Personal Safety and Assault Prevention: What You Can Do Today

Harassment in its Many Forms and Types

As I write this, it is 10 days after our election, and in my 25 years of doing this work, I have never received this amount of calls from women asking for classes to help them feel safer. I know you’re also hearing stories of verbal and physical assaults against people of color, Muslims, and women through social media and the news.

Lots of people are asking “What can I do to feel safer? What can I do to help others who are targeted?” The work of Esteem has always been to light a candle rather than curse the darkness, so this blog offers action steps you can take to maintain safety for everyone.


Be an Ally

Women, African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community are all feeling vulnerable. The safety pin movement was started to show support for these targeted groups, and if you choose to wear one, you need to be prepared to act on what it implies: safety for all. That means stepping up and stepping in.

One example can be seen in this video explaining how to respond to Islamaphobia. The basic concept is to engage with targeted people in friendly conversations while ignoring the harassers. If harassers don’t leave or back down on their own, you can ask people being targeted if they would like to accompany you to another location. This technique works in any situation as long as you remain calm and levelheaded. It relies on ignoring the harasser and showing friendship and solidarity to the harassed. You don’t have to get into a confrontation with an angry perpetrator in order to help someone in a bad situation.


Take a Self-Defense Workshop

First, take a moment to ask yourself why you haven’t taken one already. Then consider that if you’re going to advocate for others in public, how your need for one may now be more acute.

The statistics on assaults against women haven’t changed much over the years under any federal government administration. To paraphrase Ellen Snortland, the author of the book Beauty Bites Beast (and a new documentary with Esteem’s very own Matthew Harris featured in the movie trailer), if you learned of a country where one out of every three citizens drowned, you’d be shocked that they weren’t all taking swimming lessons!

One in three women are assaulted during their lifetime in this country, yet most women never take any kind of assault prevention training.

When I ask women directly why they have never taken a self-defense class, the most common response I hear is along the lines of, “I guess it’s never really been convenient.” I trust they are telling me what they believe is their real reason. However, my experience in the field of assault prevention tells me there is more to it than that.

One call from last week was from a woman who said she wanted to put a self-defense workshop together for a group of women friends because they were all feeling a heightened sense of anxiety for their safety. The training is happening this month but she has been perplexed at some of the responses she received from some of her friends, including women who have been frightened by aggressive male perpetrators, who don’t think they need a class. Perhaps they don’t believe anything can help; perhaps they’re afraid they may find out in the class that they really aren’t able to rely on their own bodies for self-defense. Taking a class is an admission that an assault can happen. And testing your body’s ability to defend against attack can feel risky.

We all deserve to feel strong and competent, set clear boundaries, and resist verbal and physical assault, and we need to stand together to make sure that feeling is realized for all of us. Toward that end, I challenge everyone who reads this to:


  • Role play ways to be an ally in the event you witness public harassment

  • Role play ways to speak out against marginalizing hate speech (preferably before Thanksgiving dinner with your family!)

  • Share the link to this article with a woman you care about

  • Contact Esteem or another organization that provides self-defense training for women and

  • Host a self-defense workshop at your home or workplace


Even if you don’t end up working with Esteem, we’ll provide you with a list of questions to ask other providers to help ensure the training is a good fit for you. Don’t wait until you or someone you care about is assaulted to take action. Do it today.

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