Please note. . .

Don't Be Silent DC has been inactive since March 2008 and has not been accepting entries since. If you are in the DC area and have a harassment story to share, please go to HollaBack DC. If you are outside the DC area and want to submit your story, go to Stop Street Harassment. Thank you.

As of 3/1/08, I will no longer be working on this blog. Please read this post for more details.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Highlights from the Martha Langelan Workshop

Though I was sick to death with the flu, I managed to get to the January 31st workshop as promised. It was a workshop for the Eastern Mennonite University students, and I was an invited guest. (No other outsiders attended, unfortunately, but the next time an event like this happens I hope more can attend!) The EMU interns were all ill with colds and flus as well, but it didn't stop anyone from enjoying the experience.

Martha Langelan may be a small woman, but she is by no means a fearful one. The reason why she got into self-defense and martial arts is because she didn't want to fit the stereotype of being a scared, helpless girl, and wanted to give women the chance to defend themselves as well.

Here are my notes from that night:

1. Kids Getting Hit

Have you ever witnessed a situation where a kid is getting yelled at or hit by his/her mom/dad? You know that feeling . . . you want to step in but don't know how to go about it without becoming the object of the parent's anger or bringing more harm to the child. Martha came up with two techniques for handling this:

a) "Praise the Baby." This means to tell the child something good about his/herself, like "What a good baby you are!" "That is the cutest shirt!" "What a pretty smile you have!" Those things detract from the parent's anger, and give the parent an impression that s/he's a good parent that's raised a good child.

b) A similar tact is to tell the child how good s/he was acting. This helps if the child was acting up in public, and the child will probably start to behave better. It once again points out the positive as opposed to the negative. Also, the parent will feel like s/he is a good parent if the positive is pointed out.

2. Muggings

Muggings take on average a quick 15 seconds. The assailant is usually a scared teenager, and a deadly weapon is usually involved. Here are ways to handle being mugged:

a) Stay calm. If you get in what Martha calls "scared rabbit" mode (body tenses and you hold your breath), you can slowly breathe it out as you do the next actions:

b) Drop bag/wallet/whatever object. No inanimate object is worth your safety. Back away about 10 feet (not too close, not too far), then say "Take the ______."

c) Try your best to get three distinct details about the mugger. Get physical things, such as eyebrow shape, scars, tattoos, eye colors, nose size/shape, etc. You could say "yellow shirt," but that could change while physical traits tend to remain constant.

d) Run to safety.

e) Tell your neighbors, the police, anyone about this. The more people know the more allies you have to get that perp off the streets.

f) Put up flyers to help get the word out about the mugger, which has a similar result as point e).

3. Observation Circle

a) Try to take note of the people around you, using about a 10-foot radius per side (front, back, left, right).
c) Speak first to the people you pass. A simple "Hello, sir/ma'am" could diffuse a potential situation.
d) When noticing the people in your observation circle, take note of the physical traits, such as scars, tattoos, odd body language, tension, etc.
e) We live in a world of technology with cell phones and iPods. Oftentimes we use those devices to try to prevent street harassers from bothering us. Martha thinks that a better tactic is to keep your phone in your pocket and use it for emergencies only. Anyone yakking away on a cell phone has their guard down and could put themselves at risk for danger. The same thing goes for iPods/headphones---don't wear them out in public and keep alert.

4. What If?

To prepare for danger, do the following. Varying your routes and times of getting around throws a potential stalker off track. In your neighborhood, look for the houses/businesses with their lights on. Walk around your neighborhood to get a sense of it (finding out where certain streets begin/end, looking out for dead ends, etc.). If you're ever in a precarious situation, use an "everyday weapon" (a pen to stab an assailant, a wicker laundry basket to prevent a knife from stabbing you, throwing bleach from the cabinet at the assailant, etc.) in your house or wherever you are at that moment.

5. Burglars

Practice ways of getting out of your house with efficiency and get to a neighbor's house. Call 911 from there. In case of burglary, make up a code word that only your family and trusted neighbors know (like "banana") and come up with a meeting place (the neighbor's house).

6. Carjackings

Similar to the burglary incident, practice ways of getting out of your car. Use a code word. If you have a baby/child in a car seat, practice the fastest way of getting him/her out of that seat (even if it means keeping him/her in the seat). Teach your older children how to help getting their little siblings out. Get out of the car away from the assailant. And let the perp have those keys---as noted above, no car is worth your life being taken.

Now here is information related to harassment, bullying and bigotry.

Non-violent Confrontation:

1. Name the behavior (When you [state what the harasser did]).
a) Describe facts (When you pinch my butt/whistle at me/call me baby/etc. it creeps me out/makes me sick/it disrespects me/etc.)
b) Request/command what you want (From now on, you will/not touch me/say "Hello, miss" or "Hello, ma'am"/etc.)

2. All-purpose harassment statement:

"Stop harassing women. I don't like it. No one likes it. Show some respect." Say that in the most neutral (not too aggressive, not too passive) assertive tone.

If Joe Harasser is still running his mouth, the back-up line to use is "You heard me. Show some respect." Keep repeating this, even if the harasser is saying junk to save face.

a) Never ignore harassment. Ignoring it lets the perp get away with it, and it allows it to fester on the inside. Silence turns into stress.
b) The "F-Y" response is not a good tactic either. Cursing out the harassers can only escalate a potentially violent situation.
c) Running away can have a similar result to a). You haven't asserted yourself and you're holding it in.

3. A-B-C statement (be very concrete about A and C):

a) Tell the harasser what the problem is. ("When you whistle at me. . .")
b) What's the effect? ("It makes me uncomfortable.")
c) I want you to [say "Hello, ma'am"] from now on.

4. Substance comments vs. superficial comments

No woman trying to walk down a street wants to hear a valueless "hey, beautiful" from some man they don't know. The men giving "compliments" on the street are just using the women on the street as something to ogle. When they do that on the street, say "Thanks, but I prefer you to refer to me as "miss" or "ma'am" from now on."

When it happens at the workplace, where your work talent should be valued more than your physical appearance, answer with "Well, thanks, but I really want to know [what you thought about my presentation report/ad campaign ideas/etc.]."

5. The Socratic Question

When some man on the street makes a comment like "Girl, you be lookin' good enough to eat!" (yuck!), ask them to explain what they mean by it. Some harassers may actually try to come up with a dumb reason for their statements, but most will be embarrassed being caught saying something that stupid.

6. If you're bold enough, Martha's confrontation survey can help you approach street harassers when they do or say something stupid. 2/11/08: Edited to add updated mailing address for surveys. (If the download link expires, please let me know so I can renew it.)

7. If a man on public transportation puts his hand on your knee, you can remove it with the command/pinkie technique.

Say: "Your hand is on my knee. Remove it right now." Don't sugarcoat it with "please," "excuse me," "sorry," etc. It just weakens your command.

If the man doesn't comply, say: "You heard me. Remove it right now." While saying that, lift his hand off your knee, picking it up by his pinkie finger.

If the man still doesn't cooperate, rally the other passengers to help out. Granted, we live in a Kitty Genovese syndrome society, where people are afraid to jump in and help. Martha gave a tactic to overcome it:

Say: "Ladies and gentlemen, this man sitting next to me put his hand on my knee, and refuses to remove it. I need your help in describing him to the police. He is a [race] male, about [height] tall, who has [color] eyes, hair, etc."

Also, delegating tasks to specific passengers makes it hard for them to ignore or avoid. Say: "Young lady with the [article of clothing] on, go press the emergency button and contact the train operator." Drawing specific attention to these people will make them feel more obligated to help.

8. If you are attacked, yelling "HELP!" (soft consonant sounds) has no power. Yelling "FIRE!" doesn't help either. What does help in case of attack is the following:

"KI-YA! IT'S AN ATTACK! CALL THE COPS!" The bite of the "K" sound gets the message across loud and clear.

If you practice this with neighbors, this is the respond a neighbor who witnesses this should have. That neighbor will turn on his/her light and yell: "I SEE YOU, I HEAR YOU, I'M CALLING THE COPS!"

If the assailant has witnesses, he's less likely to attack and the victim can get free. If you're close to your neighbors, please practice this with them.

The rest of the workshop involved physical self-defense moves. It's hard to explain in words, so if you see me around ask me, and I'll gladly show you what to do.

I hope that what I learned from Martha Langelan's workshop is as helpful to you as it was to me.