How To Protect Yourself When You Live with Chronic Pain

  • The official stats say that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 33 men have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, but that just reflects the cases that were reported - estimates of true numbers are much higher. As stated in the Presidential Proclamation of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), the term sexual assault covers rape, as well as verbal harassment and molestation (e.g. unwanted touching).  Much as we don't want to admit it, living with a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis that may affect how fast we can move and how strong it seems we are and can therefore make us more vulnerable. How do you protect yourself if you live with chronic pain?

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    Many women consider a course in self defense a must and one of the first things they teach you is that the idea of absolute safety is an illusion. The next thing you learn is to focus on prevention of assault byusing tactics that may help keep you safe.


    Be Aware

    Pay attention to your surroundings. Choose well lit streets with lots of people, don't cut through back alleys and keep an eye out for hiding places, such as bushes, large pillars, deep entrances and entrapment areas (places with only one exit). Listen to your gut - if someone or something makes you uncomfortable, walk away, cross the street or go into a store or restaurant and call a cab and always carry an extra $20 for an emergency taxi. Don't listen to your iPod or MP3 player - much as having a soundtrack to your day can be a good thing, it can distract you not just from regular traffic, but also from hearing someone get too close.


    The More the Merrier

    If you need to be somewhere after dark, in an area that has a high crime rate or a place you've never been before, ask a friend or coworker to come with you. Many companies, malls and government buildings have security guards who can escort you to your car if you feel unsafe.


    Voice Power

    Simply using your voice may get you out of a sticky situation. If someone's getting too close, firmly and clearly tell them to Back Away.  If they persist, get louder, tell them to BACK AWAY. This may deter an attacker, as well as bring attention to your situation for people nearby who can help you.



    Many self-defense courses can sell you what's called a rape whistle, which looks like a regular whistle but is even louder. You can also carry mace (if legal in your area), although if your RA affects the mobility in your hands, it may be difficult to get to and use. Some people get a license to carry a concealed gun, but again, RA can make it difficult to use and it can also guarantee that any altercation escalates into deadly force, either from you or from the attacker. The aim is to survive, using a gun may interfere with that.


    Whack ‘Em

    Speaking of weapons, do you use a cane? Although the goal is prevention of a physical attack, if it's progressed to that, using a mobility aid like a cane or hard splint may help. If you have no choice, don't hold back, even if it hurts your joints.


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    It's one thing to read this post, it's another to actually function in a situation that scares you.  Through practicing and roleplay, a self-defense course can help you remember what to do when you're under stress and teach you physical moves to use should you be attacked.  There are numerous options and methods, so consider your strength and mobility, as well as other factors, such as cost, etc.  You can find self-defense classes online, in your local phonebook or contact your police or sheriff's department, as they may offer courses.  Ask questions about accommodating disability - the Canadian Wen-Do incorporates modifications for people with disabilities, so try to find a course or instructor who has experience in adapting moves.


    If you have experienced sexual assault, even if it was years ago, call a rape crisis hotline (found in your local phonebook).  As well, the Rape Abuse Incest National Network offers an online helpline.  And remember: you did not "provoke" the attack or "fail to prevent" it.  The responsibility for the act lies squarely on the shoulders of the attacker. 



    You can read more of Lene's writing on The Seated View.


Published On: April 13, 2010