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The ABC’s of Empowerment Self-Defense: The Letter P

Self-defense is more than just how hard you can hit. It is the full spectrum of tools that you can use to protect yourself every single day. We utilize skills from self-defense in our decision-making processes, such as when we communicate with people, when we drive or do activities, and more! Self-defense is really so expansive that we thought we would give you a better idea of what to expect when you take a self-defense class with IMPACT by breaking it down for you ABC-style.

The Letter P: Privacy and Control

“We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world.” (J. William Fulbright)

Check out this excerpt from The Safety Godmothers, written by guest author Gavin De Becker

Before Mr. de Becker gets into the juicy subject of Privacy and Control, the Safety Godmothers want you to read his account of what happened on a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles after being a guest on Oprah, that illustrates a possibly dangerous encounter... except the would-be assailant was unsuccessful in gaining either privacy or control.

Gavin writes:

I was seated next to a teenage girl who was traveling alone. A man in his 40s, who’d been watching her from across the aisle, took off the headphones he was wearing and cheerfully said to her, “These things just don’t get loud enough for me!” He then put his hand out toward her and said, “I’m Billy.” Though it may not be immediately apparent, his statement was actually a question, and the young girl responded with exactly the information Billy hoped for: she told him her full name. Then she put out her hand, which he held a little too long. In the conversation that ensued, he didn’t directly ask for any information, but he certainly got lots of it.

He said, “I hate landing in a city and not knowing if anybody is meeting me.” The girl answered this “question” by saying that she didn’t know how she was getting from the airport to the house where she was staying. Billy asked another “question”: “Friends can really let you down sometimes.” The young girl responded by explaining, “The people I’m staying with [thus, not family] are expecting me on a later flight.”

Billy said, “I love the independence of arriving in a city when nobody knows I’m coming.” This was the virtual opposite of what he’d said a moment before about hating to arrive and not be met. He added, “But you’re probably not that independent.” She quickly volunteered that she’d been traveling on her own since she was thirteen.

“You sound like a woman I know from Europe, more like a woman than a teenager,” he said as he handed her his drink (Scotch), which the flight attendant had just served him. “You sound like you play by your own rules.” I hoped she would decline to take the drink, and she did at first, but he persisted, “Come on, you can do whatever you want,” and she took a sip of his drink.

I looked over at Billy, looked at his muscular build, at the old tattoo showing on the top of his wrist, at his cheap jewelry. I noted that he was drinking alcohol on this morning flight and had no carry-on bag. I looked at his new cowboy boots, new denim pants and leather jacket . I knew he’d recently been in jail. He responded to my knowing look assertively, “How you doin’ this morning, pal? Gettin’ out of Chicago?” I nodded.

As Billy got up to go to the bathroom, he put one more piece of bait in his trap: leaning close to the girl, he gave a slow smile and said, “Your eyes are awesome.”

In a period of just a few minutes, I had watched Billy use various “negotiation tactics,” including: pretending they were both in a similar situation (both had nobody meeting them), too many details (the headphones and the woman he knows from Europe), and charm (the compliment about the girl’s eyes). I had also seen him discount the girl’s “no” when she declined the drink.

As Billy walked away down the aisle, I asked the girl if I could talk to her for a moment, and she hesitantly said yes. It speaks to the power of predatory strategies that she was glad to talk to Billy but a bit wary of the passenger (me) who asked permission to speak with her. “He is going to offer you a ride from the airport,” I told her, “and he’s not a good guy.”

I saw Billy again at baggage claim as he approached the girl. Though I couldn’t hear them, the conversation was obvious. She was shaking her head and saying no, and he wasn’t accepting it. She held firm, and he finally walked off after giving her an angry gesture... definitely not the “nice” guy he’d been until then.

Privacy and Control

The man who will attempt to molest a teenage girl needs an environment in which that’s possible. He needs to get her to a place where there is nobody nearby who will hear her if she resists loudly or calls for help. His other option is to get her in a frame of mind where she doesn’t resist loudly or call for help. Accordingly, there are times and places where wariness is called for, i .e ., times of vulnerability. And there are times and places where wariness is wasted, i .e ., times when teenage girls are not vulnerable . Dangerous men are only dangerous if they can get you somewhere. They are rarely dangerous on the dance floor, in the restaurant, in the crowded mall. That may be where they meet you, but it’s not where they’d try to hurt you.

Do such men actually plot their opportunities? Often, they do, but there is also a type of sexual offender who is on autopilot, operating out of a second nature, an intuitive skill at knowing how to gain control. The good news is that just as he knows when a given environment serves his plans, so can his target intuitively and automatically observe, “I am at a disadvantage here.” Since much of what I’ve said about the nature of men is anything but PC — as in politically correct — I’ll borrow the acronym from that tired phrase to characterize the contexts in which young women (and women in general) can recognize their disadvantage: PC will now stand for Privacy and Control.


If a man who intends sexual assault or rape has Privacy and Control, he can victimize someone. If he does not have PC, he is not dangerous, period. Accordingly, just the presence of these two features in a situation can trigger a young woman’s heightened awareness and readiness. The presence of Privacy does not mean a man is sinister, but it does mean a girl is vulnerable. At that point, she’ll benefit from carefully evaluating how the man got Privacy: was it by circumstance or by his design?

Privacy is defined here as isolation or concealment. A private place is one in which there is little or no chance that a third party will suddenly show up, a place that is out of range of the hearing of people who could assist the young woman. Cars, hotel rooms, apartments, houses, closed businesses, wilderness areas, the auditorium after hours, back corridors at work, a remote parking area — these all can afford Privacy.

The word Control defines a relationship between two people; in this case, between a victimizer and his target. Control exists when one person is persuaded or compelled to be directed by the other.

Control can exist when a young woman feels persuaded to do what a man wants because she fears being injured if she resists, or because she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, or because she doesn’t want him to hurt her reputation, or because she wants to avoid rejection.

Don’t think of persuasion as something someone does to us; persuasion is an internal process, not an external one. We persuade ourselves. A predator merely manipulates how things seem to us. Whatever the method, persuasion requires the participation of the target, and human beings are the creatures who most cooperate with their predators. By contrast, the lion has a more difficult predatory challenge than does the man who would rape a teenager. The lion, after all, must walk around in a lion suit; he is burdened by the obviousness of the very assets that give him power (claws, teeth, muscle) . Hunting would be easy if the lion could look like a timid kitten when it served him. He can’t... but a man can.

Some men with sinister intent seek control through physical power. Because the target’s resistance might be noisy, the power- predator requires more privacy. He cannot retreat easily because there comes a point where there is no ambiguity about his intent. He commits to likely consequences in ways that most persuasion-predators do not. The power-predator needs more privacy, more space, more time, more recklessness, and more luck in order to get what he wants. Thus, the power-predator is more rare than the persuasion-predator, but also more likely to do serious injury.

The persuasion-predator gets a target to cooperate and is thus granted much more flexibility when it comes to privacy. This man can use a room in the girl’s home, even if family members are somewhere in the house. For him, Privacy is adequately afforded by a room at work that people don’t frequent, even if the business is open. For him, a few empty seats in a theater can offer enough concealment to sexually abuse a teenager. Accordingly, the teenage girl who can be easily persuaded ap- peals to a far wider group of predators and is more likely to be sexually assaulted than a teenage girl who cannot be easily persuaded.

Of course, teenage girls will often be in private environments with men who have no sinister intent whatsoever. The driving instructor who takes your teenage daughter all over town is granted some PC opportunities, but if he is a good man, no problem. Still, it’s appropriate for a teenage girl to recognize the P in PC is in play, if several turns take them to some remote area. Ideally, if this occurs, she’d be more alert for the introduction of Control.

Right when a man begins to introduce the P or the C is the defining moment when one can determine — and virtually choose — whether to be a target or a victim. A girl can say, as the driving instructor’s directions take them out of populated areas: “I’d be more comfortable staying in the city,” or “Please stay in familiar areas.” If the man has sinister intent, this girl has just asserted in the clearest language that she will not be easily persuaded, thus his options for gaining control are limited to force or fear, and that requirement will exclude the overwhelming majority of predators.

PC is easy to memorize and recall, because these concepts are already embedded into our consciousness. When someone acts in a way that alarms you, you instantly and automatically evaluate PC whether you’re aware of it or not. you intuitively evaluate whether anyone might hear a call for help, or whether someone might come along, measuring what degree of control the predator might have over you. The key — the trick if you will — is to recognize PC issues before someone alarms you, even in the absence of obvious sinister intent on the man’s part . The impala who finds itself alone with the lion doesn’t wait to see how the carnivore will behave; it constantly evaluates its options and resources until the danger is past .

Does this mean a teenage girl must be in a constant state of alertness whenever she is in the presence of men? Absolutely not. This is about being alone with a man in a situation in which she is vulnerable. And then, a recognition of PC might be no more than a passing thought that opens the girl to her intuition about this man. If she feels at ease with her boss at the restaurant, even though there are no customers around, fine. But being cognizant of PC means she’ll sooner recognize the slightest inappropriate comment or unusual behavior, like locking the front door before closing time.

Teenage girls: memorize Privacy and Control, and when someone has these advantages, be open to signals of that person’s intent. That’s all I’m asking: not to fear every man, just an acceptance of reality.

Note that I’ve been using the word target rather than the word victim. That’s because being a target need not automatically make one a victim. In fact, it’s nearly impossible for a teenage girl to avoid being a target at some point, but it is very possible to avoid becoming a victim. The best way to do that is by recognizing PC at the earliest possible moment, and if things feel uncomfortable (even if it is just the vulnerability itself that feels uncomfortable), taking steps to change the situation.


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