It is difficult to get an accurate understanding of how common sexual assaults against women are from statistics, largely because unfortunately, a lot of these assaults are often not reported.
The consequences for a victim of sexual assault are obviously not only limited to physical trauma such as injury or risk of STD/HIV, but also to psychological trauma as well such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
One thing that we do know from statistical studies, such as one done in 1993, is that that women most the most likely to be sexually assaulted or injured were those who did not fight back. It is no wonder that we have seen a huge growth of women's self-defense programs.
When it comes to fighting back, you should use every means possible to survive, and surviving essentially boils down to three perquisite categories:
Awareness, Avoidance, Ability
All that self defense is really about, essentially, is awareness. When you strip away the details of self defense systems, martial arts techniques, etc., all you have as a core element is awareness -- of your surroundings, yourself, your state of mind, awareness of your body.
Being aware doesn't necessarily have to lead to hyper vigilance or paranoia, but an ongoing state of an appropriate level of alert in whatever given environmental situation you find yourself in.
For example, are you in a strange city, or dangerous neighborhood? Are you among strangers? In cases where you find yourself in foreign or new surroundings, it might be best to keep as clear a frame of mind as possible, esp when going out for a night on the town, for example. If you are in a strange building, new workplace, shopping center, it is a good practice to be aware of where the exits are, where the most people are, as does thinking about the safest place to park your vehicle. In some cases, lights, noise and people can save your life!
Developing awareness is like developing any other skill set. It will come down to trusting your instincts and "inner voice" as well. You may find it useful to run some scenarios through in your mind of yourself being assaulted, and how to respond to each phase of the attack, much in the same way one would practice fire safety drills with their family. Your number one priority is survival, and the best starting point for this is escape.
When you really think about it, awareness put into practice leads one to be able to naturally avoid potentially dangerous situations. Avoidance is one logical extension of the idea of awareness. Avoiding danger of any sort is your main moral imperative!
Always be aware of where you are planning of going, and if possible, try to visualize ahead of time your surroundings as best as possible. Being in the best possible position to deploy a fight or flight response to an attack is what comes next, and that comes down to developing your physical and psychological ability!
The mental and physical ability to fight an attacker, or even multiple attackers, will in the end, come down to ability. When you have down all that there is to be aware and avoid trouble, you may be in a fight for your life. In such a case, anything goes, but your first focus of all of your efforts should always be to flee.
If that is not possible, than all of your efforts have to be directed at fighting. being in as good physical shape as possible through a combination of martial arts training, weight training, and cardiovascular training. Quite often a street fight comes down to a few good, decisive blows, so my advice here would be to learn three strikes to specific target areas, and practice them both physically and mentally regularly.
Since it is likely your would-be attacker is larger and stronger than you, try to use maximum force (such as headbutts, knees, elbows, palm strikes, in that order) against his weakest area, such as knees, eyes, throat. As alarmist as it sounds, when one is put into an immediately life-threatening position such as a fight against a rapist, the way to win is often found in being more ruthless than your attacker.
The best assets aside from optimum mental and physical condition, are the elements of surprise and first strike. When attacked, the best thing to do is to attack back, and look for the first opportunity to flee, while making as much noise as possible. If you are being attacked on a quiet residential street, consider even throwing something at a neighbor's window to get attention. Use every trick in the book.
It's virtually always better to fight back, particularly if you are trained in how to fight back appropriately. Women who fight back against their attackers are less likely to be injured, and more effectively stop the attack, irregardless of its nature, and feel more resolved about the attack afterwards with the ensuing psychological issues.
Personal Safety Tips
- When in a parking lot, have your car keys in hand when leaving the building, so you do not have to fumble for them in the dark, outside.
- When going out or traveling, try to be with others as there is safety in numbers.
- Do not get into a car with an attacker.
- Be aware of anything in the vicinity that could be deployed as a weapon when you feel you are in imminent danger.
- Carry a whistle, personal alarm, or pepper spray. Be aware of the things you can carry as a potential weapon, such as a teaser comb, can opener, bottle opener, corkscrew, pen, pencil etc.
- Keep your phone number unlisted if possible. And if you must list it, use only the first initial.
- As obvious as this one sounds, when in a bar, take your drink to the washroom if possible. If not, don't leave it unattended.
- When walking on the street, stay near the curb rather than near buildings or alleys.
- When attacked, yell "FIRE, FIRE", maybe even pull a fire alarm.
- Attract as much attention as possible, try to throw something at passing motorists, or even neighboring building's windows. When in an apartments building, push all the buttons in the elevator, the fire bells, and ring all the apartment buzzers. Do whatever it takes.
- Rehearse attack scenarios regularly both in your mind and in real life. If possible, practice this with a friend, or find a martial arts/self defense class that offers scenario based training. Soon, it will become a hard-wired response for you!
- Always tell a family member where you are, and when you will be back.
- Carry a cell phone, as obvious as it sounds, this is perhaps the most essential piece of gear to carry.