Frequently Asked Questions
"The women who fought to the best of their abilities were not only more likely to be successful in thwarting the rape attempt, but less likely to suffer severe distress symptoms... By contrast, women who submitted without a struggle were more likely to be highly self-critical and depressed in the aftermath. --Judith Herman, M.D., author of best-selling classic, "Trauma and Recovery"
- Hey, I like how you write and phrase things. Can I steal your s**t and use it?
- What if I want to quote you or post some of your material to my website or reprint it as handouts?
- How'd you get your bitchin' name, Dr. Ruthless?
- Resist or submit? Should women always fight back in a sexual assault?
- But if a woman fights back, won't she get hurt worse?
- What about the size issue? Lay it on us, Dr. Ruthless. Does size matter?
- Do you always champion the use of roughness? Aren't there less aggressive methods?
- What are your thoughts about pepper spray?
- So how are women most commonly attacked?
- What's the best street advice to keep sleazebags and opportunists at bay?
- Why do you always say "he?" when referring to an attacker? Are you a man hater, a hairy-legged feminist?
- Are you available to travel outside of the US to teach or consult?
- Are you saying that fighting back is the solution to violence against women? Why should this onus be on women and not men?
Q: Hey, I like how you write and phrase things. Can I steal your s**t and use it?
Good question! Absolutely not! The entire content of my site—the text, expressions, particular coinage, phrasings and design—is legally protected under copyright law and registered in the US Copyright Office in Washington, D.C. This material CANNOT be reproduced or retransmitted in any form without my explicit permission, all rights reserved. (The content on this site will also be used in forthcoming publications.) My website also represents hard work, time, thought and research. It is my voice and online professional persona—so please be respectful.
Q: What if I want to quote you or post some of your material to my website or reprint it as handouts?
Quotes are dandy as long as you identify me as the source (Melissa Soalt AKA Dr. Ruthless) Beyond that, if you'd like to post ANY of my material to your site or reprint an article or page to use as a handout or for any other purpose, you must contact me via email for explicit permission—which I am usually happy to grant. I will ask that you identify me and include a visible link to my web site.
If you interested in having me write something for you, give me a holler!
Q: How'd you get your bitchin' name, Dr. Ruthless?
My beloved trade name, Dr. Ruthless® was bestowed upon me many years ago by one of the co-founders of full-force self defense. (It was granted for all the reasons you might infer, including my Dr. Ruth-like focus on the down-n-dirty power of women’s hips.) Dr. Ruthless® is my federally registered trademark, legally protected and registered in the US Trademark and Patent Office.
Q: Resist or submit? Should women always fight back in a sexual assault?
Being armed with the option to fight and the resistance strategies to do so is what's most crucial—let alone fundamental to all living creatures. While of course I encourage women to be self defenders, I would never say that a woman should always fight back. There's no substitute for good judgment in the moment—and “moment" is a key term. Rape, in particular, often involves phases of attack and sometimes a combination of strategies work best—e.g., verbal/ physical / mental/ manipulative.
So here's my bottom line: If a woman chooses not to fight back in a sexual or physical assault, let it be because she has astutely assessed her situation and determined that it is too dangerous - at least in that moment - but NOT because she doesn't know how to or thinks she shouldn't.
Sexual sacrifice is a lousy option no woman should have to face, yet sometimes it is the only or best option a woman or girl perceives. Never feel ashamed to make a sacrifice in order to save your life. (And remember: compliance, as a survival strategy, does NOT equal consent.)
Q: But if a woman fights back, won't she get hurt worse?
Of course striking back in self defense carries risks and, yes, you might get hurt. Count on it and become accustomed to the idea—as though being raped, beaten or worse doesn't constitute injury? (Not to mention suffering the traumatic aftermath.)
The consequences of submitting and not fighting back can be just as or more injurious, leaving you at the mercy of an offender or criminal. Sexual aggression, or any aggression, can quickly escalate into potentially life-threatening situations especially with a brazen or enraged individual. (More reasons why I implore the wisdom of exploiting those first few seconds with immediate forceful resistance.)
Professor and researcher from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Sarah Ullman has noted that, "by not resisting rape, women may be putting themselves at greater risk." Her research on resistance strategies concluded that a woman's "level of physical injury is mainly determined by the offender's use of violence" and initial blows struck, not because she fought back.
Similar studies have knocked out the myth that resistance only "make things worse," replacing it with the finding that immediate and aggressive responses including fighting back are effective—particularly in thwarting rape attempts. Conversely pleading, reasoning or appealing to a rapist's humanity is not.
It all spirals back to the fear factor. As the smaller and historically dominated sex, women have been hooked by the fear of injury—which can cause an internal "power outage" or worse, paralysis. We need to unhook from this, liberate ourselves, and reset our sights to courage and strength. So here's the flip:
Instead of fixating on fear or relying on hope or disingenuous words ("Do what I say and you won't get hurt," for example) you must ask yourself, "What will happen if I don't take immediate action and do everything I can to facilitate escape?"
Finally, consider this advice from legendary FBI profiler and author of Mindhunter, John Douglas:
"In a stranger-rape situation, if he allows you to see his face, you get his name, or you can somehow otherwise identify your attacker, and he knows it, it's all the more important to get away from him, even if he has a knife and you are risking injury. Because unless he's quite inexperienced, he's likely to kill you to leave no witnesses."
Q: What about the size issue? Lay it on us, Dr. Ruthless. Does size matter?
Yes...and No. First, the yes: Face it ladies, of course size matters! No bull. The average male will likely have more strength, mass and lung capacity than most females. Heck, a big dude can kill you by accident. Being overpowered is always a potential reality.
And this is precisely what dictates our need for smart strategies and techniques, and for unorthodox tactics that capitalize on our strengths: speed, agility, surprise, cunning, a lower center of gravity (excellent for balance, throws, and maintaining a solid base), good intuition, and powerful emotional reserves that can transform petite women into formidable fighters. We don't have the privilege of being sloppy or dicking around. We need to get in, get to it, free ourselves and get out. It's a biological imperative that females need to be SKILLED AND NASTY in self defense.
So ultimately, No. It's not about size. Self defense is not a contest of strength—it's a matter of survival. Raw will and determination are as important as skill. Case in point: when a psycho attacked my slender friend in her home one night (disguised as her kitchen trash bag, he leapt up and attacked, knocking her to the floor), her spindly legs aided by adrenaline morphed into battering rams. Her relentless kicks and screams, fueled by terror, worked-her attacker fled out her window. On the other side of the "it's not the size" spectrum, in 2006, a heavyset 51 year-old woman in Portland, Oregon fought off and killed her weapon-wielding attacker /home invader with her bare hands, leaving him heaped on her floor—choked to death. These accounts, not Hollywood stunts, are but two examples of real self-defense.
That said, you want to sharpen every edge. This is why my teaching advocates EXPLOSIVE no-nonsense opening moves and the element of surprise, and why you must come to know your survival killer instinct intimately - the way a woman knows her heart, her sex and her soul. Owning this facet of your human ecology is in itself a deterrent. If you don't think you have it in you, now would be a good time to smack that thought out of your head! Let this cook in.
Here is what anthropologist Margaret Mead has observed about our kind:
"When women disengage from their traditional role they become more ruthless and savage than men. Men will fight to show off their prowess and impress females, but when women fight, it is fierce and to the death...They display no built-in chivalry."
While this may not always be the case, consider Mead's quote an affirmative goal. At its biological core, the imperative for us smaller females to be "ruthless" in defense of our lives and our loved ones may also be tied into the maternal instinct housed in our primitive brain, kitty corner to the survival instinct. At its peak, the maternal and killer instincts come together, giving us girls a double dose of whammy.
Q: Do you always champion the use of roughness? Aren't there less aggressive methods?
Of course not all situations require going ballistic. Most don't. If a guy at bar has one too many and tries to cop a feel, an old fashioned slap or pop to his chest and shout to the bouncer will likely suffice. So could a simple evasive maneuver. Self defense exists on a wide continuum. The general guideline is to respond to situations proportionately to the level of intrusion or attack that you're dealing with.
And, yes, there are less aggressive martial moves which I advocate when appropriate: swift and spiraling evasive tactics, twisty pretzel-like moves, trapping techniques and throws that don't necessitate as much force—but they generally require more skill, and under stress that translates to a higher margin of error.
As a woman and as a former psychotherapist, I ascribe to and believe in the powers of empathy and compassion, the connectedness of all beings. But let's get real: when faced with violence or imminent attack, the traditional feminine ideals of talk and empathy or flowery New Age notion of "self defense lite" is not likely to be your saving grace. On the contrary, you need to empower your base instincts, take the low road and click into animal mode. This instinct is utterly natural—not unnatural. Fighting back with full ferocity and intent is one of nature's original instructions. Most women (twisted sisters notwithstanding) already possess ample violence inhibitors and need to bulk up this muscle, need permission to unleash the Beast in their own defense, not just for their young.
Here's the unvarnished truth: Any way we dress it up and trot it out, physical defense is applied violence.
You can always tone it down but being armed with less is dangerous. It's a simple equation: when we discourage women and girls from learning violent self-protection, we encourage them, unwittingly, to submit to victimization. Now that's repugnant.
Q: What are your thoughts about pepper spray?
The more tools the better. But it's crucial to get training and know the ins and outs of any weapon, defensive or otherwise. Pepper spray can be very effective but it's NOT a magic bullet, and its best used in combo with body-based skills. A determined, pepper-sprayed assailant still has seconds or longer to continue his attack before becoming incapacitated. (A few may even be resistant.) There are also environmental factors and issues of targeting and distance to consider: are you outdoors on a windy day? Inside a car or small enclosed space? Bottom line: never over-rely any one tool (or technique) and don't expect the "bad guy" to shut down from a spritz. Likewise, I'm a huge fan of using weapons of opportunity, but there too you need to know how to best wield them, what works and what's folly. Learn more about improvised weapons and pepper spray on my articles page.
Q: So how are women most commonly attacked?
Attacks against women vary considerably—from rape and sexual assault to domestic battery, to home invasions targeting "The Mrs." (Your addition here.) That said, there are PHYSICAL tactics commonly used to control and subdue our kind. I say "physical" because there are verbal, psychological and emotional tactics as well which focus on lowering a woman's guard to gain trust or proximity, become part of her inner circle or to flat out isolate her. And in nearly all cases, fear, threat or deception are sinisterly employed.
Physically, we're dealing with close range attacks. Men will use their greater size, strength and powers of intimidation to quickly close the distance on a woman in order to dominate, overpower and control her. In other words they get in tight, what's refereed to as "in fighting" range, rarely squaring off into sparring distance, bypassing the wild kingdom displays—the posing, posturing and "monkey dance"—that are common pre-fight rituals amongst males (go figure).
Common tactics used include: grabbing, choking, engulfing (also used to move a woman), slapping, pinning and throwing or taking a woman down—obvious in sexual assaults. Mix in verbal attack or "garbage mouthing" and often that's enough, unfortunately, to terrify and subdue a woman.
Now the good news! By learning close quarters counterattack methods, engaging the spirit of reversal and element of surprise, YOU can exploit "vulnerable" targets and interrupt his "program"—which greatly increases your ability to disable and escape. Throw in a surly, prehistoric survival mindset, fierce determination, some pointy primal rage and voila—"return to sender." Not today, Buddy.
Q: What's the best street advice to keep sleazebags and opportunists at bay?
Street attacks are often preceded by a verbal probe or test —a simple question will do—allowing a predator or thug to check out a woman's boundaries, observe her response to his intrusion and effectively size up her defenses. (Is she an easy or tough target?) This can also be used to distract you and create an opening. By keeping your antenna up and setting firm "stop here!" limits with your body language, voice and stance - aided by a lower center of gravity-- you can repel most creeps and opportunists.
NOW CHECK THIS OUT! The two things ultimately required for a predator to accomplish his goal are (1) Privacy and (2) Control. Your goal is to deny both—by not allowing yourself to be isolated or passive, you have already greatly reduced your odds. Ta-dah!
Q: Why do you always say "he?" when referring to an attacker? Are you a man hater, a hairy-legged feminist?
Well actually I'm more of a hairless feminist. And no I don't hate men. In fact, I generally like men.
And yes, women can also be (physically) aggressive. Recent years have shown a disturbing spike in girl-on-girl violence and acts of abuse perpetrated by women-which I do not condone. This is criminal behavior. Still, the great percentage of violent acts committed against women-not just here but worldwide; be it on the street, at home, in villages or conflict zones-are by men. Stats aside, the truth echoes in this age-old saying:
"What men fear most from women is being ridiculed or laughed at. What women fear most from men is being killed."
The scenes change, the characters shift. But this fear has been a constant in women's lives for centuries and eons. It transcends time, oceans and no-fly zones. A woman in a class tells of her grandmother's brutal rape back in Russia decades ago. Yet we feel the chill fresh in our bones. Now. Today. It's physical. Palpable.
For many women, this fear becomes part of the background noise of their lives. Like the sound of motors or wind or the monsoon rains; the din of late night conversations over drinks. The shutting of doors. That's why I use the word "he." Because it plucks a deep chord that resonates in all women. And because touching down into this primal fear, tuning into its frequency, provides the emotional impetus to bring up the fighting heart.
Q: Are you available to travel outside of the US to teach or consult?
Yes. Absolutely. Gather the women! These are dangerous times for women all over the world. It pains me to state that in the 21st century, violence and sexual assault against women and girls is pandemic, as common as rain. This needs to change.
Not only am I aiming, first and foremost, to arm women with practical, no-nonsense skills that address women's immediate needs for self protection (we offer a variety of trainings), but also to nurture a shift in consciousness: to propose a new vision of female strength and capacity that not only changes individual destinies, but ultimately helps restore balance and justice in the world.
Here's my view: to achieve long-lasting changes in women's safety and status, and to mend the ills imposed by fear, we must reengage this power, reseed the female warrior spirit and harvest its competencies. While the learning of self defense is not the sole solution to violence against women (see next question), it is a vital and often overlooked piece of prevention and cure.
One last piece: In addition to my self defense expertise, I come with a background in psychotherapy, having specialized in working with trauma (not just crisis counseling, but the long term "heavy lifting" and repair). I know the devastation that violence leaves in its wake, the cumulative effects that fear has on the psyche, body and on communities. This combo of backgrounds arms me with the skills and insight to work the multiple realities and inner dimensions of self defense with respect for varying cultures and personal histories.
I am deeply committed to this transformation, to helping women actualize their power. This is not an option, but an essential life skill:
Half the world's population should not live in fear of the other half!
If you're interested in bringing me to your locale or to discuss joining forces with efforts underway in your area, please email me. I welcome your inquiries!
Q: Are you saying that fighting back is the solution to violence against women? Why should this onus be on women and not men?
Of course it's not the sole solution. To suggest this would not only be naive but insulting to all those past and present who have suffered violence, rape, atrocity and indignities at the hands of men—and who have done everything "right," as individuals or en masse: rape, for example, is still used as a weapon of war to instill maximum shame and despoilment of a people, and as a "bonding ritual" amongst soldiers.
The roots of men's violent entitlements, the taking and using of the female body, are deeply entrenched. Combating this is akin to fighting a war; it needs to be fought on all fronts, requiring multi-pronged strategies and sustained efforts spanning cultural, social, legal and political reform. Yet the training of women in hardcore self defense is a vital front and for too long it's been minimized—its role downplayed as a viable and effective means of combating and preventing attacks against women. The learning of SELF defense has been viewed more as a "side dish"--rarely the main course; afforded the "little sister" status to more important efforts. Nonsense!
Frankly, the notion that we shouldn't have to learn, that this is 'blaming the victim' is not only foolhardy and dangerous, undermining the cause of women, but it also misses this crucial BEAUTIFUL point: the reclamation of our female-animal capacity, the desire to fight to protect life, dignity and that which we hold sacred, and learning to wield physical power is fundamental to a healthy robust life. (And frankly this learning just plain feels good!)
Learning to fight stirs deep desires—the wilds and wants that lie below fear, that have been kept "on hold," are lured to the fore, called out of hiding. Thus at its bedrock core, it's connected to the larger Eros Of Life. Minimizing or in any way undervaluing the raw, very real power of learning to fight is akin to diminishing women's sexual (or other) appetites, or the pleasure of reveling in bodily prowess. Not to mention the fact that fighting back in self defense IS often effective!
I take aim at this not only because it's insidious and, let's face it, unfashionable, but because any view that subverts the training of our vital aggressive nature is dangerous, further disconnecting women from their survival instincts.
Here's my final calling and shout: Until women are perceived—and more importantly perceive themselves—as being capable and competent at wielding the tools of aggression, we will NEVER be safe or whole. As long as men are the agents of violence and women are the casualties of their actions, the spoils of war, victims on the pointy end of male aggression, there will NEVER be balance of power between sexes: we will remain relegated to a lesser-than-status, too powerless or simply too fearful to resist brutalities, limited by social contract in the ways in which we express our own yearnings, ferocities and fighting spirit—and above all, in how we protect the sovereignty of our bodies and souls. This sounds like a bum deal to me.
Upending violence against women and girls requires a global en masse effort. But it will not be accomplished until we take our bodies back, and rally our oldest primal forces.
Author Natalie Angier's foretelling words come to mind: "The next phase of the revolution needs an infusion of Old World monkey sorority."
Say it sistah!