In our Netflix Breakdowns we discuss what we can learn about self defense strategies for women from popular true crime series.
Jeffery Dahmer was an American serial killer who killed 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. The recent Netflix series "Dahmer: Monster" became the second most-watched English-language series of all time in 28 days. Here are 5 lessons we can learn from the strategies Dahmer used to lure his victims.
1. Pour Your Own Drinks
Awareness is everything. An alert person is far more difficult to attack than a distracted or intoxicated one, and predators know this well. Dahmer invited men to his home and laced their drinks with a prescribed drug called Triazolam and within minutes the victim suffered severe loss of motor function.
Drugs are very powerful in the hands of a predator; they can make even the most invulnerable target vulnerable.
Always pay attention to your drinks and insist on pouring them yourself. At a bar, order your drinks directly from the bartender instead of accepting them from others. Charles Sobhraj drugged women's drinks at bars and when they passed out he pretended to be the hero carrying his girlfriend home.
Denying someone the opportunity to drug you could lead an attacker to giving up on you as a target.
2. Trust Your Instincts
The 'something isn't right' feeling that everyone knows is acted out in film all the time, especially true-crime. It's the scene where a girl peers into a creepy basement and you're screaming "don't go down there!" but then she goes down there anyways.
In "Dahmer: Monster", every victim experienced the "something isn't right" moment. Some had when the apartment door opened to reveal a foul death smell; some had it when Dahmer insisted on giving them a drink despite their refusal; and some had it the moment Dahmer invited them to his house. The first scene in the trailer shows 'gut feelings' in action.
Survival instincts kick in before intellect and evidence.
So many survivors of assault say that they knew something wasn't right but didn't listen to their gut instinct. If you take anything away from watching the series or reading this article, take away the lesson to always act on your gut instinct, whether it makes sense at the time or not.
3. Pay attention when someone refuses to accept the word no
Someone who refuses to accept the word no is trying to control you, period. When you've said no and someone persists, don't assume good intent, question it. Why do they keep insisting? What do they want?
"Declining to hear no is a signal that someone is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it. With strangers, even those with the best intentions, never, ever relent on the issue of 'no' because it sets the stage for more efforts to control you. If you let someone talk you out of the word no, you might as well wear a sign on your chest that says "you are in charge" -Gavin De Becker, The Gift of Fear
"The worst response when someone fails to accept no is to give ever weakening refusals and then give in" (De Becker).
When one of Dahmer's victims refused a beer several times, he insisted he have a coffee instead so he could be a 'good host'. There is a scene where Dahmer brings his neighbour a sandwich. She refused to eat it so he kept insisting, "eat it", "I made it for you", "eat it now". People don't care that much about your choices unless they're trying to control your actions.
Dahmer: Monster, sandwich scene
When someone doesn't accept your no, no matter what that thing is, stop and ask yourself why. Next, ask yourself, are you safe? Refusing to hear the word no is a red flag and danger signal.
4. Understand Lures And Don't Fall For Them
Dahmer didn't trap his victims through physical force but with a friendly invite to his apartment for drinks. Criminals don't need physical force when they have a good lure.
The majority of child abductions in a 10 year analysis included a lure as opposed to or in combination with physical force. This is why there's so much more to self protection than learning how to fight. You also need to learn how to not fall for trap or what people refer to as 'street smarts'.
Something I teach my students in our women's self defense class is "never give someone the opportunity to trick you or surprise you." This alone can be enough to discourage an attackers.
Lures can be as simple as asking you for the time or offering/asking for help. Anything that lowers your guard and gives the attacker an excuse to get close enough to shove you in their car or in Dahmers case, compels you to willingly walk into his house. Lures lower the criminals risk and exposure by making the attack quicker and eliminating escape options.
5. Make noise
Making noise is one of the most effective actions that deter abductors. Naturally it attracts attention which is the last thing a criminal wants, so predators often use threats or promises to convince victims to stay quiet. In one scene Dahmer says to one of his victims "keep your voice down, I have neighbours". But that's the exact reason why a victim should yell. Yelling destroys the attackers confidence that they will get away with the crime they're planning to commit and makes them reassess.
In a situation like this, it is more helpful to yell than scream. While people easily write off a scream, it's hard to write off someone yelling "HELP ME, HE'S TRYING TO KILL ME, CALL THE POLICE!"
Voice is a powerful weapon.
'But what if they hurt you for yelling?'
Good question.Let's take the situation in the apartment. If the victim yells his head off it immediately changes the risk-reward equation. Dahmer's risk skyrockets past the original expectation and the likelihood of reward (which required hours of uninterrupted time) drops. The situation completely changes as Dahmer is forced to reassess his plan. He could either try to shut him up by trying to kill him, accepting the increased risk; or let him go and avoid further damage. Of course, Dahmer intended to kill his victim anyways, so yelling was a risk worth taking.
5. Learn to fight
Dahmers murders were as close to worst case scenario as it can get: locked in an apartment with an armed attacker. The first way it could have been worse is if the victims were trapped in a totally remote location. The second way could be worse is if Dahmer knew how to fight. Twice Dahmer's victims fought back and prevailed even while drug induced.
Fighting back in these situations is one of the only survival options available. And you don't need to be a UFC fighter or stronger than an attacker to defend yourself enough to break free. This woman escaped a man with a pipe who snuck into her bedroom by kneeing him as hard as she could, creating an opening to run away and survived. She wasn't a cop or a fighter but she succeeded.
Survival is success and and every person can develop the skills to survive an attack.
What you need is what this woman had: the courage to fight back with everything you have, run when you can, and yell your head off. Training in combat sports is what significantly improves your fighting ability and gives you the confidence to act under pressure.
There is little you could do to improve you survival chances more than training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Kickboxing, Wrestling, or ideally a mix of all three (Mixed Martial Arts/MMA). As the great saying goes, it's better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war. We never know when a war will come to us.
Learn how to defend the most common attacks against women in our 20 class women's self defense course in Dallas Fort-Worth, Texas.
By Gemma Sheehan,
Founder of Girls Who Fight.
Girls Who Fight is a self defense and MMA program for women and girls in Dallas Fort-Worth, Texas.