March 6, 2009 — -- The alleged beating of pop star Rihanna by her boyfriend Chris Brown could prompt other women to learn how to protect themselves in the event of an attack, according to self-defense experts.
"As much as I hate to see a story like this glorified and get so much attention, at the same time if it means people are raising their own awareness and they're going to get a little bit better about the positions they put themselves, then absolutely that's a benefit," said Chris Wright-Martell, the owner and head instructor of the Modern Self-Defense Center in Middleton, Conn.
One in four women will become the victim of domestic abuse during her lifetime, according to statistics by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eighty-five percent of those who are abused are women, according to the same statistics, and an estimated 1.3 million women a year are physically assaulted by their partner.
Wright-Martell said that the first thing anyone who is a victim of an attack should try to do is put space between herself or himself and the attacker, "whether that means pushing them away or causing trauma that makes the attacker want to seek space."
In the affidavit released yesterday from the alleged dispute between Brown and Rihanna, the attack was reported to have occurred in a small car.
Survival Tips if You're Attacked in a Small Space
Cramped spaces, said Wright-Martell, can make fighting back and protecting yourself even trickier.
"When you have a situation that is confined and in particular when it's a man assaulting a woman, you have to take advantage of the strongest part of your body," he said.
"I'd advise putting your back against the [passenger] door and putting my feet up against the other person – that creates space and gives me a huge strength advantage," said Wright-Martell.
Brian Long, who has 21 years in law enforcement and is also the owner of the the Bob Long School of Defense in New Jersey, advises against grabbing the steering wheel away from an attacker who is simultaneously driving a car.
"Refrain from grabbing the steering wheel because then you'll both be fighting over it," said Long. "Instead, make sure you have your seat belt on and roll down the window and start screaming."
Long says that if you're being attacked in a moving car, opening the door slightly – as long as you still have your seatbelt on – will work to your advantage when the car does eventually stop.
"There is only so much you can do while you're in a car until it has actually been parked," said Long. "You want to keep the door ajar so that when it does stop he can't hit the locks and you can exit."
Climbing away from the attacker and into the backseat is also not a good idea, warned Long.
"You will only create a worse situation back there," said Long. "The attacker will end up turning around and if you're going at a high speed there is an increased potential for an accident to occur."
Common Items Can Be Used as Weapons During an Attack
For women who want to be prepared in case they are ever put in a compromising position, Wright-Martell said that there are several common items that can be used as weapons if necessary.
"Everything is a tool. Anything you have in your pocket you can use if you're being attacked," he said. "In particular, a lot of people carry a pen or their keys or if you're holding a hot cup of coffee you can throw that. Most people don't think of that one."
Long said that putting your keys in between your fingers and using them to rake your offender is a good technique, as is grabbing personal products like hairspray or hairbrushes to hit your attacker with. He also suggested programming 9-1-1 into your cell phone's speed dial, so it's readily accessible.
Your voice is another strong tool, said Long.
"One of your biggest deterrents is your voice," he said. "You can scream, yell or shout."
Alex Lonabaugh, who has been training people in self defense techniques for more than 13 years at a Yi's Karate in New Jersey, said that women especially should not be discouraged by the size of their attacker.
"Size doesn't matter," said Lonabaugh. "Knowing where to go is what matters and it's as simple as that."
Your attacker's face – eyes, nose and throat – as well as the groin area are the go-to areas that will cause the most pain, he said.
"People expect women to be easy targets, but they're not," said Lonabaugh.
"If you're a woman and you fight back it's already your advantage because you've' just done the unexpected."