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"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.


A PSA, soon to be made into an after school special (starring Mindy Gold as me)

Coincidentally, I have been reading Gavin DeBecker's book, The gift of fear. It's basically a book about how to spot dangerous people and situations. In a chapter I finished recently, he discussed some common things to look for, and I thought I'd tell you all about them.

The basis for this section is that a woman with whom he worked had been raped. She wanted him to tell her the danger signs she missed along the way. One thing he is clear about is that no one is to blame for missing such things. He also really exhorts us to listen to our intuition about such things - often things just don't feel right but we may disregard those signs for fear of hurting someone's feelings. For example, the woman who had been raped was approached by a stranger in her stairwell who offered to help her with her groceries. She may have felt something was amiss, but may have worried he would be angry or offended if she said no to him. He urges women especially that it is far better to be considered a bitch than to risk the consequences of going along with someone who really wants to hurt us. He also exhorts men to respect our "no" and to not take offense. He noted that mens biggest fear is being laughed at by a woman, whereas a woman's greatest fear is being killed by a man.

Okay, so here are some of the signs:

Forced teaming.
This is a way perps may try to build rapport with you. DeBecker gave as an example (that bothered me quite a bit) a teenaged girl alone on a plane who was sitting across the aisle from a 40-something year-old man. He started chatting with her and he learned that no one was meeting her at the airport (oh baby, why tell him that?). He claimed to be in the same situation, and worked hard to "bond" with her based on this (what bothered me is that DeBecker - a supposed expert on violence - sat by and only intervened when the dude went to the restroom and basically only told the girl that the dude was going to offer her a ride, and not to take it, that he wasn't a good person. At the airport the dude *did* approach her. I wonder if DeBecker ever would have intervened more actively?). Offering help is another way of "forced teaming" - women are often afraid to say no, despite the fact that they may really not want or need the help.

Charm and niceness.
DeBecker notes that women are expected to always appreciate and accept men's advances - and he proffers that it is better to be "clear and precise" about what you want or need, and to not feel you need to capitulate or be accommodating if a stranger is nice to you. He noted that uncertainty and wavering is really attractive to a perp (this is why the "broken record" technique often taught in self-defense is so helpful - just say "no," "leave me alone," or "go away" or whatever your message is clearly, in a deeper voice, over and over - gradually getting louder or more forceful - it really works - no uncertainty there). Women think we are being nice when we talk to creeps, but warmth only encourages potential perpetrators.

Too many details.
This made some of the TMI emails from students make so much more sense. DeBecker (can I just say DB from now on?) argues that people who are telling the truth don't feel a need to offer up a lot of information (although I would argue some people do, more out of anxiety or social skill issues) because they don't doubt you will find them credible. People who are lying offer up a lot of details to confuse you, to convince you they must be truthful if they can give that much detail, and to get you to feel like you really know them. You may get so lost in the details you forget you don't trust the person, you forget you have told him no, or have asked him to leave. It's a shock and awe tactic.

Perps often slightly criticize their victims, "You are too good to talk to the likes of me!" DB says the only response is silence, as refuting it is exactly what he wants - he wants to engage you and to force you to prove that you are willing to trust him or talk to him or give him a chance. He also notes that the perp doesn't necessarily believe it - he just knows it will work.

Loan sharking.
Perps will often try to put you in the situation where you feel you owe him. The rapist in the book helped the woman carry her groceries, and then she felt she owed him a glass of water.

Unsolicited promise.
DB says this is one of the best signals - you aren't asking for a promise, but he offers one, "I'll just come in and get some water and leave, I promise!" It makes them seem more trustworthy, it makes us think their intentions are good, whereas the only intent is to coerce or convince us. The promise also has the implicit contingency, "If I don't do as I prmise, you'll have some recourse," and yet this isn't always (or often?) the case. DB says to *always* be suspicious of an unsolicited promise.

Discounting the word "no."
No means no. If a guy ignores your no, convinces you you don't really mean it, or tries to negotiate, it means they may well be trying to assert control.

DB notes that perps are circling their potential victims "like sharks." They look for any signals that we might be their perfect victims - we are overly aquiescent, accommodating, unsure, easily swayed or manipulated, seems needy. He noted that if we actually need help, it is better to try to ask someone than to wait for someone to come to us, as our hunches about who is okay or not are likely better, and the chances of us finding a perp are much slimmer than a perp finding us when we are vulnerable.

He asks men who may be offended by all of this to consider how often and how much women need to be afraid for their safety, and to just see it as precaution, and to not overpersonalize it. He also wants women to not feel like they have to take care of men.

Importantly he also notes that if you do find yourself the victim, there is no one way to ensure survival. The best thing to do is to listen to your intuition and do what you have to do to get through it. Of course, the sad truth is that the courts don't always believe this (think of the case in texas -?- where the woman convinced her rapist to put on a condom - and it was determined it wasn't rape since she obviously must have wanted it if she could negotiate with him).

Anyway, I hope this is somewhat helpful.


At 10:39 PM, Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

Very helpful. Thanks for posting it.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Marie said...

I agree: very helpful. It's nice to have confirmation of some things that have felt "funny" to me when dealing with unsolicited offers of "help." It makes me glad that I almost always say no, even though I run the risk of being perceived as a bitch.

At 5:03 PM, Blogger Clio Bluestocking said...

Two things about this that kind of turned my stomach. First, that so much of the perpetrator's behavior is so like typical dating, or "pick up," behavior. Second, that so much of the target's behavior is taught as appropriate feminine behavior. Our society teaches girls to be targets, robbing them of their instincts in order to be properly feminine, and that pisses me off.

Fabulous summary of the book. Thank you!


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