Science proves that our brains respond differently and uniquely in the event of a traumatic experience – like a sexual assault. Freezing up, “zoning out”, becoming immobile or paralyzed are all very real, very common reactions to an attack whether it’s at the hands of a stranger or far more likely, someone we know. When subjected to extreme stress, our brains respond by falling back on ingrained reflexes and habits. Our ability to reason, much less formulate even simple plans for escape or retaliation, is often switched off as the brain goes into survival mode.
Research also shows that participation in self-protection training can significantly reduce your chances of becoming a victim of sexual assault; and not only from an actual assault, but even an attempted assault or sexual coercion. How does this work? Effective self-protection training incorporates not only sound physical and training strategies, but more importantly a change in your mental habits such as awareness development (the ability to assess your risk of being assaulted), threat management, stress inoculation, self-permission (breaking down your own barriers to recognizing and resisting unwanted sexual behaviors) and others. A great place to start is by reading A Guerrilla Guide to Avoiding Sexual Violence (https://www.amazon.com/Guerrilla-Guide-Avoidi…/…/ref=sr_1_3…) which provides extensive knowledge of how to evaluate your risk, set boundaries, spot predatory behavior, and steps to take to protect yourself and your loved ones.
According to an article published by Psychology Today (September 2018)
“Unfortunately, [combat training] is no more useful in most sexual assaults, especially those committed by known and trusted fellow service members, than it is in fixed-wing aerial combat. If it were, then military sexual assault rates would be much lower than civilian rates, but they aren’t.
While a small percentage of service members receive training in self-defense tactics specific to sexual assault, that training is usually very brief and lacking in those two essential features: lots of practice, in situations closely resembling those where it must be applied.”
In the case of one young female Marine who was raped by a fellow serviceman: “Like so many girls and women, she had never received effective sexual assault self-defense training, and therefore she had fallen back on the only deeply ingrained habits she had for dealing with unwanted sexual advances from men she knew. After the perpetrator suddenly shoved her onto the bed and right up to when he began raping her, she had politely, but with increasing urgency and desperation, repeated the words no and stop, and the phrases, You’re married. You don’t need to be doing this.”
The key is contextualization. We must understand that our skills, even combative skills are okay for use in situations that may include hurting someone we know or maybe even feel like we love.
So what does this mean, and how can we better equip ourselves? If highly trained soldiers are unable to protect themselves, where does that leave the rest of us?
Training your brain and body, by ingraining new physical habits and skills that increase your chances of survival is critical. Contextualised training that includes the exploration of a variety of scenarios, situations and tools that allow participants to develop mental, verbal and physical mechanisms—over time—with increasing resistance and pressure while maintaining a psychologically safe environment. And since no one ever really knows when, how or by what means they might be attacked, it’s important that the focus not be on specific tactics or techniques that only work under specific circumstances.
Soldiers train for combat by drilling (repetition of skills) and practicing fundamental skills under simulated scenarios that closely mimic combat situations. This acts to ingrain these skills and responses into the brain, so that they become habits. Why is this important? As stated above, when we are under severe stress (such as that experienced during an assault), the brain responds by resorting to deeply ingrained habits and reflexes.
To take advantage of it we need to be adding effective self-protection skills to your brain’s “tool box” to increase the likelihood that your brain will access and deploy those skills in a manner that helps you thwart or survive an attack.
If you’ve also done the work of ingraining the necessary skills of situational, environmental, and threat awareness as outlined in “A Guerrilla Guide To Avoiding Sexual Violence,” , and the verbal and physical skills for stopping unwanted attention or advances, your chances of coming out without a traumatic event occurring go up significantly.