Thursday, November 8, 2012

Four Lies: You, Our Courts and Claiming Self-Defense

I'm going to start by lying to you. 

In fact I'm such a big liar, I'll tell you four falsehoods about our legal system, self-defense, and what to expect when you are caught in the meat grinder.

Well to be more precise, I'm going to tell you four 'lies to children.'

It's funny that I use the word 'precise' because 'a lie-to-children' is: A statement that is false, but nevertheless leads the child's mind toward a more accurate explanation, one that the child will only be able to appreciate if it has been primed with the lie.

Those are Terry Pratchett's exact words in his book The Science of Discworld (a very funny fantasy series). I got the term 'lies to children' from him.

But let's expand on the concept. The Discworld Wiki says: Any explanation of an observed phenomenon which, while not 100 percent scientifically accurate, is simple enough, and just accurate enough, to convey the beginnings of understanding to anyone who is new to the subject. There is always time to fill them in on the fine detail further down the road. This describes the sort of axioms we tell young children when they are beginning to get to grips with science. (

Got it? This is a teaching tool. Not exactly true, but true enough to get you ready to understand more complex -- and nuanced -- information.

So here are the four lies about what you will encounter in court when you claim 'self-defense:'
1) "Most attorneys don't know how defend an innocent person."
2) The burden of proof is on you.
3) The roles change.
4) There are prosecutors who think if someone died, there must be a crime.

These four 'lies' will help you understand what you will be facing and not be traumatized by what happens to you after a self-defense situation.

1) "Attorneys don't know how to defend an innocent person."

I first heard this statement from Massad Ayoob. It is a great sound bite. One that makes you stop and say, "Wha ... ?" And well it should.

Mas told me this before I started doing expert witness work in court. Even then it made sense. But to tell you the truth, that was before I had first-hand experience with how much lawyers DON'T know about violence, much less self-defense. Or how little they understand about effectively defending someone who acted in legitimate self-defense. There is a big reason why it tops the list of lies to children you need to know.

To understand why, you have to know something not about the law but our legal system. (For the record, those are not the same thing.)When it comes to how criminals interact with the legal system, hands down, the most common 'defense' is SODDI (Some Other Dude Did It).

Simplifying an incredibly complex process, it is up to the prosecution to 'prove' it was the defendant, not some other dude, who did it. This is done -- partly --  because of 'burden of proof.' The state brings evidence to prove to the jury it was the defendant who acted, how he did it, and why. 

It is the defense's job to tear down the state's case, to pick it apart. And in doing so convince the jury the state is wrong. Erroneous in either having the wrong person, mistaken about what happened, or something's wrong with how the police went about investigating and collecting evidence. Often this is done by tearing apart what the state brings to meet their burden of proof requirement.

Without opening a huge can of worms let me give you another gross simplification: What the evidence is (read, what the jury is allowed to see and hear) and what the jury decide the  facts 'are' is going to either convict you or set you free. 

Each side is going to try to sell the significance of the evidence to the jury. If the prosecutor can get them to believe 'this' means 'that,' you're going to prison. If you defense attorney can convince them 'this' means something else, you'll be acquitted. This is all done in an 'adversarial' process. Keep that in mind because dealing with the legal system will be the second attack on your life (and freedom).

Now the ironic thing is a defense attorney defends an innocent person (someone who actually didn't do it) in much the same manner as a guilty person -- whom the attorney is trying to get off. Basically, if the guy didn't do it, you rip apart the state's case, challenge the evidence, and show that the 'proof' ... well ... isn't.

This same strategy attempts to undermine the state's case when the guy did do it. Guilty or innocent, when SODDI is maintained throughout the process the defense strategy is basically the same.

But now, let's restart the process at the police station. After SODDI doesn't work with the cops, the most common tactic is for the criminal to try to claim 'self-defense.' This is a real stupid move if it wasn't. That's because claiming 'self-defense' is what is known as an 'affirmative defense.'

In essence, it is you confessing to a crime.

Keep that fundamental point in mind. By claiming self-defense, you have just done an overwhelming majority of the prosecutor's job for him or her.

Now, there is no need for the state to disprove SODDI. The self-defense defense (and no I didn't stutter) is you saying, "Yes, I did it. I committed an act that is normally a crime. BUT I had justifiable reasons to do it."

That is where things start going off track from the normal strategies of 'he did it' vs. 'no he didn't.'

It also is here that the original sound bite needs to be modified.  Modified to: Most attorneys do not know how to defend a legitimate affirmative defense (self-defense).


A horribly gross oversimplification is: Their primary strategy to tear apart the state's case *doesn't* work with an affirmative defense. In fact, I agree with Mas's next contention: An attorney's default defense strategy will convict someone who legitimately acted in self-defense.

But, I'm going to add a caveat.

It's been my experience that defense attorneys shift into 'damage control' mode when it comes to affirmative defense cases. That is to say, they figure you're going to be convicted so they try to reduce what you are convicted of. This still works with tear-apart-the-state's-case because the attorney goes after the worst charges -- like it was murder, instead angling for manslaughter.

This also puts us in the land of plea bargains. Realistically most defense attorneys don't want to go into court with a self-defense defense. The attorney's reasons why are of no concern. There is something you need to know: If you don't take the plea, go to court claiming self-defense on the original charge AND you lose, you're going to get the book thrown at you. Right, wrong, fair or not, that's how it works in our legal system -- deal with it.

Wow, that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy about your chances doesn't it? Are you now beginning to realize why you need an attorney who knows how to defend you and your affirmative defense?

I'm going to give you a teaser about which direction a defense attorney needs to shift in order to defend someone who is legitimately claiming self-defense. Unfortunately, it's a teaser -- until you know the next two lies to children (which I'm also about to give you) -- that won't make much sense.

That is instead of adversarial, use a strategy of "Yes and ..."

2) The burden of proof is on you.

This statement makes lawyers' teeth itch. That's because they know exactly what the term 'burden of proof' means in our legal system. It is a very specific term with an exact meaning. And I'm using it way wrong.

It's also, however, the best and fastest way to communicate to the Average Joe what he and his lawyer have to do in order to prove it WAS self-defense. It is a really good 'lie to children.'

Just so the lawyers reading this won't try to use anti-itch cream as toothpaste, the proper term is 'production of evidence.' But for the layman, calling it 'burden of proof' is something they've seen on TV.

That's why knowing it is now 'on you' is so important.

The idea is, once you claim 'self-defense' you're going to have to show up with a boatload of evidence why it was. Why what he was doing was dangerous enough to warrant the level of force you used. Why your response was both reasonable and necessary. What you did to try to avoid it. And most important: Why you aren't some homicidal maniac, a dangerous idiot with a weapon, a vigilante or some douchebag trying to escape justice.

All of that is a lot harder to do than you think. Prosecutors have a lot of experience getting violent offenders and lying criminals convicted. That's their job after all. If they decide you're one of those undesirable types, they're going to turn their not insignificant skill and experience on you. They'll do everything in their power to convince the jury you are a lying, violent, douche who was just itchin' to kill someone -- including this poor innocent mugger.

Let me give you fair warning: If you knew the person, it's even worse. (Some bad news here. An overwhelming majority of murders are between people who know each other. If you had to defend yourself against someone you know don't think the prosecutor won't try to turn it against you.)

You need to have an attorney who knows enough about the subject of violence, crime, how danger affects our perceptions, and other related issues to counter what the prosecutor is trying to sell the jury. He needs to know these things so he can not only counterbalance the prosecution's accusations, but make the jury understand -- understand that there's more to the issue than what the prosecutor is telling them. Understand why the danger you were facing made your actions reasonable and justifiable.

If your attorney doesn't understand what's involved in violence, that is going to be a hard sell. It will be made harder because the prosecutor will be selling the jury the idea that you're lying.

Take for example a hypothetical, but common, scenario; the defendant is on the stand (and, yes, there is huge debate about that strategy in legitimate self-defense cases). The prosecutor asks, "How far was the victim from you when you killed him?" (For the moment, let's ignore the loaded phrasing and spin-doctor framing of the question.)

The defendant says, "About five feet."

Whereupon the prosecutor runs the security camera footage that shows the attacker was fifteen feet away. What follows is a barrage of accusations, condemnation, and innuendos about the defendant lying, his character, and what a horrible person he is for murdering his fellow human being.

That's what the jury is going to see. They heard the defendant say five feet. They saw fifteen feet on the film. As there is both a bias against violence and a belief in the prosecutor being the good guy. They're going to 'think' the prosecutor has caught the defendant in a lie. If he's lying about that, what else is he lying about? Hmmmmmmm?

If the defense attorney doesn't know about the effects of adrenal stress on perception, the absolute best he can do is damage control. He is in a desperate scramble to try to salvage is client's credibility.  He has to try to fix the apparent 'lie' his client has just told.

Except it isn't a lie.

A well-known and documented aspect of adrenal stress is 'spatial distortion.' We hyperfocus on the threat. That means your perceptions change. Things look bigger, closer, and more menacing when you experience spatial distortion. I often joke I have never had a knife or a gun aimed at me. I've had swords, machetes, and cannons pulled on me -- I've also been attacked by a saber-tooth mouse. At that moment, I would have sworn its fangs were at least a foot long. Those are practical examples of spatial distortion, but so too is fifteen feet looking like five.

Bringing up spatial distortion is to convey the idea that the defendant is NOT lying. What he is saying is not factually accurate, but it *is* what he perceived under adrenaline. He is telling the truth -- as he perceived it. That attacker did 'look' five feet away to him. Knowing this, it changes the jury's mind from 'he's lying' to 'well, that's what happens under adrenal stress.'

But ONLY if the defense attorney knows to introduce this kind of information. Because you can be certain, the prosecutor isn't going to mention it.

This is the kind of production of evidence you and your defense attorney *must* bring into the court room when you claim self-defense. Your side has to have all kinds of information to bring up -- not to debunk the prosecution's  points -- but to expand on them.

This is where it becomes 'yes and...' Yes he said it looked like five feet. Yes the video shows fifteen. And *that* is the spatial distortion we talked about earlier. He is not lying, he's accurately reporting what he perceived at the moment under the threat to his life.

3) The roles change.

This is another big lie to children. But there's a really simple way to understand it.

You know the actual burden of proof is on the prosecution. You know ordinarily the defense is going to try to pick apart the state's case. Taking a massively complex process and reducing it to the silliest image possible, it means the defense's role is to chant, "Liar! Liar! Pants on fire! Neener neener!" about everything the prosecution says.

When you claim self-defense, the prosecutor gets that role.

He is going to pick apart your story. He's going to nitpick every inconsistency, every poorly stated phrase, every detail to try to sell his story. I'm not even going to say his 'version' of the story because often what he is selling is entirely different. Different versions would be it's self-defense vs. a conflict that escalated too far. No, odds are what he's trying to sell is that it is cold-blooded, premeditated murder. The only two things those two stories have in common is the body on the floor and you.

To tell you the truth, this is not a hard sell. Remember, you've confessed to a crime -- but you've said there were good reasons for it.

Even if he isn't promoting the idea you're a cold-blooded murderer, you're still in trouble if he's selling the idea you overreacted.

Because of the bias against violence in this culture and the fact he has decided to prosecute, the jury is often skeptical. You've already admitted you did it. The jury is already thinking if there wasn't something wrong with the situation, you wouldn't be there. Now the only 'burden of proof' the prosecution has is to prove your reasons weren't good enough. All the prosecutor has to do is hyperfocus on a few inconsistencies, blow other points out of proportion, plant the seed of doubt in the jury's minds, and -- voila -- you're convicted.

You are going to get hit with 'liar liar.' Your attorney needs to know how to counter the very tactics he often uses to win cases.

There is something else you need to know.  And I mean tattoo it on your forehead in reverse so you see it in the mirror every morning. That is: The higher the use of force, the more microscopic the examination of the case will be.

I was recently on a TV show where I and other experts were shown re-creations of crimes and self-defense scenarios ( ). We got to watch the videos once and then comment. The key word in that last sentence is 'once.' As an expert witness, I can tell you I have spent not only hours and days, but weeks, poring over security videos of incidents.  We're talking a two-minute clip at one-quarter speed, slow motion, again and again to pick out tiny details of the event. I'm looking for details, which unless you know what to look for and know their significance, the jury will not see nor understand the danger. Nor will they understand why the level of force was appropriate or inappropriate.

Well the prosecutor is going to do the same thing. Except he's looking for your participation in the situation. He's looking for things you did that make you look bad and that he can point out to the jury. He's looking for mistakes you made about your use of force decision. He's looking for any action, any detail or decision he can use to make you look like a cold-blooded murderer or an out-of-control vigilante.

In short, he is going to attack your self-defense defense. If and when that 'defense' is undermined -- then you're convicted of the crime you confessed to.

This is why you and your attorney need to show up with a boatload of evidence to prove it was self-defense. But even with cargo containers of evidence, *your* side must withstand the barrage of 'liar liar.'  You have to be ready to have your credibility challenged and endure the sneers, insinuations, and being called a liar to your face.

If your side fails to provide this mountain of evidence, you're going down. I don't care how obvious you think it is and your belief the jury will see it your way.

For example, I worked on an appeal case where the guy was ambushed and stabbed eight times by his drunk girlfriend. He collapsed and got up. She went to the kitchen, got another knife, returned, and attacked him again. Pulling the first blade out of his chest, he fought back. Simple, right?

Except he's in prison for second-degree murder. The prosecution claimed it was 'imperfect self-defense,' and he had 'over defended' himself. Worse, his attorney felt the self-defense aspect would be obvious to the jury. So obvious, he did not bother to learn what is involved in violence, self-defense or what a 'professional drunk' (like the girlfriend) is capable of. In fact, the defense attorney was so certain the claim of self-defense would be so obvious, he didn't even bother to call witnesses or experts. That's not a mistake the prosecution made, they had their experts. The defense attorney was shocked when his client was convicted.

4) There are prosecutors who think if someone died, there must be a crime.

This lie is going to be the one that has prosecutors screaming for my hide to be nailed to the cabin door. In fact, I'll bet it will even be brought up in court that I dared put these words in writing. Well, the truth is even I have to admit there are all kinds of things wrong with this particular 'lie to children.'

Having said that, it's an important perspective to understand. It will save you all kinds of emotional distress about the aftermath of a self-defense situation. But more than that, it can help keep you from going to prison.

This is a critical factor. You may think you're a 'good guy.' You may think the prosecutor is a 'good guy,' too. You may have nothing but respect for the police. But that does *not* automatically mean you're all on the same side -- especially after you've taken another citizen's life.

That's a very important point I just slipped in. I'm going to give a hat tip to the Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network here ( and bring up an issue they like to remind folks: The law doesn't see a self-defense situation as you vs. some douche bag. Legally, it is considered two citizens in dispute.

That means you and the person you consider to be a douche bag-criminal-lowlife have the *same* rights to life, liberty, and not being gunned down in the street.

It is the DA's job to take umbrage at citizens killing citizens. That you've come to his attention for doing so ... well ... let's just say he might be suspicious. Until it is proved you did not wrongfully take a person's life (as in that person was going to wrongfully cause your death if you didn't act) the prosecutor is NOT your friend.

Here's the problem with that. There is a big difference between it being proved that you acted in self-defense (e.g., found not guilty in a trial) and the prosecutor not having enough evidence to win a case saying otherwise. That's an ugly limbo. A limbo you'll need to learn about in a seminar about legal use of force instead of from me. But know to ask about it -- because it will last for the rest of your life.

Remember I said earlier there's also a difference between the law and our legal system?  Well the latter is strongly influenced by a lot of factors that have nothing to do with the 'law.' This is the elephant in the room people pretend has no bearing on what is happening -- especially with whether or not a prosecutor decides to act.

Ours is one of the few countries where district attorney is an elected position (or is the appointee of an elected official). As in if the DA's office doesn't have an impressive conviction rate, there's a good chance that the boss man is out of a job. The more convictions, more plea bargains the DA's office has, the better they look for being 'tough on crime.' Incidents that make it on the news really need to be actively pursued to show the public the system 'works.' Political pressure, public outcry, and -- of course -- internal pressures from the 'boss' are very real factors on how the prosecutor's office will act.

I often tell people who buy a gun for self-defense they need to plan to spend about $3,000. Most of that is in training. I'm not just talking about the fun run-around-and-go-'bang!-bang!' kind of training. I'm talking about training in legal use of force, use of force decisions, violence dynamics, articulation, and what to expect during the aftermath of a self-defense situation. I'm talking about spending a weekend in a classroom learning how to protect yourself from threats you never thought of. This kind of training can keep you out of prison *and* keep you from being sued for everything you own. This is very distinct and different training than just shooting. (For example: Armed Citizen's Rules of Engagement - .) I also recommend this  same 'insurance' training for knife or any other effective 'combative' systems someone is learning. If you can kill or cripple someone with your self-defense measures, then you need this training to learn how *not* to put yourself into prison or the poor house.

This is critical because your actions before, during, and after a self-defense incident will be gone over with a microscope to find *any* hint of wrong doing you can be prosecuted for. Remember by claiming self-defense, you have confessed to what is ordinarily a crime. The prosecutor is going to try and make that stick, not the self-defense part.

Another point of consideration is that the information the prosecutor has is only as good as the reports. In the book "Campfire Tales From Hell," I wrote an essay on 'Talking To The Cops.' ( In that essay, I stated the primary job of an officer is to investigate, to find out what happened. If in the process, however, the officer suspects a crime has been committed, there is a subtle -- but important -- shift in emphasis. The officer then starts collecting information to help build a case for the prosecution. This shift has a lot to do with what goes into his or her report. Unfortunately after the shift, a lot of information that could help your self-defense case can get left out of these reports. And what is -- or is not -- in the report is seriously going to influence the DA's decision to prosecute.

Now in all fairness to both the police and the prosecutor, an overwhelming amount of violence is indeed illegal. Using made up numbers (still another lie to children) I often say 95 percent of all physical violence is illegal. This includes situations that started as self-defense, but crossed the line. This is a BIG problem. ( ) It's also why, these days, I'm really emphasizing 'knowing when to stop' before what you are doing becomes illegal.

Stop and think of the significance of this.

Even if it isn't 95 percent, let's agree it's an overwhelming majority. That's nearly everything. How do you think it affects how cops and prosecutors view claims of self-defense? This includes how often they hear 'self-defense' by someone for whom SODDI wasn't working.  It's *real* easy for them to slip into an attitude of 'just another murder, just another scumbag trying to get away it by claiming self-defense.'

The technical term for this is 'they're jaded.'

What is the most traumatic and horrible event for you is just another day at work for them. It is very easy for jaded people to get not only sloppy, but cynical in pursuit of their goals. As in "my job is to convict  criminals -- if you come across my desk, you must be a criminal." Once the prosecutor has made that decision, he's going to do everything in his power to convict you.  Oh yeah, something else you should know. They're real good at tripping up people who are lying about it being 'self-defense.' Unfortunately, the same techniques that work to discredit a false self-defense claim can also undermine a legitimate one.

No matter how convinced you are that you acted in self-defense, it's smarter for you to act according to the idea that the police and prosecution are going to assume a crime has been committed. A crime they don't think there is a good reason for. Regardless on how justified you think you were, remember they will do everything in their power to build a case against you and prosecute.

Lie #4 will save you all kinds of emotional distress when that happens to you. After all, you're one of the good guys ...

This not only will help you emotionally, but it will help you consciously deal with the aftermath -- like knowing what to say to the police. It will also help you to remember the higher level of force, the more you *need* to have an attorney present when you are being questioned.

A special hat tip to Rory Miller for the following statement: I will cooperate and give a full statement, but we both know what kind of civil problems come from these kinds of situations. So I'd like to have my attorney present before I answer any questions about what happened.

From that moment on, do *not* say anything else about the incident without an attorney present. After you invoke your right to have an attorney present during questioning, do not be baited into responding to questions about the incident (like, "What? Do you have something to hide?"). Do not talk to anyone in the jail cells. (And oh yes, do not be surprised or offended if and when you are taken into custody -- much less handcuffed.) You can give them your name and address. You can ask for water. You can do all kinds of things, but -- I repeat -- do not talk about what happened except with your attorney. Then, in the presence of your attorney, you make your statement to the police about what happened.

This last 'lie to children' is a basic introduction to a much more complicated and nuanced process than you can imagine or I can go into here. A process filled with pitfalls, dangerous miscommunications, bad information, and outright traps. This is where saying the wrong thing will get you into deep trouble. It also is where simplistic, Internet clich├ęs about what to do and say after a self-defense situation are a disaster waiting to happen.

It is because of Lie #4 I say *spend* money on 'insurance' training.  It is that kind of training that will keep you out of prison and prevent the family of the guy you had to defend yourself against from owning your home.

But more than that, Lie #4 is easy enough -- even in the adrenalized aftermath of a self-defense situation -- you can still remember it. So although it is technically the most inaccurate lie to children, it is the most important. Under adrenaline you will want to babble, you'll want to tell your side of the story, you'll want to make sense of what happened, and Officer Friendly is there to listen to -- and take down -- you saying the absolutely wrong things. A huge part of this is your unwittingly saying something the officer is going to interpret as indicating this was a crime and not self-defense.

Let me end this article by pointing out this is not legal advice. It is to make you an informed consumer. It is to acquaint you with what you will be facing when dealing with our legal system after a self-defense situation. It's informed consumerism because it can help you better pick a qualified attorney for your affirmative defense. He's going to be the one giving you legal advice -- as it should be.

Do yourself a favor and don't limit your training on this subject to just the physical. Unfortunately in most training, there is entirely too much emphasis on 'winning' in a violent situation. A popular fad is how to overcome the freeze response and explode into blindingly fast response time. People are afraid of failing in a self-defense situation, and that's what they want to know. I will say: This new training is good, it is important.

But so too is what I call 'planning for success.' If you successfully use your training, there WILL be an aftermath. An aftermath that can be more complicated and dangerous (in other ways) than the original situation. This article is to introduce you to just one aspect of the aftermath.

Unfortunately -- in most so-called 'self-defense' training -- subjects like avoidance, violence dynamics (de-escalation and deterrence), 'do you have to engage' decision making, and legal consequences are all given a hand wave. By this I mean: "Oh sure we teach that too, now let's spend the next six hours learning how to bust someone up" or "Well, obviously you should try and escape, but here's all the things you can do with your weapon when you can't escape."

There is no denying that this kind of training is fun and exciting. It is a confidence builder. It can be good exercise. It also can be very powerful fear management, but it is not danger management. (

Add to this, there is the assumption that the student will always be in the right. The raw truth is we all have bad days. We all have times when our tempers flare, and we act impulsively (think about the last time you made a rude gesture while driving or swore at someone). These are the acts that put us into conflict -- and possibly danger. It is our active participation in a conflict that is most likely come back to haunt us if the situation escalates to physical violence. It is that participation the prosecutor will use against you.

Lately I've shifted my focus to violence dynamics and conflict communication ( ). In doing this, I've gained a deeper understanding of the different types of violence and the ways people unwittingly get themselves into conflict. Behavior that seems so right and natural at the moment is exactly what is going to allow the prosecutor to slam dunk your case.

I tell you this because often there is a resistance to looking beyond the physical aspect of self-defense. In fact, I have often heard variations of the following: Knowing the law will make you hesitate in a self-defense situation. This is (or some variant) is the excuse for what I consider willful ignorance. More than that, it's usually the justification to spend all your time and money on the fun, run around and play bang, bang training. Which let me tell you if the prosecutor finds out you refused to take this training, he's going to have a field day with it.

But more than that, the idea that knowing the law will make you incapable of acting is just flat out wrong.

In my work, I've found a strong symbiotic relationship between understanding violence dynamics and staying within the parameters of 'self-defense.' Recognizing what you are dealing with is a critical component in a shoot/no shoot decision. But more than that: Actions which are likely to de-escalate a 'social violence' situation serve many purposes. (

First, there's a good chance it will solve the problem. For example, a good faith effort to withdraw does wonders to prevent violence. Often just apologizing and leaving means you don't have to shoot or stab someone.

Second, they give you articulatable facts about what you did to avoid the situation and why it didn't work. This is the kind of evidence you need to support your plea of self-defense. For example, you tried to avoid it, but his actions countered and limited your viable options (preclusion).

Third is knowing the difference between social and asocial violence (see above link). When what you have done should have de-escalated social violence and the problem persists, then what you are facing is not normal social conflict. That's a game changer. This is an important step in formulating your use of force decision.

Fourth, you are likely to encounter a strange paradox. The willingness to use force often means you don't have to -- especially against potential asocial violence. That 'mental shift' in the previous step often results in a person changing the behavior that was making it necessary to shoot him in defense of yourself. The immediate threat evaporates removing the need to use force. You must be able to recognize this shift in circumstances and be able to stand down; otherwise you cross the line and become the aggressor.

Fifth and finally by understanding these dynamics you can 'scale your force' to appropriate levels -- even during the heat of the moment. Scaled force makes it much easier for your attorney to defend you. (

This has just been an introduction to a much larger world than just what gun you carry or what deadly martial art system you know. There are many links to follow and subjects to investigate. Get yourself a cup of coffee, you have some more reading to do.



©2012 all rights reserved

Monday, October 1, 2012

Reverse Cowgirl Social Engineering

This blog can be used as a tool by anyone who wants to teach self-defense and effective rape prevention to women. It also will help folks who have ever been accused of 'blaming the victim' because they dared ask the very reasonable question: "What was she doing there in the first place?"

Get yourself a cup of coffee, there's a lot of propaganda that has to be waded through.

I recently had a conversation with someone who made a statement about something I'd been wrestling with for a while. It was an idea I hadn't been able to concisely put into words, but I knew something was seriously not right. Basically, the statement was something like this: Anytime someone attaches the word 'awareness' to a social or noble cause, it's a rip off.

Once it becomes about 'awareness,' it seems to be about everything else except fixing the problem. For example, how much of the money going to 'cancer awareness' actually goes into cancer research? Or paying for people who can't afford the treatments? Promoting alternative approaches? This in contrast to -- how much goes into paying office costs, making payroll (especially for executives, experts, and consultants), advertising, and promoting and organizing 'cancer awareness' walks and drives?

There's all kinds of 'problems' awareness campaigns try to solve. The biggest seems to be how to get your money from you -- whether through direct means (donations) or indirect (government funding and taxes). And believe me even when we're just talking federal grants, state, county, and municipal funding, we are talking a lot of money. Then comes the money they get from corporations, campaign drives, charities, and events. (If you want an eye opening experience take a look at the financial records of the big non-profits and see where the money is coming in from and where it's actually going.) There's a need to keep campaigning to keep the money flowing in.

Having said this, the most interesting aspect of this scam is how it is justified.

If I were to come up to you and say, "Give me lots of money for doing nothing that actually solves the problem," you'd tell me to take a flying carnal leap at a rolling doughnut. That's where 'raising awareness' comes in. See, the give-us-money-for-a-problem-we-won't-fix scam is cleverly hidden under the equally noble guise of 'education.' That's what raising awareness is: 'Educating people that the problem exists.'

Think about this for a second. Do you not know these problems exist?

But education is good, right? Education can solve all problems right? It could. But if I'm educating people about a subject, I get to control what people 'think' they know about the subject. Not know, but think they know. (I'm fond of saying 'most of what people think they know is advertising')

When I have this control, I can get people to react emotionally to carefully crafted information. That's important. I need you to 'think you know' what is going on, so you don't look any deeper than what I am telling you. I need you to emotionally react to this 'crisis' I'm 'educating' you about. Otherwise, you'll object to giving me money. (Or worse, you'll give it to some other cause.) The technical term for this is 'spin doctoring.'

That's the happy version. Certain 'noble causes' have crossed the line, however, from simple spin doctoring. They've crossed into intentionally misinterpreting data, twisting statistics, and lying and redefining terms -- all to make the problem sound worse than it is. Not that the real problem isn't bad enough, but you need big numbers for it to be a 'crisis.' Hence the spin, number inflation, constant campaigning, and lying for a good cause.

By raising your awareness, I also can manipulate you into believing by donating money or walking for a cause it means you're participating in the solution. You're doing something about it. You're doing good by giving money. With this strategy, I can justify my career, protect my job, ensure my income, and excuse myself for all the spin, misinformation and lies I'm providing (it's for a good cause after all, and you don't need to know all the dirty little details about how it works). But most of all, I can justify all the money I'm diverting from getting to the people who need help.

All the while I'm doing this, I'm make a huge production about the good and noble things I'm doing for such a just cause. The warm fuzzy is not just for you, it makes me feel good about myself and all the good I'm doing. In the end though, I'm doing exactly shit about aiding the people who need the actual help. The individuals who are suffering from, dealing with, or facing this problem are not benefiting, I am. Now mind you, this isn't corruption. Oh no. It's jobs. It's what I am being paid for and spending money on to raise your awareness.

Want an example? I have a friend who is involved in the health care side of the military. He's high up and does a lot of the project coordination. At the time, this military was building a hospital and a general came to him and said, "Look, I know this isn't your responsibility, but could you find space for these two rape counseling contractors in the new facility?"

His response? "Sure, let's see what they need."

He met with them to see what their needs were. The first thing they asked for was five rooms. A waiting room, two offices, and two counseling rooms. If you've ever been in a hospital, you know that's a big request. Space is at a premium. Oh and the offices had to be furnished and equipped with money from his budget for computers and copy machines. Then they demanded that the offices be located on the first floor and next to a side access door. This was, they told him, so the women they counseled didn't have to go through the shame of coming through the front door. My friend looked at this tab and had a hard time.

He then he asked them how many cases they'd handled the past year. Three. Three? What did they do with all the rest of their time? Well, they lectured, wrote pamphlets, raised awareness and educated people.  My friend was floored. All of this for three cases? But when he told them he could no way justify the expenses they were demanding (and this over and above their contractor fees), they went ballistic. But this man does not intimidate easily. The request was turned back over to the general, with the estimated expenses, and the problem went away. (Space was found elsewhere than in the hospital.)

I happen to know certain folks who consider three rape cases a day a light load. I know social workers who walk into hell holes every day because the people they deal with are in too bad a shape to come to them. They also work out of cubes or a cramped office they share with two others. I know a lot of hard working folks who are busting their asses to get people out of immediately dangerous situations. And who have to do it on shoe-string budgets because most the funding has been siphoned away to raise awareness and educate the public.

I'm sure people in other fields have their own horror stories about awareness raising, education, and nonprofits. Even with the previous example, I've been talking in generalized terms. Now I'm going to fall back to a field where I not only feel the awareness-raising-rip-off is rampant, but the so-called 'education' actually makes the problem worse.

You can make a lot of money in a career aimed at raising public awareness. But the topic I feel actually 'manufactures victims' is that of rape awareness. Because it creates its own victims, you can call it the "rape industry." And I have a serious problem with what they are selling as 'education.'

Now before I go on, there's something I have to make clear. I've met a lot of good people who really are trying to help in this field. They are compassionate, committed, and are really are trying to do good. They honestly believe in the information they are spreading. These people with the very best of intentions are trying to help raise awareness about sexual assault. Funny thing about them, though, most are volunteers. Those volunteers, as well as other low-paid individuals, serve as the front-line troops.

The thing about these hard working and dedicated volunteers is there is both an incredibly high turn-over rate and an endless supply of them. That is to say, people who really what to help. They come in, get 'educated,' work hard, burn out, and are replaced -- at an astounding rate.

Not to be a cynical bastard, but they're disposable. More than that, they are disposable before they start asking questions about what they are taught to say. (If what I've heard is true, questioning doctrine is the fastest way to be shown the door.

If you ask, these volunteers will tell you they have been through 'advocate training.' That's why they all literally sound the same. The same premises. The same canned rhetoric. The same stats. The same 'logic' and arguments. And they consistently promote the same formulaic information and doctrine. The faces change, but the looped message remains the same -- word for word.

First, you don't get this kind of doctrinal consistency across all 50 states without the presence of an organized effort to create it.

Second, the most predictable of all is the knee-jerk accusation: "You're blaming the victim."

This is the default attack strategy of rape awareness programs. You will hearit if you question their doctrine or if you say anything that does not conform to their 'educational' curriculum. Most of all, you'll hear it if you dare mention any pre-assault behavior on the part of the victim.

In concession, I will admit protecting the emotional comfort of the  victim is paramount to rape crisis programs following sexual assault. That is a good and necessary service.

But there's a difference between post-assault treatment and 'awareness.' Specifically, there is a huge disparity between dealing with the aftermath and rape prevention. In rape prevention, the statement of 'you're blaming the victim' has no place. That's because you cannot come up with effective rape prevention strategies if you do not assess common behavior that precedes rapes.

This is a big problem. First because "you're blaming the victim" rhetoric may protect the rape victim's feelings, but it shuts down any possible rational discussion about the subject (it's both a criticism and accusation, a.k.a. an attack).

Second, it's dangerous. By preventing discussion about safety measures (risk reduction), you increase other women's chances of being raped. You can't talk about what a woman can do to prevent being raped without an advocate claiming you're blaming the victim. If I really want to be catty, I could say -- by not allowing prevention to be discussed -- advocates ensure future clientele for the crisis centers.

Think I'm exaggerating?

I know a guy who is working his ass off to create useful communication and teaching models for personal safety, risk reduction, rape prevention, and self-defense. I heartily agree with his goals. Here is an excerpt from a letter he received from one of the biggest rape awareness organizations in the country. Take a look ...

"Self-defense is not a reasonable expectation to put on anyone who is in a shocking situation or who is being coerced. If we are to enforce social norms against anti social (sic) behaviors like sexual assault as you put it yourself, we need to see more emphasis put on the perpetrators (sic) behaviour (sic) rather than survivors, and not add to survivor blame."

That statement exemplifies why I object to the 'awareness approach' to the subject of rape. There are many things wrong with it and on many different levels.

According to that statement, women are incapable of keeping themselves from being raped. I vehemently object to this idea. Yet to truly understand the depth of my objection to that message, you should understand something about personal safety. That is: Nobody is more concerned about your personal safety than you. And if you think it's someone else's  job then -- whether you know it or not -- you're actively putting yourself into danger.

This is critical. A woman does have power to influence whether or not she is raped. If you find this statement objectionable, then I'd like to point to the billions of women on this planet who manage not to be raped every day. Competent, socially acclimated, self-assured and functional women somehow manage not to be raped. To these women I say, "Brava!" We probably should take a lesson from them about how they're managing to do this.

While it might seem I'm cynical, I'm not. In fact, I am deadly serious. Both about respecting competent women and looking at what they are doing to keep from becoming 'victims' of rape.

But this is something you will not hear from the rape awareness camps. But notice, there's something the awareness group's letter doesn't mention. They intentionally skip over it to get to the extreme of self-defense and why it is an unreasonable expectation. It is not only the elephant in the room, but they cannot teach it (or even talk about it) without directly contradicting their own rhetoric about blaming the victim.

And that is 'risk reduction.'

What can a woman do to affect her chances of being sexually assaulted? I mean actively and consciously do to increase or decrease her chances of being raped? That is what these programs refuse to address, instead they focus on "more emphasis put on the "perpetrators (sic) behaviour" (sic).

It is the refusal to discuss risk reduction that divorces most 'awareness' programs from reality. They have to take this stance. Why? Because they insist that a woman's pre-assault behavior has no bearing on her being attacked. The 'rapist' is to blame. The woman has no responsibility at all. They are adamant that pre-assault behaviors do not matter. And a woman has no control over whether she is raped or not.

If you accept this premise then, by default, risk reduction is meaningless.

I don't buy it. Women are not helpless victims, incapable of rational thought or positive action. Nor are they incapable of effective physical responses. They do have control over their lives. If that offends anybody's sensibilities, I'm sorry. But I happen to like competent, empowered women. Deal with it.

Yet according to the rape industry, women aren't capable of taking care themselves. They are all victims or potential victims. They are defenseless prey to sexual predators. (Oh by the way, all men are potential rapists too.) Remember girls, "Self-defense is not a reasonable expectation to put on anyone who is in a shocking situation."

Apparently risk reduction is also off the table. If you start talking about how a woman can take control to keep from being raped, you're 'blaming the victim.' And, as the writer of that letter would surely insist, insisting on teaching awareness and avoidance of potential dangerous situations only adds to shame ('survivor blame') of women who were raped. Remember: Pre-assault behavior doesn't matter. Mentioning it only shames and blames the victim.

I must be too stupid and insensitive to understand how all this works because I think risk reduction is a great idea. Teaching women how to  reduce their risk of danger does all kinds of things to keep individuals from being raped. It also adds to a woman's competence level and self-assurance. I personally don't see a downside here, but then again I don't make my money off the victimization of others.

Let's take a closer look at their jump over risk reduction to go straight to the extreme. Risk reduction is not self defense (punching and kicking). Risk reduction precedes self defense. It does not require the strength of Superwoman, kung fu mastery, or for a woman to get in touch with her inner fury to use it. In fact, a lot of people call it common sense. And it's really not that difficult:

Why am I such a fan of risk reduction? Because it works.

In fact, it is more reliable than self defense.

See, I don't have a problem with the idea that physical self defense might be a problem for certain folks. I've spent my entire life trying to figure out ways smaller, weaker people can effectively stop assaults from bigger, stronger attackers. So yes, I do happen to know a thing or two about what is realistic and unrealistic about self defense.

For example, I happen to be pretty certain a 120-pound, middle class, 19-year-old, college co-ed with a blood alcohol content of .27 -- who sneaked into a frat house party using a false ID and spent the night binging on Jager shots -- is not going to be able to effectively defend herself from sexual assault.

Yet, my mention of these exact conditions prompted the head of one college rape crisis center to say -- to my face -- "A girl has the right to have fun."

Yes, that is a direct quote.

She at least was the most open about her bias against risk reduction. Most 'advocates' insist I'm trying to oppress women and take away their 'rights' when I talk about high-risk behavior not being a good idea.

Of course, I (being the old dinosaur I am) remember: "A woman should have the right to walk naked into a biker bar and not be molested." That isn't just a direct quote, that was a popular awareness slogan from about 10 years ago.

Now call me a narrow-minded bigot, but that kind of thinking just doesn't make any sense to me. And it's not because I'm about oppressing women or taking away their rights. It's just that I live in a world where walking naked into a biker bar is a bad idea -- woman or man. Oddly enough, not too many women I know above the age of 30 tend to buy it, either. Mothers of teenage daughters get really vocal about their disagreement. But for some reason, those moms aren't being told they're suppressing women's rights when they say it.

Let's recap, you can't talk about high risk behavior and risk reduction because:
A) you blame the victim
B) you shame the victim
C) you interfere with a young woman's rights

These apparently are more important than a woman not getting raped. So the rape awareness educational program doesn't have self defense or risk reduction training -- because those are 'unrealistic' or oppressive.

By now you might be asking yourself, What do these programs teach? How do they raise awareness?

I call it 'Reverse Cowgirl Social Engineering.'

Before we go there, let's take a second look at the quote from the awareness and education group:

"Self-defense is not a reasonable expectation to put on anyone who is in a shocking situation or who is being coerced. If we are to enforce social norms against anti social (sic) behaviors like sexual assault as you put it yourself, we need to see more emphasis put on the perpetrators (sic) behaviour (sic) rather than survivors, and not add to survivor blame."

Everyone got that? Now let's add the next lines:

"We believe that if people are more supportive towards survivors and effectively hold perpetrators accountable for their actions than (sic) that will communicate and enforce against perpetrator behavior rather than placing responsibility on survivors who are already going through enough. To be clear we do not see self-defense as the way to hold them accountable as the onus is on the victim."

Wait until I tell you the current approach to rape awareness is to 'educate' the assailants.

They teach  it's the responsibility of the rapist to know that attacking a woman is wrong, and he shouldn't do it. Rape is wrong. Rape is bad. You shouldn't do it. Bad rapist! Bad! That is the current tact of rape awareness education in a nutshell. They are trying to change the 'rape culture' of society.

I personally find this approach insulting to good men. A waste of time for rapists. And pretty meaningless to those men who would be on the fence because of age, inexperience, drugs, or booze. Yet this is what currently constitutes raising awareness and education regarding rape. The reasoning for this new and enlightened approach of educating the rapist? It avoids victim shaming.

At the same time it dismisses pre-assault behavior as facilitating the assault and denies risk reduction has any effect.

All that talk about the onus being on the victim? Apparently a woman shouldn't have to bear the responsibility of ensuring her own personal safety. If she incapacitates herself or puts herself into a dangerous situation, we are not allowed to consider these contributing factors to the end result. We especially can't talk about these behaviors as they increase your chances of getting raped. The potential for retraumatization of the victim is too great.

While I must admit I do not understand the exact trauma of being raped, I do understand the psychological impact of serious trauma. I also understand the fear and confusion of having your world view crushed. I understand this on a very deep and horrific level (there's a reason I have problems with the use of the word 'survivor' regarding non-life-threatening situations). I personally know what it's like to have your life shattered by violence. I know how fragile and how difficult it is to put your life back together again. Yet, I still find a fundamental flaw with the current 'educational strategy' based on protecting a victim's sense of self-worth at all costs. A flaw that I can exemplify by an anecdote about cowgirls and livestock.

I'm originally from the urban sprawl that is Los Angeles. So when I married into a ranching family, my education took a distinct turn. Where I grew up there were lots of ways to die; many of them having to do with whom you pissed off. Oddly enough where my wife and in-laws are from, the fastest way to get killed or injured is also brought about by by your behavior. But not in the sense that some pissed off local would shoot you. It was because because a 2,000-pound future Big Mac would crush you flat.

When you're dealing with livestock, your behavior is important. My wife often told me I moved to fast for animals (apparently she didn't see the irony of that). She'd tell me to slow down and smooth out my movements, how exactly to move, and what not to do to spook large animals.  Would they hurt me out of malice? No, but if I got careless or acted a certain way, bad things would happen. Not because I was a bad person or because I 'deserved it,' but because in those circumstances certain behavior is dangerous and tends to end badly.

Basically anytime you are around large animals, you need to exercise some awareness and caution. There are certain conditions where you really need be on the ball. Having worked the pens and alleys of the family cattle outfits during weaning, I can tell you that's definitely a place you need to have your game on.

I'd also like to note, out among the livestock, the women of the family are just as competent and hardworking as the men.  No muss, no fuss, that's life on the ranch. At the risk of getting a frosty comment or six next Thanksgiving, these women are all competent 'cowgirls.' (It's calling them cowgirls, not competent that will get me the hairy eyeball.) Got the idea? Women functioning safely in a potentially dangerous environment.

The reverse cowgirl analogy is that 'awareness advocates' don't want to teach women how to be competent cowgirls. Instead, they want to educate the livestock.

See, if you educate the livestock that a drunken cowgirl has the right to crawl into the pens and that it is wrong to hurt her, this will keep her safe. You don't have to teach women how to stay safe. That's the livestock's responsibility. The reverse cowgirl can do anything she wants, and she won't get hurt because the big, bad, one-ton herd bull has been educated not to trample her.

This is deemed 'empowering' these young ladies. It is their 'right' not to get gored, crushed, trampled, or in any way hurt.

If they do get trampled when they're in the pen, it's all the livestock's fault. No matter how much the cowgirl reduced her capacities and actively put herself into dangerous circumstances. That had nothing to do with it. Society is to blame. The livestock should have known its place! It's been educated that hurting cowgirls is wrong!

Really, seriously ... nothing possibly bad could happen by not teaching urban cowgirls' risk reduction or even *gasp* self defense. The blame is all on the livestock if a cowgirl gets hurt.

People get hurt with this approach. Safety is not about blame, it's about people not getting raped. I'm not joking when I say this approach manufactures victims. Does it encourage rape? No. But it sure as hell keeps young women from learning -- much less practicing -- risk reduction.

Without risk reduction as a precursor that advocacy group is right, self defense is an unrealistic expectation. A young woman who has been told her safety is someone else's responsibility isn't going to be able to effectively defend herself when attacked. That's because any attack will be unexpected and shocking.

I'll  admit 'reverse cowgirl social engineering' may look like an over-the-top analogy. But it's not as over the top as it might seem (we're about to show you the whole letter). Before we do, let's look at the obvious 'flaw' in the livestock analogy.

First, as it was pointed out to me by someone who promotes 'rape awareness education,' rapists aren't docile livestock, but predators. Predators who make a conscious choice, yada, yada, yada.

Well, yeah. People who self-identify themselves as rapists are predators, and they do make conscious choices to set up and sexual assault women -- usually long before the assault.

But in that situation, they can be likened to a snaky bull (that's a cowboy term for a mean and dangerous animal that intends to hurt you). Oddly enough though, the same tactics that keep you safe in the pens with a normal bull also work with a dangerous one. And the same behavior that places you in danger with a normal one really put you in danger with a snaky one. In other words, there is a consistency about behavior in dangerous situations.

Second, not every 'sexual assault' is committed by a sexual predator. If you've ever dealt with drunken teenagers and college students the lack of intelligence and bad decision-making does resemble bovine stupidity. Add to this when intoxicated, they tend to be obtuse and often dangerous. (I know this because not only was I one of them once, but I spent decades dealing with them when they are drunk, stupid, and unwittingly dangerous.) Bovine stupidity isn't as far fetched as it sounds as an overwhelming majority of incidents involve excessive drug and alcohol consumption -- by both parties.

Beginning to see where I have a problem with the current approach of 'rape awareness education?' It's based on the premise that drunk horny teens are going to remember whose responsible for the equally drunk -- or even more intoxicated -- girl's safety.

I mean call me stupid, but how can you empower someone and at the same time claim they have no responsibility for their own actions and choices? How do you help women not to be raped if you refuse to talk about risk management or self defense? Not only refuse to teach those proactive measures, but actively try to shut down anyone who dares question reverse cowgirl engineering? How do you do that? By claiming that anyone not teaching reverse cowgirl social engineering is "blaming the victim" or has unrealistic expectations.

This is the elephant in the room about 'rape awareness.' Such education is notto help women to keep from being raped. On the higher level, it's mostly about promoting the business of making money off the aftermath of rape. It's about setting oneself up as the protector of people and encouraging a victim mindset that women are incapable of taking care of themselves so they must rely on these programs to look out for them, their safety and rights.

On the front line volunteer level you're not helping women who haven't been raped to keep it that way. More than that, you're undermining your credibility by parroting the party line. Outside the advocate trained, reverse cowgirl social engineering doesn't make sense to people, risk reduction does.

Think I'm making this up? I'd like to give you the whole chapter and verse of the e-mail a volunteer sent to the guy trying to share the personal safety model. Tell me if you see any Reverse Cowgirl Social Engineering in it:

We have taken some time to read through your material and although we applaud how easy it is to read, we feel that it also perpetuates some of the myths we are trying to combat. For instance, on your organizations website, when you speak of teaching vulnerable populations self defense as a means to enforce respectful social norms it does not clearly communicate that perpetrators are not people who respect social norms and therefore are unlikely to respect the enforcement you speak of. We have spoken to many survivors over the past decade and many of them talk about the shame and guilt they feel for not being able to prevent their own assault, one of our clients even had their (sic) black belt in Karate. The problem the majority of the time is not that they were a vulnerable population that was targeted by some anti-social creep but rather someone (sic) they knew and trusted abused that trust and assaulted them, and they reacted in shock or submission to coercion. Self-defense is not a reasonable expectation to put on anyone who is in a shocking situation or who is being coerced. If we are to enforce social norms against anti social (sic) behaviors like sexual assault as you put it yourself, we need to see more emphasis put on the perpetrators (sic) behaviour (sic) rather than survivors, and not add to survivor blame. We believe that if people are more supportive towards survivors and effectively hold perpetrators accountable for their actions than (sic) that will communicate and enforce against perpetrator behavior rather than placing responsibility on survivors who are already going through enough. To be clear we do not see self-defense as the way to hold them accountable as the onus is on the victim.

Did you notice the admission that 'perpetrators' don't respect social norms right before they talk about the need of 'educating' the rest of society about enforcing social norms? Or how they refuse to address risk reduction in the model, instead only emphasizing the self-defense aspect? Which they deem unrealistic.

Did you know a woman breaking the jaw of a guy who is trying to rape her really is an effective way of enforcing the social norm of "no means no!"? Apparently they don't.

Let me ask the parents who are reading this, do you really want your daughter to be taught to be a reverse cowgirl? Or do you want her to be taught risk reduction, rape prevention strategies, and, if all that fails, have her know self defense?

Let me ask martial arts and women's self defense instructors this: How much do you teach risk reduction (and how important it is to a person's ability to engage in physical self defense)? Or do you just teach punching and kicking and call it 'self-defense'? Is the information you share oriented toward avoidance and prevention, instead of simply trying to fight a bigger, stronger attacker?

Let me ask the people involved in rape awareness programs, do you want to reduce the number of rapes?

Or is your focus on helping women during the aftermath? Teaching skills for coping with the aftermath is a very important service. It is something you know very well and are good at.

But what is needed in the aftermath is not the same as proactive risk reduction and prevention. The priorities are different to prevent rape. Accurate information about danger, social dynamics, risk assessment, risk reduction and -- when all else fails -- self-defense are needed for prevention. These are what young women need to be hearing about to help them keep from getting raped.

Having said that, there's a lot of good people out there who are willing to help you develop better, more realistic programs to prevent rape. People who know violence and criminals. People who know how they operate and can help you develop effective  risk reduction strategies to teach.

Let's not let 'shame' and 'blame' get more people hurt.

Marc MacYoung
Copyright 2012