I have recently begun a new project with SAFE International. I do not even like to call it a project; it is far too important to be called that but need to call it something. I have sat here staring at my computer for the last 30 minutes just thinking about what I might say. I just keep thinking about how I want and need victims of abuse to know that, “Your Story Matters, You Matter!” In my experience, over 25 years of trying to help people with what we call self-defence, it is so much more than that, but I continue to use that term since people seem to identify with it best, but what I aim for SAFE International to do is so far beyond that. I know people immediately think of physical training, which is a small part of it, but it is not the most critical. One particular aspect of the topic as a whole that eats at me is how sad it is, for obvious reasons that someone may not feel comfortable enough to share their personal story of abuse due to fear, shame, and blame on how they will be treated if they do. All these build over years and years to bring a feeling of being alone and isolated. It is beyond frustrating for someone like me and others I know who want to help women, and yes men, feel safe and secure in their daily lives. Whether a victim of domestic violence, human trafficking, or any form of abuse, you have a story others need to hear.
Despite the bombardment of stories of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, we see daily on social media, the fact that most feel scared to share their story with even family or friends is tragic. I recall one discussion I had with a woman who had been in an abusive relationship, and when I asked her, “Do you feel as if you are the only one in this town experiencing this?” Her immediate body language and words confirmed that. We chatted for a while. I did my best to tell her about so many women we have taught and how they felt the same. Movements like #metoo have had a significant impact on women coming forward to share their stories, but I hope we can do so much more because we all have to despite those who want to shut you down with shame, blame, and denial. Making victims of abuse feel comfortable to share and be heard is where self-defence, violence prevention, conflict resolution must begin.
Twenty-five years ago, when I began this journey, I was naive and thought those who had experienced abuse were a minimal number of women, but week after week, I kept hearing stories reflecting the opposite. I would listen to stories every week and started to question my upbringing curious if having been raised in a loving home with loving parents, with no abuse at all, was the mainstream, the norm, or maybe the exception?
I have shared this story before, but it suits inclusion in this blog. When I left a full-time job in 1994 to begin SAFE International, I was, let us say, obsessive, to the point where I had to ask myself, why? Why was I focused on this 24/7? My initial rationale was because I was starting a new business and had to build it up and make money. While that is an important reason, I knew there had to be more. Somewhere around the year 2000, I woke up one-night crying uncontrollably and remember sitting down and recalling a story of abuse. I was in Grade 7 or 8 in a middle school in Ottawa, ON. It was lunchtime, and like usual, all of us kids were being kids sitting at our desks. Another boy, older, burst into the classroom and shut the door. He immediately focused on one girl; he attacked her. For some reason, there was no teacher in the room for that moment. Most of us kids to my recollection hid under the desk. Some were yelling; some were crying. I recall seeing this older boy remove her pants right there in the classroom as she was resisting and crying. I have some vivid memories of the attack. After that, I do not remember much other than the teacher charging in the room. The older boy assaulted him as well, others arrived, stopped, and then school dealt with it. So, as a boy of about 11 or 12 years of age, I had blocked this out of my mind till about 2000, now being a 36-year-old man. My first thought was if, as a boy, I blocked that out when it did not happen directly to me, what must the young girl who was attacked, felt? Since that day, I can honestly say I think about her about 2 or 3 times a week. I have even attempted to seek her out. Is she okay, did she get help, how has her life turned out? I want to let her know how what she went through changed my life (although it took about 25 years to realize it). I want her to know that what she went through has saved lives through what I hope SAFE International and all the great instructors have done. I want her to know what she went through will continue to help others. Recently I found a group page for this school. I want her to know that as a boy, I did not know what to do, but I sure as hell do now!
Interestingly, I messaged a couple of people to ask if they knew where this girl, now a woman was? I do not think anyone recalled her name, but her name is etched in my brain. No one remembered the incident other than the teacher being attacked, which at first I thought, “how the hell could you not remember her being attacked?, but then reminded myself I had blocked it out for 25 years or so.
Over the years, I have met many inspirational women who have trained with us and shared their stories who also wanted to help others. Everyone is at a different place with their trauma. Some are not comfortable with sharing their story, some are close, and some are telling the world about it. Wherever you are in your journey, please know some people want to help or just listen. You are NOT alone!
As I first said, we are working on a new project to help others who have faced abuse in their past to take their power back, or who may potentially face it in the future. I ask if you are ready, please share your story with us privately and confidentially, or help us with a questionnaire we have. Any input, small or large, is so valuable and will go towards how our teachings can get better and save others.
To those who want to shame or blame you, FUCK THEM! I now believe there is a hell of a lot more people who do want to hear your story!
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story!
Managing Director, SAFE International