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Self-defense for women is a topic that generates a lot of myths and misinformation.  One dangerous myth is, “Don’t fight back, it’ll just be worse.”

After a particularly violent assault or during times when a serial rapist is traumatizing a community, self-defense instructors will often approach local rape crisis centers offering free self-defense for women or for anyone else being targeted. It is common for local rape crisis centers and police departments to issue the following statement: “These young women should NOT learn to defend themselves because the rapist might turn violent!”

Can you believe it? I wonder where these people get their information. Research about self-defense and assault shows very clearly and conclusively that determined resistance works most of the time when the intent of the attacker is personal harm.

The frustrated question most instructors ask themselves is: “What do people think RAPE is if not violent?”

Many instructors point out, “We are the only animal that raises our young, especially our females, without self-preservation skills. We are the only animal that teaches them that if they are attacked, it’s better NOT to resist?”

I think that’s a great example. Imagine you’re a Mommy Wolverine telling your young daughter wolverine not to fight back if attacked – that she’ll be better off if she doesn’t make the attacker mad. A comparison like this can often help someone see the how ludicrous the societal myths are.

It wouldn’t be valid for a wolverine, and it’s no more valid in self-defense for women. In most attacks where the intent is personal harm rather than robbery, the more ways you fight (the look in your eyes, voice, body language, hands, knees, teeth, etc.) and the more intensely you fight back, the less your chance of coming to harm. That’s a simple fact shown over and over again in research results. When the intent is robbery rather than personal harm, your risk of injury goes up if you fight back – which is why we recommend that you give up your stuff without fighting if someone is threatening you in a robbery.

Your first choice is to leave the confrontation if you can, by running away, yelling, or pulling away. If an unarmed attacker is grabbing you, an initial move can be a heel-palm to the nose or a full-force jab to the eyes with your bunched fingers. You can also strike to the head and groin – or grab and twist the testicles with all your adrenaline-driven strength.

In an attack, you have to be willing to risk some injury in order to escape. If someone is pointing a gun or waving a knife at you, it is safer to yell and run away most of the time, even if you have to jump through a window to do so. If someone is grabbing you with a gun to your head, remember that the gun is a lot more dangerous when it is pointed at someone rather than away from someone. If someone is holding a knife to your throat, you might want to grab the knife, even if it means cutting your hands.

If an attacker is trying to control you by threatening another person, usually the safest thing you can do for everyone is to escape yourself instead of allowing yourself to be made more helpless by letting someone tie you up or take you away. The fact that one of you has gotten away and can go get help makes it more dangerous for the attacker to continue.

Self-defense for women, men, and children is a subject that generates not just myths but also actual research.  Studies show that resistance works against sexual assault most of the time. The more powerful the resistance and the more ways you resist, the less the chance of coming to harm. According to the FBI in the United States, just one strong move of ANY kind stops most attacks!

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Published: March 20, 2012   |   Last Updated: May 1, 2017

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.