The best way to stop rape in our culture would be for men and boys to stop raping. In the meantime, we women have to be ready to defend ourselves though, depending on circumstances, it’s not always possible.
In my lifetime I have successfully fought back against two armed rapists, one when I was 25, another when I was 48. I don’t ever want to have to do that again.
The first was in Washington, D.C., my last year in law school. I didn’t know him, and he came up upon me in the street brandishing what appeared to be a 6-inch hunting knife. He grabbed me by the right arm, which was his mistake because I’m left-handed. When he told me to “Shut the fuck up, bitch!” after I offered him money, I realized his goal was to rape me and maybe kill me.
He kicked me with a shoe that had cleats on it and started to run out of my apartment.
I was 5 foot 4 inches and weighed about 120 pounds. At that moment I remembered what I read about martial arts, that you attack your opponent when he is off-center. As we turned to go into the alley, I swung around with my left hand and in midair, grabbed the blade of his knife. I was not cut. I quickly managed to get it pointed it right at his heart, about 1 inch away. Then I had a split second to make a decision — do I toss the knife, or do I stab him in the heart and have his blood gush all over me?
I decided that I would disarm him. I threw the knife away and started screaming at the top of my lungs. Not a single person on Swann Street NW came out of their houses to help me.
He landed a very powerful punch right between the eyes and sent me flying in the air, landing me on the street, badly hurting my back. Since I thought he might have a gun, I immediately began rolling over, as in basic training, until I saw him run away.
At the police lineup two weeks later, I met a pair of women from Antioch Law School who he raped. They were very angry that I didn’t kill him.
The second time was a push-in intruder to my Brooklyn apartment. He held a gun to my right temple for about 13 minutes, during which time he asked for my PIN number, pistol-whipped me when I initially made a beeline for the front door, took my wallet and wedding ring. He handcuffed me behind my back, which hurt like hell. I’m a pianist, and my hands are very important to me. I asked myself what Charlie’s Angels would do, and I wriggled out of the handcuffs with my right hand, pretending to still be cuffed behind my back. After he sat me down on the bed in my darkened apartment, I saw my opportunity as he was unwrapping a piece of duct tape to put over my mouth and was not looking at me.
I kneed him in the groin with my left knee, then grabbed the barrel of his gun with my left hand, till I had it pointed down at the floor, all the while screaming loudly enough to wake the dead. He kicked me with a shoe that had cleats on it and started to run out of my apartment. I chased him to the door and pushed him out, yelling “Get the fuck out of my apartment motherfucker!” and slammed the door on him. This time, the entire building and several neighbors who heard me scream gave chase. But because he had a stocking over his face, I was unable to identify him.
This time, my right ulnar nerve was permanently damaged, so I have tremendous weakness in my right hand and drop things all the time. I didn’t realize until I was in the emergency room how badly he had beaten me. I had no insurance at the time. I waited two years for Crime Victims to give me approval for psychotherapy, but could not afford to lay out the money for therapy and wait months for reimbursement, so I’ve never had treatment.
I’ve never had nightmares, but the way my PTSD manifests is I am extremely aware of anyone in my space, and I don’t want anyone walking behind me. I jump any time a car backfires. And I’m on edge and super alert every time I leave my apartment or go into an elevator.
Photo credit: Christian Chen.