I Am Woman, I Am Strong

The lyrics from Helen Reddy’s song, I Am Woman, are resounding in my head as I watch the news about Beverly Carter, a realtor in Little Rock who was kidnapped and killed. The man arrested for the crime stated that he targeted Beverly because she was “a woman who worked alone.” Hannah Graham is a missing University of Virginia student last seen walking to her dorm room alone. And the National Football League (NFL) is grappling with the handling of Ray Rice, an NFL player caught on video tape knocking his fiancée (now wife) unconscious in a New Jersey casino elevator.

As a woman, it can be very dangerous to be alone. Violence against women, particularly in the U.S. doesn’t get discussed often and it’s far more common than we realize. According to the Justice Department, 1.9 million women are physically assaulted annually in the U.S. and approximately 15 – 25% of American women will report a sexual attack or rape at some point in their lives.

The NFL has taken a strong stand on the topic of violence against women. NFL players will be suspended for six games without pay for the first offense and will have a lifetime ban from football for the second offense. CBS host, James Brown, delivered a powerful pregame message about educating viewers on what respectful men do around women and the language and behaviors they should demonstrate. He cited a statistic that three women per day die at the hands of their partners.

When I was in college, I had a man from one of my classes stop by my dorm room on a Friday night. My roommate was gone for the weekend. He wasn’t a person that I was attracted to or had an interest in, so I was just making small talk. He obviously had other interests when he grabbed me forcibly and kissed me. I struggled to remove myself from his grasp and his embrace strengthened. The fear that cursed through my body was electrifying. I knew that physically I could not match or beat his strength. My only weapon was my voice. Although I was petrified, I did not want him to know it. I spoke confidently to him and after some time I was able to reason with him and he left. I am one of the very lucky ones.

As a young adult, I traveled 80% of the time for my job. On four different occasions, I had men trying to get into my hotel room. One man was dressed in a hotel uniform and knocked on my door about 1:00 a.m. stating he was delivering room service. I didn’t answer the door and called down to the front desk. The front desk clerk told me room service had stopped two hours earlier.

My personal experiences and stories from the news make me very observant. I am on high alert when I am by myself. When I enter a hotel room alone, I immediately check under the bed, in the closet, in the bathtub and window/door locks. I don’t open hotel doors or doors at my home unless I know the person on the other side. These safety precautions don’t matter if the danger resides within your own home.

When my daughter, Shannon, was 10 years old, she had a sleepover at a friend’s home. I was out of town visiting my grandfather for the last time before he passed away. When I returned home, Shannon wanted to talk with me about what happened at the sleepover. While she was at her friend’s home, domestic violence broke out between the husband and wife. Shannon and her friend hid in the closet while the violence continued. Shannon remained at their home overnight. In the morning, domestic violence began again and the police were called. Shannon was told to go home. Shannon came home and never said anything to her father or brother about what had occurred.

I never thought I would be talking with my 10 year old daughter about the potential for violence in relationships. I had imagined that I would have this discussion when she started dating. I told her that if anyone ever hits her that she needs to get out of the relationship and tell someone.

Shannon was concerned about her friend and we noticed that a U-Haul truck was in their driveway. It appeared that the family was splitting up. When the U-Haul truck was still in their driveway many hours later, Shannon wondered why it was still there. I talked with her about how challenging it is to leave relationships, even when there is violence. Each person makes their own decision and there are many complicating factors.

Similar to James Brown’s request, we need to change the dialogue about women to one of respect, inclusion, and appreciation. Our language and our behaviors reflect our attitudes as a society about women. The fear or reality of rape is one of the fundamental realities for most women. Creating dialogue and open spaces to discuss personal experiences paves the way for new possibilities for our collective future.

The lyrics to I Am Woman by Helen Reddy demonstrate the strength that resides within women:

I am woman, hear me roar In numbers too big to ignore And I know too much to go back an’ pretend ’cause I’ve heard it all before And I’ve been down there on the floor No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

As the dialogue continues about violence against women, below are safety tips for children and adults—these apply to boys, girls, men and women.

Tips for Teaching Stranger Safety to Children

  • Children should consider anyone outside of their immediate family as a stranger.
  • Children should not go anywhere without your permission.
  • Don’t force your child to interact with a person they feel uncomfortable around.
  • Give your child confidence to tell you anything, particularly if others have told him/her not to tell you.
  • Never help a stranger search for anything.
  • Never accept gifts from strangers.
  • Scream and run from someone you do not trust.
  • Avoid strange cars that pull over.
  • If you are being taken against your will, grab the nearest adult and scream for help.

Other Things Parents Can Do

  • Know where your children are at all times.
  • Point out safe places.
  • Teach children to trust their instincts.
  • Teach your children to be assertive.
  • Encourage your children to play with others—there’s safety in numbers.

Adult Safety Tips

  • If asked/forced into an attacker’s car, even if the attacker has a weapon, run away screaming. Escape is always your best option.
  • Keep car doors locked while driving.
  • Do not pull over unless you are in a well-lit and populated area.
  • Keep hotel and house doors locked and only open if you know the person at the door.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
  • Act confident and self-aware.
  • Always know where the exits are in your location.
  • Do not be distracted while walking alone (cell phone, looking for keys, etc).
  • If grabbed, fight back aggressively, scream, etc.
  • Let others always know where you are going.
  • Make eye contact. It is easier to identify a potential attacker and it may deter them from attacking you.
  • Regularly change your walking and travel routine.
  • Trust your instinct.