What Women Need to Learn About Violence: Prevention, Avoidance, and De-escalation

(Psst: The FTC wants me to remind you that this website contains affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase from a link you click on, I might receive a small commission. This does not increase the price you'll pay for that item nor does it decrease the awesomeness of the item. ~ Daisy)

by Dr. Tammy Yard-McCracken

Note: Dr. McCracken is the instructor of a one-day women’s self-defense course in Ashburn, Virginia on Sept. 21. You can find more information about the course here.

I’ve worked as a therapist for nearly 30 years.

As a therapist, I have worked with hundreds of people across a nearly 30-year career.  Many of these people had been/are survivors of violence. Here’s an example:

Kelly (not her real name), was a 30-something mother of two. Lived in an upper-class suburb with a husband who made a good living. With both kids in school, Kelly took a job at a major department store working part-time during daylight hours.

The store is a major national chain and anchored one of the “better” malls in the area. As her shift ended in the middle of the afternoon on a bright sunny day during non-holiday peak season (think – safe, low threat environment), Kelly walked confidently toward her car…which was parked fairly close to the building.

She was abducted at gunpoint in the parking lot of the store.

Two men drove her around for 12 hours. They alternated between threatening to kill her and debating each other on their options regarding how they could ‘use’ her (everything from sexual assault to ransom). Well into the night, they pulled over to the side of the road so one of them could get out and pee.

She asked one of her kidnappers if she could do the same. A nonverbal interchange gave Kelly the feeling he might let her go. She ran. He fired shots at her as she took off through the trees. Maybe to cover his ass with his friend, maybe to frighten her, maybe he wanted to hit her…we don’t know, the case was never solved.

Fifteen years later, Kelly still struggled with a pervasive experience of anxiety and hyper-vigilance. Can you blame her? Statistically, very few people survive this type of abduction.

What would have made the difference for her?

Learning to disarm a man half-again her size, stripping the gun from his hands? Not that those skills are bad to learn but think about what that really takes. How many hours of practice? And even if Kelly had those sweet skills, do we want to tell her facing down an armed man in a parking lot – grabbing his gun and stripping it from his hands – is her only option? Do you want it as your only option?

Yes, I am trying to make a point. The answer here is no.

What else can we offer Kelly and everyone else who doesn’t ever want to be in Kelly’s shoes?

We’re not teaching prevention in women’s self-defense.

If we teach Kelly her best bet for avoiding the therapy couch and battling devastating anxiety is to avoid the encounter, we give her a superpower.

But are we also victim-blaming? No. It may sound that way, but no.

If the only options we give people, particularly women, are options for the worst possible situation, then we are reinforcing a centuries-old belief: women are frail damsels and they will be targets

Right now, women are targeted for violence more often than men, statistically speaking.

In part, this is because when we teach women’s self-defense most programs teach the last line of defense. We teach how to hit, kick, defend a grab, poke an eye out. We teach the fight, the physical encounter.

To use these skills effectively, you need to pay the financial and physical costs of training. The “bad guys” know the majority of women aren’t training. If we disconnect the social/criminal expectation that women are generally unprepared, we get to look at another problem in women’s self-defense programs: when the fight is the focus.

A physically violent encounter is never without consequence. I don’t wish this on anyone; male or female. So why is that what we always teach?

I say we because I was guilty of this too. I was taught this way; I was trained to teach women’s self-defense by teaching responses to getting choked or grabbed or dragged by your hair.

This approach is generated by a profession created by men, originally, for men.

The male warrior culture is permeated with a powerful message. Stand. Draw your sword and fight in the face of insurmountable odds. Retreat is defeat. Flight is cowardice and cowards are punished.

If we gather the cavalry and top the hill to find a fighting force outnumbering our ranks 10 to 1, leaving cuts deep. It tells tales of unprepared, unworthy warriors and failed leadership.

If we avoid or leave a fight, we are bad, and we are wrong, and we are unworthy of respect.

Intellectually we know the smart thing is to avoid the trouble. But human intellect is not often a committee member when these decisions are made.

The majority of men I meet who teach self-defense to women are good guys with an intense passion for helping people to become stronger and safer. They bring with them centuries of socially constructed rules governing their behavior, just as women do.

Generations of stories rewarding valor as bravery in battle inform how self-defense instructors see the world. We don’t pin medals on people because they turned the corner when they observed a potentially dicey situation up ahead. This mindset, for good or bad, has been the foundation of the self-defense industry.

So of course women’s self-defense will focus on the fight.

Now let’s take this deeper. It was the rare woman who grabbed a sword and rode into battle. Rarer still for her to do it openly as a woman. It wasn’t allowed and many of the women in many of the warrior cultures became successful warriors only because they were disguised as men.

In 1991 the U.S. made its first move toward allowing military women to be combatants. In the grand timeline of human culture, 1991 was yesterday.

Prior to 1991, the U.S. culture refused to allow a woman the right to defend her people. This message is powerful. The purpose of a soldier on patrol is to detect and prevent the battle from escalating. To hold a line and a host of other missions. All of the military mission objectives focus on one primary goal: protect the home front. If a woman isn’t capable of this militarily, how can she do it as a civilian

She can’t. Her only option is to wait until the battle comes to her. She is only capable of responding as a victim. If you are female, you will be targeted and you will be attacked. This is the hidden, unspoken message of women’s self-defense programs when the curriculum targets only physical defense against assault.

It is also categorically incorrect. Here’s the equation

  Women (until recently) are not permitted in battle.

+The only noble action in battle is to cross swords.

  Divided by the belief that women are natural targets

=The current state of women’s self-defense programming.

Don’t misunderstand.

I firmly believe women are both capable and should be given the opportunity to learn the physical aspect of the “fight” in the timeline of self-defense. It is a good day when the embers lurking behind her eyes burst into a bright flame when she realizes what, in fact, she is capable of doing.

As an industry, using the term loosely…

Teaching women’s self-defense without teaching avoidance and prevention is like teaching your teenager to drive cross-country without teaching her how to put the car in gear.

There were situational cues to Kelly’s abduction. Signs and tells given off by the two men who were waiting for a victim to present. If Kelly had known what to look for and had the training to override her social programming to be nice, helpful, and obliging, she might have avoided those horrible 12 hours.

I have to say might because you and I were not there. We don’t know how this knowledge would have actually shifted the events, only that it holds the potential to do so. This is the kind of thing I’ll be teaching on September 21 if you are able to attend my course. Learning how to shift events in your favor.

Be careful how you analyze this. This is where the risk of victim-blaming begins to lurk in the shadows. There is a distinct demarcation between blame and learning how to prevent a physically violent encounter. Please don’t confuse the two. It is remarkably disempowering.

You have to learn about violence to avoid it.

If you want to prevent violence, you have to learn more about it. If we want to learn about it, we have to keep our visceral emotional reactions in check and recognize it for what it is – our nature. This is something that I want to speak more about in person with you during my course.

Women’s self-defense is typically taught as a set of physical skills designed to help women survive a physical attack. It neglects an authentic and extensive dialogue on prevention and avoidance. It lacks this conversation because the industry evolved through men.

The industry evolved this way because culturally, men were allowed to learn the skills of battle and women were not. Men have been indoctrinated to believe avoidance and just leaving a potentially violent situation is cowardice.

And as a result, we focus on the battle. The fight.

If we are ready to dive into the deep end on prevention, we must also be ready to have an open and honest conversation about humans, violence and our capacity to be predatory. We need to have this dialogue without shock and awe effects, and we need to shake off the historical warrior mythos in which valor is won only in the bloody battle.

We need to get over our cultural sensitivities forcing prevention into the category of victim-blaming and we need to understand one, critical fact: Women are wired to put random pieces of information together into intelligent packages of meaningful data.

This means women are instinctively talented intelligence analysts. When we hone instinctive talent into functional skill. If and when life explodes, we are unleashed into who we are capable of becoming, unrestrained by the social mores catalyzing the paralyzing paradox of battle earned valor and the forever damsel in distress.

You are a force to be reckoned with. If you will own it.

About the Author

Dr. McCracken is teaching a one-day course for women in Ashburn, Virginia on September 21, 2019. Go here to learn more.

Dr. Tammy McCracken is the owner & Global Solutions Director of Personal Defense Industries (PDI). As PDI’s owner, she serves as program director for Kore Self-Defense & Krav Maga, the company’s Northern Virginia training center. She is a certified Conflict Communication Instructor and is one of four directors with Rory Miller’s Chiron Training. 

Her academic background includes a Bachelor’s of Science in Education from Illinois State University, a Master’s of Science in Professional Counseling from the University of Houston-Clear Lake and Doctorate of Psychology from Eisner Institute of Professional Studies with a research dissertation on using mindfulness training to improve the situational awareness for front-line operatives. 

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

  • my wife is signed up for this course and is very excited. again we are very grateful this being offered close to us.

    (I’ll go ride my bike on the trails of DC / NoVA while she’s in class. If any other husbands want to join me, post here.)

    my wife got her concealed carry permit this year and has just purchased her first firearm.

    it is interesting to observe her evolution from someone fearful of weapons to someone fascinated with them.

    I expect that personal defense will have a similar trajectory.

  • At least a half dozen times, I have noticed someone dogging me in a parking lot an aisle over and I have thrown up my hand like a stop sign and forcefully said STOP. I Dont know you. Dont come any closer. Nearly always they say they just want to know the time or want to beg a dollar. I hold them off with a resounding NO. No fool has ever tried to come closer. I am always carrying my weapon but I dont want it to get that far. The whiter my hair gets, the more I look like a victim to bad people. One day a man sidled up to me in Walmart and got too close. I had been watching him because he didnt have a cart and didnt appear interested in any one item. When he drew near, I said, “You have the whole damn Walmart to walk in, and you have to invade my personal space? Get the hell away from me.” And he did. It is important for women to not worry about being nice. We are conditioned to be pleasant and even helpful. I didnt care if that man was the university president or the pastor of a church. He got too close and I ran him off.

    • You are badazz 🙂
      Keep doing what you’re doing!
      I tell my woman, say: Nice is for later if we are ever formally introduced. Which I seriously doubt will happen because I don’t like you already, so piss off.
      She really is nice, by nature, so getting her to be mean, even for show&bluff isn’t exactly easy.
      I like your style!

  • This is MOST interesting! Having taken several ‘womens’ self defense courses, I find it spot on, As I am not able to attend the class, I hope we will see more posts from this author.

  • I used to teach a women’s defense class when I was coming up & earning belts, so in a lot of ways what this article is saying in regards to the men’s point of view when it comes to “battle” is correct, but not 100% so. Often a good defense IS a good defense, and one of the points our sensei insisted on was as instructors we make sure FLIGHT is the first option on the list.

    Empower your women. That is, in my opinion, a supreme manly duty. We can’t always be there.

    Also, a single class is BS. Skills require dedication to build and maintain. Practice practice practice.

  • Even for a man, the advice I was given, by a martial arts expert, is that the wisest thing to do is to run to avoid a conflict. Standing and fighting was only as a last resort or to protect others.

    Interestingly enough, that was also the advice given by the highest scoring fighter ace of World War II: his job was to shoot down enemy planes, and he shot down more enemy airplanes than any other fighter ace, but his MO was to avoid dog fights as much as possible.

    I just stumbled on this youtube video which has essentially the same message: avoid, avoid, avoid as much as possible, fight only as a last resort https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPbCw9pV90c . And here are some clues to help you avoid.

    There’s no shame in running away from a fight.

    • Exactly. You can be killed, let alone “Lose a Fight” by one punch.
      Situational awareness is key. Spot trouble before is happens, know multiple exits.
      Some people call it paranoia, I call it self preservation.

  • Totally agree with this. My friends girlfriend started taking ” Kung Fu ” self defense courses for women. She got to thinking she was pretty prepared so I asked her to show me what she was taught….. Literally nothing she was taught worked.
    She told me to do the standard choke her with both hands and she would break out. I told her to go full out. I wasn’t even trying when she did it and it was nothing. I started to squeeze and she started panicking and I told her she would be out in seconds. I let go and told her to try other things this fraud was teaching her and same result over and over.
    I’m 5’9 180 and I could do this easily. They are filling these women’s heads with lies. They have no idea the violence a average size, let alone a large man would be capable of against a average woman. Not saying all women are like this, but the exception proves the rule.
    I told her first situational awareness and avoid, gun, knife,mace, throat , eyes, balls, knees. and that’s pretty much the only hope you have. She now carries a gun and a knife and knows how to use them.

  • One of the best articles I have ever read on the subject of the problem of violence against women. My favorite statement on the subject, and only because it is so brief compared to this — and again, I think that this has better and better expressed thoughts — is “God did not make women equal, Samuel Colt did”

    10 years ago, after being a Ron Paul delegate to the 2008 Republican state convention I posted a 6000+ word essay: https://factotum666.livejournal.com/829.html that I called orwells boot. for the past 10 years a search on those two words has returned my article as #1 on all search engines everywhere. (via tor)

    That article contains these two paragraphs: I would like your input and your ideas about how this fundamental reshaping might be accomplished with the absolute minimum of central authority. Added 3/27/10 There is one core way that I think is necessary and perhaps sufficient to halt this slide to tyranny. Google and then read about bonobo chimps and Pan Troglodyte chimps. I think the solution is to make our culture more feminist. There is a fairly strong correlation between what most people would consider a successful culture and the amount of power women — Real feminine women, not women in drag like Margaret Thatcher — wield in the culture. Evidence would indicate that we are headed in that direction, but we need to speed up the process.

    Another process that appears to be feminizing our culture is the opposite of the phenomena at the basis of the book by Leonard Shlain, “The Alphabet and the Goddess” In that book Dr. Shlain posits that as humans became alphabetically literate, they became more masculine and in fact misogynistic. As we have moved from radio to movies to TV, and not to a global internet, we have moved away from alphabetic communication to video and sound. Each technological change mentioned above was followed by a marked increase in the power of women in culture. This is mostly a good thing.

    Feel free to contact me at dnus… or at [email protected]..com either Ms. Dr. McCracken or Ms. Luther. And feel free to put up a link to orwells boot if you like it. Note its discussion about authoritarianism

  • Most of this is Women’s lib BS.
    The author must never have heard of Girl gangs.
    They are some of the most violent, ruthless women out there.

    Now I agree for a man or a woman, situational awareness is the priority.
    Which is where most women and quite a few men fail themselves.

    The second area is in confidence. Which is why fight training is stressed for men or women.
    Women may ” see’ or think of it it differently than men, but it it is more than just about defense.
    So this woman’s take on defense classes and men’s attitudes about fighting are all wrong.

    Most of the time a woman will not be able to de escalate a situation with an attacker. If you appear to be a vulnerable target (which means you are giving off the wrong signals, whether a man or a woman), you probably will not be able to de escallate a situation. You are already past that point.
    The only chance you have is if you can show confidence and that you are willing and able to put up a decent fight. Occasionally you will face an inexperienced predator and you might de escallate a situation with them, but don’t bet you life on it.

    If you are targeted( a man or a woman), it is because they are a predator and you have become their prey. This is where so many of these training’s get it wrong, by not understanding this very basic fact.
    They selected you because you look and act like what they consider as their prey.

    Now if you look and act like a predator or a formidable opponent, they will pass you over for easier prey. This is natural instinct, ingrained in all species and especially predators.

    Why do you think the police call so many of these types. “predators”?
    It is because they exhibit that behavior. Serial killers and sexual predators, abusers, etc, all fall in this category.
    I will tell you that is it not easy to dissuade a predator once targeted, unless you can prove to be a stronger or fiercer opponent than they had planned for. So much so that they give up instead of continuing to target you.

    Which is partly why de escalation techniques, like trying to talk them down, seldom works for the Police, either. Even when out numbered and out gunned it is hard to change their minds and get them to give up.

    • Hi, Mic. Having attended the author’s class and used the techniques taught in it successfully on more than one occasion, I vehemently disagree with your comment.

      First, it has nothing to do with “women’s lib” – that’s just silly. It’s about taking responsibility for your own personal safety as opposed to needing someone to defend you. That, I submit, is pure common sense and nothing so political as “women’s lib.” It’s anything but feminism to accept that an attacker may completely physically outmatch you and know that you have to use your brains instead of your brawn.

      Secondly, the best way to de-escalate is to prevent the fight from ever happening. It’s about learning NOT to present yourself as potential prey.

      Finally, you’re missing the point entirely. If you understand anything about the type of person with whom you are dealing, there are many different strategies you can use to avert the situation from ever turning into a violent exchange. There’s absolutely no shame in allowing the other person to believe they’re in the right and apologizing, even if you think their feeling of insult is ridiculous. Leaving the situation is ALWAYS the best and safest option when it’s available. Your goal is not to “win” the fight. Your goal is to avoid the fight with a person who is bigger, stronger, and potentially deadlier than you.

      This is not about the fight itself. This is about not letting it get to the point of becoming a fight.

  • You Need More Than Food to Survive

    In the event of a long-term disaster, there are non-food essentials that can be vital to your survival and well-being. Make certain you have these 50 non-food stockpile essentials. Sign up for your FREE report and get prepared.

    We respect your privacy.
    Malcare WordPress Security