Strong and Safe



It’s a new spin on a very old practice: getting into a stranger’s car, and trusting him or her to get you where you want to go. Our parents warned us of the dangers of hitchhiking, and most of us tend to heed their advice when faced with the opportunity. So why are we so willing to engage in the same behavior when an app on our phones summons the stranger to us? Is this practice as safe as the rideshare companies (and our teens) try to convince us it is? Let’s break it down.


Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft do require drivers to undergo a background investigation. But these background checks are not run by law enforcement, and do not require fingerprinting. And training is not provided through the ridesharing companies. In fact, the companies do not meet with drivers before allowing them to transport passengers.

There are a number of safety precautions being tested and introduced by ridesharing companies, including app features like “share my trip”, and 911 buttons, as well as physical barriers like ride partitions. All of these are intended to address very real problems that have plagued the services in their early years, and indicate a step in the right direction. But we continue to read the very real and devastating stories in the news.


The Taxicab, Limousine, and Paratransit Association (TPLA) runs a website dedicated to promoting public awareness about for-hire vehicle safety, called “Who’s Driving You?” ( As you might imagine, these groups have a vested interest in the topic, and rideshare services are the new kid on the block cutting into their profits. But as long as you peruse their site with this bias in mind, you will find useful information about the current state of rideshare safety.  

They regularly update statistics on ridesharing incidents. For example, to date, the following have been attributed to Uber or Lyft:

- 52 deaths

- 102 assaults

- 395 sexual assaults

- 22 alleged kidnappings

- 26 felons behind the wheel

- 102 imposters

- Numerous other serious incidents


Ridesharing is a useful service – it has many benefits. But as the statistics indicate, there are also risks. We regularly engage in activities that carry some degree of risk. We drive cars, swim in the ocean, get on planes … all while knowing there are risks. The key is knowing, and then actively minimizing that risk.

So how do we do that?


- Prepare Your Purse

Carry a charged cellphone, a credit card, and some cash. It is also helpful to carry everyday items that could be used as weapons in a pinch – think pens, key chains, and personal (legal) self-defense items.

- Stay Inside

If possible, hail your ride and wait for its arrival inside a safe lighted area. Avoid lingering outside, making yourself vulnerable to theft or personal safety threats.

- Share Your Trip

It is always safer to travel with others, but if you are travelling alone, share your trip details with a trusted friend or family member. They can track your ride in real time. Both Uber and Lyft make this easy with “share” buttons on their apps. If your ride share does not provide this service, make sure you let someone know where you are, where you are going, when you intend to arrive, and information identifying the car and the driver.

- Confirm Your Car and Driver

Before you step into the vehicle, confirm a car match (license plate, car make and model) and a driver match (name and resemblance to app photo). It is a good idea to ask the driver the passenger name, rather than give your name, to be extra certain.

While these safeguards prevent falling prey to scammers, they also prevent unintended ride-stealing. Especially in crowded venues such as an airport, ballgame, or concert venue, there is a risk of grabbing the first car that looks “about right”.


- Do Not Share Personal Information

Small talk is fine, but do not share details such as where you live, how long you are travelling, or your phone number. There have been reports of post-ride stalking, made possible by over-sharing passengers.

- Sit in the Backseat and Wear Your Seatbelt

 This gives you distance from the driver, and makes groping or surprise assaults less likely. It also makes it easier to get out of the vehicle in the event of an attack.

And, as always…


If something seems off, even if you can’t put your finger on it, GET OUT! End the ride early, and find a safe location to seek help.




There is safety in numbers. If at all possible, run with a friend. A dog is also helpful, if you have one. And keeping your furry friend fit is a bonus!


Don’t just head out and make choices as you go. Plan your route before leaving. Take into account time, distance, traffic, and lighting.


Once you decide your route, make sure a trusted friend, neighbor, or family member knows where you are going and approximately when you expect to return. In an emergency situation, every minute counts, and the sooner someone is aware that you need help, the greater your odds of safety and survival.


If you must run at night, stay in well-lit areas and wear reflective gear. Even though you take steps to be visible, never assume you are seen by others – runners, bikers, or drivers may be distracted. Be sure to make eye contact and prepare for evasive maneuvers if necessary.


Phone: While you don’t want to be distracted by looking at your phone, it is a good idea to keep it with you. If you find yourself off course and lost, or need help in an emergency situation, you must have the ability to make a call – fast.

ID: Never leave home without an ID on you. Should something go wrong – a medical emergency or other unanticipated event – it will provide essential information.

Weapon: No, I am not saying you should be running with a gun. If that’s your choice, based on experience, lifestyle, and personal circumstances, go for it (as long as you are legal, trained, and prepared). But think in terms of everyday items that can be used as “weapons” – a cell phone is a good striking tool, as are certain key chains or sprays designed for self-defense purposes and can be comfortably carried (again, if trained and prepared).


Don’t take the same route every time. Besides the boredom of not mixing it up, you may be giving advance notice to would-be attackers. But remember, you still want to decide ahead which route you will take and let someone know what it will be.


I don’t want to rain on your workout selfie parade, but make sure you are not broadcasting your whereabouts during your run. Check privacy setting on apps and post those sweaty pics after the run – the “likes” can wait. Safety comes first.


If you simply can’t make it through without the music or podcast, just use one earphone, and keep the volume low. Aside from brief glances at phones or watches, keep your eyes on your surroundings.


Run with confidence and communicate your awareness. Be ready to run, not jog, if necessary.


This is an absolute, hard line, no-wiggle-room rule for all situations. We are too quick to discount our intuition about people, places, or situations when they warn us of danger. Intuition is knowing that we know something, but not knowing how or why we know it. It is a built in self-protection system. On some level, our mind senses a threat. It doesn’t happen by accident. Even if we are wrong, it does less harm following the advice of that warning voice, than dismissing it and suffering the potential consequences.

While this may look like a daunting list, don’t be discouraged. Once you implement the practices, you will realize they are easy, empowering, and even freeing. Taking the fear and anxiety out of running gives you that much more energy to devote your fitness! Happy, and safe, trails!



April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It also happens to be the month that many high schools and colleges take their Spring Breaks. What do these two facts have in common? Unfortunately, plenty. 

Statistically, the most dangerous period in a woman’s life, with regard to sexual assault, is her late high school and early college years. There are many contributing factors, but a prime culprit in that increased risk is the prevalence of drugs and alcohol. While drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) is not limited to this age group – women (and men!) of all ages experience it – there are unique circumstances for teens and young adults, especially on occasions such as Spring Break, that drastically increase the opportunity for DFSA. 


First of all, what do we mean when we talk about “rape-facilitation drugs” (commonly known as “date rape drugs”) and “drug-facilitated sexual assault”? Rape-facilitation drugs are any substances that effect judgment or behavior, putting the victim at a greater risk for unwanted sexual activity. Drug-facilitated sexual assault occurs when these substances are used to compromise an individual’s ability to consent to sexual activity or resist unwanted sexual advances. They may also inhibit a person’s ability to remember the assault, making it less likely that the victim will report the attack.

DFSA can occur one of two ways: Either the victim ingests the drugs or alcohol voluntarily and the offender takes advantage of her impaired state, or the offender intentionally forces the victim to consume the substance without her knowledge. It is important to point out that sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault, even if she knowingly and willingly took drugs or drank too much. The blame rests solely with the offender who took advantage of the victim’s state.



When people hear the phrase “date rape drug”, alcohol isn’t usually what comes to mind. But alcohol is the most commonly used substance in DFSA. Statistically, the link between alcohol and college sexual assault is clear. Over 70% of “date rapes” involve alcohol, used by the attacker or the victim or both. On college campuses, this number goes up to nearly 90%.  


There are a number of “street drugs” used to facilitate sexual assault, but these three are currently the most prevalent. ROHYPNAL is the trade name for flunitrazepam. It is not legal in the United States, but it is brought into the US from Europe and Mexico, where it is used for sleep and anesthetic purposes.  GHB (short for gamma hydroxybutyric acid) was recently made legal in the US to treat sleep problems such as narcolepsy. KETAMINE is legal in the US for use as an anesthetic for humans and animals.

These are three distinct drugs, with unique qualities, but as a general guide, they can come in similar forms: dissolving pill, powder or liquid. All can be quickly dropped in a drink and become virtually undetectable.  They also have some distinctions in effect, but generally include symptoms such as impaired muscle control, difficulty talking, “drunk” feeling, nausea, dizziness, confusion, sleepiness, loss of coordination, distorted perceptions of sight and sound, and memory problems.


Prescription drugs like sleep aids, anxiety medication, muscle relaxers and tranquilizers may also be used to sedate or impair a target. These can be dropped in liquids much like the drugs discussed above. 


Depending on the drug, the initial effects may go unnoticed or they may become apparent very quickly. Many victims don’t remember being drugged or assaulted, and the drugs may leave the body very quickly. So while there may be no toxicological evidence that drugs were involved by the time the victim seeks help, some signs include:

- Feeling drunk when you haven’t consumed any alcohol, or a smaller amount than the effect would indicate;
- Sudden increase in dizziness, disorientation, or blurred vision;
- Sudden change in body temperature, signaled by sweating or chattering teeth; 
- Nausea; or
- Waking up with no memory or missing large portions of time in your memory.


Get medical care right away. Call 911 or have a trusted friend take you to a hospital emergency room. Do not bathe or change clothes; these things may destroy essential evidence. Call the police from the hospital, and be very honest about all you activities. Remember, nothing you did, including drinking alcohol or taking drugs, justifies rape.

Many of these drugs leave the body quickly, within 12 to 72 hours, so if you cannot get to a hospital immediately, take steps to preserve the evidence. Save your urine in a clean container as soon as possible, and place it in a refrigerator or freezer. Also, save you clothes in a clean, sealable container. 

Finally, get counseling and treatment. Calling a crisis center or a hotline, such as National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE), can also be a good place to start.


We can protect ourselves against DFSA. First, there is safety in numbers. I tell women in my workshops that we are each others’ best weapons against these assaults; our “Partners in Crime” must also be our “Partners in Crime Prevention”. When going out to bars, clubs, or parties – go out together, stay together, and leave together. Be on the lookout for any signs of unusual or atypical behavior. If someone seems like she is intoxicated beyond what is expected for the amount consumed, or she exhibits signs listed above, get her and the others in your group out of there and seek help. 

Additionally, make it a rule to always have control of your drink from the moment is it poured or opened until the very last drop is gone. That means:

- Don’t accept drinks from other people;
- Open containers yourself;
- Don’t share drinks;
- If someone offers to get you a drink, go with the person to order you drink, watch the drink being poured and carry it yourself; 
- Don’t drink from common, open containers such as punch bowls. Even if the host did not put drugs in the container, anyone walking by could; 
- Keep your drink with you at all times, even when you go to the bathroom;
- If you realize you left your drink unattended, pour it out; and
- If you feel drunk and haven’t drunk any alcohol, or if you feel like the effects are stronger than expected, get help right away.

Finally, there are test strips available to identify the presence of specific date rape drugs. Before taking a sip of a drink, you simply dip a strip into the liquid. If the strip turns a designated color, signaling the presence of one of these substances, you know to pour it out and leave immediately. In 2014, four college students developed a nail polish that similarly detects the presence of these drugs when dipped into a drink. At this point, the formula is still in the development stage and is not available for purchase.


Rape-facilitation drugs are prevalent, especially among teens and young adults. They are not “urban legend” and accounts are not exaggerated. At nearly every workshop or seminar I have taught, I have had at least one person tell me about her experience with date rape drugs. The good news is: We can protect ourselves. But the key is knowledge, paired with awareness. Protect yourself. Watch out for others. Stay safe. You are worth it.

Please share this knowledge with someone you know, and if you want more information on this or other relate topics, please contact us for training and consulting.


After some time spent processing, i.e. cooling off, I decided it’s time to weigh in on the Stanford campus rape case. For those of you who missed the weeks of media saturation, a little background: In January 2015, two Stanford University graduate students discovered Brock Turner, Freshman standout swimmer and Olympic hopeful, assaulting an exposed and unconscious woman behind a dumpster on Stanford’s campus. Turner tried to run, but was held by one of the bystanders and arrested. He was convicted on three counts of felony sexual assault, with a potential sentence of fourteen years in prison. His sentence? SIX MONTHS in jail. Yes, that’s “months”.  (Note: He likely will serve three; literally a summer in jail.)

Here’s the thing. Between my undergraduate degree, and two graduate programs, I spent nine years on college campuses. As a woman. While there, my studies focused on sexual assault, violence against women, and societal perceptions of violence against women. I worked in women’s shelters. I spoke with college students who had been raped. As a lawyer, I witnessed sexual assault case verdicts: Some verdicts seemed just, and some did not. So you wouldn’t think this case would catch me off guard. Seen the full spectrum of behaviors, perceptions, opinions and outcomes, right? But it did. It really did. 

So what was it about this case, just one of the many – too many – campus rape cases that occur every school year, that got to me? 

• Brock Turner is framing this heinous brutal crime, and the consequent public conversation, as a “drinking and promiscuity” problem. Partying, drinking, having sex. That’s what college kids do. That’s what happened here. The problem was not violently forcing himself on an unconscious woman, the problem is the campus social drinking scene. He was the victim. He was just a naïve Midwestern boy who had little experience with alcohol and struggled to fit in with the cool kids. 

Brock Turner is still blaming his victim. By making this conversation about drinking and “promiscuous sex” on college campuses, he is saying that they were in it together. He insisted that she “enjoyed it”. She was unconscious, private body parts publicly exposed, covered in dirt – inside and out. She enjoyed that.

• Brock Turner has not expressed remorse for anything other than drinking. Following his conviction he vowed, "I never want to attend a social gathering that involves alcohol or any situation where people make decisions based on the substances they have consumed." Nowhere in his statement does Turner accept responsibility for the attack, but suggests that the media unfairly targeted him because of his swimming career.

• Brock Turner pleaded not guilty, lied, and put his victim through the harrowing and humiliating process of trial. Ok, as an attorney, I understand and support the need to force the State to prove its case – every time – and fervently protect the rights of those accused of crimes. This defendant, and his supporters, abused these protections for the sake of preserving his image, at the expense of the victim’s well-being. They used her unconscious state to Turner’s advantage (again), claiming that if she couldn’t remember, Brock would just have to “fill in the details”. Insult to injury.

• Brock Turner’s enablers and apologists perpetuate the victim-blaming rape culture mentality.

Turner’s Dad. Dan Turner’s letter to the judge so offensively missed the point with a series of “poor us” complaints. He bemoaned the fact that his son no longer enjoys his steaks, won’t be able to swim in the Olympics, and has to register as a sex offender. At no point in his statement does he express sympathy for the victim, or recognize the magnitude of his son’s crime. In fact, his conclusion is that a prison sentence would be unreasonable and extreme for “20 minutes of action”.  Any parent can sympathize with the pain the Turners must feel. But Mr. Turner’s blinders to his son’s culpability indicate the likely source of the problem: a lifetime of entitlement.

Turner’s Childhood Friend. Her letter to the judge on Turner’s behalf … I can’t even paraphrase, so here are her words [MY EMPHASIS ADDED]:

  “I don’t think it’s fair to base the fate of the next ten + years of his life on the decision of a girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank to press charges against him. [THAT, AND THE TWO WITNESSES WHO CAUGHT HIM ASSAULTING AN UNCONSCIOUS WOMAN.] I am not blaming her directly for this, because that isn’t right. [NOT “DIRECTLY”, BUT STILL BLAMING.] But where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists. [WAIT, WHAT?] This is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot. [IT IS; BOTH ARE EQUALLY CRIMINAL, BUT AT LEAST ONE HAS A FIGHTING CHANCE.] That is a rapist. These are not rapists. [IN OTHER WORDS: “YES, THESE GUYS RAPE WOMEN, BUT LET’S NOT CALL THEM RAPISTS; THAT’S SUCH A LOW CLASS WORD.”]

• Brock Turner received a shockingly short jail term – too short to serve purposes of punishment, rehabilitation, deterrence or reparation – which was handed down by a judge who shares a similar pedigree with the defendant. Judge Aaron Persky, a former Stanford lacrosse player, predicted “a prison sentence will have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.” What about the impact on his victim? Isn’t a 20-year old convicted rapist, by definition, a danger to others? 

• Media continue to characterize the details of this case in a manner not typical of rape case coverage. For months, even after conviction and sentencing, all we saw was a clean cut smiling school photo of Brock Turner. Unlike most people convicted of sexual assault, Turner’s booking photo (mugshot) did not appear anywhere online.  The booking photo finally surfaced after several news organizations, including the Washington Post, called for its release. Also, media sources repeatedly refer to the parties as “rape victim” and “former Stanford swimmer”.  Using these terms, she is defined by the crime, and he is defined by his status and accomplishment. 

• Brock Turner reinforces the daunting statistics: One in five college women will be sexually assaulted. The overwhelming majority (somewhere in range of 75-85%) doesn’t report these crimes because they don’t think anyone would do anything about them. Schools often protect offenders, especially when the offenders are athletes. Would this victim have been one of those non-reporters if the Good Samaritans hadn’t stepped in? Sadly, statistics indicate she likely would have been.

In trying to figure out what gnawed at me most with this one, it seemed to come down to one word: MINIMIZATION. The outcome, the statements, the coverage … all point to an act that was presented as little more than an error in judgment. An out-of-character evening for an all around great kid. “Twenty minutes of action.” That’s a hard phrase to shake. Even if it was not meant in the sense of sexual conquest, the phrase is demeaning, degrading and dismissive. The violence of a crime is not ranked by time spent in its commission. This victim is forever changed. An entire gender is disrespected and diminished. The efforts to end campus violence are stalled, if not regressed. All for twenty minutes of action. 




We watch the news. We hear that the world is a scary place. Day in and day out – reports of bad people doing bad things.

Our reactions often fit one of two categories: 
(1) Ignore it. It won’t happen to me. Bad stuff happens to other people, in other neighborhoods. I’ll continue to move through my days without giving any thought or attention to whether the bad guy is around the next corner. 
(2) Panic. I’m doomed. Bad guys are everywhere so I need to walk through life in fear of when and where they will get me and/or my loved ones.

We warn against apathy and inattention, so you are safer taking the second approach, right? Not really. More than 90% of sexual assaults are preventable. Falling into this preventable category depends not only upon situational awareness (being attuned to your surroundings and potential dangers), but also upon being a “bad target”. Think about these scenarios: 

Woman #1 leaves the mall. She walks directly to her car, paying no attention to others around her.

Woman #2 leaves the mall. She puts her keys in her hand as she approaches the parking lot and makes a nervous beeline for her car, throwing occasional frantic glances from side to side.

Woman #3 leaves the mall. She surveys the lot before heading out, prepares her keys, secures any loose packages, and calmly walks to her car, keeping tabs on and making eye contact with others in the area. 

What is the difference? One operates out of calm oblivion, one out of fear, and the other out of purpose and confidence. Which do you think predators – who are not characteristically brave people – would see as the “perfect victim”? 

Yes, Woman #1 is certainly a likely target; she would be easy to approach undetected, and proximity is key to attack. So she is on the list. 

But wait, here comes Woman #2. Fear! Perfect. She’s not really paying attention to me; her nervous glances are conveying her lack of preparation. She will crumble. 

Woman #3? No way. She’s sees me, has the nerve to KEEP seeing me, and her confidence scares me. She must know something that I don’t – I’m not brave enough to find out what. Too much risk.

Clearly, we want to be Woman #3. So how do we get from fear to confidence? Maybe we don’t, but here’s why it doesn’t matter: The key to being a bad victim is COMMUNICATING confidence. While feeling confident certainly makes that easier and more convincing, it is not necessary; as long as the bad guy thinks you are a bad target, you are. Accordingly, feeling confident about your ability to avoid or escape attack isn’t sufficient to put you in the “bad target” category. An internal sense of empowerment doesn’t help if you don’t communicate that confidence – possibly the downfall of Woman #1. 

I like to highlight the unique role that awareness and consequent behavior play in victim selection by comparing it to one of my fears: Flying on a plane. I hate to fly. It makes me nervous. (Yes, I know it’s safer than driving, blah, blah, blah, but fear is fear.) This fear, and any behaviors attached to it – attempts at distraction, nervous fidgeting, a couple Bloody Marys, you get the idea – have no effect on whether or not the plane crashes. The focus of my fear is not in anyway determined by my behavior. 

Contrastingly, my behavior has a huge impact on whether or not my fear of becoming a victim is realized. This is encouraging. If done correctly and consistently, the first phase of the self-protection process, scan and plan, will typically be the last as well. If we make a point to survey our environment and move with purpose and alert intention, we likely will be deemed too risky and the attacker will move on to a less challenging target.

The takeaway is that we have the ability to control many, but not all, of the variables that determine whether we become victims of sexual assault simply by the way we carry ourselves in day-to-day activities. Taking our heads out of the sand, recognizing that it can happen to us, and deciding to do something about it – that’s how we become safer.


Shopping during the holiday season presents unique dangers. With its hustle and bustle, even the most vigilant among us can become distracted and careless. Make safety a priority and follow these tips to avoid becoming a holiday crime victim.

1. Have a plan for your outing – beginning, middle and end. Think through the “what ifs” and worst case scenarios. Work through solutions before confronted with stressful situations.
2. Shop during daylight hours whenever possible. If you must go at night, go with a friend or family member.
3. Dress comfortably. Wear comfortable shoes that allow you to move quickly.
4. Avoid wearing noticeably expensive clothing and accessories.
5. Keep your cell phone on you.
6. Do not carry a purse, if possible.
7. Only carry your driver’s license or personal identification, and any checks, credit cards and cash you intend to use.
8. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash. 
9. Carry any cash in your front pocket.
10. Keep a record of all your credit card numbers in a safe place at home.
11. Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason. This time of year, con-artists may try various methods of distracting you with the intention of taking you, your money or your belongings.
12. ALWAYS TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. If you get a “bad vibe” from a person or situation, remain in a well-lit busy area until you are certain the threat no longer exists or help arrives.

13. Walk confidently. Keep your head up and shoulders back.
14. Always be alert to your surroundings. Do not look at your phone or other hand-held device. Remember to scan the upper balconies from time to time; criminals often do their surveillance from high ground.
15. Always be aware of what’s going on in your blind spots.
16. Use blue-tooth headsets if you must talk on your phone while shopping.
17. If you must carry a purse, do not leave it unattended in shopping carts or wear it slung to your back. 
18. Carry bags with the strap over one shoulder and across your body so the strap cannot be used as a convenient “handle” by which to grab and control. When with another person, the purse should be held between the two.
19. Avoid overloading yourself with packages. It is important to have clear visibility and freedom of motion. 
20. Avoid darkened hallways and other backroom areas, especially near closing time.
21. Avoid using bathrooms that are tucked away in a back area of a mall concourse or department. Instead, find a bathroom near the mall’s food court or other well-trafficked area. 
22. If possible, avoid using revolving doors – particularly the automatic kind. 
23. Do not withdraw cash from mall ATMs, as this attracts unwanted attention.
24. Pay for purchases with credit cards whenever possible.

25. If possible, shop with another adult so you can take turns browsing and minding the children.
26. Keep children close at all times. Do not let them wander around unsupervised.
27. Point out security guards and store personnel, so your child knows where to go for help if he gets lost.
28. Make a plan in case you are separated from each other. Select a central meeting place.
29. Always accompany a child to the bathroom.
30. Immediately notify store employees of a missing child. Most stores have a procedure in place to secure exits and search for the missing child.

31. After dark, park in well-lit areas and as close to the entrances/exits as possible.
32. Plan ahead. If your shopping might continue until after dark, park in an area that will be well-lit.
33. Back into parking spaces allowing for rapid exit if necessary.
34. If possible, avoid parking in a “pack”, and avoid parking near high profile vehicles such as vans and utility trucks.
35. If you enter a mall through a store, know when that store closes and exit before it locks up to prevent a long, exposed walk to get back to your vehicle.
36. Ask security to escort you to your vehicle if you feel uncomfortable or have many packages.
37. Beware of suspicious strangers approaching you, and communicate a clear boundary.
38. Report suspicious people loitering in parking lots and around entrances.
39. If you carry a personal protection device such as pepper spray or stun gun, make sure you are trained and confident in its use and you are willing to use it without hesitation. Also be aware than any device you use has the possibility of being used against you.
40. Remember where you parked your car. Being unable to locate your car can cause you undue confusion and stress that may present you as a better target to a criminal.
41. Have your keys in hand when approaching your car. Keep your thumb on your key fob alarm if you have one.
42. Walk where you can be seen by many others -- in the center of aisles, not up against parked cars.
43. Be aware of passing high profile vehicles; criminals can be hide unseen until you are right up next to the car, making you more vulnerable to attack.
44. Be vigilant around panel vans or utility vehicles parked on the driver’s side or near your vehicle. It is easy to be pulled through the sliding door of a van.
45. Check in and around your car before getting in. (A small flashlight comes in handy.)
46. Do not turn your back on the world as you load your vehicle.
47. Lock your vehicle even for the short time it will take to return the shopping cart.
48. Ignore handbills placed on the windshield. This could be a set up.
49. Once in your vehicle, lock your door and immediately drive away.
50. Make sure you have not been followed from the mall by paying attention to the vehicles around or behind you.

Have a safe and happy holiday!


There is no shortage of self-defense experts, empowerment programs and safety classes for women. How do you decide? 

The National Coalition Against Sexual Assault addressed this issue and came up with some guidelines and suggestions, and we, at Strong & Safe, strive to adhere to all recommended principles.

As our teaching philosophy, we believe and affirm that: 

1) People do not ask for, cause, invite or deserve to be assaulted. Women and men sometimes exercise poor judgment about safety behavior, but that does not make them responsible for the attack. Attackers are responsible for their attacks and their use of violence to overpower, control and abuse another human being.

2) Whatever a person's decision in a given self-defense situation, whatever the action he or she does or does not take, he or she is not at fault. A person's decision to survive the best way they can must be respected. Self-defense classes should not be used as judgment against a victim/survivor.

3) Good self-defense programs do not "tell" an individual what she "should" or "should not" do. A good program offers options, techniques, and a way of analyzing situations. A good program may point out what USUALLY works best in MOST situations, but each situation is unique and the final decision rests with the person actually confronted with the situation.

4) Empowerment is the goal of a good self-defense program. The individual's right to make decisions about his or her participation must be respected. Pressure should not be brought to bear in any way to get a person to participate in an activity if that person is hesitant or unwilling.

Additionally, a good self-defense course provides psychological awareness and verbal skills, not just physical training. Like any tool, the more you know about it, the more informed you are to make a decision and to use it. We focus much of our training stopping attacks BEFORE they happen. It is estimated that up to 90% of all assaults are preventable. We teach our students to increase their odds to avoid attack, but also pass along essential easy-to-use verbal and physical skills to escape if necessary. We focus on maximizing options, simple techniques and respect for people’s experiences.

While both male and female instructors have much to offer, there is an advantage for women to have a female lead instructor as a role model, having had similar experiences surviving as a woman. All-women classes tend to provide an easier atmosphere in which to discuss sensitive issues. However, there is benefit to having male partners with whom to practice. Our courses are designed and run by women. We include male instructors for practice/drill portions of our workshops, to maximize “real life” scenario responses, but feel that our shared experiences as women, and the safe environment necessary to this subject matter, makes our program structure ideal for learning and training.

A good course covers critical thinking about self-defense strategies, assertiveness, powerful communication skills, and easy-to-remember physical techniques. Self-defense is not fighting or martial arts training. It does not require years of study to perfect. At our seminars, we don’t turn out martial artists; we build knowledgeable, confident, empowered women, with a “whatever it takes” mindset and an arsenal of simple effective skills to prevent and escape violent attacks. We do not come from a single style of training or school of thought; we have trained in a number of diverse disciplines, studied a range of perspectives, and have drawn the best from each for the most comprehensive approach. 

Essentially, a good course is based on intelligence and not muscle or skill. It offers tools for enabling a person to connect with her or his own strength and power. You don't have to be an athlete to learn how to defend yourself. A good program is designed to adapt to every age and ability and provide each student with the opportunity to learn. Each individual is unique and students should be able to discuss their own needs.

We never sell or push “devices”. Any device is useless to you unless you understand how to use it and have it in your hand ready to use at the time of the attempted assault. None are foolproof. While some devices have value as an added layer of protection and have helped people escape to safety, it is important to be aware of their limitations and liabilities. We educate women on the available options, without judgment, in order to make informed decisions in line with their unique experiences, values and lifestyles.

Finally, responsible self-defense training requires sensitivity to experiences and comfort levels. It is important that each student in a class is able to control his or her own participation in the class and never feel forced to participate. We respect each woman’s experiences and limitations. We believe hands-on interactive training is the best way to learn and retain information, so we provide the safest environment possible to encourage participation. But we proceed in accordance with each woman’s comfort level, and there is never forced participation.

Our mission is to provide the most effective and comprehensive empowerment training for women in the safest, most engaging and inspiring atmosphere. Our programs are designed by women, for women. In addition to providing full service empowerment workshops to the public, we have helped a range of professionals, such as realtors, community service workers, and corporate office groups, by providing tools, skills and information to overcome daily safety challenges. Bottom line: We help you and your loved ones stay safe. Contact us for upcoming session information.


Bill Cosby.

This is a tough one. I’ve been putting off any comment on “the story” for a number of reasons. First and foremost, my lawyer background prompts a visceral response anytime someone is skewered in the media, without the benefit of the necessary processes and protections of our justice system. Any coward can level an accusation, have it go “viral” almost immediately, and end a person’s life as he or she knew it. Second, I grew up with Bill Cosby. I loved Bill Cosby. Really loved him. In image, he was funny, loving, kind, wise and just plain decent. He was a “family man” in every sense of the term. He brought so much laughter to our house. In fact, the hardest I have EVER seen my own dad laugh was when we watched “Bill Cosby Himself” together. The dentist routine had all of us literally on the floor with laughter. These were experiences shared in so many homes by so many families. He has a true gift, and we loved him for that.

The most troubling part of this story is not that Bill Cosby may not have been the person he seemed to be. That’s always a bitter pill to swallow; we don’t like to be wrong, fooled even, and we don’t like to see our revered heroes prove themselves to be full-on villains. We don’t need to focus on Bill Cosby or what the future holds for him. That will be in the hands of lawyers, judges and juries. It will be addressed by his family and closest friends, hopefully behind closed doors, with their privacy respected. What happens to him will be decided by those in positions to decide such things. But we, as a society, do need to talk about this story for so many reasons.


Sexual assault is notoriously underreported. Victims who have the courage to come forward often report experiencing further violation throughout the investigative and court processes. They sometimes feel victimized in the court of public opinion. Victims may face responses ranging from doubt, to disbelief, to flat out angry insults and derogatory innuendos about the victim’s motives and character. Just this week, Rolling Stone published a horrifying account of a prominent university’s extensive history of fraternity-sanctioned sexual assault. Victims were roundly discouraged, dismissed and vilified. This has to stop. In protecting these institutions and offenders, we create and build a rape culture, in which women are objectified and degraded. They are not believed. Not valued.

In the cases of Bill Cosby’s accusers, the initial response seemed to focus on the “why now?” Shouldn’t the victims have come forward years ago, instead of waiting so long? It is important to point out that many DID report their experiences when they happened. One went to a lawyer, who proceeded to laugh at her. One took it to the prosecutor, who believed her and wanted to press charges, but just didn’t think he had sufficient evidence. (Remember, Mr. Cosby’s alleged modus operandi was to drug and rape – leaving no marks and no memory.) The allegations were out there, and mostly squelched. Bill Cosby was, well, Bill Cosby. He was America’s favorite dad. No one wanted to see that guy fall. And too many people had too much at stake if he did. He was untouchable. Which leads to the second point …

Abuse of Power

There is no shortage of cases in which men abuse their positions of power in order to victimize women. But its prevalence should not dilute its seriousness. Bill Cosby’s is a very pure case of a charismatic beloved man, who allegedly used his status and standing for harm. Such an abuser counts on two things being true: (1) no one would believe he would do such things, and (2) consequently, his victims will be unlikely to speak up and make themselves subject to scrutiny and criticism.

The first assumption is built on a foundation of ego, and protected by those with much at stake. If you are “the” Bill Cosby -- Mr. Jello, Mr. NBC -- you have layers and layers of people and organizations invested in protecting an image. On less prominent levels, there is still ego and there are still unquestioning protectors. We see teachers, coaches, business owners, religious leaders and other community stand-outs who seem to inspire fierce loyalties and protections of their “followers”.  While many are indeed deserving of such respect, some are not. Charisma does not always indicate integrity. Yet it is often blinding.

The second assumption is related, and often more insidious. Beloved icons are protected with a ferocity that can produce an atmosphere in which it is nearly impossible to challenge that image. The victim may question her experiences, and, not uncommonly, may question her own involvement in the abuse. In judicial remedy law, there is a doctrine termed “unclean hands”. This is a defense to an accusation in which the defendant claims that the plaintiff is entitled to less or no remedy because of his or her own behavior. He or she (plaintiff) has not behaved perfectly and thus is not entitled to relief. It is precisely this fear that weighs heavy on many victims’ minds. They start the reel in their heads – I did agree to go to his room; I did have drinks with him; I did let him talk to me in an inappropriate manner; I liked the attention; I must have participated/instigated/brought about the abuse; my behavior will be on trial too. We are seeing these questions asked of Bill Cosby’s accusers – Why did you go? Why did you go back again? You accepted the drinks; didn’t you know what could have happened? This plays on the shame a victim inevitably feels following abuse or assault, even without the doubters. Adding a layer of shame and doubt when a victim is most vulnerable discourages even the strongest women from taking action.

Rape Assist Drugs

Cosby’s alleged "M.O.", corroborated by a number of women, was to secretly slip some sort of rape assist drugs into targets’ drinks. When this information came to light, an early comedy routine resurfaced in which he joked about slipping “Spanish Fly” into girls’ drinks. Back then, it may have seemed a little off-color and not so funny. Now, applying hindsight, it is downright frightening. We were laughing at a man making light of the very criminal behavior that he may have been perpetrating at the time and in the future.

We have all heard about being slipped "mickeys" and "roofies", almost as if they were urban legends. The reality is, these drugs are used, and used often, to facilitate sexual assault. Of course, the number one rape assist drug is alcohol itself. While statistics vary, likely upwards of 70% of sexual assaults involve alcohol on the part of the offender, the victim, or both. The percentage jumps much higher when discussing rape on college campuses. But there are many drugs used without the victim’s knowledge that cause a list of effects including impaired judgment, physical immobility, loss of consciousness, and loss of memory. These drugs are dangerous for a number of reasons. They are difficult to detect. Their effects may mimic those of alcohol, which the victim may have willingly ingested. Most leave the system quickly so testing may turn up negative results even in cases where they have been used. With a loss of consciousness, the victim will not put up a fight, and no marks will be left as evidence.

Many of us have been given these drugs, some without ever realizing. I hear story after story from women (and even some men!) about their experiences with rape assist drugs. They are readily available and virtually undetectable in a drink. The key to preventing a dangerous outcome is most often the presence of a friend or on-looker that recognized the threat and stepped in. In our workshops, we emphasize the importance of watching out for each other. Recognize the danger signs and take action. Don’t leave friends alone with men you don’t know and trust. Don’t chalk unusual behavior up to having had “just a little too much to drink”. Trust your intuition. Every time.

As I said, this is a hard case for so many of us. It was so easy to love and even trust Bill Cosby. His comedy and characters promoted positive and loving images. But we cannot allow these images to cloud what is. We cannot allow them to keep us from listening to his accusers. Whatever facts emerge with time, these women must be heard. Future victims’ lives may depend on it.


"The unforgivable crime is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly." -- Theodore Roosevelt

One of the hardest things for women to do in our workshops is to immediately move from “zero to one-hundred” when practicing verbal and physical techniques. It usually goes something like this:

Me: “When Pretend Badguy grabs you from behind, drop to your base, drive your elbow into his solar plexus HARD, and scream ‘NO!’”

(Pretend Badguy grabs)

Everywoman: (Squirms. Makes a half-hearted gesture with her elbow toward his chest.) “no”

Me: “Is that as hard as you can hit?”

Everywoman: “I guess not.”

Me: “Try it again.”

This cycle usually continues for 3-4 attempts, gradually building, before there is some semblance of hard contact and forceful verbalization. 

Here’s the thing about “Everywoman” in this scenario: She is not weak. She is not necessarily soft-spoken. She has been taught to “test the waters” before stepping out of her comfort zone. She has learned that it is best to use the least objectionable approach to resolving conflict situations. 

Unfortunately, these habits are dangerous – possibly even deadly – in an attack situation. An attacker does not intend to let go of his victim; he chose her because he was certain he could overpower her. The only way he will let go is if he is forced to do so. In other words, turn his offense to defense, even if only for a moment, and escape. To do this, you must level an unexpected counter-attack and strike to inflict injury, not pain. Do you really think struggling in his grasp followed by a slap to the chest has the potential to inflict injury? Possibly insult, probably irritation, but certainly not injury. Instead, move quickly INTO him with solid blow to the center of the chest, or strike to the throat, or palm heel to the face. There are many effective targets, but there are two essential elements: strike FAST and strike HARD. 

The good news for Everywomen? Gradual escalation is a learned response, and can be unlearned. Train in your verbal and physical techniques often, and always train with 100% effort. When you practice, aim to hit maximum effort the FIRST time, every time. Remember, with Real Badguy, you may not get a second.


You train to act fast and hard in an attack situation, without concern for the welfare of your attacker, but what about the aftermath? What if your actions seriously injure him? What if your actions kill him? Be assured, under Arizona law, you have the right to use reasonable force to protect yourself, your loved ones, and to some extent your property.  The key is leveling a “reasonable” response to the situation. Here is a summary of the relevant Arizona statutes.

Defending Yourself or a Third Party

As a general rule, you are entitled to match the force of your attacker. In other words, you can use physical force to match reasonable threat of imminent unlawful physical force, and you can use deadly force in the face of imminent deadly force. These options are not available (1) in response to verbal provocation, (2) in response to lawful arrest, or (3) if you unlawfully provoked the attack and the other person attempts to withdraw. A.R.S. 13-404, 13-405.

This becomes problematic only if your response is clearly disproportionate to the level of threat. For example, if the drunk guy at the crowded bar continues to hang his arm around your shoulder and proposition you, despite your verbal requests to “get lost”, you are NOT legally entitled to pull a gun and shoot him, or execute a V-strike to his throat. The response – a lethal action – is excessive in light of the immediate threat level.

In Arizona, there is no duty to retreat from an attack situation before using adequate force in your response, even if you are able to do so. A.R.S. 13-405. And you may use the same standard to defend another as you would to defend yourself. A.R.S. 13-406.

Defending Your Premises, Property or Vehicle

You are also legally permitted to use force, under some circumstances, to defend against violation of your home and other property. And again, there is no duty to retreat. Here’s a bullet point summary of these instances:

-You may threaten deadly force or use physical force if necessary to prevent or end criminal trespass on your premises. (You may only USE deadly force if it meets the requirements discussed above.) A.R.S. 13-407.

-You may use physical force to protect your tangible movable property. A.R.S. 13-408.

-You may use both physical and deadly force if necessary to prevent enumerated crimes, including: arson of an occupied structure, first or second degree burglary, sexual misconduct with a minor, sexual assault, child molestation, armed robbery or aggravated assault. A.R.S. 13-411.

-You may use physical or deadly force if you believe there is a risk of death or serious injury when the offender forcefully enters a residential structure or occupied vehicle, or when the offender attempts to forcefully remove you from a residential structure or occupied vehicle (kidnapping or carjacking). Again, there is no duty to retreat. A.R.S. 13-418.

When someone unlawfully enters your home or occupied vehicle, it is “presumed” (very important from a legal standpoint) that he poses an imminent threat of deadly harm. Thus it is also presumed reasonable to believe it’s necessary to use physical or deadly force. There are of course a few exceptions, such as when the person entering has a legal right to be where he is, he is a parent, grandparent, or other legal guardian of a child sought to be removed from the home, you are engaged in unlawful activity, or the person is in law enforcement and entering in the course of his official duties. A.R.S. 13-419.

The takeaway is that you have every right to defend yourself against personal threats. Under the stress of an attack situation, there is little time to think. You must respond quickly and completely. If you have no time to reflect on the “legal” course of action, don’t. That is your cue to act. And survive. You are worth it. 


Weapons. They sound like a sure fire (pun intended) way to protect yourself, right? Short answer, for you headline-scanning bullet point (yep, another pun) readers: “No.”

The real answer, requiring further reading: “It depends.”

First, the decision to own, carry and use guns is a very personal one, shaped by your background, experiences, values, life style and life view. Since no two people share all of those, and this literally is a life-or-death issue, we should expect emotional and conflicting approaches. I have no opinion as to whether you, or (most) anyone else, “should” own a gun. I really don’t. There are responsible ways and reasons to own guns; and there are as many irresponsible ones. You can wrestle with those - as well as the legal requirements, consequences, etc. - on your own.

Statistically, guns are seldom used in self-defense situations. While it is not possible to know the actual number of crimes deterred by victims brandishing weapons, the National Crime Victimization Survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (ongoing since 1973), looked at the total number of self-protective behaviors undertaken by victims of both attempted and completed violent crime for the five-year period between 2007 and 2011. They found that the intended victim “threatened or attacked with a firearm” in resistance to a criminal in only 0.8 percent of these instances.

Nonetheless, we want to add every possible layer of protection to increase our odds of staying safe. For that reason, women regularly ask me if it’s a “good idea” to carry a gun as a self-defense tool. So let’s start this discussion from the assumption that you are considering, or already own, a personal firearm. How does this play out on the personal protection front? Here is a list of considerations that you MUST address before handling a gun.

1) You absolutely, positively, unequivocally must be trained. And not just by a buddy that took you shooting a couple times, but by an experienced, reputable, certified instructor. And you must continue this training as long as you carry a gun. Refresh your skills periodically. Keep abreast of changes in relevant laws, stay up to date on safety techniques, and practice good gun maintenance. Gun ownership carries ongoing responsibilities and requirements. The consequences for failing to meet these are very serious.

2) Will the gun be accessible when you need it?  A self-defense tool is useless if it’s not available and accessible when you need it. Are you willing to have your gun on you 24/7? And if you have it with you, is it in your hand, ready to fire at a moment’s notice? If not, you are fooling yourself thinking it will be any help in an attack situation. In a sudden attack, the attacker has the benefit of planning and preparation. You do not. He is unlikely to give you time to find and draw your weapon. If you are determined to carry a gun as protection, there are products that enable you to have it in your hand, ready to fire. There are clothing lines and purses that allow constant contact and accessibility. Otherwise, your chances of using the gun when you need it are slim to none.

3) Will you be willing to use it?  This one sounds easy. We tend to breeze right past it. We think, this guy wants to hurt me, of course I’d shoot him. But stop for a second. Close your eyes. Think through the scenario. Really think it through. Could you take a life – without hesitation? Because even the slightest hesitation means you’re putting your life in jeopardy. He won’t hesitate. He’s already shown that by choosing to terrorize and violate you. Remember: A gun cannot be used as a threat. Ever. If you pull a gun, do so intending to use it.

4) Will you be likely to hit your target?  If you have passed the initial stages of considering gun use, and have spent time learning to shoot, you’ll understand the challenges I’m addressing here. Your practice time will likely be spent in a tightly controlled environment, on a range of some sort, with an instructor nearby, partitioned alleys, and a set unmoving target. You probably will have ear muffs for the noise. Even under these conditions, it’s not easy to hit the target every time, is it? Think about an attack situation: Surprise, adrenaline, possibly dark and loud, moving target, moving gun, life-threatening stress … You see what I’m getting at. These are not ideal target shooting conditions. It’s impossible to practice under realistic conditions, but if you decide to carry a gun, try to make hitting a target as “instinctive” as possible. How? Repetition, repetition, repetition.

5) There is a very real risk of having your gun used against you. When you introduce a deadly weapon into an already violent and aggressive situation, be prepared to have it escalate. Quickly. Your attacker chose you because he is confident that his brute strength outmatches yours. He is not a courageous or fair man. In his mind, you are a “sure bet”.  If you are not able to quickly and competently draw and fire, and hit your target, he will do whatever he can to take control of your weapon. Count on it. So the answer, again: Practice. Repetition. There is no substitute.

If you are still feeling confident and determined, as a final and very important caveat, view a gun as but one of your self-protection tools -- always always always secondary to your most important weapon: YOUR MIND. The key to staying safe is avoiding attack situations. By listening to your instincts, exercising basic awareness and applying boundary-setting techniques, you can reduce you risk of attack by up to 90%.

So what do I recommend? Train in awareness and avoidance for the most reliable protection against attack. Once you have a solid base of knowledge and skills, and have carefully considered all requirements and responsibilities, by all means, build your self-defense arsenal (had to sneak in one more) however you see fit.

And as always, you can contact us for comprehensive self-defense training and consultation. We are available for business, school, community or private groups.

Stay safe.


Intuition. That persistent voice that tells you, “I know that I know this, but I don’t know how I know it.” Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? So what should you do?


But only after you have collected some semblance of empirical data to let you know that you are not entirely off base, right? No.


Let’s back up a little. Isn’t it possible we can overreact on occasion? Sure.

What should you do if you take action based on these “feelings”, and you’re flat out wrong? What if it makes us all uncomfortable?


Your most powerful weapon against attack is not a gun in your glove compartment, or pepper spray on your keychain, or your mad ninja skills. It’s your MIND. And the most important aspect of this weapon is intuition.  We’ve all been there … someone comes into our space, sometimes we don’t even see him, but we get this “feeling”. Maybe the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Maybe your stomach turns or your throat tightens or you hear a ringing in your ears. Whatever your signal, it’s your body screaming, “Danger!” What do we do when we hear this? Here’s a real story, sadly all too common, that illustrates how life-changing that answer can be.

Excerpt from “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Graw:

He had probably been watching her for a while. We aren't sure--but what we do know is that she was not his first victim. That afternoon, in an effort to get all her shopping done in one trip, Kelly had overestimated what she could comfortably carry home. Justifying her decision as she struggled with the heavy bags, she reminded herself that making two trips would have meant walking around after dark, and she was too careful about her safety for that. As she climbed the few steps to the apartment building door, she saw that it had been left unlatched (again). Her neighbors just don't get it, she thought, and though their lax security annoyed her, this time she was glad to be saved the trouble of getting out the key.

She closed the door behind her, pushing it until she heard it latch. She is certain she locked it, which means he must have already been inside the corridor.

Next came the four flights of stairs, which she wanted to do in one trip. Near the top of the third landing, one of the bags gave way, tearing open and dispensing cans of cat food. They rolled down the stairs almost playfully, as if they were trying to get away from her. The can in the lead paused at the second floor landing, and Kelly watched as it literally turned the corner, gained some speed, and began its seemingly mindful hop down the next flight of steps and out of sight.

"Got it! I'll bring it up," someone called out. Kelly didn't like that voice. Right from the start something just sounded wrong to her, but then this friendly-looking young guy came bounding up the steps, collecting cans along the way.

He said, "Let me give you a hand."

"No, no thanks, I've got it."

"You don't look like you've got it. What floor are you going to?"

She paused before answering him. "The fourth, but I'm okay, really."

He wouldn't hear a word of it, and by this point he had a collection of cans balanced between his chest and one arm. "I'm going to the fourth floor too," he said, "and I'm late--not my fault, broken watch--so let's not just stand here. And give me that." He reached out and tugged on one of the heavier bags she was holding. She repeated, "No, really, thanks, but no, I've got it."

Still holding on to the grocery bag, he said, "There's such thing as being too proud, you know."

For a moment, Kelly didn't let go of that bag, but then she did, and this seemingly insignificant exchange between the cordial stranger and the recipient of his courtesy was the signal--to him and to her--that she was willing to trust him. As the bag passed from her control to his, so did she.

"We better hurry," he said as he walked up the stairs ahead of Kelly. "We've got a hungry cat up there."

Even though he seemed to want nothing more at that moment than to be helpful, she was apprehensive about him, and for no good reason, she thought. He was friendly and gentlemanly, and she felt guilty about her suspicion. She didn't want to be the kind of person who distrusts everybody, so they were next approaching the door to her apartment.

"Did you know a cat can live for three weeks without eating?" he asked. "I'll tell you how I learned that tidbit: I once forgot that I'd promised to feed a cat while a friend of mine was out of town."

Kelly was now standing at the door to her apartment, which she'd just opened.

"I'll take it from here," she said, hoping he'd hand her the groceries, accept her thanks, and be on his way. Instead, he said, "Oh no, I didn't come this far to let you have another cat food spill." When she still hesitated to let him in her door, he laughed understandingly. "Hey, we can leave the door open like ladies do in old movies. I'll just put this stuff down and go. I promise."

She did let him in, but he did not keep his promise.

 * * *

At this point, as she is telling me the story of the rape and the whole three-hour ordeal she suffered, Kelly pauses to weep quietly. She now knows that he killed one of his other victims, stabbed her to death.


* * *

 Kelly is about to learn that listening to one small survival signal saved her life, just as failing to follow so many others had put her at risk in the first place. She looks at me through moist but clear eyes and says she wants to understand every strategy he used. She wants me to tell her what her intuition saw that saved her life. But she will tell me.

"It was after he'd already held the gun to my head, after he raped me. It was after that. He got up from the bed, got dressed, then closed the window. He glanced at his watch, and then started acting like he was in a hurry."

"I gotta be somewhere. Hey, don't look so scared. I promise I'm not going to hurt you." Kelly absolutely knew he was lying. She knew he planned to kill her, and though it may be hard to imagine, it was the first time since the incident began that she felt profound fear.

He motioned to her with the gun and said, "Don't you move or do anything. I'm going to the kitchen to get something to drink, and then I'll leave. I promise. But you stay right where you are." He had little reason to be concerned that Kelly might disobey his instructions because she had been, from the moment she let go of that bag until this moment, completely under his control. "You know I won't move," she assured him.

But the instant he stepped from the room, Kelly stood up and walked after him, pulling the sheet off the bed with her. "I was literally right behind him, like a ghost, and he didn't know I was there. We walked down the hall together. At one point he stopped, and so did I. He was looking at my stereo, which was playing some music, and he reached out and made it louder. When he moved on toward the kitchen, I turned and walked through the living room."

Kelly could hear drawers being opened as she walked out her front door, leaving it ajar. She walked directly into the apartment across the hall (which she somehow knew would be unlocked). Holding a finger up to signal her surprised neighbors to be quiet, she locked their door behind her.

"I knew if I had stayed in my room, he was going to come back from the kitchen and kill me, but I don't know how I was so certain."

"Yes, you do," I tell her.

She sighs and then goes over it again. "He got up and got dressed, closed the window, looked at his watch. He promised he wouldn't hurt me, and that promise came out of nowhere. Then he went into the kitchen to get a drink, supposedly, but I heard him opening drawers in there. He was looking for a knife, of course, but I knew way before that." She pauses. "I guess he wanted a knife because using the gun would be too noisy."

"What makes you think he was concerned about noise?" I ask.

"I don't know." She takes a long pause, gazing off past me, looking back at him in the bedroom. "Oh ... I do know. I get it, I get it. Noise was the thing--that's why he closed the window. That's how I knew."

Since he was dressed and supposedly leaving, he had no other reason to close her window. It was that subtle signal that warned her, but it was fear that gave her the courage to get up without hesitation and follow close behind the man who intended to kill her. She later described a fear so complete that it replaced every feeling in her body. Like an animal hiding inside her, it opened to its full size and stood up using the muscles in her legs. "I had nothing to do with it," she explained. "I was a passenger moving down that hallway."

What she experienced was real fear, not like when we are startled, not like the fear we feel at a movie, or the fear of public speaking. This fear is the powerful ally that says, "Do what I tell you to do." Sometimes, it tells a person to play dead, or to stop breathing, or to run or scream or fight, but to Kelly it said, "Just be quiet and don't doubt me and I'll get you out of here."

Kelly told me she felt new confidence in herself, knowing she had acted on that signal, knowing she had saved her own life. She said she was tired of being blamed and blaming herself for letting him into her apartment. She said she had learned enough in our meetings to never again be victimized that way.

Kelly’s initial disregard for her warning voice proved devastating, but when her life was literally on the line, that voice was more insistent. It FORCED her to listen. In the heat of battle, she knew what she knew, but she didn’t know how she knew. But it didn’t matter; she listened. And she lived.

Over 90% of all rapes and sexual assaults are preventable. This is not to judge or “blame” those who are attacked. It is to encourage the use of all means at our disposal to stop assault before it happens. We are blessed with the gift of intuition – all of us.  The danger in heeding its warning is potential discomfort … and that is temporary. The danger in ignoring is so much greater … and is all too often permanent.  


Every. Single. Time.


When a conflict gets physical, there are a few things that will maximize your efforts and increase your chance of survival. In an attack situation, you will be operating under very stressful conditions. The more you plan, prepare, and practice in advance, the easier it will be to act “instinctively”.

Think “strike”, not hit. Yes, they are both good. But “strike” implies a more precise and powerful blow. As we discuss below, it is important to put full force behind every technique. Striking also applies to all offensive tools on your body, while hitting generally connotes just the hands. In fact, there are many striking tools that carry more force than the hands.

Strike hard, fast and often. Ideally, you will drop your attacker with one blow. Realistically, it may take a little more. Give it your all … then keep going. Speed is also essential; it not only increases power, but it allows you to confuse your attacker and shift the momentum and assault dynamic. Once the confrontation begins, you want to immediately shift your approach from defense to offense, and force your attacker to shift his from offense to defense. The best way to do this is with a strong and aggressive barrage of strikes.

Aim for injury rather than pain. Pain is subjective. It can be dulled by many factors, including drugs and alcohol. Setting your intentions beyond just pain and aiming for injury also encourages you to put more power behind every technique. Think about it. If you are trying to cause pain, you are likely to fall into the “least harm necessary” trap. You know what I’m talking about. Slap. “Shit, he’s still coming at me.“ Slap a little harder. “Why isn’t this self-defense stuff working?” Slap even harder. “Now he’s just looking mad. I give up.” So how about this instead? “How dare this asshole think he can violate my body. He’s decided that one of us will not be making it out alive. I’m going to use everything I have to stop him NOW.” Not only are you more likely to inflict attack-stopping damage, you are much more likely to inflict pain as well. Either way, your odds are looking much better.

Direct hard striking tools against soft body targets.

            Best striking tools: Knees and elbows are best. They are hard, sharp, and have larger surface areas, giving you a little more room for error. Other good tools include hands (palm thrust, hammerfist, V strike, half fist strike, finger rake), feet (front kicks, shin scrapes, foot stomps) and head (rear or front head butt).

            Best targets: In the heat of battle, hit anywhere you can as hard as you can. But learning the “best” targets will give you the most bang for your buck. Aim for soft spots. The most damage, including serious injury and death, is likely in the head and neck area – the “thinking, eating, breathing” zone – and the heart and groin areas. So moving down the body, prime targets include eyes, ears, base of nose, temple, behind the jaw under the ear, throat, back of the neck, solar plexus, forearm, groin, knee, ankle and instep. Visualize striking these areas when practicing your techniques. You WILL perform how you practice. So practice like your life depends on it. It just might.


Survival. In any attack situation, that is the ultimate goal. When a woman is assaulted by a man, what is most likely to prevent her from reaching this goal?

 Well, men tend to be physically larger than women. Is it the size disparity?


 In most tests of sheer force, men generally prove stronger. So is it his ability to overpower her?


 The biggest obstacle to survival is mindset. You are starting from the assumption that your attacker thinks like you do. You are imposing your standards of human interaction, your understanding of the “social contract”, as we all are conditioned to do. In any circumstances, we see the world through our own lens, crafted from our experiences, beliefs and values. In most cases, we all operate under certain “bottom line” agreements, regardless of our differences.

 But let’s look at what we’re dealing with here. You would not steal from, terrorize or intentionally injure another human being. You cannot fathom holding such a worldview. So why do you think your attacker will respond to your sense of reason? Why do you think he will act in accordance with basic standards of decency and compassion? He has shown his inability or unwillingness to value your existence. He is telling you that he wants to harm you and has no regard for whether you live or die. Believe him.

 Don't waste time fretting over the whys, hows or "it just shouldn't be's". It is. Decide in advance that understanding does not matter. In that moment – and you only have moments – what matters is that you ACT. Don't hesitate. Don't question. Fight … escape … survive.

 You are worth it.


"Because I am worth defending."

© 2014 STRONG & SAFE