Woman jogger stabs man who grabbed her from behind: Can self-defense keep you safe?

Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy
Contributing Writer
A woman survived a jogging attack thanks to a tiny knife she had on hand. (Photo: Getty Images)

Last week, a Salt Lake City woman was out jogging early one morning when a man grabbed her from behind and began to grope her.

The woman, however, was jogging with a small knife in hand. She stabbed the man several times before he eventually fled the scene. Police are currently attempting to identify the man, who the woman describes as being Caucasian, between the ages of 15 and 30, 5 feet 9, and 150 pounds.

This female jogger certainly heeded the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence’s advice that when it comes to self-defense, “There are no rules. If you’re in danger, in trouble, or in anyway threatened, you do anything and everything you can to get away and get to safety.”

Indeed, the National Institute of Justice notes that certain actions reduce the risk of rape more than 80 percent compared to nonresistance, stating that the “most effective actions, according to victims, are attacking or struggling against their attacker, running away, and verbally warning the attacker.”

While stories like these may not always make headlines, research shows that self-defense classes can reduce a woman’s vulnerability to sexual assault.

A study published in the March 2014 issue of the journal Violence Against Women conducted by Jocelyn Hollander, a sociologist and professor at the University of Oregon, found women who participate in self-defense training are less likely to experience sexual assault and are more confident in their ability to effectively resist assault than similar women who have not taken such a class.  

Likewise, a 2005 study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence found that victims of sexual assault who had pre-assault self-defense training were more likely to say that their resistance stopped the offender and made him less aggressive than victims without training. Women who were the victims of sexual assault who had received self-defense training before they were assaulted said they were angrier and less scared during their assault compared to women who had not received such training.

However, the women looked at in the study who received self-defense training also rated their degree of nonconsent or resistance to their assault as lower than women who had not received this kind of training before they were assaulted; the researchers speculate that perhaps this is because women who have received some kind of self-defense training hold themselves “to a higher standard” when it comes to the idea of preventing sexual violence.

This isn’t to say, however, that fighting back may be an option for all victims of sexual assault. Research strongly indicates that when it comes to sexual violence, many may not find themselves responding with either fight or flight, but instead entering into a state known as “tonic immobility,” or a form of temporary paralysis.

A June 2017 study out of Sweden looked at 298 women who had visited the Emergency Clinic for Rape Victims in Stockholm within one month of having survived a sexual assault. Of these women, 70 percent reported experiencing significant tonic mobility during their assault, with 48 percent of those women describing their tonic immobility as “extreme.”

As Rebecca Campbell, a professor of ecological-community psychology at Michigan State University and a leading expert on neurobiology, trauma, and sexual assault, previously explained to Yahoo, “Part of what it means to be a victim of a major trauma is to be in a state of shock. And when you’re in shock, you don’t always make the kind of decisions you would make otherwise.”

And this shock can lead to tonic immobility — and a victim’s inability to fight back against her attacker.

According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds in the United States. While it’s impossible to know ahead of time how you’d react in a similar situation, perhaps being prepared is the best thing we can do. It certainly helped one Salt Lake City jogger. 

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