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Setting a boundary without escalating

Recently, one of our students sent me the following story about how she used what she’d learned in our workshop that morning to stop an attack the same evening.

Irene, I wanted to let you know that as I was leaving work on Tuesday night, using all the tips of walking with awareness and confidence, a man in a Mercedes slowed down and was driving alongside of me, staring and making me very uncomfortable.

At first, I didn’t realize he was focused on me, but it got worse when he started calling to me, and then when I reached an intersection, and needed to cross the street (going straight), he was turning left. He pulled into the crosswalk and stopped, leering at me and blocking my path.

There were other cars around, but no other people on the sidewalk nearby, and I could see that if he wanted to jump out of his car and attack me, he would have a few elements in his favor because I was, in a sense, isolated, and because he was in a car, he had an advantage.

I kept my calm, even though I was worried that he might try and jump out of his car and abduct me.

I looked right at him, said calmly and clearly, “No, thanks” (the first thing that popped to mind in my panic), and walked WAY around his car to keep myself at a safer distance. I even thought through the situation and walked behind him so he couldn’t lurch forward and easily clip me to knock me down. He peeled away, and I quickly stepped into a bar on that block to make sure he wasn’t circling back.

Typically, when someone starts leering/catcalling at me (even a “normal-looking” guy in a really nice car), my gut reaction is to flip out at them, call the person names or insult them (and I thank my New Jersey heritage for the ability to rattle off swear words in a way that would peel the paint off a car, so it gets pretty ugly pretty fast when I switch it on).

 I used to think that was the best way to feel like I’ve “put them in their place” for being so disrespectful. But thanks to our Fullpower workshop on best practices in “People Safety”, I assessed the situation and did what I needed to do to calm down, rather than escalate, the situation, and definitely felt less shaken by the experience afterwards, knowing that I had done the safest thing to protect myself and prevent a dangerous situation.

So thank you for your great work and for these workshops. It has proven valuable already! And while I’m sure you get a million testimonials like this – I just want you to know that if you ever want to use my story, please feel free.

This woman did a great job of protecting herself in a potentially very dangerous situation by staying focused moment by moment on what her safest choices would be. The skills we’d practiced that morning were simple, including:

  • Projecting an attitude of awareness, calm, and confidence
  • Paying attention and being strategic
  • Staying centered and assessing your choices
  • Moving out of reach
  • Disengaging without escalating by giving neutral answers and leaving
  • Changing your plan and moving away from danger and towards safety
  • Setting boundaries
  • Getting help
  • Physical self-defense

Think of how much suffering could be prevented if everyone knew how to use these simple skills!

Learn more about taking a Fullpower workshop – or organizing one for your circle of friends, school, or workplace. Contact to find out how to bring these skills to your community if you do not live near a Kidpower center or affiliated service provider.

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Published: March 20, 2012   |   Last Updated: July 27, 2016

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.