Introduction: Basic Street Safety for Women
I have experienced two physical assaults in my life. The second was especially shaking and I have since become passionate about spreading solid self defense tips to the people around me. I may reference this incident as it is relevant to the Ible, but please know I am ok. My attacker got scared off and failed to do physical harm.
This Ible focuses on preventing a physical incident in the first place, but also includes several very simple things you can do to make an attacker bail before they can do major harm. The main goal is for you to ESCAPE the attack and get help, not get into an epic street fight. Any self defense methods described here have been researched or gleaned from self defense workshops I have taken personally. Every situation will be different, so I'm tossing out a variety of information. Even if you never have to use it, knowing your options can help you feel more confident and in turn make you a less likely candidate for victimization.
Step 1: Starters
I'd like to begin with the simplest of suggestions:
--Walk with a buddy whenever possible. Walking a few blocks home from a party? Making a quick trip to the pharmacy up the street? See if your spouse/ partner/ roommate/ neighbor can accompany you. You are automatically a less desirable target if you're not alone, and a little face to face social time doesn't hurt in the age of social media.
--If you are walking alone at night, stay near well lit places of business and well lit walk ways. Avoid alleys and other poorly lit, closed spaces that might allow an attacker the advantage of surprise.
--Trust your gut when parking your car. If you feel uneasy about where you've just parked, put it in drive and keep moving. Park as close as possible to your destination. Living in a very busy city, I know this is not always possible. If you must park farther away, look for well lit areas with lot of public foot traffic. If you're meeting friends, don't be ashamed of calling someone and asking them to walk you to/ from your vehicle.
Step 2: Don't Be Distracted
When walking alone, day or night, it is important to be alert. Don't be distracted.
PUT. THE SMARTPHONE. DOWN! One of my attacks happened while I was talking on my phone. I was an easy target because I was focused on the conversation and not observing my surroundings. A distracted person is an easy target. Just put the phone away. Your calls/ texts/ email/ social media can wait 10 more minutes. Messing with your phone means your eyes, mind, and hands are occupied.
Your eyes should be watching where you are going and scanning your surroundings.Being observant of your surroundings can help you identify potential problems before you're in the middle of them, and identify exit routes, safe places to duck into, and allies on the street.
Your mind/ ears should be free to take in the surroundings too, primarily sound. If I hadn't been on the phone, I may have heard foot steps approaching behind me. Be aware of footsteps, rustling bushes, approaching cars, or even arguing voices near by. Being aware is the first step to assessing whether the situation is a threat to your person.
I'm not saying you shouldn't enjoy your iPod during your morning jog. Just be wise about when you choose to get lost in your music. Daylight walk along a residential street with traffic =OK! Night time walk home late from a party with low visibility and low traffic = Put away those earbuds!
Your hands should be free so you can defend yourself, or prepared for an immediate act like unlocking your car. For example: Before you leave the inside of the mall, locate your car keys. Have them ready in hand as you walk through the parking lot to your car. This way you are ready to get in your car immediately, rather than standing around in the parking lot distracted as you rummage through the clutter of your bag. Lock your car immediately after you sit down in it.
Step 3: Project Confidence
When walking alone, walk with purpose and project confidence. Chin up, eyes forward, steady pace.
Attackers are more likely to victimize someone who looks lost or timid.
If you are not sure where you're going, JUST ACT LIKE YOU ARE. Keep moving and look confident. If you need to get your bearings (look up directions, call a friend, etc.) do not do this standing around on a street corner looking confused. Predators will pick up on it and use this to their advantage, possibly offering you a ride or other assistance. If a stranger seems a little too insistent to help you, trust your gut and decline.
Instead, look for an open place of business like a coffee shop or gas station and go inside.An attacker is far less likely to approach you inside a place of business, and an employee may be able to advise you on how to get where you need to go. This also gives you a safe opportunity to call a friend or a cab and stay inside until they arrive.
Step 4: If You Feel (or Know) You Are Being Followed
A good way to test is to cross the street at the next possible junction. If your tailgater follows you across, remain calm and identify your options.
Scan the area for a business you can duck into. If an employee greets you upon entering, do not be afraid to fill them in on the situation. Calmly and clearly explain that you think you think someone may be following you, and you have come in because you fear for your safety and need a few minutes of refuge. Again, most people will be understanding and helpful as long as you are calm. Watch from a window to see what your follower does. Most will just move on, because now you're no longer easy prey. If they linger outside as if waiting for you to emerge, call someone to come pick you up. The business owner may or may not ask them to leave the area, depending on how close they are to the private property. Do not leave the safety of the building until you are certain the follower has gone entirely, or until you have a buddy to escort you where you need to go. As you leave, it may be wise to change direction from your original walk. A smart assailant could be waiting further down the street, anticipating you will continue the same route.
Do not be afraid what other people will think. I've had women tell me, "oh I'd be nervous about ducking into a cafe to get directions or get away from someone. What if they think I'm silly/ stupid/ paranoid?" A) Most people will not think these things and will be supportive in helping you feel safe. B) Who cares what they might think? If it's your safety vs. a stranger's opinion, you should always make your safety a priority.
If you are in a residential neighborhood with no businesses to use as sanctuary:
Scan the area for other pedestrians. Are there any joggers, dog walkers, or other folks on the street? If you truly feel in danger, do not be ashamed of approaching a stranger for assistance.Jog up to the lady dog walker and say 'Hi Nancy!" as if you know her. When you get closer, quietly and calmly explain "Hey, I know we don't know each other but that creep over there is following me. Can I please walk with you until he's gone?" I have used this method multiple times, with both female and male pedestrians. Nobody has ever refused to help me. In fact, one guy enthusiastically held my hand and said loudly "Hi sweetie! I've been waiting for you" to make a creeper think he was my boyfriend. Your would-be assailant will be discouraged and move on if he sees you're part of a social unit, not solo.
Step 5: Loud N' Proud
Don't be afraid to be vocal.If someone is following you and making unwanted verbal contact (cat calls, harassment, etc.), make a scene that turns the discomfort on them, ultimately causing them to leave.This may be especially important if it is night time in a residential neighborhood. You need to get people looking out their windows or opening doors to see what's up. Stay in a well lit area so people can see you. Run up to somebody's porch and get under the porch light if you have to.
If possible, get into a high visibility, public location as quickly as possible. Make sure other people can see you and your harasser clearly. Surround yourself with witnesses and potential allies.
Say loudly and firmly "I don't know this person and he/ she is harassing me." Don't shy away from using the simple phrase "I need help."
Your would-be assailant probably wasn't prepared to deal with an audience, and will usually abandon ship right there. If the creeper persists, either advancing toward you or making claims that they know you, repeat your declarations. Within any crowd there is at least one person who will recognize the situation for what it is. This person may choose to create a physical barrier between you and the harasser. They may also vocalize that the harasser is not welcome and should leave, or even suggest calling the police. Once you have someone else standing with you, it doesn't take much before a would-be assailant decides you aren't worth the trouble. Remain in the company of others until you are confident the harasser is gone.
You may find yourself in a location where an audience is not readily available. Do not verbally engage the person harassing you unless they make a move to approach or you feel in immediate danger. If they start toward you, do not hesitate to scream and yell so that people in the area might hear you and look out their windows.Yell the phrases above, or make it very clear that contact isn't welcome with a firm, loud "BACK OFF!" or "GO AWAY!"Be firm. Commit and do not waver or sound unsure. I tend to throw in a few swear words for good measure, but that's just me.
Assailants target people who they perceive will be weak in the moment and an easy take. Being loud and making a scene tells them you aren't going to go quietly. It throws them off their game and often causes them to abandon the mission.Some articles I've read have even suggested that acting really crazy is a good defense technique. Yell, wave your arms, run around, spit and foam at the mouth if you can muster it. Anything that draws attention to the incident and makes you look like too much for the assailant to handle gives you the advantage. Nobody wants to mess with crazy!
Step 6: Discreet Self Defense Tools
Notice that I call them "tools" not weapons. Two items I recommend here are things that I personally carry when walking alone. They are both very safe for the user and legal to carry in my state.Unless you invest the time in proper training to wield a knife or a gun (and know they are legal to carry in your state), I can't say I recommend those options for day to day self defense purposes. A knife in particular, can be easily fumbled or turned on a person with no experience. If you are willing to put in the time and effort for proper skill training with those weapons...hey, more power to ya'!
Pepper Spray -- Relatively easy to find at places like hardware stores or sporting goods stores. I got mine at a True Value hardware. Go for the handheld size, not the giant bear repellent size you might buy for camping. Most models have a little safety cap above the trigger to make it near impossible to press the button on accident. An elastic band that you can slip over your hand is helpful, as it prevents the canister from being knocked out of your hand so easily. Use is pretty self explanatory. If an assailant comes at you, hold your arm out straight away from you and spray into the face. When contact is made and they're grabbing their eyes and screaming, you RUN!
I keep this strapped to my hand from the moment I leave the apt. Remember, no fumbling in your purse in the middle of the street. Be ready!
Self Defense Keychains -- This is something my boyfriend bought me after a really creepy encounter with two guys following me. You put your forefinger and middle finger through the eyes of the plastic cat and hold your keys in your fist. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to strike out, the firm plastic prongs deliver a major ouch to your assailant. Again, because it is linked to your hand it is much less likely to get wrestled away from you or turned against you. While the hope is that your attacker never even gets close enough for you to use this, I feel better carrying it just in case. The beauty of this tool is that it is very discreet and fits right on your keys. The time those two guys followed me, it was the middle of the day in a decent neighborhood. I had been visiting a friend and it never occurred to me that I'd want to bring pepper spray! Now I have something with me at all times that I don't have to make a special point of grabbing.
*For items like this, check legality in your state. It's plastic, but some places may still construe it as a weapon somewhat along the line of brass knuckles. You may be able to carry it day to day on your person, but certainly don't expect it to get through anything like airline security.
Spit -- Yes, spit. Your own spit can be used as a self defense tool if you're in a pinch. If you feel a confrontation is imminent, start conjuring up saliva in your mouth. If the person lunges at you, spit right at them --in the face if possible. You've just done something really unexpected. The surprise throws your attacker off his game, and maybe even grosses him out. If you're lucky, he's also distracted wiping spit out of his eyes. This disruption is your opportunity to RUN and yell for help. If he's smart, he won't pursue you.
Leaving your spit also leaves your DNA behind. Should this be a case where the attacker is arrested and you need to prove he was the one who assaulted you, mention to police that you spit on him. They may be able to swab the person and retrieve traces, thus proving your account of the events.
Step 7: If Someone Comes at You
You don't have to be a martial arts expert to thwart an attack. Your assailant has a number of weak spots that you can take quick advantage of. Use any or all of these if you are grabbed. My self defense instructor put it to me this way: Wherever you are causing discomfort, that's where your attacker's mind goes. You want to get his mind off of his grip on you. Drawing his focus to other places increases your chances of breaking his grip. The goal is to disrupt the attack so you can break free and RUN.
Eyes --Gnarl your fingers into a claw hand. Grab, tear, and poke at the assailant's eyes. They will want to get your hands away from their face and will have to loosen their grip or adjust their hold to do so. This is when you break and run.
Nose -- Another place where it really hurts to get hit. If you are not confident in delivering a straight on punch to the nose, try a forceful upward palm. If your hands are restrained, headbutt and smash the nose.
Base of the Throat -- Feel that little dent between your clavicles? Press it with two fingers. Uncomfortable, yes? This is one of the most effective places to jab an attacker. With a firm, pointed hand, jab that dent at the base of the throat. Your attacker will be surprised and will be gasping/ coughing uncontrollably. Use the moment break and run if possible. If they're still holding on, continue to jab, poke, bite, kick, and scream. Their coughing will be throwing off their ability to hang on to you effectively.
Fingers -- Bend them backwards, bite them, stomp on them, etc.
Crotch -- It seems cliche and cartoonish, but a kick or knee to the crotch can definitely cause someone enough pain to let you get away.
Shins --2 options here. Hard kicks to the shin or rake the bottom of your shoe down the front of the attacker's shin. The latter is more uncomfortable than you might think. Shin raking, while more minor on the pain scale, is a good distraction technique that will allow you to get other effective moves in.
Foot stomp -- Stomp with everything you've got. Anything you can do to throw off your attacker's balance is in your favor. They're unlikely to do a good job of holding on to you if they're falling over. You're also drawing focus well away from his grasp on you.
One user suggested mentioning Acupressure Self Defense. This is not something I have first hand experience with, but I found this video to be a very clearly staged introduction to the topic. If the idea of acupressure self defense appeals to you, I encourage you to research further. Remember -- don't just watch videos. Practice with a partner and get a feel for the moves.
Step 8: If You Are Grabbed From Behind
You can't always see it coming, but you can react effectively once you realize it's happening.
If your arms are free, thrust your elbows backward into the attacker's torso. An elbow makes a good strong point of contact.
Foot stomps and Shin rakes are still solid options if you are grabbed from behind, and work even if your arms are pinned. If you are able, kick behind you, aiming for the attacker's knees. Bending their knee backwards will really hurt and you'll be throwing off their footing.
Backwards head butt -- Another good one if your arms are pinned. Throw your head back with force. If height ratios are in your favor, the back of your head will crack the attacker right in the nose or teeth and cause a lot of pain.*effectiveness will vary if the attacker is dramatically taller or shorter than you.
Bite -- Don't hesitate to use your teeth to chomp a hand that's trying to cover your face...or really anything else you don't want near you. Teeth are strong and can deliver some serious pain. The marks you leave may later serve as evidence or a way to identify your attacker to police.
Try Something Unexpected -- This one is not necessarily a typical component of self defense, but I'm including it because it worked for me during my second assault. Your attacker is anticipating that you'll be trying to break out and away (the X axis, if you will), but may not be anticipating a vertical motion. Try jumping up and down. It may vary the attacker's arm/ hand placement enough that you can get an out. You might also consider dropping low to duck out of their grasp (or get a good nut punch in). When my attacker grabbed me around the waist from behind, I elbowed backwards and then sat straight to the ground like dead weight. My attacker was not a very big guy, and when he realized he couldn't lift or pull me as dead weight, he just took off running. **I'm definitely not saying dropping to the ground is always the best idea or should be your first line of defense, but my situation proved that the unexpected can be exactly what you need to ruin an attacker's plan. When your safety is at stake, don't hesitate to try anything and everything.
These are the simplest of weak spots and escape techniques I know. Learn them. Practice miming them with a friend to get the feel for them.It will help you feel more confident should the day come that you ever have to use them.
I highly recommend that everyone (male and female) take an intro to self defense workshop at some time in their lives. There are many ways to manipulate an attacker's body and escape holds and chokes. My instructor taught me some great ones, but since I am not an expert I do not feel qualified to expand on them here. Please, don't wait for something bad to happen before you arm yourself with knowledge. Look into self defense classes in your area. Even a one time intro workshop can give you some invaluable tips. If any readers out there are in the Los Angeles area and are interested in a fantastic self defense workshop, send me a private message and I will hook you up with the awesome ( and very affordable) instructor I learned from.
Step 9: The Aftermath
You have escaped your attacker!
Find a secure place and call the police immediately. Always file a report. Even if the attacker did not succeed in committing violence or sexual assault, if you experienced unwanted physical contact this is an "assault" and this IS a big deal! 9-1-1 is an appropriate number to call when you report an assault.
It may take a while for police to show up to take your statement. I've waited anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, and that's in a urban area you'd think would have cops floating around. You may feel shaken and emotional. Do not hesitate to call a friend or knock on a neighbor's door and ask if they can sit with you until police arrive. Having nobody else near by, I knocked on the door of a neighbor with whom I had only ever exchanged simple "hellos" in the parking garage. He was extremely helpful and sympathetic, and I felt much better not being alone. People will surprise you with their kindness.
Be clear when making your report and provide as much detail as you can. The police will ask you basics like gender, age, race, hair color, approximate height, and build. You may not know the attacker's actual height, but you can say things like "a little taller than your partner" and they can approximate for the report. When they ( I say "they" because police almost always respond in pairs) ask about clothing, try to recall colors, patterns, fabric types, type of shoes. Did you manage to rip or damage any clothing during the incident?
Are there any other unique details you can recall? Think not just about sight, but also smell and sound. Did he smell strongly of anything in particular? Did he have any kid of accent when speaking? Something like this may set your attacker apart from other people of similar physical description.
Tip: If find that you need to mime out parts of the attack to explain it clearly, 1) Tell the officers you're going to act it out before you start doing so. It will help them follow your story more clearly than if you just start waving arms around with no warning. 2) As best as possible, try to mime the actions on yourself. DO NOT demonstrate on the officer! I made the mistake of reaching out and grabbing an officer's arm to convey how I was grabbed (as you might do when explaining something to a friend). There was an immediate negative response. It hadn't occurred to me that there are rules about what is considered appropriate contact with an officer. In short, even if you happen to get wonderful, helpful officers, don't expect any comforting hugs.
Step 10: Recovery and Moving Forward
Recovery: During an attack, your adrenaline spikes big time. You may then experience an adrenal defecit in the days that follow. Expect to feel a little out of whack for at least the next day or two while your body recovers. You may feel so sleepy you can barely keep your head up, or still feel very shaken and emotional. I tried going to work the day after to feel "normal" and it just wasn't worth it. Stay home, if you feel safe there, or seek a relaxed environment or the company of a friend. Sleep. Avoid caffeine. Breathe deep, controlled breaths if you start to feel a panic attack. I found soothing scents like lavender, ginger, and peppermint very helpful in bringing my heart rate down when I felt anxious. These can be in the form of teas, essential oils applied to your temples, chest, or under the nose, or a dried herb aromatherapy sachet Like my Lavender Farts. Magensium, Vitamin C, E, and B6 are known to be helpful is supporting the adrenal glands and regulating stress hormones.
If it helps to talk about what happened, find a friend who will listen. There's also no shame in calling a support hotline if you need an anonymous ear.
Don't expect immediate results from your police report. Sometimes they catch the guy....sometimes not. Mine was never found. You need to do what helps you feel better and move forward with or without that victory.
Inform the neighborhood. Decrease the chances that this will happen to someone else. In the days following my attack, I made flyers with his description and posted them in the surrounding area. I was unable to resist putting a little snark in mine, figuring my attacker was from the neighborhood and might see it. Neighborhood folks appreciated the heads up since they never would have expected it in our area. If your community has an online billboard, consider posting the information there too.
Step 11: Stay Safe
I really hope this Ible has provided some information that will help women out there feel confidently armed. Again, I really encourage everyone to get some self defense basics under your belt. You can google the moves and look at diagrams, but acting them out with an instructor or friend is really the best way to get comfortable with the material. Be proactive about safety. Learn how to help yourself, and how to react to situations in a way that helps others. Maybe you'll be the shop employee who gets approached for help, or the lady dog walker who pretends to know a stranger to keep her safe, or the policewoman who takes the report.
If you are the survivor of an assault, know that there are so many resources available, both local to you and online, to help you deal with residual fear, depression, or panic attacks. Never be afraid to be honest about the lasting effect your event has had, and reach out.
I've entered this Ible in the Safety Contest for visibility. Vote if you like, but more importantly please share this with the women in your life. That one new piece of information could be the one that helps them someday.
Grand Prize in the