Self Defense is Important
Women in Serious Danger Need Serious Help
All women live with a certain level of risk of violent crime. Statistics show that a woman now 21 years old has a 1 in 4 chance of experiencing a violent crime in her lifetime. For them, much information is already available about how to reduce their risk ("stay alert") and how to respond if something bad happens ("fight back").
Being in Danger
But some women are at an unusually high risk of serious assault or even murder. Just watch your local news carefully, it seems that every month or two a woman is murdered, usually by abusive ex-spouses or ex-boyfriends. Most of these tragic deaths could have been prevented.
Betsy McCandless Murray knew her ex-husband was out to get her. She did everything that women are conventionally advised to do, including obtaining a restraining order, filing criminal charges, going into hiding, changing her address, hiring a private investigator, and taking a self-defense class. Despite all these precautions, she was murdered by her ex-husband.
Janice LaCava of Worcester, MA also used the normally recommended avenues for protection, filing two restraining orders against her estranged husband. Yet he murdered her in the parking lot of her apartment building in Worcester.
Shelters and other programs offer much information on personal security matters, ranging from what to pack in an "emergency get-away bag" to how to go into hiding. That is good and useful information, because it is always better to avoid a violent attack than to try to survive one. But as Betsy McCandless' situation has shown, hiding doesn't always work, and someone else can't be there to protect you every minute of the day and night.
Sometimes, violence comes despite the best possible avoidance measures, and when it does, there is often no opportunity to summon help. In those cases, a woman is forced to face her attacker alone, using only her own resources and knowledge to survive. Fortunately, women who are properly trained and confident in their ability to protect themselves can do so quite effectively.
After the McCandless Murray tragedy, the media was full of stories that said things like "Betsy's murder is proof that safety is not reliably within reach." But this is not the right conclusion to draw, as evidenced by a Letter to the Editor in the Boston Globe written by Ellen Gugel: "I've heard the claims. To make women safe, we must change the judicial system, police departments, the way little boys and girls are raised, society's ideas of marriage. . . A woman in a violent attack doesn't have time for that; she needs to be able to defend herself."
"Fighting back" is a difficult and uncomfortable subject for many women to think about, but it does not have to be that way. The concept is easy to understand, and was expressed eloquently in the article "Teaching My Daughter to Fight" by Margaret Dean Daiss in Ms magazine: "Maybe, I reason, if more girls -- the next generation of women -- learn to defend themselves physically, harming their attackers instead of walking away or crying, then maybe, just maybe, they could begin to turn the tide of abuse from themselves and their sisters. Maybe if boys and men knew that they could be seriously hurt if they lifted their hands or opened their pants against the opposite sex, their abuse could be kept at bay."
Crime rates? Who cares?
Who cares? Really. Do you care whether the violent crime rate is one per thousand or two per thousand? People tend to use crime statistics in one of two ways: to scare people into thinking that they are likely to be a crime victim, or to convince people that they are so unlikely to be a crime victim that they don't have to do anything to protect themselves.
AWARE isn't in the business of scaring anyone. We believe that every woman should know that a crime might happen to her, and she should know how to avoid it, if possible, and how to deal with it if avoidance isn't possible.
Do you know the rate of fires in US households or businesses? Probably not, but you know some basics of fire prevention and what to do if you find yourself in a building with smoke or flames.
However, if you really, really, really do want some statistics, you can get boxes of them from sources such as the Uniform Crime Reporting Program of the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Remember that some statistics are based on reported crimes (and thus tend to underrepresent crimes like rape and stalking that are underreported). Other statistics are based on surveys, and are historically only as good as the survey methods and sample size used.