Monday, March 15, 2010

Snap out of it

Tips to stop cycle of violence against women

Whether you live in a big city or small town, assault crimes happen. But Alaska has the distinction of being 2.6 times the national average.

Snap! This is ridiculous. We should be outraged and actively making changes to protect Alaska women and children. Gov. Sean Parnell has declared his intention to address this, and I want to throw in my two cents. Here are some personal safety tips I learned growing up in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles.


There are several things researchers have discovered about assault crimes, one being that perpetrators are more likely to prey on victims that don't look they will fight back. So, women could deter a predator if they convey a message of confidence, and awareness with their body language. Head up, glancing around, confident stride, no eye contact. If a woman values her life and thinks it's worth fighting for, she will exude that energy in her general demeanor.

'Her' story

One way to find value in oneself is to learn about the history of women - the roots and genealogy. Pick up a few autobiographies and discover that women throughout history have been abused and have overcome unfathomable horrors emerging stronger and wiser in many cases. Women are fighters and survivors. My best friend and I used to work with children who had been abused. We taught dance classes at their shelter. Their favorite song to dance to was "Survivor" by Destiny's Child. I would go home humming the powerful lyrics and I'm sure those kids needed to have those lyrics echoing in their heads.

The snap

Once women have embraced themselves as worthy and found strength in history, it's time to find the inner "snap," expressed outwardly as the "Z-formation."

Take a firm stance, like Wonder Woman before she starts spinning, then place one hand over your head and snap your fingers. Make a Z by snapping at the Z corners down the front of your body. You can make the move more dramatic by saying something like, "oh no you didn't," or "take a step back now" For advanced attitude, also move your head from side to side. This body language is a visual boundary saying, do not pass the snap or there will be trouble.

No more Ms. Nice Guy

Women walk a fine line. They need to be tough and protective yet are expected to be polite and nice. My mom admired Ms. Kitty on "Gunsmoke" for balancing both. Refer to Dustin Hoffman in "Tootsie" for another example of fierce grit under an attractive demeanor. Being nice when all your alarms are ringing can get women into trouble, like the lady who helped the serial killer move a couch into his van in "Silence of the Lambs."


Growing up in Los Angeles, I took a self-defense course to help give me an edge in the dark empty parking lots and alleys I faced daily. When I showed up to the first IMPACT self defense class, there were about 20 other women, including a famous actress with a stalker.

As we went around the circle, each woman told her unique story of why they wanted to learn how to defend themselves. Rapes, molestation, verbal abuse, stalkers - the stories were sad and scary. The abuse was from relatives, strangers and neighbors alike.

I picked the IMPACT class because we were allowed to use full force against padded mock attackers. By re-enacting realistic scenarios, I learned how to verbally de-escalate an attacker, assert myself, and set boundaries.

When the attacker couldn't be reasoned with, we would fight while the rest of the class cheered on. They yelled, "eyes, eyes, eyes" as I jabbed my fingers into the attackers eyes, then I would knee them in the groin, kick them to the ground and start pounding their face with the heel of my foot. I actually lifted one of my instructors off the ground with a groin shot. The environment was physically safe and emotionally supportive, which helped us gain self-confidence and a sense of personal power. I wish every woman could take this class. (Take note, Gov. Parnell.)

Heal old wounds

A strange thing happened during the IMPACT course. As women learned to fight, many broke down sobbing as they reached a point where it was so real, they were brought back to the moment of the abuse and trauma. They tapped into a pattern and then broke it by reacting differently and fighting for their lives. By changing reactions, studies show people can actually re-program their brain, break a cycle and begin healing.

Snap out of it

The biggest help could come from the community making a collective "snap" and not put up with violence anymore. They should empower the women in their lives and fiercely protect them. Women and children are being assaulted in Alaska more than other place in the United States. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, girlfriends and wives. Men wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for women. If someone assaults or abuses a woman, they are hurting themselves and the community as a whole. Perpetrators, keep your hands to yourselves.

I'm aware that assaults happen sometimes regardless of tough demeanors and that men also are victims of abuse. This column is intended for the empowerment of women.

Snap out of it!

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