– Episode Three –

The Testing Process

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.

Audio Transcription

Introduction

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.

This episode, we’re going to talk about the testing process, the way perpetrators decide who they’re going to choose to assault. The reason why this is important is because the more we know, the safer we are, period. Not the more we know, the more scared we are not the more we know, the more paranoid we become. Nope.

It’s actually exactly the opposite of that. When we have the facts, when we know what the data shows, when we check out the research and understand the process of sexual assault and violence, then we are of course more informed. And the more informed we are, the more informed our choices, responses, and actions can be. The more informed our choices, responses, and actions are, the more we own. Our own power.

This is the point. This is the way empowerment self-defense works. We get to pull our heads out of the sand. Look at the way things really work and decide how we want to live our lives. This is exciting stuff.

Cool Announcement – New Facebook Group – The Empowerment Project Community

Before we head on, I have a cool announcement. We have a Facebook group. The empowerment project community is a Facebook group designed as a place where we can go to share our stories, our success, and to share with one another to share tips kindness, encouragement, empowerment, and resources. So next time you’re on Facebook, look it up. It’s the empowerment project community will tell you what the ground rules are. And you’ll be asked a few questions. We want to keep this place safe. And then bam, we’ll let you in and there you’ll be surrounded by others, learning the same stuff and doing the same work.

Laying the Groundwork About The Testing Process

In episode number two, we talked about the continuum of sexual assault and violence. If you haven’t listened to it yet, I recommend that you go back and check it out. Knowing about perpetrator behaviors and how those fall on the continuum is going to lay the groundwork for this episode about the testing process. So, if you need to, go back and listen to episode two first.

Sometimes we talk about grooming in tandem with the testing process. You may or may not have heard of this term grooming before. Grooming is when the perpetrator is building intimacy and trust with their intended victim to make it possible or easier to do what it is they want to do. Grooming usually makes what’s going on feel “safer”, (which I say in quotes) but also more confusing. So that we, you and I, start to doubt ourselves and not trust what we’re feeling.

This creates a power dynamic or relationship which makes it more likely that they can get away with doing what they want to do. While grooming has a lot in common with testing and crosses over in some places, for purposes of this podcast, we’re going to keep these two groups of behavior separate and focus today on the testing process, what it looks like how it works. We’ll talk about grooming another time, because it’s also super important.

Stranger Versus Familiar Assault

Before we talk about the testing process, though we have to get on the same page about something else. A lot of times when I’m teaching self-defense, whether to kids are teens or adults, they think that if they’re assaulted, it’s going to be by a stranger. This is the image most people have in their heads and it’s a myth. It’s perpetrated also by the media, and it’s bullshit.

I go bananas every time I’m watching a TV show or a movie, and a woman is running through a dark parking lot, chased by some random dude who jumped out from behind some random bushes. And okay, then the worst part is she always trips or she falls or her damn shoe falls off. You know what I mean? I mean, come on, really, for God’s sake cut me a break. It’s usually not like this. And yet this is the image that we see all the time. It’s also the image that’s hyped up by news stations and newspapers. It’s the one they focus on and report on. Because it’s dramatic and it sells but it’s just not the truth.

The truth and data back this up. We know that in particular, women and children are assaulted by someone they know – an acquaintance. Like, over 80% of the time it’s someone that we know. It’s the neighbor, the Minister, the coach, the professor, the coworker, your older brother’s best friend, your cousin, your uncle, your grandpa, your boss… You get the idea. It’s someone that we know.

Because this whole stranger assault thing is so embedded in everyone’s mind and imagination, I’ll be talking about this a lot and breaking it down. Do you remember the story I told you about in the last episode about Py Bateman? What I didn’t mention is that her assailant was actually her neighbor. He lived over her back fence. What it first looked to be like a stranger assault was actually a familiar person.

The point here is that I want you to keep this in mind from now on, don’t fall prey to the BS. An assailant is usually someone who’s familiar to us. Now you can consider us on the same page. But you’re going to hear this from me again, I’m going to keep reminding you because facts are our strength and our wisdom. Hype and misinformation serve only to keep our heads in the sand. Reality-based information equals safety. Period.

Back to the Testing Process

I want to get back to that now. What is it? What’s important about it and how does it work? Let’s look at it from this perspective. Put yourself in the place of a perpetrator. I know, gross. Who wants to do that? But just for a second… Doesn’t it make sense that if you’re going to do something awful, something horrible, something illegal and totally wrong, that you wouldn’t want to get caught? Doesn’t it make sense that you would do everything in your power to pick quote “the right victim”? That’s it. That’s what the testing process is.

It’s the way perpetrators scrutinize us, evaluate us and check out our reactions. Testing can also include the way that they desensitize us to their behavior to the way they cross our boundaries and how That may start to feel like a normal part of the relationship that we have with this person. This is one of the places where testing overlaps with grooming. Keep that in mind. But let’s keep going.

How Does Testing Work? Two Stories.

I want to give you a couple of examples. These are stories from my own life and illustrate this testing process. When I was quite a bit younger in my early 20s, I lived near a few of my cousins and we hung out a lot. They were my main friends when I moved to the Midwest from the east coast. Their circle of friends became my circle of friends. There was this one guy Ken. He seemed perfectly nice, but when he started making advances, I didn’t quite know how to handle it.

I didn’t know anything about empowerment, self-defense, and got kind of confused. The whole thing got kind of confusing. Here’s what I mean: Ken would sit near me like at parties or barbecues or whatever. He’d sit near me. Too close. I was clearly uncomfortable. I felt like I was crawling out of my skin but I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Not his and I also didn’t want to offend my cousins or make anyone feel bad. So, I would just sit there feeling, and probably looking, awkward and weird.

He would also get me alone off to the side of a room or in the hallway, and he would monopolize my attention. Again, I didn’t really like this. I didn’t feel comfortable, but I was worried that I might hurt his feelings or just make someone feel bad – offend my cousins. I just didn’t know.

After a while, he asked me to go to a concert with him. And even though I didn’t really want to go with him, I said yes. As an aside, it was a Grateful Dead concert and I’d never been to one, so even though I didn’t want to go with him. I said “yes”. And I let him buy the tickets. And folks, this complicated things for me. This is very typical because then I felt beholden to him. I felt like maybe I owed him something. After the concert, he walked me from the car to my apartment. By that, it was pretty late and we’d been drinking and smoking weed. We get to the door of my apartment and he grabs me and he starts kissing me. This I knew I didn’t want to do so I kind of laughed. I laughed him off. I pushed him away.

A couple of things are happening here that are confusing me. One is that I’m wondering, is this what I owed him for buying the tickets? And the second was that I was drunk and high and my brain wasn’t functioning properly and I wasn’t able to think clearly. I was confused. Anyway, as I unlocked my door to open it and get away from him, he pushed his way in and he grabbed me again. And he started kissing me again. “I know you want it.” “Don’t be a dick tease.” He was holding me really tight. And then he pushed me onto the ground.

In a loose way, you can see from the story how over time, over the course of a couple of weeks or maybe even a month, he was doing some research. And based on how I’d respond, he pushed another boundary until it seemed I was in over my head. I sure felt that way.

Here’s a second story to illustrate this testing process. A few years later, after the Ken story, I was working at a printing company in Berkeley, California. It was a small, family-owned company, and there were usually only a few of us in the shop together. I worked at the front counter, but I was learning all about printing and how to work these huge machines. I actually really liked this job. My boss Stan took a liking to me. I thought maybe he saw something in me some talent or some ability or something. That’s what I hoped.

Pretty quickly, it started feeling creepy. Stan leaned over me one time and said I smelled good. Gross. I laughed very uncomfortably because I didn’t know what else to do. I kind of hoped he’d never do it again. But he did. Not too long after he did it the first time he did it a second time. I responded the same way – nervous laughter. I didn’t like this unwanted attention. I wanted it to stop, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. And I didn’t want to compromise my job, which is what I assumed would happen. 

After a few of those times of leaning over and saying really weird things, he put his arm around me and he held on too tight. I squirmed and I kind of pushed him away and I smiled to take the sting out just in case I offended him. Right? Next time, he put his arm around me and he held me too tight, but this time he leaned in and he actually kissed me. I didn’t know what to do – the same response. I sort of laughed and squirmed away from him. I tried to turn it into a joke.

At the time, I really didn’t know what to do. I liked my job. Stan was my boss. But he also wasn’t there all the time. And I kind of figured I hoped, if I could just put up with it, that eventually it would stop or he’d get the message. That’s also very typical. I was just doing the best I could. I just didn’t know.

Back to the point. Both of these stories – and I’ll tell you how they end later – give you a sense of how this testing process works. These men are trying out behaviors to see how – in this case, me – how I’ll react. Depending on what I do, they decide what to do next, whether to push more, or whether to back off. This is the test.

This is where self-defense comes in. And this is why it’s important for me that you know about this technique because it’s used to pick a potential victim. It’s also important because this is where we have the best chance of changing the power dynamic. This is where prevention has the most room to breathe. This is where we have the potential to turn this thing on its head. This is where a good empowerment self-defense class begins.

More About Testing

If we’re talking about a known assailant, right, someone who we are acquainted with – remember we talked about the fact that in most cases we know our assailant. So, if we’re talking about a known assailant, the testing process might be somewhat different than the testing that goes along with a stranger assault. We’re going to talk about both of those.

Let’s start with the known assailant, though. Remember the continuum of sexual assault? The one that we talked about the last episode? They’re gonna start at the lower end. They’re gonna stand too close, might tell you that you smell good, right? Like in my example with the creepy boss. But they’re watching us to see what we do. Do we giggle? Do we look uncomfortable? Are we kind of nervous? Do we not say anything? Do we kind of try to move our bodies out of the way but not too much? If so, check. Next.

He’s going to escalate his testing a little bit to see what else he can get away with. Maybe this time he holds our hand to see what we do. Or he puts an arm around our shoulder and leans in. He’s still watching. What do we do? Uncomfortable giggling? Shy pulling away? Nervous chatter? And on it goes. Next time, push on a different boundary or on the same one, but bring up the level of intensity.

Remember, you are not to blame. If this has happened to you or is happening to you, whether you did or didn’t respond or react, whether you did or didn’t speak up. You are not to blame. The perpetrator, the assailant is always going to be the one who’s at fault. He’s the one doing the awful thing here. He’s the one pushing. He’s the one who’s out of bounds. You, me, we’re all just doing our best. Forgiveness for ourselves is key here.

In the last episode, we explored the continuum of sexual assault and violence. I told you this was going to help us with a common vocabulary and a common language. These testing behaviors are on the continuum. They start at a lower level and escalate in intensity. The testing process can take place over minutes, hours, days, months and even years. They’re trying out behaviors. They’re pushing past our boundaries to see what we do when they make us feel uncomfortable. How do we respond?

Next week we’re going to tie the continuum in with the testing process and talk about what I think is the most important piece of your self-defense toolkit. We’re going to talk about how you can tell when someone is testing you. How you can tell when a behavior, a situation or a person is “off” or creepy, or just not safe.

People Pleasing

Before we go on, let’s take a sec here and talk about people-pleasing. I know it might seem like I’m jumping around a little bit in this episode, but these things are interconnected and people-pleasing is a huge component of what we need to look at when we’re taking the self-defense class.

People pleasing, to name a few examples, is when we take care of others, worry about another person’s feelings or what people think of us. Especially when it’s to the exclusion of what we think or feel or want. Sometimes to our own detriment. These caretaking behaviors, when we have them, can put us at risk.

By now I know you know this, but it bears repeating. Just because you or me or someone, takes care of another person’s feelings, or doesn’t want to rock the boat or make a scene, that does not mean that assault is in any way our fault.

Inevitably there’s someone in my class who says, “I think it’s important to be nice to be kind. I’m nice and there is nothing wrong with me. I’m proud of being nice!” or something to that effect. Because it comes up so much, I figure, some of you are probably thinking the same thing. So let’s talk about it.

There is nothing wrong with being a nice person, nothing. But I’m going to ask you here, and please be honest with yourself. Is that your default? Is that your go-to? Is that your coping mechanism, your coping skill? If all we have is I’m a nice person, I don’t want to make anyone feel bad, I don’t want to embarrass myself if I’m wrong… When our own sense of self-value and what makes us feel good about taking up space on planet earth comes from making other people happy, from making other people feel okay, from taking care of other people and their feelings. And if we don’t take up our own space, that puts us at risk.

It’s okay to be nice. But it’s important that “nice” and that taking care of others is a choice, not an unconscious default because you haven’t done your inner work. I want you to know how not to be nice, how to not worry about what anyone else thinks of you -ever. I want you to know how to make a scene and how to make a stink even if you might be wrong. I want you to know how to not take care of someone else, especially if something feels creepy because this is gonna help you stay safe. Always!

Do you see what I mean? 

Being nice, being kind taking care of others. Yes. Sweet. Do it. But also know how to take care of YOU. How to listen to YOU. How to be kind to yourself and how to be protective of YOU.

It’s okay to ask for help with this. It’s ingrained behavior in a lot of us. It’s okay to take a look at it. There are resources like talk therapy, support groups, and our friends, Head over to the Empowerment Project Community on Facebook, and connect with us about this if you want or need support or ideas, or you want to share stories about this. Because honestly, this is, for many of us, a default that we have. And again, it’s integral in our learning how to protect ourselves that we be able to have a choice about it, that it not just be our fallback.

Here’s the thing. If I’m thinking that an assailant is only going to be a stranger in a dark alley, and if my default is nice to the exclusion of standing up for myself when things get to feeling odd or off or downright creepy, when that dude is literally testing my reactions and my responses, and observing how I handle him crossing my boundaries, that is a combo that puts me at risk. Because then I’m operating off ONE, a myth that it’s a stranger, and TWO with the default of not wanting to hurt the feelings of the very person who is intending to hurt me.

Does this make sense?

Back to Testing

Let’s get back to testing though and see what it might look like with a stranger assailant. The testing process might be shorter. I mentioned that earlier. It might feel a little different. He’s looking for an opportunity, but also for the right person, the one he can assault without getting in trouble. He’s going to ask you too many times personal questions, for example. He might push you for your phone number or your address when you’ve already said, “no”. He might pressure, you’d have sex with him.

There were some studies done a few years back by people in the criminal justice system. What they did was very interesting. They went to jails and prisons around the country. And they showed inmates who were incarcerated for rape hours of video of situations like parties and people walking down the street and at events. They asked a bunch of questions. “If you were going to assault somebody who would you pick and why?” They found out two very important things, both of which sort of surprised me, but they have a direct effect on our self-defense and your toolkit.

The assailants are looking for someone who has an uneven gait. They shuffle, look down, maybe they amble. It’s not an even stride. They’re not walking like they have a place to go. It’s not a strong walk. And when I read this, I kind of got that because it’s kind of like those videos we see of the lions, for example, hunting. You can see them working together to take down the youngest Gazelle, or the one that’s limping because it’s the most likely that they’ll be able to catch that one. So to me, that kind of made sense once I started to think about it.

The second thing that they found out was that these assailants find fear, the look of fear on someone’s face to be a huge turn on. This is where I want your self-defense toolkit to have: Body language skills! You probably already have these and we’ll talk about all of it in a future episode. But between now and then walk tall with your eyes up. You’re aware of what’s going on around you. You have a steady, even stride. Like you’re walking with purpose like you have a place to go. Your face is neutral, it’s relaxed. Even if you’re having a bad day, you don’t feel well, you just got some sad news or you had a fight with your best friend. Okay, walking tall, walk with a strong stride, and a neutral face. Just between now and when we get a chance to talk more about body language.

Testing, in a nutshell, let’s wrap it up what it is. The perpetrator is pushing our boundaries to see how we react. Remember that part of this is also the desensitizing process. They’re desensitizing us to having our boundaries crossed by this person. Over time, as we don’t stand up, as we sort of shrink, as we giggle or push away, it actually starts to feel normal to us. Maybe we even confuse it with intimacy. And again, there’s that crossover with grooming. So just know that that can be part of the process.

There’s a lot more to unpack here, and we’ll talk more about it all later. But for now, your awareness is a key component to stop the testing process and to stop it way further down on the continuum of sexual assault and violence. As we continue to summarize this process, this testing process, depending on what happens, how a person reacts, the perp is going to escalate the testing behaviors, or maybe if they don’t get the response they’re looking for, maybe they leave us alone.

Knowing about this process means you can be on the lookout for it. Remember how I say self-defense is about planning and preparation? If you know this might be what’s happening like if you can start to sense it early on. You’ve talked about it with your friends and considered it as an option or a possibility. You’ve thought through how you might choose to respond to it. You could even think through your people-pleasing behaviors, the way you give other people the benefit of the doubt. You can think about how you might want to respond differently in the future. You can roleplay with friends. If you know some situation is coming up, and you’re going to be seeing someone that makes you uncomfortable, and you can’t just not go, roleplay with friends! Think it through, have a plan for yourself. You want to be ready. This is self-defense. 

Sometimes there’s alcohol or other drugs involved. And I want to talk about this too. But enough is enough for this one episode! We can talk about that later. Eventually, though, we’re going to think through and take a look at how alcohol and other drugs can affect this whole process of testing, and our ability to be mindful about what we’re experiencing and feeling. It’s too big of a topic to explore right now. So, we’ll do it later.

But just a quick moment to say that, again, if you’ve been assaulted in the past, and if alcohol or other drugs were involved, it’s not your fault. No one asks to get raped, period.

Back to the Stories and How they Turned Out

It’s almost wrapped up time. But first, I want to finish telling you what happened in those two stories I started off with. What happened with Ken after the concert in my apartment when he pushed me onto the floor right and crawled on top of me. I had never taken a self-defense class but I was pissed. And I started fighting him off me. I started pushing and just shoving eventually we were both standing up and I shoved and I pushed him out of my apartment. Somehow, I remember getting the door open shoving him out, closing the door and locking it. Phew. Thank God.

I told my cousins what happened. And they actually, none of them believed me. None of them believed Ken would ever do anything like that. They couldn’t see him doing that. They thought it was not a big deal. They thought I was exaggerating and being super dramatic. I made sure to never see Ken again. If I knew he was going to be at their house, I wouldn’t go over. If I knew he was invited to an event or a barbecue. I just didn’t go and actually, I was so uncomfortable. I ended up moving. I moved across the country.

This is typical, by the way of a lot of self-defense stories. We are the ones that have been assaulted and yet, we are the ones that drop out of school, quit our jobs, move across the country, leave the church or community. It’s very typical. It happens all the time.

Let me finish my second story. So, Stan had just leaned in and kissed me, right? And I laughed and was nervous and kind of turned it into a joke. By the way, everyone at this shop and in this company knew that this guy’s boss, Stan’s boss, slept with employees. It was kind of the culture of the place. I assumed, probably correctly, that if I said anything, I’d be the one to get in trouble or I’d get fired. One day, it was just the two of us in the shop. He tells me he knows I want it. It’s just the two of us. So let’s do it. Let’s have sex. I made some dumb excuse and I got out of there as fast as I could. And then I just quit. I actually never went back. I just quit. I quit my job.

By now you’re probably thinking about and remembering times when this sort of thing has happened to you. That’s what happens. We start to tell one another our self-defense stories. And it reminds us of things that happened to us. It’s very typical that this happens. So again, go to that Facebook group and start telling us your stories. You might be remembering sometimes when the sort of thing happened to you, it’s, it’s happened to all of us, most likely a multitude of times.

This feeling that someone is pushing our boundaries is seeing what they can get away with. It’s common, but it also doesn’t mean that every time it’s happened to us, the other person is about to assault us. So not to lean too heavily on in that direction, either.

Here’s an example, let’s take manspreading. I sit down on a bus and a dude sits down next to me and then he like spreads his legs and opens up his arms and he like gets to nudging me in my space. Or this happens to me all the time, I’m on a plane and the dude next to me has his feet and my area or his elbow, it’s like jabbing into my ribs. He’s not necessarily an assailant, right? He’s just clueless.

Your Self Defense Toolkit

But – and this is an Important – this does give me a chance to practice my self-defense. This is what I want in your self-defense toolkit, something like this: “Excuse me, could you please move your arm?” I like to challenge us to get rid of the “please”. Because I don’t think it’s always necessary. And I think again, it’s often our default. And it would be really great to have the option of not saying please all the time. But I also know it’s really hard. And there are times when using “please” is actually appropriate. Use it anytime. But also, I’m just saying, practice NOT saying it. Just practice it for me. Just do that, try it just for fun. 

Down at the lower end of the continuum of sexual assault, adding in a “please’ can be again, totally appropriate. But using the word “please” can shift our inner power If we use it when the guy’s behavior doesn’t warrant politeness.

This is your toolkit for the week. Speak up!

Repeat after me:

No.

Stop it.

Don’t talk to me.

Don’t touch me.

Move your arm.

Don’t say that.

I don’t like that.

Stop

These words, this verbal self-defense is a huge part of your toolkit. And this is just a start. We’re going to talk about this a lot as we spend time together. A verbal response is a really simple and quick way to shift what’s going on. But you also have to know what’s going on and be able to identify it.

So next episode, I want to explore that. How do you know when someone is pushing your boundaries stepping over your line? We’re going to talk about your internal alarm system. This is an antidote to the testing process. And it’s what keeps you safe. We’re going to talk about what it is, how it works, how it feels, how to use it. And again, it’s one of the most important self-defense tools in our self-defense toolkit. 

Remember, next time you’re on Facebook, go to our group, the Empowerment Project Community. We’re going to tell you what the ground rules are. And you’ll be asked a few questions because we want to keep this place safe. This is a place to share your own stories to ask questions, support other people, and find support if you need it or want it. The moderators, by the way of this group, are all self-defense instructors.

Hey, thanks for hanging out with me. Thanks for listening all the way through. You are worth protecting. And that’s a fact.

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.

Yes!

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.