Rape Culture – Gershon Ben Keren

In recent months, I’ve read a lot of articles in the media, by journalists and bloggers, that suggest the solution to rape and sexual assaults against women, is a simple one: men should stop raping/assaulting women. This is also an argument that is extremely prevalent on US college and university campuses. Unfortunately, when we look at the facts around these cases, this argument doesn’t make sense- it has no basis in reality. It is a popular opinion, but one that can lead us down some dangerous, although unintended, paths including victim blaming, and putting the responsibility for certain aspects of an assault onto women, rather than the assailant – something that was implied throughout the recent Brock Turner case.

Rape is often seen as a crime that is primarily motivated by sex, and is often attempted to be understood from this perspective. Many people still believe that rapists are sexually frustrated individuals driven by “normal” sexual desires and urges, that they are unable to fulfill due to the lack of availability of a consensual partner. One of the reasons that this view exists is because we try to understand the world as we see it, rather than accepting that there are individuals out there who have a different world view to ourselves; who see things differently to us. Many rapists have partners and/or are married and have an active “consensual” sex life. It is not the need for sex that drives the rapist, but the urge to exert power, anger and control over a non-consenting victim.

A rapist is not looking for consensual sex through negotiation, only resorting to forceful means when this doesn’t work; from the outset they are looking to dominate and control a non-consenting victim. Only when we accept this will we start to recognize rapists for who they are and begin to understand the experiences of their victims. If we believe that sexual assailants are actually searching for consenting victims and only rape out of frustration when their target refuses, we may inadvertently introduce the suggestion that the victim may in some way be responsible or guilty for leading this person on, and contributing to their frustration either by the way they dressed, acted or behaved, etc. This is a very dangerous door to start opening, as it can be used to explain away a sexual predator’s nature, behaviors, and actions.

There is a big difference between someone who is pressuring, negotiating, and shaming a person into consensual sex, and someone who is seeking a victim to sexually dominate and control against their will, and unfortunately this difference is rarely acknowledged. In our current culture, it is becoming more and more acceptable to behave in a misogynistic way towards women, and for men to have an attitude of entitlement towards sex. However, this entitlement is based on the belief that women should want to consent to have sex with men, and it is only a matter of pushing and pressurizing to get this consent.

There are of course women who have consented reluctantly to sex with men they didn’t really like, or would rather not have, after being pressured and bullied, however from the man’s perspective and understanding it was consensual; they were seeking consensual sex, through anti-social means. Do such attitudes need to be addressed? Absolutely, however they need to be addressed, separately and differently to rape, as the motivations of the individuals who engage in them, are very different to those of rapists. To try and deal with them in the same way and with the same methods will not be successful. These anti-social bullies are motivated by sex, whereas rapists are motivated by anger and the need to have power and control over their victims.

Rape is a premeditated act, committed by a sexual assailant, who has fantasized, and to some degree planned and orchestrated their assault – that may be as simple as deciding not to take “No” as an answer. This is different to an anti-social, bully trying to negotiate a “no” into a “yes”, in order to have consensual sex, with a possibly reluctant and hesitant partner. The sexual assailant will have fantasized and masturbated over their control and domination of an unwilling victim, who they can humiliate and dispense their anger towards, whilst the anti-social, misogynist will fantasize about a willing partner who wants to please him, because he is entitled to be treated in that way i.e. women want to have sex with him. One can potentially be educated concerning their views and attitudes towards women, whilst the other is a predator who is to a greater or lesser extent hardwired to sexually assault women; for any number of reasons.

Rapists, will often try to identify themselves not as predators, but as those who believed they were engaged in acts of consensual sex, and unfortunately, many people believe them -because they don’t distinguish between the motivations of a predator, and the forceful, demanding, and entitled behaviors/actions of those looking to negotiate and engage in consensual sex. The “men just need to stop raping women” argument, needs to be re-labelled to, “men need to stop pressurizing and bullying women who don’t want to have sex with them, into having sex with them” and this should be coupled with the advice that women should be trained in how to identify men who are sexual predators. Society has a role to play in educating men on how to “negotiate” consensual sex, and the individual has a role to play in learning how to predict, identify, avoid and deal with sexual predators.

One of the reasons I believe that misogynistic behaviors and actions towards women have been linked and tied up with rape and sexual assault, is because this type of attitude and treatment of women, lacks a term/definition. I have always referred to it as “Sexual Aggression”, and I believe that many universities and colleges in the US don’t actually have a “Rape Culture” but instead a “Sexually Aggressive” one, and it is this that needs to be distinguished and addressed. Brock Turner tried to hide behind this culture argument and used it to explain, excuse and discount his actions. He tried to argue that rape and sexual assaults are caused by alcohol and drugs, and the sexually aggressive culture on university campuses, rather than on a predatory personality, and the judge at his trial bought this argument. One of the great dangers behind the “men just need to stop raping women” argument, is the belief that it is a lack of education, which causes men to rape, and that if this sexually aggressive culture could be addressed, there would be fewer rapes. Brock Turner knew that what he did was wrong. The fact that he tried to argue that his unconscious victim had in fact consented, demonstrated that he knew that sex with a non-consenting partner was wrong – and he knew this, regardless of the amount of alcohol he’d consumed.

Sexually aggressive individuals may become angry and antagonistic when a woman refuses their advances, or won’t acquiesce to their requests. They may also vent their frustrations in other ways, such as trying to humiliate and embarrass the woman they were trying to convince to sleep with them, however this is because they are unable to get consent. They may keep bullying and pressuring, but these actions and behaviors are designed to force a change of mind, and this is where the motivations behind them differ from that of rapists and sexual predators, who aren’t looking for consent. These individuals are not primarily motivated by sex, but by other, darker urges. Unfortunately, education and a change in “culture” won’t stop them; appropriate personal safety training, and self-defense can. If we can accept that rape is a premeditated crime, born out of masturbatory fantasy, and committed by predatory individuals, and not a product of a culture, sentencing will be fairer, and victims much more likely to come forward and identify their assailants, without the risk of judgment. If we continue to argue that rapists first seek consensual sex, and only when that fails, and as a last resort engage in non-consensual sex, we start to bring into question how the victim behaved and acted in the situation, and that is doing them the greatest of disservices.


The Confusion Between Conflict Resolution & De-escalation, Part I – Gershon Ben Keren

There is a common misconception that conflict resolution is the same as de-escalation; if you resolve the conflict, you deescalate the situation. The phrase, “putting the cart before the horse”, comes to mind -i.e. how can you resolve a conflict if somebody is still in an emotional and adrenalized state? The answer is, you can’t. Yet many people try to do so. The belief that being calm, and reasonable, will somehow resolve a conflict with an aggressive and emotional person, is misplaced and dangerous. When reason leaves the building, negotiation and explanation have no place – these methods can only exist and be effective where an individual’s faculties to process and evaluate information are still in place; if they’re not, what you have to say, will either fall on deaf ears or escalate the situation. All talk will be interpreted as fighting talk, by an emotional person, even if it’s intended otherwise. If I truly want to deescalate a situation I need to put ego, feelings and emotions aside, something most untrained people are unwilling/”unable” to do. Most people would rather be right than effective – and this attitude does not lend itself to de-escalation. De-escalation often looks/appears to involve backing down, and few people’s egos can take this hit. The process doesn’t necessarily involve backing down but it does involve giving up on the idea that you need to be right, and put your own point of view across.
There are basically two types of violence: premeditated and spontaneous.

Premeditated acts of violence, involve individuals who have decided upon and planned to become violent; spontaneous acts of violence involve persons who have become violent due to your actions and behaviors, whether real or perceived. A mugger who purchases/acquires a knife, selects a location, and starts actively looking for victims, represents a predatory individual who is engaged in a premeditated act of violence – i.e. they have planned to become violent. If you spill a drink over somebody and they become violent due to this, then you are dealing with a spontaneous act of violence – your action/behavior caused them to become violent (the spilt drink) – they didn’t come to the bar looking to engage in an aggressive confrontation. Sometimes premediated acts of violence present themselves as being spontaneous. In a truly spontaneous act of violence, an aggressor has no predefined goals – they don’t know what they want out of it; someone you’ve spilt a drink over doesn’t know what will make the situation right, or what outcome will actually satisfy them, they simply don’t see an alternative to violence in that moment. When an aggressor comes to a situation knowing what they want out of it and not being prepared to accept any alternative, it is not a spontaneous act of violence. Sometimes premeditated act of violence can be interpreted as being impromptu and spontaneous, even if they’re not.

Having worked bar and door security, I’ve had to refuse entry to individuals for a variety of reasons e.g. they didn’t meet the dress requirements of the establishment (wearing trainers/sneakers and/or a football or soccer shirt, etc.), they were too inebriated, or I simply had a bad feeling about them. Most times, people would accept the refusal, sometimes they wouldn’t. It may seem that it was the refusal that caused them to become aggressive i.e. it’s a spontaneous act of violence, however if their goal was to come into the bar or club regardless of any objections, that this was their only goal/outcome, it was really a premeditated act of aggression – and understanding the difference is important. Spontaneous acts of violence and confrontations, which lack a defined goal, can usually be de-escalated and resolved; premeditated ones can’t. In a premeditated act of violence, such as a mugging, the mugger can only envisage one outcome: leaving with your wallet (the variable is whether they will have to stab or shoot you in order to achieve this). If you spill a drink over somebody they don’t have any particular outcome in mind, and are possibly open to alternatives to violence – if they can be put in the right state of mind to consider them (this is the goal of de-escalation) – such as having another drink bought for them, their dry-cleaning paid for, etc.

The problem is that many people try to resolve conflicts and disputes without first de-escalating them. An emotional and aggressive person is not able to consider alternatives to violence, especially when they feel justified to act violently (the injustice of having a drink spilt over them, for example). The only time you will be able to successfully resolve a conflict, is when the person is in an emotional state where they can compare and evaluate different alternatives. When they’re not in this state, they will interpret everything you say and do as you posturing to them. I have witnessed this on countless occasions when somebody is trying to talk rationally to an aggressive individual and nothing they are saying is being interpreted as a potential solution to the situation; they are just not in the emotional mindset to be able to consider any outcome to the situation other than violence. The goal of de-escalation is to reduce the emotion in the situation so that the aggressor can consider different non-physical ways that the situation can be resolved. Making the most logical and rational suggestions to an angry, emotional person is not going to get you anywhere, and is in fact more likely to escalate the situation for you.

The first question you have to ask yourself when facing an aggressive and angry individual is whether this is a spontaneous act of violence or a premeditated one. If it’s a premeditated one – the person has come to the situation with a single outcome in mind, and is prepared to use violence to achieve this – you have two options: to use physical force or acquiesce to your aggressor’s demands (if this involves handing over your wallet you may be prepared to do this, if it involves being sexually assaulted you probably won’t). It may be that depending on your job/responsibilities you can’t acquiesce e.g. if what somebody was wearing didn’t adhere to a club/bar’s dress code, I couldn’t let them in, etc. If it’s a spontaneous act of violence, where an aggressor didn’t come to the situation with a particular goal in mind, then de-escalation is more often than not an option available to you.

In the second part to this article, I will describe and explain a process for de-escalating spontaneous acts of violence that I have used in many situations, to avoid being involved in a physical confrontation.

End Part I.

The Confusion Between Conflict Resolution & De-escalation, Part II – Gershon Ben Keren

In last month’s article, I looked at the times when deescalating aggressive situations is an appropriate solution i.e. when the aggressor you are facing is involved in a “spontaneous” act of violence – one that they haven’t planned or orchestrated; but have become aggressive and potentially violent due to your actions or behaviors, whether real or perceived e.g. you have, or they believe you have, spilt a drink over them, jumped ahead of them in a queue, taken a parking space they were waiting for, etc. This is contrary to premeditated assaults, such as muggings and sexual assaults, where an aggressor has planned the incident and knows what they want to achieve/get out of it – they have a defined goal. Because in spontaneous situations there is no defined goal or specified outcome (the person you have spilt a drink over doesn’t know what will make the situation right for them), you may have the chance and opportunity to get them to consider non-violent alternatives that might resolve the conflict/dispute. However in order to do this, you must first take some of the emotion out of the situation so that they are able to consider these alternatives – this is the purpose of the de-escalation process.

To understand how this process works, we must first gain an appreciation for the way that people think, and interpret your actions and behaviors when emotive and aggressive. As you are reading this article, you are using your brain’s reasoning capacity, however if you were to become angry, this would start to shut off and you would start to process information using your limbic system brain. Your limbic system brain doesn’t understand reason and rationale, it is used to understanding disputes and conflicts at the social level, as a dog or a wolf would. Dogs and wolves are social creatures (bereft of reason) who resolve disputes through posture and submission e.g. one growls, snarls and makes themselves look big, whilst the other roles over and exposes it’s neck in a display of submission (conflict resolved).

When a person becomes emotional and aggressive, they start using brain functions and paths which are more animalistic – dog-like. They stop using their reasoning brain to process information, and start to see conflicts in a more dog-like way, with the person they are dealing with either posturing to them, or acting submissively. If you have ever told an angry person to calm down, you have probably been met with the response, “I AM CALM!” Instead of interpreting what you said in the spirit it was meant, they can only see and hear things from the perspective of them being either an act of posturing or submission; when you tell somebody to calm down, stop shouting etc., you are telling them what to do, and so they posture back to you – this escalates rather than de-escalates the conflict.

If they are extremely emotional, they may be using their reptilian brain, rather than their limbic system/mammalian brain. Their reptilian brain will interpret everything as being either fight or flight – reptiles are not social creatures in the way that dogs are and so their interpretations of threats, conflicts and disputes are much more basic; they either disengage or they attack (they can give warning signs, but these are different to acts of posturing, as only disengagement – flight – rather than acting submissively will avert and attack).
The goal of any de-escalation process should be to get an individual to stop working with their limbic system or reptilian brain(s), and start to use their reasoning brain again. If you can get an aggressor to start using and applying reason and rationale to a situation, rather than emotion, they will be able to consider alternatives to violence.

One way to get an aggressive individual to start using their rational/reasoning brain, is to recognize and inform them of their emotional state. Saying something like, “You seem really angry”, can be one way of doing this. Feelings and emotions, are not the same thing. Our emotional state is the physical state we are in, such as being adrenalized, our feelings are the conscious interpretation of that state, such as feeling angry or scared, etc. When we are highly emotional, and our reasoning brain shuts off, we are not able to “feel” our emotional state, we are just in it. By pointing out how an aggressor is “feeling”, such as being angry, will often cause them to register their emotional state; something that they have to use their reasoning brain for. A common response to this statement is, “Of course I’m angry, you spilt a drink over me!” This is a good starting point, as the emotional individual is now starting to process what has happened to them, and the reasoning brain has been engaged, even if it is not in full control of that person’s actions and behaviors.

To keep the person processing the situation from a rational perspective, you can follow up with the question, “what can I do to sort this out?” This question forces an aggressor to start using their reasoning brain to consider different alternatives, which would potentially satisfy them in the situation. The emotional limbic and reptilian brains, are unable to weigh up the pros and cons of different outcomes, and so have to hand over this decision making process to the reasoning brain. It may be that the individual responds that you can buy them another drink and pay for their dry cleaning. The fact that it is the aggressor who has determined the solution to the situation is important, as it allows them to posture in a controlled and directed manner, which means by accepting their solution, you are acting in the submissive role – in the animal kingdom – or when people are processing information – this submissive response will end the conflict.

If you were to make the suggestion that you should buy this individual another drink and pay for their dry-cleaning, it is likely that your idea would have been interpreted as you posturing to them, i.e. telling them how the conflict will be resolved – you setting the terms. There may of course be individuals who make preposterous and ridiculous demands e.g. you can buy drinks for them and their friends for the rest of the night, etc. In such cases, you can still keep the person engaging with their reasoning mind by saying something along the lines of, “I’m sorry but I’m not able to do that, can you think of anything else that might resolve this situation?” As long as they can keep on track, coming up with alternatives, their reasoning brain is engaged.

In some cases, usually when a person is working with their reptilian brain, they may be so emotional that de-escalation isn’t an option. The clearest signal that somebody is about to assault you, in a spontaneous act of violence, is when they lose verbal control and reasoning. When a person meets your statements or questions with silence, garbles and jumbles their words (“you drink my spilt!”) and/or simply keeps repeating the injustice over and over again, faster and faster e.g. “you spilt my drink!”, “You Spilt My Drink!”, “YOU SPILT MY DRINK!” these are clear warning signs that they are unable to understand or process what you are saying and they are in fight or flight mode; more likely fight. This is the time when you need to ditch your de-escalation process and prepare to respond physically either by creating distance for yourself, or by attacking pre-emptively; the time for talking is over. I have heard many people in the security and self-defense industry talk about other warning signs, such as changes in a person’s complexion, etc., and whilst these do occur, they can be hard to notice and identify, especially if lighting is low-level, such as a in a nightclub or bar, or if the person has been consuming alcohol. Checking a person’s ability to reason verbally is a much better indication of their emotional state.
Whenever you attempt to de-escalate a situation, you should do so in a non-threatening stance, with your hands out in a placating fashion, so that your body language and posture reflects what you are saying (see photo). With your hands out in front of you, in the international language for both “stop”, and “I don’t want any trouble”, you will be both confirming your desire to de-escalate and resolve the conflict as well as putting yourself in a good position to both defend yourself and attack pre-emptively; in any crisis negotiation you should be prepared to respond physically if necessary, even if this isn’t your primary goal.

Why Personal Safety Rules Simply Don’t Work – Gershon Ben Keron

Many people believe that personal safety is little more than formalized common sense, and that by following a few sensible rules it is possible to thwart the plans of those who intend to cause us harm. They will gladly accept the top 10 safety tips that some magazine posts, and nod as they read each one, without questioning the credentials of the author, and whether these “tips” are the result of a study, or even somebody’s experiences (and experience by its very nature is limited). As long as the advice given makes sense, then it of course must be true. Whenever I do personal safety seminars and training for beginners, I come up against these rules all the time.

New students might insist that you can tell when somebody’s lying to you because they look away, that if you’re talking on your mobile phone you’re safe because somebody knows where you are etc. Every predatory individual we are trying to protect ourselves from, knows these rules, and has a plan to navigate round them; the pedophile soccer coach who is taking your child to see a professional game, will look you squarely in the eye as they tell you that no harm will come to your kid, and the sexual assailant who is looking to rape you knows full well that they can commit their assault before the person on the other end of the phone can get to you, or get others to you, etc. Next time you read an article on personal safety (including this one) be aware that there is probably a predatory individual reading it as well, and arming themselves with the same knowledge, but for very different reasons.

Even the rules that we think we would never bend, that we believe we’d always adhere to, can be broken if we are dealing with a skilled social predator. If you asked every woman who had ever gotten into a car with a stranger, let a stranger into her home, etc. and been assaulted as a result, if beforehand she would do such a thing; I guarantee they’d emphatically say no. This is not to blame these individuals for their actions, but to illustrate that these predators understand the rules we work to, and know how to either get us to break them, or to think that they don’t apply in the context in which we are interacting with them. You might think you’d never get into a car with a stranger, and if you’re thinking of a situation where a driver pulls up next to you and asks you to get in, you’re probably right – however few predators will target adults in such a direct manner, and prefer to create a situation where you would “willingly” get into their car, maybe because it would be socially awkward not to.

Imagine that you have met someone on the internet, on a dating site, and have arranged to go out for a meal with them, and towards the end of the meal they say, “This has been a really great evening, I’ve not had so much fun in a long time, it would be a shame to end the night now. I know a great bar across town, why don’t we go and have a drink there?” Throughout the course of the meal with this charming and interesting guy (yes, that’s the profile of many predatory individuals), you’ve been hoping that he’d ask you on another date, and it seems that he just has. He’s got you to want what he wants; something that many predators will work towards. This includes the pedophile soccer coach who wants to take your child to see a professional game – you’d love to take them, however you simply don’t have the time to do so, but fortunately this guy does and wants to and because of this you are willing to bend a few rules that you wouldn’t think you’d be prepared to do – why should your child lose out on this experience?

Getting back to the date scenario – as you walk out to the parking lot/carpark to get your car to drive to this bar, and have a final drink, your date says, “Tell you what, let’s take my car. It’s not the easiest place to find, and I can be designated driver.” You want to go with them to the bar and it would be awkward to refuse the ride; after all, they might be offended if you’re insistent about taking your own car. It would be very easy to convince yourself that your rule doesn’t really apply in this situation; is your date really a stranger? They seem so nice, and you have already spent the better part of an evening with them, with no ill result. With this reasoning, you may well find yourself getting into a car with a stranger.

Personal Safety Rules, just don’t work. Skilled predators can quite easily get us to convince ourselves that they don’t apply to a particular situation. Also, the more times we break a rule, and there is no consequence to doing so, the less relevant that rule seems to be. Let’s say you move to a new house, and there are two ways to access it: one is a well-lit route, enjoying natural surveillance, whilst the other means you have to go down a dark alley – the advantage being that it takes you half the time to get to your house. Normally, you take the hit on the time and use the safer route but one day, because you’re in a hurry, you chance the dark alley. On this occasion nothing happens. You still prefer, and believe you’re safer using the other route, but you’ve broken your rule of, “don’t walk down dark alleyways” without suffering any consequences.

After several more occasions of breaking your rule, you conclude that the dark alleyway is actually safe, and it becomes your default route; and it is safe, until the time it isn’t, and that’s the time you get assaulted. Our society is generally safe, and that allows us to do unsafe things, a lot of the time without disastrous endings, and the more times we break the rules that we believe will keep us safe, the more we become convinced that the rule doesn’t apply to us or our/a particular situation.

There are also times when it may be in our best interest to break a rule. Imagine that you are walking home, and just before you get to the entrance to the dark alley (that you have yet never taken, because you favor the well-lit route back), you notice that a large scale fight has broken out on the street that you normally walk down. You now have a choice, you can go down the dark alley, or you can keep walking towards the street fight. In such a situation – although it may be somewhat contrived – it makes more sense to ignore your rule of not walking down dark alleyways, rather than to blindly stick to it. In this instance you will have ignored the rule, and made a dynamic risk assessment of the situation that you have found yourself in, and this is how we should deal with all our personal safety issues and concerns.

Rather than blindly following rules, we should seek to understand the situations that we find ourselves in, and understand the processes that violent predators use. Armed with this knowledge, we don’t need to rely on our flawed common sense and specific rules, for our personal safety. We can question why a single male in their mid 20’s is so interested in taking our child to a soccer match that we can’t, we can understand why our date is so insistent, and is working so hard to get us into their car. It takes effort to make risk assessments, and it’s not as simple as blindly following our common sense (a skilled predator will be able to make everything make sense to us), but it’s the only way of truly ensuring our safety. On the one hand, we are fortunate that the relative safety of our world allows us to get it wrong so many times when we follow our rules, without suffering any consequences, however this does not mean that we or our rules are right, or should be trusted.

When you make a dynamic risk assessment, you need to first consider whether you are facing a High Risk situation, or one that contains Unknown Risks. If you have to make a risk assessment, then you are not in a low risk situation, and thinking in terms of low risk, will only get you to drop your guard. If it is a high risk situation, how can you mitigate these risks? Could you go with your kid to the soccer match (personal safety does take effort) or take them to another one? If it’s somebody offering you a ride, assess your relationship to them – do you know how they will act and behave in this situation? If you’ve just met them, then the answer is definitely no. Forget the rules, and think about the risks.