Savvy Safety: Self-defense

It seems as though increasingly more women are victimized and while one can’t know all the details on each attack, a simple fact becomes apparently clear: this trend needs to stop. We can’t control the attackers, but we can control our reactions. By changing our habits and gaining practical knowledge, we can keep ourselves safe.

Dissecting criminal activity
The best defense from being attacked is to stay away from dangerous situations. Investigator Tim David of a Police Department in Wisconsin outlines criminals’ attention to victims: “They [criminals] behave much like animals in their predation.”

Noting this fact, predators then seek the following behavior in prey:

  • Disoriented
  • Out of place
  • Not confident
  • A person looking down, shoulders slumped
  • Frazzled or scattered
  • Incapacitated or helpless (hands occupied with bags, for example)

For years, we believed attacks only happen in dark alleys or in empty parking lots, but this isn’t true. In fact, a woman was recently abducted in a crowded parking lot in daylight. It doesn’t matter the time of day or location [for an attack to occur]. If a predator knows you’re alone — even in your house — they will attack.

Preventing an attack
So, what’s a girl to do? Investigator David advises for a woman to save herself by being “aware of her surroundings.” Meaning, you should be in the habit of scanning the parking lot when you both exit your car and a building. Be wary of anything or anyone who seems out of place. In addition to knowing your surroundings, scan your car. Check the backseat and under the car, looking for someone trying to hide. David commented on a case when a woman went to unlock her car door, a man was hiding under her car and lunged at her knees, knocking her over.

Other safety tips include parking close to the entrance, staying in lit areas and keeping within a crowd. Also, if both your hands will be occupied (with shopping bags, for example), use a cart. If attacked, it is much easier to let go of a cart than it is to drop armfuls of bags. David adds as a final precaution, “Trust your instincts. If you feel in danger, your subconscious is giving you danger signals.” He notes that our “woman’s intuition” is a powerful safety mechanism not to be ignored.

Reacting to an attack
Even with all the prevention and smarts we have, we still don’t get a 100 percent guarantee on thwarting an attack. The ability to kick a guy in the shins is no substitute for locking your doors, but if some fool attacks in a seemingly safe environment, girls, with a couple of steps, can fight back and have a chance for escape!

Just like the criminal behavior used in scouting potential victims, we can also predict how a predator will attack. He will first stare at his target. For example, if he’s staring at your neck, he’s about to lunge for your throat.

He’s not aiming to kill you (yet), he will instead perform a “blitz attack.” He’ll suddenly close in, using his size and strength to overwhelm you. His ultimate goal is to throw a woman “off kilter.” He may start punching repeatedly or forcefully grab from behind. If he’s coming from the front, it may be enough for him to close the space.

Our defense against this behavior begins in our minds. “Fights are won first in the mind, before a fight breaks out,” investigator David notes. You need to consider the idea of being attacked anywhere; then mentally role-play your reaction. An attacker’s blitz won’t stun so much if you’re expecting it; the stun effect comes solely from surprising you. Here are some moves for effective role-playing. Remember these moves can be mixed around — use your own discretion in which to employ.

Role-play #1: Rushing from the front
First, if he can use a stun technique, why can’t you? You don’t have his size, but you can use a verbal stun. Since the attacker is so focused on his target, screaming will stun him in much the same way he planned on stunning you: It’s an overload of the auditory sensory nerves; he expects you to act like a victim, but you’ve just changed the dynamic. A momentary stun gives you just enough time to prepare an attack and run.

Now you have a number of options. If you felt unsafe in the present territory, you may have stuck your keys between your fingers. Use those like a cat uses its claws and scratch across the attacker’s face. Your own fingernails could be used much the same way: tense your fingers into a sort of claw and swipe at soft tissue.

You also have the option of using weapons at hand. Do you have a pen in your pocket? Jam it into his throat. The same effect can be reached using two tensed fingers, but you’ll need accuracy: feel along your breastbone. Feel those ridges right up by your neck? Now, right in the center of your neck, above where the breastbone meets your throat is a soft, hollow spot. If you felt it, it probably made your breath catch. Imagine if someone pushed there — it would incapacitate an attacker long enough for you to run away.

Your hands are your most powerful weapon. Punching a guy in the nose will make his eyes water (which means you can run away without being seen). You can also perform an ear stun: cup your hands, like you’re about to fill them with water. Remembering that this is an attack, swing your hands up in one swift motion around the attacker’s ears, cupping the ears in your hands. When performed correctly, you can cause temporary deafness, due to the unusual amount of pressure created in the ear canal. Plus, it’s painful.

Notice: all these attacks end with you running away. We may be strong women, but we can’t take men on face-to-face. You want him incapacitated so you can run and call for help. I’ve been studying martial arts for years, and this best defense is still to beat it.

Role-play #2: He gets his hand on you
And this hand needs to go. Use your common sense on this one: odds are good he’ll loosen up his grip if he were kicked in the genitalia, shins or knees. Many stuns or small attacks will cause him to loosen his grip. If one doesn’t work, try many others.

Try this handy stun to loosen an attacker’s grip: make a fist and look at the back of it. Notice the tendons. Now, take your other hand, make a fist and rap your knuckles against the spots between the tendons on your first hand. Hurts, huh? I can feel a shock up my forearm and my fingers jolt apart slightly. When paired with another bigger attack (like a swift kick to the groin), this stun is very effective.

Role-play #3: His arms are around you
You are now in one of the worst situations — your movement is limited and he has complete control. You can try to kick a shin or stomp on a foot. I suggest a move I call the “toddler defense.” Have you ever seen children who didn’t want to leave the park? After some crying, they sometimes go limp (like a rag doll) and become impossible to hold. An attacker won’t expect something so strange (especially in an adult) and his grip will loosen. Be sure to follow up immediately with another stun or attack.

Role-play #4: On the ground
The ground is the worst place to be — all that’s left is defense. Fortunately, you may have a way out. You have the option of curling up into a ball: pull your arms and knees into yourself as close as you can. If you’re on your back, you can also fix your knees to make a triangle (the floor makes the base of the triangle). Women’s hip muscles are especially strong, making it impossible for anyone to pull your legs apart.

Post-attack pointers
Although being attacked may be the most traumatizing event you’ll encounter, you’ll need to remain lucid enough to be a good witness. Try to remember anything distinguishing: license plate number, tattoos, scars, birthmarks, weight, height. Write down everything you remember as soon as possible.

Investigator David gives an important warning: “There’s a period of time after trauma where you’re impressionable. If you talk to anyone before the police, you may have a false memory imprinted.” Also, the authorities do realize you may feel sensitive about sharing personal information, so don’t be afraid to ask for a female officer. Remember: you have no reason to be ashamed of anything that has happened!

After speaking with the police, you’ll need to get biological evidence collected. So, as hard as it might be, don’t shower or wash your hands (his DNA may be on you), don’t eat or drink (in case they need blood work), don’t use the bathroom, don’t change clothes … Evidence can be anywhere and the littlest thing could lead police to find the attacker.

Just remember to stay safe. Don’t take unnecessary risks, use these tips and some common sense, and you’ll be better prepared if something should happen.


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