Allow me to share one of the countless stories I have received from my students, which highlights a common pattern. What connects these stories is the lack of education in self-defense, personal boundaries, and the ever-changing societal norms.

The student who wrote the testimony below chose to remain anonymous. She brought up a very interesting point of view – beyond the “usual” lessons of sexual assault survivors. She reached out to me and shared about how certain calendar dates trigger her. The anniversary of the assaults makes her relive the trauma. In her case, each assault happened during the holidays. That made me think of the holidays as, in fact, potentially vulnerable times.

Here’s her story:

“When I was 16 I went to my town’s fireworks display with a close female friend. As teenagers may, we had a few drinks and headed over to the beach where a thousand people of all ages from our town and many of the surrounding towns were gathered. Navigating the thick crowds, my friend met some older boys she was interested in and split off with one of them, leaving me uncomfortable with his friend. I was not accustomed to drinking alcohol, and the cocktails we’d had started to hit at the same time as the crowd claustrophobia and summer heat. When I woke up I was in a port-a-potty being raped. I fled and he did not follow. My phone had run out of battery and there was little chance of me finding my friend in the massive crowds. I relied on the kindness of some older girls that let me log into social media and locate her, but when we found each other, the ordeal was treated as an inevitable part of the holiday chaos.

On Halloween, years later, I wore a three piece suit and a mustache to a party 10 minutes from my apartment. After a few hours I was ready to go home and asked a friend to come with me, but each person I asked was having a great time and had no intention of leaving, even just to walk me home. Taking a car such a short distance seemed crazy to me, so I made the decision to go home alone. In those 10 minutes a man approached me asking a question and took my reply as an invitation to get closer and talk to me. I politely shrugged him off, until I was literally shrugging him off of my body, which quickly escalated to sexual assault. This time, I fought, and while it didn’t prevent the rape, it injured him badly in the process.

The first New Years Eve of quarantine my family gathered and I had a distanced, masked, outdoor gathering of a few close friends. We dressed up, danced, and counted down to midnight. Soon after, they went home and I went inside to my family, where one family member was still awake and black out drunk. I, sober, sat with him a while, to make sure he was okay. I was patient with him as his comments got stranger and stranger until he was making sexual advances toward me. I couldn’t understand how someone I trusted could make me feel so unsafe. My therapist told me that for some “en vino veritas” and for others, it brings out ideas and behaviors that are far from our inner truth, things our sub consciousness doesn’t even corroborate.

I spent a long time ruminating on these traumas as isolated incidents but after quarantine ended, I realized that each of my favorite social holidays was tainted in violence. When everyone is told to let loose all at once it creates chaos, and chaos must be met with a plan.

What we can do is hold our friends accountable and be sure that those who are over-served are closely monitored and called cabs home, before they can be harmed or cause harm. You can save on an Uber any time, but the potential cost on days of city-wide celebration is much greater. They may want to continue having their holiday fun but you will be doing them potentially the biggest favor of their lives. In other cities, groups may have “designated drivers,” but our access to public transport can be dangerous when no one is tasked with vigilance, so we must all be.”

After reading her account, I gave this topic some extra thought because I was curious as to why this might be:

     •Increased alcohol consumption: People tend to drink more alcohol during the holidays, which can impair judgment and make people more likely to engage in
      risky behavior.
     *Increased opportunities: The holidays often involve more social gatherings, which can provide more opportunities for sexual assault to occur.
     *Increased social isolation: People may feel more isolated during the holidays, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and desperation. Some would consume
      more alcohol and increase the negative cycle.
     •When less people are around, it also means less ‘social supervision’.  Unfortunately that can lead to predatory behavior for some people. Unfortunately that
      can lead to predatory behavior for some people.

No one has the right to touch another body without permission, period. It’s a matter of values and reasonable behavior.

Alcohol should not be seen as the direct reason for rape. While it may act as a catalyst in some cases, it is important to understand that both the victim and the perpetrator are not fully in control of their actions when under the influence. Alcohol dulls their instincts and lowers their defenses, making it harder to perceive boundaries being crossed until it is too late.

Being under the influence of alcohol or other substances doesn’t give one a “jail-free card” or remove personal liability / responsibility from the actions they take or do not take. Alcohol, clothing choices, and behavior do not cause rape. The only cause for rape is rapists. They are the ones who are solely responsible for their actions.

In my opinion, teenage girls about to become women must learn self-advocacy as a part of formal education. We must teach them to say NO and REINFORCE the no. We must teach them to listen to their inner voice and to their bodies and act based on the outcome they wish to command.

I am aware of the nature of this age. Being impulsive and exploring is an essential part of it. But we must educate the young about the possible consequences of being oblivious to the fact that too many people don’t play by the rules.

In the case of male teenagers, there is a need for education on recognizing cues and signals. It is acceptable to express interest in someone, but it is imperative to do so with respect and consideration for their boundaries. I suggest the rule of thumb should be: “Would you agree that your sister, mother, or daughter are to be treated this way?”

Assuming that you respect your family and wish them well.

Their education should go beyond basic human respect but include a discussion about possible consequences of misconduct, also from the victim’s perspective. We must be educated for empathy and to think beyond impulse.

Too many times, more than I can possibly count, I have trained victims of sexual assaults of all degrees.

I believe many instances can be avoided and prevented with proper education. Just like us parents send our children to swimming lessons starting at a young age, some kids begin at the age of 6 months. We must include self defense, self advocacy, and self-esteem as an integral part of their growth. It is a mandatory skill, not a luxury.

Do something amazing,

Tsahi Shemesh
Founder Krav Maga Experts

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