And she put the kibosh on his future raping activities, at least for now
"The more fight you put the more they want to give up. If I keep going, I keep pushing, he's going to stop. He's going to let go and he finally did."
It’s every woman’s nightmare.
A 24-year-old Tampa woman unlocked the gym door for a man she recognized from seeing him around before and went back to her workout, only to find herself in a titanic struggle when it turned out he wasn’t there for the Stairmaster.
He grabbed Nashali Alma, chased her around the gym and they struggled on the floor together. She fought back with every ounce she had and eventually tired him out, upon which she ran away and called 911.
"The more fight you put the more they want to give up,” she said. "If I keep going, I keep pushing, he's going to stop. He's going to let go and he finally did."
She went public with her story to let other women know they can fight back.
To be fair, she’s a body builder, although he was still the more powerful of the two. But she didn’t give up. She remembered what her parents had always taught her about life: Never give up, always fight.
She urges women to call 911 immediately, rather than waiting. The sooner one reports, the better chance police have of catching him.
Twenty-five-year-old Xavier Thomas-Brown, her would-be attacker, went elsewhere looking for easier prey. He rang the bell of someone’s house and told the woman who answered she was pretty and asked if she’d like to hang out. Her fiance appeared and chased him off, and shortly after, the police caught up with him.
Who knows what might have happened if the fiance hadn’t been there, but this much is for sure: Nashali Alma put the kibosh on Thomas-Brown’s future rape plans, at least for the time being.
There perhaps is a woman or two strolling around Tampa today, blissfully unaware that if Alma hadn’t bravely reported him, she might now be curled up in a ball on her bed, unable to function.
Alma refused to be a victim. At least, she wasn’t going down without a fight.
When the self-defense mechanism fails
The MeToo movement has brought much-needed attention to the ongoing historic problems of sexual assault against women. Victims have taken to social media to tell their stories, some anonymously, some bravely stepping from the shadows to refute the shame with their name.
When I blogged on Medium there was a veritable firehose of stories about women who had been sexually assaulted or narrowly escaped it. One early story was a young woman who’d been raped—twice, on two separate occasions—even though she was a kickboxer.
She’d studied since a young teen. Papered her bedroom with posters of the legends—Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jackie Chan. Worked out all the time and had the trophies to prove it.
Then one night at a bar a guy dragged her under a pool table and raped her.
All that training, all that worship of martial arts champions and heroes, and when she was physically attacked, she did what so many of us would do, or have done in that situation.
She did her best to move beyond it. Then one night, different guy, different place, what went through her mind was, “Here we go again.”
She froze again.
I wondered what went wrong. How is it, after all that training, she froze when shit got real without a referee?
I reached out to a veteran I know of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, someone who’d been trained in handling violent situations. Why did this happen? Could women learn self-defense and actually use it when the chips were down?
Lessons from a combat vet
Colton told me it was possible to mentally prep yourself against bad situations, run mental scenarios in your head of what you might do and how you might react. “The best way to survive is to listen to your gut. And that is something that absolutely can be trained. It prevents “freezing” in the moment by never having the moment to begin with. But if the moment does happen, recognizing ‘important information’ in the flood of data your senses are collecting for you can mean life or death. The more you train, the better you get at recognizing important and discarding the unimportant.”
He spoke of the ‘tells’, the super-subtle signs that allow one to assess a situation, using the example of coming out of a gas station and seeing someone standing to the side who looks like bad news. Most people, he notes, will turn their back on the person, scurry to their car, and drive away as fast as possible. Colton looks at the hands and feet and body distribution. Is the person’s hands inside their pockets? “Is it cold outside? How are they dressed? Do they have a foot on the wall? Are they leaning back? If I look over my shoulder toward them as I walk away, do they hold focus on me or look away? In 1-2 seconds I know if they’re a possible problem. And if they are where is my closest advantage? Maybe my keys in my pocket? A gun in the truck? A bystander?”
I practice heightened vigilance on the Toronto transit system. I have no car and no intention of ever owning one again. Eighteen years I’ve ridden the TTC safely, with few incidents, none involving me. Now violent attacks have gone up 60%, many of the perpetrators clearly mentally ill people. Last summer a woman was fatally set on fire at a station one stop from my own; people have been attacked with bottles, knives, and fists. The perp demographics are across the board all over the city: Young men, roaming teenage girl gangs, people of all colors, older people and women. The homeless are no longer harmless. One verbally assaulted and threatened a friend and I last fall.
My friends and I trade tips on how to sit on the train, what to do, how to watch for trouble, how to not look like a victim. What to carry in our pockets to defend ourselves. (I recently realized my keys are actually a fairly formidable weapon).
I run scenarios mentally about what I’ll do with my first line of attack, a bottle of hair spray (pepper spray is illegal here, and I also don’t want to punish a bus full of riders). I don’t know what will happen if I’m ever confronted, but hair spray will hopefully burn their eyes enough for me to escape and won’t cause lasting damage. I might get in trouble legally, but it’s better than being slashed or burned to death, n’est-ce pas?
I’m not likely to get raped at my advanced age, and especially not in late February, but it’s not outside the ken, and hair spray may set someone back long enough for me to escape. If things get more critical, there’s my Mighty Keychain O’ Pain.
Colton told me, “If someone freezes in that moment and can not commit violence it’s due to lack of mental preparation. And that comes through training.” He describes his first firefight as ‘traumatic’ because he wasn’t mentally prepared, but he was better prepped for future ones.
His mentality now is of surviving through the steps. “The ‘formula’ so to speak. Trust the training, you might cry during or after, you will want to kill, anger is normal etc. etc. I now train my men in the same manner. So they can know what to expect for mental survivability, even if they don’t win the fight.”
It matched what I found when I researched how to overcome the ‘freeze’ mode. It’s something you have to work on constantly; it’s not something you never forget like bike riding. Taking a self-defense class isn’t enough; you have to practice, or mentally prepare yourself. Always.
It doesn’t apply to just mano-a-mano combat. Freezing, or fumbling in a panic, is why there are so few ‘good guys with a gun’ who stop mass shooters. You can buy a gun, take lessons on how to use it, but unless you practice constantly - and under the pressure of having to react at a moment’s notice - chances are you’re going to get shot before you ever fire a single bullet.
The importance of mental preparation
In 2009, ABC journalist Diane Sawyer rigged an experiment at Muhlenberg College to see how people who had just been trained to use a gun would react to an active shooter, played by an actor with a paint gun. The participants didn’t know it wasn’t a real active shooter.
They put out a call for people who’d like free gun training, then were herded into a classroom ostensibly for a talk on protective gear. They were armed with real Glocks filled with, which they didn’t know, simulated bullets that fired paint.
Shooter guy shows up, the guy in front struggles to get the gun out of his pants, and gets shot with a paint gun. Several others in the class failed to stop the shooter as well, and it ended in fake slaughter by a fake shooter. And that was after immediate training, not days, months or years later.
Where does that leave us civilians, since daily training simply isn’t practical for those of us who aren’t soldiers or cops? Nashali Alma didn’t mention having undergone self-defense training nor did she mention military service. She simply reacted. Perhaps she was mentally prepared. Freezing can happen to anyone, not just women in rape situations. But she didn’t. And sometimes, women fight back.
There’s some middle road there where we don’t necessarily need to train every day, like a soldier, but we can mentally prep ourselves. It’s no guarantee we won’t freeze in battle, like with a man with evil on his mind, but then again, we might not.
Colton synopsized ‘The Formula’:
Avoid the fight
If you’re in the fight trust the training. You’ve been here 1000 times in your mind. So just do, don’t think.
There will be a fallout after. Good results or bad, life is different now.
I found Nashali Alma on LinkedIn where she’d announced her GoFundMe page for her Never Give Up! Women’s Empowerment Campaign. She admitted to ‘some PTSD’ from her traumatic experience but she’s also expressed she’s not going to stop doing what she loves. She still goes to the gym. She hasn’t let this asshole ruin her life.
Colton’s last point seems to be key to dealing with a traumatic event. Your life will never be the same, but it doesn’t have to be 100% negative. Sometimes you emerge stronger, or more confident. “Hey, I got beyond that, and it’s ancient history now.” I’ve spoken and heard the stories of numerous friends and strangers over the decades of sexual assault, from minor groping to full-on rape. No one’s life was ever the same, but some handled it more effectively than others.
It’s important to note Alma’s attacker had no weapons. And undoubtedly for many of us, we might comply just to avoid getting hurt any further - what if he had begun beating her? We don’t know how an attacker will react, and many women have gotten seriously hurt or killed fighting back.
I don’t know what you should do, but Colton’s advice on assessing the situation sounds worthy of consideration: Your brain will already be taking stock of the situation. How much are you willing to risk to fight back?
Another important question: How much is he willing to risk if you do? There are easier victims elsewhere. Thomas-Brown realized this one was too much trouble and preferred to look for easier prey.
Every woman is different, and we can’t know what we’ll do in the firefight (as my soldier friend experienced the first time), but we can reduce the chances we’ll come out the worse for it if we think about how we can fight back. I may even practice whacking invisible attackers in the face in my apartment. Will it help me if I ever get cornered? Well, it won’t hurt.
What if Thomas-Brown goes to trial?
We have to remember at least some of the power is in our own hands. Will we press charges? Or will we listen to naysayers who tell us not to ‘waste our time’, as we’ll never get a conviction, or if we do he’ll get a light sentence?
Real possibilities, but there’s still very good reasons for making men go through the justice system.
What’s critically important: The sooner police catch this guy, the more women’s lives may be saved. When he’s off the streets he can’t harm others.
We’re not powerless. We can fight back, with our strength or with the justice system, however imperfectly. At the very least, make him soil his Fruit-of-the-Looms wondering what will happen to him if he gets convicted, especially if he winds up on the other side of a rape. Maybe he prevails, maybe he doesn’t, but either way we get him off the streets, at least for a little while.
And, hopefully, we go back to the gym.
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