Open Thread: What Are Your Best Self-Defense Tips?

Hiyah, originally uploaded to Flickr by DRSPIEGEL14.Self defense is not the most fun subject, but it’s been on my mind a bit and I thought it would be a good topic to talk about. As I’ve been getting back into running, I finally got a Road ID (which is every bit as awesome as I thought it was when I first heard about it). If you missed the post, it’s a simple bracelet you wear on your wrist that has your name and some “in case of emergency” contact numbers. I was telling a male friend about my Road ID, and he was incredulous about it — “That’s such a dark way to go through life, always worried about being attacked!” He continued to chide me about it, and after thinking a second or two I said, “Dude. You’re saying this because you’re a guy. This is kind of what it’s like for chicks all the time — you always have to be aware of your surroundings, and make sure you’re parking in a well-lit spot, and have your keys out before you get to your apartment, and so forth.” (Pictured: Hiyah, originally uploaded to Flickr by DRSPIEGEL14.)

Maybe my parents were extra dark and overprotective to raise me that way. I remember when I first moved to New York (in 1997!!) they advised me to “never get on an elevator with a man, alone.” That one seemed a little crazy and hard to follow anyway (if a guy got on mid-ride, was I supposed to get out of the elevator and wait for the next car?), but that rule totally went out the window when I went to my first sample sale. Sketchy freight elevator to go up to a warehouse-type loft? Well, I thought, as long as there’s a good sale behind it it’s fine. After all, the fashion editors I worked for heard about it by fax — what could possibly go wrong?

Dumb decisions like that aside, I’ve mostly practiced the “constant vigilence” method of self-defense. I’ve also taken a self-defense class (albeit a while ago). That said, these are some of my top tips — readers, what are your best tips for self-defense?

  • Don’t tune out and listen to music if it’s late at night or you’re in an unfamiliar area.
  • Be aware of desolate areas that you encounter often, and do what you can to minimize your exposure.  For example, if your office building has two exits, one near a 24-hour deli and the other near a parking garage, use the one near the deli if you’re leaving at a time when foot traffic is low. Similarly, the most direct path from the subway stop to my apartment takes me past a parking lot, a parking garage, and two buildings under construction — so I go the slightly longer route so I’m near shops and restaurants.
  • If you’re home alone and someone you don’t know (or aren’t expecting) rings your buzzer, query who it is, and possibly even pretend to be on the phone when answering the door.  (I’m sure I do a great job of faking a conversation with my mother — but hopefully it’s enough to deter someone.)
  • If you have to go to a desolate or sketchy area, tell someone before you go.  For example, one of my old cases required me to take numerous trips to the file archives, a labyrinthine and unpopulated floor — it seemed like a great setting for a murder mystery.  I always emailed a friend before I went!
  • If you ever get a funny feeling about something, trust your gut.  Don’t worry about etiquette (e.g., is it rude to stop walking and turn around?) — just do it.  Then cross the street or get somewhere that feels safe.
  • If you drive and expect to be out past dark somewhere, do your best to park close to a parking light.  If you can, check the undercarriage of the car as you approach.
  • You should have your keys in hand as you approach your car or front door — no fumbling in your purse!  Something a friend told me years ago is to take one key and put it between your second and third finger and make a fist around the rest of the keys — it becomes a great weapon if needed.
  • In general, don’t make yourself a target.  My engagement ring isn’t huge, but I turn it around so the diamond is against my palm when I’m on the subway; I do the same if I’m wearing any of my cocktail rings.  I do play with my Android on the subway, though, which I probably shouldn’t do.

If you’re actually attacked…

  • SHOUT.  If you don’t know what to shout, try “BACK OFF.” Something else that I’ve heard you should shout is “I DON’T KNOW YOU.” If you have time to see something kind of awesome, watch this woman shout down a man who flashed his penis at her on the subway (close your door first — her language is, um, NSFW.)
  • Kick the side of their knee if you can — you don’t have to get too close to do this.
  • If they’re already close… Go for the eyes.  Put your thumbs over his eyes and start pushing, as hard as you can. If you can’t do that, claw and scratch as best you can.
  • If you can, memorize details about your attacker’s face — you want to be able to identify him later.

Lifehacker had an excellent article on self-defense with a lot of videos that show specific moves — such as “how to maximize damage” and how to get out of common holds.  I highly recommend you read it.

Ok, readers, those are my tips — what are yours?  How often do you think of self defense?

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  1. read “the gift of fear” by gavin de becker.
    follow your gut. being perceived as rude or b__y is infinitely preferable to being in danger.
    pay attention. criminals look for easy targets.
    if you might be out late/alone, don’t wear shoes you can’t hustle in!

    • Ha! Second. Great minds think alike…

    • spacegeek :

      YES! Don’t be afraid to look “stupid”!
      If you are worried about something, listen to that worry and turn around, etc.
      Stand up for yourself the way you would stand up for your mother/sister/daughter.
      No one has the right to touch you if you don’t want them to.

      • I totally agree with this. I never read the book but remember seeing him on Larry King and he said that every time something bad happens, you can look back and see warning signs.

        For me, it was a guy with a watch asking me what time it was. I remember thinking it was weird but then pushing it out of my mind. In retrospect, it was a major red flag. Thankfully, I was able to get away relatively unharmed but that was just sheer luck on my part. It almost ended very badly. Since then, I don’t worry about seeming paranoid.

        • It is so true to watch out for your red flags and not be afraid to trust your instincts.

          A young guy knocked on my door the other day. He was wearing a hoodie and shorts and not holding anything that would make him look like a mail guy or someone conducting a survey. I looked through the peep hole and didn’t recognize him. I asked what he needed several times, and he mumbled to where I totally had no chance of hearing him. I finally opened the door, but that was a totally stupid mistake. Luckily, my dog scared him off, and he mumbled that he had made a mistake. His friends were in the car (which was running on the street) laughing when he ran away from my dog.

          I just didn’t want to be rude by not opening the door, and that was totally stupid. The more I think about it, the more I think he had bad intentions.

          • Tired Squared :

            Totally understand where you’re coming from. After a couple of similar situations, I just refuse to open my door unless I know who it is. UPS will shout “UPS.” Same goes for Fedex. The postman will just leave the mail in the mailbox (or a box on my porch). The maintenance guys will say “Maintenance” (and they have a key if I’ve given them permission to enter). And if it’s a friend, they have my number and can call/text to see why I haven’t opened the door yet.

            No one else comes knocking with something important to say!

    • maria vidal :

      Learning a little self defense these days is crucial. You don’t know who to trust any more.
      I’ve subscribe here recently. You might want to check it out as well for free guide:

  2. The best tip I’ve learned – it’s okay to be rude! Attackers exploit your politeness by putting you in a position where you’d have to be rude to get rid of them – grabbing something you’re carrying to “help” you, say, or chatting nonstop as they follow you along. If someone makes you uncomfortable to be near or leave your kids with or whatever, it’s okay to be rude or loud and get away.

    Also I read in Gavin de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear (it’s about this stuff) that he wishes women would offer to help one another more often. When you see a woman struggling with packages or something, if you help her out you also protect her from someone who might want to exploit that vulnerability.

    • Agree, gavin’s other big tip, besides recognizing its okay to be rude- is to not be afraid of looking not politcally correct. One time I crossed the street because two men had a look about them- and they screamed after me about being afraid of a certain type of man. No, the type of man that would scream at a 20 year old woman makes me afraid. I would rather have a perfectly nice man be slightly offended that I crossed the street than have the alternative happen.

      • Cats Ahoy! :

        Reminds me of this blog post about Schrodinger’s Rapist.

  3. Thee things I learned in self defense class:
    1. If you’re grabbed from behind, compose yourself for a moment. Look down, find the location of their feet, and deftly step as hard as you can on the top of their foot, right by the bone on the top of their arch. Even better if you’re wearing heels. They likely won’t be expecting this, and it should give you enough time to turn and confront your attacker. Then, as Kat says, go for the eyes (as well as the groin).

    2. If you’re ever attacked while sleeping (the mere thought of this just sent a chill down my spine), your best chance is your hips. Again, give yourself a moment to get composed, and then thrust them as hard as possible to get your attacker off balance. You just need to be able to get some space to slip out from underneath someone who’s likely bigger and stronger than you. Then again, eyes and groin.

    3. Weapons are game changers. If you know they have a weapon, and all they want is something tangible (your purse, jewelry, etc), throw it past them on the ground, and run as fast as you can in the other direction.

    If you ever have the opportunity to take a self-defense class, DO IT. I found it so empowering, mostly because I realized that my own instincts were pretty good.

    • Agree with these tips. On #2, women generally have a lot of power in their hips, and turning (or punching, or kicking, etc.) and making sure to engage your hips can really help get some force behind what you’re doing. And on #3, definitely. Especially if there is a weapon involved, remember that nothing (your purse, your cell phone, your ring, etc.) is worth your life.

      For the ‘rettes in the Boston area, I highly recommend checking out Girls’ LEAP if you are interested in getting trained and teaching (it’s a great side job if you are interested…if I still lived in the area, I would still be doing it). The focus is on escape and offensive techniques that are geared toward women, and you can then work with LEAP to teach 8-18 year old girls in a self-reflective/physical skills combo course.

    • The most important thing you can do once you do one of these “dirty little tricks,” as they were called in my self defence class, is not convince yourself you can go toe to toe with your attacker. Do your surprise move, to throw them off, then get the hell out of there as fast as you can.

      Here are some other dirty little tricks

      1) if they grab your wrist, do not pull your arm toward yourself. Look where their thumb is located and yank your arm UP towards the thumb. Even better if you can use your other hand to pull your hand. Then, when you are standing there with one or both fists raised, smash it back down on the bridge of the nose. I’m told it takes very little pressure to break a nose – I haven’t tried to do it – but that should give you time to flee.

      2) if someone pulls your hair, turn toward the hair pull, not away from it.

      3) Definitely agree on the weapon. Throw your item and run.

      4) I disagree about the groin. Most men -assuming attacker is male – have been protecting that area their whole lives, so that’s why stepping on toes is more likely to work.

      • Regarding point 4) : In doing this you are giving up a great target in defending yourself.

        There is a highly effective way of attacking a mans groin which is so effective that it’s even being referred to as “The NO-FAIL self defense technique for women and girls”.

        My oldest sister Karen, who is a womens self defense instructor trained in Krav Maga, teaches women that if they squeeze a mans testicles hard enough he will become immediately immobilized and freeze in agony before becoming unconscious in under 8 seconds. Importantly, it doesn’t matter how big and strong a male attacker is for it to be effective, and just about any woman or girl are more than capable of being successful with this move. She knows a teenage girl who recently fought off a man who had a long history of violence against women when he tried to rape her. She waited for the right moment to strike before grabbing and rupturing both of his testicles and he was still incapacitated and unable to stand up when he was arrested. He is now serving a 25 year jail sentence.

        For this technique to be effective it’s best to quickly snatch the testicles and make sure that your fingers are locked around the top of at least one testicle before simultaneously squeezing, twisting and pulling as hard as you can on either one or both testicles – DON’T LET GO!!! This is easiest to do in a sex attack when the attackers testicles are likely to be exposed at some stage leaving him extremely vulnerable.

        I agree with my sister Karen that ALL women and girls should have it in our armory and share it with others as it’s such an effective self defense technique. Many women in recent years have successfully used this technique to successfully defend themselves.

        • I think any woman that is married, or has lived with a man will fully appreciate how sensitive their man’s testicles are, and would agree that a hard squeeze will incapacitate a man. As soon as a grip is established on at least one of these organs and a hard squeeze is applied, men seem to be paralysed by the pain, and unable to defend themselves. All girls should be taught this as soon as they are able to understand that this knowledge gives girls a power over men that must never be abused – otherwise we are no better than rapists ourselves.
          What is not made clear when teaching this method is that it is actually quite difficult to establish and maintain a grip on the testicles, and it is all too easy for them to slip from your grasp when you try to squeeze them with any force. Like any self-defence move it must be practised regularly in order to perfect it. In a loving relationship the man will willingly allow his partner to practised attaining such a grip providing, of course, that she doesn’t apply damaging pressure: if you’ve never tried it you’ll be amazed just how difficult this move is! If you do try this with your partner, never be tempted to intimidate or humiliate him by mocking his “weakness” For a man, allowing his partner to fondle these delicate glands is his way of proving his love and trust of you: don’t abuse this trust!
          Incidentally, if you are not in a relationship but would like to practise this move, a good tip is to obtain two semi-ripe plums, pop them in a sock, and tie them to a door handle allowing them to hand down at groin height. This is a passable simulation of a man’s scrotum, and plums of this constituency are about the same texture and strength as testicles.
          Stay safe out there!

  4. I think what you and most of the comments so far mentioned is women’s greatest challenge to keeping themselves safe: it’s okay to be perceived as rude, and trust your gut. The one thing I’ll add regarding parking lot situations is that I never park next to a van, and if a van parks next to me (especially if they have a side door that is on the same side as my driver’s door), I would avoid getting in the car or at least crawl though from the passenger side. If you’re attacked and the attacker is close, a palm heel to his nose or forehead to his nose can cause enough pain to allow a moment for you to run, but you have to be prepared to do it as hard as you can.

  5. +1 Road ID :

    I love my Road ID for when I hit regional parks and trails. If you’re interested in buying one, check retailmenot – they offer 15 percent off codes for your second purchase, which people are always posting online.

    When I was in martial arts, I participated in their two-hour women’s self-defense seminars a couple of times, but I wasn’t impressed with those – I felt like you’d easily forget the techniques if you weren’t doing them regularly, and you might not be doing them correctly/effectively in the first place if the person you’re paired up with is also inexperienced and the instructor isn’t actively watching you. And they tended to breed a culture of fear because people started telling horror stories, real or imagined.

    so: when asked, I recommended that people commit to the martial arts classes for six months. That way you get the reps in, and more time to absorb the knowledge.

    • +1 Road ID :

      Clarification: A two-hour self-defense class is better than nothing. I just didn’t have confidence after the ones I was in, that anyone would remember what to do afterwards.

  6. 1) The Gift of Fear is a good read.
    2) Another self-defense tip: If someone grabs your arm, hammer punch them on the top of the forearm, the big part of the muscle by the crook of the elbow. It generally causes them to loosen their grip. Holding your keys in your fist is a fine weapon, but it requires you to be within arms length to strike. Pepper spray gives you more distance.

    • If you are going to carry pepper spray, please take a training course on how to deploy it properly. I can’t tell you how many people end up getting the blow-back in their own faces because they are standing downwind, because they didn’t aim properly under stress, etc.

      Also, keys in fist = bad idea. Your keys will bounce back into your palm at the impact and you’ll damage your own hand. A hard open palm strike to the face is a much better option.

      • The way to use your keys in your fist as a weapon is to weave all of them through your fingers, not just one. That way you don’t damage your own hand when you strike. Go for the eyes, and jab as hard as you can.

  7. Diana Barry :

    I have never thought about this stuff – maybe when I was in college and then in law school in NYC, but certainly never since then. We don’t even lock our doors! Does this make me dumb?

    • Well… it depends on where you live. In my crime-ridden medium-size urban city, yes, it makes you dumb. In a safe-as-pie super rural setting, it’s probably fine.

      • You know what tho, even if its safe as pie, why not lock the doors? It takes two seconds

        • Diana Barry :

          Bc our doors stick (old) and if you lock them, you may never get them open again! Maybe this is a sign that we need the doors fixed. :)

          • honestly? maybe you live in pleasantville, but in case you don’t … this strikes me as inexcusable. I do not mean to be rude, but do you have kids? are you OK with them sleeping behind unlocked doors every night just because the doors are old and annoying? if not for your safety, then for theirs … please get your doors fixed. and then lock them.

            back to minding my own business.

          • Anastasia :

            Naive, maybe. There was a horrifying case in the news a year or two ago of a family that was attacked in their own home. Their basement door was unlocked because they lived in an upscale, safe neighborhood (somewhere in New England if I’m remembering right) where most people didn’t bother locking doors. Only the father/husband survived; he was attacked first and tied in the basement before the intruders moved on to the mom and daughters, and eventually managed to escape. I’d rather be a little bit paranoid than end up in that situation.

            So yes, get your doors fixed so that locking and unlocking only takes 2 seconds. :)

          • Diana Barry :

            The crime rate in our town is very low. Honestly, the statistical probability of those kinds of events is REALLY low, so I have never bothered to worry about it.

          • But there is no such thing as a zero crime rate, and it might be someone from out of area who commits the crime. The horrifying case Anastasia is talking about was in Conneticut. Hadn’t been a murder or anytype of crime in so long. The two men raped the women and children and lit them on fire. Im sorry to be graphic, but why put yourself in the position where you are saying “why didnt i lock the door”

          • Totally understand where you’re coming from – my parents live in a rural area and never, ever lock their doors. Not the smartest thing, although if someone who has malfeasant intentions takes the time to go out to their house, a locked door probably isn’t going to slow them down very long.

            Personally, though, I’d be pretty uncomfortable if the locks didn’t work at all. Perhaps you’re onto something about getting them fixed. :)

          • @ Katie G – most property crimes (i.e. burglary) are crimes of opportunity. Your locked doors will generally encourage a thief to move to the next house.

            I have no idea about crazy crimes like the home invasion being discussed, but I do feel fairly certain that locked doors don’t make you *more* likely to be a victim, so you might as well. :)

          • I live in probably the safest country in the world and would never dream of not locking up at night.

            Why exposé yourself? Low crime doesn’t mean no crime.

    • Cats Ahoy! :

      You mean not all fathers cut the police blotter out of the newspaper and leave it on the kitchen table for their daughters’ breakfast reading??

    • “dumb” isn’t a relevant term but there’s no reason not to be aware and think about it. no place is 100% safe .. and i assume that on occasion, you travel to big cities and places that aren’t as safe as your hometown, wherever that is.

      and yes, lock your doors.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      Yes. Please fix your doors and lock them. There is no reason to not always have your car doors locked and all windows and doors on the first floor of your home locked. Don’t be the lowest hanging fruit.

      • This! Just get your doors fixed/replaced. It is less expensive than having someone steal valuables and certainly not worth the trauma of a home intruder.

    • I bet if you had a conversation with your local police officers, they would give you plenty of reasons to lock your doors. Stop taking your safety for granted, fix your doors, and keep them locked.

  8. karenpadi :

    As a suburb-dweller, I second the tip to always have keys in hand when approaching your car. I usually stop before leaving the building to dig out my keys and have them in hand before heading to the parking lot.

    Other than that, walk briskly, look like you know where you are going, and be confident. I try to park as close to the shop as possible and under a street lamp. I do errands like getting gas in the daytime.

    • Third the “always have your keys out” tip. After getting lucky and getting out of a scary close call walking out of a grocery store with my arms full of bags, I always pull my keys out of my purse as I’m paying and hold them while I cross the parking lot to my car.

    • ohmydarlin :

      “look like you know where you are going”
      YES. This has especially helped in new cities, while traveling, etc. I’ve never been bothered while walking *knock on wood* even in other countries where I don’t speak the language, because I walk with (fake) confidence. Other people have even pointed out that I’d never let on if I was lost!
      I think that has made a big difference, honestly.

    • Once you are in the car :


      And then, once you are in the car, lock the doors and DRIVE. Don’t sit there balancing your checkbook, reading your email, fixing your lipstick, pulling out your map, etc. DRIVE.

  9. The best “self-defense” tactic I developed when I lived in unsafe neighborhoods in the city was — take a cab. If its late, take a cab. If you’re a little drunk, take a cab. If you’re a LOT drunk, definitely take a cab. I know its expensive and sometimes its hard to get one — but its worth it.

    I also agree with trusting your gut and staying aware. The only time I was physically assaulted on the street (a man ran up behind me and grabbed my ass at 2 in the morning) — it all happened to quickly for me to do anything. But it didn’t help that I was on my cell. After that I always carried my cell, but tried not to be actively on it — oh, and I took cabs a lot more. :-P

    • Equity's Darling :

      This may be weird, but I generally feel safer taking public transit than taking a taxi. I don’t live or work in an unsafe neighbourhood- though downtown is dead after 6pm, and the area near my apartment is dead after 11pm or so.

      My firm provides taxi chits to those working later than 7 or 8pm, and I never ever use them, because I find sitting alone in a car with a driver very uncomfortable. I usually have one of the security guards from my office (they all know everyone that works late) walk me to the LRT, I live one stop away, and then I have a two minute walk to my apartment past a grocery store.

      • Its funny — I think it depends on where you live. This was mainly true when I lived in areas of DC that were sketchy and not so close to public transit as one would like (and where I would have to take the bus home late at night to get close enough to be really comfortable). When I lived in an apartment in a safer, busier neighborhood, I relied mostly on public transit.

        So I guess its like know your office…except for personal safety. :-P

        • Yes, it’s kind of funny how people’s instincts differ on this. For example, I will usually actively call someone, even if I have nothing to say. It won’t stop my ass from getting grabbed, but if I get hit over the head and kidnapped, there will be someone to realize something was wrong and call the police. I usually use my dad for this function – he welcomes it because he’s pretty paranoid. He is the type that, when dropping you off at your own home, will insist that you wave from the window – with your left hand if all is well, with your right if someone is holding a gun to your side. I guess I should be glad he doesn’t insist on coming inside every time and doing a perimeter check? :)

          • Tired Squared :

            Wow, that left hand/right hand thing is a new one!

          • Police officers say that talking on the phone actually is more dangerous because you won’t hear anyone coming up behind you. Most robberies involve some type of distraction like talking on the phone, listening to music or being inebriated.

          • I agree. Talking on your phone can be more dangerous because you are not aware of your surroundings. The person you are on the phone with will know that something happened, but will not be able to prevent it.

          • Gavin deBecker agrees that it’s bad to be on your phone.

          • I get what you’re saying, but most often I call him and say, “Hey, I’m about to leave [Location], sit on the phone with me for a second while I walk to my car.” We then sit on the phone in silence, so I can still hear someone approach.

            Whether being on the phone makes someone more LIKELY to approach is another matter – but it makes me feel more comfortable, and thus (I feel) more able to react confidently and without panicking if something does go down. Also, I tend to get lost in thought, so when I am just walking around casually (not in situations where it’s very late or I have a weird vibe), I do prefer to be talking to someone to help keep me in the moment. That’s just what works for me.

          • When I used to walk in areas that made me feel uncomfortable (more in a Stephen King-I’m-walking-through-dark-woods-New England-is-creepy way), I would make sure to have my phone out or unlocked and just scroll through my phonebook. It provided light and I figured that in a worst case scenario, I could just press call, no matter who I was on, and someone would get a frantic call / voicemail or at least a missed called.

      • This is interesting, because I’m pretty sure I live in the same city as you, I also work downtown and take the LRT to & from work every day. However, if I work past 6 I always take a cab because ‘my’ LRT station (I work east of you) makes me very nervous after 6pm, especially in the winter when it’s dark. Once I’m out of downtown I feel safe, but that one LRT station makes me nervous. Thankfully I generally only have to worry about it at month end, and my company is more than happy to pay for my cab when I need it. Oh, and I always call my dh after I get in the cab to let him know I’m leaving & when to expect me home, as much for him as for the cab driver, I think.

    • I would amend this – only take a licensed cab. In NYC call a respected car service or use a yellow cab. Never let a random black sedan pick you up.

      • Oh yeah, if its not a yellow cab with a license showing, I’m not riding!

    • SF Bay Associate :

      Am I the only person irrationally scared of taxis? Getting into a car with a stranger totally creeps me out. All those movies where a serial killer turns out to be a cab driver are not helping. Do cab drivers go through background checks? How often? I’m totally crazy, right?

      • Once I got into a cab with some of my homies and it quickly became clear that the cabbie was either wasted or tripping b*lls. He was yelling incoherently about crazy stuff, swerving all over the place, and being overall erratic.

        Fortunately, it was a short trip and we all survived. Hooray!

        • I used to be a lawyer at the NYC taxi agency! They are monitored very strictly for arrests etc. and get the license revoked for any main offense so it’s pretty tight for the yellow cabs- it’s fairly rare for bad things to happen. That said, on a personal level, I agree- it can be creepy.

  10. Does anyone use an antioxidant serum on their face before applying makeup? If so, what does it do, and what kind do you use?

    I’ve heard about this practice, and I’m wondering whether it’s something I should try.

  11. (1) Educate yourself, and train. Take self-defense courses, on a regular basis (you don’t learn how to play tennis in a one-off two hour seminar, do you?). Get/stay in shape (everyone always stresses the running away component, but how about the fighting off an attacker who is 2x your size and has you pinned to the ground? You’ll lose half your gas in the adrenaline dump, so you need to make sure you have as much gas in your tank as possible, ground fighting is no joke).

    (2) Remember that you will be held accountable for the level of force you use in response to the situation. Educate yourself about the laws in your jurisdiction, and make sure you are justified in your response. I have nothing but respect for the majority of our law enforcement officers, but when they respond to the scene, you want to speak to your lawyer first. Period.

  12. I completely agree with The Gift of Fear and would also recommend Her wits about her : self-defense success stories by women. Edited by Denise Caignon and Gail Groves and published in 1987. It is a bit out of date but gives lots of examples of different VERBAL self defense techniques as well as physical ones.
    I’ve taught self defense and agree that without routine practice it is difficult to retain some of the physical techniques. A good class though should expose you to some different scenarios so that you don’t panic, panic less and can overcome your panic. The first time someone puts their hands around your neck, most people panic.

    *Situational awareness is key
    *Verbal techniques and posture should be your first line of defense; be willing to be rude to protect yourself
    *Strike with your elbows (preferred) or a hammerfist to protect yourself and hit harder
    *Groin strikes are expected. If one presents itself then go for it, but be aware of other targets (knees, top of foot, throat, eyes, nose, temple, hinge of jaw, fingers)
    *Groin strikes need to be upward, not in.
    *If you get knocked to the ground you still have options: kicking, knees, elbows etc
    *Small joints feel sharper pain, use your big muscles against their small ones. For example, your whole strength against their pinky finger

    • Yes to all of the above.

      My tae kwon do instructor is actually against any kind of groin strike for self defense. His take: it rarely disables, and all it does is piss off your attacker more. Better to strike a target that can disable or delay, such as the ones mentioned (knees, throat, eyes, etc.).

      • If you do this then you are giving up a great target in defending yourself !

        There is a highly effective way of attacking a mans groin which is so effective that it’s even being referred to as “The NO-FAIL self defense technique for women and girls”.

        My oldest sister Karen, who is a womens self defense instructor trained in Krav Maga, teaches women that if they squeeze a mans testicles hard enough he will become immediately immobilized and freeze in agony before becoming unconscious in under 8 seconds. Importantly, it doesn’t matter how big and strong a male attacker is for it to be effective, and just about any woman or girl are more than capable of being successful with this move. She knows a teenage girl who recently fought off a man who had a long history of violence against women when he tried to rape her. She waited for the right moment to strike before grabbing and rupturing both of his testicles and he was still incapacitated and unable to stand up when he was arrested. He is now serving a 25 year jail sentence.

        For this technique to be effective it’s best to quickly snatch the testicles and make sure that your fingers are locked around the top of at least one testicle before simultaneously squeezing, twisting and pulling as hard as you can on either one or both testicles – DON’T LET GO!!! This is easiest to do in a sex attack when the attackers testicles are likely to be exposed at some stage leaving him extremely vulnerable.

        I agree with my sister Karen that ALL women and girls should have it in our armory and share it with others as it’s such an effective self defense technique. Many women in recent years have successfully used this technique to successfully defend themselves.

  13. Also, most people are scared of the “stranger jumping out of the bushes” scenario but 77% of rapes (latest figure I heard) are committed by someone the victim knew.

    Be willing to speak up to the person at the party who insists on standing too close, the coworker who insists on walking you to the parking garage even though you feel uneasy with him, the roommates’ friend etc.

    • A couple years back there was an absolutely heartbreaking Dan Savage letter written in by a girl who was raped by an ex-boyfriend who didn’t want to take no for an answer and was holding her down, etc., and she eventually gave in “not to cause a fight” or something. She seemed genuinely distraught that she had cheated on her boyfriend. All because she didn’t feel empowered to say no and mean it…I may not be explaining it right, but it made me sad just thinking about it.

    • karenpadi :

      This. I was at a conference this weekend and some guy (he said he was a reporter with a side business) was standing just a little too close and setting off so many internal red flags. Unfortunately, I was in a situation where I couldn’t say no to giving him my business card.

      I don’t like it that he has my professional information but I doubt he’ll contact me for much more than a date. So I’m going to say no to that and, if he actually does want to engage my services as a lawyer, I think the conflict check is going to turn up a major conflict. ;-)

      • You can always say no. Simply say you are out and will take his

        • karenpadi :

          Actually, I was giving a card to someone else and had my card holder out, making my own cards visible. Our cards have a colored background that makes them distinctive so I couldn’t even fib that those were cards I collected from other people.

          • “shoot, got to save these for the next meeting, im always so bad about remembering to get enough! do you mind if I take yours instead? that way I can email you my contact info”

          • You could have still said no, and I would suggest doing so next time if you’re in that situation again. And I (very respectfully) disagree with cfm’s suggestions about how to say no politely. You don’t owe this guy any excuses. If you don’t want to give him access to you, don’t give him access to you. Who’s going to protect you if not YOU?

            If your gut is telling you this guy is “off,” then he probably is, and dealing with “off” guys is best done directly. Seriously, some guys take politeness from women as a sign that “no doesn’t REALLY mean no.” You ALWAYS have a right to deny access. This idea that we have to be nicey-nice and not hurt men’s feelings has got to go. Be direct so there is no doubt that you want NOTHING to do with him. Gavin de Becker’s book, THE GIFT OF FEAR, is excellent on this point.

          • AC if it were me, I wouldnt be nearly as nice as i suggested, I am very upfront about saying no. I gave a diplomatic response since it seemed like thats what she was looking for but I actually agree much more with what your suggesting

    • Yes. The stranger who jumps out of the bushes is extremely rare (not unheard-of; there was a rash of attacks on joggers in my city last year); it is, unfortunately, your circle of acquaintances that’s likely to be home to an attacker. The best reason to wear a RoadID isn’t a rapist – it’s being hit by a car, experiencing a sudden arrhythmia, etc.

      I’ve been running for 21 years, and I’ve never been assaulted while running, but I *have* been hit by a car and I’ve collapsed from hypoglycemic shock and been taken to the hospital while unconscious.

      • Tired Squared :

        Have also been hit by a car–and this was before I knew about the RoadID! Before then I kept a form of ID in my track jacket pocket, with an emergency contact taped to the back. That stuff is lifesaving.

        • Anastasia :

          Also hit by a car (on my bike). I was OK enough that I got up under my own power and stumbled home, but that was pure luck. This is why I have Road ID and also bought one for my mom, my sister, my husband, and my friends who go out running/biking/whatever alone without our wallets. Thankfully none of us have “needed” ours yet, but it makes me feel better to know it’s there, just in case.

          • MissJackson :

            One more plug for RoadID. I’m a big fan — they made one model that goes on your shoes/laces. That’s one less thing to remember when getting ready for a run (I always wear the same pair of running shoes).

            Also, a reminder that carrying an ID can’t replicate your RoadID. I have my mom and husband’s phone numbers on my RoadID. I also have my blood type, my DOB, and my medical history (you customize them, and include as much or as little information about yourself as you are comfortable with).

      • Worked in a big city trauma hospital. One of the most heartbreaking cases of my time there was a female runner, hit by a car (driver horribly upset — I think it was dark and raining) and she was carrying an iPod with no inscription and a single unmarked house key. She had a catastrophic brain injury, was well dressed and fit. We knew she had someone who loved her. We didn’t find them for over 48 hours. It just broke my heart, to think of that family, and the wife/mother who just. didn’t. come. home.

  14. I think about this stuff all the time as a woman who travels for business frequently, usually alone. I always carry my keys in my fist, cover the peephole in my hotel room door with a post-it note, ask hotel desk clerks for two keys so they might think I’m not alone (maybe this one is just sad, but it probably can’t hurt, and if I lose one I still have a spare), double bolt the door, and I’ve developed a pretty gruff “don’t talk to me” demeanor unless I’m in the office.

    When this topic occasionally comes up with men, it surprises me how effortlessly they seem to move through the world. I have only had one ever nod in understanding, and he was a child abuse survivor. Most look at me like I’m a paranoid freak. I always tell them there are two ways they can help: 1) Don’t attack women (or men for that matter) and 2) Call out any jerks around you who are making women uncomfortable.

    • You should give clueless guys a printout of this post (linked above, but I’ve read it before and loved it):

  15. I find it helpful to remember that stranger violence is quite rare and has been declining for decades, as well as that men are twice as likely to be the victims of robbery as women. As for sexual violence, women are almost always raped and sexually assaulted (90+ percent of the time) by men they already know and frequently know very well indeed. I try to live my life with a little basic caution but without excessive fear and remember that much of the “safety tips” etc. distributed by email forwards and the like are basically useless and amount to only 1. a template to potential attackers to know who to look for so that the victim will be blamed, i.e. “she was drinking!” “she shouldn’t have been in that neighborhood!” etc. and 2. a message to women (and these things always target women despite the above statistic) that it is dangerous for us to be alone in public spaces, and that we are not and should not expect to be as free as men.

    The Gift of Fear is a good one though, I hear great things about that.

    • This. While some degree of caution may be prudent, it’s important to remember that the person who perpetrates a crime, not the victim, is the one responsible for the outcome. In many ways, tips like these distract from the real source of the problem. Of course, you want to control what you can control, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think the best advice is this:
      – Don’t be afraid of making a scene
      – Don’t stay in relationships that feel wrong or dangerous, or that have the potential to get dangerous

  16. This one is from my mom: always know where you can run to. Obviously, more of a walking home late/somewhere sketchy kind of deal, but when I am walking home I always keep in mind the 24 hour delis, the doorman buildings, the late night drugstores, etc.

    Also, if you’re in NYC, the middle train car is where the conductor rides. If you’re on the train, this is the best one to be on (particularly, when train is empty or going somewhere questionable.

    Finally, don’t panic. You need your wits about you in case of trouble and I think that the importance of staying calm really cannot be overstated.

    • I second the “ride in the car where the conductor is.” In DC, it’s the front car, so I always ride up there when it’s late at night.

  17. Snarky In House :

    Cabs are a great idea… BUT… you need to take precautions with them too, especially if you’re alone and/or drunk. Make it a habit to text someone the cab ID when you get in the cab and then text them when you’re home. That way, if they don’t get the second text, they’ll know something is up. Sadly, I know of someone who was raped by her cabbie one very late night…

  18. Cats Ahoy! :

    This is a fantastic post and, for me, very timely, since I just spent a week not sleeping and having my heart pound out of my chest while listening to my cats make noises that sound like people breaking into my house while my husband was away on business (I never used to be this way – I get worse as I get older).

  19. For me, it’s about being safe at home. All of my downstairs windows are barred and I have the proper bolts on every door and one of those things that goes under the door knob on my back door. The other thing is that every time I read about someone being robbed on the street in my neighborhood (or nearby), it’s a student out at 2 a.m. I generally do not go out late by myself. If I do, I’m very careful to leave the porchlight on, and a light inside the house, and I check the street before I get out of the car. If I see someone who makes me uncomfortable, I don’t get out of the car. I am also careful not to leave anything of value in plain view in my car. I am very cognizant of my surroundings and try not to be distracted by the phone/texts/email.

  20. Stay out of an arms reach from any potential attacker. Seriously, if you are a good 5 ft away from a passerby they can’t lunge for your purse without giving you time to react. One time a normal looking man seemed nice, and acknowledged me and said hello. So I didn’t move away and walked right by him. He tried to grab my bag, I pulled it out of the way, then he grabbed me. I was able to push him off and run, but I should have never passed so close to him.

    Cross the street if you need to if a situation doesn’t feel right.

  21. Snarky In House :

    Also (sorry for posting twice – I meant for the other one to be a reply above – argh)…

    Along with appearing confident and aware, LOOK PEOPLE IN THE EYE. Someone who’s waiting for their victim is less likely to attack someone who they initially make eye contact with. SOmething about being “remembered” maybe?

    • This has worked out poorly for me in some situations. There is a corner that I can’t avoid between my workplace and my parking garage, and the men there love to make super inappropriate comments at the young women walking by. It’s starting to get cleaned up, but the men there will still say things if they know they have your attention. Eye contact here means that you will be inappropriately cat-called. Its better now if I just pretend like they don’t exist while trying to stay aware of where they are in relation to me.

      • I don’t recommend this, but one unforgettable experience for me was watching my (tiny! brave! possibly foolish!) friend take on a construction site…we walked by, the catcalls started, I started to walk faster. She stopped cold, faced the men, and very sternly yelled: STOP IT. I DON’T LIKE IT, AND NO WOMAN LIKES IT. JUST STOP IT. Dead silence from the men. She turned and we walked on. This particular site was in my normal path, and I never heard another peep for the length of the construction project.

        • I had a similar experience running one day. I get yelled at by men in pickups a lot, and one day I snapped, turned, and yelled at the guy that he was being disrespectful, I wasn’t a dog to come when he called, and so on. He pulled up beside me a minute later, apologized, and said he’d never thought about it that way before. Score one for the forces of light!

          With that said, this all happened on a busy street in broad daylight, maybe 25 feet away from the entrance to a hospital, so the stranger danger factor was extremely low. I would never have done that if it was dark or in a less-populated area.

  22. I used to take a weekly karate-type self defense class in high school and the points I remember were:

    – Be prepared for the person to say horrible words to you, but don’t let that intimidate you. They’re just words. Our instructor’s point was that statistically women are more likely to be abducted by someone without a weapon than by someone with it – don’t let yelling, disorientation or simply swear words scare you into doing what they want.
    – Don’t ever go to a second location – it will only get worse at the second location. Do everything you can to get away, even jump out of a car or trunk if you have to.
    – Make up your mind that you are willing to do anything you can to get out of the situation. Women are trained to hold back and not inflict harm, but if your life is at risk, resolve to completely destroy the person attacking you.

    • I always say I would rather die right there on the street than get in the car to a second location. let them shoot me right there out in the open rather than take me away.

  23. Another one I thought of, use anti-bump locks for your deadbolts at home. That way once you lock yourself in you set the anti-bump and the lock cannot be picked.

    Be willing to use other people to help you. Enlist others and make a scene to drive the attacker away.

  24. Don’t be squeamish about inflicting pain on someone ~ if you’re threatened enough that you feel you need to resort to physical defense, don’t pull back. Clawing at someone’s eyes or kicking someone’s kneecap in is going to challenge your instinct not to hurt others (and might be really gross) but you have to commit to it and not do it half-a$$ed if you want to be effective.

    If someone is slashing at you with a knife, block with the outside of your forearms, not the inside – you want to avoid exposing sensitive areas like your palms and veins.

  25. MissJackson :

    This is timely for me.

    I am a city-dweller, who takes public transit to and from the office — during rush hour in the morning and usually well after rush hour in the evening.

    Anyway, I was recently mugged at a bus stop, in broad daylight, during rush hour in the morning, with like 10 other people standing within a few feet. I screamed like hell, but had no other instinct (the guy grabbed me and kind of wrestled me for my stuff — it didn’t initially register that he wanted my belongings, and wasn’t actually just attacking me).

    It was eye-opening. But, I wonder if I were actually trained whether it would have made any difference? The whole thing happened so quickly that I don’t feel like I had time to react at all, except by instinct (mine, is, apparently to scream bloody murder — had no idea I was capable of making that kind of noise). I feel incredibly lucky that he only wanted my stuff, and that so many other people were around to help give discriptions to the police.

    I don’t have any real advice, I guess. Just glad to see this topic.

    • “But, I wonder if I were actually trained whether it would have made any difference? The whole thing happened so quickly that I don’t feel like I had time to react at all, except by instinct…”

      Yes. The longer you train, the most instinctive your responses to given situations become. It becomes muscle memory. If you were actually trained, it definitely would have made a difference. I’m not knocking you at all, just saying that training really does make a difference.

      • MissJackson :

        That’s reassuring. Any thoughts on how much training is necessary for the “right” reactions to become instinct?

        • I teach self-defense classes several times a week, and most of our students train with us multiple times a week for months. I would say that for the first several weeks, everyone looks terrible. I know I did when I first started! People can’t remember the moves because it is completely new to them (not to mention the shock factor of holy sh*t this person has their hands around my neck/has me in a bear hug/headlock/just tackled me). But after a while, it just “clicks”. And the improvement is striking!!

          How fast it clicks varies from person to person.

          For sure, some training is better than none. My main problem with 2 hour one-off seminars is that I think it imparts false confidence, and I don’t like the teaching methodology of some of them. Yes, a lot of women feel more comfortable training with other women. They don’t want some strange man on top of them, holding them down. Fair enough. But me personally, I’d rather my training be realistic. Statistically, you aren’t going to get jumped by a woman who isn’t aggressive. You’re worrying about the aggressive man twice your size, and you need to train for that.

          • MissJackson :

            Thanks. I’m going to look into a class along the lines of what you teach. So far all I’ve seen are classes that are just a couple hours — and I can’t imagine that two or three hours is going to be sufficient for all of the reasons that you describe.

        • I don’t teach self defense courses that are less than 15 hrs, personally, since I want to allow for several days of repetition. Practicing for a few months at least is ideal to begin to develop muscle memory.

          Martial arts classes are great and I love my jujitsu, but most don’t have the same focus as self defense courses.

          • Second. Martial arts classes are great but involve more fine motor skills – harder to master, harder to pull off under stress. Also, on the street, you don’t want to be on the ground if you can help it (broken glass/pavement, difficulty of dealing with multiple attackers, etc).

      • anonymous :

        Maybe, but someone about to commit a crime has a big advantage. He (almost always a “hel) is usually drunk or on drugs and has been thinking intensely about the possibility of hurting someone. I imagine it takes several seconds for a normal person taken unawares to respond. I suspect it’s also not as easy to inflict serious injury on someone as one might think — I’m talking about the psychological aspect, not the physical one.

        Police officers and soldiers are trained to respond to this kind of stress. We aren’t.

        • My point was that training involves conditioning yourself to respond to this kind of stress precisely so that you don’t freeze.

    • anonymous :

      My concern is that I wouldn’t be able to scream. When I was a child I foiled a burglar who was breaking into our apartment. I kept telling my mother we had to investigate a noise up front. She kept saying it was nothing. (Stupid b___).

      When we got up front and saw a man in the process of breaking in I opened my mouth and nothing came out. I was as shocked by my reaction as by the burglar. I picked up a vase. My mother turned on a light and he ran.

      I dropped out of a self-defense class in college because I was afraid that the instructor, a man who was a lot bigger, would inadvertently hurt me.

      So I counsel avoidance. I have lights burning at all hours. That may have put off a rapist who hit a lot of single women’s apartments on the street I was living. I also am always aware of my surroundings. If I were to meet a stranger, I’d send at least one person an email with the details.


      Your friend is clueless and I hope he reads these responses. Call it “Male Privilege.”

    • Miss Jackson, I too was mugged in broad daylight with other pedestrians around. I was shocked at my instinctual reaction, and think it was most likely a very bad one. I was holding my purse by its strap down by my side. (Huge no-no obvs.) A guy on a skateboard rode by me. I felt a tug on the purse and held on tightly. That was just instinct, I didn’t know until I looked down and saw his hand that I understood what was happening. I guess my grip was tight, as it knocked the guy off his skateboard and onto the sidewalk, where I proceeded to pummel him over and over with my bag as I swore at him. He got up and ran off.

      What if he had a weapon? What if he attacked me? I’m stunned at my reaction and think that I got lucky that time. He just wanted the bag after all. How do we know when to fight and when to relent?

      The end of that story is what angers me the most. As the guy was running down the street I noticed a cop car driving towards me. I stepped out into the lane of traffic and waved my arms over my head signaling distress. The cops just drove right on by. Thanks LAPD.

      • I’m a PD and talk smack about cops a lot around the house (occupational hazard). My mom always complains and says, “You know, what if YOU need a cop one day?” Your story (and the stories I have of the incompetence of the police whenever I or my family members have been victims) is my response. I’m really sorry about what happened to you.

    • Anon for This One :

      I have always had a fear that if anything happened, I would need to yell/scream and my voice would be silent. A few years ago, I attended a great class (check out RAD). A few months (maybe a year later), I was threatened by a guy that I knew (very long story). Without thinking about it, I responded in a very gruff voice “GET BACK,” threw my belongings to the ground and was ready to run. (I was fine.) I was shocked and later very reassured that when in doubt, my voice was there, I was calm and the training helped.

    • MaggieLizer :

      So, so sorry this happened to you. Are you OK?

      • MissJackson :

        Thanks. I am okay — I had some bruising/swelling/lack of feeling in my hand and fingers for awhile afterward because other than screaming, my reaction was to hold tight to my stuff (as I said, I hadn’t processed that he was even trying to take my things). In the struggle, he basically squeezed my hands until I let go. No permanent damage.

        The long-term impact is that I am a much more aware of other people invading my personal space (I’ve nearly told off people in drug store lines twice because I feel like they’re too close to me). And I’m much more careful — I bought a purse with a cross-body strap, I don’t take out my phone in public areas, and I don’t turn my back to people if possible (I stand with my back to a wall as much as I can).

        CN, I’ve had several dreams where I run after the mugger and beat him to a bloody pulp :) I realize this is not recommended, but I’m kind of glad that you lived the dream so-to-speak (and that there were no bad consequences).

        • Haha- yeah, my friends now tease me that I’m a badass. I’m sorry you were hurt in the struggle- that sounds just awful. Thank goodness it wasn’t permanent. Be safe everybody!

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