That’s What She Said: What You Think You Know Can Hurt You

| November 10, 2014 | 4 Comments

So this video has been making the rounds in my Facebook feed. It features an actress named Shoshana Roberts who was filmed walking through the streets of New York over a 10 hour period.

The point of the video was to start a conversation, but the staged content, and the racially motivated editing are getting all of the press.

It’s too bad because I see an entirely different conversation we should be having, and we aren’t because of all of the hysteria and derailment.

What we should be talking about is how we can be proactive in situations where we are made to feel unsafe.

I interviewed several women about how they would respond if they were in Shoshana’s shoes. None of them had prior self defense training, they were all of varied ages, body types and personalities. The answers were almost universal:

  • Don’t make eye contact and keep your head down while walking.
  • Respond to being spoken to with silence or annoyed looks or tight smiles.
  • If the situation “felt safe” they might respond with “FUCK YOU” or other strong language and tone of voice.
  • If closely followed they might quietly divert their path, stop and look at their phone/through their bag, or go into a more populated store or area.

Their answers fell right in line with conventional wisdom about dealing with harassment.

But, if women are following all of the “rules” for avoiding harassment, why is harassment still a problem?

Because victims of harassment, rape and robbery are specifically selected for the very techniques they would employ.

Here are some facts about victim selection from the article “Marked for Mayhem” by Chuck Hustmyre and Jay Dixit. In it, researchers asked criminals convicted of robbery and rape to watch a video of people walking down a busy New York street.

  • The criminals picked the same victims—and their choices were not based on gender, race, or age. Some petite, physically slight women were not selected as potential victims, while some large men were.
  • Criminals assessed the ease with which they could overpower the targets based on several nonverbal signals—posture, body language, pace of walking, length of stride, and awareness of environment.
  • People who drag their feet, shuffle along, or exhibit other unusual gaits are targeted more often than people who walk quickly and fluidly.
  • Sexual predators in particular look for people they can easily overpower.
  • Distraction is another cue criminals look for. Some people think talking on a cell phone enhances their safety because the other person can always summon help if there’s trouble—but experts disagree.
  • Rape victims exhibit a lower-than-average ability to interpret non-verbal clues. This may lessen their ability to recognize warning signs of hostile intent. Some women are culturally conditioned to avoid eye contact, and this behavior increases their risk.
  • Conversely, rapists have a greater-than-average ability to interpret facial clues, such as a downward gaze or fearful expression. It’s possible this skill makes rapists especially able to spot passive, submissive women.
  • Conventional wisdom holds that women who dress provocatively draw attention and put themselves at risk of sexual assault. But studies show that it is women with passive, submissive personalities who are most likely to be raped—and that they tend to wear body-concealing clothing, such as high necklines, long pants and sleeves, and multiple layers. Predatory men can accurately identify submissive women just by their style of dress and other aspects of appearance. The hallmarks of submissive body language, such as downward gaze and slumped posture, may even be misinterpreted by rapists as flirtation.

Hustmyre and Dixit wrote

Many attacks are random, and no amount of vigilance could deter them. Whether victims are selected randomly or targeted because of specific characteristics, they bear no responsibility for crimes against them. But by being aware of which cues criminals look for, we can reduce the risk of becoming targets ourselves.

Knowing how victims are selected means that we can meet these situations from a position of power rather than fear.

The first step is having a plan (isn’t it always?).

I will cover de-selection strategies in a future post.

Until then, keep your head up, your eyes on the people around you, your stride purposeful, and your phone in your pocket.



About the Author:

The She-Shepherd The She-Shepherd is a defensive firearms student, mother and advocate for pushing the boundaries of how we train. She believes that defensive training must balance context, mindset, and skill to be most effective. Her specialty has become testing alternative modes of firearms carry and best practices of less than lethal force options through rigorous force-on-force scenario based training.

4 Comments on "That’s What She Said: What You Think You Know Can Hurt You"

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  1. Sharon says:

    Right on. Gonna get this shared around my social media.

  2. The She-Shepherd The She-Shepherd says:

    Thank you! I’d love to hear any feedback you get. 🙂

  3. John says:

    You don’t understand. You are not allowed to make any claims that there is anything a woman can do to lower her profile when it comes to crime. You can’t add a disclaimer “bear no responsibility for crimes against them.” That disclaimer fails. You made the disclaimer precisely because you implied that there are things that women can do to lower their profile. Any woman should be able to go anywhere at any time in any state of dress or intoxication without any consequence at all, ever. No woman anywhere should ever have to suffer any consequence ever for their behavior. They can do whatever they want, and if something comes of it, it is not their fault, it is always the assailant’s fault, period full stop. Anything else is just victim blaming. No woman will be safe and equal until she is free from negative consequences of any kind all together, whether it is the consequences of choosing the wrong street to walk on or the wrong major in college.


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