Psychology Today – September 1989

(Model Mugging self-defense article was jointly embedded with article “Sexual Violence and Its Aftermath” which follows)

Women to Their Own Defense

psychology todayBy Pamela King

Photographs by Catherine LeRoy

“Eyes!”“Groin!”“Kick!” Classmates shout these instructions to a woman pinned on the floor by a man pretending to be a rapist. Going beyond her panic and fighting back, the pinned woman delivers what would be, in real life, a knockout blow with a side kick to her assailant’s head.

Knowing when and how to counterattack can make the difference between rape and escape in the first few seconds of an assault. That’s what Model Mugging, a California-based training program founded by martial-arts expert Matt Thomas, is about. It helps women get past the initial paralyzing fear and fight for their lives.

Thomas got the idea in 1971 when a fellow student in his karate class was beaten and raped. “The instructor said she had disgraced us. But it was the training that failed her. She had learned how to dance,” says Thomas, “not how to defend herself.” Thomas never went back. Instead, he founded Model Mugging.

During a typical Model Mugging session, “muggers” (men who have an average of 14 years of martial arts training and wear 40 pounds of protective gear) verbally and then physically attack the women.

The women learn to stand their ground and to use a don’t-mess-with-me voice that makes their intent to resist clear. “Most muggers will test you. Backing up, showing fear — these behaviors seem to excite a ‘predator response’ in muggers,” says Thomas, who analyzed over 3,000 assault reports while developing the training. “Half the muggers flee in the face of resistance. A low, rumbling ‘No!’ can stop many of them in their tracks.”

Then women learn no-holds-barred techniques to incapacitate the attacker: an elbow to the throat, a hammer-fist to the groin, a gouge to the eyes. The mugger whispers or screams obscenities, grabs the woman by the hair and pins her to the ground in realistic “bedroom” and “bus stop” rape scenarios. The women learn to keep from panicking, and then deliver a knockout blow from the ground.

This body-mind training takes about 25 hours in four to five weekly sessions. “The ‘muggings’ start out in slow motion with lots of emotional and physical guidance from the female instructor to ensure that every step is a success,” says Thomas. The physical assaults build in intensity so that the women must finally pit themselves against a full-force attack. And the mugger doesn’t stop attacking until the woman delivers a knockout blow. By graduation the “victims” have learned to channel the fear that comes with the adrenaline surge of an attack, turn it into anger and unleash it to immobilize their assailant.

It takes more than stamina and strength for the mugger substitutes to subject themselves to potential concussions, fractured ribs and kidney injuries. It takes tremendous compassion for women. Julio Toribio became a trainer to channel his rage and grief after his mother-in-law was stabbed to death six years ago. “At first I wanted to kill,” says Toribio. “But that wasn’t the answer. There’s nothing I can do to bring my mother-in-law back, but I can teach other women to fight back and win.”

“This isn’t just self-defense training,” says Danielle Evans, a trainer largely responsible for the program’s philosophy of empowerment. “It’s not about training women to be macho or simply being faster or stronger than an attacker. One of the most important things women learn is that they can choose not to be a victim.” Model Mugging is about women dispelling the myth of helplessness and coming into their own courage and power.

One 52-year-old graduate named Barbara was walking in a multilevel garage when she saw a man pounding a woman’s face into the hood of a car. She told him to stop. He hissed, “Shut up, bitch, or you’ll get the same.” When Barbara persisted, he turned his attack on her. She dropped to the ground, kicked him in the knee and the man dropped, too. She delivered a side kick to the groin, kicked him again and knocked him out cold in less than 3 seconds.

Over 7,000 women have taken the training; 120 report having averted an assault using the psychological techniques Model Mugging teaches. And 44 report having been physically attacked. Two chose not to fight. Of the 42 who did counterattack, 28 knocked out their assailants, most within five seconds, and the rest disabled their attackers enough to make an escape.

Model Mugging doesn’t guarantee that a woman will become invincible. The beginning course deals only with a single, unarmed assailant. Advanced training deals with multiple and armed assailants. But the consequences of not fighting back are dramatic. According to a Department of Justice study of rape, women who do something early on, who use some form of self-protection, are twice as likely to escape.

In 1989 there were 14 chapters Model Mugging nationwide.

women self defense series

In a simulated street corner briefcase-snatching attempt, trainer Julio Toribio is felled by a Model Mugging graduate.

Original article in Psychology Today Magazine, September 1989 – pages 70 to 71, & 143; download file size is 1.97 MB

Other Model Mugging Self Defense Articles

Sexual Violence and Its Aftermath

psychology todayBy Cherrie Senders

The brutal rape in New York’s Central Park last April and the sexual assault in Glen Ridge, NJ, reported last May riveted national attention on the horror — and prevalence — of sexual violence. As we struggle to make sense of those tragedies and attempt to reconcile our own fears and concerns, work goes on to help survivors recover and to break the cycle of these vicious crimes. Here we report on some recent efforts, and on an alarming finding that makes the nature of the rape epidemic even more chilling:

A woman’s most likely assailant is someone she already knows.

Facing Down the Ghosts of the Past: Many survivors of rape and incest silently struggle for years with recurring flashbacks, nightmares and black bouts of depression. For them, traditional therapy hasn’t helped. Some drift from relationship to relationship and job to job, unaware that their symptoms are pieces of a larger puzzle called post-traumatic stress disorder.

Another way of dealing with those intrusive memories may offer relief, according to psychologists studying and using an intensive, innovative behavioral therapy called flooding, in which patients are helped to come to terms with trauma by reliving it in detail. Originally introduced by psychologist Thomas Stampfl more than 30 years ago to cure phobics, the technique has been used with impressive success with Vietnam veterans. Recently, a small number of psychologists have begun using flooding with survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse as well.

A form of exposure therapy, flooding pushes patients back into the traumatic experience, forcing them to confront their repressed anxieties and memories. The therapy works, some experts believe, because it reintegrates the two parts of the traumatic memory: the picture of what happened and the emotion attached to it. “When people are first traumatized, they’re in an aroused emotional state,” says Johanna Gallers, a clinical psychologist and director of the Valley Trauma Center, a crisis intervention center near Los Angeles, who has used flooding extensively with clients. If they don’t deal with the trauma at the time, their “feelings get trapped, encapsulated in that heightened state. Often the only way to retrieve those repressed memories is by simulating that original emotional state as much as possible” so they relive the trauma.

What’s different is that now they are safe, going back to the fearful memory with a trusted therapist. “They realize they won’t get hurt this time,” explains John Fairbank, a clinical psychologist who worked for seven years with traumatized vets at the V.A. hospital in Jackson, MS. “Talking about the event tends to be therapeutic, a way to work through your fears. The first few sessions are very emotional for patients, but that tends to diminish with repeated exposure.” Normally the treatment lasts for 12 to 15 weeks and is followed up by traditional counseling.

Gallers originally used the therapy exclusively with veterans. But soon she began to see similarities between her own experience — as a child, she was physically abused by her father and gang-raped by neighborhood boys — and those of combat soldiers. She found that combining the technique of flooding with cognitive restructuring (challenging false assumptions) also helped rape and childhood-sexual- abuse survivors. One 26-year-old client who had suffered years of sexual abuse from her two older brothers told her, “I feel like a whole person for the first time.”

When Susan Jones, (name changed to protect privacy) a troubled incest survivor, first began flooding therapy, she was totally dispassionate when talking about her stepfather’s abuse — “almost as if she were reading from a grocery list,” Gallers recalls. The weekly therapy sessions, in which she chose different memories to work on, helped her “get in touch with her feelings about the abuse and have those feelings validated,” says Gallers.

For several weeks, beginning with a five-minute progressive relaxation exercise, Gallers guided Jones to relive one fateful autumn day in infinite detail, remembering driving through the desert with her family, sitting up front alone with her stepfather, her mother and sister asleep in the back seat. The goal of the first session was to get Jones to talk about the incident — something she had never before been able to do.

“What did he do to you, Susan?” Gallers asked gently. Jones paused…“He made me suck his penis,” she suddenly remembered, beginning to cry…“What are you feeling now?”…She said, “I’m feeling nauseous. I want to throw up,” she said, gagging…“Did he make you swallow the semen?” She said “Yes.”…“You probably feel nauseous now because you’re remembering what it was like to have to swallow the semen. What a horrible experience you had to go through.”

The long-repressed memory at last brought to the surface, Gallers helped Jones reconnect with the emotional impact and deal with her rage rather than bury it. Then and in the subsequent sessions, Gallers validated Jones’s feelings and also gave her the confidence to confront her verbally abusive husband.

While many agree that flooding is one of the most promising new techniques in trauma therapy, “rigorous training is necessary to deal with the intense emotions that are released,” Fairbank emphasizes. Some observers caution that flooding is not appropriate for every trauma victim. “It is a very assaultive treatment,” says Calvin Frederick, chief of psychology service at the West Los Angeles V.A. Medical Center, and so is not recommended for patients with borderline personality disorder.

Early research results on flooding are positive. Terrence Keane, chief of psychology at the Boston V.A. hospital, recently completed a study of 24 seriously disturbed and impaired veterans, 11 of whom underwent flooding. According to Keane, the vets who went through flooding improved “significantly,” some of them “very dramatically.” The memory reactivation is what’s important, Keane says.

Preliminary results of a three-year Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute study, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, of the effects of flooding on rape survivors suffering from delayed stress also are very promising. “Flooding is working very well,” says psychologist Barbara Olasov Rothbaum, a researcher on the project. “Some women have come back at the three-month follow-up saying they feel like the women they were before the assault.”

Original article in Psychology Today Magazine, September 1989 – pages 70 to 71, & 143; download file size is 2.04 MB

Other Model Mugging Self Defense Articles

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