After Sexual Assault – Establishing Personal Physical Safety - I

August 6, 2013 Tom Cloyd, MS, MA

Any sexual assault event leads naturally to a question: how can one get back one's sense of personal safety, after such a catastrophe? Michele’s July 24 blog post - PTSD and Self-Efficacy: Being Able to Protect Yourself - launches into this question, and it got a distinct reaction from me. I urgently wanted to add something to what she had to say - a male perspective on the problem of personal safety and how to achieve it.

Any sexual assault event leads naturally to a question: how can one get back one's sense of personal safety? Find out.Michele begins with a gripping and, frankly, awful scene, but one with which she, I, and the readers of this blog are surely more familiar with than we'd like to be. Considering the aftermath of this experience, she then takes her topic into an interesting place: the problem of regaining or achieving the sense of personal power we call self-efficacy - literally effectiveness of self. This is, indeed, a core problem, and right on target for any survivor of sexual assault. Her specific suggestions and illustrations of how one might increase self-efficacy, to my mind, are very likely to have the desired effect. I suggest you take them seriously.

BUT, I thought it somehow revealing that she did NOT take up directly the central question that sprang to my mind, right after reading her introduction: how to get back (or achieve - if you've never really had it) a strong sense of personal physical safety.

And then it hit me: of course she didn't address this. Few women do. They just don't want to go there.

Uh oh. We are in real trouble here. Wasn't that attitude of avoidance a major contributor to the scenario with which she began her piece? That's how it looks to me.

As a male, this personal physical safety issue was the first thing that came to my mind. Shortly after I realized the likely reason for the emphasis she chose, and my contrasting focus - that reason being gender, I felt the urge to lecture coming on. This happens when I know I have something in mind that would be useful to a number of other people - in this case, sexual abuse survivors, most of whom are women.

So, please pull up a chair, and give me your ear, for a very minutes. This is the first part of a two part series. The next will be posted in a few days. My subject here is singular: it's the very first thing you must do, of establishing reliable personal physical safety is your goal.

Please let me know your thoughts on what I have to say - I'm very interested in hearing them! (After Sexual Assault: Establishing Personal Safety - pt. 2 is here.)

Connect with Tom Cloyd also at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, his Sleight of Mind blog, his Trauma Psych blog, and the Tom Cloyd website.

(photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

APA Reference
Cloyd, T. (2013, August 6). After Sexual Assault – Establishing Personal Physical Safety - I, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Tom Cloyd, MS, MA

November, 16 2022 at 7:08 am

i appreciate the facts of what you are saying however. working with women who have been abused by people they did know and trust and who they did firmly say no to, and who ran away form them, this advice although practical are things they already did, and they still got assaulted. so how can one feel safe even when they are dressed in running gear, they are taking precautions and they are doing self defence classes. what more can these women do to protect themselves? they cant do any more. although they are important to build a sense of safety and strength, it feels that all of the responsibility is being placed on the women, weather this is your intention or not, it definitely comes across that way.

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August, 11 2013 at 7:32 am

[...] After Sexual Assault – Establishing Personal Physical Safety [...]

Sen Nueve
August, 10 2013 at 9:48 pm

This makes very much good sense. I believe that not only those who, like myself, have already been assaulted should read this, but it should be shown to ALL women. Where do I find the other parts to your discussion? This posting is of Part 1. Thank you so much for your help, Sen

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 13 2013 at 7:48 pm

I'm always relieved to hear that I'm making sense. It isn't always easy. I agree with you about the universal appropriateness of this material. For me, this is just all just common sense, but in fact it's not common enough.
Part II goes up Aug. 31, 2013.

August, 10 2013 at 8:30 am

Thank you, Tom, for having written this post and posted this video.
You are the first person I know to have fully addressed the issue of a woman's physical safety head-on.... and to offer some specific guidelines on how/what to take into account in order to keep herself safe.
What makes things even harder for women is the fact that we have been raised to be polite and courteous... Perhaps in your second installment, you could also address this component.
As an example, a few weeks ago, my teenage daughter shared with me how she noticed someone who made her uncomfortable stand next to her and later he joined in the elevator she took. Now thankfully, this was in a building in which there was a video camera security system operating and nothing happened [although she felt uncomfortable the entire ride and he stood too close to her for the duration of the ride].
However, when she shared this event with me, my reaction was for her to please listen to her gut feeling going forward... and not to get into the elevator with such a person and if she felt uncomfortable at "hurting this person's feelings [something I do not believe a male would have been concerned about but correct me if I'm wrong], she could just say aloud as if she were thinking to herself - oh, I can't believe I forgot that... and just walk in a direction away from the elevator as if heading back to wherever she came from [thereby giving the man who gave her an unsafe feeling an opportunity to leave].
Looking forward to hearing more from you on this topic!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 13 2013 at 7:46 pm

Thank you for your interesting comment. AND for "getting it" that I was indeed trying to address the issue of womens' safety "head on", as you put it. Sometimes being a guy is just the perfect thing, and in this case I think it is.
The "be nice" impulse is interesting. In Part II, I definitely address this - again, point blank. What I don't say is this: being "nice" is all about sending a signal to males that you're not going to bite them. Sound odd? Well, getting bit is the common experience of young male chimps - our closest animal cousins - if they approach a young female uninvited. Older males learn how to "read the signals", and avoid getting bit! When I tell this story in workshops, the guys all guffah. Why? Well, we've all been bit, figuratively speaking! Gals will do that, and, being guys, we laugh about this to dissipate the feelings we have about such a violent rejection.
So, when your mother urges you to be nice and act like a lady, she's trying to preserve your sexual appeal. After all, her daughters all carry her genes, and she has a vested interest in what you do with them. (I'm saying all this with my anthropologists' hat on - that's first professional commitment). Look dangerous and the guys will move on to safer quarry. It's that simple. BUT, "nice" also sets you up, without your knowing it. I propose the solution, in Part II, which goes up this Saturday (Aug. 17, 2013)
Your daughter's story is a great illustration of two things: young people of both sexes show uncertainty about trusting their feelings. This is lack of experience showing. Give them 15 years, and they generally do better. Second, even if she'd read herself clearly, she would have needed to take decisive action, especially if he became overtly assertive. Planning for this possibility is one of my strongest recommendations. One locates fire escapes BEFORE the fire. You're doing her rehearsals for her, because of your greater experience. She needs to start doing them.
Not wanting to hurt his feelings - yeah, that's another female trap. Clear thinking doesn't always come easily, sadly. In this case, his feelings should NOT be her first priority, but it concern for this is likely her first impulse. Not good, eh?
Thanks for your excellent engagement with this important topic!

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