For many women, the simple act of walking alone at night or through a parking garage on campus can be a frightening experience. Feeling this way isn’t without reason: while gathering accurate data is difficult, the available studies suggest that roughly one in five women experience sexual assault while in college. To start a conversation about this important topic as a potential return to on-campus instruction approaches, we asked Sydney Nakayama from the BC’s Women’s Self-Defense Club to answer questions women had about taking steps towards feeling confident and safe on campus.
Q: What are some tips for women to avoid getting into dangerous situations on campus?
A: A lot of the tips I have for avoiding potentially dangerous situations on campus is stuff that most women already know. Trying not to walk alone when it’s dark or in isolated spaces is a big one. The “buddy system” is a really valuable tool for women. Finding a few friends who you trust to walk you home or having someone that you can call when you feel like you’re in an unsafe situation is key. If you find you’re in a situation where you need to walk to your car or your apartment at night, you can also ask someone on campus to escort you. Bellevue College has campus security that would be happy to walk people home or to another safe location. Having someone to watch your back is really important advice for all potentially dangerous situations. For example, college parties can be an unsafe place for women, and a really good way to mitigate that danger is to have a group of friends that will all protect each other. In general, the best advice I can offer is to always trust your intuition! We have instincts for a reason, and usually if you feel like something’s off, it’s because it is. Don’t feel bad about needing to ask for help to get out of a potentially dangerous situation.
Q: Are there areas of campus (BC and other campuses) which tend to be less safe than others, and how do we recognize and avoid them?
A: Every campus is different in terms of what places are going to be the most unsafe, and frequently the areas will change on a daily basis. For example, a campus might have an alley that’s teeming with activity and other students during the day, but is dark and isolated at night. In general, any areas that are poorly lit or unpopulated can be pretty dangerous. Although most women recognize those places as dangerous, one of the less common dangerous places is at a party or frat house. It’s hard to imagine being unsafe surrounded by people, but at parties where adrenaline is high and other substances like alcohol are involved, it can be a pretty unsafe place. Despite this, I don’t think women should have to avoid having fun because of potential danger. I would never tell anyone to avoid going to a party because of this. What we should do instead is be aware of the potentially unsafe situations that could arise and take precautions to avoid them. Never let someone else handle your drink, stay with people you trust, and call someone trustworthy if you feel like you’re in danger.
Q: What should women do in a situation where they feel unsafe?
A: This one really depends on the situation. I’d say that the best advice which is applicable to most situations is don’t be afraid to speak up. A lot of women are afraid of embarrassing themselves or someone else, so they stay silent even when they’re uncomfortable. This is especially evident when the person making you uncomfortable is someone you know, like a boss, a coworker, or a friend. One of the techniques I teach is literally how to stand up for yourself when you’re in an uncomfortable situation. This is maybe the most valuable technique I can teach women, even though it doesn’t involve martial arts. The ability to assert yourself and recognize that you deserve to feel comfortable and you deserve to defend yourself is one of the hardest-learned skills and one of the most important. If someone’s making you feel uncomfortable, speak up. Tell them they’re acting inappropriately, that you want them to stop. Speak loudly and confidently. Draw attention to the situation. If you’re alone, you can still scream for help and try to attract some bystander intervention. If you’re in a populated space, you can try and find someone who you think would help, like a friend, waiter or bartender. From there, you can also try to get to the nearest safe place.
Q: We put a lot of pressure on women to take responsibility for their own safety, but how can men step up and be helpful in promoting women’s safety and confidence on campus?
A: This is a great question, and it’s something that I wish was talked about more often. The main advice I can offer is to listen to women! When women talk about their past encounters or situations that made them uncomfortable, don’t dismiss them. Acknowledge their feelings rather than disregarding their lived experiences. In addition to that, I think it’s very important for men to be situationally aware. It can be easy for men to ignore the behavior of their friends or acquaintances because they don’t want to call it out. They may say that their friends are “just joking” or “don’t mean any harm by it,” but it can be very harmful to the women in their lives when they ignore that behavior. One of the best ways to be a good ally to women is to call out other men on inappropriate behavior. One more great way to be helpful to women is to go out of your way not to be accidentally creepy. This one sounds kind of strange, but if you’re walking behind a woman at night, or are close behind her at the grocery store, you could be accidentally making her uncomfortable. Try and err on the side of caution when it comes to those kinds of situations, and of course, back off if a woman tells you you’re making her uncomfortable.
Q: What does the BC Women’s Self-Defense Club do? What do you want women to gain from your club? What is the purpose of your club?
A: The Women’s Self-Defense Club meets once a week and goes over a couple [of] self-defense techniques. The techniques I teach are based on the techniques of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). This means that the techniques employ leverage, technique and timing, so anyone, regardless of age or athletic ability, can make them work against larger opponents. Currently, this club meets virtually and accommodates social distancing by showing how the techniques can be practiced without a partner. This club is also a safe space where women can have fun, learn new things, and become more self-assured. The biggest thing that I hope to help women gain from this club is confidence. The techniques just exist to provide support for that confidence. Although I like knowing armlocks and chokeholds, I think self-empowerment is a far more useful skill than martial arts. After all, having techniques without confidence is far less useful than confidence without techniques. Because of this, I would say that the main purpose of this club is to help build that empowerment in women.
While sexual assault is never the fault of the victim, learning how to assert yourself when uncomfortable, avoid dangerous situations and physically defend yourself can be huge steps in helping you prevent and escape attack. Knowing these tips and practicing self defense before it ever has to be used can give women confidence as transitions back to on-campus learning begin. Take the first step towards learning about safety by joining BC’s Women’s Self-Defense Club! More information, including how to join, can be found on their Instagram.
Editor’s Note: If you have experienced sexual misconduct or rape, the Title IX Office at Bellevue College and the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, among others, have resources available to help you.