Remember our brave young girl from last month who helped trap a child sexual predator? This month we hear from a Latina teacher who kept her head and defended the underdog in a tight situation.
"Santa Paula is a small town in Ventura County, California, where I went to high school. It's a town for high-schoolers -- all the action happens around the school and the kids. There are a lot of parties, where people get drunk and rowdy. It's the kind of town where kids like to fight.
"One night, my cousin Victor and I went to my friend's house for a party; it was a pretty big party and there were a few kegs there. There were people that I knew, mostly high school kids and a few older guys who liked to hang around the high school girls. Victor had just recently gotten out of the Marines. He has a pretty long history of aggression, and he was trying to get over that, but we went to this party and he immediately got into a fight.
"What happened was that these three hostile characters showed up at the party and immediately picked on this smallish guy. No one knew the small guy and we didn't know the other guys very well, they were kind of peripheral characters who occasionally came into town. They started hassling with the little guy outside and then they took him inside the house and into the bathroom. They started beating up on him in the bathtub.
"My cousin Victor, seeing this, couldn't tolerate it. He just had to go in there and defend this person. It was obviously the thing to do. People were just standing around not doing anything, no thinking about what should be done, and so Victor jumped right in and pulled the guy out. Immediately, the three guys turned on Victor and started going toward him, so I got near my cousin. He just stood his ground. I wanted to make sure he didn't stay and do anything that would cause him to be thrown back into jail, which had happened two times before.
"'Victor,' I said, 'let's leave. We've got to get out of here.' The guys were coming closer and closer to him and he was still standing there, ready to take on the three of them.
"When they saw me get close to my cousin, their focus changed. They started coming toward me and I could see what they were about to do. One of the guys picked up a beer bottle, and I could see he was going to get pretty dangerous and I was scared.
"I didn't think about anything except getting my cousin out of there. I had just taken a year and a half of karate, so I knew a few moves. The three guys were coming at us in a row. I decided to go for the nearest one, and I knew I had to be really fast, to catch them off guard. They weren't expecting retaliation, not from me, anyway.
"I picked up my leg and kicked as hard as I could toward the first guy's groin. He doubled over with this look of shock on his face. He just couldn't believe what had happened to him. The other guy was getting closer, and I slammed the heel of my palm up against the bottom part of his nose, so that he got a bloody nose, and he stopped coming toward me. Once again, I remember noting this look of extreme shock on his face. By this time some other men had come and gotten the third guy and held him back.
"What amazes me is how natural, how accepted, violence was. No one thought of going in and helping this guy in the bathroom. There were lots of us, and we could have grabbed the three guys and sat on them, but no one thought of doing that. So for me that was one of the most empowering experiences I've had, knowing that I could defend myself by just being real fast and accurate and not thinking that I would get hurt more if I hurt these guys. They were completely dehumanized in my eyes and they felt it. They didn't have a sense of power over me -- it was quite the opposite -- I had overpowered them.
"My cousin was so surprised. He told the story everywhere. He was just incredibly proud that I could do this. It really changed our relationship. We had had an adversarial relationship, since we were the two oldest kids in the family, and after that we became buddies...
"...Now I have no fear of walking anywhere because I know I can defend myself...I wouldn't recommend going around hurting people, but women do get attacked and they have to know how to hurt back; they have to really seriously know how to hurt back, so that men don't think they can get away with that sort of thing. If attackers were so severely injured that they would have a hard time walking, for example, they would think twice about attacking someone, and they wouldn't feel that sense of power in attacking someone...
"...I've seen my grandmother yell back at people who have insulted her daughters, or herself, or me. I've seen her get at it with men, just bunches of men on the street corner, which is probably why I was not afraid to tangle with more than one man. I've heard her say, "You don't talk that way in front of my daughters," or her grandchild, or whoever she felt was being insulted. When someone has stood up for you often enough, you're eventually going to feel you're worth defending."
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This may be one way people learn to defend themselves -- someone teaches them they're worth defending. We honor this woman and her grandmother for being willing to step in and help others -- and themselves!
*From "Here Comes the Macho Woman," edited by Denise Caignon and Gail Groves. Copyright ©1987 by Denise Caignon and Gail Groves. Used with permission of Harper & Row, Publisher, Inc. (now HarperCollins). All rights reserved.
If you have a similar story of preventing crime or helping to capture a criminal, or know someone else who does, contact Lorna Hartman.