In defence of protective behaviours

IMG_5120Violence against women (both inside and outside the home) is a disturbing and horrendous crime. The insidious and senseless death of Masa Vukotic has sent social media into a frenzy.

Women should be able to walk by themselves. Women should not be scared to go out at night. A woman is not asking for violence with whatever she might wear. Agree. Agree. Agree. I am, after all a woman too. And the mother of a girl.

I have also read several articles belittling police who have suggested protective behaviours. By this, I mean recommendations such as not wearing headphones when you’re walking alone, exercising in pairs, carrying a set of keys in your hand. They are paltry offerings and can be seen as condescending. Hence the backlash on social media.

The sad truth is, when it comes to policing random murderers, I’m sorry to say that’s all we’ve got. I wish there was something else. Tell me – how do you police psychopaths? You can attempt to recognise them and control them, but what are you going to do when they’re anonymously wandering around the neighbourhood?

But people expect a response from police. Unfortunately, protective behaviours are the limit of what’s in the police arsenal for this type of crime. Someone tell me differently. Please.

Yes, it shouldn’t be this way. Women should have the right to complete freedom. But even if there is a societal shift, if domestic violence is reduced, if women are afforded constant respect – even then there will still be these psychopaths who have something wrong in their brains, who have the capacity to commit these horrible soulless crimes.

The percentage of these people is minute. These murders are all over the news because thankfully, they’re tiny horrible exceptions. But they exist. And if you choose to exercise your right to walk anywhere, at any time, by yourself (I do myself) – then you need to have a Plan B somewhere in the back of your mind. It is the reason myself along with both of my children practice martial arts.

I believe in protective behaviours. For any one. Female or male, young or old. It’s not giving in or surrendering your rights. It’s an insurance policy. The same way you lock your house when you’re out, or put a seatbelt on in a car. It’s the acknowledgement that you can’t predict or control all eventualities. But you can try and protect yourself against them.

I want to share a first hand experience. I have travelled a lot overseas. By myself most of the time. Sometimes I did risky things.

Then one time, I was attacked.

I was on holidays in Africa, and visited the island of Zanzibar. The beach was just beautiful. Having spent a lot of time on buses, I decided to stretch my legs with a jog along the beach. None of my travelling companions wanted to, but why would that stop me? I left my money belt with my friends and off I jogged. There was no one around. I was in a world of my own, absorbed with my own thoughts. I didn’t even see the man move out of the bushes behind me. The first I knew was when he grabbed me from behind, pushing me forward into a headlock.

First was confusion. Was one of my friends having a joke with me? Then I saw bare black feet next to mine and I knew this was real.

I was a cop when this incident happened. I had been taught lateral vascular neck restraints. This is when you restrict the blood flow to the head by applying pressure to the neck, causing the person to faint. Our instructors like to tell us this is considered lethal force. Then they tell us to try it own on one another. So when my attacker had me in a head lock, I’d been in one before and my following thought was – he’s doing it wrong, he won’t make me pass out.

The next thing I did was probably what saved me. I did – anything. I did not freeze. I did not panic. I reacted. I tried to get him off me. I have always said, if the shit hit the fan, my ‘go to’ move would be to kick or strike the groin. I twisted to the side and brought my knee up to his testicles. But with a nightmarish slow-motion type of realisation, there was no strength in my kick and my aim was off. It didn’t collapse him to his knees like I hoped. But it was enough. The simple act of doing something – even something ineffectual – was enough. He let go of me.

I’m assuming he was after money. I had equivalent of about $3 in my pocket. I should have thrown it at him and been done with it. But it didn’t even cross my mind. He had let go of me, I was out of there. I started running. But it wasn’t panic running. I left at jogging pace.

He came after me.

I knew I couldn’t outrun some athletic-looking man. And there was no way I was going to let him jump me from behind again. So when he got closer. I stopped and turned around to face him. I put my fists up, I cocked my front leg ready to kick out and I yelled something at him. I can’t remember what it was, and he mightn’t have spoken English anyway. But it was enough. He was not prepared to fight. He turned and disappeared into the bushes again.

I had a slightly bruised throat and a hell of a story. It did not ruin my holidays. But it took me a long time to shake that sense of being ambushed from behind. Afterwards, all the other possible scenarios went through my mind. What if there were two of them? What if he had a knife? What if it wasn’t money he was after?

Consider the possibilities. Protect yourself.

10 thoughts on “In defence of protective behaviours

  1. I actually wrote a bit about the police response to Masa Vukotic’s death today. I don’t think the Det Insp meant to victim-blame. I believe it was an inadvertent thing said because he is at a loss of what else to say- I believe the problem lies not with police but with the courts and with the laws. The police can catch people and they do- but the revolving doors of justice let us down. There are many examples of violent offenders released on bail or released after short sentences. They are not “rehabilitated”. They reoffend. My work policy prevents me saying what I do for a living on social media like this but I have a pretty bloody good idea of what goes on because of it. It doesn’t hurt to know self-defense. I hate the thought that women are scared to walk alone- it’s wrong. But I admit- sometimes I feel scared to do so. If I see a man who looks at me strangely or walks up behind me- I’m scared. How can I know what he intends? I hate living that way. I hate raising kids in a world like this- what do you think we can do to change things? And that’s not even touching on the rates of DV.


  2. What a terrifying experience for you! I’ve read both yours and Amy’s posts today and they’ve both been so interesting. I avoid walking alone at night, but my husband doesn’t have the same fears as I do. He’ll walk home on his ‘beer scooter’ on the rare occasions he goes out drinking and I hate it. It’s just not safe and we have to have our back up plans as you suggest. Great post. #teamIBOT


  3. It’s so sad that we have to have these conversations but this is reality so I’m going to do everything I can to educate myself and my kids and ensure they have a back up plan (without scaring the bejesus out of them of course – it’s a fine line!). What a horrific experience for you – glad you got away safely and your instincts kicked in.


  4. I agree so much with this post and I do believe that we all have a responsibility for our own personal safety. Sure it would be great to live in a world where we don’t have to take steps like that to ensure our safety, but sadly that is not the case.


  5. I just came across your blog thanks to Leigh Sale’s podcast (which is awesome!) I had a similar thing happen to me on a beach in QLD. I reacted much as you did but realised after that the split second thought that had gone through my head was the line from the Miss Congeniality movie – Solar plexus, nose, instep, groin. While I didn’t quite get it right, it was still effective so thanks Sandra Bullock!


    • Hi Bec, thanks for your comments! Any reaction is a good reaction I think, good to know Sandra Bullock movies are good for something. And, yes, Leigh was very generous to me with her airtime 🙂


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