It was an unprovoked stranger attack. He targeted me because he thought I was vulnerable. He thought I was weak. He thought I wasn’t paying attention. He thought he could attack me from behind as I was leaving. He thought I was an easy target.
He was wrong.
No one ever wants to be in a situation where they have to use the self-defense skills they've learned. But the importance of having those skills is so that they're available to us in instances where we have to respond to danger or violence and protect ourselves. No matter what situation we are in, we are our own first responders and we are the most qualified person to make decisions about our safety in that moment.
Being prepared is powerful!
It was Christmas Eve, 2021 in Madrid and my friend Gina and I were heading to dinner at a restaurant that our hotel had recommended. Although Gina had been to Spain before, it was my first time in this beautiful country and I was enjoying Madrid immensely. I had spent the last 2 days exploring the city, shopping at the Christmas Markets, taking in the sights and tasting the food. This night, we decided to walk to the restaurant since it was only a short distance away. We left our purses in our room and put the few items we needed for the night into our coat pockets before we headed out.
We finished our meal after 10:00 pm and we waited outside for an Uber rather than walk back to the hotel. The car was now about 2 mins away according to the app and we wanted to be ready for it to appear from the small tunnel way along the one-way street. The loud noises and general high energy in the area we were waiting at sparked my intuition. I couldn't place why I was feeling uneasy, but I couldn’t wait for the car to arrive so we could get out of there. I turned to Gina and said, “this is not a great area to be in” in an attempt to ground myself while I kept my senses on alert.
We saw a pair of headlights emerge from the tunnel and we looked closely to match the license plate to verify if it was our ride…it was! We waved at the car to let him know we were his passengers. Our car stopped and I opened the back door so Gina could get in first. Before I could follow her into the car, something caught my attention from the corner of my right eye. I don’t remember if it was a sound, a feeling, or movement I noticed, but I turned my head to see a man running full speed in my direction with a look of both anger and aggression on his unmasked face. His hands were at his sides clenched into fists and he was barreling forward with attack energy. I understood that he was going to collide with me before I would have the chance to get into the car- into safety. He had started his attack while my back was turned away to get into the car, which was a predatory move. But now I saw him and had a split second to decide what to do before he reached me.
Intuitively, I swirled my entire body to face him straight on, with my hands up and in front of my face in ready stance. He stopped in his tracks about 4ft from me the instant I turned to face him. He didn’t come any closer. Without thinking the words “Hey, what’s going on?” calmly came out of my mouth. Something about his demeanor told me that I needed to speak to him calmly.
Now that we were face to face, I saw his eyes were wide, his brow furrowed, his hair askew and his jaw set in a hard grimace. His hands were still clenched at his sides and he had this look of anger on his face that I won’t ever forget. His wide eyes and the unprovoked manner in which he attacked led me to also infer that he might have been impaired in some way either chemically or medically. The world around me narrowed and I was laser focused on this man.
With the car still behind me, the door partially open from when Gina got in, and this assailant mere feet in front of me, my brain was quickly assessing my options in this moment. I wanted to keep myself between him and the open car door so that my friend wouldn’t be in danger. I also wanted to get into the car but I knew I didn’t have the time or distance to do that before he could reach me since he was still too close. He moved around me a bit; walking or more like swaying a few steps to my left and then my right. I kept turning my body so that no matter where he moved, I was facing him straight on; just as I have been trained to do and what I train others to do. He wasn’t moving closer to me so I calmly watched and kept my hands up. I said again, “Hey, what’s going on?”
He seemed agitated, but also confused. He never answered me, nor was he speaking any words to me or making any sounds. I didn’t know what he wanted, what prompted his attack attempt, or why he wasn’t walking away. I don’t think he knew what to do since I was facing him and not acting fearful. I wanted to avoid yelling at him because I could already tell he was upset and I wanted to de-escalate this situation as quickly as I could.
At some point during this stand-off, I remember that Gina yelled for me to get in the car, but I knew I couldn’t do that yet because of his proximity and aggression. I called back to her over my shoulder that I couldn't because of this man. I felt the safest thing I could do was keep evaluating the situation, stand my ground, and monitor my options for eventually getting to safety. He kept solid eye contact with me during this entire time. He wasn’t coming any closer but he was still too close for a smooth escape. I felt frustrated that safety, the car, was right there but I couldn’t access it yet.
Suddenly, he leaned back and did what looked like a front kick at me and he struck my open right palm; both of my hands had stayed up to protect my face. Even though I had kept a decent amount of distance from him, he was still close enough to make contact with my palm with his kick. However, he didn’t move closer to me in order to do this attack, and it was clear that he was trying to do what he could from a distance.
Once he made contact with me, several things seemed to happen at once. Our Uber driver got out, came around the front of the car to the right side where we were at, and started yelling at the man. Two other men appeared from nearby and rushed my attacker, pulling him away from me. As the bystanders grabbed my assailant, I knew this was my chance to get to safety. Using the distraction, I ran around the back of the car and got in the back door on the left side.
Moments later our Uber driver got back in the car and we thanked him for his help intervening in the situation. As we drove back to our hotel he asked if we were ok and inquired as to what happened. We told him what we knew - that this was an unprovoked attack from a man that targeted us as we were leaving for no apparent reason. Our driver dropped us off at our hotel safely and that concluded our night.
After the incident, we continued our trip through Madrid, Barcelona and Andorra. And I wasn’t afraid. I knew this was an isolated incident, an act of unprovoked violence that was not my fault and I wasn’t going to let this encounter stop me from enjoying my vacation or any future adventures.
I am not going to stop living my best life!
My intention is to share this with you to help you feel powerful. My intention is to be real in saying that violence can happen to anyone, and it’s not always about statistics. Yes, 86% of the time women are assaulted by someone they know, and like 1 in 4 women in the world, I am part of that statistic. However, this man was a complete stranger. Statistics help us identify problems, but they aren’t absolutes or guarantees about what we can experience. My intention is to bring you empowerment and not fear.
What I know for a fact is that my self-defense training saved my life. Self-defense is about avoiding danger and getting to safety and I was able to do both of those things without having to use my physical fighting skills. My assailant never said a word, didn’t try to grab me once I turned to face him, and didn’t try to rob us. His motivations will never be known to anyone but him. I successfully defended myself because I was prepared and used all the options at my disposal to avoid a fight.
We can’t always predict when we will be faced with violence. We can’t control the behavior of others. But we can control our response to danger and violence that presents itself in any particular moment.
We can be prepared with options for defending ourselves.