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As a fitness instructor, nothing infuriates me more than hearing stories of women getting creeped on in the gym.

NOT OKAY. And you don’t have to take it. This is not a fact of life. This is harassment.

The gym is a place where you should feel safe, supported and empowered. If that’s not how you feel at your gym, it may be time to shop around.

Please consider the following:

1) There is absolutely never an excuse for you to tolerate harassment when you are PAYING for services. In a gym setting, it is the management’s JOB to keep you safe and make you feel welcome.

2) If it feels creepy, it is creepy. Don’t waste your time and energy playing the, “Is it in my head? Maybe he’s trying to be nice…” game. Life is short. You are busy. You know a creeper when you see one and it’s not your mission in life to take care of their feelings.

3) Businesses should have sexual harassment policies in place to protect both their employees and their customers. At my , our instructors watch to make sure that students treat one another with respect. When students approach any of us with concerns about classmates’ behavior, we take immediate action to deal with the situation in a way that makes the person who has been harassed the most comfortable. Usually this has involved having a conversation with the person whose behavior is inappropriate.

Once, a young man tried to bond with one of our male kickboxing instructors by saying, “I’m only here to pick up girls. I tried it before with yoga but that didn’t work out so I thought I’d give this a try.” The instructor firmly stated that the women at our studio were here to work out and that they were not interested in that kind of attention. He explained that “pick up” behavior is distracting, uncomfortable and inappropriate in this setting. The young man stopped attending classes shortly after that, and we were 100% satisfied with the outcome. We would rather lose one customer than have several people feeling uncomfortable.

Steps to take if you experience creeping or other harassment at your gym or class:

1) Report the incident to the instructor/manager. Ask if they have a harassment policy. If not, be clear about what you would like to see happen from this action. “Will someone from the gym please talk to this person and ask him not to stare at other members? Please let me know when that conversation has happened.”

If the behavior continues…

2) Try again. “You know, on (date of last complaint) someone told me they would address this situation. Did that happen? I’m still experiencing harassment and that’s not something I should have to deal with as a paying customer.”

If the behavior continues…

3) Last chance. “I’ve now complained twice about this issue and it has not been resolved. If this is not addressed I will be leaving this gym (and telling everyone I know exactly why I left).”

OR you could take the shortcut and deal directly with the creeper.

“Hey! Stop staring at me.”




Sexual Harassment By Customers: What to Say

26 Sep

I read through the search terms that bring readers to my site, and the majority of searches on harassment had to do with situations where the customer or guest at work is the harasser, especially when that person is drunk.

I addressed the legal aspects of dealing with workplace harassment (including the employer’s responsibilities) in an earlier post, but I want to give some specific ideas about what you can say and do in the moment if a customer is harassing you at work.

Clearly state that the behavior is unwelcome and inappropriate.

This can be as simple as, “That was really disrespectful and/or inappropriate. Please don’t do/say that again.” Or just, “It’s not ok for you to do/say that to me.”

You can also state that enduring harassment is not part of your job description:

“My job is to serve drinks, not to let you slap me on the ass.”

Stand by what you have said in an assertive (not aggressive) way.

What most women fear is the response they will get from a harasser once they have taken a stance. The key is to stick to a professional tone and keep your emotions on the back burner if possible. Stand tall, make full (even if it makes you feel very uncomfortable), and speak in a clear, calm voice. It’s natural to feel emotional and stressed in a situation like this, but you want to fake composure until the encounter is over. Remember to take full, even breaths. That slows the stress response.

Potential responses and how to deal with them:

1)      They are embarrassed and they apologize. In this case, I think it is nice to reward their good behavior with a smile and friendly attitude or a “thank you” for the apology.

2)      They are embarrassed and resent you for making them feel uncomfortable so they retaliate with a condescending but “humorous” attitude. Ex: “Oh, she’s feisty. Hey everyone (they often try to draw attention of supporters to feel like big men again), look at this chick. She’s serious. She can’t take a compliment.” In this case I would stand very firm and repeat the initial position, adding a potential consequence. “It’s not a compliment and it’s not funny. I’m sorry you feel embarrassed, but that still does not mean you can treat me with disrespect. I’ve been perfectly professional with you. Do I need to have a male coworker/manager take care of you today? I’ll go arrange that.”

3)      They turn mean and nasty. This is a scary one, but remember that you are relatively safe in a public place. Remember if they hurl slurs like “slut”, “bitch” or “dyke”—it’s not about you. If they use a threatening tone or especially threatening words like, “You think this is bad?” or “Maybe you need to learn how to (fill in the blank that means ‘be submissive to men’),” then you should leave as soon as possible. I would say, “Now you are taking a threatening tone. I’m going to get my manager.” If you feel you are in danger, I would ask the supervisor to call the police.

If they are drunk, the same protocol applies. The important thing to remember with a drunk creeper is that they no longer register subtle hints. You need to be extra clear, sometimes using a very firm voice and often repeating yourself. Drunk people can be dangerous, so keep them just outside of grabbing distance.

Other posts you might find useful: How to Be Polite Without Inviting Unwanted Attention

Does anyone have any tips or tricks they’ve used to deal with this situation? I’d love to hear your comments!

Women and Drinking and Creepers, Oh My!

12 Jul

Not only are drunken creepers unpleasant, they can be dangerous, especially when our own inhibitions and judgment are impaired by alcohol and other drugs.

90% of all campus rapes occur when alcohol has been used by either the assailant or the victim. (, 2007)

Alcohol is, in fact, the most widely used predatory drug. Think about everyone you know who has been sexually assaulted or raped and ask yourself if they or the perpetrator were using alcohol or other drugs. I don’t know about you, but in my social network the statistic looks more like 100%.

Yes, more widely talked about drugs like GHB and Rohypnol are still an issue, but only in about 3% of cases. More commonly, we need to be watching the use of alcohol (present in 55-63% of victims) and marijuana (present in 30% of victims).

While binge drinking is harmful in so many ways (physically, psychologically, socially), I don’t feel I can convince the devoted drinkers to drink less with a blog post so instead…

Here are some tips for partying safely:

  • Use the buddy system. When you go out, make sure you have friends who you trust (and who are deserving of your trust) to be your better judgement if you overdo it. It’s a good idea to have a designated sober person even if nobody is driving. Do NOT separate from your group. You may have learned from experience that looking out for your drunkest friends can be a thankless job (I’ve had to physically fight with friends to keep them from going home with strangers) but it beats the alternative.
  • Resist the drunken “hook up”. First of all, you know it’s not going to be very good even in the best scenario (you may not even remember it well), and the worst scenario is that it may turn into sexual assault. One of my best friends had to stop one of his friends from going home with a creeper and he reasoned with them “If you two really think you have something here, then why don’t you exchange numbers and get together when you are sober.” Wise words.
  • Don’t let a man walk you (or your friend) home unless it is someone you trust deeply. In Madison a few years back, a young woman was kidnapped and violently murdered by a man who claimed to know her. The woman was drunk to the point where she was not fully functioning and this man told the bartender he was her friend and he would get her home safe. He was never found after the murder. I’ve also heard of more than one case in which a “friend” walked a woman home, then forced his way into her house and raped her.

I helped plan this ad campaign when I was a student! Remember: a person cannot give consent if they are incoherent or incapacitated by alcohol.

Now, to address The Drunk Creeper. Sometimes he is overtly predatory, but sometimes misguided nice guys who lack social skills can get a little creepy too when they get a little liquid courage.

From U of Minnesota's brilliant "The Other Hangover" Campaign

Things to keep in mind when dealing with drunken creepers:

  • Drunk people don’t recognize subtle social cues. I imagine I am talking to a cross between a naughty child/dog and someone who doesn’t hear very well. I use a firm voice, simple wording, and a clear message. “NO. Leave me alone NOW. I have NO interest in you now or EVER.” or “STOP. TOUCHING. HER. NOW. or I will get a bouncer to throw you OUT.” Not only are they not offended, they often still seem confused, like they think this might be a flirtatious game, so you may have to follow up with, “I am NOT joking. I am SERIOUS. Leave NOW. Bye!.. BYE! (*shooing away motions*)” etc.
  • Don’t try to reason with drunk people. If they try to argue for continued creeping, do not engage! A trick is to put your hand out firmly in front of their face like you are saying “STOP.” Drunk people can’t help but to stop when they see this, at least momentarily. In the pause, cut them off and resume assertive communication from the step above. “STOP arguing. GO AWAY NOW.” Or you can go away, if that seems like the better option.
  • Your friend may have an inner creep that comes out when he is drunk. Just because someone is a nice guy normally, doesn’t mean he gets a free pass to creep when drunk. Here you may take a slightly more compassionate stance with something like, “You’re not acting like yourself, and I don’t like this side of you. (Name the behavior:) You are being rude and you are making me feel uncomfortable. Let’s talk again when you are sober.” Then leave the situation.

Men Who Want To Protect Women

15 Jun

Most fathers, brothers, boyfriends and more are good men who respect and care about the women and girls in their lives. Many of these men feel protective of these women and girls, and I can understand why. The world is not a very good place for women in a lot of ways. 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

I’m concerned, however, that some men may have some poorly informed ideas about how to best support the safety, comfort and happiness of the women and girls they love.

Threatening, intimidating or fighting bad people doesn’t help women.

Often it’s just a joke, but sometimes it’s more serious. The sentiment of “If anyone messes with you I’ll mess him up!” is not only misguided, but could cause more harm than good.

1) Telling a woman that she essentially needs a bodyguard sends her the message that she is a victim who can’t take care of herself and is deeply disempowering, not to mention insulting.

2) Violence and posturing are the problems here, not the solutions.

3) Often the best way to stand up for someone is to help them stand up for themselves. My mother recently moved to Texas and several women there told her, “Oh I don’t need to learn self defense– my husband has a gun!” Her response: “Where is your husband right now?”

Instead of saying, “I’ll protect you,” try things like, “I”ll stand by you if you need to tell that guy off” and “No, you’re not overreacting. He has no right to treat you like that.”

Warning women or girls to distrust men or to live in fear detracts from their quality of life.

Women don’t need to change how we dress or where we go in order to protect ourselves. Over 90% of violent crime is committed by men. Those men are the ones who need to change their behavior.

Rather than warning women or girls “what guys are like” or “how some guys think”, men who care about women should spend that time and effort talking to other men about how to respect women and how not to commit sexual violence.

Women: Expecting the men in your life to protect you is dangerous for everyone involved.

While women and children are most often the victims of sexual assault, men are much more often victims of violence in general. Women are taught to avoid conflict in our society, while men are taught that “a real man doesn’t back down from a fight.” That’s how a lot of men get hurt.

I would not want or expect any man in my life to take a punch for me, any more than I would want to take a punch myself. I write mainly about keeping women safe, but honestly one of the biggest social lessons a man can learn to keep himself safe is to avoid conflict. Repeat after me: “Hey man, I don’t want to fight.”

Tips for everyone to protect your loved ones:

-Don’t laugh at sexist, hateful or. If you can, confront the joker about why it’s not funny.

-If someone you know feels unsafe, don’t brush off their feelings. Encourage them to get out of that situation in their own way.

-Understand the warning signs of and .

-Recognize that nobody “asks for it” when they are raped or sexually assaulted. , including children.

-Empower your loved ones. Don’t let them underestimate themselves or put themselves down. Build their confidence by believing in them even when they don’t believe in themselves.

I teach to kids, and they can be soooo interesting to work with sometimes…

One kid in my class is a very smart, talented and charming little guy who sometimes forgets that he is bigger and stronger than the rest of the kids. He means well, but he has a habit of manhandling his classmates rather than using his words (we are working on this). Today, he was playfully grabbing one of the girls and she yelled,

“Stop touching me!” He didn’t listen to her, so I told him,

“Hey– You need to listen to her words. She is asking you not to touch her so now it’s your job to respect that.” Again, meaning well, he patted her on the shoulders saying,

“Sorry, sorry!” I stepped in again,

“She just asked you not to touch her, so touching her more is not the answer.” Inwardly I was smacking my own forehead thinking, “Geez, is this kid ever going to get it?” I looked up, and he was holding a sparring helmet above her head (to help her put it on) and, bless his little heart, he looked her in the eye and asked,

“May I?”

I was thrilled! I wanted to cheer, “And that’s how kids can practice talking about consent!” but instead I beamed at him and reinforced the behavior with a,

“Good asking!”

Kids are all up in each others’ space, as a general rule, and it’s mostly in good fun. It’s important for us as adults to set the standards, however, that both kids and adults need to ask before they touch and listen to the answer. If kids practice respect, they will grow into respectful adults.

How To Be Polite Without Inviting Unwanted Attention

2 May

You know the scenario well. You are going about your business– maybe waiting at a bus stop, maybe working out at the gym, maybe buying a drink at a bar—and you see (or feel) him coming a mile away: the creeper. Maybe this is a random creeper. Maybe this is a creeper you deal with regularly. The point is, you have no desire to enter into conversation with this person but he is not reading the signs you are sending. The situation is uncomfortable and embarrassing at a minimum, intimidating and worrisome at worst. What do you do? You don’t want to be rude, so maybe you try to let him down gently. When that doesn’t work, maybe you make an excuse to leave, or say as little as possible and avoid eye contact hoping he’ll take the hint and just go away.

This is one of the most commonly raised issues in my women’s self defense classes. We as women have largely been raised to be polite, to put the needs of others before our own, and to avoid confrontation (or else be condemned forever to wear the scarlet B!). My mother (Mary Murphy Edwards: 7th degree black belt/co-founder of SAFE Class/totally wise and powerful woman!) always used to say about politeness:

“If you are a kind, polite person—that is a strength! You are a good person for being considerate of others. Because you are a good person, you deserve to feel safe and comfortable!”

Creepers recognize your body language. Listen to your gut: If it feels creepy, it IS creepy! Creeping is an aggressive act. This person is entering your physical and social space uninvited and ignoring your signs that they are not welcome.

The answer is shockingly simple: Ask for what you want! You can do it as politely as you please. “Excuse me, I came here to work out so, unless you have a specific question about the gym facilities, I’d thank you to let me get back to it.” Or… “Wow, as you can see, I’m with my child right now and I teach him/her not to talk to strangers. I’m sure you can understand why I need to set the example right now. Have a nice day!” Or… “Oh, gee, that was a pretty good line! Unfortunately I’m not at all interested in talking to you right now, so in the interest of saving us both some time and awkwardness, I’m going to smile and walk away. Oh, and please don’t follow me. Thanks!”

Ok I’m getting a little silly here, but seriously– if you can’t leave or don’t want to leave, you need to ask the creeper to leave you alone.  Here are some specific strategies:

1)      I think ___, I feel ___, I want ___.

Ex: “ I think you are standing way too close to me. I feel uncomfortable and I want you to leave me alone now.”

2)      Name the behavior.

Ex: “I see that you are trying to come on to me, but I’m not interested. Bye!”

3)      “No” as a complete sentence.

Ex: “No.” (If they persist: “I said no and my answer is not going to change, no matter what you say, so please leave me alone now.”)

is a fabulous comedian and blogger who specializes in celebrity humor. I just want to say I respect her for saying exactly what she thinks.

Here GloZell calls out on the lyrics of her song (I know, this is so last summer but bear with me here…)

Now, I know some sexual assault prevention activists might look at this call out as victim blaming– that GloZell is saying that Rihanna is “asking for it”. My interpretation is that she hopes to empower women like Rihanna to seek healthy relationships. So. Good lookin out, GloZell. We all need to look out for one another. Rihanna is so talented and captivating and it’s not right that she has had to deal publicly with her abuse, but I hope she is finding ways to grow past it because, fair or not, a lot of eyes are on her. I think we need to hold people accountable when they have so much influence, particularly over young girls. Seriously, who wants a rude boy? Where are the songs about nice guys?

Reminder to Wisconsin Women: VOTE!

4 Apr

Tomorrow, Tuesday April 5, is an election day in Wisconsin and I urge all my readers to get to the polls and vote, vote, VOTE!!

Top 3 Reasons Women Should Never Miss An Opportunity to Vote:

1. Our foremothers fought– HARD– to earn our right to participate in democracy.

When I was growing up, I remember reading one paragraph (or maybe two) in my history books that stated some version of, “The suffragettes fought for women’s right to vote and were given that right in 1920 with the institution of the 19th amendment.” Maybe they mentioned Susan B. Anthony.

To put it simply, they left out the most important parts of this story. If you don’t know about , please do some reading or check out the movie and prepare to be moved by the history of women’s suffrage for the first time.

Alice Paul being dragged by police

Alice led wartime outside the whitehouse. Protesters were attacked by mobs and arrested, where they staged hunger strikes and were mistreated and painfully force fed.

Women weren’t given the vote. Women fought for the vote and won against all odds. VOTE!

2. We are still dramatically underrepresented in government.

According to :

As of 2011, 17 of the 100 U.S. Senators are women. Thirteen of the women who have served were appointed; seven of those were appointed to succeed their deceased husbands.

There are currently 72 (16.6%).

We make up just over 50% of the population but only 17% of the government. Oh and we’ve been represented in the office of the president exactly never. VOTE!

3. The provides handy fact sheets to prepare voters for the polls.

Forget that old excuse of “I don’t have the time to get informed”! The League has done the legwork for you! Thank you, League of Women Voters! You’re the best! Now, please, don’t disappoint the League: VOTE!

…and for a heartwarming audio introduction to some spirited members of the League of Women Voters, please check out my dear pal ‘s piece: !

See you at the polls, ladies!

Body Language And Consent

23 Mar

Thomas from wrote an excellent explaining new research that demonstrates that a non-verbal no is as clear as a verbal no.

This is particularly important when we consider the trauma response to sexual assault. An assault triggers the fight, flight or freeze response. I know I talk a lot about fighting, as a martial arts instructor, but the reality is that in that moment of intense stress, many victims freeze. Just because someone does not fight back does not mean that they gave consent. It also does not mean they deserved to be assaulted or were responsible for the attack in any way. Yet, in the few rape cases that go to trial, the most common defense is to assert that the encounter was consensual. This defense often focuses on what the victim did not do (ex. fight back, say no clearly or loudly or believably enough, etc.). Unfortunately, what they did do (in terms of non-verbal communication) would be hard to recreate in court. This new research is just one more piece of evidence supporting the fact that victims should be believed and that creepers know exactly what they are doing.

Workplace Harassment: Not Our Job to Tolerate It

6 Mar

Workplace harassment can be arguably one of the trickiest situations for women to deal with. It may be hard to recognize, and women often perceive negative consequences for taking action against it. Worse, many women come to feel that harassment is a normal part of the working experience– something we all have to get used to or put up with. Just part of the job.

Women should not be expected to endure sexual harassment from their employers, coworkers or customers in order to be successful in the working world. It is wrong, and yes– it is illegal.

The website has some great information about sexual harassment at work.

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination.The legal definition of sexual harassment is “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.”

Unfortunately, this definition does not include one-time instances unless they are “severe” (ex: rape). It does, however, include harassment that may not be “sexual” per se but rather gender based discrimination. This could include sabotaging the work of female employees in a male-dominated work setting, for example.

The federal law against sexual harassment in the workplace is . State laws vary. Legally, not only are employers required to protect employees from sexual harassment, but they are prohibited from retaliation should an employee make a complaint. That means if your employer attempts to fire or otherwise punish you for speaking out about your experience of workplace sexual harassment, they are punishable by law.

A great way to protect yourself is to inquire about your employer’s sexual harassment policies immediately upon applying for or accepting a new job. Employers should have written policies that dictate how they will respond to incidents of harassment. If they do not, you could suggest that they write them or offer to help get that project started. Be sure to note policies regarding sexual harassment by customers, which employers are also required to protect against by law. As an employer, I can speak to the fact that the happiness and safety of employees is central to the success of a business. I would rather lose one customer than have that person creating problems for employees or other customers.

What to do if you experience sexual harassment in your workplace:

1. Clearly state that the behavior is unwelcome, unwanted and inappropriate.

2. Document the incident in writing in as much detail as possible (including witnesses and, if possible, their accounts of what happened).

3. Report the incident to your superior in writing to create a paper trail, and follow the policies set forth by your employer for dealing with incidents of sexual harassment.

4. If these steps do not remedy the situation, it may be time to take legal action.

I think it is also important to address the social nature of the workplace. I have had many women express to me in self defense classes that they feel uncomfortable confronting employers or coworkers about harassment because it could create an awkward social situation. This is what I have to say to that: If someone is harassing you at work, they have created an awkward situation! If they feel embarrassed when you confront them– good! They should feel embarrassed and ashamed! Why would you worry about making someone feel uncomfortable when that person has already made you feel not only uncomfortable, but potentially unsafe? Exactly. The harassment is the problem. Confronting the harasser is the solution.

Finally, many women have a problematic habit of doubting themselves when other people disrespect them. I hear a lot of “Well, maybe he’s just trying to be nice,” or “I could just be overreacting.” Just because sexual harassment and gender discrimination is such a common experience that many of us have gotten used to it does not make it any less serious of a problem. Let me put it this way– as a general rule, if someone is bothering you enough that you are having a conversation with yourself in your head in which you need to justify their behavior, their behavior was probably inappropriate.

Do they know that they behaved inappropriately? Maybe, maybe not. Should it be your job to inform them of what constitutes appropriate behavior? No, it really shouldn’t. Should you have that talk with them anyway? Yeah, I’d recommend it. Even if this person rejects what you have to say, you still take back your power in the act of saying it.

Anyone have stories of standing up to harassment? I’d love to hear your comments!


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