Beware of Self-Defense Emails and the Myths they Perpetuate

I get a lot of emails everyday espousing all kinds of self-defense fallacies that are passed around like gospel among the so-called “experts” out there. Most of these just defy the common sense sniff test. Here are three of my favorites regarding “what a bunch of rapists would look for.”

”The #1 thing men look for in a potential victim is hairstyle. They are most likely to go after a woman with a ponytail, braid or other hairstyle that can easily be grabbed. They are also likely to go after a woman with long hair. Women with short hair are not as common targets.”

”The #2 thing men look for is clothing. They will look for women whose clothing is easy to remove quickly. The #1 outfit they look for is overalls because many of them carry scissors around to cut clothing and on overalls the straps can be easily cut.”

”The #3 thing is time and location. Men are most likely to attack and rape a woman in the early morning between 5am and 8:30am. The number one place women are abducted from/attacked is at the grocery store parking lot. The number tow is office parking lots/garages. Number three is public restrooms.”

Let’s take a look at these pieces of advice, shall we?

If rapists are choosing their victims based on hairstyles, don’t you think the police would have advised all women to wear crew cuts? There has never been any FBI/Police data to indicate a trend towards specific hairstyles. Rape victims have long hair, short hair, no hair. They are young and old, short and tall, fat and skinny, femininely dressed or looking like they just fell of the tractor, and all variations in between.

Now let’s look at clothing. When was the last time you saw a female walk down the streets in overalls? Unless you’re out West on the farm, there doesn’t seem to be much opportunity for an East Coast rapist, does there based on his fashion choices? Anyone who has ever tried to cut denim knows just how tough the material is even with your best pair of shears.

Rape is not always about getting sex quickly. Often it is an act of rage or punishment directed at a vulnerable person for perceived injustices done to the attacker by others. Getting a woman out of her clothes as quickly as possible isn’t a factor in these rapes; terrorizing her and inflicting bodily harm is.

Let’s take a look at number three, time and location. According to the Department of Justice statistics, “approximately two-thirds of rapes/sexual assaults occurred at night between 6pm to 6am.” Again, statistics don’t support the grocery store, parking lot theories. Although location is important in a violent sexual assault, what matters is the isolation factor. Areas heavily frequented by foot traffic are far less likely to be chosen by a rapist. Likewise, poorly lit, less frequented places will be favored for this type of attack.

Also, the belief that all rapists are alike and if you know just two or three moves, you’ll be fine in any confrontation with them is setting women up for failure.

Around 1980, Nicholas Groth, Director of Forensic Mental Health Associates established a typology of rapists. He studied over 3,000 sexual offenders over 25 years. In a general sense, rapists fall into three motivational types: anger, power and sadism. In anger assaults, the rapist is getting even for some wrong he feels has been done to him. He is in a state of rage and attacks someone sexually. The anger rape is unpremeditated and impulsive, but the impulse drives the rapist into excessive force: the victim is punched, choked and kicked into submission.

An anger rapist could be discouraged by a potential victim who yells at him or puts up a struggle. Because the aggressor may not have fully committed to the act, resistance may well change his mind. On the other hand, the rage he is feeling could very well be further fueled by the resistance.

Power rape is a form of compensation committed usually by men who feel unsure of their competence. Rape gives them a sense of mastery and control. Power rapists hunt for victims or seize opportunities that present themselves. A power rapist is unlikely to be discouraged by resistance because his whole self image is wrapped up in his attempt to prove mastery. A woman who chooses to fight one of these had better do a damn good job of it as she could well end up fighting for her life.

The sadistic rapist is defined as eroticized aggression perpetuated by those who the very act of forcible sex excites in ways that consensual sex can’t. A sadistic rapist is interested in inflicting pain and lasting harm. Any countering aggression on the part of the victim could well add to the attacker’s enjoyment of the experience, prompting him to further acts of depravity in an effort to provoke further resistance.

So, do you fight back or not? Any good self-defense program will tell you that there is no right answer. The individual at that point in time is the only one who knows whether to fight back or not is in their best interest. The ultimate goal of any violent attack is survival. The definition of survival depends on the individual.

Resistance advice in these circulated emails makes it appear that if you employ one or two “tricks”, that the rapist will scamper off and you will never encounter any injuries. The reality is that a violent attack is just that – violent. Whether you chose to fight back or not, you will sustain injuries.

Does this mean that self-defense classes are a waste of time? Hardly. But they are not a cure all just as a can of mace does not guarantee safe passage thru whatever mean streets and dark alleys lie in your path. Further, physical skills are only as good as your recent training – someone who hasn’t practiced in the last three months is just a bit better prepared to fend off an attacker compared to someone who never had any training at all.

The bottom line – the best defense is being aware of your surroundings and to not be there when it happens. Your first priority in any situation is your safety. Look like you know what your doing – don’t look like a victim. Best advice – “Always look like you know exactly where you’re going and move like you’re expected to be there at exactly a certain time.”


**Angie M. Tarighi is the CEO/Founder of Women's Self-Defense Institute providing self defense training, education awareness & personal protection products empowering women to fight back against crime.