It's Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month, and we've been sharing sexual assault survivors' stories. These stories look at surviving and healing after being violated. These stories have led you to think about what you can do to reduce your risk of experiencing sexual assault. To help you get the advice you need, we interviewed two of our favorite female empowerment experts, Jennifer Cassetta and Lindsey Smith.
SABRE: What is your best advice on reducing your risk of experiencing sexual assault?
JC: Practicing awareness in all areas of your life is my best advice of reducing your risk of experiencing a sexual assault. While on the street, in your car, at work, on a date or at a party, keep your awareness heightened. Often times our intuition will tell us that there is something wrong here and give us the opportunity to get out of a situation. I like to take matters into my own hands and take it a step further and would always advise people to learn how to protect yourself through situational safety and self defense.
LS: As a survivor of sexual assault, I think we need more programs on safety, self-confidence and self-defense for both men and women. It’s so important to have the conversations and teach this information early on so that kids can grow up with confidence in themselves and tools to keep them safe.
What are some resources you recommend for those who have been sexually assaulted or raped?
JC: For women and men who have been sexually assaulted or raped, RAINN is an excellent resource to get support and counseling afterward. Don’t underestimate the power of talking about your trauma with a professional. It will help to begin the healing process.
LS: I absolutely recommend reaching out to an advocate at RAINN if you have ever been sexually assaulted or raped. I have personally used these services before and I cannot tell you how much they help survivors, by listening and offering support. It’s really important to have a safe space to share your information with and RAINN provides a safe and welcoming space.
It’s important to keep in mind that “⅔ of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim” (RAINN). Do you have any advice for those who have been raped by friends or other people they trust?
JC: For people who have been raped by a friend or family member, it is important to let the rest of your group know what happened in order from having it happen to someone else in the future. I know many times reporting the incident can be exceptionally difficult in a family or close-knit group, so ask for support from other members of that group.
LS: If you have ever been raped by a friend or someone you trust, I would encourage you to seek support with RAINN or a local sexual assault organization. Since it can get murky as to what their relationship is to you, I think seeking support is the best thing you can do to ensure your voice is heard and action steps are taken.
Do you have any specific dating safety advice to help people look out for themselves while navigating romance?
JC: I’m a fan of online dating and have witnessed great success stories. However, you must practice dating safety when heading out to meet someone a stranger. Research your date online and try and find people that you have in common so you can ask that person for a referral. For the first few dates, you choose the location of the date and try to keep it during daylight hours in a public place that you are familiar with. Even better, make it a group date at some point so your date gets to know other people in your community. That sends a strong signal that you are part of a group of people that watch out for each other.
LS: As you are navigating the dating scene, I think it’s important to keep dating safety in the forefront of your mind. Ensure that you build trust and a solid foundation with someone before you decide to share intimate details like where you live ore frequently hang out. Instead, focus the first few dates on getting to know the person for who they are and what their interests are. Notice how they discuss friends, family and other relationships. This can tell you a lot about how they treat people.
Also read: Staying Safe While Online Dating by Jennifer Cassetta
In your book, Hear Me Roar: How to Defend Your Mind, Body & Heart Against People Who Suck, there is a great section on self-defense. What’s your favorite self-defense tool and your favorite self-defense move?
JC: I always carry a SABRE pepper spray on my keychain as a self defense tool. I also keep one in my glove compartment in my car, just in case. My favorite self-defense move is very difficult to narrow down considering I trained in Hapkido, (a Korean martial art and form of self-defense) for 12 years! But to keep things simple, a punch to the throat or a finger jab to the eyes are easy ways to distract your attacker long enough for them to loosen their grip on you and/or for you to get away safely, run and call 911.
LS: I have to admit, Jenn is the safety and self-defense expert guru in the book. But the best part of writing a book with such an expert is that I learned so much myself. I would have to say that my favorite self-defense tool is how you carry yourself physically. Body language is a key component of communication. I always make sure to walk with my shoulders back and head up to exert confidence. I also make sure to not be distracted by my cell phone and that I am always aware of what is going on.
As far as my favorite self-defense move, I would have to say just knowing the 3 main targets: eyes, throat and groin. I think this helps put into perspective what you are capable of doing in case you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to fight back.