Stephanie Miller confesses that she doesn't think she could pull somebody's eyeball out, even though a captain in the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office told her she should.
"To think about it right now, while I'm sitting in a comfortable office building, I don't think that's something I could do," she says. "That's something I think I would struggle with on a personal level, unless you're in a situation when you're fighting for your life."
Fighting for your life is exactly what Capt. Charmaine McGuffey talks about when she teaches women's self-defense class at the downtown YWCA. Miller, a senior consultant from Indianapolis working on assignment in Cincinnati, attended the class to learn more about how to protect herself because she frequently travels for work.
"Things can happen so quickly, and you need to be able to think on your feet and react instinctively to protect yourself," she says.
A quick reaction comes from training and thinking through "what if" scenarios, according to McGuffey. She and her partner demonstrate how to handle a possible confrontation like a purse snatching or being pushed up against a wall.
"When you're confronted with a dynamic situation ... knowing that you know your options and that you do have options and being confident in using those options makes you so much more aggressive and assertive," McGuffey says. "And all of those things are being projected to the person who is being aggressive with you."
Give up the money
While McGuffey says her goal isn't to make women paranoid, she does want them to make a lifelong commitment to personal safety that includes such things as being aware of what's going on in your neighborhood.
"We try to empower women to use every available resource, and that's your brain as well as your physical countenance," she says. "It's so important to put on that 'bad day' to people. On your really bad day, have you ever noticed how nobody talks to you? Well, there you go."
Subtle behaviors can also defuse a potential attack.
"We teach some pretty high-level hits, but it may be as simplistic as knowing how to shake someone's hand," McGuffey says. "When you meet an acquaintance — someone who works on your car, who lives in your building, particularly a male — we want you to step up, shake hands in a firm way, good eye contact. Use those skills right up front because what you're saying to that person is, 'I am a person to be respected. And I'm assertive.' "
McGuffey says simple steps can defuse confrontations that might turn physical. She related a teacher's experience.
"Who said one of the student's dads had come back to the school," McGuffey says. "He was irate, upset with her about something, all screaming and yelling. She said, 'I really thought he was going to attack me. So I took the defensive stance. As soon as he saw me do that, I could visibly see him back off.' It's such a low level thing, but he was seeing that she has confidence and she has options."
That defensive posture is nothing more than feet shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly in front of the other and hands positioned in front of the face. You look like you're ready to fight, but fighting can be more than just a physical blow.
"You never run out of options, even if your option is to simply start talking," McGuffey says. "If you find yourself in a situation where you don't know what to do, start talking. We want them to ask the very important question of 'What do you want?' Because if the person wants money, purse, car keys — offer all of that."
Miller was surprised by some of the things she learned in the two-hour class.
"I learned that I have more power than I thought I did," she says. "There really is a lot that we can do even (though) women are smaller and usually not as strong as the man that would be attacking you. We were learning if somebody would put their arms around your neck, how you could quickly get their hands away from their neck just by pulling on a finger in a certain way."
Screaming, swearing and acting crazy are also encouraged as a means to shock an attacker into backing off enough to allow an escape. Even though the "Fuck off!" that accompanies a leg strike draws laughter, dealing with uncomfortable scenarios is also part of the class.
McGuffey says her male partner makes sure of that when they do a role-play together.
"When he bumps it up to the real thing and after the scenario is over I look around at the women and they're like, 'Oh, my God!' Because they feel it; that's what it feels like," she says. "We want them to have that experience in that safe environment to see it's not pretty."
Tear his ear off
Real life experiences illustrate the ugliness of being attacked. McGuffey describes a young girl who was rear-ended by a guy. When she pulled her car over to exchange information, he raped her.
"People who are targeting you — I think it's a much better word than 'victim' — are trying to catch you off guard,"McGuffey says. "If they know you're walking down the street with a can of mace in your hand, they certainly are not going to approach you. How many times do we get rear-ended, pull over and exchange information and nothing happens? They're trying to think of those events; we call it distraction. It's a way of getting close to you."
Miller says she plans on taking this kind of course again because she wants to make sure she's well aware of her options and how to use them.
"You never know when you're going to be in a situation where you really need to protect yourself," she says. "It's not a one-time learning experience. You never know. You gotta to be on guard."
McGuffey's suggestions include:
· Be alert. Most attacks occur in familiar places and are perpetrated by acquaintances.
· If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, act. Don't worry about overreacting.
· Avoid being isolated. You can still survive an attack if alone, but the chances of survival decrease.
· If you must submit to a sexual assault to survive, do it. Choosing that option is never a bad or wrong decision.
· Teach your kids what you learn in a self-defense class while it's fresh in your mind.
· Teach your children to run away if you're being attacked. It could save their lives. If they're able to get help, it could save yours.
· If confronted with multiple attackers, focus on one individual and hurt that person to the extreme — pull eyeball out, rip off an ear. This reduces the likelihood of the attack going further.
· Practice moves with a supportive male — friend, boyfriend, husband — who will help you build skills by "letting you win." ©