The most important decision to make, is the conscious decision to fight back.
It’s a trope as old as Colt. A woman walks into a gun shop, looks at the gun owner. “I’ve got a man slapping me around– I need a gun.”
It makes for good Hollywood fodder, but abuse is something that’s poorly represented in pop culture. It’s still not talked about and there are not a lot of clear, helpful discussions about how to handle a violent abuser. Getting a means for self-defense is an important step, but it’s not the first step. Before even looking at a firearm, do three things:
1: Get somewhere safe.
2: Speak to a counselor or therapist
3: Work out a life survival plan.
Your Safe Zone
For a victim of abuse, the first step is to get to somewhere safe. Everyone has a support network of some kind, whether it’s family, friends, college buddies– someone you trust and is not connected to your abuser. This is your Safety Buddy.
What you should be looking for is a person who will put your safety ahead of your personal wishes. This might sound counter-intuitive, but the hard truth of the matter is that abusers come at the weak chinks in your mental armor. Seasoned abusers, folks who’ve been doing it for years and years, know how to prey on your insecurity and your fear and self-esteem to the point that you’ll take risks and make bad decisions that favor them. This is a trick called ‘gaslighting’, convincing you that you’re somehow to blame for their actions.
A good Safety Buddy will make sure you get to and from work safely, will help handle calling the cops, and can encourage you to take actions to protect yourself further. An abuser’s #1 enabler is their own victim, and the first step to breaking that cycle is to put your safety in someone else’s hands. Human instinct in the face of danger is flight, fight, or freeze, but having a second person around in the face of confrontation enables you to make decisions that benefit the group and has a surprisingly effective way of cutting through that fear instinct. Ever been startled and reached for the person nearest you? It’s human instinct, and it works. Even professional badasses like soldiers and cops rely heavily on the buddy system to keep themselves fighting, moving, and communicating.
A Safety Buddy protects you from your own bad decisions. If there isn’t a family member you can trust, or a friend nearby, go to a local domestic violence shelter– or even the local police or fire station. There are many more women’s shelters than for men, but guys– if you need to get out of an abusive situation, there’s nothing wrong with going to the local cops and saying ‘My SO is attacking me and I don’t know how to handle her’. They can help get you into a safe, secure place.
Talk It Out
After you’ve made it to your safe zone, it comes time to talk to a counselor. This isn’t so you can ‘hug it out’ or explain away your feelings. The truth of it is that abuse is almost always cyclical. You might be at the start of that cycle or it might have been wearing you down for a long time, but you need to speak with someone about how and why this abuse happened. Physical abuse often follows months or even years of emotional abuse. Abusers attack your ego, your intelligence, your friendships and social circles– the goal is to weaken you and isolate you so that you have to turn to them more and more for social or emotional support. This makes you dependent on your abuser, to the point of even affecting your sense of self-identity– if you’ve defined your life by this person’s presence, for good or bad, it makes it that much harder to break away.
By the time a punch gets thrown, odds are good you’ve had to deal with a lot of months of other kinds of abuse. You might not have even recognized it. This weakens your will to fight and undermines your self-confidence. A counselor can be seen not as a detour to self-defense, but the first step in creating the will to fight.
Create a Defensive Plan
In America, the #1 form of violent assault is against women with long hair entering their vehicles.
It’s a weirdly specific niche, but very telling in how specific it is. Women who are mugged or attacked are invariably assaulted from behind while entering their car. This tells you how abusers like to work, because the #1 violent offender in America is a spouse or domestic partner. They tend to ambush victims when they’re distracted, alone, or isolated.
Whatever defensive plan you come up with, it has to start with one, absolutely insurmountable realization: the determination that You are Ready and Willing to Fight Back.
Read that again, and affirm those words. “I am ready and willing to fight back.” No gun, no mace, no buddy system can do more good than a mental and emotional preparation to defend yourself against a violent aggressor. This is why counseling is so, SO important– to create a narrative where you are not to blame, you are not the instigator, and you are NOT going to sit back and be nothing more than a victim. You have to take control of your own actions.
Your defensive plan should cover Movement, Personal Security, and Home Security.
Movement is when you’re most vulnerable. If you’re like most Americans, you drive or commute to work. You’re most vulnerable not in your car (it’s a 3,000lb vehicular weapon with locking doors), but rather when walking to and from your car. So a good plan of action would call for your Safety Buddy to watch you get in your car and leave for work every day, and to ask a friend or co-worker to go with you to your car or bus stop at night. Heck, you can Uber to or from your parking spot or bus spot, and I guarantee plenty of drivers will happily wait a minute or two to sit and make sure you get out the garage safely. When you get in or out of your car, you should be on high alert. Attach a heavy carabiner or weight to your keys and keep it gripped in your hand– keychains make a spectacularly effective improvised weapon. Mentally prepare yourself for what to do if you are ambushed.
If your abuser has followed or stalked you, even once, then a prudent move is to call the cops anytime your instincts trigger that you might not be safe. “Hi, this is _____. I’m at Walmart on 3rd Street. I’m being followed by someone. Is there a patrol car nearby who can help me?” The answer might be “They’ll be a little while,” in which case you can be thankful for an excuse to sit somewhere brightly lit and well populated and wait for the cops to arrive. No cop in America is going to resent you for asking them to help, and most departments have policies in place specifically for this circumstance.
Home Security obviously revolves around hardening your home or place of residence against intruders or attack. Don’t think about home security in terms of cameras and alarms– those don’t stop determined aggressors. Instead you can take simple and effective measures to prevent them from entering your house, or slowing them down once inside. You can nail side doors shut and put obstructions like pots, glasses, or thorny bushes near your windows. Install motion-sensing lights near dark corners or access points. Most doorframes use 2″ woodscrews– five minutes and five dollars worth of 5″ woodscrews can make your doors almost impossible to kick down. Get used deadbolts from an upcycler or Habitat from Humanity. Go to Home Depot and ask for help, and you’ll get all kinds of cheap and ingenious ideas. Some kind of indoor security camera is definitely a good idea if you can afford it, as even a cheap one discreetly monitoring your house can help lock down an arrest and conviction after the fact.
Personal Security: This is your defensive strategy. This is where you start developing the tools for mindfulness and self-defense that can help you escape a violent altercation alive. A gun is not a cure-all for abuse– if you don’t have the will to fight, then drawing a gun on your attacker is actually MORE likely to get you killed. What is more helpful here is a mental preparation to do whatever it takes to survive a violent encounter.
Many martial arts programs teach people to ‘win’ fights. You don’t need to win– you just need to survive. Scratch, bite, claw, punch– the point is to do as much damage as possible and make room to escape or evade your attacker. Get in the habit of carrying your key fob as a defensive tool. Buy a good flashlight and keep it somewhere readily accessible– a bright flashlight is a fantastic defensive tool.
If you’ve decided that you’re ready to really strike out and defend yourself, take a course in Krav Maga or Jiu-Jitsu. Learn the difference between merely responding to attacks and taking on the role of controlling a fight.
Once you’ve mentally committed yourself to the idea that you might have to do grievous bodily harm, then (and only then) do I recommend obtaining a firearm for self-defense. Glock 19, M&P, any major 9mm double-stack compact handgun will do you quite well. Get two boxes of hollowpoints (I like Federal or Speer), 200 rounds of the cheapest ammo that can be obtained in your area, and a holster. Look into a local firearm self-defense course; if you can afford it, try to go beyond your basics of concealed carry and get training from a serious defensive-minded professional. If you’re short on funds, tell them you’re dealing with a domestic abuse situation and ask if they’ll do a payment plan. I can say with confidence that they’ll work something out with you. Learn to dress around your gun if you can carry it in your area, and get a good quick-access safe for secure storage at home. Make carrying a gun part of your routine; make awareness and alertness part of your life.
There’s no better equalizer in a fight than a firearm, but you have to come to the fight with the mentality I will survive by any means necessary. You can’t fight back half-assed; you can’t pull a gun on someone unless you’re prepared to use it. But if you’re in a Safe Place; you’ve accepted that it’s the Abuser’s fault, not your own; and you’re mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared to defend yourself; then you have every right to do so by any means at your disposal. Being a victim is not a consequence of action, it’s a mentality of allowing someone else to control your thoughts, fears, emotions, and reactions.
Break the cycle. Don’t be a victim.