Stranger Danger

I frequently see on what my sweetheart refers to as my corner of social media lists of things that women must worry about that men don’t have to. While these lists are posted with good intentions, they perpetuate a lot of myths about both the dangers women face and what women can do about them.

What bothers me the most is about is that these lists seem to be focused the possibility of attacks by strangers. The trouble with this focus is that when it comes to sexual assault and murder — and those are the dangers that frighten people the most — women are at much more risk from men they know than from strangers.

In the U.S., about 78 percent of sexual assaults on women are committed by someone they know, a category that includes intimate partners (34 percent), other family members (6 percent), and acquaintances and friends (38 percent). If you want to include murder as a category, the percentage jumps to about 89 percent. These figures are from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Table 3 in this PDF shows the sexual assault figures.

Patriarchy has always sold us a myth that “good” men protect women from “bad” men, but the truth is that a lot of the so-called protectors are, in fact, the predators. And that myth has always been rooted in racism.

All that is to say that going for a run after dark or walking in a city neighborhood or going to get your car in the parking garage are not as risky as they’re presented. Truth is, you could be more at risk from a guy you know slightly who offers to walk you to your car than from the proverbial stranger in the bushes.

Then there’s the behavior of boys and men at parties, which got a lot of attention during the hearings on a man who should not have been approved for the Supreme Court.

All this isn’t to say that women shouldn’t pay attention when they’re out and about on their own. But so should men. I don’t think anyone should block their hearing with headphones or earbuds, because you need to hear what’s going on around you (especially in my neighborhood, where far too many people ride electric scooters on the sidewalk).

There are other crimes besides sexual assault, such as bag and phone snatching and armed robbery. Paying attention, trusting your intuition about people around you, and changing your plans when something ahead looks wrong are all ways to avoid such problems, and that applies to men as well as women.

I don’t want to discount the risk of sexual assault attacks by strangers. It happens. It has happened to me, though that was some years back when the crime rate in the U.S. was a good deal higher than it is these days. (I fought him off and ran like hell.)

And of course, women are more subject to cat calls and other verbal abuse on the street, actions that are intended to put them on edge and make them scared. Those things are real and inexcusable.

But it’s important to focus on the real risks out there if you want to be safe. Learning to act on your intuition when it tells you someone is not safe to be around is one of the most important things most women can do to protect themselves.

And by the way, women can protect themselves. As most people know, I teach and advocate for empowerment self defense. Learning a few physical skills helps boost your confidence, and training in an environment that focuses on real risks and undoing the conditioning to act like a lady in situations where yelling “back off” is more appropriate gives you real power.

If you’ve been nodding your head at those lists of what women must do to be safe, now is a very good time to find yourself an empowerment self defense class. It could change your life.



Stranger Danger — 2 Comments

  1. I frequently have headphones in while walking around . . . but I don’t always have anything coming through them. They make an excellent aid in ignoring catcalling (“LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU”), without actually doing anything to impair my awareness of my surroundings.

    • I think this is a wonderful way to do it. It gives you protection while ensuring that you do know what’s going on. I’m going to start recommending that approach.