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

self-defense tips2017 Update: We still stand by these self-defense tips for women, but you may also want to check out our more recent discussions on safety for professional women, including the best personal safety apps for women who live alone

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 — so, readers, what are your best self-defense tips? 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 self-defense tips?

Self-Defense Tips to Avoid Getting Attacked

  • 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.
  • self-defense tips for professional women: the key tipYou 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.

Self-Defense Tips 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 best self-defense tips — what are yours?  How often do you think of self defense?


  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

    • Heidi/The Closet Coach :

      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!

  26. One of the best things I’ve done recently is get a remote for my home alarm. It has a panic button on it, so if something happens between me getting out of my car and into my house, I can press it. I keep it next to my bed at night too in case someone breaks in.

  27. I always remember the “Don’t let them take you to a second location.” I think it was from an Oprah show years ago. I hope I never need that information, but I’ll always remember it.

    • My karate instructor always repeated that and had a story that drove it home: one of his students, a woman, was leaving Target when a man stole her car with her inside. He smacked her and shoved her toward the floorboards of her car. She was crouching there when she remembered not to go to a second location, so she kicked and screamed and clawed until the man shoved her out of the car, he decided she wasn’t worth it. Deciding to be “too much trouble” may have saved her life.

    • just Karen :

      With the “don’t let them take you to a second location,” the point that brought it home for me was that even if someone has a gun pointed at you, they are unlikely to use it on you in a parking lot, on the street, etc… and even if they do shoot at you as you run away, they are unlikely to hit you and even less likely for it to be lethal. Wherever they want to take you, the situation will only get worse. This makes sense to me, but I have no idea if it came from a reliable source…

      • for me, id rather die of a bullet than wherever they are taking me, so thats a chance i would take

  28. Timely! I’m getting ready to take that trip to South America where I’ll be solo for part of the time. I’ve done a lot of solo traveling and here’s what I’ve learned:

    – Don’t look lost. EVER. Even if you don’t know where you are and think you’re lost, stay calm and find a well-lit place to duck into to compose yourself. The second I think I’m not where I intended to be, I get what I call my “hard face” on and start walking purposefully, looking straight ahead.
    – As a corrolary to the above: don’t get lost. Plan your day. Stay aware. As women, we can’t always afford to just “wander the streets” of a charming city, at least not without knowing how to get out of said streets.
    – I live in a walking neighborhood of an urban big city, and I always walk home with what I call “key claws” – one key between my fingers, hand in a fist.
    – I’ll definitely cross the street or turn around/”pull over” if a man is behind me. Cross the street if a man is walking toward me.
    – I have a baseball bat next to my bed. Entry points to my place are noisy, plus I have a dog who barkes at strangers (particularly men), so there is little risk of someone getting into my bedroom without me knowing.

    Now, a question: sometimes when I travel, I wear a fake wedding band on my left ring finger, as if to suggest I have a husband and he could be right around the corner, so don’t mess with me, potential attackers! My married friend, however, who also has 2 young kids, says she always takes her wedding band OFF when she travels with her girlfriends because if she gets kidnapped, she doesn’t want them to know she has a family.

    Any thoughts on either of those choices?

    • Heidi/The Closet Coach :

      Agree with all of these.

      And here’s a former police officer’s perspective on the wisdom of using a baseball bat as a weapon against an intruder (if you absolutely are forced into a position of having to do so), particularly as opposed to a Taser or firearm:

      • AnonInfinity :

        I loved this article. I’m way to scared to have a gun in the house, so I sleep with a bat right beside the bed with the handle within reach (i.e., propped up against the wall). I’ve already identified a spot in my bedroom and one in my bathroom that I could crouch and use the element of surprise to jump up and clock someone over the head with it as they come into the room.

    • Maddie Ross :

      Do not do the “key claws” or otherwise intertwine your fingers in your keys. The idea in everyone’s head is that you will use them like Wolverine on an attacker but in reality, they can do more harm to you by grabbing your hand with the keys in between and hurting you thus keeping you from fighting back.

      I agree with the post above to have your keys out of your purse before you walk into the parking lot, but do not put them between your fingers. More harm than good.

    • Anonymous :

      I wear a fake band when traveling in an effort to drive off unwanted attention. If you truly fear the kidnapping/ransom situation, (1) maybe time to rethink that location! and (2) maybe taking off the ring couldn’t hurt. Something tells me taking it off is of limited value though…

    • I have traveled internationally extensively, in first, second and third world countries and all continents except south America. Both alone, with girlfriends and with my partner.

      When I have been married, I wear a band when I travel. When I have been single, I sometimes do and sometime don’t. But it was always a “fake for travel” very plain not expensive and not expensive-looking band. The last thing I need is someone believing I have any money (either for ransom purposes or so that my price negotiations are not as sucessful as I would like).

      I never considered that appearing married would increase the chances of ransom requests. (If that’s really a concern, and you have/want to go there, what about kipnap insurance?) I prefer to wear a ring in some locations even when I am single to avoid unwanted attention, most of which is probably harmless, but: (a) it is annoying, and (b) it could become harmful. I would say the pro of wearing a ring to avoid unwanted attention is, for me, more important than the con that it indicates I have a family who wants me released. First, I *do* have a family that wants me released and I want to be released. Second, even if I were not married, I would still have a family who wants me released and with whom my kidnappers would be in contact.

    • Wearing a wedding band / taking it off may have limited application, depending upon where you travel. Different countries and societies have different traditions for indicating marriage (in a lot of countries, the wedding ring is worn on the right hand instead of the left hand). Ultimately, you may not be projecting the image you think you are.

      It is more important to make sure that you are not wearing flashy jewelry, including fake flashy jewelry. This applies just as much to your earrings (diamond studs, anyone? how many men do you think can tell the difference between diamond and CZ from a distance? Sometimes replacing with fakes does not add to your safety…), necklaces, bracelets, etc.

  29. I second previous commenters who said:

    1) try to stay sufficiently aware that no one threatening ever gets close enough to touch (often victims forget their physical self-defense tips in the moment – I certainly forgot.) I don’t carry pepper spray because I should never be close enough to use it and I don’t want it used against me.

    2) look bitchy. keep your phone and keys handy.

    3) resolve ahead of time to *really hurt* someone. This takes mental practice. You need to be mentally ready to inflict serious damage, because we’re conditioned not to.

  30. anonymous :

    I often have to take the Manhattan subway 2 a.m. and walk home a couple of blocks. I’m never happy about it, but I live in a pretty safe area with 24-hour convenience stores and doorman buildings and in any event, I can’t afford to take cabs. My tips:

    If you’re on the street late at night, pointedly turn your head every few minutes, to signal that you are surveying your surroundings and cannot be taken by surprise.

    Walk in the middle of the street in the opposing direction of traffic if necessary. Don’t stay on the sidewalk where someone could pull you into a car.

    Look like someone they don’t want to f__ with. This is hard if you’re scared. Fake it.

    Scream first, apologize later. (Never done it, but wouldn’t hesitate.)

    Men ought to know why women on the street late at night are super-cautious and not get offended if they cross the street. The ones who pretend to be upset are more often than not trying to start something.

    Don’t wear high heels. Wear footwear that you could run in.

    • ohmydarlin :

      I have a “don’t f__k with me” face that I put on!

    • Agree on the above, my similar advice:

      Walk through the most open, well lit and populated path to your destination.
      Mentally prepare for how you would respond to a threatening situation
      Visualize getting to your destination safely
      Be tough and no-nonsense in your demeanor
      Change your path to avoid situations that don’t seem right to you – no justification needed
      Be completely alert
      If someone is following you go to a public place and call for a ride – don’t let them follow you home and see where you live
      If you need to review a map, safest to go to the bathroom and look at it so no-one can tell you are unsure

      • anonymous :

        Agreed, and if you leave someone’s home and don’t feel safe return. Get them to call you a cab or escort you to safety even if you have to borrow money from them to do it.

        I know two people, one man, the other a woman, who were mugged because they didn’t use basic commonsense or rely on their instincts. Fortunately, all they lost was money.

        If you walked into Central Park were followed by people who you thought wanted to mug you and got someone to escort you back to the perimeter would you tempt fate by walking back five minutes later?

        If you left a party and someone crossed the street after you twice, wouldn’t you:

        1) Get out of there like a bat out of hell;
        2) Return to the apartment or duck into a doorman building;
        3) At least not let the mugger get right behind you?

        But of course fear acts on us in different ways.

  31. Anastasia :

    Along these lines, how do you all feel about keeping guns in your house? In a general sense, assuming no young children, and forgetting about specific state laws. My dad keeps guns, but they were always locked away in his gun safe when my siblings and I were young.

    My husband is adamant that he wants a pistol when we move to a single-family house (as opposed to an apartment with interior hallways and a 24-hour concierge). He wants to keep it in the nightstand, with the ammo but not loaded. I’m not sure whether I’m ok with this. I’ve heard that guns are as likely to injure their owners as an intruder, but the Oklahoma mom protecting herself and her baby with the 12 guage and a pistol last month got me thinking.

    • Heidi/The Closet Coach :

      You may find this perspective interesting:

      Quora has a lot of other fairly thoughtful discussions about firearms and self defense as well.

      • Anastasia :

        Thanks for that link! I like the baseball bat. Much less potential for accidental grave bodily harm than a gun, and I already have one in the closet. :)

        My husband is a good shot — we’re a long way from “enthusiasts,” but we shoot more often than most city-dwellers (mostly with my gun-loving dad) and can both handle guns safely. Still, I’m not sure I like the idea of having a gun next to my bed. And for all DH’s assurances that he’ll teach our future children gun safety from birth, if there are children in the house, the guns will obviously be in a locked gun safe.

    • The big question for me would be, is your husband willing to put in the time (initial training plus fairly frequent practices) to use a handgun safely and effectively?

      • This. Times a bajillion.

      • THIS – but you should, too. The last thing you need is to say “Ugh, I never want to touch the thing,” get into a situation where you do reach for it – and not know how to use it at all.

      • Mountain Girl :

        And are you willing to put in the time necessary as well. There would be nothing more frightening than knowing there was a firearm in the nightstand but not knowing how to use it (if you were alone of DH was injured, etc.) If you are going to have a firearm in your house you BOTH need to know how to use it.

        DH is in law enforcement. When we got married I despised guns but living with an officer they are all over the house. He trained me to use it and we do practice at the firing range so that my skills stay up to par. Make sure you know how to use it.

    • I am in a similar situation–we don’t currently have any firearms in the house, but would seriously consider it once we are in a single-family house. DH is very comfortable with guns, I am not opposed and would take a course (any reccs for DC area?), plus I imagine we would go shooting more often if we actually owned a gun. So, I’m curious to see the responses.

    • I have a revolver and a shotgun and took classes for both. Most ranges now have special “ladies” classes that have only women in them. Each class is 3-5 hours and I took the beginning and intermediate for each type of firearm. I also spend some time at the range each year maintaining my skills and practicing.

      I don’t conceal carry, it’s just too awkward for me. But I do keep the guns accessible in the house. (No kids). After two women in the nearby Big City were attacked in their sleep (raped and one murdered) my SO went from “Omg I can’t live with a gun in the house” to “How do I use that thing?”

      I live in a safe little suburan area and I know all my neighbors and walk my dogs daily. Sometimes in the dark. I bought a little stun gun/flashlight off Amazon. Mostly I use the flashlight but the stun gun does make a fairly satisfying “sizzle” sound when I hit the button so it should startle someone. Like I said, I know all my neighbors and would be comfortable running up to any of their doors if I thought I was in danger.

      If you are going to get a gun go take a class..or 3. Don’t buy anything until you’ve fired it a number of times and are comfortable. And plan on taking an annual brush up class and 1x-2x a year of practice.

    • I have taken a few of the NRA’s introductory classes after a scary incident with an acquaintance who tried to force his way into my house several years ago. I am still not comfortable enough with guns to buy one and keep it in my house, but after that encounter, I know I would need something more than a baseball bat or taser to fend off someone determined to do me harm if he did get in the house.

      The biggest thing I’ve learned so far – guns are a lot of work. You need to clean them regularly, which involves taking them apart and putting them back together. Even the expensive ones are not 100% reliable and if they are dirty or put together incorrectly, they might not work when you most need them to.

      Personally, I would need to be handling the gun at least weekly (cleaning, practice shooting) to feel confident that it would provide security in an emergency, and I’m just not that ready to commit to that yet.

  32. anon for this :

    I’m glad this topic was brought up because it’s been weighing heavily on my mind lately. I work on a university campus and twice in the last month, a transient has broken into our building. The first time, he was asking three of us really weird questions and making several of us uneasy. He was carrying a giant duffel bag and even though he wasn’t being violent, the whole situation felt … not right. Two of my male coworkers escorted the gentlemen out. Neither thought it was necessary to call the campus police. I told them both I was going to call, and I could tell they thought I was being slightly paranoid, but agreed that it wouldn’t be a bad idea, just in case. The second time this guy showed up, he made it all the way to the second floor of our building, where he started verbally harassing two female workers. Somehow one of the women managed to trick him into leaving her office so she could lock the door and call the police. The same male colleague escorted the gentleman out of the building again. In hindsight, he admits this wasn’t the smartest thing to do. The disturbing part is that several of my coworkers saw this stranger walking through the building and blew it off, saying, “Oh, I thought it might be a professor!” (Because professors usually carry duffel bags the size of a small child?!)

    The whole situation was frightening and thankfully our managers are taking it seriously. They lined up a safety training session last week. All but three men skipped the session. I overheard several saying that all that training stuff is just common sense, blah blah blah. The two guys who were with me when the first incident happened were among the people who skipped — and it wasn’t because they had meetings. They just didn’t want to go. :( Well, geniuses, you should’ve attended because you failed the first rule of common sense, which is to trust your instincts when strangers start walking through your building!

    I was livid, frankly. After I had time to cool down, I let my boss know that I was upset about the lack of participation and felt that the campus safety officers actually had some really valuable information about situational awareness, overcoming fear in weird situations and feeling OK about acting rather than standing by and hoping for the best. I wasn’t even going to mention the male/female thing, but my manager was pretty adamant about knowing as many details as possible about who wasn’t participating. I didn’t name any names, except to mention the men who DID take it seriously enough to attend. So, management is looking into getting more training, in addition to looking into other security precautions.

    I hate being a rat, but I’m more than OK with putting community safety before politeness. It must be nice to be *so sure* of your brute strength that you don’t have to stress out about what you might do if an intruder became violent …

    • Sorry to hear about this situation. Their lack of concern has already put you and your coworkers in jeopardy. I applaud your “rat”titude!

    • University Counsel :

      I am counsel to a university. One of my clients is our campus’s Chief of Police. Please do not hesitate to call them if there is a next time. Not only is that their job, but they are happy to help you, do a good job, and may need to know about this guy’s activity in your building to stop activity he may be doing somewhere else on campus.

      Don’t be shy.

    • That sounds shockingly similar to this situation

      and I can’t believe anyone in your building is so insensitive as to make light of it. You are right for taking it seriously.

  33. A Navy SEAL told me to use an upward palm thrust to the base of the nose. That will shut most folks down for the day. Also, try a sharp punch to the area directly below the collarbone or boxing the attacker’s ears.

    Some other tips to keep in mind:
    1) The elbow is the sharpest (and strongest) point on the body. Use it whenever you can–and with force.
    2) Most bystanders will react/respond when they feel in danger themselves. Instead of yelling “help” or “rape,” yell “FIRE” to catch the attention of people nearby.
    3) I second the point about avoiding being taken to a second location. Your chance of getting away unscathed is greater if you fight like hell to avoid being taken.
    4) Be aware of your movements. Try to avoid moving in predictable lines throughout your day (run random errands on your way home from work, mix up your weekend running route, etc.)

    Remember–the best defense is an awesome offense! Cheers!

  34. I took a Judo-based self-defense class a few years ago that taught us some pretty effective yet simple techniques:

    1. Hard to explain, but if you are grabbed face-forward, twist your arm around his from the inside out (clockwise for right, counterclockwise for left) quickly. It will cause him to lose grip because his arm can’t bend that way. It has worked every time I’ve practiced it! This also works with your legs if you are being dragged–just start twisting and rolling.

    2. We talked about the key technique, but another option is punching or slapping the Adam’s apple. You can pretty easily cause someone to pass out that way.

    3. We were taught an awesome maneuver for a running attack from head-on, but it will be hard to explain here. When he reaches you, very quickly tuck your forearms around his elbows and fall backwards. Simultaneously tuck in your knees to make contact between your feet and his stomach/chest. Fling him over you backwards as you somersault. This was an awesome one to practice!

  35. Anon for now :

    I need the hive’s career advice. This is not related to law or high finance.

    I am one of the high functioning individuals who need a change of scenery every 3-4 years. I’ve been in my current job for 4 and am starting to feel restless despite overt success, promotion to middle management, and inclusion into my boss’ succession plan. Without going into more detail, the latter requires me to give a long-term commitment to stay where I am. I am the most suitable candidate; the boss counts on me and our relationship is close and honest. However, I dislike most of the rest of the components of the environment and feel that the best course of action for me personally would be to get out. I do managerial tasks well, but it’s the technical leadership and customer relationship where I am strongest.
    I work for a large company and an internal move would be possible and even desirable; however, I need to disclose any such plans to the boss early on, i.e. make it clear that I am looking, and renege on my verbal commitment. It is hard to do this to a person that I like and respect; I am also afraid that this may taint my record with the company.
    All the workplace advice I’ve read says to put my needs first because no one but myself is really committed to… myself. However, I have never had a boss/mentor as good as this one and while this person is mature and understanding, I would feel bad letting them down.

    Your thoughts?

    • Seattleite :

      If you are in a position that doesn’t suit you *personally,* you are unlikely to perform at your best. Ultimately, that’s bad for the company. We don’t owe it to anyone to stay with companies that aren’t good fits, any more than we should stay with boyfriends who are nice guys but just not doing it for us.

      Just own it. “I feel like I’m letting you down, but I cannot in good conscience commit to XX years at this company/this job description.” Maybe it will open discussion as to how a succession plan could be tailored to your strengths, if you’re open to staying with the company.

  36. Sydney Bristow :

    I totally agree with the trust your guy advice. Recently I was sitting across from someone who was robbed as I was sitting there. My spidey sense was tingling and I turned the volume on my iPod all the way down so I could try to hear what was going on. A guy had walked up to stand in front of the guy across from me and I just had a bad feeling and it became clear that the standing guy was harassing the sitting guy. I have no idea if there was a weapon involved because the attacker was facing away from me. It happened pretty quickly but I was on alert and turned out to be right.

    I took a self-defense class for a term in college and the thing we regularly worked on was yelling. Make a ton of noise. Draw attention to yourself.

  37. Am I in the silent box? :

    Ladies, unrelated threadjack:

    I just came out of a meeting with 5 men (three business, one in-house counsel, one external counsel). I could NOT get a word in edgewise. I know it’s harder to do in big groups, but really, it felt very based on gender. I noticed that when I started to talk at the same time as someone, whoever was talking just kept right on talking. But when two of the others started at the same time, one or the other gave way pretty quickly. Also, more than once I raised an idea or a concern, and soon enough, it became someone else’s idea or concern (sometimes a good negotiation tactic, but here it just felt crummy).

    Any suggestions? What would NGDGCO say? I feel so disheartened!

    • It sounds like a gender thing, but not in the way you are thinking. You say when you started talking at the same time, whoever was talking just kept talking. But when two of the others started at the same time “one or the other gave way” You just allowed yourself to be the one to give way, everytime. Next time, just keep talking, or say “Excuse me Jim, I’m going to address this issue for a minute and then we can move to your point.”

  38. I wear a headlamp when I walk alone at night. It makes me look totally crazy, but I think that’s a good thing. : )

    • Also Anon :

      My sister is a big advocate of “make yourself seem as crazy as possible” if you feel uneasy in a situation, especially walking alone. Nobody knows how the unhinged might react.

  39. I want a J Crew coat :

    Desperately want to snag a J Crew Metro coat for $130… only problem is I don’t know my size. I recently tried on either a Metro or a Lady day in store (can’t remember which) in a size 6. It looked too big and felt too big. I definitely need a petite size (I am about 5’4), but my questions is: should I get a 6P or an 8P? Reviews I’ve read so far seem to suggest to size up, but most petite blogs deal with girls who are 00/0/2 P and I am definitely not that. Please mind hive, help… I want a beautiful coat for myself that fits. :'(

    • I am 5’4″, 115 lbs., and I have the Lady Day in a 4 (not 4P). It is none too loose, though I can get it on over a sweater with little trouble, and over a suit jacket if I give up on moving my arms. If I could do it over again, I might get a 6; I think the advice to size up is a good idea. In particular, it’s pretty tight across the shoulders and chest, so if these are bigger areas for you, definitely size up. If you’re pear-shaped (as I am), maybe get your normal size. Hope this helps!

    • J crew petite coats seem to have very short arms. I’m 5’2 and wear the regular coats – the petite coats don’t fit right on me.

  40. What are people’s thoughts on pepper spray? I go jogging in the early morning when not many people are out, and sometimes wonder if that would make me feel safer.

    • Get training on how to use the spray properly, so that you don’t get it blown back into your own face and you know the proper distance. I would advise learning how to use a small stick (yawara stick, kubotan) for self defense as well, since it is easy to learn and many pepper sprays can act like small sticks in your hand.

    • I’m not sure about pepper spray, but I would think twice about listening to music on your run even though I know that may be incredibly boring.

  41. anonymous :

    I took a RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) class while in school several years ago and was very happy with it. After several practice sessions, each student was “attacked” by an instructor (a male campus police officer) wearing padding so we could fight back with full force. Each student got two tries, and the second time the guy snuck up behind you and did various things to intimidate you. It was terrifying, but I am convinced I am now much less likely to freeze up in an emergency situation. If you don’t have time for ongoing martial arts classes, RAD is much more substantial than a single-session program.

  42. Anonymous :

    Don’t assume someone is safe because he is a classmate/fellow lawyer/fellow doctor, etc. Bad things happened between students in my college and in my law school. Remember, Ted Bundy was a law student.

    • This.

      Most attackers are people you know. Random violence is very uncommon. Acquaintance-violence is very common. As Kat says, constant vigilance.

    • I had a classmate ask me for drinks and then suggested sharing a bottle of wine back at his place. He must have thought I was insane!

  43. FallenAngela :

    Hi Ladies –
    I’m a long-time Corporette reader. I usually just peruse the comments (I learn so much for you chicks! Thanks!); however, felt compelled to chime in on this topic. My mother is a domestic violence investigator so she is constantly giving me self defense information. Her advice basically reiterates what’s been written so far, but there was one tip that has stuck with me. It’s a morbid one, but I think it’s important. She told me that if you feel like you won’t survive (or at a minimum, you will lose the struggle against your attacker and end up critically injured, unconscious, or unable to remember what has happened due to head injury) grab clumps of hair, get flesh under your nails and draw blood so that there is DNA on the scene. I hope no one is ever in that situation, but in my mother’s line of work (domestic violence, where unfortunately women return to their attackers time and time again) it’s an important message.
    And screw being polite! Take care of yourselves. Stay safe everyone.

  44. This is all great advice. I live in the suburbs so the only time I really find myself nervous these days is when I take my dog out at night if my husband isn’t home to do so. I always feel vulnerable in that situation and try to be super aware of my surroundings.

  45. I’ll add one I haven’t seen yet (sorry if it was already posted).

    When we took a quick self defense class in my sorority, they told us we should yell “FIRE” if we’re attacked and able.

    “Help” or other calls like that are likely NOT to get any reaction/assistance. However – FIRE affects everyone.

  46. LurkerHere :

    Longtime lurker here! First off, I’d like to say that Corporette really helped me a lot by giving me great interview tips for my first “real” job out of university (Marketing Analyst for a small IT firm), and gives me great reads during my coffee breaks.

    All good points here, I’ll share my two cents:
    The constant vigilance and keeping loved ones notified is a great way to prevent most things that could happen to you. Same goes for common sense measures such as hiding your valuables from plain sight (e.g. don’t read on your expensive iPad in a shady part of town, or, as Kat mentioned, hide your diamons palm-side down if possible), not listening to music/or otherwise be distracted in a shady/unfamiliar/deserted part of town.

    As for the when the preventative stuff unfortunately does not work and you get stuck in a situation where you are attacked – KEEP CALM. Make a lot of noise, and target key points which (for most women, who weigh less and are shorter than men, this is more effective) will give you time to escape. These points include, windpipe, arch of the foot, groin/crotch, eyes, palm of hand thrust into the nose upwards, the space between the ribs & sternum, between the eyes and the soft tissue of the stomach. My friend who is a level 3 blackbelt in taekwondo told me hitting these spots (even for those most self-defense challenged) will at least cause the attacker to pause in surprise, giving you time to escape or scream for help.

  47. This post strikes quite close to home with me, because my husband was attacked 2 weeks ago while walking to work. Two guys grabbed his shoulder (presumably to stop him while 3-4 of their buddies caught up). Without consciously thinking about it, he very quickly punched one in the face and swept the other’s legs out from under him. This provided just enough hesitation from the two of them that he was able to run like mad and get away. His experience taught me a few things:

    1. Constant vigilance (like everyone has said!)

    2. Sometimes you just have to surprise the attacker for a moment by fighting back, even if it’s not inflicting a huge injury. He said later that he didn’t think his punch or kick was hard enough to actually hurt someone badly, they just didn’t expect that he would fight back.

    3. Being able to run quickly for at least a couple of blocks is so important. This is not a get-in-shape lecture, but one of the first things he said to me was that he was glad he is in good shape.

    After he punched, kicked, and ran, the guys did not even attempt to follow him. I presume they went away to look for easier targets.

  48. FashionOnDuty :

    If you are attacked while other people are around apparently the most effective technique is to call upon one specific person for help. E.g. “hey, you in the red pullover, help me / call the police”. People are often unsure when to react (especially in situations like verbal fights that could happen between a couple as well as between an aggressor and you) and sadly, most think that somebody else is going to help you anyway. By “naming” somebody specific this person usually feels responsible for the situation and will be way more likely to help you. Plus, oftentimes, attackers are confused by this action/scared off and will abandon.

  49. I think my “don’t mess with me” face looks like a woman who’s trying to be tough caus she’s scared. I put on a self-confident face that says I’m totally at ease. I was pickpocketed once in Venice and put my hand in my pocket when I felt something weird there in Djibouti, & pulled out a dude’s hand with my cash in it! My travel companions took it from there–pretty funny, really. Another time, in the mid-sized city where I did my PhD, I had an assignment to write a description of, and then a longer research paper on, part of the city. I chose a “scary” street I’d biked through for months. People opened up to talk to me easily because they knew me by sight. Really, with all the places I’ve lived (Berlin at 3:00 a.m., anyone?), I credit acting like I could handle it for the not having anything worse happen to me than the two incidents above.

    At home, I’ve always lived alone. Never was as fearful as when I had a toddler. Used to have nightmares re him being stuck in our apt with my unconscious/dead body for days, and the effects that trauma would have on him. Thank heavens he learned how to open a can of beans! He’s 9 now and has been told that if anyone is in our house trying to bad things to me, he should go to a neighbors.

  50. FashionOnDuty :

    One addition to what I said before. I heard about a self defense technique that really intrigued me: use the attackers energy against him. Concretely, e.g. if he is pushing you against a wall, instead of pushing against him (which he is expecting and usually anyway not going to be very successful given the difference in muscle mass…) grab him and actually pull him towards the wall (just not on you). Given that the attacker expects the opposite reaction and uses all his force in this example he would hit the wall hard which gives you time to escape.
    (Maybe this is not the best example, but any situation of pushing or punching or whatever can basically be reverted like this.)
    I don’t remember the name of this type of self defense – would be great if someone could help out!

    • These are common techniques in judo/aikido/jujitsu/most other martial arts but not ones that I would expect a novice to employ in a panic situation. I would call the concept kazushi “offbalancing”.

  51. I don’t know if it will actually come in handy, but I take the subway every day and walk through several blocks of a bad neighborhood. I like to take my important personal items (cell, keys, and small card holder) out of my purse and keep them in my coat pocket. That way, if my purse is grabbed from me, they won’t get much more than the junk all women carry. Hope the lip gloss was worth the effort!

  52. As soon as I read the first paragraph of this post, I wanted to tell you guys about “Gift of Fear,” but the first commenter already had!! If you ever feel weird about following a “mere” feeling or hesitate when rebuffing someone who approaches you, read that book. As the author says, no decent man will approach a strange woman in public in the first place unless she really appears to be in distress (hit by a car or something). Don’t worry about being rude to a stranger who comes up to you with less reason than that. A male friend gave me this book because I am a typical woman who tries to be kind and friendly.

  53. Related question: has anyone had anxiety of the clinical sort related to this stuff? If so, how do you manage it while still being careful? I also had/have health anxiety and was convinced I was going to get melanoma. My therapist talked me off the ledge, but less than 18 months later, I was in fact diagnosed with melanoma (early stage). So there’s a part of me that feels very justified in my anxiety because it’s based around actually being prepared for real-world dangers (constant vigilance in re both safety and melanoma!), but at the same time, my brain is taking these “vigilant” thoughts to a compulsive and intrusive place. Thoughts?

    • Anxiety about real, but unlikely events is the hardest to tackle. If your anxiety is interfering with your functioning, quality of life, etc., then it’s a problem for you. Identifying what is a reasonable level of precaution to take (and what is a reasonable amount of risk to take) becomes crucial. For example, I drive to work every day. It is certainly possible for me to have a serious car accident driving to work. If I let anxious thoughts about that possibility overtake me, though, I’ll get to a point where I’m too anxious to drive or maybe even leave the house. On the other hand, if I didn’t use any precautions, I might drive unsafely, speed, not maintain my car, etc., that would increase my odds of being in an accident. The goal, instead, would be to find the middle ground of what reasonable precautions I should take to reduce my risk of an accident to the point where there’s an acceptable amount of risk I’m willing to take.

      Forgive the, quite likely, tortured analogy. And so sorry to hear about the melanoma dx — hoping you are healthy now.

    • Anon, my heart goes out to you. I have long struggled with anxiety related to these type of things. It took three therapists for me to discover what the true underlying cause of my anxiety was. The anxiety first manifested as health related concerns, and like you, a few months later, I had a real health issue. Then, the anxiety morphed into worries about violence. With each type of anxiety, I took concrete steps to address my concerns (full health exam and a great self-defense class) and then dove head first into tough therapy.

      These days, what keeps my anxiety in check is thinking about whether my concerns are founded: Walking home alone in the evening and I’m vigilant: yup totally normal. Worried about running mid-day through a well-populated area: nope not normal, go for the run, confront it and be fine. I worked alot with my therapist through these issues and it was tough but so very worth it.

  54. anonymous :

    I’m very cautious by nature and of course I have to make momentary assumptions to survive in the world. To keep me from discriminating unfairly, I prefer to be overinclusive in my conduct.

    So yes, I know that the middle class looking couple is probably not a security risk, if they don’t live in my apartment building and are at the door I politely ask them to wait for the doorman just as I would the Latino or Asian or black deliveryman (it’s always a man).

  55. After 11 years doing judo as one of the few women in the large-burly-man dojo, my best piece of advice is: take a self defense class. The confidence that it will give you (even if you don’t remember specific moves) is perceivable by would-be attackers making you a less attractive target. There are some other great things (knees are good, so is throat, eyes, anything squishy) as are mentioned above, but the confidence a class or two will give you means you’ll never have to try them out. Hopefully.

  56. I lived in a not-so-great neighborhood in Cambridge, MA during a time in my life when it was very common for me to be walking home alone very late. Here were my rules…
    1. Always have keys out
    2. If hair is in a ponytail, put it in a bun or take out the pony and tuck hair into shirt
    3. No earbuds!
    4. Walk in the street instead of on the dark sidewalk
    5. When a crazy guy tried to follow me home… duck into a store and walk around until he gets bored and goes away. Make sure he is not still following once you go outside.
    6. If you think someone is following you home, walk past your home/apartment.
    7. Never talk on the phone

    • Tired Squared :

      Curious about the ponytail/bun thing. Is that so your hair doesn’t make it obvious that you’re a woman?

      • I’ve heard that one too and it was because a ponytail is easy for an attacker to grab and hold you with. It’s harder to grab someone’s hair if it’s tucked into their shirt.

  57. When I was high school, I was the victim of an attempted mugging. Two young guys cornered me on my way home from an evening CPR class and asked for my messenger bag. I kicked one in the shin, tried to run, then bit the other guy in the hand, and started screaming. A nearby shop clerk came out and when they backed off, I took off running.

    I didn’t tell anyone at the time because I had no idea how you reported something like that and I felt ashamed. I did those things that they tell you NOT to do – walk alone late at night, ignore your surroundings, hold on to your things instead of giving them up, yell “Fire” for help- and I really didn’t want my parents to yell at me. I was young, stupid, and very lucky.

    So I’m glad to see this post, and read everyone else’s tips, but my answer to “will I remember this is a crisis?” is definitely a no.

  58. I took self-defense as my first PE credit in college. One thing that we were required to do, which has been invaluable to me as an adult, is change a tire on our own car in under 10 minutes in heavy rain. The idea was that if you were trapped in an isolated location at night, you wouldn’t be a “sitting duck” waiting for someone to stop to help you who might not be so nice. Of course, this was before cellphones were so common.

    Although I was never had a flat in a questionable area, at least twice, I have pushed my husband out of the way so I could quickly change the car’s tire and make a early morning meeting.

    Another thing we were required to do is listen to a recording of a woman who called 911 in Arlington, Texas, when a man broke into her house after her husband accidently left the garage door open. It was extremely disturbing listening to the woman get more and more freaked, particularly when the intruder finally entered her bedroom, but it really did make me much more aware of my securing my location when I am alone and of impressing on others, particularly my husband and father who don’t feel as threatened, about double checking locks and doors.

  59. I took a self defense class at college, and there were two things that really stuck with me:

    1) The “key as weapon” is only effective in one instance: you hold it between your thumb and first finger, similar to the way you hold a remote. That way it is a very, very effective jabbing weapon, especially in the eyes.

    2) To instantly wind your attacker no matter his size, you bend your fingers into your palm so that your hand and your first knuckle are in a straight line, and you essentially have a wall of hard knuckle that you can use. Throwing all of your arm strength behind this, while aiming at your attacker’s windpipe, will make him put his hands to his neck (reflex) giving you time to make a run for it.

    I would highly recommend taking a self defense class– it changed my everyday outlook from being a passive observer to an active, empowered female who has at least a degree of control over any situation.

  60. theEmocarebear :

    I have practiced martial arts for 15 years, and at the age of 19, I am confident in my ablities to take down any attacker I come across, or anyone who proves to be an issue.

    I highly suggest long-term immersement in a martial art to other women as well.

  61. Anonymous :

    It’s sort of sad to see a website full of intelligent brilliant women refuse to acknowledge the truth that most people freeze in unfamiliar situations. Most of us will freeze. It doesn’t matter if you’ve taken classes or always carry your keys in your fist. It doesn’t matter if your male or female (one study suggests that 50% of soldiers will not fire their weapons in their first fire fight — and the numbers were much higher before the advent of basic training.)

    I think these kind of posts hurt rape victims more than they empower women. Most women are raped by people they know. (The same way most children are sexually abused by immediate family members — all the Amber Alerts in the world won’t protect a five year old from his or her father.)

    The book “The Unthinkable” talks about this sort of freezing in emergency and disaster situations. When the ship MV Estonia sank survivors talked about how so many people just sat in their chairs in the dining room and just waited to drown.

    THAT is the normal human reaction. Posts like this just make rape victims think that they should have fought harder or done something when, in fact, most humans just freeze. I have a friend who can’t stand the sight of human bodily fluids (blood, vomit, etc.) and yet she believes when confronted in an assailant that she would be able to take down an attacker. This strikes me as setting herself up for huge guilt/trauma, because her expectations are unrealistic. Unless you’ve actually gouged out a living humans eyes or know how much pressure you have to apply to break a human bone, you have no business giving “safety” advice.

    Most of us — in all sorts of situations — have frozen and will freeze. That’s okay. It’s not your fault. If you freeze you didn’t “fail” to protect yourself. You didn’t fail as a person, a woman, or a feminist. It’s one of the things our brains do. And this sort of nonsense about how to kick people or what to carry or how ladies on television and in film (the vast majority of whom are written by men) fight back or take revenge, damages the psyches of the vast majority of victims of intimate violence.

    • I think this is a really important point. Thank you for sharing it. I know people freeze (fight or flight is good, but sometimes all those hormones can make you unsure how to react), and can’t even scream or fight back. You’re right it isn’t your fault if that happens.

      I have a dog. She barks at anything and scares the crap out of most people. I will rely on her to keep intruders at bay, and common sense to keep myself safe when I’m out. I walk with confidence, I rarely carry a purse when I’m out at night, and I scan my surroundings. There are easier targets out there. And I’m going to get a baseball bat for my bedroom! I have a huge maglite now but someone would have to be pretty close to me for that to do anything but blind them momentarily.

  62. This is such an important topic and one I probably didn’t take seriously enough, naively thinking that no one is out to hurt me. However, I have since learned just how naive I have been. About two years ago I went out with a man I didn’t know for a coffee date. The coffee shop was full so he suggested walking on the street and into a park. It was already getting dark and I was getting strange vibes, so after about 5 minutes in the park I insisted in heading back to a populated to “window shop.” He thought I was “uptight”, but thank goodness. His photograph was in the paper 6 months ago, accused of raping a woman in that same park. Absolutely horrifying to think that I put myself in that situation and that this happened to someone else in my neighborhood.

    It is said all over these comments, but trust your instinct and don’t think that it can’t happen to you.

  63. I agree with all these points except I would say if you are home alone and someone you don’t know comes to do the door. DON’T OPEN IT! You are totally vulnerable if that person just comes barging into your house. The only exception I would make is to sign for a package but then I’m looking for a truck and if it isn’t obviously a FedEx or UPS truck the door is not opened.

  64. Can anyone comment on dealing with situations where people are too chatty? I often have to tak e long bus rides and have been stuck multiple times next to people that won’t stop talking to me. I realize that it’s usually harmless (like the older woman that said I reminded her of her daughter and asked about my background) but am worried that I’m caught up in being polite when someone could have sketchy intentions. Recently a young guy would not stop talking to me and asking questions, even when I took a book out and started reading it. I just stopped responding to him, but obviously this was an annoying situation.

  65. Clueless summer :

    Jeez…I’m either too naive or too Canadian but I’ve never given any of this a second thought…

  66. I second all self-defense class suggestions. I’m not a big fan of the classes where they try to teach you all kinds of moves to get out of a situation. I’ll never remember that if I’m attacked. But these classes can give you more confidence, and more importantly, help you to get over the ‘freeze response’ faster, so you can go to ‘fight or flight’.

  67. My neighorhood blog just did this post with some helpful tips from the police on point.:

  68. I’ve read through the list of replies and I see several which state that going for the groin on a man may not be a good idea as it’s a move he may expects. 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.

  69. The absolute best way to walk away from an attacker is to end the conflict in the quickest way possible.
    This means striking first and striking the right spot! If you are being attacked you MUST assume the worst…they want to kill you. Learn how to stay alive at . Also, remember that attackers do not want a stuggle. They want an easy target. Confidence and preparedness will deter most threats! Stay safe!

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