Hardly a day goes by without news of a new threat to our health or well-being. It may be the results of a study saying positive thinking doesn’t help cancer patients. Or caffeine is good for you after all. Or not. Protect your identity. Don’t open spam emails. Eat broccoli and blueberries. Avoid cookies, ice cream, potato chips.
Hardly a day goes by when we don’t feel cynicism around these conflicting messages and moving targets. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t think the likelihood of risk to us is exaggerated. After all, the threat of home invasion, cancer, identity theft, homelessness, wife battery, sudden death, or rape is something that happens to other people.
Perhaps people who live in big cities or are poor or uneducated or are young or screw up. Surely not me or my family.
Last week my comfort zone was rattled. I work for a company that helps clients seeking employment counselling services. With the exception of about three men, we’re all female, ranging in age from mid-20s to 60-something. Most work in an office setting. Some of us work off-site. Sometimes our clients are troubled or distraught.
For three hours last week we heard about the very real danger we face both in the workplace and in our regular lives. It’s easy to rationalize away the statistics: one in four Canadian women will be sexually assaulted. The one is probably some skimpily dressed young thing hitchhiking home from a city bar late at night. Or so we tell ourselves–buying into the stereotype from TV, movies, and crime fiction.
The reality is quite different. At risk are all women of every racial and ethnic background, rich or poor, any age, all physical types, including the elderly and disabled.
Not only did the presenter offer us some practical, tangible information, we also spent the morning practicing some specific actions.
Begin by being aware of your surroundings; notice exits and possible weapons. Be cautious but act confident and strong. Make eye contact to let potential attackers know you are aware of them. Speak strongly and decisively. Trust your gut. Understand that different situations will require different responses. Defusing a situation by firmly and honestly asserting your rights may be the correct response.
On the other hand, an attacker with a knife trying to force you into his car calls for a far more aggressive response. You must have intent to injure. You need to fight and scream and attack to save your own life.
Seizing opportunity, surprising the attacker, looking to escape, and attacking may make the difference between surviving or not. Taking a self-defence course and practicing techniques ensures you won’t be paralyzed with fear if your safety is threatened. Studies with professional athletes have proven that mentally rehearsing behaviour is just as effective as the actual moves.
The take-away message is this: we are all vulnerable but we can take action. We can educate ourselves, practice defensive behaviours, and be aware of danger (but not crippled by fear). Sharing this message is also vital, from where I sit.