim was stricken with pneumonia, and they rejoiced to hear she was awake and had said her first hoarse “Hello.” Each day there were fresh reports on her progress: She recognized the words “yes” and “no” on flash cards, but was stumped by the sentence “Get well soon.” She remembered she had gone to Yale, and that she liked chocolate ice cream. She knew who the Beatles were but could remember only George Harrison’s name. She was able to pronounce the word “stethoscope.”“We’re taking it one miracle at a time,” her father, a former Westinghouse executive, told a reporter. And everybody asked himself the same question: This woman born to privilege, a woman who’d graduated with honors from Wellesley and Yale, had worked for the State Department in Zimbabwe, and was the top-rated new hire at Salomon Brothers—would she be able to lead a normal life?
As of this writing, the jogger is still hospitalized in stable condition, in a private hospital in Connecticut. She recognizes her family but, so far, has no memory of the attack. She has recently undergone surgery for double vision, and plastic surgery to help restore her face. Nobody knows how fully she will recover, but doctors say that by October she will have regained as many of her faculties as she is ever going to.
Her rape and near-murder have become a symbol of something, uniquely terrible about our times: As women are coming into their own, they’re faced with a soaring tide of crime that often targets them as prime victims. We’re more powerful than ever before and, paradoxically, we also feel more helpless. “I think everybody’s scared of crime today—after all, teenagers are walking around with Uzi machine guns, so we have a right to feel vulnerable,” explains Shelley Neiderbach, Ph.D., founder and executive director of New York’s Crime Victims’ Counseling Service, Inc. in Brooklyn, and author of Invisible Wounds: Crime Victims Speak (Haworth Press). “But women, in particular, feel scared because the assailants are overwhelmingly male, and because rape is often an issue.” After all, that night in the park, the gang attacked men, too, but the beatings they got were not nearly as brutal as the jogger’s. It’s no wonder that, in the aftermath of the assault, New York women began to jog in groups and to avoid the park, even by day. Some of the press chose to play up the crime’s racial angle — the banker was white, her attackers black and Hispanic — but women of all races knew that race was not the issue. Gender was.
Usually it is only the victim of a crime who feels shattered, violated and vulnerable. That feeling is normal, according to Dr. Neiderbach. To be a crime victim is “to suffer a psychic catastrophe,” she says. But in the case of the Central Park rape, we all shared the catastrophe. Too many of us felt: It could have been me.
Perhaps that’s why this particular crime is special, a kind of watershed moment. It is not simply the brutality of the assault that shocks us, or even the fact that these boys allegedly almost murdered a woman and regard the act as mischief-making; it’s the quality of absolute anarchy that is frightening. According to Hillel Bodek, M.S.W., a clinical social worker in New York City, the gang rape was “like a feeding frenzy by sharks. You get a group disinhibition where any control and conscience completely break down. There are no more rules.”
The Central Park rape reminded us that all women are open for attack. It made us wonder: If it had been me, could I have survived? If I were gang-raped, could I make love again? Would my life be consumed by bitterness and rage? What is it like to be the survivor of a crime? Will I ever have to find out?
Look Over Your Shoulder
There are two sides to the story of crime. One side is pure numbers: In 1987, according to FBI statistics, there were more than 90,000 reported rapes, 20,000 homicides, 517,000 robberies and nearly 650,000 cases of assault. But according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, adding on the estimated number of unreported cases makes for a far more staggering total: For example, the Bureau estimated there were actually as many as 4,879,890 assaults in 1988. Crimes of all kinds are on the rise, jumping by a few percentage points every year. Moreover, the rising tide of crime affects many of us who are not direct victims. “For every victim of crime,” explains Dr. Neiderbach, “you have to assume at least two covictims among family and friends. A lot of the fear of crime comes from seeing something happen to someone close to you. If your friend staggers home because she was beaten up on the subway, it’s going to affect you deeply.”
The other side of crime is the inside story: the way an attack irreparably alters the victim’s life. “When a psychopath puts a gun to your head or a knife to your throat, it’s a life-changing, life-shattering piece of evil. After a crime, you’re a different person,” says Dr. Neiderbach.
A Survivor’s Anguish
Psychologists now have a name for the aftershock of a crime: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The syndrome was first coined to describe the debilitating depression of Vietnam vets, but psychologists realized that victims of serious crimes were showing the same symptoms: flashbacks to the incident, recurring nightmares, trouble sleeping, intrusive thoughts about the trauma, sadness, apathy and confusion. There is also a devastating feeling of isolation, and a kind of hyper-vigilance known as a heightened “startle response.”
For rape victims, the emotional pain may be unbearable. According to Lucy Friedman, Ph.D., a social psychologist and executive director of the Victim Services Agency in New York City, an astounding 20 percent of rape victims attempt suicide after the incident.
Though most of us will never have to face a rapist at gunpoint, many of us will be the victims of smaller crimes, particularly if we are women living in a big city. And the fact is, even a fleeting encounter with crime can be nightmarish. I myself was assaulted eight years ago. A man was coming down the street, his head a mass of dreadlocks, and I looked at him in curiosity. The next moment I was lying flat on the ground: He had punched me in the mouth. The punch was so violent that at first I believed I’d been shot. A “fat lip” was the extent of my physical trauma. But for months I could not walk on that particular street alone. In fact, wherever! went, I kept my head down, because I realized that glancing at the stranger had somehow provoked his attack. I know others who have had this reaction of fear:
After Paula Derrow, a New York editor, was nearly assaulted in her lobby she became much more cautious. A year later, she says, “there are still times! run down my street and into my building.”
When a woman is assaulted she discovers what no woman should know — that she does not have the right to simply “be,” to walk down any street and look freely around her, to exist. She may feel ashamed, as if this inability were a personal weakness. That’s a common reaction of victims, according to Dr. Friedman. “As a victim, you feel that you must in some way be a bad, tainted person. If something awful happened, somehow you caused it. We used to believe this was a destructive and irrational response, but we’ve found out that victims who blame themselves actually cope better. They can still see the world as a rational, rather than a chaotic, place. And they feel oddly empowered if it was their ‘fault,’ because they can stop the crime from happening again by changing their behavior. A friend of mine was mugged, and her response was, ‘Look, it was raining and late, and all my instincts told me not to take that street, but I did it anyway. I shouldn’t have.’ She coped very well with the mugging.”
However, there are certain types of assault where the victim knows she could have done nothing to prevent it and yet it still haunts her. “When my apartment got robbed,” says Anya, “I wasn’t there but I felt really threatened afterward. The burglars made themselves at home. They drank my liquor and sat around ogling photos I had.” For about two weeks Anya had nightmares. Years later she was visiting a friend, and she woke up in the middle of the night. “I saw my friend’s shadow by the window, thought I was in my own apartment, and that a burglar had entered. I screamed, jumped out of bed, ran to the door and tripped and fell flat on my face.”
The severity of PTSD varies enormously from victim to victim, and it is different for women than men. “Women have trouble getting angry at their assailant,” explains Dr. Neiderbach. “Men get angry and say, ‘I should have taken a sock at him.’ This will sound terrible and sexist, but women have been brought up to be helpless.” A crime, therefore, can often reinforce a woman’s basic sense of helplessness and weakness.
The longer an attack lasts, the more disturbing its effects will be. An attempt to kill will have a far more crippling impact than a mugging. Another crucial factor is if the individual has had prior experience with violence.
Most important of all, however, is the quality of the victim’s support system. If there are loving people around, people who will counsel and nurture the victim, he or she will recover. Often, however, after a short period of being supportive, friends and family expect the victim to resume his or her normal life. That’s one reason group therapy for victims is becoming a powerful tool for treating PTSD. “Most victims feel very isolated by a crime,” explains Dr. Friedman.
“Other people are telling them to get on with their lives, and they just can’t do it. Their friends may mean well, but hearing about the crime makes them feel vulnerable. In the group these victims can show their emotions, share the same feelings of rage, vengefulness and shame. It’s a great reaffirmation.”
Who’s Afraid of Central Park? There are few of us today whose lives have not been brushed by crime — whether the tragedy is our own, a friend’s, or the case of a young woman like the Central Park jogger.
Crime forces us to question our most basic assumptions of freedom — to move, to run, to look and feel good. The decision —on how much a woman should reign herself in as a response to crime — is, of course, ultimately a private one. I won’t enter the park alone at night, I’ll cross the street to avoid tough-looking boys, and when I’m out by myself I won’t wear flashy clothes or high heels that might prevent me from running. But I’ll still open the door when the buzzer rings. I’ll still walk the streets of one of the greatest cities in the world. It’s been years since my assailant punched me, and once again I am looking at strangers and they are looking back; that happens to be one of the most pleasant pastimes a city dweller can indulge in. But beating beneath it all is the rhythm of fear. It doesn’t stop me. But it gives me pause.
Jill Neimark is a frequent contributor to Mademoiselle.
Original article in Mademoiselle Magazine – September 1989 – pages 227 to 228, 277 to 278, and 280; download file size is 3.29 MB
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