I Was Almost Raped. I Learned Self-Defense. I Am Still Scared.

Image Source: Giulliana Fonseca Photography

My jiu-jitsu origin story is that I was almost raped by a taxi driver, managed to escape before anything truly bad happened, and signed up to start learning kickboxing (which evolved into jiu-jitsu and MMA) the very next day. It’s what a lot of women are told we should do: learn self-defense. Along with “buy a gun.” “Carry pepper spray.” “Don’t run with earbuds in.” “Cover up.” “Stay sober.”

The phrase “learn self-defense” is tossed around like it’s a one-and-done decision. The reality is that actually learning self-defense takes years. I firmly believe that one-off self-defense seminars are a load of BS — it can and does take years of practice to react instinctively when you’re grabbed a certain way or tackled to the ground. For me, that investment was worth it, especially given that jiu-jitsu is now my passion. But even after six years of training, even after knowing that I can manhandle most newbie meatheads that come into the gym and try to throw me around, I’m still scared.

I’m scared because the guy who followed me around in a convenience store incessantly trying to talk to me was 6’2″ to my 5’2″ and 230 lbs to my 125 lbs. If he had followed me back out to my car, would it have mattered that I knew how to choke him if he could kill me with a single well-placed punch?

I’m scared because my brain automatically knows to triangle someone who has one arm in and one arm out of my closed guard and to lock in a guillotine on a person who tries to take me down with their head on the outside, but it froze when the man next to me on a bus tried to feel me up in my sleep. Would a wristlock be justified? Was he even aware that his hand was about to slide under my shorts? How much of a reaction would be an overreaction?

I’m scared because when I walked past a group of men in broad daylight, I knew I had to stay silent when they yelled sexual remarks about my body and what they wanted to do to me. I knew that if I’d made them angry, I could probably handle one of them, but I couldn’t defend myself against five.

I’m scared because I know the dumb mistakes an untrained person makes, but as a purple belt, I still struggle to submit blue belts who are larger and stronger than me. What happens if the person who attacks me was a college wrestler or a teammate that I shouldn’t have trusted? Worse, I’m scared because I’ve seen enough of the “bro culture” in martial arts to know that credible accusations of predatory behavior against boxers, fighters, and grapplers are frequently waved off.

I’m scared because I know how to cripple, choke, punch, kick, and control people who are larger than me, but I know it’s not nearly enough. I know that statistically, the person most likely to try to rape me is a friend or acquaintance, and most of my friends and acquaintances are martial artists. I know from experience that no matter how many times I’m groped in a crowd or on public transit, no matter how many times an “overly friendly” or “persistent” man plows through normal social constructs to force an interaction with me, no matter how many times I’m harassed while trying to get from point A to point B, many people will consider me “dramatic” for getting upset since I wasn’t forced to fight for my life.

“Learn self-defense” is one of the many things that women are advised to do in order to protect themselves, and while I absolutely believe in the power of never truly being unarmed, I’m tired of seeing it treated as another band-aid every time the topic of domestic violence or sexual assault gets brought up. I’m not a fearless action hero with a tragic backstory — I’m another average woman who feels like no safety measure I take is enough to protect me. Even as I write this, I know there will be people who preach to me that jiu-jitsu isn’t enough without Krav Maga, or that I should carry a gun or pepper spray. I am not an action hero, but I feel being armed and trained like an action hero is the only way people will finally say that, yes, I’ve done enough to protect myself.

I don’t expect the people around me to risk jail time or their own safety to protect me if some creep tries to hurt me. Sometimes, when I talk about these experiences that are so familiar to countless other women, I just want to be taken seriously. I don’t want there to be a checklist that women have to complete in order for them to stop getting told that their harassment or assault was their own fault. I don’t want to be given lazy advice on how to protect myself when I, like so many other women, have been going above and beyond to take my safety into my own hands since I first became aware that other people saw me as a sexual being.

No, I want these people to be held accountable. I want coaches to create an environment within their gyms that proves that harassment won’t be tolerated. I want people who have experienced this garbage to feel that if they report it, they will have some semblance of a chance at justice. I want “harassment” to stop being synonymous with the word “compliment,” and I want people to be believed when they say they’ve had enough human contact in their lifetime to know the difference between a friendly touch and groping. I want society to take the protection it offers predators and instead offer it to their victims, and I want every single person who is cracking their knuckles ready to keyboard-Khabib their way into a “What about ____?” battle to just shut up and listen.

I have learned to defend myself. I own a gun. I walk with my keys like they’re Wolverine’s blades between my knuckles. I choose my company wisely. I rarely drink, and when I do, I don’t leave my cup unattended.

It is not enough.

Please help.


Featured Image by Jiu-Jitsu Times partner photographer Giulliana Fonseca Photography


  1. I’ve been training Striking and BJJ for over a year now with my daughter. Having been assaulted, I want my daughter to be better prepared. All this and I was still not prepared when we discovered a couple of thieves in the act in our house. We have the house on the market and stop in weekly to check in, the thieves were hiding upstairs when we came in. My anger overrode my common sense – I immediately assumed it was the renters we had had for a short time and demanded loudly that they come downstairs while instructing my 15 year old daughter to call 911. I was not prepared for the 6’3 strange man that came down the stairs. I was so shocked that I didn’t react, he moved past me to the backdoor and his accomplice came down shortly afterward and they both ran out the door and down the alley. After the cops left, it struck me how ABSOLUTELY STUPID I was. No one knew we had stopped by the house that day. He was a foot taller and had me by at least 75 lbs. I put myself and my daughter in danger – it was actually my training that led me recognize exactly what danger we were in. Almost all my opponents are bigger than me; I know I have to fight for any dominance. Had I taken one of those 1-Day. Courses, I may have had false confidence. The truth is they could have killed us and we would have lain there for God knows how long before anyone found us. No one expected us to be there. The house is furnished but unoccupied. I have no one in my life to fall back on, and I credit my training with giving me the experience to know I was out of my league and in real danger. But if he had attacked, I don’t know if I would have survived. I certainly didn’t know there were two of them. I don’t know what the answer is. I know I have nightmares. I know it’s his face I see when I train in class. I think about the encounter constantly even thought it’s been over a week. Nothing happened except that I now know how vulnerable I still am. And that I need to keep training.

  2. Thank you for expressing this terrible reality so eloquently. As a sister martial artist I have armed myself better than many others, yet I still feel the same fear in the same kinds of situations, and I shouldn’t. No one should, whether or not they have the training to choke out an attacker. I’m sorry for your experiences.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your story and thoughts on this subject. It resonates a lot with me as a female grappler, who is constantly told “you train, so you have nothing to worry about.” I shared this and got a lot of positive reactions from my friends and teammates, so thank you again for saying what we have all been feeling.

  4. i am a 6’3″, over 210lbs, man. i train jiu-jitsu, been carrying since i legally could and training with firearms since i was a kid. self defense is something i think about always as well. the world is a scary place. evil is real. all you can do is try and find a balance between awareness/alertness and acceptance/openness. there is worlds of good out there. hold the good stuff tight and distance yourself from the bad or potential bad.

  5. Averi, I too started BJJ as a response to being assaulted. My assailant was my doctor, in an exam, it had me off-kilter for 5 years walking around scared all the time. 5 years from my event I stepped on the mat, and learned confidence and thinking on my feet. I also learned, by rolling with teammates of both genders and varying sizes, to trust again. Walking around scared is not sustainable, however being aware of your surroundings at all times and acting confident are very sustainable. The 1% of people that want to hurt you exist, you can learn from experiences created by those 1% and continue being aware of that 1%s mal-intentions, but relying on those 99% of good people.


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