By Shalayne Pulia
Updated Apr 04, 2018 @ 12:45 pm
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In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and successive #MeToo movement, more women are finding the courage to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment. They’re finding strength in numbers and support from peers and celebrities like Ashley Judd and Gabrielle Union with #MeToo stories. And while it's great to see so many courageous women take a stand, there are still far too many stories like these to be told.

One out of every six American women has experienced an attempted or completed rape according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)’s website. Look around. That means, if you can spot six women, chances are one of them is a survivor. Changing this needs to be cultural, and women can't be the only ones involved in the solution. Men need to step up to the plate.

But in the meantime, people like self-defense expert, mom, and police officer Gloria Marcott want to empower people who will be faced with potential or full-blown sexual harassment to feel more in control of their own safety. We chatted with Marcott and came up with tips on how to avoid a sexual assault. Marcott developed her own self-defense course even before joining the police force after she experienced what could have been a dangerous assault situation.

“To be quite honest, coming from an athletic background and being in my young 20s at the time, I just thought ‘I'm a little badass and I'll be okay no matter what,'" she said. After Marcott realized what could have happened if she hadn't narrowly escaped an uncomfortably escalating situation, she opened “Soul Punch Self-Defense” where she’s taught more than 10,000 women how to protect themselves since 1992.

“We are all so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for, we just don't know it until we start focusing on our own personal safety, and it's absolutely necessary.” Below, Marcott details 5 tips for avoiding sexual assault that she shares with her students that she's focusing on during Sexual Assault Awareness month in April.

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1. Stay aware

“You have to take part in your own personal safety,” she said adding that running through what could happen in your head before it happens can make a huge difference for potential victims. Before attending a party, going somewhere alone, heading to the mall, etc., ask yourself: "Are there going to be people around me that I don't know? Will I be drinking? Do I guard my drink? How much distance do I want to keep when I'm talking to someone?"

The answers to these types of questions will help you be mentally prepared for the worst, while making sure you have the best time. Sexual assault can of course happen when you least expect it, but staying present and aware of your immediate surroundings, like guarding your drink more when you're out with new people than when you're relaxing at home with friends, can help you stop a dangerous situation before it starts.

2. Listen to your gut

Marcott said that listening to your gut is an important line of defense. “You have to listen to what your natural instincts, your soul, your gut, your inner voice—whatever you want to call it—are telling you and then act on those things.” No more continuing a conversation because it'd be "impolite" to cut it short. You don't have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, and if you're feeling that way, say something. Take action, whether that means stepping back from someone who’s too physically close to you, telling someone to back off, or getting up and leaving an uneasy situation all together.

VIDEO: Evan Rachel Wood Testifies Before Congress on Sexual Assault

3. Set boundaries

In order to listen to your gut, you need to be able to recognize what makes you uncomfortable. That's why talking about personal space is so important. Marcott does an exercise with her self-defense classes where she asks one person to approach another at a fast pace and the person standing still raises his or her hand when he or she feels uncomfortable. Once her students know their own boundaries, they become easier to establish physically and verbally in everyday circumstances, and it gets easier to notice when a situation is becoming uncomfortable.

“If you don't know your own physical boundaries no one else will,” she said. You should be in control of your personal space, and if you feel like you aren’t, it might be time to reestablish a distance you’re comfortable with or get out entirely. Marcott also said making your verbal boundaries known if someone speaks down to you, ridicules you, or offends you is just as important.

4. Get trained

When Marcott was initially looking for self defense classes shortly after her harrowing encounter, the only thing she could find were classes in karate, jiu-jitsu, and taekwondo.

"I didn't want to learn a fighting style. I was pissed. I wanted to learn how to strike and get out," said Marcott, who took matters into her own hands to start her self-defense-specific course. Self-defense techniques can vary based upon your size, your ability, and what you’re comfortable with, which is why Marcott suggests getting professionally trained by a highly qualified instructor.

You should learn not only physical skills like where to attack first (Marcott suggests a quick, swift, and severe punch to the throat/airway to put an attacker in "survival breathing" and aiming for the eyes if the throat is not an option), but also verbal skills to utilize. Having this kind of knowledge helps her Soul Punch Self-Defense students gain confidence in their own ability without developing a false sense of security because self-defense situations vary.

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5. Get a self-defense tool

Marcott recommends empowering yourself with a physical object like pepper spray. Even knowing how far you're willing to go with your hands can be helpful.

“Your violence of action has to be more than the violence of action coming at you. So ask yourself, ‘What am I willing and capable of doing with my hands? Am I going to rip out eyeballs? Am I going to strike the throat? Do I have my keys? How am I going to hold those keys? Have I ever hit anything with my keys before?’”

Marcott also highly suggests having a TigerLight D.A.D.(Defense Alert Device) device (specially-designed pepper spray/GPS tracker/flashlight with a hand strap) on you as often as possible as a confidence booster and potentially game-changing defense device. And if a device designed for self-defense isn't easily accessible, Marcott suggests grabbing the nearest object and striking if necessary.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you can reach out to the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).