He came up behind me and grabbed my left shoulder. I knew I had to act immediately. I whirled around and punched my attacker in the face with my free hand and delivered a hard, fast kick to his crotch with my right foot. As I ran and escaped from him, I kept screaming at the top of my lungs, “Stop it. Leave me alone! Get away from me!”
“Nice work,” the instructor said as he adjusted his padding. “Who’s next?”
Although it might seem a bit unusual for a “girls night out,” four of my friends and I decided to attend a Women’s Self-Defense class that was offered by our local police department last week. On the ride to the class we shared stories about being attacked or followed. One of my friends had been sexually assaulted in college as she walked from the library to her dorm late one evening. Another was confronted at gunpoint by a man and woman posing as a couple asking for directions while she and a friend walked to their hotel on a crowded city street while on vacation. And a third had been followed once in a shopping mall by a man with a hunting knife hanging from his belt.
[EDIT: OHNOES!] We all, like every woman we knew, had good reason to want to learn how to protect ourselves.
The instructor didn’t candy coat the facts. We are vulnerable. Attacks on women occur in the home, workplace, and school, while running errands and during leisure time activities such as shopping. Places where attacks occur most frequently include grocery store parking lots, stairwells in building and parking garages, public restrooms, and public parking garages. He said that attackers look for victims who are distracted and agreeable. Here are some of his tips for minimizing the possibility of getting attacked and fending off an attack away from and in your home:
When away from your home:
Be aware of your surroundings when you are out and about. Avoid doing things that distract you such as talking on your cell phone as you are approaching your car in a parking lot and listening to music with headphones when you run or take a walk.
Carry your keys in your hand when you walk from the building to your car. Don’t wait until you get to your car and then search through your purse for them.
Always keep your car doors locked while you are driving. Lock them immediately when you get in the car.
Before you unlock your car and get out of it in a parking area, look around you. If you see someone or anything that looks suspicious, find another parking space.
In lines of traffic, stay far enough behind the car in front of you so that you can fully see its rear tires at all times. This will give you plenty of space to veer into another lane if you have to.
Don’t be nice. If a stranger approaches you and asks for help with his or her bags or wants directions, just say “no” and keep on walking. Don’t worry about looking foolish or rude. This is a common ruse and exactly what happened to my friend who was approached by the gun-toting couple. She thought they looked nice enough until they pulled the gun on her.
If you are approached for your purse or wallet, throw it in the direction of the attacker and run in the opposite direction while you scream loudly. This is what my friend did when she saw the gun—that action saved her life. They instinctively went for the purse and she and her friend ran.
If you are carrying a lot of bags and are approached or physically grabbed. Drop the bags, start screaming, and run.
Don’t wear very loose clothing. It is easier to grab and pull off.
If someone is approaching you and you feel uncomfortable, look the person directly in the eye and say something like “Isn’t this a nice day?” and keep on walking. Be strong and confident in your voice and stride. Remember, they are looking for easy prey. Show your strength and confidence. Attackers don’t want to be identified later. Look them straight in the eye. Don’t smile. Let them know you will remember their face.
Carry pepper spray when you walk. Have it in your hand. It does you no good in your purse!
If you have a gun, know how to use it. Take handgun self-defense classes. A gun in your purse or nightstand is no good if you don’t know how to use it.
If you are on an elevator alone and another person gets on, get off. No need to explain your actions to anyone. I have a friend who travels on business a lot and she does this in all hotels. Like she says, “What do I care what someone thinks of me? I just want to be safe!”
Attackers don’t want a fight. You have to react quickly and decisively in the face of an attack. Scream at the top of your lungs. Yell “No! Get Away!” Shout obscenities. Run as fast as you can. Make a real scene. This accomplishes two things. It is an element of surprise for the attacker who wants a willing, passive victim, and yelling actually forces you to breathe. If you don’t yell, you will hold your breath and get weak at a time when you need to be strong.
To protect yourself in your home:
Have a home invasion plan. You probably have a plan for escaping your home if there is a fire. But does your family have a plan if someone breaks in? [EDIT: Yeah, 00 shot to the head. What's there to talk about?]
If someone breaks in, dial 911 immediately. Keep your cell phone on your nightstand at night. If the phone lines have been compromised, you have a second line of communication within immediate reach.
Invest in the best locks, doors, and alarm system for your home. This is not the place to scrimp and save money.
Never enter your home if the door is open and you know you closed it when you left. Leave and call the police immediately. [EDIT: And it turns out that it's your kid who got home before you did, or something like that.]
Do not indicate the number of people in your family or that you are not at home on your answering machine or voice mail. Record a simple message in a male voice saying, “Thank you for calling. Please leave a message.” Someone does not need to know that there are children in the home, that you live alone, or that you are on vacation.
After the lecture, we practiced various defense moves and learned how to get out of different holds that an attacker might use on us. We learned so many things that night that it is impossible for me to share them all here.
During the ride home, we agreed that every woman should be required to take this class once a year. It will now be an annual event for us. And we are going to insist that every woman we know and every woman that she knows comes with us!
Victoria Wesseler is a lifestyle, gardening and culinary writer. She is a weekly featured columnist for CDKitchen.com and has been published in Cooking Pleasures, Out Here, Indianapolis DINE magazine, and Indianapolis Monthly HOME Magazine. She has written and produced culinary segments for broadcast on WKYT in Lexington, KY.