As a young woman, Barbara Mills was attacked by a man who asked her out on a date. Out of her concern for women and girls living in a world where violence against women is so prevalent, Barbara shares with us how she responded and got away.
Below, violence prevention expert Anita Roberts helps illuminate what women and girls can learn from Barbara's story:
"Barb’s story is such a good example of several different aspects of how patriarchal conditioning operates. First of all patriarchal conditioning can lead men to believe that putting out money on a date means the woman has to “put out” in exchange. They expect to get what they pay for. And if they don’t they are angry and prepared to take, by force if necessary, what they feel is due to them.
"Another aspect of patriarchal conditioning at play in this story is that, just as she feared, the police (who have also bought into male stereotypes) immediately try to ferret out what she did to “lead the guy on”. Now she has been violated twice. I noticed that reflecting back on her experience, she named the two different phases of violation. While Barb never indicates any doubt in the re-telling of her story, I find myself wondering if her young self went into self-doubt and guilt about the situation being her fault in some way. To be blamed and to self blame are two very common factors in sexual assaults. But only the attacker is to blame.
"One of the things I’ve noticed over the years of working in the field of violence against women, is that women who are attacked and get away are never praised for what they actually did that enabled them to escape. They are told they are, “lucky” and perhaps, “stupid for getting yourself into that situation…after all, what did you expect?”
Barb was very assertive and clear about her boundaries from the start. She said NO clearly. And when the man hit her, she fought back! She had the presence of mind to use an object at hand (her shoe!) and she noticed when the car slowed down and she opened the door and got out and ran. Barb did the two things that help women get away most often: resist strongly as soon as possible and run as soon as you can. I would not call her "lucky". She literally saved herself from a potentially life-threatening situation. I would call her a warrior and a hero.
"Barb mentions that this was the way it was in the 60’s. Is it really so different now? In the Safeteen workshops for teen boys, we learn that many young males actually have the same expectations. And to bump that up a notch, these guys expect that they will get their sexual needs met when they are just hanging out with females, not even “on a date” and with no money invested.
"As one 15 year old girl recently said, “I just get the sex part over with so we can get on with cuddling and watching the movie or whatever. Otherwise he just bothers me until I do.”
"Have we really “come a long way, Baby”? "
Safeteen: Powerful Alternatives to Violence
A better understanding is needed about how acting from one's emotion, voice, persistence, ingenuity and training, but above all the use of multiple active strategies can protect women and girls.