Girl in Action: Dallas Jessup on When You Should “Just Yell Fire!”
Dallas Jessup, now 19, remembers the day in 2004 that she came home from high school to find her mom waiting by the TV. Her mom asked Jessup to sit down and watch the news clip that she had saved on the family's TiVo earlier that day. The news footage showed the now-infamous case of Carlie Brucia, an 11-year-old whose abduction from a Florida carwash was caught on surveillance tapes. Four days after she willingly left with her attacker, Brucia's body was found; she had been raped and murdered. "The whole time I was [watching, I was] thinking that that didn't have to happen; she could've gotten herself away," says Jessup.
Inspired, Jessup used her black belt in Tai Kwon Do and her experience in Filipino street fighting to create a self-defense how-to video. Backed by donations and support from Jessup's Portland, Oregon community, "Just Yell Fire!" became a reality, available for free download by girls worldwide on www.justyellfire.org. Over the next two years, "Just Yell Fire!" had more than one million views and was transformed into a nonprofit organization of the same name." Teen Voices editorial intern Anya Krenicki had the opportunity to talk with Jessup, now a student at Vanderbilt University, regarding her organization and how it has allowed her to help create a generation of empowered women.
Teen Voices (TV):" What initially inspired you to start this organization?
Dallas Jessup (DJ): I have a black belt in Tai Kwon-Do and a second-degree instructorship in Filipino street fighting. I started off freshman year in high school similar to everyone else--I cared about hair, makeup, friends, you know—the whole shebang. And then one day I came home from school and my mother had TiVoed the video footage of Carlie Brucia and made me sit down and watch it. And I watched as this girl who was approached by a man that she obviously didn't know; he said something to her and she walked away willinglyShe died four days later. Afterwards, I was thinking that that didn't have to happen; she could've gotten herself away.
At the same time, there were two high profiled abductions in my hometown and there was even a girl at my high school in downtown Portland, Oregon, who was approached with a knife one day and everyone got sent home a letter. All my friends came up to me: " "You have the self-defense skills--can you teach me something? " I am concerned."" So that sparked my idea: Why don't I create a homemade video to show girls at my high school how to get away, and that could be my community service? My mother suggested I try a script-writing class, so I went to a local community college and worked with a professor to create more of a story line. From there, we got a professional crew of 30, 100 extras, and a friend had an uncle who had worked on the set of Lost, so we were able to get Evangeline Lilly and Josh Holloway doing cameos. We put the film online for free downloads in October of 2007. It led to a million-girl revolution in the following years.
TV:" How did you manage to get all of the funding to make your vision a reality?
DJ: We did lots of the fundraising with people in my hometown. It was originally supposed to be a $600,000 film, including camera costs and film costs, but we were able to find people within the community that really wanted to support a teen doing something good for society. We were able to raise all the money through in-kind donations except for $6,000 that we had to raise for film costs and things. It was a really impressive thing, especially to me at a young age, to see that people wanted to help me make my vision come true. A big part of my success was that I had the script done, in order to show people that this wasn't just me asking for money to do something random. The project was very tangible. I was very impressed. I have learned that your hometown really wants to support you and people want to support teens doing something good for the world.
DJ: It was the film and then the organization. The title of the film is a concept that if you are being attacked and yell "Rape!" or "I'm being taken!" people are afraid of getting involved. If you yell "Help!" people think you are playing around. But if you yell "Fire!" it kicks in people's self-interest. That's the title of the film because this message was such an important part of it. And then we started getting donations and we had a website with the video. It led to the need to have an organization to facilitate all of this.
TV: What else does your organization do?
DJ: There are a couple of things that Just Yell Fire does. Obviously, one is the film, which can be downloaded free offline; that one is geared for ages 11-19. This past August, we filmed Just Yell Fire: Campus Life, which is now going to be circulated throughout the college scene with college issues. We are trying to create a new environment of college women standing up for each other and learning how to fight back and empowering each other. I give speeches, either the "Just Yell Fire" spiel or community service talks on how to be a revolutionary, or I go and speak and do demos. We have a "train-the- trainer" program: we take leaders in the community, whether it's a college counselor or a teacher or someone who has a community center, and certify them to teach the "Just Yell Fire" program. That way, they have the ability to reach out to more girls than one person can. I traveled an average of 10,000 miles a month in high school and was only was in school for three or four days a week, but that's not possible in college. I try to do two to four talks a month on weekends, but I can't just skip out when I want to. My high school worked with me and I turned assignments in on time, but in college you have to be there. "Train the trainer" was a way to continue "Just Yell Fire" when I couldn't be there in person.
TV: What does this new movie, which focuses on the college scene, feature?
DJ: There are seven scenes, things like the dormitory hallyou're in a dorm-- sometimes floors are coed, nonetheless, people can get access to a floor if they want, and some girls leave their doors unlocked. And there are some colleges where guys will come and peruse the hall and look for doors that are unlocked late at night and go in and rape a girl when she's sleeping and vulnerable in bed. That's something we discussWe discuss date-rape drugs in a scene where you're at a fraternity party where your drink gets drugged. We talk about jogging. The issue with college life, which we try to express in the film, is that a college campus is a great environment, but anyone can walk onto your campus, whether or not they go there. So it becomes an issue because you let your guard down even though it is a place others may think of as a hunting ground. We also focus on the fact that rape happens more with people you know than strangers: 28% of women are raped by their boyfriend. So we have a dating violence scene where a guy gets jealous of his girlfriend and tries to hit her with a lacrosse bat. The film features everyday issues that girls across the country experience in college. It shows you what could happen and then it rewinds and shows you what to do right. Techniques such as gouging someone's eyes out, ripping off someone's ear (if the situation is dire enough), cheek biting, and we have a technique called "monkey picks the peaches"—you can grab onto the testicles, twist and yank away from the body, which causes immense pain. They are techniques that deal with everyday issues and can be used interchangeably in whatever situation a girl faces. That's the important thing:" I spent three years learning Tai Kwon Do and three more years learning Filipino street fighting, but most girls don't have that kind of time. College is the place where you are experiencing and learning new freedoms. This mission of the movie is to make sure your college experience is what you want it to be, rather than someone else dictating what happens.
TV: You recently traveled to India. What issues did you confront with Indian women, in particular, that differed from safety issues women have in the U.S.?
DJ:" In India I learned that southern Indian women are a little more naÃ¯ve because of the culture. Northern India is a lot more westernized; the small villages in the south have mud houses and that type of thing. The big issue there is human sex trafficking. It is very common among Indian women, either when people move north, or when people come into the towns, kidnap the girls, and sell them into the sex trade. In the trade, they can be abused for years, or put on drugs—terrible instances like that. That tour was very hard, but empowering. I went to villages where English was their second language—at one presentation I did, I had to have a translator. It was hard for the girls there to understand what the sex trafficking industry is. Most people in the U.S. understand because it is in the news, but these girls didn't. Explaining it to them was rough, but they understood the need to fight back for themselves. It's a culture that teaches girls to be subservient and very non-confrontational. But these girls went from quiet, shy girls, giggling when they said the word "groin" in the film, to the end when they were empowered: they were yelling "Fire!," they were giving ear slaps, and they saw the need to fight back and they understood the techniques for how to do this. I really went to India to combat the girls' abduction. We left stuff there and hopefully they spread it to their friends and none of these girls will be abducted into the sex trade. It was a good experience to see girls across the world who may technically be facing a different issue than us here in the U.S. (although the U.S is actually one of the top exporters for the sex trafficking trade). But the girls still saw the need to fight and to stand up for themselves. They were girls who wanted to make a difference, which is something I think is universal among girls—wanting to stand up for women and girls overall and for our rights.
TV: Are there any specific scenarios that invite attackers that girls should avoid?
DJ: I think the biggest thing is to listen to your gut. I go to college and I hear stories that make me cringe. Oftentimes people put themselves in situations that they know aren't right, and that could harm them, and then they get hurt." And they knew it to begin with. I think one of the biggest things is to know when your gut says something. People drink in college, and if you are going to drink, you should make sure you are in a safe environment, with friends who will take care of you if something goes wrong. Alcohol is one of the biggest reasons why girls "willingly" (theoretically) have sex—they are drunk, or they just choose to have sex is because they are influenced by alcoholI think that a huge part of it is just act responsibly. There is no reason why you shouldn't be able to have fun in college, but you should always be able to understand your surroundings and be aware of your surroundings. In your dorm, you should be cautious of who lives around you. Some colleges have an open-door policy. But even if you leave your door open during the day, when you are going to sleep, you should close and lock your door for your own safety. Rape can happen anywhere, so you really need to make sure that you have the ability to defend yourself. Statistically, one in four girls will be raped before they graduate college. At some point, you or a friend are bound to be in a situation where this could happen to you. So it's not just that you can avoid it, it's that you have to be able to defend yourself at a particular moment in time. I think it's sad that we say to women "Don't get raped" versus saying to men "Don't rape girls," but that's the society we live in. Police are great resources, as are parents, friends, teachers but they are not with you all the time. It is really a girl's responsibility to teach herself how to defend herself so that if she is ever put in a situation, she knows how to get out of it.
TV: What would be your one piece of advice to girls who haven't seen your video?
DJ: First off, fight like a crazy animal. Really, a lot of it is that girls don't fight back. In one study of attack victims, 80 percent of people that were proactive and fought back got away. The key thing is to fight back. Bite, kick, scream. The eyes, the ears, and the groin are the weakest parts of the body, so rip, bite, scratch, and tear—go for those areas of the body and just fight. Know that you are fighting for your safety and for yourself. It is scary, whether you are the victim or the victor of the situation, it is a scary event. But you want to make sure you protect yourself and how you want to be. The main thing is fight back. I say to girls that if you remember one thing, remember this: Fight back and aim for eyes, ears, and groin.
So many people don't fight back. There was a girl on the filming of the set—this happened during both film shootings, which shows that it happens to everyone—she broke down because she had been raped by her boyfriend. He had abused her and he had ripped out all her hair and she didn't know what to do so she just took it. Scary things happen. If you are in a fight, things are going to happen. You will get punched and slapped. But the mind is a lot more powerful than the body; if you know that you are going to get punched and slapped, you are more likely to get yourself out of the situation.
TV: What does Just Yell Fire have in the works?
DJ: The next DVD release is the big up-and-coming thing. We are geared to release it in January; right now, we're working through editing it. We have 150 colleges where we are going to launch it, and we want to have 300. But really what I see happening is Just Yell Fire being part of the initial school year start for freshmen girls, so this way, clubs and sororities can help the freshmen girls. Girls make stupid mistakes—they are going to—but they shouldn't have to be raped or to die because of it. So our film will hopefully be an introduction to college life for incoming students." With these colleges, we are trying to create a way for young women to learn both self-defense skills and public speaking skills so they can not only bring the film to their college campus, they can go into local high schools and teach our first film to younger students. That way, we can reach another five million girls in the next few years and my generation can be the empowered generation of women.
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[For teens without internet access, hard-copies of Jessup's DVD are available for a minimum donation.]
Dallas is also the author of a book, Young Revolutionaries Who Rock: An Insider's Guide to Saving the World One Revolution at a Time.
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