Petite Woman Stops Big, Muscular Rapist

Monday afternoon, 17-year-old Saba Sohail was catching up on her homework when a neighbor burst into her San Jose apartment, naked and bleeding.

The teenager covered the woman with a blanket and, between sobs, the woman told the teen she had just been raped.

At that moment, the suspected rapist appeared in the open doorway.

Police marveled at what happened next: The girl confronted the half dressed interloper, scared him off and then – wielding two kitchen knives – went back into the woman’s apartment to rescue her two-year-old son.

The rapist was described in the April 2, 2008 San Jose Mercury News as big and muscular. Nevertheless, Saba (all of 5’4) got between the attacker and his victim, cursing and screaming, “Get the hell away from me! I’m not even kidding! What the hell are you doing in my house?” And in that way Saba scared him off with her attitude.

“This young lady went ahead and did something that police train and prepare for,” raved Lieut. Mark McIninch. “It’s extremely impressive.”

At first the rapist was stunned, giving Saba enough time to dial 911. Recovering slightly, the man sat down in a chair, mumbled that he was sorry and then walked out into the hallway.

Police soon caught him hiding on the landing outside the building. He was easy to identify, pantless.

If a woman panics and freezes up during an attack, she should not feel guilty. That is a very human response. But this story does suggest how attitude may aid us in a dangerous situation. Later I’ll post self-defense tips on how to stop a rapist.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on November 28, 2011, in feminism, psychology, rape and sexual assault, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Brenda Villar

    I really applaud Saba, she did a heroic and brave thing. Im sure the attacker was not expecting that! I think most rapist assume all women will just be too shocked or will freeze up to fight back, but she was successful to scare him while being a petite girl. Im only 5′ myself and I would’ve been scared because, well in general men have a bigger structure, and Im a lot smaller than Saba according to the article. If everyone had Saba’s instinct, would the percentage of rape cases go down? Or does it also depend on how physically aggressive the attacker is? I remember a girl from high school saying that if a rapist pins you down its better to not resist because it’ll only hurt more. I totally disagreed with her! I will try my best to stop it from getting to that point even if it meant taking self defense classes. No one should be raped, and since women (especially petite women) are smaller than men, they should learn tips on how to defend themselves.

  2. It’s really amazing because not only she scared the man but also went to the raped woman’s house and saved her son! I actually have thought that not provoking a rapist with fiercing words and running away is a better way to escape but the truth seems opposite. Is being brave most of the time works when someone is in danger of being raped? Since we all know that men are physically stronger than women, some rapists may get irritated and become more violent to control the victim. This kind of attitude may not work for the rapists who strongly believe they can suppress women physically. I respect what she did as a woman but I think it would’ve been really dangerous if the rapist had had a strong will and believed he could suppress women.

  3. This was a really amazing story. Saba Sohail was very brave and I’m impressed that she was able to react in that way, especially since she is so young. I think most people in that situation would have frozen up and not known what to do. I think it is amazing how her instincts took over and she was able to protect herself, the victim, and the victim’s child. Rape is a horrible thing that no one deserves to go through but I’m glad that the victim was able to get help before things got worse for her and her baby. I think all women should know how to protect themselves against an attacker so the tips would be great.

  4. Malar Ganapathiappan

    It’s really great that Saba Sohail was able to stand up against the rapist. I wouldn’t think of a person at 5’4’’ being as petite as the implication because they would be about three inches taller than me. Still, it was incredibly courageous of Saba. It would be nice if people got the adrenalin and instinct to act in a comparably brave way in a similarly difficult situation more often. It seems to me that freezing in panic is likely to be the more common response, which is unfortunate. I am curious as to how Saba cultivated such an attitude in the face of the circumstance because all that is revealed is that she is “petite” and she used the right attitude. Was she trained in self-defense? Does she normally have a big voice and loud attitude? Did she have a protective instinct? Or was just an average self-interested person acting on pure adrenalin, goodwill, and knowledge of the right thing to do?

  5. Lawrence Brown III

    I’m so happy she had the confidence to back off that intruder. Some men who are into that crap usually prey on the “weak” thinking they can overpower them for their mental enjoyment. It’s sickening that certain men can fix their freaking minds to come up with a plot to do something so heinous and cowardly. There are so many women that would love a man for who they are so there is no reason to have that thought in their mind because their is someone for someone. Certain men take on a fetish because of being a victim, or cause they did it and got away with it numerous of times but that is so disgusting. It’s kind of like my life (minus the rape aspect), you have to “bluff” and have the confidence to show that you mean business and be adamant about what you say. Cause people will take advantage of you cause animals notice fear usually if they notice that it could lead to a negative outcome.

  6. I think the reason why a man would even attempt to rape a woman is because he thinks he’s stronger than a woman. He underestimates the petite teen in this situation by presuming that she was a weakling but her reaction to him was completely unexpected because many women in her position wouldn’t have as much courage, I think. I believe it takes a special kind of bravery to do what she did and not freeze up and be able to save the woman’s two-year-old son too. I think many women should learn some self-defense tips on how to stop a rapist just for precaution.

  7. When a woman is believed to be in her most vulnerable time and she fights back in a manner that makes her look like she is not scared even if she is, it will make the rapist or who ever feel somewhat unprepared and worried as what happened in this story. I think that it is good for women to realize that just because they are women and maybe smaller by stature and not capable of physically controlling a larger man that they can still beat an assailant by somewhat shocking him with her response. It’s also a good example of the fight or flight response which we all have!

  8. This amazes me how a petite women was able to scare off a rapist. This is a good story to tell others because it shows that a petite women can protect herself by speaking up. In a way she was heroic and saved a woman’s life. This teenage girl was courageous to help out her neighbor and defend both of them when she saw the man. She is lucky he ran away and nothing worse happened. He could have had a gun or knife, but luckily he didn’t or didn’t use it and just ran. What shocks me the most is how she went back to the woman’s apartment to save her 2 year old. That is definitely courageous and just wow.

  9. It’s always hard to read about victims of rape and just hearing how the amazing lady came to the rescue makes me thankful that we have people who still fight against the bullies and vicious people in this world. I can never understand how one can commit such a horrible crime…they must really be unstable mentally…If only it was easier to identify people who result to these actions so we could have a safer society. It’s hard to stand up for someone when ones own life is on the line, and not knowing how the rapist might have reacted to her yet still coming to defense of the victim is a great act of courage. It’s frighting and horrible what has occurred to Saba’s neighbor and I hope she is able to recover from this incident and be strong. I hope and pray that she and her child are able to find comfort and support with family and community members.

  10. Melissa Aboytes

    When I read this my first thought was that Saba probably was only thinking about the safety of her neighbor and of the 2 yr old baby. She did what most people in that situation are incapable of doing. She stood up to a man who was not in his right mind and risked not only being raped herself but possibly killed. Her attitude is what changed the situation and in that moment she did what she had to do to get rid of the rapist. Kudos for Saba for saving the day and giving hope to many women out there that you can fight back.

  11. Catherine Knipe

    I agree that having a powerful (and positive, can-do) attitude can be an aid in a dangerous situation. I think Saba was running on adrenalin and instinct — I don’t believe she took the time to think things through – what her actions could really bring about. If she did, I don’t think she’d have stood up all 5’4″ of her to a big, muscular rapist. But more power to her. And to other women for taking a stand and being empowered. I remember one of the tactics I was told to follow if at risk for being assaulted was to “not resist”. This never seemed right to me and I’m glad I haven’t been put in a situation like Saba or her neighbor to have to take a stand. But I do believe that we women have a lot more power even those on the petite side.

    • Thank you.

      Research has found that resisting rape leads to more physical injuries but they’re less likely to be raped – leading to less emotional injury. And it’s the emotional injury that’s more difficult to overcome.

      As I said, no woman should fee guilty or ashamed that she didn’t fight back (too fearful, stunned or whatever). But it could be helpful to know that fighting will usually work better for you.

  12. This story reminds me of an experience my mom had when she was an average height, slender woman in her 20s. She was followed by a man back to her apartment building. She didn’t realize she was being followed until she heard footsteps behind her in the stairwell. He grabbed her and unbuttoned her pants. At first, she froze. Then, the power inside of her took over and she looked her would-be rapist dead in the eye and bared her teeth as she said, “YOU. GET. OUT OF HERE!” He turned and fled.

    I hope this comes as a lesson to all females. Please, please, never believe you are powerless.

  13. Really interesting tale but it left me wanting a more detailed version. I did some research and found other objective articles about this incident. The wierdo rapist’s name is Juanito Antonio Gonselas and he’s now in Salinas Valley State Prison where he belongs and he’s already a publicly registered sex offender.
    I think it’s guys like these who need to be locked up forever. He was 28 years old and old enough to know better. I don’t think rapists have a good chance of rehabilitation. Maybe they should get castrated. I’ve heard of some kind of chemical castration that some sex offenders in prisons qualify for but the offender must agree to it. It’s his own decision.
    As for the claim that girls shouldn’t feel bad if they freeze up when being assaulted I agree. I also read that sometimes women get blamed for being raped because they may have inadvertently helped cause it to happen, for example, if a girl is knowingly walking at night in a shady nighborhood, and gets raped by a stranger the cops might say, “well what were you thinking going out late at night in a shady neighborhood at dressing all sexy?”

    yelling and swearing could be good because rapists tend to want a woman more passive and the rapist could become deterred by the yelling and swearing and may give up.

  14. Meseret Workneh

    I agree with others that Saba Sohail did an amazing job in scarring off the rapist. I am sure if women reacted as such when they got raped, then we would have less cases of rape because they would scare the attackers away on most occasions. Women have to be however tactful and watchful because some attackers are crazy, have nothing to loose, and may be armed. Sohail did not only have the courage to scare this attacker from her home, but had the courage to go back into his house to get the two year old boy. Attitude can certainly do a lot, and I totally agree with the other students that she is a hero.

  15. Michelle Brumley

    I have to agree with others opinions. She is a hero! This woman stood up for someone who was attacked. Instead of turning a blind eye, she stepped up to the plate. Just by confronting the attacker, she did more than anyone else may have. She saw someone in trouble and intervened. This man was bigger than her, but her voice was bigger than him. Afterward, she went on to rescue this women’s child from the apartment.
    I commend her, the actions she took that night saved one maybe two lives. We should have more people in this world. Men and women! So many bad things could have transpired because of this rape. She could have been beaten, become pregnant or worse. One women’s choice to intervene prevented the worst from happening.

  16. Dorinda Mununura

    Tough young Woman indeed. I have a theory about such David Vs Goliath encounters. I come from a culture in which women are not encouraged to be demure. It may be the harsh envrionment that causes this. As a result domestic violence is common but it is two way. It is not rare to hear of a battered man. Most of the violence is obviously directed at women but culturally women are encouraged to fight back or call for help. The tough women are well known and men don’t mess with them. I think that men no matter how big or strong are actaully easily startled by a strong willed, aggressive/ assertive woman. They are so used to having their way so when someone dares to look them in the face and threaten them, they cower. This I believe is what happened in this situation. The roles are then instantly reversed were the aggressor takes on the role of the victim. This man sensed that this young woman had alot more courage than he does and was thrown off balance by that.

  17. It may not be easy to judge certain reactions on this situations as it is very different, traumatizing experience for anyone who has experienced such awful occurence. I think the Rapist or murderers do feel fear but as soon as their victims shows that they have the power, that they are in contorl they feel stronger and even act like they are really scary! If the victims fight two things can happen, they can either have the chance to escape and save themselves or get themselves in a deeper more dangerous situations as sometimes this triggers for the attacker to be crazier. This lady showed courage, at the heat of the moment she was able to get it together and do the right thing. Instead of getting scared at first, she was able to be on her feet and focus on the situation and fight. As I have said some attackers I am sure are nervous when they are also in the moment, reactions of the victim, the surrounding wether they feel safe of not being caught plays a crucial role affecting the emotion and mental reaction of the attacker.

  18. I applaud her for her courageous act for fending off a “big and muscular” guy. She even went and rescued the victim two-year-old son and on top of that she’s only 5’4. Women’s of any age or race should learn self-defense in case of situations like this. It’s good that Saba didn’t freak out when she saw the victim and act quickly by helping her and defending her. I agree that many people will freeze up if something this horrific happens in front of them. However, if Saba wasn’t there the rapist would’ve even hurt the women more or possibly killed her; and many more women’s out there. Thank God for having people like Saba that helped and defended people when they needed it most.

  19. It was very brave of this girl to do this, especially since she is such a small and young person! it came out of the blue and I’m sure that no one is prepared for this type of situation. She handled it perfectly well. And to also have the courage to run into the woman’s apartment to save the 2-year-old baby is even more heroic of her. Never judge a book by its cover. Even women who appear to be weak and defenseless could do some big damage and scare off the attacker. If I was her, I would have been scared to death and not know what to do. I’m glad that you will be posting a blog up about how women can defend themselves against rapist. It is important for every women to be educated on these types of situations because no one can predict the future about what could happen.

  20. Saba is truly a brave woman. To know that at only seventeen this woman took charge and helped a woman in need is incredible. I know that had I been in her position I probably would not have the guts to do what she did. Rapists tend to feed off women’s fear and vulnerability and if a woman is tough and screaming as Saba did, they get scared and want to get away as soon as possible. The fact that she even went back to her neighbors house to get her neighbors child is amazing. She truly is fearless. Women who stand up and not fall victim to a “Big, muscular man” can sometimes fare better and in this case, that is exactly what happened.

  21. I think this girl did a very courageous thing. She stepped up to a man twice her size and was able to make him afraid of her. If I was in her situation, I would be scared for my life. I probably wouldn’t know what to do first. I think that I would probably scream my lungs out until someone else came to help me. However, the only thing I would be more scared of what if the man had a weapon. What if he had a gun? He could have killed her and the woman he raped. And what if there was no one else around to help them? They could be found dead and no one would know what happened to the killer. He could be roaming the streets with no evidence against him! It’s a scary situation. But, nonetheless, I’m proud that this young girl was able to help out someone in need and step up to someone who could possibly pose a threat to her life.

  22. I think this girl was very brave. I can’t even imagine how I would react if I was her. Situations like these should never happen. When I was a teenager a person that I knew was raped. She was walking home around midnight, and the rapist came out of the blue and put a gun to her head. He told her not to move and to be silent, otherwise he would kill her. She knew the guy, but she never denounced him to the police because she was afraid he would come after her. She kept it to herself, and a few weeks later she found out that she was pregnant. Abortion in Brazil is illegal, except when the pregnancy is the result of a rape. But since she didn’t denounce her rapist and she comes from a very poor family who would not have money to pay for a back-alley abortion, she ended up having the baby. That one night changed her whole life; it changed her and her future.

  23. It’s amazing how many such men backpedal in the face of an angry woman. I feel that most men are not conditioned to expect, much less confront, a woman who stands her ground and challenges them on a physical level, commonly thought to be a “male” domain. It is also known that for a rapist, it is often less about sex and more about power. While I don’t doubt that there are rapists out there who are in it for the challenge, many target women who they perceive to be an easy mark. When one turns the tables on them, it gives them pause.

    On another note, I have trained in Krav Maga self defense, and this article makes me painfully aware that I have not trained in a while, and once I have gained an edge, I am aware of losing that, so I need to go back to training. Another thing I think of in relation to self defense is that while many places teach martial arts, few teach actual street self-defense, and the attitude necessary to defend oneself. It is a necessary skill.

  24. Wow! I must say that child had enough courage to go up against a “big, muscular” man and defend not only herself but her neighbor as well, it is very admirable and heroic. A lot of women, who are older than Saba, are not as strong willed and freeze up when attacked. I am not trying to say that older women are weak it is just that it is rare for ay women to react differently and when we do society views it as something abnormal.

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