– Episode Two –

The Continuum of Sexual Assault and Violence

About The Empowerment Podcast

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In this podcast, created as a platform to teach you everything she knows about self-defense, join host Silvia Smart in this safe space. With over three decades on the frontlines, she’ll give you skills and knowledge for your self-defense toolkit so you can live your most fearless and empowered life. Research proves that empowerment self-defense programs work. Participants are less fearful, more aware of their boundaries, and are able to speak up sooner when faced with manipulative or threatening situations. Furthermore, for those who have experienced trauma in the past, evidence shows that empowerment self-defense training can interrupt the cycle of violence and decrease the likelihood of a future assault.

the continuum of sexual assault

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The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 53

Stephanie Cyr has started an Empowerment Self Defense Program at SFSU that is rolling out in the Fall of 2024! In this episode, she’ll tell us all about it, share a wonderful self-defense success story and so much more. Our wide-ranging conversation covers how great it will be when we can make ESD a standardized course offering in all public schools and how ESD can impact health, along with positivity and lots of hope for the future of this movement.

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Success Story – Complying & Playing Along

Did you know that complying and playing along are essential tools you already have in your toolkit? It can help us buy time to get help or get to safety. Join host Silvia Smart as she shares how one person “played along” to stop an attempted rape and get to safety.

Our stories are important. YOUR stories are important! Consider sharing your story with me and with my listeners.

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 51

Host Silvia Smart and author Lauren Taylor discuss this newly released book which is an excellent resource for everyone – those interested in empowerment, in self-defense and instructors of ESD as well. Join Silvia and Lauren as they do some of the exercises in the book and chat about the ins and outs of this fascinating publication worthy of a read!

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 48

Finding Empowerment within the Upsetting Context of Mass Shootings – an Interview with SAC Kieran Ramsey, FBI Portland

There’s a clear uptick in mass shootings across the country leading to lots of fear, confusion and anguish. Who better to talk to than the FBI? Join me and my guest, Special Agent in Charge of the Portland FBI, Kieran Ramsey.

We discuss how regular people like you and me can help prevent mass shootings and play a role in stopping this disturbing cycle of violence. (Hint: it will not make the news.) We discuss the ins and outs, ups and downs of knowing what to look for, fact versus myth, reporting, planning, preparation and yes, believe it or not, empowerment!

Many thanks to SAC Ramsey for sharing his experience and wisdom as we negotiate the complex landscape we all live in right now.

Please share this episode far and wide. Together, we can create a kinder and safer world, one relationship at a time. We’ve got this!

Resources Mentioned in this Episode:
• Call 911
• Call Your Local Non-Emergency Police Phone Number: Directory by City
• Report to the FBI
• Contact Your Local FBI Field Office
• FBI Phone #: 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324)

Connect with Silvia
Trauma Informed Active Shooter Trainings with Silvia

Special thanks to my editor, Henry Smart-Denson

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 47

Folks, Florida is on the front lines right now. There are huge safety concerns brought on by the cruel laws, restrictions, rhetoric, and policies of Ron DeSantis and his friends that are affecting many people. Because of this, Equality Florida, along with the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens, have all issued travel advisories for the State of Florida.

I wanted to find out more and am thrilled to introduce you to Brandon Wolf, the Press Secretary of Equality Florida.

In April 2023, Brandon’s organization, Equality Florida warned against traveling to the state of Florida for folks in the LGBTQ+ community saying it could be risky and potentially unsafe. The warning says: “Taken in their totality, Florida’s slate of laws and policies targeting basic freedoms and rights pose a serious risk to the health and safety of those traveling to the state.”
The League of United Latin American Citizens issued its own warning, saying bluntly: “Traveling to Florida is dangerous.” The advisory goes on to say travel in Florida “can be unsafe for people of color, individuals who speak with an accent, and international travelers,” and people in those groups could face “a heightened risk of harassment, possible detainment, and potential family separation based on racial profiling.”

From the New York Times: The NAACP became the latest to issue a travel advisory to the Sunshine State, warning that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools” have turned the state into an openly hostile place for people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.”

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 46

Denial, Safety, and Empowerment – If we’re gonna talk about Empowerment Self Defense, we have to talk about denial. When talking with survivors of sexual assault and survivors of other types of relational violence it is common to hear that the survivor had a funny feeling something was wrong but then doubted themselves or rationalized or minimized their intuition and flat out ignored it. This is called denial.

Denial can put us at risk and because of that, breaking through denial in all the ways it manifests in our lives keeps us safer. Period. Looking at and talking about denial is directly connected to empowerment self-defense AND to our safety as we walk through the world.

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 45

Meet Jill Shames, Empowerment Self Defense Instructor. Listen in as she and host, Silvia Smart, share a few self-defense success stories and talk about all the things the survivors did RIGHT! Find out why they recommend a perspective shift as you think through your own experiences! You are strong and powerful and Jill and Silvia believe in you!

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 44

Meet Lauren Taylor who has been working to end gender-based violence since 1978, when she co-founded Washington, D.C.’s first shelter for abused women. As an empowerment self-defense teacher and founder-director of Defend Yourself, she’s trained more than 35,000 people in the D.C. area and elsewhere in the U.S. She’s also trained dozens of trainers around the country and around the world.

Join us as we find out more about Lauren and what makes her tick. Learn about the book she co-authored with Nadia Telsey, which will be published in the fall! Importantly, follow the links here to learn how to pre-order the book and support this important work!

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 43

I Survived a Cult
Join host Silvia Smart as she shares pieces of her journey to empowerment and survival from a cult-like martial arts system. Listen to the red flags that crop up around these dysfunctional and sometimes dangerous systems and people.

Cults and charismatic leaders with ill intent are everywhere – Qanon, NXIVM, Scientology, and The Children of God, are just a few examples. Cults and narcissistic, manipulative, and sociopathic leaders exist within conspiratorial cultures, churches, and spiritual groups. People get stuck in these systems – especially when they are vulnerable. Learn the signs so you can protect yourself and stay safe.

Audio Transcription


This podcast is brought to you by the empowerment project.

Research proves that empowerment self-defense training makes you safer period. I want you to have a great self-defense toolkit so you can create strong boundaries, speak with confidence, and take up all the space that you deserve in the world.

We’ll hear stories from survivors and find out what worked for them and why. We’ll interview leaders in the field and talk about tips, concepts, and really easy things that you can do to make yourself safer and interrupt the cycle of violence.

I’ve taught self-defense classes for over 30 years and I promise to teach you everything I know!

Ultimately, I’m going to want you to get some in-person training, but a great empowerment self-defense class is more than just the physical skills. The list of things I want to teach you is endless, so let’s get to it.

My name is Silvia Smart, and welcome to the empowerment project.

I’m so glad you’re here! Welcome.

In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about the continuum of sexual assault and violence. I mentioned it in the last episode right toward the end. I’m going to talk about why it’s important and then illustrate what I mean with a couple of self-defense success stories.

We’ll be using this continuum as a way of looking at perpetrator behaviors, identifying them, breaking them down, picking them apart, really on a scale of intensity. This will give us a common language and a vocabulary we can use during our time together. Over the course of these podcasts, we’re going to be looking at various scenarios and hearing lots of success stories so we can start to place them on the spectrum and see where they land.

As we build up your toolkit will identify tools that work especially well on the lower end of the spectrum, some that are key on the farther end and a bunch of stuff in between.

By the way, speaking of toolkits, you already have a toolkit! Lots of times when I teach self-defense, I feel like I’m just helping you identify the stuff you already know, have already experienced, have already tried have already used successfully. And that’s just a fact. Back to the continuum.

Why is the Continuum Important?

Clearly, as you can tell, I think it’s important to talk about this continuum. But I want you to know why.

  • This podcast is about transforming fear into empowerment. Talking about these behaviors together, you and I, looking at this continuum, it means we can keep our head out of the sand, and that actually keeps us safer.
  • Identifying behaviors means we’re intentionally shifting our perspective. We’re moving our gaze from our own fear, which can be limiting at best and paralyzing at worst We’re focusing our eyes outside ourselves on this external continuum, this quantifiable method of looking at behaviors at someone else’s actions.
  • I want to take some of the magic and mystical power out of these behaviors. Because when we talk about these together through this continuum, you’ll see how common these behaviors are. They’re nothing new. There aren’t any secrets here. A behavior is a behavior, let’s just call it out.
  • We talked about healing as part of self-defense, and looking at this continuum is also part of that healing process. What I mean by that is, we’ve all experienced these things, at least some of them, but we don’t always talk about it. In fact, lots of times we turn our lived experiences inward, and we cover it up with shame. We are turning that on its head, we’re talking about this stuff, we’re looking at it squarely. And that can help us move from shame and really self-hatred into acceptance and self-love into empowerment.
  • And one last thing we’re building trust with ourselves. You’ve seen these behaviors you felt your body reacting to these behaviors. You have I have, we all have, and we’ve been told that we’re overreacting. We’re being dramatic. We’re being bitchy, nagging. We’re misinterpreting. We’re misunderstanding. And when together, we can really talk about these behaviors on this continuum and see them for what they are: WRONG! You can keep building trust with yourself. Your body knows what it’s experiencing your body knows what it has experienced. What it’s feeling. We know this stuff. In the deepest parts of our being, we’re going to talk about this a lot. But let’s keep going.

How the Continuum Works

Okay.  To show you how this continuum works, I’m going to tell you a couple of self-defense success stories. And then we can take a look and see how and where those stories land on the spectrum and use them as an example.

The first story I want to tell you happened at one of my corporate gigs. I was teaching self-defense to a bunch of real estate folks. They’re often in and on properties all alone with people they don’t know, sometimes in isolated places, and at all hours of the day and night,

When you stop to think about it, this is not a bad plan for their company’s safety team to provide self-defense training, right? There we were, we were at my school. I’m standing there. I’m welcoming everyone in. I’m having a chat with this one guy in particular when another guy walks in, and buddies up to the first guy. He totally interrupts our conversation, completely ignores me, and acts like I’m not even there. This happens all the time, right? Nothing new.

But then as if that isn’t enough, he goes on to tell the first guy a sexist joke right in front of me. There I am. And there he is. And there IT is. A sexist joke in my face. Bam!

The second story I want to tell you is about Py Bateman. Who is she? Py Bateman is the author of a self-defense manual called “Fear into Anger”, which was published way back when in 1978. She started the Feminist Karate Union in Seattle, Washington in 1971. She taught self-defense in martial arts for nearly two decades.

In May of 1984. She was walking up the back stairway to her apartment when she was attacked by a man with a knife, he grabbed her hair, and he immediately started cutting around her eyes. His intent was to kill her.

Where do these Stories Land on the Continuum?

If we’re looking at the continuum, you can see that these two stories land on either end of this spectrum. On the one end, we have stuff like ignoring, interruptions, and jokes that are meant to put down a population of people like sexist jokes, homophobic jokes, etc. The list goes on. But then at the other end of the continuum, we have the super scary stuff like the stuff that Py had to deal with.

Don’t worry, I’m going to tell you how these stories turn out later, I promise. But first, a little trigger warning because we’re going to be looking together at this darker side of humanity. It’s this really awful, horrible stuff. I want you to keep breathing. Some of these things may have happened to you, for sure I’ve experienced a bunch. Just keep breathing and know that you’re not alone. You’re right here with me. We’re right here together.

If it’s too much, just stop listening. Go do something outside, go call a friend, do some meditation to calm yourself down, go for a run. Come back when you’re ready or skip the rest of this podcast. You have my permission to take care of yourself however you need to do that. If you can stay with me, remember, any of this stuff that ever happened to was not your fault. Remember the fault, the blame that lies in the hands and at the feet of the perpetrator, period. Remember, there’s no victim-blaming here. Not ever. Okay.

Take a deep breath.

Behaviors on the Continuum of Sexual Assault and Violence

The continuum starts at one end with inappropriate comments, catcalls, maybe a handshake that lasts just a little too long. He’s looking at your breasts instead of at your eyes, ignoring you, pretending not to hear you interrupting you. There’s the manspreading as if the space you live in is not even yours.

The continuum keeps moving. For example, he’s acting too familiar telling “jokes”, sometimes with the intent to see how you react. There are rude comments and things like standing too close, objectifying women’s bodies – or your body.

…and it continues…asking too many personal questions, inappropriate touching, like a touch that lingers too long or is too close to a private area and it just feels creepy. There’s the hugging that is too long or too tight or putting an unwanted arm around your shoulder or on your knee. Holding your hand too long. Putting you down with snarky jokes.

Does any of this start to feel familiar? Like things that you might have experienced in the past? Stay with me if you can, and remember to keep breathing because it’s going to start to get a little more intense here.

On the continuum, we’re going to continue to move on down the way… to stuff like leering, staring at you, demanding to know who you’re talking to on the phone or who you were with. They are ignoring you when you say “No”, not taking “No” for an answer, overriding your “No”. They tell you that you’re overreacting or being dramatic. Maybe they are buying new things for you, making you feel indebted. Maybe, big things. Spending money on you.

You can see where we’re headed here. We’re still making our way down the intensity level of the continuum. So, keep breathing.

The level escalates and now we’re talking about things like controlling. Controlling who you can see, who you talk to or who you hang out with. There’s the slip of the hand. The hand that touches your breast, your butt or your groin “by accident”. You’re at your doctor’s and they’re doing a breast exam and it just takes way too long and feels kind of creepy. You’re with your coach and while they’re taping you up, their hands linger. Maybe too long, maybe too close to your groin. Your uncle’s holding you down, and “tickling” you, right? Long past when you ask him to stop and long past when you’re having a hard time breathing. Your minister is “laying hands” on you in a healing ritual but is touching your breasts, you’re groin, your butt.

These are things that happen. Take a deep breath.

We’re going to keep moving our way down the continuum. Now we’re moving on to manipulation, for example, telling you, “If you don’t go out with me, I’m going to kill myself”. There are coercion and threats.” If you do, or don’t do this, I’m going to hurt you. I’m going to hurt your family. I’m going to hurt someone that you love”. They are grabbing you too tight, too long. They’re raising their voice.

And when you object to any of the things that I’ve mentioned so far. They tell you, “You’re delusional. You’re making things up. You’re sick, you’re perverted.” In other words, they are making YOU the problem, you’re to blame.

Remember, that is not true. No victim-blaming. The blame lies squarely in the hands of the perpetrator. It always has and it always will. They want you they want me, they want us, to be the ones who feel ashamed. Because this is an excellent way to control us.

Take a deep breath.

The shame keeps us from talking about it with other people, from reporting them, from reporting what’s happening. It keeps us from getting help. It’s always okay to talk about this stuff. It’s important to talk about this stuff. It’s important to find safe people we can talk about it with. We are not alone!

We’re not quite done. There’s just a little more to go. So, take a deep breath, stay with me. We’re going to go down towards the really ugly end of the spectrum, like uglier than we’ve seen yet.

We’re talking about someone yelling at you, slapping you throwing things or throwing things at you, or throwing you. We’re talking about getting grabbed, getting your hair pulled out. We’re talking about shoving and pushing. Continuing down the spectrum, we’re looking at choking, punching, hitting, guns, knives, multiple assailants, maiming, rape, torture, murder.

This stuff is hard to hear. It’s awful to talk about. I want to take a moment and acknowledge that and make sure you’re still right here with me.

Do this with me: Okay, put one hand on your heart. Put one hand on your belly and take a deep breath in. A nice, big breath out. And feel the breath. Do it again. Feel the breath flowing in through your nostrils, at the back of your throat, going into your lungs. Feel your belly move as you inhale, your belly move as you exhale. One more time. Big breath in. Big breath out.

Good. Folks, this is ugly. This is the darker side of humanity that we’re talking about. But we’re done with it for now. We’re done with the continuum. Now you know it. Now you know what I was talking about, we can move on.

By the way, these examples that I mentioned, they’re by no means exhaustive. And the behaviors themselves can move around on the continuum, depending on the intention, and the intensity.

What do I mean by that? Here’s an example. Someone could shake your hand, hold on to it too long or too tight, and have a malicious intent, designed to scare you or even threaten you. But someone else might do the exact same thing and just be a dumbass. They might be completely clueless about how this might feel to you how it might affect you. It’s the same behavior, but it could fall in different places on the continuum. That will depend on how it feels to you, what your gut is telling you, and the clues that you’re getting.

Anyway, I think you get the idea!

What Most People Think About When They Think of Self Defense

When most people think about self-defense, they normally think about what happens on the farther, more intense end of the spectrum. The fighting the hitting the kicking, the striking. I’ve even heard people say they don’t want their daughter, their wife, their partner to take a self-defense class because it’s too violent. Okay, I call BS on that right now. We can talk more about it later, though.

In a good empowerment, self-defense class, you are going to learn how to kick how to hit and how to knock someone out. Honestly, that is also the most fun part of any self-defense class! It’s cathartic. It’s empowering and paradigm-shifting. You’re yelling, you’re hitting stuff, and you’re feeling how incredibly strong you are. So yes, this is a crucial component of a self-defense class. It doesn’t mean you’re being trained to be violent. What it means is you’re learning how to protect yourself!

Aside from the physical skills, and equally importantly, any empowerment self-defense program is going to address the behaviors at the lower end of this continuum. Because, and listen to me here, this is where it all starts. This is where your self-defense toolkit begins. This is where we have the most opportunity for preventing and for the interruption. This, this lower end of the spectrum, this lower end of the continuum is where we can affect and shift that balance of power.

Addressing these behaviors, the ones at the lower end of the spectrum is really important stuff too.

It’s just about time to wrap up. But wait, I have to finish telling you the rest of the stories.

Self Defense Story Wrap Up

Remember the story I told you at the beginning, the guy who ignored me, interrupted a conversation I was having and told a sexist joke? Well, here’s what happened next.

I looked him in the eye and said, “That’s a sexist joke. It’s not funny. This is a safe space. Sexist jokes are not allowed in my school.” And then I let there be an awkward silence. And I didn’t back down.

And what do you know, he sat there during that workshop, listening as his female co-workers talked about how frightening it is to show a property and how scared they are to do that alone. He heard them talk about the complex system that they’ve had to create and which they use to keep one another safe. And then, as the group started to feel safer with one another, he sat there and he witnessed several of his co-workers disclosed their histories of sexual assault and domestic violence.

At the end of that workshop during the feedback portion, he told everyone about that joke, and how he just been pissed that he had to come to this workshop because he didn’t want to. He said he was so glad he came and that now he understood how important it was to have this training and this safe space. He vowed in front of all 30 of his co-workers to pay attention, to be more aware, and to help make things different in any way that he could going forward. Now that was a transformation!

But what happened to Py Bateman? Remember her? Here, we are at the opposite end of the continuum and it’s super physical. It’s super violent. This guy is trying to maim and kill her. There she is on her porch with a man yanking at her hair, his knife digging into her face around her eyes.

So what happens next? He forces her to take him all the way up the stairs to her apartment. And when they get into her apartment, his level of his violence escalates. Py is now fighting for her life. Very quickly, she realizes that she also has to escalate her physical response. And she did. She did things like knocking the knife out of his hand, kneeing him in the groin, and hitting him over and over again, pummeling him over and over and over again. For a half-hour! He outweighed her by 90 pounds!

After this half-hour of hardcore fighting a friend of hers stopped by. Py believes that this saved her life because the attacker ran. The good news is emergency services were able to come right away. They got her to a hospital and she got excellent care. She numerous injuries, but her vision returned to normal fairly quickly, and she lived to tell this terrible tale.

She describes how her years of training martial arts and self-defense helped her. It helped her keep a calm mind. And once she realized what was actually happening, once she wasn’t in denial anymore, she said she didn’t feel afraid. She describes a fierce determination to make it out of the situation of life, no matter what. She’s very humble, and she doesn’t brag, but she has expressed her gratitude very clearly for all of her training. And she sees herself as a survivor, not a victim, as a survivor.

All things considered, she rocked the house!

Back to Your Toolkit

In the story that I told you about me, I used verbal self-defense at that lower end of the continuum. There are tons of different ways you can use your words. In this case, I called it out. I said, “You told a sexist joke”, right? And then I criticized it. I said, “It’s not funny”. And then I went on to the next piece, which is kind of laying the foundation. “This is a safe space. Sexist jokes are not allowed here.” Done. And then, I didn’t giggle. I didn’t look away. I didn’t make a silly face or do anything to undermine my own words. This is a really important part of self-defense. I let there be an awkward silence. I let him be the one that felt awkward. And I was totally fine with it.

Meanwhile, down on the other end of the spectrum, Py kicked ass and fought like hell. I want that in your toolkit! This is why I will continue to say to you, I want those physical skills in your toolkit. I want you to learn how to hit, learn how to strike, learn how to kick, feel the power! Do this work, because it’s fun. It’s cathartic. It’s empowering, and it’s awesome. YOU are stronger than you know!

Next week, I look forward to telling you some more self-defense success stories as we build your toolkit.

Wrap Up

So, we’re at wrap up time. One last thing, just to say it again, just to be clear. You are worth protecting in all ways, in every way. I believe in you. Next week, I want to talk about this thing I just mentioned this continuum of sexual assault and violence, because I want to start to pull apart what it looks like, what violence looks like at its most minute, but also at its most ugly. This continuum is going to give us a common vocabulary kind of a language, as we talk about your toolkit. Because depending on what’s happening, and where it lands on this continuum, it’s gonna affect how you want to respond, and which tools work best. So, it’s really cool. We’re going to talk about it next week.

But right now we’re wrapping up. And it’s affirmation time. This is how I end every self-defense class. It’s kind of cheesy, but it’s very cool. And this is how it works. We’re going to do like a little call and response. If you can say this out loud. If you can repeat after me, do it because it’s important, I think, for you to hear your own voice. But if you can’t, like if you’re on a crowded subway or someplace where It’s embarrassing, don’t worry, you can also just say it inside your head. Okay, so I’m going to say something and you’re going to repeat it after me. I’m going to give you space to do that. And at the end, we’re going to say “YES”! Here we go.

Repeat after me.

I am worth protecting.

I love myself.

I belong.

I deserve to take up space on planet Earth.

I am a strong and powerful person.


And hey, as a wrap up, will you do me a favor? Will you do all the things that you do when there’s a podcast like, will you tell your friends, will you subscribe? Will you come back each week? Communicate with me? Review this podcast? Will you please do all the things to help get more bandwidth, help more people find out about this podcast? That would be super awesome!

Take a deep breath. You are amazing. Thank you for being with me. See you next time.