What's an effective and practical personal safety device?
October 25, 2006 6:28 PM   Subscribe

What's an effective and practical personal safety/self-defense device to carry when walking home alone at night in a shady neighborhood?

This is for my friend who was grabbed from behind and threatened with a gun last night around 9PM. There was a struggle, and the attacker quickly gave up and ran away. This occurred two blocks from her home in Southeast DC. In addition to getting self-defense training, she is looking to carry a safety device (like pepper spray and/or a personal alarm). She does not have anyone to walk her home (at least not on a regular basis) and so would like to carry a protective device for the immediate future. She wants to make a quick purchase tonight online but has no idea what to look for, and she wonders whether something like pepper spray or mace is more trouble than its worth? Product and vendor recommendations, as well as any other pertinent advice would be much appreciated. Thanks.
posted by crack to Human Relations (59 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Not having any expertise at all, I would say anything that can be taken away and used against you is a bad idea...so probably something like a personal alarm would be better than mace.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 6:32 PM on October 25, 2006

I used to walk around on campus with a big claw hammer in my hand. I was hoping it could be seen from a distance, so anyone thinking to attack me would instead decide to wait for someone else instead--someone without a hammer. Plus, it's inexpensive and will give her arm a workout.
posted by chippie at 6:36 PM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'd think that by far the best self-defense tool she could carry is a cell phone and the number of a cab company.

Or a POS beater car, or some other means to just not walk alone there at night.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:46 PM on October 25, 2006

Yeah, carrying a weapon increases the odds of getting seriously hurt. That said, a taped up chunk of garden hose filled with ball bearings is unobtrusive and has enough heft to hurt an assailant.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:48 PM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

A bicycle.
posted by unSane at 6:50 PM on October 25, 2006

Using pepper spray against someone with a gun is more likely to get you killed than anything else. The truth is that she has no good options if she is surprised by an assailant with a gun. Nothing she is carrying will help her much in that situation and her best best by far is situational awareness so that such an occurence does not happen again.

Assuming she isn't surprised from behind by an armed assailant again, her best option is to run away. Failing that, she can either cooperate and hope for the best or fight back. If she is going to choose to fight back, the only good option is to use a firearm. I doubt that's legal in DC though?

But seriously, carrying around mace or pepper spray in case someone accosts her with a GUN is insane.
posted by Justinian at 6:51 PM on October 25, 2006

"best bet"

Also, Alvy isn't correct; carrying a gun does not increase the odds of getting seriously hurt. However, I don't think that's legal in DC.
posted by Justinian at 6:53 PM on October 25, 2006

Any weapon can be taken away and used against you.

Years ago I took karate, and I noticed that after not too long, I began to carry myself differently. It's hard to describe, but I would say that my stride was both lighter and more grounded somehow. I believe that body language plays a very big part in who assailants choose, and a person who carries themself with confidence will be better off than a fearful person with mace on her keychain.

If she wants to buy something *tonight*, she should get one of those ear-splitting whistles.
posted by ambrosia at 6:56 PM on October 25, 2006

I was attacked a few years ago and self-defense classes were helpful. But the best thing for me was to stay on my routine. I learned how to defend myself, be alert while walking, and I always walk with my keys out (and just to make myself feel better, I put the keys in the palm of my hand and have one poking out from in between my fingers in order to maximize the amount of pain/damage a blow will cause). Carrying anything more "severe" just made me feel even more paranoid.
posted by popsicletoes at 7:03 PM on October 25, 2006

I attended a talk about personal safety given by a 24-year veteran of the local police force the other day. She said that pepper spray is more likely to be a harm than an asset, as most people do not know how to use it properly. Additionally, pepper spray itself is highly unreliable: it can be used against you, it may not work in inclement weather, and the cans have a very limited usable lifespan. She related a frightening story about being forced to use pepper spray during a riot and finding that the can was depressurized. Don't use pepper spray.

Her advice: Carry a flashlight (a small Maglite is good). Stay alert, and be confident. Have a personal safety plan. Get a whistle, and have it ready to hand. Don't walk alone if you can help it. Tell people where you're going. Stay in well-lit and well-traveled areas. Avoid blind corners and construction sites. Don't carry lots of money. Don't use your cellphone conspicuously. If you're stopped and robbed, pull money out of your pocket and throw it in another direction, then run. If someone has a gun, do whatever they say - it's not worth your life. Memorize the phone number of your LOCAL police station (not 911 - if you call 911, it can often take 5-7 minutes for your call to get transferred to the local police station, who can actually help you).
posted by ArbiterOne at 7:10 PM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Attitude. Which is what I think ambrosia is getting at. If she can't pull off tough, crazy can work just as well.

But, when someone pulls a gun on you from behind, there is no magic weapon/technique/mantra. She's got serious ovaries for resisting, and I'm glad she got away.
posted by QIbHom at 7:11 PM on October 25, 2006

I like the whistle idea. If she purchases pepper spray, make sure she knows how to use it. Buy two or three of whatever model she'll be carrying, and take one out and practice with it. She should stow it in her pocket or purse, and then practice quick-drawing, aiming, and firing with it. (This will teach her never to stow it in her pocket or purse, but to keep it in hand while walking.) And ignore Justinian; pepper spray against a gun is plenty effective when combined with running and dodging. In many cases, it's safer than allowing the attacker to have his way with you. A conceal-carry handgun, however, is only effective against an assailant if she's willing to use it. (And I believe they are not legal for civilians in DC.)

Your friend should be proud of her responses to last night's attacker. She clearly has the right instincts to make a kubotan work... Other than these products, her best bet is training and physical confidence. I'm sure her experience will give her some hyper-alertness for the next few months, but she should work to expand that into a generalized situational awareness. Again, this is something that a good self-defense class will develop.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:15 PM on October 25, 2006

When I lived in the city, I often carried one of those huge 4 D cell Maglite flashlights with me.
posted by MegoSteve at 7:17 PM on October 25, 2006

I believe that body language plays a very big part in who assailants choose, and a person who carries themself with confidence will be better off

So its their own fault if they don't know how to walk right? I had a friend who also said that until he got jumped and had his collarbone broken. I had a hard time feeling sorry for him.

Yes, appearances do matter, and a bulky coat or heavy boots might help, (I had these giant down filled gloves that looked like boxing gloves, and people used to cross the street when they saw me coming) but one should consider the further damage that you may be inflicting on people with this blame the victim kind of talk.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:23 PM on October 25, 2006

Bear spray
posted by caddis at 7:23 PM on October 25, 2006

When I was younger and found myself walking down a particularly dangerous looking or desolate block I'd start talking to myself and walking erratically like I was crazy. I figured that they'd think I wasn't worth the risk. Might not work so well for a woman. One thing she could do is wear a big bulky jacket and hat to make herself seem a little larger - and harder to overpower - than she is.

If I were her I wouldn't carry any weapon without some training on how to be ready to use it. She should really look into taking a self defense course.
posted by any major dude at 7:26 PM on October 25, 2006

My first suggestion, a firearm, has been defined as illegal in DC. It's still my first suggestion, but she has to be both willing to accept that it's illegal, and she has to be willing to shoot someone (who's threatening her life), perhaps killing or permanently crippling them.

My next suggestion is that she take some martial arts. I suggest Krav Maga, as it's relatively easy to acquire and includes techniques for the unarmed against those armed with edged weapons and firearms.

No weapon that she purchases, short of a firearm and effective training, will even the odds against another deadly weapon. Even if attacked with a knife or a club, her best bet is a firearm. They're called "equalizers" for a reason. Failing a good weapon, she should work on empty-handed techniques that allow her to react to weapons effectively.
posted by Netzapper at 7:26 PM on October 25, 2006

Best solution: She should move out of southeast DC, if that is possible.
posted by dcjd at 7:33 PM on October 25, 2006

I've always thought stun guns were promising. They can't be turned against you to kill you, but they have a shitload of stopping power. If my research for my wife a few years ago is still accurate, you can get the kind that shoots out the little dart on a wire, or the kind where you actually have to be within arm's reach of the assailant. (We never actually bought one.)

I disagree with this:

Years ago I took karate, and I noticed that after not too long, I began to carry myself differently. It's hard to describe, but I would say that my stride was both lighter and more grounded somehow. I believe that body language plays a very big part in who assailants choose, and a person who carries themself with confidence will be better off than a fearful person with mace on her keychain.

Punks with guns are not perceptive enough to think, "that woman is carrying herself with confidence, let's leave her alone."

People who commit these street crimes are god-awfully stupid. Ambrosia is giving them too much credit for perceptiveness. Plus, these attackers are operating on the spur of the moment -- they're not taking the time to assess someone's body language. They're looking for signs that the person has something they want. And they will shoot you on the slightest provocation, no matter what wicked moves you have learned in your upscale strip-mall dojo. I suspect that, by instilling a false confidence in the face of threats like loaded guns wielded by worthless punks, martial arts might actually be detrimental to staying alive.

If the assailant was trying to kidnap or rape her, she was right to resist. But if the assailant was just trying to rob your friend, she shouldn't have resisted. It's foolish to fight someone who is just trying to take a purse or bag.
posted by jayder at 7:38 PM on October 25, 2006

If someone has a gun, do whatever they say

Even with a gun in your face do not get in an assailant's car, once you get in a car your chances are very bad for getting out alive.
If your friend does get pepper spray, know that it doesn't work on everyone and never use the can as a threat. It is a great weapon against an unarmed attacker, keep it out of sight until you can use it at close range. I would recommend getting a good brand at a police supply store. If your area requires a license usually its fairly easy to get.
posted by InkaLomax at 7:41 PM on October 25, 2006

For what it's worth, I was under the impression that pepper spray was illegal in DC, too. Could be wrong, though.
posted by inigo2 at 7:57 PM on October 25, 2006

So its their own fault if they don't know how to walk right?

No, that's not what I meant. It is not her fault she was attacked. But given a choice, people tend to go for the low-hanging fruit, whether it's pickpockets, car thieves, or muggers. There is no magic bullet here; there isn't anything any of us can do to guarantee freedom from crime; that is part of the price of living in a free society. But there are things we can do that a) do no harm b) prepare us to respond appropriately and c) may very well reduce the odds of being chosen as someone's victim. Basic self-defense training is a very good start.
posted by ambrosia at 8:00 PM on October 25, 2006

Justinian's Also, Alvy isn't correct; carrying a gun does not increase the odds of getting seriously hurt. might be a touch misleading.

Assuming the gun's loaded, there's always the possibility(>0%, reguardless of training/precautions) of an accidental discharge.
posted by Orb2069 at 8:05 PM on October 25, 2006

Situational awareness is one of the best defenses. I've had far less trouble in my life than larger and more intimidating friends simply because I clearly watch where I'm going and what's going on around me. I'm neither big nor intimidating, but I also don't look as easy a victim as someone who walks in a huddle with eyes to the ground.

The risk of having your weapon taking away from you comes largely from your hesitancy to use it. You can't whip out your pepper spray/stun gun/whatever and expect the other guy to run. Don't pull it out and give a warning. Either go to town with that thing or don't pull it out at all.

I've had a lot of friends (Police, security) who've had bad experiences with pepper spray. I had mace training/certification years ago, which isn't a requirement with pepper spray (more's the pity). It is really easy to screw yourself with it.

I don't think that's an argument against carrying pepper spray... but it's worth buying a second bottle just to practice with to know what it'll be like to pull it out & use it. I DO advocate wearing shoes good for running like hell.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:10 PM on October 25, 2006

If you are grabbed from behind, it's already too late for a gun, pepper spay, or a baton to help you.

My preference is: shoes you can run in. Even if that means changing them before you leave work.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:11 PM on October 25, 2006

My preference is: shoes you can run in.

This is the only advice here that isn't complete horseshit. Guns, batons, spray, tasers, keys, karate. Horseshit.

Don't go into bad areas. If in a bad area, run.
posted by frogan at 8:22 PM on October 25, 2006

I once heard a story about a girl who got attacked from behind. She was wearing stilletos. Basically, she kicked backwards to try and get him off her. The attacker had the stilleto surgically removed from his groin.
posted by cholly at 8:29 PM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Punks with guns are not perceptive enough to think, "that woman is carrying herself with confidence, let's leave her alone."
People who commit these street crimes are god-awfully stupid. Ambrosia is giving them too much credit for perceptiveness.

You're confusing intelligence with basic perception. Even the most stupid bottom-feeder thug can tell the difference between somebody who is walking confidently and somebody who looks fearful.

Somebody who is walking confidently is a less-desirable target than somebody who looks terrified or unaware of their surroundings. There is a reason that people with martial arts training tend not to get randomly attacked on the street - they are more aware of their surroundings, and they carry themselves with confidence.

I second the recommendation of running and good shoes. If you can sprint at full speed for a solid minute, you're going to outrun virtually any attacker.
posted by gwenzel at 8:34 PM on October 25, 2006

Someone pulled a gun on her in DC? Can't be. Handguns were banned in DC!


Anyway, from Wikipedia: "Washington, D.C., possession of pepper spray must be registered with the DC Metropolitan Police."

So it seems to be legal, but you have to register it. Perhaps the police department also has a training program?

Since she has an immediate need, perhaps taking a cab home or varying her route home would be a good idea until she has the time to take classes. Or, the POS car. Anything but walking.
Get a whistle.
Stay OFF of the cell phone until she's home.
Put up a huge fuss if attacked.

Just a few ideas. Hopefully this won't happen again, and it's good that she's alright. Sometimes fighting back is what criminals *don't* expect, since we're always told to just cooperate. It sucks either way.
posted by drstein at 8:36 PM on October 25, 2006

The problem I see with handguns (and maybe those with handgun training can speak to whether their training helps deal with this problem) is that, in order for the gun to be effective, it would seem that you would have to pull the gun out before you're even sure that the situation is one that requires the use of a gun. And, in doing so, you might escalate the situation in a way that is dangerous to you.

I.e., some guy comes up to you, talking to you in a way you perceive as vaguely (but not definitely) menacing.

While talking, he moves toward you, arguably into your personal space, in a way that makes you uncomfortable but is perhaps just due to bad manners more than malicious intent.

At what point do you pull the gun out? Even as he is arguably invading your personal space, you may not be certain he means you harm. But by the time you perceive a threat with any degree of certainty, he's already in your personal space, and therefore within reach of the gun.

So it seems that by the time you realize you need the gun, the person is already too close to you for you to safely pull out the gun (by safely I mean, "able to pull the gun out with certainty that you can keep control over it").

The only way to avoid this problem would be to pull the gun on people whom you're not even certain mean you harm --- which is dangerous in a variety of ways.
posted by jayder at 8:40 PM on October 25, 2006

I suggest a Kubotan keychain. Google it. It's the same idea as using a key on a keychain to jab at an attacher, except it's much easier to hold and scarier to look at (and therefore might intimidate an attacker).

Also, if the person attacking you is wearing a heavy coat, a key won't really hurt them but a Kubotan might.
posted by mintchip at 9:00 PM on October 25, 2006

A Personal Safety trainer gave this advice. If an attacker grabs your arm or other parts of your body, he usually is bracing himself for you to pull away. Instead of pulling away, push your body into his, knocking him off balance. He is not expecting that and may give you a few seconds to run away, screaming.

I've been held up at gunpoint, it is very scary.
posted by JujuB at 9:10 PM on October 25, 2006

The best suggestions so far are the whistle and good running shoes. A piece of junk bicycle locked at the metro to ride on home can also limit exposure. A bicycle U-lock will not only secure the bike while she is at work, but also makes a great bludgeon if needed.

If you want safety advice, the DC police are more qualified than some of the cowboys posting in this thread.

I scanned through the MPD website and found nothing about registering pepper spray. So, if your friend decides to carry pepper spray, have her call her local local police station to ask how to proceed (click on the district she lives in to get the number for the closest police station). If she hasn't already, she should report this crime using 311 or calling her local station.

I live in Southeast also, it's a great place to live. I'm glad your friend was not harmed and I hope this experience does not sour her to SE.
posted by peeedro at 9:34 PM on October 25, 2006

Yes. I've already said my bit, so I'll just emphasize; there is nothing you can carry that will usually significant improve your outcomes if you are taken by surprise from behind by an armed assailant.

The single best thing, by far, that your friend can do is everything in her power to avoid that situation arising.
posted by Justinian at 9:37 PM on October 25, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far.

She carries herself pretty well actually, but she is on the petite side (and as an aside, I just remembered that she did take about 15 karate classes several years ago). Her home is a 10-15 minute walk from the subway station. So a bicycle is impractical. She would have to lock it near the metro entrance and the liklihood of it being stolen is extremely high. The spike keychain, maglite, and whistle ideas sound doable. But it would be nice to find a noise-maker that is more readily activated. And regarding the maglite, is the idea here that she should keep it on during the entire walk? Another thing I just thought of is to hire a neighborhood fellow to walk her home. Not sure how difficult it would be to find someone though.

The cops have not found the guy. I'm afraid he might target her again, this time with a heightened sense of determination and much better planning. But the hope is that her reaction scared him off for good.
posted by crack at 9:41 PM on October 25, 2006

What I was told in self-defense class is to ram the guy in the ribs with your elbow if he comes up to you from behind. Also, it's better to use a pen than your keys, because you might lose the keys in a scuffle.

To piggyback-- what's a good self- defense if you're on a bench and he comes behind you, reaches over the seat and grabs your breast? The above won't work in this case.
posted by brujita at 9:43 PM on October 25, 2006

This isn't going to help her if she's being stalked or the attacker has simply violence on his mind, but if she's worried about being robbed she can always carry a false wallet. Put empty pre-paid phone cards and a couple of bucks in it. Throw it in one direction and run in the other.
posted by Anonymous at 10:18 PM on October 25, 2006

Actually, Metro has bicycle parking available. They are enclosed lockers that hold your bike next to the station. I believe it is $70 for one year.
posted by dcjd at 10:20 PM on October 25, 2006

I haven't seen it mentioned yet, (I gave the thread only a cursory read; my apologies, but I have a long night of grading ahead of me) but Gavin DeBecker's The Gift of Fear is a phenomenal starting off point for self defense stuff. The first line of defense is awareness, and this is the best resource for that I know of. As an overprotective older brother, I gave it to my kid sister when she went away for college.

If you need it soon, (and it sounds like you do) a local bookstore will almost certainly have it. Stay safe!
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 11:07 PM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I feel like a broken record.

But here goes.

I'll give you the usual bonnafides first: As a former Women's Self Defense instructor, Karate Instructor, boxer and a martial artist with over a decade of training with law enforcement let me please urge you to NOT ask joe-frigg'n-blow about something like this. Most of the answers above, if your friend is really in danger, were just terrible advice.

Your friend is shook up. It's natural she wants to "do something" to alieviate her anxiety. Taking advice on an open forum (INCLUDING MINE) is not a great idea to achieve this.

She needs to take a couple of days and decompress and analyze the situation non-emotionally. Eliminate the natural desire to nurse revenge fantasies.

Also I get the feeling something is being left out of this story. Anyway.

Have her define what her risk factors are.


If it is somebody that, due to her lifestyle or living situation, she can't avoid? Then she has to, today, right now, address her lifestyle and living situation.

Take concrete steps to remove her self from the proximity of this person or area. This may be hard due to economics or what ever. But that is why it must be addressed first. Get the fuck out of there.

Are you honest about what puts you at risk? FI: Was your friend intoxicated. If so... stay sober. Not judging. This needs to be assessed honestly. Once you do you can often see what is post-traumatic stress and what is realistic risk.

Was it random? Ok if this is a random attack then randomizing and altering her habits is a good idea for a while.

Does she think this attack was intended for sexual assault or robbery? IE: Did this guy atempt to abduct her? Same thing as above.

AS for "carring" something. Some people say "don't because it can be used against you" This is complete reactionary bullshit. If you are at serious risk carrying a weapon that you have the will to use and that you can actually physically wield, even without training, IS statistically better than nothing.

If your just freaked out by a random event then diving into getting weapon can get you into trouble. Get over the PTSD through counceling first. Many womens assault centers in your area can help. Ask your local Police precint.

Choosing a weapon. What weapon depends on your friend. Her size, her physical condition, her... personal pricnciples... meting out deadly force for instance.

Why? If she is at risk possibly facing a guy with a gun.. a deadly weapon... then SHE needs to confront that fact she may need to carry a deadly weapon. A gun or a knife.

Though I do approve of Bear Spray (NOT those mini pepper spray cannisters... they are worthless) and the like against larger unarmed assailant— agaist a gun... not such a good trade off. He gets watery eyes, you get maybe dead.

And remember even with pepper spray you HAVE TO PRACTICE USING IT. Drawing it, pulling off the safety tab, aiming it (so it doesn't blow back in your face) and spraying.

Now this is MY opinion. Don't take this lightly. I recommend for smaller women at risk for sexual assault to carry a small Push or Neck Knife. These are a small fixed blade knives with a knuckle hole. They can be worn with a scabard on a cord around the neck or clipped to a coat. They are legal. Once correctly gripped they are VERY hard to strip out of somebodies grasp (a finger goes through a hole on the handle) and the blade is short enough flick and cut the hand of anyone who grabs your wrist. It is hard to fatailly stab anybody with one but if you aim for the eyes, hands or throat you can disable somebody easily.

If she was grabbed from behind this can be used to cut the hands of an attacker.*

Yes. I know. Awful. But it's more effective than Bear Spray if your grabbed from behind.

If she get's one and she doesn't go get prefessional trianing then every morning she puts it on and every night she takes it off she must practice drawing and slashing at least 10 times so it becomes natual to draw. not ideal. But better than nothing.

I don't think personal alarms work. Not in big cities. People ignore that shit. But this guy sounded easily spooked so maybe. Just stay on your toes. Don't be paranoid but be aware. Never go on autopilot. Never.

* Downside to a bladed weapon like a push knife is cutting an attackers hands will look like defensive wounds to a cop. So you BETTER be serious when you use it and repeat the mantra "I was in fear for my life" over and over.
posted by tkchrist at 11:23 PM on October 25, 2006 [6 favorites]

I think tkchrist is right on the nose with the self-defense thing, except I don't think that has much to do with an assailant who got the drop on you with a gun. Someone tries to grab you, or even pull a knife on you? Pepper spray, a whistle, running, fighting, all of that gives you a chance in hell. With a gun? All that's gonna do is get you shot. The trick is to not get the gun pointed at you in the first place, and that means staying in populated, well-lit areas and doing everything you can not to roll alone, especially at night. Someone pulls a gun on you, and you pull something out of your pocket that isn't a wallet, and that's the end of you. You could be carrying a goddamn bazooka, but if someone points a handgun at you you're never going to have a chance to use it.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:04 AM on October 26, 2006

A whistle or alarm device. The best thing to do is be acutely aware and not to let herself be in a situation where an attacker can sneak up on her. Walk a longer distance if it means a busier street and avoid anything an attacker could be hiding behind if at all possible. Maybe even avoid walking with high heeled shoes that can loudly broadcast that a woman is walking down the street.
posted by JJ86 at 5:53 AM on October 26, 2006

A lot of people are throwing around the word "statistics" here with no actual statistics to back it up.

Me, I just think about this girl and all the criminal cases I've read as a lawyer, and figure that jayder's take is really the most accurate. Above all else, you've got to stay calm and not escalate the situation. People desperate enough to be doing muggings with guns are going to be nervous, angry, and possibly intoxicated and/or mentally ill. Your job is to calmly give them whatever they want as quickly as possible. Perhaps it's a different story for a rape or an abduction; but I'm guessing that it's much more likely to be killed in DC in a mugging gone bad than it is to be raped or abducted anyway.
posted by footnote at 6:23 AM on October 26, 2006

It's also worth noting that in DC, it is illegal to carry a knife with a blade longer than 3 inches or any "other dangerous weapon ... with intent to use unlawfully against another person." In theory, that should mean that carrying a knife or kubotan or some other defensive weapon with intent to use only for self-defense is okay. In practice, the police often put the burden of proof on carriers to prove that they didn't intend to use it and/or had good reason to fear for their lives. A friend of mine recently had a knife confiscated by police when her car was searched for an unrelated reason and she admitted that she was carrying it for self-defense. So you can probably get away with carrying a knife or some other weapon, but if you ever have to use it, be prepared to explain yourself.
posted by decathecting at 9:22 AM on October 26, 2006

You can get the kind that shoots out the little dart on a wire, or the kind where you actually have to be within arm's reach of the assailant.

The former is a TASER (which stands for Tom Swift's Electric Rifle) and the latter (with its protruding electrodes) is a Stun Gun. Please don't mix 'em up. (I know, it's confusing; you think gun, shoots, but in this case the device wasn't named accurately).

I was under the impression that pepper spray was illegal in DC, too.

Yeah, but you can get it easily right over the bridge in Northern Virginia.
posted by Rash at 9:24 AM on October 26, 2006

Oh, and tasers and stun guns are also illegal in DC. Pretty much all weapons that could actually be used to hurt someone who is trying to hurt you are illegal in DC. Registering pepper spray is really arduous, and your request to carry it can be turned down for any reason or no reason.

The police recommend personal alarms. While I would obviously never advocate breaking the law, especially not in a public forum such as this, and therefore I would never tell you to buy a gun, a large knife, or a stun gun in violation of the law, I will say that I would rather face prosecution for tasering a would-be rapist or murderer than face the rapist or murderer unarmed.
posted by decathecting at 9:28 AM on October 26, 2006

The last time I was mugged, there was nothing a weapon could have done for me. I was approached at night during a snowstorm by someone acting strangely, and I didn't realize what was going on until he was close to me and already had a gun out.

I don't carry a gun (they are illegal in Chicago), but even if I did there would have been nothing I could do once he had the drop on me, other than try to draw and risk getting shot, or shoot him in the back as he departed. As it was, I stayed calm, gave him my money and he took off. He was picked up by the cops about an hour later.

Obviously, there are greater risks than simple robbery, particularly for women. My advice to all of my women friends is that if they are concerned about defence, to take a martial art that teaches self-awareness, calm and the dirtiest, most vicious techniques for breaking a hold and escaping. I'm talking keys, fingernails, rocks, broken glass, whatever it takes to hurt someone enough for them to think it is no longer worth it, or ideally, incapacitate them outright.

That being said, if your friend decides to get a gun, she must accept the following facts:

-if she owns a gun for self-defence, she must be prepared to use it.

-if she draws a gun, she must be prepared to pull the trigger. If you pull a gun just to scare someone, there's a good chance they won't be scared and will try to take it away from you.

-if she fires a gun in self-defence, she must be prepared to kill someone. A handgun exists for one reason only, and that is to kill another person. A gun is one of the only devices that exists that has the capability of taking a life with slightly more muscle power than it takes to open a soda can.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:46 AM on October 26, 2006

(disclosure: I am a self defense instructor, I have some law enforcement experience, I've been in violent encounters)

jayder says:
The problem I see with handguns (and maybe those with handgun training can speak to whether their training helps deal with this problem) is that, in order for the gun to be effective, it would seem that you would have to pull the gun out before you're even sure that the situation is one that requires the use of a gun. And, in doing so, you might escalate the situation in a way that is dangerous to you.

This is an excellent point. The generic version is that:

- Any weapon has a realm of situations in which it can be employed, and a realm in which it is useless. That said, situations can change or be changed.

- Weapons should not be thought of in isolation; they are tools in an overall self-defense system. Merely possessing weapons does not make you safer; you must know the strengths and limitations of your chosen tools, and be able and willing to use them should the need arise.

- Violent confrontations are (obviously) best avoided, but knowing how to act in such situations before they happen is the best way to effectively handle them. Mindset (situational awareness, remaining in control and thinking) is arguably the most important facet of any self-defense system, and the best way to acquire good mindset is quality professional training.

- There is a difference between things that actually make you safer and things that just make you feel safer. Generally, if something is described in absolute terms ("guaranteed to stop an attacker"), it will only make you feel safer. Things that actually make you safer are generally not trivially easy to learn, and don't come with guarantees of total reliability.

For example, pepper spray is generally easy to obtain and carry, and is a pretty "non scary" weapon. However, if you don't know anything about how it actually affects people (including yourself, since you will very likely get hit yourself when using it on others), how long your can lasts, where you carry it, how you employ it, and how to deal with confrontations that may require its use (up to and including how to deal with the police afterwards), you may just feel safer, and not actually be safer.

Self defense is not a simple topic, there is no magic wand you can wave that suddenly makes you "safe." If you seriously want to learn self defense, get professional training from a school or instructor that specializes in self defense (as opposed to, say, martial arts or target shooting). There really is a difference; self defense training is more than just physical techniques (a wrist lock or drawing a concealed handgun), it's about the total system (including laws, the dynamics of violent encounters, and so on).

I can't personally recommend any particular schools in the D.C. area (I'm on the opposite coast). I've heard good things about Modern Warrior, although they're in New York.

My usual book recommendation is Strong on Defense. It's really about mindset, not weapons. It's the book I loan out and invariably never get back.
posted by doorsnake at 10:29 AM on October 26, 2006 [2 favorites]

There's a number of marine stores in the immediate area, though the closest one I can think of is in Old Town. If she really wants something she can have today, I'd say get the mini horn here.

Nothing is perfect, particularly against being snuck up on from behind, but this requires no training and can't be used against you, if you're prone to concern about such things.

And would all of you please stop advocating owning or procuring a gun to a DC resident? Regardless of how you feel about the ban, it's a fact of life and the penalties are up to $10,000 or 10 years in prison. Be cavalier with your own freedom.
posted by phearlez at 10:54 AM on October 26, 2006

tkchrist and doorsnake make excellent points. The one thing I would emphasize in relation to theirs and my own comments is training, training, training.

Whatever self-defence methods your friend adopts (armed or unarmed, firearm, kubotan, knife or other), she needs to be trained to use it and to practice it until she can use it with confidence and be ready to improvise according to the situation.

tkchrist does point out that a weapon without training is still better than nothing. Training is better than both.

This goes especially for firearms.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:10 AM on October 26, 2006

So it sounds like the real answer to the question is.. "there isn't a quick fix to this situation, thanks to the laws in Washington DC."

Wow. :-(
posted by drstein at 4:04 PM on October 26, 2006

Personal alarms are EXTREMELY effective.
posted by spankbot at 4:30 PM on October 26, 2006

Personal alarms are EXTREMELY effective.

Depends on where you live.

I worked with women that used them and were still assaulted. There is no one size fits all thing out there.

The fact is anybody can get the drop on you. So it boils down to your philosophy and personal principles.

One or two incidents may just be that... your lotto number came up and you may be done getting hit. But living in some places in DC, East LA, St. Louis, Detroit, etc... I imagine giving up your hard earned cash every month would get pretty fucking tiring.

It's a pretty white bourgeoisie thing to assume it's "easy" to just give up your wallet. Some people get sick of living on their knees.

I have only really been mugged once (potentially a couple more) and it took me by surprise. And I train for it. I fought back by reaction and they ran off (more like an odd little wrassling version of duck-duck-goose). It was a judgment call.

It could have gone really bad as at the time I thought there was a gun (in hind sight I don't remember actually SEEING it... weird) and I was with other people who could have gotten hurt.

So, if it's robbery, I have decided to give up whatever they want. Unless it's: in my home; there is an obvious opportunity; or there is the hint of other serious violence and my actions won't endanger others.

But this idea that weapons will turned against you, like some kind of conventional wisdom, is BULLSHIT. It's also notoriously sexist as hell. "Your too weak to handle that _______ , little lady." It caught on during the seventies because sexist cops were saying it about female COPS who got their guns grabbed. There was little basis for it.

With training and the will to use it, a weapon has every bit the utility for YOU as it does a bad guy. The problem is most people don’t train and don't have the will.

The issue of timing is certainly a consideration. The other guy has his gun out and on you. Ok. Your fucked. Well. Maybe not. It may be best to assume so in most cases. But not always.

There are plenty of times before an assault where there is an "interview" period by the assailant (very common in sexual assault). During this time a person, trained to recognize it, can ready themselves. Palm the knife. Clear path to draw. Change up angles. Non-challantly (sp?) pick up a heavy ashtray. Work to an exit. All sorts of things.

Also. In this case she was grabbed from behind. If they don't just shoot you out of hand and they grab you? Hmmm. You scream and they run? Something else is up.

It would be MY choice, if I could, to fight back in that situation.
BTW. SHE DID. This was a successful defense. She is alive. She shold be proud and not ashamed of what she did. It worked.

If the robbery phase has entered into the assault phase (ie they GRAB you)? I would fight if I could. Because there is a tactical window for you fight back and minimize getting shot in that range.

Why? Nobody who knows how to use a gun grabs you. Still it's a big gamble. Make up your own mind.

Can I advise a stranger over the internet to do that... or anything else? No.

I can tell them what I would do.

BTW. For every anecdote of somebody being stabbed with their own knife, or shot with their own gun, I can find an anecdote that tells you the opposite. As for stats. Last time I produced stats on this I got a shit storm over the sources (being mostly funded by a Gun Lobby.)
posted by tkchrist at 6:57 PM on October 26, 2006 [2 favorites]

I saw this whistle in a catalog just yesterday and thought I would get one if I still lived in DC.
posted by angelfish at 8:30 PM on October 26, 2006

I just moved to SE DC from out of state, and, as a woman who walks home alone at night from the metro, this thread has been interesting and helpful to read. I'll throw my two cents in on a couple of things: if she uses the Eastern Market metro, they do have the enclosed bike lockers dcjd referenced above (though his other suggestion to move out of SE DC is completely ridiculous and somewhat offensive, but I'm sure your friend is smart enough to understand that an assault can happen anywhere, yes, even in NW, dcjd...). I don't have one (yet), but I did ask a guy I saw using one about it, and he said he felt his bike was pretty secure inside of it, that he never had a a problem. Of everything suggested above, I think using a bike is one of the best answers, and I will likely take that advice myself.

One other possibility, if your friend has car, is to drive to the metro. I know it sounds ridiculous since she lives close, which is what I thought as well initially when people suggested this to me, but it's worth a thought. Apparently, parking nearby the Eastern Market metro stop is not a problem in the morning (I've been told) because many people that live in that immediate area are themselves leaving in their cars to go to work. Your friend can easily get a residential parking sticker (I think it's like $20 per year) so she is exempt from the parking restrictions on all of those residential streets. Having a car near the metro also makes it easier to run errands after work, rather than walking home from the metro just to get in the car anyway and run errands. I realize it sounds dumb to suggest driving two blocks rather than walking, and that indeed, an assault could happen walking to the car, but nonetheless, it works for some people.

Crack, I'd also be interested in knowing exactly where the assault happened, just out of curiosity.
posted by Harvey Birdman at 2:10 AM on October 27, 2006

If I was walking around SE at night and was fearful, after reading this thread I'd never bother with a whistle -- phearlez' air horn's the only way to go -- aim it at your attacker's ear. (Of course, like ArbiterOne's pepper spray, it may lack the required internal pressure, by the time you end up using it.) I assume you'd have your noisemaker in your hand, but if you were grabbed from behind you might not be able to raise a whistle to your lips, or have the wind necessary to blow it.
posted by Rash at 8:44 AM on October 27, 2006

Response by poster: Harvey Birdman, I believe it was around the Benning Road Metro stop.
posted by crack at 2:06 PM on October 27, 2006

Some belated statistics, with a sexual assault bias:

Women are sometimes advised that fighting back will increase their risk of injury. There are two problems with this argument.

First, research shows that physical resistance does not cause further injury to the resister. While there is a correlation between resistance and a somewhat higher rate of physical injury (at most 3%) (Kleck and Sayles, 1990; Marchbanks et al., 1990; Siegel et al.,1989), researchers who examined the sequence of events found that injury usually occurred before resistance. In other words, resisters were not injured because they had resisted: rather, being injured motivated them to fight back (Quinsey and Upfold, 1985). After the initial injury, forceful resistance did not increase the resister's risk of further damage.

Second, this argument overlooks the fact that a woman who does not resist is virtually guaranteed to suffer the emotional and physical injury of the rape itself. Even when resisters are injured, the injury is typically much less severe than a completed rape would have been (Kleck and Sayles, 1990; Marchbanks et al., 1990; Siegel et al., 1989; Ullman and Knight, 1991). Of those 40% of resisters who suffered physical damage, only 7% suffered injury as severe as a dislodged tooth. A woman who fights back incurs no demonstrable chance of additional injury, but she gains a 55-86% chance of avoiding rape altogether (Kleck and Sayles, 1990).

When resistance does not prevent rape it can still yield important benefits. A woman who does not resist may not be viewed as sympathetically nor her trauma be treated as seriously as one who does fight back, because nonresistance may be viewed by others as acquiescence (Galliano, Noble, Travis and Puechl, 1993). In Oregon and some other states, evidence of "earnest resistance" is required for rape prosecution (ORS 163.305(2); Criminal Code of Oregon, 1996). Women who follow the traditional advice not to resist may find that they have no legal standing to press charges against the rapist.

Women who used knives or guns in self-defense were raped less than 1% of the time. Defensive use of edged or projectile weapons reduced the rate of injury to statistical insignificance (Kleck and Sayles, 1990).

While many of these strategies were very successful by themselves, combinations such as yelling and fighting or yelling, fighting and fleeing further increased the chances of avoiding rape (Bart and O'Brien, 1985).

The studies we have cited have used a wide variety of research techniques. This suggests that the effectiveness of forceful resistance against rape is a robust result.

posted by anotherpanacea at 11:58 AM on October 29, 2006

Bear spray sounds great, especially with a 15'-20' range. But would it work on humans? Or is it "too strong" so that it wouldn't have a debilitating effect on a mugger?
posted by parallax7d at 1:55 PM on January 22, 2007

« Older make ubuntu bounce   |   Heavy Obesity Research Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.