Training Helps Women Fight Back Against Assaults

October 31, 2002
Fielding helps a student kick
The Rape Crisis Advocacy Project sponsored a self-defense training session Oct. 30 at the Law School.

Fielding taught students to punch.

It's a myth that women are powerless against men in an attack, according to U.Va. police department officer Melissa Fielding, who offered safety tips and real-life defense training to a group of women at the Law School Oct. 30 at an event sponsored by the Rape Crisis Advocacy Project.

Fielding taught techniques promoted by the Rape Aggression Defense Assistance Program (R.A.D.), used across campuses nationwide to teach women self-defense.

"We're going to put a bunch of tools in your toolbox," Fielding said as she began the session. A key to surviving an attack is to avoid panic and remain calm, which will help you better respond to an assault. It's also a good idea to walk through scenarios in your head to think about what you would do in different situations, she added.

Fielding outlined a number of risk-reduction strategies:

  • Walk in the middle of the sidewalk rather than close to cars.
  • Improve security at home. What kinds of locks do you have? Are your door hinges on the inside or outside? Is natural surveillance possible?
  • If trees are hanging below six feet, they need to be cut.
  • Shrubs should be below two feet.
  • If stairwells in apartment complexes aren't lit, complain to a manager.
  • Lock windows and doors, even on upper stories.
  • Are ladders hanging around the complex, perhaps from construction work?
  • Know your neighbors and look out for them.
  • Give your key to your neighbor when you leave town. Leave a contact person's name and number.
  • Have a phone with lighted keypad in your bedroom in case you need to call the police at night.
  • Don't walk at night. Take the time to get your car.
  • While you walk in a parking lot, scan the area; look between vehicles and under cars.
  • Check your car fluids regularly and have your oil changed regularly.
  • Keep your gas tank at least one-quarter full in case you need to drive farther than you think because someone is following you.

Fielding also covered the vulnerable areas of the attacker:

  • Nose — almost any kind of hit to the nose stings and makes you tear up.
  • Eyes.
  • Chin.
  • Jugular notch (at the base of the neck.) Press it hard with your fingers.
  • Abdominal area.
  • Pelvic bone region (groin).

Moderate attack areas include the radial nerve in the mound of the forearm near the elbow, fingers, shins, insteps, and the tops of feet.

Fielding said she does not condone the use of weapons because they can backfire — if you use mace, for example, the wind could blow it in your eyes. Instead, use your own body and things you may have with you as a weapon. Use your head to headbutt the attacker's nose if you are grabbed from behind. Other weapons include hands, elbows, knees, and feet. Items you may be carrying — hairpins, pens, pencils, and keys (which you should carry in your hand as you head to an apartment or car) — can all be effective weapons.

"At the beginning of the assault, it may not be the best time to fight back," Fielding said, either because you are panicked or because of the way they attack. Fielding said it was ok to wait and collect yourself for a moment as long as the attacker does not try to drag you to another location.

If you see someone getting in your personal space in a menacing situation you can prepare for an attack:

  • Yell loudly "no" or "stop," which will not only attract attention but also take the wind out of your diaphragm, so the attacker won't be able to knock the wind out of you. It may also add power to any strike you make. Yell from your diaphragm so no one will mistake that something's wrong.
  • Get in a defensive posture. Angle your body to protect vulnerable locations. Keep feet shoulder-width apart. Maintain eye contact.
  • Put up your hands for the "universal stop."
  • Put your weak hand up and keep your strong arm around your abdominal area to prepare to strike.
  • Keep your knees bent.

To punch:

  • Tuck your thumb across your fingers.
  • The strike should be completed with a simple shoulder-hip rotation. Pivot on the ball of your rear foot.
  • To hit the nose, visualize punching through the target, otherwise you may pull your punch.
  • Be close enough to complete your attack without having to lean.
  • Keep feet low to the ground and take baby sliding steps.
  • Don't cross your feet.

To strike with your palm, bend your finger at the knuckle and strike the nose or chin. Imagine ramming the nose into the skull when you hit the nose. This could potentially kill the attacker. Fielding warned that "your defense must be proportionate to your attack."

Fielding also covered a couple of kicks. To impact the groin with the knee, grab the attacker, imagine your knee going through the groin, and step back. A sweep kick can connect with the head or groin area and must be fast.

If you are grabbed from behind, you may be able to headbutt his nose, then lift your foot and scrape down the attacker's shin. Or you can try seizing — putting your hands between your body and the attacker's, then seizing the groin and dropping to the ground. Fielding said slap, grab, and pull method or hammering with your fist were also good ways of attacking the groin area. If the attacker has you in a choke hold, be sure to use one hand to keep his arm from cutting off your airway, and keep your chin in the crease of his elbow. Then you can attack the groin area with your other fist or do a shin stomp, but do not use a headbutt in this case because you will cut off your airway.

  • If an attacker grabs you below your arms you can elbow him in the face.
  • If someone pulls you away, go with them and use that momentum to strike them, possibly on the radial nerve.
  • If he grabs both of your arms, step back and rotate your hands/arms up or down, depending on where he grabs.
  • If only one arm is grabbed, reach in with your other hand and pull the grabbed hand up and away.

Fielding said a full R.A.D. course lasts 12 hours and actually runs different scenarios for the students to practice. Additional practice after the initial $5 class is free at R.A.D. training locations. A minimum of 10 women are needed to sign up for a class, which can be held at a time convenient for students. U.Va. police officers donate their time and extra proceeds when teaching the class.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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