We all can at some point get exposed to threats and potentially dangerous situations where we can get assaulted, mugged or even worse, no matter where we live or how much money we earn. The world is not a perfect place, far from it and the streets are not always safe. There might be differences in the number of violent attacks, rapes and stabbings if you compare a metropolis like London, New York, Paris or Berlin with smaller cities, but still, one cannot say that it is really safe anywhere, especially if you are a woman!
This article is about personal safety and self-defence for women, as they, unfortunately, represent one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, being exposed to abuse, violence and crime in a different way than men are. By that I mean of course all forms of sexual harassment, psychological and physical abuse and rape.
Violence against women is widespread…
It is incredibly sad that in times when we can look back on so many amazing achievements of our modern society, it is still necessary to address violence and crimes against women as a problem that is widespread throughout the world like a contagious disease. It really doesn’t matter where in the world you are, it just happens everywhere. What shocks me most, is that many women are not even safe in their own homes! Statistics say that 1 out of 3 women experiences violence and sexual abuse in her life, sadly often from her own partner. These numbers leave me speechless, as a man, a husband and a father! Another shocking statistic is the fact that around 90% of all sexual assaults and rapes are committed by someone the victim knew and trusted! It is therefore also a reality that self-defence alone is clearly not the answer to all these threats. I have meanwhile initiated a dedicated project that is trying to address this issue with more in-depth research and advice on the prevention of sexual assault. As I am teaching self-defence classes for years now, and although not specially intended to be self-defence for women, it does make me proud to say that my course participants have over the years mostly been women.
For a start let’s agree on one thing, no one should be a victim whether, of harassment or sexual abuse or violence and everyone has a right to defend himself, but what about the actual “ability” to defend yourself? I often get asked if self-defence for women really works and if a woman actually can defend herself against a larger, stronger and aggressive man? The answer to that question is simple, YES women can! I have heard many comments on this before, that women are not capable to fight off a determined male attacker, I have even heard a police officer giving advice that women should rather “comply” when being raped, than trying to fight back! What a ruthless and discriminating bull shit!!! People who say things like that do not understand the long term psychological consequences of rape, the deep traumatic wounds that are like scars on the soul, that will probably remain forever. So let’s make sure that doesn’t happen and let’s talk about what can be done to prevent this from happening.
Situational awareness can save your life
Situational awareness and self-confidence can prevent that it comes to an attack in the first place. We use the term situational awareness a lot, because it is an important ability when it comes to personal safety and I have a separate post on this. In short, it simply means that if we would pay more attention and be more aware of our surroundings, we could prevent many dangerous situations in the first place. We could probably notice that someone is following us before we come all the way to the parking lot and maybe instead of walking straight to the car just sit out a while in a coffee shop and check if the guy is still there after a while. You can take precautions and call someone for help, a friend or family member, someone who could pick you up, or maybe go to the local security and ask if someone would be so kind and walk you to the car. There are many options if you “realize” in time that you feel unsafe.
Another amazing tool mother nature equipped us with is our sense of danger. Back in the days when wild animals were still a threat to us, it was exactly that sense that kept us alive! It is nothing mystical like the “Spider-sense” (Spiderman can sense danger 😉 ), but it rather is a subconscious security system that uses our built-in sensors like our vision, hearing, smell to scan, monitor and analyze our surroundings and when it senses danger it triggers the alarm! Now what happened to this good old built-in system, and why can’t you hear it? Well, the good news is that it is still there, but we are obstructing it! We tend to stare at our smartphones even while walking or driving, so we don’t see anything around us. We put headphones on, turn the music on and shut the world out, so we don’t hear what is happening around us. There could be someone shooting a gun a few feet away from us and we probably wouldn’t hear it! Even if our internal alarm system occasionally goes off and our “guts” feel like the apocalypse is around the corner, we usually always find ways to rationalize and disregard these warnings and rather walk directly into the predator’s trap. Now there will be some who will say, I had that feeling many times and nothing happened, so it’s not something you can rely on. Well, did it ever crossed your mind that you actually might have escaped a dangerous situation just by a tiny bit?
Listen to your guts!
You see, assaults are sometimes spontaneous acts of opportunity, but mostly the offenders carefully choose not only the time and place of the attack, but they also choose their victims! They might watch them from a safe distance while shopping in the mall for example or in the nightclub, often either sneaking on them or trying to lure them by pretending to be nice and helpful until the victim is at the right spot. So the fact that in such situations nothing happened, might be simply down to circumstances like witnesses being present or something else that made the potential attacker change his mind. It is also very important to understand that ”offenders are looking for victims, not opponents!”. Try to think like a criminal and ask yourself are you an easy victim or someone who looks like a hard target? It is important to be self-confident, the offender is looking for an easy victim, whether the motive is money or a sexual assault. They want to stay unidentified and are not looking for attention, therefore also not for victims that will resist heavily, scream, draw attention and fight back, unless he has you somewhere where no one is around to hear you! If you notice that someone is eventually following you, react while it is safe, while there are people around, confront him loudly “Are you following me?!” That alone can be enough to discourage him, he doesn’t have the element of surprise anymore on his side and he knows now that you are not in fear, at least you made clear that you are not an easy victim!
This is the only situation where in my opinion a Pepper Spray is useful, if you have enough time to prepare for the right moment and distance, you can confront the attacker having the spray ready in the hand, which can be in such a situation an additional deterrent. If you have to spray him, from a safe distance it can give you the opportunity to run away. The problem with Pepper Spray is that it is not effective when you are attacked by surprise, once the attacker is in close distance and has his hands on you, it is difficult to pull now a spray and use it properly, in this situation it is more effective to use your hands as defensive tools. Another issue with Pepper Spray is that other people, bystanders can be sprayed by accident too, including yourself if it is windy, which can worst case result in lawsuits against you. It is also never guaranteed that an attacker will really stop after being sprayed, police and military perform training where they get pepper-sprayed first and then have to complete various fighting or shooting drills, so it isn’t really the bottled superhero most people believe it is and it might give you a false sense of security. In the UK and some other countries for example Switzerland, Pepper Sprays are actually illegal.
It has a lot to do with attitude, refusing to become a victim is a conscious decision you have to make long before something happens.
Always fight for your life!
But what if all that didn’t help or you’re being ambushed, taken by surprise and the attacker has his hands on you trying to hit you, choke you, grab your purse, tear you towards the bushes or push you into the car? Well, now it’s attitude that counts! I will not give advice here on self-defence techniques, these things you can learn in a good self-defence course. What is important to know is that an offender doesn’t expect a lot of resistance, he chose you thinking you will be an easy target and now you have to prove him wrong! Scream, call for help, be specific in that, don’t scream just “help”, scream that it’s a robbery, a rape, that you don’t know this man so someone standing by might not think it’s a fight between a couple. Some say that people tend to react more if you call “fire” than help but I personally don’t like to believe that. Sometimes the situation is unclear, people yell at each other or fight and you’re not sure what to think of that, are they maybe a couple, friends, married, whatever. Make clear that this is a situation where you need help!
Why women need to learn self-defence
There is clearly discrimination between the sexes when it comes to fighting. Men have an advantage here because our “education” process related to violent conflicts usually starts already in childhood. I know that it is sad that thousands of years of evolution were not enough to change the fact that mankind still solves its problems mainly with violence, but that is the world we are living in. That experience from childhood, the fights on the playground or on the schoolyard are the reason why men in general handle violence differently than women, not because they are stronger! Taking that thought further, that also explains why some people have lowered inhibitions when it comes to violence, are more aggressive, often brutal and reckless, sometimes even at a younger age. That might be simply the experiences they bring with them from their childhood, as a result, they don’t feel fear of violence. In fact, that is what it comes down to, fear!
A person who has never been in a violent physical conflict confronted with the threat of an attack often experiences extreme fear and panic. That fear is actually somewhat undefined, it is fear of the unknown, “what will happen here, will I get hurt or maybe even die?”. Fear can paralyze someone completely making them incapable to react or defend themselves at all. The good news is, that can be overcome!
Attack the weak points, everyone has them!
So, how does a woman fight back? Regardless of your skills and if you have learned self-defence or not, the basics are that any person despite his size and strength has vulnerable points on the body, the eyes, ears, nose, groins, fingers, feet, back of the hands, throat, etc. Every situation where you are being attacked is potentially life-threatening, therefore fight for your life! Do not hesitate to bite him, scratch his face as women’s nails can be quite sharp and painful weapons, not only does that hurt a lot but his skin under your nails can contain useful DNA for identification later on. Push your fingers in his eyes if you can, stomp on his feet or against the shin, this is painful, especially with high heels. All this will not necessarily knock him out, but it might distract him for a moment which can be enough to escape, for help to arrive, or even discourage him to continue at all. I personally prefer the use of keys as an improvised weapon for a few simple reasons, it’s easy to get used to holding them in the hand when you walk to or from the car, or even when jogging, you can’t forget it and it’s not something additional you have to look for in the purse or pocket if needed. If you are living in the UK where basically any item you take with you with the intention to use it for self-defence automatically becomes classified as an offensive weapon, keys are ideal from a legal perspective too, as there is no need to explain to anyone the purpose or need to carry them with you. There are several ways you can use keys for defending yourself, some of course are also wrong, for example holding them between the knuckles to punch, which will certainly result in serious injury to yourself. The simplest and one of the most effective ways is by holding a strong key firmly in your fist with a thumb on top, basically, just like a knife, you can use it to stab into the ribs, neck, head or scratch over the face. It is very effective and nothing you need to buy, but I definitely recommend some training with it first. I also teach far more sophisticated ways of applications with a key, so check out one of my self-defence courses.
Remember, the goal is to come home safely!
Remember the goal is always to escape and get yourself to safety, not to defeat an attacker! As I said already several times in this text, self-defence training is something everyone should do at least once. Don’t get me wrong on that, attending one self-defence course will not make a Ninja out of you, but it can give you an overall understanding of what to do and how to react in a certain situation. It always depends on your circumstances how much time and effort you are willing to invest in your personal safety, for some 20 bucks for a Pepper Spray seem to be enough, whilst I would strongly suggest to everyone who is concerned about his/her safety to attend a self-defence class! Nowadays there are many schools that teach self-defence and I have several posts here explaining what good self-defence training should look like and where to find it. I hope this article helped a little bit with the basic understanding of self-defence. As you can see it is a bit more complex than just having pepper spray in the bag and to me, personal safety is also much more than just fighting skills or techniques. So if you are interested to learn more about personal safety and self-defence training check out my other posts on the subject in the Personal Safety category.