Many colleges offer self defense courses, especially for incoming freshmen, preparing young women with certain skills in physical self defense in case they are ever attacked. This is comforting to parents, but the reality is, their daughters are more likely to be mentally and emotionally intruded upon than attacked, and physical attack will more than likely come from someone they already know or are already in a relationship with~and it will come from someone who got to them mentally and emotionally first. Training in this first line of defense is missing, and desperately needed.
I encourage colleges to provide broader self defense teachings to the women on their campuses, and that includes lessons on what destructive men look for in their victims as well as women learning when not reveal some of their personality and character traits, or personal information, as dangerous and destructive men look for women who reveal certain qualities. A dangerous man needs a woman who responds quickly with a soft heart~he looks for the ones who are friendlier to him than others are, even though he is a little odd or something seems different in him. He likes women who follow the rules, because they are the more predictable ones, and he seeks women who show compassion too soon, or too easily~especially where other women wouldn’t, or don’t. He seeks ones who are intelligent, highly empathetic and who buffer pain or uneasiness from others, and he will look for tolerance, as tolerant women give more chances.
Women often reveal these traits in subtle ways, and almost always do so unknowingly, not expecting that they are potentially being assessed by a bad guy. But once the destructive man finds a woman who shows the right qualities on the surface, he becomes a charming leech that invades his target’s life quickly and smoothly, testing her to see if the pursuit of her will really benefit him. These guys are intense and very convincing, they are hard to read and a little complicated (which can be intriguing, especially to younger women). They seem genuine, vulnerable, and even sad; they take offense easily, and they don’t give up without a fight~they are very difficult to shake, and some women can be flattered by that because his persistence can be sweet in the beginning, not scary. Men who stalk or harm women are often pleasers and very romantic, giving, and chivalrous; they are professional masqueraders, so while women are busy looking for obvious bad guy signs, they sneak in under the radar.
As interesting as all that is, the trick is to not get caught in all the information about what destructive men do or don’t do, and that’s exactly where the current personal safety training for women directs them to focus. Avoiding dangerous men and shutting them down requires women to know themselves; to avoid or deflect toxic men, we have to start flipping the traditional approach of learning about the typical dangerous man’s character and behavior, and focus, instead, on how women interact, interpret, and reveal information and traits.
There are simple skills that women can apply instantly once their attention is brought to the need to include this in their safety planning. For instance, when women start to pay attention to how they are being read and perceived as they interact, they often change what, or how much, they share. This is valuable because many of the women who have been pursued by dangerous and destructive men had revealed too much too soon, without even realizing it. When you turn your attention to what you are saying, and notice how a new acquaintance responds, you can inform yourself about your level of safety. It starts off as easily as imagining yourself from his perspective, asking yourself~how could he be assessing me from what I am sharing with him right now? Asking yourself what he is really learning about you from what you tell him is one way to shortcut the process of knowing who you should be sharing details with, and who you should be more surface with. When and how you reveal personal information is a clue to a destructive man; tell him too much, or say something personal too soon, and you give him the first “Green Flag,” which is what I call the reveal of a characteristic that he looks for that tells him you are a good one to pursue. Learning how to turn the reveal of information on and off at will, or according to whom you are interacting with, will help keep you naturally defensive, and repelling dangerous men.
When 21 year old Johanna Justin-Jinich became friends with Stephen Morgan, 29, a man she met at a summer program at NYU in 2007, she may not have known about that strategy. The two were taking the same course and ended up spending some time together outside of class, until Morgan began harassing and threatening Johanna, and slandering her for being half Jewish. She filed a complaint against him with New York University, which was also reported to police, but no charges were ever filed. She never expected a brief friendship with this man to be her downfall years later, but in May 2009, Johanna, then a student of Wesleyan University in Middletown Connecticut, was working at a bookstore near campus when Morgan showed up and shot her at point-blank range in broad daylight. How Morgan tracked down Ms. Justin-Jinich two years later in Connecticut is not clear.
Police found a journal in Morgan’s car that suggested he was planning a shooting spree at Wesleyan, and that Jewish students were a particular target. The only person singled out in his journal and killed, however, was Johanna. This was a targeted act of violence against one woman despite his anti-Semitic position and writings, but the issue of stalking was downplayed in the media and became secondary to the issue of discrimination once threats against the Jewish community were made known. On December 16, 2011, a little more than two years after her brutal murder, Stephen Morgan was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
This promising young woman had been stalked by Morgan perhaps for years without her knowledge; Johanna knew Morgan was off, or she wouldn’t have reported him at NYU in 2007, but what happened within NYU after she did? And has Wesleyan University or NYU used this tragedy proactively, to help other women avoid such danger? Colleges across the country need to look at how they help, support, and follow up with women on their campuses after the paperwork from such complaints are filed, let alone after a murder. We cannot just let this happen and then carry on as normal because it is painful to revisit; Johanna's life mattered and her death, at the very least, could be the catalyst for better personal safety education standards at college campuses nationwide.
Relationships with destructive or dangerous men don’t always lead to the tragic ending Ms. Justin-Jinich and others have met, but toying with danger unknowingly wreaks havoc on one or many levels of women’s lives~financially, emotionally, spiritually, educationally, professionally, sexually, and sometimes physically, but not always. The trial of Stephen Morgan caused this story to resurface, and both NYU and Wesleyan University have a tremendous opportunity and obligation to be of the first to open the dialogue on their campuses about violence against women, and women’s safety, from a more progressive and honest perspective. By looking at why Ms. Justin-Jinich was targeted, how she was tracked, and how she interacted with danger (unwittingly at first), we learn what makes a woman look like a potentially good victim to pursue, and so we therefore learn how to counter the pursuit. Without an honest look at such information, women cannot learn realistic or effective self-protection strategies; it is the missing link.
Teagin Maddox is a media consultant and commentator, providing analysis and interpretation of high conflict/destructive relationship cases-and a Certified Life and Relationship Coach. She delivers powerfully effective communication strategies that help women recognize, avoid, and recover from destructive relationships and teaches dating safety, awareness, and success programs for women of all ages. Learn more about her at www.TeaginMaddox.com and connect with her on facebook.