As we move past April, we leave behind not only the April showers we have had so much of, but the incredible significance of National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. It is estimated that as many as 30% of women will fall victim to an unwanted sexual advance, a violent attack or a violating cyber crime – the odds are greater for women in the military, of certain ethnic backgrounds and ages, and are up to 25% greater for women in a collegiate environment.
It is important that each and every one of us open a dialogue with our friends, daughters and wives about the numerous ways in which we can protect ourselves from predators.
We all know the major rules:
- Don’t talk to strangers.
- “No” is a complete sentence.
- Keep personal info offline
- Be aware of your surroundings and always tell someone where you are going, when you will be back and how you can be reached.
But what about the way in which we carry ourselves? Are we using our body language to project an air of confidence, a “nobody-mess-with-me” moxie? Or are we sending the non-verbal cue that our self-esteem is low, unknowingly placing ourselves squarely in the “easy target” group?
What changes can we make to thwart attacks of all kinds? From the playground bully to the boardroom barracuda, from sexual to verbal harassment online, or spousal abuse to violent stranger attacks?
Here are a few simple techniques that will not only instantly boost your inner confidence, but assist you in projecting the same confidence outwardly to those cowardly individuals who prey upon others.
Let them know unequivocally that you have no intentions of being their victim – now or ever.
Risk Factor #1: A Slow, Meandering Walk
Sure, it’s lovely to take the time to slow down and enjoy the view, but adjust your stride to the circumstances. When you’re out alone, it’s best to maintain fluid strides and calmly keep your pace up.
Poor posture will often increase your chances of being selected by a predator (they are looking for a victim that will be easily challenged and physically weak.) By diminishing your height with poor posture (slumping the shoulders, crossing arms, or hiding in large garments), you are projecting the notion that you can be easily overpowered.
Straighten up, take long purposeful strides and feel the confidence exude from within.
Risk Factor #2: Not Paying Attention
How often are we trotting down the sidewalk, blissfully unaware of anything and everything going on around us? You’ve got your iPod in and are jamming to Lady Gaga. Your eyes are hiding behind the shades and you’re texting your BFFs simultaneously discussing plans for the weekend.
How quickly do you think someone could attack you? Pretty darn quick! Not paying attention to your surroundings is one of the quickest ways to get marked as a victim. Think about it – is the lion going to go after the zebra blissfully drinking from the pond or the one scanning the horizon?
Clearly, the more distractions you have, the less attention you can possibly be paying to the people around you. You need to focus more on them, and less on what bar you are hitting at 5 p.m.
Even when we believe we are paying attention to our immediate surroundings, we may notice larger, more obvious pieces of the danger puzzle. Take the findings of a research forever immortalized in the 2010 book The Invisible Gorilla. Researchers Chabris and Simons filmed a video in which 6 actors passed a basketball around. Viewers of the tape were asked to count the number of times the ball changed hands.
More than 40% of participants were so focused on this task that they failed to notice the man in the gorilla suit walk across behind the basketball group, thump his chest, and keep on walking.
“Because people are different in how well they can focus their attention, this may influence whether you’ll see something you’re not expecting,” says Janelle Seegmiller, a doctoral student involved in a recent University of Utah study into the phenomenon known as “Inattentive Blindness.”
When focusing on one task or activity (like texting) it becomes more difficult for an individual to see anything else that crops up in front of them – like a potential assault, a red light or a “DO NOT WALK” sign. Many people have what’s known as a low-working memory capacity – an inability to focus on more than one thing at a time.
Instead of risking the proficiency of your working memory capacity, just unplug for a few. Combine your confident new stride with a focused and attentive look.
Risk Factor #3: Inability to Decipher Non-Verbal Cues
Women who are unable to interpret the non-verbal cues associated with anger, aggression or contempt may be placing themselves at higher risk for attack.
Not surprisingly, those who prey upon women (rapists in particular) are eerily proficient at interpreting the facial gestures associated with fear, sadness or insecurity.
Familiarize yourself with the 7 Universal Emotions: anger, contempt, sadness, fear, joy, surprise and disgust. Learn to read the nuances of these expressions. Practice in identifying their indicators is tremendously helpful in detecting deception (before it’s too late).
My advice may seem simple. Yet, in its simplicity, it illustrates the importance powerful body language. The effectiveness of your nonverbal communiqué to change how you feel about yourself, and how the world perceives you is a tremendous skill that we have only yet begun to harness.