In the world of self-defense, you could build a substantial fortune if you received a dollar every time someone said, “I would gouge his eyes”. A recent meme circulating the internet reads “Nice leg lock, here is a thumb in your eye”. All these macho posturing comments are well and good when trying to sell the latest self-defense course, but what background is there on eye gouging?

Like most ‘instructors’ the above don’t seem to mention that there are different species when it comes to eye gouging. Eye gouging may be something simple like a finger in the eye with limited penetration into the ocular cavity, this is a common cause of penalties and fines in Rugby. However, the more serious eye gouge would be the enucleation of the eye itself. Enucleation is where the eye is gouge completely from the ocular cavity. This may or may not be accompanied by the avulsion of the optic nerve. If there is a nerve avulsion the eye is completely destroyed, and a surgical enucleation is performed on the patient and the eye is completely removed.

Eye Gouging is Rare

Eye gouging is extremely rare in our society. Most cases of eye gouging are self-inflicted and accompanied by psychotic states. Many of these states involve religious mania as eye gouging is a very common theme in the Bible. However, eye gouging predates the Bible in literature, it is mentioned in the myth of Oedipus, where a self-enucleation was performed after sexual intercourse with the subject’s mother. In the Bible it appears in Matthew 5:29: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out…” Again, this is an injunction to self-enucleation of the eye, not assaultive enucleation. Throughout Greek, Egyptian, and Russian mythology eye gouging is strongly correlated with sexual aggression. The act of assaultive enucleation involves the act of penetration and is not dissimilar from the rape itself.

To reiterate most cases of eye gouging and enucleation are self-inflicted and closely associated with mental illness, so what then of assaultive enucleation? This too seems to be extremely rare, so rare few studies have ever been conducted. However, those that have give us great insight into the background and the psychological states present of assaultive eye gougers.

People who eye gouge are almost all insane.

In most studies assaultive eye gouging is also associated with psychotic states, mental illness, and learning disability (‘mental retardation’ in older studies). In a large study of assaultive eye gouging Dr. Alexander O. Buchanovsky et al. in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law[i] visits numerous cases of assaultive eye gouging and finds that all the perpetrators were either psychotic or severely mentally deficient. Most of the cases involved sexual violence or a sexual act which triggered the enucleation of the victim.

Occasionally during consensual sex, the perpetrator would fly into a psychotic rage and enucleate the eyes of his partner, while others would do so during or after a violent rape. Even women have been documented perpetrating and assaultive enucleation, again these cases involved a sexual element. The case to hand mentions a woman being hospitalized in a psychiatric wing of a prison for assaultive eye gouging and when unsupervised engaged in a sex act with another patient after which she enucleated the victim’s eye[ii].

In an individual case of assaultive eye gouging a security worker was attempting to stop youths from harassing passengers on a bus was assaulted from behind with the perpetrator reaching both index fingers in the ocular cavities of the victim. Only one eye was enucleated while the other was damaged. When the victim arrived at the hospital they were taken to surgery for total removal of the right eye. The reason being there was an avulsion of the ocular nerve, meaning the eye would no longer function.[iii]

Pain won’t matter.

Eye gouging that falls short of the enucleation of the eye, such as an eye poke, can have a deterrent effect in a sporting context. However, this is a pain response, and we know from my previous article found HERE that relying on pain to deter is a fool’s errand. During a pitched struggle for survival our nervous system shuts down pain receptors and many assault victims report eye gouging only further enraged their attacker!

If you can gouge effectively, it is probably illegal and immoral to do so!

Many a lazy practitioner may find comfort by saying “I will eye gouge him” there is a positional element to eye gouging. To do the damage necessary one would need to immobilize the head of the victim (and I use the word “victim” purposely). This would be done by pinning it to the ground or against a wall. From the bottom of the mount I would not have the necessary force to enucleate an eye. If we achieve positional dominance and eye gouge someone, this stands outside the use of force guidelines for any legal system in a civilized country. So, we see eye gouging for what it is, an assaultive behavior perpetrated by the mentally insane and sexually deranged. Statistically it is not an effective self defense tool, and practically it is a poor way to create enough traumatic injury to end a critical incident.


[i]  Buchanovsky, Alexander, O et al. (1999) Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, Vol. 27. No. 4, pp 590-602

[ii] Ibid. p.594

[iii] Parmar, B. et al. (2002) British Journal of Ophthalmology

Eye Gouging Doesn’t Work

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