The rate of sexual violence against women dropped nearly 60 percent between 1995 and 2010, according to a report released by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics in March.
However, that doesn't mean women should let their guard down.
"Regardless of where you live — in a city, or in some small town — if you drop your guard, there will be someone waiting to take advantage of you," said Steve Kardian, a martial-arts expert and former police officer who also consults for the Office of Public Safety at the New York State Division of Criminal Justice.
The report said that cases of rape or sexual assault against females age 12 or older decreased from five cases per 1,000 in 2005 to two cases per 1,000 in 2010.
Between 2005 and 2010, the highest rates of sexual violence occurred against women age 34 or younger in lower-income households, and against those who lived in rural areas.
While men can also be victims of such violent crimes, and women can perpetrate such crimes, the vast majority are committed by men against women. Here are four tips to help women reduce their chances of becoming a victim of sexual violence.
Pay attention to your surroundings
When walking alone, women should avoid being distracted and should pay attention to their surroundings. Kardian recommends scanning areas that may look deserted but could be harboring predators, such as parking lots.
"Be aware of your surroundings — don’t be on your cellphone when you're walking to your car," he said.
Women also should present strong body language and walk confidently, said Melissa Soalt, a martial-arts expert who teaches self-defense techniques.
"Predators will test your boundaries to see how close they can get to you," she said. If a women feels threatened, she should lower her center of gravity, stand with her feet apart and knees slightly bent, and say "no" or "back off."
Soalt also recommended that women practice using their peripheral vision. "Too often, we focus too much on what's going on in front of us," when threats could be lurking from all sides, she said.
Listen to your gut
We all have it — that little voice inside our head that tells us something isn't right. The problem is that people don't always listen to it.
"Women tend to be more forgiving, allowing strangers to talk with them — putting the good gift of intuition aside," Kardian said.
But that's how predators get close to you.
"Predators are good liars — they're good at staging a false reality," Soalt said. They lower your guard, gain your trust and get close to you.
If you feel uneasy in a certain neighborhood, or if someone gives off a creepy vibe, it's likely that your gut is telling you to get out of there.
Have a plan
When a person is physically threatened, fear can cause a surge of adrenaline to rush through the body, but this could cause a person to freeze up and panic.
Kardian suggests having a plan of action in place.
"You can't formulate a plan when you're in a state of panic," Kardian said. "But if you already have a plan set in your head, you're more likely to react well under severe distress."
He said a big part of a predator’s game plan is the element of surprise. The best defense is to come up with a couple of surprises of your own.
"Every predator has two fears: getting caught or getting hurt," Kardian said. "When you don't act as the predator expects you to, you ruin his plan."
One way to fight back is to be verbal. "Let them know you know they're there,"he said. "Calling them out might cause them to back off."
And even if a predator says, “Don't scream or yell,” women should still be vocal," Kardian said. "Yelling or screaming will attract attention, which can save your life."
But what if he's got a gun or a knife?
Every circumstance is different, Kardian said. "If it's a theft, that may play out differently — you might want to give him your wallet," he said.
But if an assailant wants you to go with him somewhere, that's different.
"You have to do everything in your power to prevent a predator from taking you to a secondary crime scene," Kardian said. "Once he gets you alone, there may be no way to escape. So if that means yelling or screaming, do it."
Fight to escape
Although women can be strong, men have certain physical advantages over women, including upper-body strength, height and body frame.
"Men who physically assault women will use their size, strength and terror tactics to subdue a woman," Soalt said. "The goal to fighting back is to escape."
Soalt said women should not struggle against an assailant's greatest strengths. "You'll just exhaust yourself," she said.
Instead, wait for the moment when he's distracted.
"A man will close in on your space, so use that close proximity to strike back," she said.
Use simple, primal moves — strike the eyes, throat or groin — or use the heel of both of your palms to clap him hard on both ears, which will disorient him.
"Any move you make has to be 100 percent so you have a chance to run," she said. "Make sure it's explosive."
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