BY CHUCK EDWARDS, CO-FOUNDER OF MORE THAN CONQUERORS MARTIAL ARTS
We are currently living in difficult and troubled times. Yet I am concerned that in the crisis our nation and the world is experiencing in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, we might completely miss another plague that haunts our nation, known as sexual assault.
April 2020 marks the 19th year of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It’s time we understand the extent to which our community is affected by sexual assault.
Every 73 seconds, someone in this country is sexually assaulted. That means there are 433,648 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault every year in the United States1. As of 1998, an estimated 17.7 million American women had been victims of attempted or completed rape2. These sexual assault statistics are both shocking and staggering.
Let’s face it, sexual assault impacts everyone. No, I’ve never been a victim, but I have absolutely been impacted by it. I’m a retired law enforcement officer. I’ve comforted victims as they broke down following their horrible ordeal, listened to them as they shared their experiences, cried with them, tried to reassure them, and using the process of law, ensured that the perpetrator wouldn’t harm them or anyone else if I could help it. But most of all, I would have done anything to have been there to protect them before they became a sexual assault victim, to change the outcome so they would never have been victimized in the first place.
In preparing this brief article, I was reminded of two things. First, I was reminded of how many calls involving sexual assault I had answered over the years as a police officer and the faces of the victims as they shared their experiences. If only I could have done something before their traumatic experience changed their life forever. But I am also reminded of other faces as well. The many faces of the women that my martial arts partner, Master Dawn Holben, and I had observed as we taught martial arts and women’s self-defense classes over the years.
Some of our martial arts students were as young as 12 years old. Others were college students or young women heading to college. Many were young housewives and middle-aged or senior citizens who wanted to be prepared in these troubled times. The remaining students, in almost every group, were those who had already been victims of physical or sexual abuse. How could we tell? Some were open about it and others we could only guess. Sometimes it was by staring at the faces of women who had been through the worst experience of their lives and never wanted to repeat it again.
Not surprisingly, the students who had been victims of sexual assault were often the best students. Intense and focused. Some were timid, some bold, yet they all wanted to take away something valuable, something that would give them confidence, something that might help them heal and would prevent them from ever becoming victims again.
We begin every class with the same story. I tell them that in almost 40 years of law enforcement, like any other officer, I responded and investigated numerous instances of sexual assault. Age and social status do not matter, anyone can become a victim. In most sexual assault cases, the perpetrator was known to the victim or was in a relationship with them. Some were trusted friends, and some were complete strangers or someone they had just met. No matter what the circumstance, it’s heartbreaking.
I often share this: only in very few sexual assault cases did I see a potential victim prevail. For those that did, there only seemed to be one similarity between them: they fought back and refused to be a victim.
Sometimes, it’s not always possible to fight back, but in the vast majority of cases where they could have, they didn’t. We don’t have the time and space to discuss all the variables, here. I’ve been to many law enforcement training classes that instructed us about a victim’s mindset, especially in a dependent or abusive relationship. Believe me I’ve seen it and it is real. But let’s for a moment discuss the few that did prevail.
What if, perhaps, out of the countless victims whose faces I have seen over the years, were empowered, trained, and prepared to turn the outcome in a different direction? What if those same sexual assault victims (and other victims of physical assault as well), fought back against their attacker instead of being carried away in ambulances, being treated in emergency rooms, or even keeping silent and enduring the pain of sexual assault? What if it were the perpetrator who ended up being carried away by ambulance, treated in the ER, and was ultimately arrested and made to answer for their actions?
That is what we have always tried to share with our students. One at a time, we can prepare ourselves and be ready. Be prepared, be aware, and be ready to defend ourselves.
Perhaps we can beat those aforementioned sexual assault statistics because we can learn to prepare, prevent, and ultimately prevail.
Preparing means that we learn what to do, from learning how we can prevent sexual assault, and, if we are a victim, how to seek help and take advantage of the many resources available.
We talk about interrupting the attacker by being prepared, having a plan that disrupts their plan. We talk about situational awareness and how to prevent placing ourselves in a dangerous or compromised position. Finally, we talk about prevailing and knowing that you can prevail against sexual assault.
In my experience, I believe a part of the answer lies in making the decision ahead of time that you won’t become a sexual assault victim. Not ever and not ever again if you have been one. In martial arts, learning a few select “go to” moves, and having the right tools to be prepared can have a major impact on which direction a potential sexual assault can go. And yes, I’ll say it because I believe it: carrying and practicing with a MUNIO, a discreet, non-lethal self-defense keychain, is one of the best things you can do short of taking the time to completely learn a martial art or take self-defense classes, something that we encourage every woman to do.
At the end of the day, it is our hope and prayer that we can prepare, prevent, and prevail over the blight of sexual assault in our homes and communities. But for now, we in the self-defense and martial arts community will do our part to turn the tide and win the war, one person at a time.
1. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2018 (2019).
2. National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey (1998). (Statistic presents information on the total number of male and female victims in the United States)
Master Chuck Edwards is the co-owner of More Than Conquerors Martial Arts and a certified instructor for MUNIO Self Defense Workshops. He is a 4th Dan in Chon Sul Kwon Hapkido and has been a police officer for the past 40 years serving as both municipal police chief (retired) and Chief County Detective (retired). During his career he’s observed too many incidents where the victim could have prevailed had they known basic self-defense skills. He now teaches self defense to the average person to empower them with the confidence and skills needed to protect themselves and prevent them from becoming a statistic.