4 Myths About Self-Defense: If You Believe Them, You Become Afraid, But Not Safer
Updated: Jul 17
LIE #1: The System Will Protect You
We all know the story of Brock Turner, the rapist whose media narrative focused on his swim times and his All-American baby-faced looks. To understand the wringer Chanel Miller went through to bring Turner to justice, read her searing memoir Know My Name, about the grinding wheels of the court system.
The more recent criminal case of Douglas Saltsman once again put the light sentencing of a convicted predator back in the news. In May 2020 Saltsman faced 15 years for 3 felony counts related to rape and child porn. Like Turner, who served a mere 3 months for his crime, Saltsman was sentenced to 210 days. And even more recently there is John Doerr, who faced up to 252 years for the 42 counts of felonies related to child pornography but received only probation.
In response to the public outcry, these light sentences have been defended by local authorities. While perhaps the authorities can point out how these sentences conform to the letter of the law, as Mary Anne Franks, J.D., Phd, and Krav Maga instructor points out in Real Men Advance, Real Women Retreat: Stand Your Ground, Battered Women 's Syndrome and Violence as White Male Privilege, the laws themselves are written with bias that provide little protection to women. In fact, in Franks’ case review she finds the laws,
“reinforce and exacerbate existing gender divides in self-defense law that disproportionately harm women.”
Franks' analysis further finds that Black people receive unequal protection when it comes to self-defense based on how the laws are written and interpreted.
As a self-defense instructor this judicial bias makes combatting these issues feel like a Sisyphean task. Even if someone is able to defend themselves, the low conviction rate and light sentencing of gender and race-based crimes underscore how society devalues justice for these crimes.
One step further, in the Saltsman and Doerr cases, small children were also victimized. No amount of self-defense training will protect a one-year-old from being exploited by their parent or caregiver.
And yet rather than address problems that the legal system refuses to fix, society as a whole looks to assign personal responsibility and asks:
LIE #2: You Can't Spot a Predator
LIE #3: Predators are Everywhere!
These lies are twin lies because when folks become aware of Lie #2 they generally assume Lie #3.
When I shared Saltsman's story via social media a common response was, "He doesn't look like a predator!" This led some to further conclude that this meant, "Bad guys are EVERYWHERE!"
I’m not sure if it was the vanilla good looks of a tech bro or the title of CEO that disarmed folks. But it was a reminder of how much we judge people by their appearance rather than their behavior.
So let's take a breath and step back.
Before you panic into thinking danger lurks around every corner, stop.
Consider this: how many times have you NOT been taken advantage of? How many times have you had a great teacher or boss who did not take advantage of their position? Or just men you've encountered in general. Have the majority of them assaulted or harmed you?
Predators exist but they are the minority. If you become hyper-vigilant you actually decrease your ability to spot real threats.
Believing threats are "everywhere" is buying into a lie. And that keeps you distracted from what threats actually look like (for example, the biased laws referenced above).
A human predator will not have wolf-like fangs, yellow eyes or talons. But you can tell based on their BEHAVIOR.
Some red flags include:
Won’t take no for an answer
Uses guilt and manipulation to make you spend time with them
Tries to isolate you from others
Accelerates the relationship
Ask you to keep uncomfortable secrets
Hides behind their authority/power: they may be a cop, a minister, a teacher, a relative or a hot shot CEO.
Keep in mind these red flags will be subtle. That is the whole point and what makes them so good at drawing you into their web.
That’s how they get away with it.
For a more in-depth look at identifying predatory behaviors, Gavin de Becker wrote The Gift of Fear, THE book on identifying red flag behaviors. He goes into greater detail than I can here and I can’t recommend it enough as a textbook for navigating life.
To test this “can’t tell by how they look” hypothesis, here’s a pop quiz. Study the following pictures and see if you can identify the convicted predators. Answers are at the bottom of the article.
If you walk away from this article afraid of predators around every corner because they can look like anyone, then I have failed... Predators can look like anyone, but that doesn’t mean they are “everywhere”. They have specific behaviors that you can spot. That gives YOU power.
LIE #4: If You See Something, Say Something
“If you see something say something.”
That phrase has stuck in my craw since people began mindlessly parroting it when it became the U.S.’ de facto national motto since 9/11.
Keep in mind its origins were related specifically to suspicious packages left in public places in the wake of the terrorist attacks in 2001. Some have argued that it has thwarted further attacks by 10%. Broader analysis, however indicates no terrorist has been stopped by this campaign. Instead, it has become a slogan of fear forcing people to constantly imagine the worst - not just about packages, but about everything... and everyone.
When we hear, "see something say something", it is rarely accompanied by WHAT we should be seeing - how do we discern real concerns from fake? Rather, we're encouraged with "better safe than sorry".
And here we are nearly 20 years after 9/11, a nation of Karen’s seeing something (that makes them uncomfortable) and saying something (usually while being a racist or classist crybaby).
I’ll be generous here and assume all of the Karen’s flipping out aren’t overtly racist or classist…
I’m not saying that’s true… just bear with me a sec…
....but this vague “see something (again… What??? What am I supposed to see??)” touches on our unconscious bias towards people who look different than us.
That seems to be enough to be “something”.
And that is just enough bias to assume a Filipino man doesn’t own the multi-million dollar property he is chalking “Black Lives Matter” onto.
Let’s repeat that for emphasis… what was seen was a man using chalk on a sidewalk. And for some reason that was worth “saying something”?
Even if it wasn’t his property, it's 👏 chalk 👏 who 👏 the 👏 hell 👏 cares 👏 ?
You can retreat to your tony zip codes, your suburbs or gated communities, but if you cannot discern a real threat (Turner, Saltsman, Doerr and the legal system itself) from a non-threat (a bird-watcher in Central Park) you’re in for a bumpy ride.
Answer to the pop quiz above. It was a trick question. Every single person here is a convicted serial predator.
1. Dewayne Harris Jr.
2. Reynhard Sinaga
3. Rosemary West
4. Daniel Holtzclaw
6. Joseph DeAngelo
7. Ted Bundy
8. Karla Homolka
9. Douglas Saltsman
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