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The Right Way to Advise Women to Protect Themselves

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Can we get more advice like this, please? In the meantime, here's some actually helpful tips for women.

A misguided, totally dumb, yet well-meaning article from Pepperdine University is making the Internet rounds today. Pepperdine's student-run online daily published a piece about the dangers of dressing "racy" on Halloween, cautioning women that sexy costumes attract unsafe attention. 

A better article would be one geared toward potential abusers, reminding them that no article of clothing on Halloween or any other day of the year can imply consent. But how often do we see that advice? No, it's much easier to tell women not to get raped (as if it was up to them to begin with), with asinine advice such as "be careful to whom you are showing your curves and make sure to keep strong men around you who you know and trust to ward off unwanted admirers."

The writer's heart is in the right place--she just wants females to be safe on Halloween. But advising against a certain dress or supporting paranoia  just greases the slope to victim-blaming. And by the way, is pretty insulting to men, most of whom don't turn into leering predators too testosterone-drenched to control themselves come October 31st. Not only that, but it misses the point and isn't even helpful. Why is it that just about every article (not just ones written by students who perhaps haven't yet taken a class on ethical, responsible journalism) are more about scare tactics and gender stereotypes than advising women on how to stick for themselves. 

The solution to violence against women should never be about limiting a woman's personal choice to wear what she wants, go where she wants, or talk to who she wants. Because otherwise, we'd don potato sacks and long-johns (nothing too tight, though) and never leave our homes. That said, we don't yet live in a world free of criminal elements and there is a certain amount of personal responsibility required to protect yourself. Is there a way to advise women on how to protect themselves, without veering into victim-blaming territory or reinforcing damaging gender stereotypes?

I went in search of pro-women advice about preventing assault by chatting with black-belt badass Karen Valentine who owns Practical Martial Arts and teaches FAST self-defense. Her techniques for preventing assaults has nothing to do with what people wear and everything to do with teaching her students to be aware of their surroundings and protective of their own, self-imposed boundaries. 

Her teachings don't really change whether she's teaching boys or girls or men or women. It's all about following the ABCs: Awareness, Boundaries, and Combat. She notes that if you focus on A and B, you rarely have to get to C. She provided me with a few tips for how women can protect themselves on high-risk nights like Halloween or any day of the year, really. To paraphrase:

1. Start by knowing that no one has the right to hurt you and a commitment to stick up for yourself should you ever need to.
2. Don't hang out with people who don't respect people. 
3. If you're going out to party on Halloween or any other night, make a plan with your friends. Know ahead of time where you're meeting and whether you're all leaving together. Look out for one another and be up front about what you're hoping to get out of the night.
4. Set your own boundaries (whatever they may be) and be prepared to defend them. So say you're dressed "racy" or like Pretty Women pre-Rodeo Drive. Whatever! You do you, girl! But say someone sees that as a license to do something you don't like or don't want. Use a strong voice and body language to make your boundaries clear. Know that it's all about attitude, rather than clothing, when it comes to protecting yourself. Give you (and your "unwanted admirer") an out by making an excuse to get out of the situation, such as needing to find your friend or whatever. If he can't take the hint, a clear "no" or "back-off" will likely work. 
5. Listen to your gut instinct. Whatever it is, it's right.
6. Know your limits so you don't lose your awareness. Drugs and alcohol can change the way people make decisions and see situations. This goes for everyone, whether male or female. Be in charge of your own body and actions.
7. If you are assaulted, know it's not your fault.  

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