Photos and self-defense sequences courtesy of Amber Staklinski and Ryan Hoover of Aperture Fight Focused.

Sixteen years ago while working as a police officer for Salt Lake City PD, I was involved in an intense and frantic search for a missing juvenile. It was the stuff of every parent’s nightmare. In the middle of the night, a cold and calculated psychopath crept through the window of a teenage girl’s bedroom while her family slept. He kidnapped her at knifepoint and, with the help of his wife, subjected her to nine months of intense mental, physical, and sexual abuse. Miraculously, the victim, Elizabeth Smart, was found and rescued. Most victims of such crimes aren’t so lucky.

Women and children continue to be some of the most vulnerable members of society to crimes of this nature. On average, 321,500 people are victims of rape and sexual assault in the United States. Eighty-two percent of juvenile victims are female. Ninety percent of adult victims are female. Females between the ages of 16 to 19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. Not all crimes perpetrated against women and children are sexual in nature either. The sociopathic nature of violent criminals is to target those they perceive to be easy targets. Another alarming statistic is that there are 21-million people trafficked for sexual exploitation worldwide each year, 96 percent of which are women and girls.

So what steps can be taken to become less vulnerable? How can we teach our loved ones to be less vulnerable?

Not being aware of your surroundings will make you a target. Trust your instincts about things that look out of place, like a stranger approaching you while you’re alone. Scan the area and remove yourself from the situation if you feel something poses a threat. The fight you’re never in is the fight you’ll never lose.

Let’s examine some of the conditions and environments in which crimes against women and children commonly take place:

Rapes and Sexual Assaults


  • 48% of victims were sleeping or performing another activity at home when attacked
  • 29% were traveling to work, school, or other places
  • 12% were working
  • 7% were attending school

Who: Statistically, it isn’t a masked man hiding in the bushes who commits most of these types of crimes. Sixty-six percent of rape victims know their assailant, while 48 percent are raped by a friend or acquaintance. Thirty percent are perpetrated by a complete stranger.

When: The majority of rapes, 43 percent, happen during the six hours between 6 p.m. and midnight. The second highest six-hour window is midnight to 6 a.m., when 24 percent of rapes happen. The remaining 33 percent happen during the 12-hour time frame from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Alcohol is commonly a factor in rapes and sexual assaults. It’s the most common substance utilized in drug-facilitated sexual assaults, considered the number-one date rape drug. Approximately 50 percent of sexual assault cases involve use of alcohol by the perpetrator, the victim, or both.

Self-Defense Demonstration #1

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1. A woman loses focus of her surroundings while buckling her daughter into her car seat.

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2. She’s grabbed around the waist from behind by the first attacker.

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3. She lowers her base and gets her hips away from the attacker, making it more difficult for him to lift her. As soon as she breaks his grip, she attacks with elbows to the head.

4. While continuing to strike and turning to face the attacker, she draws a concealed fixed blade knife from her waist.

5. She stays on the offensive, using the knife as an extension of her hand. She continues to strike with her empty hand while stabbing and slashing at the eyes, neck, and whatever targets she can reach with the knife.

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6. After doing sufficient damage to ward of the first attacker, she turns to face second one. She keeps her face covered and hands up to stay protected and continues fighting.

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7. The second attacker swings at her head. She defends the punch, using a reinforced high cover, while preparing to counter attack.

8. She counterattacks, punching with the pommel of the knife then stabbing and slashing until the second attacker flees.

Child Abductions

Where and When:

Child abductions are most commonly perpetrated or attempted when the victim is traveling to and from school, or school-related activities, between the hours of 2 and 7 p.m. This accounts for about 32 percent of these crimes.

In 70 percent of child abductions, the perpetrator was driving a vehicle, attempting to force the child into the vehicle. The average age of child abduction victims is 11, with 37 percent being between 10 and 14 years old.

These statistics help us understand the three themes that constantly reoccur when teaching about situational awareness: people, places, and things. Before learning physical self-defense techniques, the most important thing to understand is how to avoid being in a position where you’d ever need to use self-defense techniques.

Understanding statistics can help us know where, when, and how these types of crimes are committed, which in turn can help us with our general situational awareness — not making assumptions as to who is or isn’t capable of such crimes, and making sound decisions as to where we should or shouldn’t be, and what we should or should not be doing. It’s also important to train for situations in which no matter what steps we’ve taken regarding awareness and prevention, things sometimes just happen and we need to be prepared. At the end of the day, we can’t hide from the world, but we can prepare to defend against the bad people in it.

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Jeff Cooper’s color codes can be valuable when teaching general situational awareness and are worth further study. As mentioned earlier, people, places, and things are constant themes that come up with Cooper color codes Let’s examine each of these themes in depth:

People: Many people wrongly associate negativity with the term “profiling,” when in reality profiling is an essential component of situational awareness. While profiling based strictly on race is certainly wrong, race is one of many factors that contribute to an individual’s profile. Other things include the individual’s gender, age, size, hair style and color, actions, clothing, demeanor, accent/language, verbiage, personal belongings, and odor, to name a few.

Does the profile of a person in your general environment stand out for some reason? If so, you might shift from Condition Yellow — general awareness — into Condition Orange, or a heightened sense of awareness of one or more people around you. Do they look, act, speak, or smell like they’re intoxicated? Does their clothing suggest they could be concealing a weapon? Does their general demeanor suggest they’re nervous or paranoid?

Are they in a group, and if so how many? Are they in a place where they shouldn’t be, based on the location or time? Instead of just teaching “stranger danger” to your children, teach them to never approach a stranger’s vehicle if being lured under any circumstances. Practice creating “what-if” plans in your mind whenever you see someone who has caught your attention. Teach your children to do the same if approached by a stranger.

Places: Part of being situationally aware is being aware of what kinds of situations you should avoid. One thing I often say is “the fight you’ll always survive is the one you’ve been able to avoid.” Avoiding places that have a higher likelihood of getting you into trouble is always a good idea when possible. This might be a certain part of town, a particular nightclub or bar, or a party where you know bad people will be or are known to congregate. Teaching this principle to your children is essential. Not just where they shouldn’t be, but to avoid being alone or traveling isolated routes while walking to and from school.

Whenever you find yourself in unfamiliar environments, whether it be another part of town or another country, constantly be on the alert as to your surroundings. Assessing points of egress is also part of being familiar with your environment. Whenever possible, position yourself with your back to a wall with visibility of entrance points and proximity to points of egress. Take advantage of reflective windows or surfaces to see who’s behind you, or casually stop to act as though you’re checking your phone, if you feel you’re being followed to further assess a situation. Prepared but not paranoid.

Things: Being aware of things in your general environment can also highlight lifesaving information. It might be something suspicious, like an unattended bag or package in a subway station. It might be things in the hands of a stranger who’s walking toward you in a parking lot (or the inability to see what things he might have in his hands). When something suspicious catches your attention, be aware of what things you have in your hands or are in the general environment that can be used as weapons or distractions when hurled at an assailant’s face. Don’t get too attached to material things. If someone is stealing your wallet, purse, or car and you’re confident that’s all they want, give it to them. Don’t risk your life over replaceable things.

This may seem like a lot of information, so how can we condition ourselves to a state of perpetual vigilance? Try to make a game out of it. When in public, constantly practice running “what-if” scenarios through your mind. Not only is this a great way to become more aware of your surroundings, but assessing “what-if” scenarios can actually help you react much faster and more appropriately to a threat should it materialize, and as you’ve already identified it before it happened. To teach your children, make fun games out of it. When in a supermarket or shopping mall, ask them to point out the nearest exit. Where’s the car parked? The man who just walked by — what were in his hands? How many people were in the room we just left? Help them to pay attention to people, places, and things.

Self-Defense Demonstration #2

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1. Having recognized a potential threat, the mom sends her child to hide under the vehicle. She prepares the contents of her hands (a mug full of hot coffee) to be used as an improvised weapon.

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2. The attackers are coming at different angles, so in order to keep distance and create a distraction, she throws hot coffee into the face of the first attacker.

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3. Continuing to stay on the offensive, she turns to face the second attacker, ready to strike with the coffee mug.

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4. Using a backhand hammer type strike, she hits the second attacker in the jaw with the mug.

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5. She immediately follows with an oblique stomp kick to the attacker’s knee.

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6. Because the initial attacker is still a threat and blocking a safe entry to the vehicle, she uses her shin …

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7. … and boot to kick him in the head.

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8. Once the threat is no longer imminent, she locates her child and moves to safety while calling 911.

Tools for Self-Defense

Sometimes, no matter what steps you take to avoid a bad situation, you may find yourself fighting to defend yourself. If forced into a self-defense situation, there are a few things that statistically have proved to be effective:

Force multipliers. Weapons. In November last year, a female jogger in Utah was sexually assaulted while jogging during the early morning hours. She was carrying a knife for protection and was able to stab her attacker several times, forcing him to flee. When dealing with an attacker who’s larger than you, improvised weapons or weapons by design can not only be great equalizers, but they can turn the tide dramatically in the defender’s favor.

Distractions. Like weapons, these can be improvised or distraction devices by design and can buy you time to draw a weapon, deliver a counter-attack, or disengage from the situation. Examples of improvised distractions could be whatever you happen to be holding thrown into someone’s face. Examples of distraction devices could be a tactical light (strobe or otherwise), pepper spray, or a conductive electronic weapon (stun gun).

Martial arts. Fundamental, gross motor defensive techniques that tap into natural movement and athleticism can be easier to learn and retain at a functional level for the long term. The sequences illustrated here incorporate these principles. While we give you some ideas for self-defense to add to your tool belt, it’s impossible to build a solid base of functional skills from reading an article. You need to get out and train — even better under the tutelage of a competent and credible self-defense instructor. Locate and research martial arts schools in your area and take trial classes to find an instructor you like. Get involved in different groups and networks that host self-defense or martial arts seminars and workshops. Keep it fun, or it won’t last long.

Fending Off a Larger Attacker

Size and strength dynamics between prey and predator will always be a factor. But just like in the animal kingdom, it’s fully possible and plausible for much smaller prey to drive off their would-be attacker. Many predators aren’t willing to get hurt or risk getting caught, and will quickly flee once they realize they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Research has shown some common patterns with children who escaped attempted abductions.

  1. They were physically proactive in their defense, including active resistance and running away when possible, as opposed to passive behavior.
  2. They were loud in addition to being physically aggressive, screaming and yelling to attract attention.

When being physically proactive, the more control a child can have in their aggression, the more successful they’ll be. Part of controlled aggression is to understand the concepts of weapons and targets. In the absence of improvised weapons, empty-handed weapons include kicks, punches, elbows, knees, clawing attacks, and biting. Sensitive targets on the body should be the focus of these weapons. For example:

  • Clawing at eyes with the fingers
  • Punches or elbows to the nose and throat
  • Knees or kicks to the groin, shins, or face, if it can be reached


The goal as always is survival, and even if the prospect of physically incapacitating a much larger attacker isn’t entirely realistic, just convincing them that they’ll be hurt or caught can be enough to send them packing.

Find ways to make yourself a hard target. Being within the most victimized demographic doesn’t mean you have to become a statistic. Don’t be of the mindset that it could never happen to you — that can put you in a vulnerable state of mind. Rather, be of the mindset that it’s only a matter of time until someone will try to victimize you, and do all you can to be prepared for that moment.

Sources for Statistics

About the Author

Jared Wihongi is a 16-year veteran law enforcement officer with considerable time serving in the SWAT community, a specialist in close-quarter combatives, and one of a handful of master-level instructors of the Filipino combat art Pekiti-Tirsia Kali. Moreover, Wihongi has more than a decade of experience instructing armed forces around the globe. He’s the tactical consultant and frontman for Browning’s Black Label line of knives. Learn more about him at:

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