THE BLOG
11/16/2014 07:11 pm ET Updated Jan 15, 2015

Arms Control: Stopping a Silent Scourge

Ally Dalton is ready for her close-up.

In the wake of the notorious New York City catcalling video, the 36-year-old website designer has discovered her life's mission: to warn women and young girls about the phenomenon of "arming."

What is arming? Simply put, it's the move a guy makes in a theater when he feigns sleepiness as a pretext to drape his arm around his date's shoulders.

"As soon as the movie starts, it's lights, camera, action," said Dalton.

Although society sees arming as innocent, even charming, it is actually an aggressive move designed to assert male dominance.

"It's rarely done with the woman's verbal approval," said Dalton.

Like catcalling, arming is about power, not sex. It relies on women's silence to perpetuate a culture of intimidation.

"Men believe that silence equals consent," said Dalton. "Not if I can help it."

A major enabling factor is the setting. Theaters are dark and crowded. Verbal communication is discouraged. Escape through the aisles is difficult. Strangers are distracted by the movie and unlikely to get involved.

"You want to scream, but they tell you to be quiet. You want to call for help, but they tell you to silence your cell phones," said Dalton.

Brenda Ruiz, 19, is an arming survivor. She remembers her date with an older man who attended a nearby community college.

"We were watching Anchorman II and eating popcorn," she said. "He yawned and I felt his hand, greasy from the butter flavoring, paw at my bare shoulder."

"No amount of Diet Cherry Coke could wash away the taste of fear and shame," she added.

Dalton has had difficulty convincing women's rights groups of the seriousness of the issue.

But statistics back her up. A recent study found that 95 percent of arming victims knew their attackers -- a shocking number.

Dalton hopes the issue will catch fire with the American people. But unlike catcalling, an arming video will probably never go viral. Theaters discourage filming during a movie.

"Big Theater is part of the problem," she said. "Plus it's dark."

The problem doesn't end at the cineplex.

Ashley Veneman (not her real name) is a junior in high school. A student in her chemistry class recently asked her out. She agreed.

"So then he drove me to 'Makeout Lake' (not its real name). It was late at night and no one else was around. He parked and immediately tried to put his arm around me. I pulled away and suggested we go someplace else, like the mall parking lot."

"He said no and angrily drove me home," said Veneman. "And then he didn't even return my calls."

Dalton said women should be aware of the "trigger" behaviors that lead to arming.

"Listen for the signals," she said. "Like, 'I'm so tired.' 'I don't have enough room.' 'Look at what that couple over there is doing.'"

Dalton urged women to arm themselves with a few simple steps:

AVOID newer stadium-style theaters with movable armrests, the last barrier between victim and predator.

CHOOSE less-crowded older theaters, even if it means watching an awful foreign film.

PAY for your own food and drink to avoid feeling obligated to reciprocate.

WEAR a shirt with sleeves.

NEVER say "I'm cold," even if you're freezing.

Above all, DO NOT take any of these actions, because the burden of change should fall squarely on the perpetrator.

"Otherwise we're just blaming the victim," Dalton said.

Dalton has started the group "Silent Scream" to raise awareness of the issue. She remains hopeful.

"I believe we can stop arming in my lifetime," she said. "The action belongs on the screen, not in the seats."