Women Spend 70% of Our Energy Strategizing How to Stay Safe

Why we need more than bright lights and busy streets

Over the past few years, as awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence, rape culture, domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the risks women face in public spaces rises, the conversation tends to focus on re-education boys and men, and often populations at large, about gender-based violence, whether to ensure on an individual level that men’s anger shouldn’t be taken out on women or on a structural level to take women’s safety into consideration when designing products, prescriptions and public space.

Rightly so; however, this re-education, research and re-design takes time. Meanwhile, every two minutes somewhere in the United States a woman is raped. The numbers are generally universal around the world, regardless of country or culture. And every woman that carries the trauma of that rape (not to mention the trauma of being catcalled, harassed, followed, grabbed, groped, or beaten) is the falling domino that sets an entire row in motion that can last generations, and keep the cycle of sexual violence feeding itself:

Women who experience sexual violence suffer trauma that can lead to:

  • Reduced capacity to work
  • Menstrual irregularities & severe period pain
  • Difficulty conceiving and fear of childbirth
  • Increased maternity mortality rates
  • Intensified menopause symptoms
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Drug & alcohol abuse

It’s not only the individual who suffers. Women who experience sexual violence suffer trauma that can cause transgenerational trauma:

After a first generation survivor experiences trauma, they can transfer their trauma to their children and further generations of offspring via complex post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms, e.g., adaptive survival and coping mechanisms created to live with the trauma.

However, these mechanisms are (often unwittingly) modeled by parents to their children as the appropriate coping mechanisms for the challenges of adulthood, for everything from mild to intense emotional and/or economic crises (e.g., raise in grocery prices, extracurricular demands from children’s school, missed credit card payments, unsuccessful loan applications, job loss, divorce, grief).

Children adopt their parents’ defensive behaviors that, outside of the context of a parent’s trauma, can become narcissistic, manipulative and ultimately abusive, perpetuating the cycle.

The damage of gender-based and sexual violence affects more than just a single family. The futures and promise of women are severely compromised as well, perpetuating not only cycles of abuse but also cycles of poverty, contributing directly to lower median educations, to urban racial and socio-economic segregation, and to lack of women’s voices in design, architecture, and policy:

  • 34.1% of students who have been sexually victimized drop out of college or university (compared to overall university dropout rates of 29.8% across all genders). [Wagatwe Wanjuki, December 2020].
  • 47% of women surveyed in Jordan reported to have turned down job opportunities, naming sexual harassment on public transportation as one of the main reasons. [Arab Voices, Worldbank Blogs, September 2020]
  • Women are less likely to ask for funding, launch a business or step into a public role for fear of online or offline violence [Reuters, April 2021]
  • In 2018, workplace sexual harassment in the cost US businesses $2.62 billion in lost productivity, which represents the loss of gross domestic product imposed by workplace sexual harassment.

Finally, the cost of gender-based and sexual violence extends all the way to the corporate world, straining social resources on national levels:

In 2019, more than 25 million adults were raped in the U.S. and the crime carries a total economic burden of almost $3.1 trillion, according to CDC research.

Ultimately, the price of gender-based and sexual violence is a price every person on the planet pays:

70–80% of the world’s food comes from smallholder farms, 60% of which are run by women, who are less likely to take food to market for fear of violence [Global Food Security, June 2018]

When women are not physically safe en route to, or at, markets smallholder farms suffer:

Produce cannot be sold→

→ farms cannot make enough money to buy seed, equipment or water →

→ which means that resources that would be spent on irrigation, reforestation, or sustainable crop yields are wasted on producing more immediate, high-yield crops to sustain the farm, but that damage the farmland and deplete water sources… all to make up for the income lost by unsafe travel to market.

In 2012, the the Institute of Medicine in Washington DC conducted a study on the Prevention of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military, as part of the Committee on the Assessment of Ongoing Effects in the Treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

One of the most important findings by the Committee was that mental resilience and PTSD appear to be inversely correlated (in this context, mental resilience is a person’s ability to adapt or change successfully in the face of adversity). The study found that soldiers who were better prepared for combat were more realistic at understanding the kinds of threat they might face, and had an overall lower perception of threat when actually faced with it. These two important factors combined made them to develop PTSD after a traumatic experience.

The Committee also acknowledged something that women’s support groups have been practicing for years, especially in groups focused on either childbirth or grief. Post-traumatic growth, as it’s termed in the report, are the positive personal changes resulting from coping with a traumatic event.

By its very nature, a good women’s self defense courses incorporates this, too.

It disrupts violent incidents as they happen, providing the target with autonomy and a sense of control, significantly reducing the potential short- and longterm impact of trauma.

Although there are more and more products on the market to help women stay safe, with the exception of actual weapons, none of these products can disrupt violence as it’s occurring: an alarm, a tracking app, a digital signal to police are all effective in calling for help, but that help can take precious minutes to arrive.

Violence takes very little time to initiate or commit, but as we can see from the stats above, it takes a lifetime — if not generations — to recover from.

Women spend more time both consciously and unconsciously calculating our safety than we spare on literally anything else. Most of our strategizing started as girls, and it evolves into a calculation constantly running the background of our daily tasks. But that also means that we are never able to commit 100% of ourselves to anything, as long as we are not safe.


…and apply that energy for surviving, to thriving: to getting an education, pursuing a career, following dreams, and building a better world?

Learning self defense is the most fundamental form of self determination and, therefore, empowerment. It’s not only good for an individual woman’s safety; it’s good for her family, her community, her city and for the whole planet.

Learn more about realistic, accessible, non-fear based self defense training at prettydeadlyselfdefense.com.

  • by workplace sexual harassment.

Founder of Pretty Deadly Self Defense @ prettydeadlyselfdefense.com // Former producer of art podcast Artipoeus: art you can hear @ artipoeus.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store