Personal Defense Products and Statistics
September 3, 2007 11:31 AM   Subscribe

My close female friend is at college, and faces some shady walks back to her house. There have been problems with muggings and assaults on and around campus, and I'm advocating she have something on her person for protection, i.e. pepper spray. She's a very capable and confident woman, and she says she'll get something "eventually".


1) Any good recommendations product-wise?

2) Locations of reputable online dealers, if I want to have a little "gift" delivered to her house

3) Statistics for violent crime, to show her that even the best of us could use a little insurance

4) Angry scoldings as to why I'm a paranoid nutjob

Any information would be greatly appreciated. I'm just concerned about her safety. This is a good post to collect plenty of information for future searchers, so tips for tags and pertinent information is welcome. Thanks!
posted by potch to Human Relations (45 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Where is she at school? In some areas you need a firearms permit to carry pepper spray. It may also be illegal or against school rules to carry pepper spray on campus.
posted by phoenixy at 11:44 AM on September 3, 2007

The World Famous: I totally disagree, you shouldn't be distracted on a phone call when walking through a sketchy area.
posted by dcjd at 11:50 AM on September 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Are you a guy? I'm guessing yes.

It's really nice of you to care about your friend, and I can understand your concern, but she's an adult and she has to be able to make her own choices. Believe me, women are constantly being told that they're walking victims, so she realises that many people see her as a crime target. Please don't do number 3 on your list, unless she was brought up under a rock or something like that.

I agree with you that college campuses are very dangerous places after dark. Once you've made her aware of this, though, and voiced your concerns, you have to let it go.
posted by different at 11:52 AM on September 3, 2007 [5 favorites]

It may also be illegal or against school rules to carry pepper spray on campus.

Perhaps, but if one uses it to prevent an assault, whether its legal or requires a permit seems less important.

Pepper spray may not be the best thing in this situation. However, if it seems to be, then by all means find a reputable dealer, but it, and give it to her. Sometimes the best way to get a result is to just buy the thing someone needs and hand it to them. This can work well with bike helmets and lights, or cell-phone headsets (I hate when people chat and drive, but I hate even more when they need one hand to do it.)
posted by 4midori at 11:57 AM on September 3, 2007

Best answer: in general, i don't like the idea of carrying anything that could be used against me, because like most women (and most people in general) i don't have the kind of upper body strength or training to maintain control of a weapon.

the best weapon she has is noise. "help" is good, but "fire" is better. (sad to say.)

as for you, relax. she'll take care of herself.
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:58 AM on September 3, 2007

Why should your friend carry a weapon to make you feel better? There's no reason for her to carry something she's not dedicated to being prepared to use 100% of the time. It's not going to do a lick of good for her to have a bottle of pepper spray in her purse. You need to leave your friend alone. Your passion for safety could be better channeled into setting up a program where you live (Neighborhood Watch, late night ride homes if people walk home through "sketchy" areas).

And The World Famous is dead wrong.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:04 PM on September 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'm watching this thread with interest, because I'm considering getting some pepper spray for myself.

The best advice I've read online regarding pepper spray is to buy two cans that are exactly alike, so you can take one outside and figure out how to use it before you start to carry it.
posted by donajo at 12:04 PM on September 3, 2007

Most college campuses have walk home services. Similarly, there are a ton of on-campus resources for this stuff. I recall hours of workshops, flyers, meetings, etc. on this very topic. Don't stress so much.
posted by k8t at 12:05 PM on September 3, 2007

What different said. You're not being paranoid so much as patronizing. She's not a small child, I assume.
posted by vacapinta at 12:05 PM on September 3, 2007 [8 favorites]

Talking on a cell phone didn't help Dru Sjodin, World Famous.

Maybe your friend would agree to carrying a personal alarm. They're legal and loud, and most perps don't appreciate the attention they generate.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:09 PM on September 3, 2007

Best answer: 2nd the escort service idea. (Not that kind of escort service!) My school had one back in the 80s, I'd guess every school has one by now. If the area is really as sketchy as you think, your not the first one to worry about a lady friend walking alone at night.
posted by COD at 12:22 PM on September 3, 2007

Screaming in terror has always worked for me.
posted by cytherea at 12:24 PM on September 3, 2007

My parents got me pepper spray three different times and I still don't carry it. Why?
1) Perhaps I have an excessive sense of personal safety.
2) I figure I'd never have it when I need it. It was too big to carry in my pocket, so I'd mostly carry it in my bag. Then, should something happen, I'd be standing there on the sidewalk for seven minutes digging it out of the bottom of my bag, from beneath folders, gym clothes, etc. The idea that I'd see danger coming but have no other way of dealing with it (crossing the street, taking another route) seemed unlikely.
3) I was pretty sure that if something ever happened and I did try to use it, I'd miss the guy's eyes and spray his hair. Then, in the meantime, he'd shoot me in the gut. It always made more sense to avoid bad situations rather than arm myself (rather feebly) in case they occurred.
posted by salvia at 12:34 PM on September 3, 2007

Best answer: Amazon has quite a number of personal safety products like pepper spray and personal alarms that you could have sent to her, and you could throw something else into the order that she might actually, y'know, want.

That being said, your concern for her safety is sweet, if slightly overbearing. Hounding her about getting pepper spray for herself is not a good tactic and would probably serve to irritate, but there's certainly no harm in sending her some with a note saying that you know she can take care of herself, but extra precaution never hurt anyone, or something to that effect. I'd stay away from sending her statistics, because chances are she's already well aware of them.
posted by booknerd at 12:47 PM on September 3, 2007

The cell phone advice seems sketchy (though maybe as a decoy it would be ok). There have been over a dozen assaults (mostly fought off) in my college town in the last year and almost all of the women were on cell phones. Now that might be because all Iowa students are on their phones 100% of the time (plausible), but my instinct is that they were distracted or appeared distracted to the bastard(s).

More than carrying a deterrent, she would be better off not walking alone at night. That said, a whistle on a key chain seems more practical and easier to keep handy than pepper spray.
posted by parkerjackson at 12:48 PM on September 3, 2007

Best answer: I think that using her school's escort service (or just agreeing to walk home with a girl- or boyfriend!) is statistically a much better option for improving her safety than walking alone and carrying some kind of concealed weapon.

Or! You know what you should do? Buy and send her a copy of The Gift of Fear. It's very helpful for young women who are developing their intuition about their own safety, in particular.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 12:57 PM on September 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Many colleges give freshman women (freshwomen? freshwomyn?) "rape whistles" for personal safety. I'd be surprised if she didn't already have one. They can't be used against you and are light and unobtrusive.

But I think you need to back off a bit. Women are constantly bombarded with scare stories. She knows what kind of risks she faces and your extra hand-wringing won't help her peace of mind.
posted by chairface at 12:58 PM on September 3, 2007

IANACop. In my area, we get this alot. The MO of recent attackers seems to be that they're going to show you the gun/knife before you really have the chance to do anything. The advice offered was prevention: travel in pairs or better, well lit areas, don't be talking on a cell phone, decent hours, call for escort if it's late. Generally they've been running when people run/scream/etc, but escalating the situation with more weaponry wouldn't help.

I carry spray sometimes, but really it wouldn't matter if I had an uzi in my pocket. Some dude says "hey" you turn around and it's already pointing at you. If he's willing to shoot someone to get a wallet, then he's going to get it. Odds are he's not, but that you brandishing a weapon would up the ante.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:01 PM on September 3, 2007

"The cell phone is a deterrent to potential attackers."

Might be a deterrent to someone planning something that precludes a quick getaway. But more conventional advice is to project awareness of your surroundings and confidence to discourage attackers.
posted by Manjusri at 1:04 PM on September 3, 2007

Best answer: I've been at several safety sessions given on college campuses, and invariably the police officer giving the session will advise the new students NOT to carry pepper spray for defense. Their reasoning (from experience) is:

1. In the midst of an attack, people are very likely to misuse or misdirect the pepper spray.

2. Those little hand-held pepper spray containers really only have a distance of a foot or so. You don't want to have to be getting closer to the assailant just to use your spray, putting yourself at more risk.

3. As others have noted, its very easy for the attacker to grab the spray and use it on you.

4. The stuff is really strong, and may have the unfortunate side-effect of incapacitating your friend, too.

If you're concerned for your friend, suggest safe alternatives to walking home (most urban schools provide late night vans, buses, escort services) and do some research on self-defense courses in the area (also provided free or low cost on many campuses).
posted by i less than three nsima at 1:20 PM on September 3, 2007

Sign her up for Krav Maga classes at a good school, drag her physically to them until she beats you up for it, and shes got enough self defense skills to maybe protect herself
posted by Jacen at 1:28 PM on September 3, 2007

mace is overrated. in general, if your attacker is determined and/or high, pepper spray alone isn't as effective as one might hope.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:29 PM on September 3, 2007

As a woman, she's heard about the dangers. She knows about them, trust me. No amount of daddying her is going to help, and if you insist on "helping" her when she doesn't want help, it's more likely to make her behave in a contradictory fashion. The fact that she said she might get something "eventually" is her nice way of telling you to leave her alone. She said it to mollify you, not because he actually intends to get something.

I don't believe in carrying weapons that can be used on me, even accidentally (especially accidentally.) If you really must push it, and if I were you, I wouldn't- suggest that she walk with the head of one of her keys in her fist, with the key extending between her fingers. She already has the keys, and if she drops them, an assailant isn't going to stop to rearm himself with them.

But mostly, if she's capable and confident, quit treating her like a child.
posted by headspace at 1:30 PM on September 3, 2007

I second the recommendation of "The Gift of Fear," and you should get one for yourself as well.

You might also want to educate yourself on women's safety. Statistically, she's in *more* danger if she accepts the escort of a (male) friend or acquaintance than if she goes alone.

She's an adult and can make her own judgments. Not to mention that the more decent people you manage to scare off the streets that they have a perfect right to use, the more dangerous they become for everybody.
posted by Salamandrous at 1:32 PM on September 3, 2007 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This article from the US DOJ seems very relevant to this AskMe. A few quotes stood out after a quick scan:
"The average annual rate of overall violent crime against female college students (43 per 1,000) was nearly half that of male college students (80 per 1,000)."
"Except for rape/sexual assault, college students were most often violently victimized by people they did not know. Victims of rape/sexual assault were about 4 times more likely to be victimized by someone they knew than by a stranger."
posted by pharm at 1:46 PM on September 3, 2007

Get her a whistle, a high-quality referee kind of whistle. Get her one of those plastic coil-type bracelets to put the whistle on (she should not wear it around her neck, as the lanyard or whatever she's used can be used against her). Buy her a couple of basic street-safety self-defense courses. One of the best ways to avoid being attacked is projecting the confidence that you can take care of yourself, even if you're no Bruce Lee.
posted by rtha at 2:01 PM on September 3, 2007

The little pocket cans of Mace are overrated. The stuff that's really useful as a defensive weapon is generally quite bulky (big cans, trigger sprayers, etc.) and not available everywhere. You have to really get in someone's face for the little cans to be worth much. And, of course, you need to be able to get to it -- the can of Mace that's at the bottom of a woman's purse might as well be at home, for all the good it's going to do.

Frankly I think that a big metal keychain (one big enough to grab solidly and that won't break if used as a blunt/flail instrument) and an unreserved psychological willingness to go directly for an attacker's eyes with it, is probably just as effective as those mini cans of Mace. And it still might not work on someone who was really hyped up on drugs. (But then again, few things do, short of punching enough holes in them that they pass out from shock.)

But honestly the thing that seems to make the biggest difference in confrontations isn't equipment, but attitude and knowledge,* and you can't really give either of those as a gift.

* Okay, sort of. At least initially -- equipment can certainly make a difference, but without the right attitude first, it's probably worse than useless. Arming people who haven't made a very conscious decision to go about armed is a Bad Thing. It's too personal a decision to push on anyone else.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:03 PM on September 3, 2007

Best answer: Some more info on various personal safety devices.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:17 PM on September 3, 2007

Several women were attacked and raped at the Univ of Georgia when I was a grad student about 10 years ago.

One day I was weeding the patch around my mailbox in the early afternoon when a car passed me. The look the man gave me in passing scared me so much that I went into the house, locked the door, and brought both my dog and my neighbor's dog inside with me. I also called my husband at work and my neighbor at work to let them know I'd seen a really scary guy. Overkill? no -- it was the guy, and they found him working construction the house directly across the street. His coworkers turned him in after realizing he fit the sketch and description to a T.

Tell your friend to listen to her "spidey sense". Encourage her to take a self-defense class. Escort services always took forever to come when called, so she may not use them. But at least she can hone her senses and reactions.
posted by mdiskin at 2:21 PM on September 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

3rding the whistle; our student union's women's department gives them out every year, and I expect they have gone through a thorough reasoning process and come to that conclusion.

Regarding self defence in general, look into joining a martial arts club. There are lots of benefits to these beyond safety from physical attack; they're exercise, they'll teach you to break-fall properly, improve your general reflexes, and give you more balance and grace in your movements.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:02 PM on September 3, 2007

Not a deterrent, but unlike pepper spray, this shock jacket [video link] could actually be of assistance even if you're taken completely by surprise.

I don't expect it to ever reach the market though - by the third time you yell and leap ten feet in the air and swear like a sailor after merely trying to put your hands in your pockets, I think it would be returned for a refund :)
posted by -harlequin- at 3:16 PM on September 3, 2007

4midori writes "Perhaps, but if one uses it to prevent an assault, whether its legal or requires a permit seems less important."

But pepper spray is essentially useless unless you can bring it to bear immediately. That means belt holster, lanyard or carrying it in your hand. If pepper spray is illegal or prohibited carrying it usefully is going to get one in trouble.
posted by Mitheral at 3:26 PM on September 3, 2007

I have a friend who carries a large hammer around with him everywhere. He's a small guy and he hasn't had any problems at all :)

That probably isn't a great idea due to the fact that it can be used against you, though.

I find it interesting that so many people assume a gun will be involved in an attack. Sure, it happens, but not every attack is going to involve a firearm.

I've always heard that keys are a great weapon, and what's been said about them is probably accurate.

A tip about guns that your friend may or may not know: The difference between someone pointing a weapon and actually firing it are two very different things. Many people that would have no problem aiming a gun at a potential victim would be completely unable to actually pull the trigger. But, people act irrationally when they feel threatened. If she gets attacked by a gun-toting assailant, her best bet is to not immediately strike back, because that could scare the guy into firing.

Good luck finding the right solution.
posted by DMan at 3:32 PM on September 3, 2007

Nthing those who suggest the self-defense class and those who are saying that the attacker can get pepper spray or other weapons away from her. I read somewhere that it's better to use a pen rather than keys because one might lose the keys in a scuffle.

I think it would be better to spring for a set of self-defense lessons rather than the pepper spray--using "I messages" when you present the gift.
posted by brujita at 3:32 PM on September 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses of all colors, everyone. I rarely hound her about the stuff, but seeing a recent smattering of crime reports around campus brought me to bring it up with her. I probably AM being a bit overbearing about it, though.

She's at the University of Delaware, by the way. They make RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) classes available, and offer Public Safety escorts for both on-and-off campus locations. It's not a lack of options, it's that she won't use them. She had a guy she didn't know well walk her home the other night (!) and while nothing went terribly wrong, it ended up being a not good idea.

I just don't want her or any of our friends to have a too-close call before she thinks about safety. I'm probably going to show her this thread. Keep all the good advice coming!
posted by potch at 3:45 PM on September 3, 2007

Best answer: FWIW, I went to UD a few years ago, and I do understand where you're coming from; unless something's radically changed it's a surprisingly dangerous campus in a town with a completely uninterested police force. Put it this way -- I feel safer living in Philadelphia, even with its atrocious crime rate, than I ever did living in Newark.

The RAD courses they have are great -- if the Tae Kwon Do club is still active, they're fabulous too :) Not so much for useful self-defense, but to get stronger and learn how to throw a punch, they're great. Potch's friend, if you're reading this -- please at least think about the RAD classes? They don't take that much time, and even if you never use them, what's the loss?

I never used the campus escorts so can't speak to them; I tended to either crash at the party host's home if they were someone I knew well, or to walk home with a BIG group of friends. Actually -- I don't remember ever going many places after dark by myself, even on campus or Main St. That seemed to be the best solution -- just staying in a group, always, and if I absolutely had to be alone, walking with my head up, obviously alert, and walking really, really confidently. But mostly, just stay in a group of *trusted* people. Newark doesn't necessitate weapons/mace/etc, but staying alert and ready *is* necessary.
posted by kalimac at 4:21 PM on September 3, 2007

I have a personal alarm which was bought for me when I was visiting university campuses. I ended up with one of the single-use gas canister alarms which makes a hell of a noise on the recommendation of a policeman, who said that it would be the best choice as a) it makes a really loud noise and b) in an emergency, if you break the thing next to someone's ear it might surprise them enough to buy you the time to get away.

I think if you've suggested it to her already, then it is her decision and there's not a lot you can do. I would just reinforce that it is far better to be prepared for any dangerous situations and never use it than any alternative.
posted by penguinliz at 4:25 PM on September 3, 2007

It's good of you to be concerned about this. Unfortunately many young women don't seem very interested in actively preparing to respond to a violent encounter. I suspect many of them want to avoid the emotions that will come up in accepting the need to make serious preparations. Having less upper body strength than a man is a poor justification for not carrying a weapon. That it "could" be taken away does not back up the decision. The relevant factors are whether someone who is trained and carrying a weapon is at greater risk than someone who isn't.

Getting her a copy of The Gift of Fear is a great idea but I wouldn't bother unless you can bring up the subject in such a way to entice her to read it. Otherwise you'll be just another voice from out there, and she'll be more prone to avoid the subject than engage with it. For the same reason, I wouldn't give her pepper spray.

The best thing you can do is encourage her to take the Rape Aggression Defense course. I don't know if they do full force attacks against a padded and helmeted male assailant but that is the best step she can make towards becoming a harder target. Don't bother promoting martial arts or anything that focuses on technique. It's getting accustomed to the adrenaline dump, tachi psychi effects, and knowing that you will show up for yourself if it comes to it, that will do her the most good. Knowing 2 or 3 moves involving gross motor actions like a knee to the groin is a good thing but it pales in comparison to having some kind of a grip on the stress. Many universities that offer these rape defense courses do have the padded assailant. The more the full force attacks are featured, the better. If you can get her to do one of those she'll be much more likely to carry and if necessary use, pepper spray. Hell, she might buy it herself. Could save you some cash.
posted by BigSky at 4:28 PM on September 3, 2007

If you can get her into a women's self defense course that would be great, likewise with The Gift of Fear, but she might resist having either of these shoved at her and refuse to take the course or read the book.

Get her one of those super, super bright flashlights. Any store that carries self defense items should have one. They are meant to temporarily blind an assailant. Don't make a big deal about this when you give it to her, present it as a handy light first and "you could shine it in someone's eyes if you get into trouble" second.

Some people who don't like "weapons" will happily carry something that is a weapon if they can think of it as something else.
posted by yohko at 5:09 PM on September 3, 2007

I suggest she purchase a high-quality semiautomatic handgun chambered for either 9mm or 40S&W. I then suggest she take up shooting as a pastime, and study it seriously. Likewise she should research the laws of her state to determine when she is in the right to use deadly force. She should then go through the proper channels and obtain a license or permit to carry said handgun.

If you are mugged as a business proposition ("hand it over or die"), hand over your wallet. If you are attacked by anything armed or overpoweringly bigger than you, kill the sonofabitch.

If she cannot (for logistical or legal reasons) carry a handgun, she might consider a telescoping baton. These shouldn't prove difficult to use with considerable effect. Keep in mind that these are frequently considered deadly weapons ("clubs"), so the sorts of situations in which they may be employed echo those of firearms.

A martial art seems like a good idea to me as well.
posted by Netzapper at 6:07 PM on September 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

OK, she knows there are resources available to her...what you can say to her is something on the order of :"X, I care about you , and I want you to be safe. It really concerns me that the walk back to your place is in a high crime area and I'd feel better knowing that you've taken that RAD course."
posted by brujita at 9:14 PM on September 3, 2007

Any martial art skills, batons, or pepper spray she has wont mean squat if she gets jumped by multiple armed assailants who want to harm her in one way or another. Her best defense is a lot of noise and the ability to run faster than they can. She should stay in large groups, use the campus provided escorts, take a cab home and not worry about any of these things.

But: If she does not want to look out for her own safety short of you walking her home every night there is not much you can do.
posted by outsider at 10:10 PM on September 3, 2007

Any martial art skills, batons, or pepper spray she has wont mean squat if she gets jumped by multiple armed assailants who want to harm her in one way or another.

This is the kind of poor logic I was referencing earlier. Yes, if the local SWAT team decides to take her down then any training or weaponry she might happen to have will probably prove to be for naught. So what? If I get into a head on collision with a semi carrying freight going 85 mph, then my wearing a seat belt won't mean a thing. Still it's irresponsible to ignore the range of possibilities where it will.

Using escorts and the like are solid ideas and there is also a real benefit to knowing how to physically protect oneself and use a weapon. There are a number of situations where that can make a difference.
posted by BigSky at 3:52 AM on September 4, 2007

take a cab home

I wish. Stupid cab-less Newark.

(And I wanted to follow up on my comment about Tae Kwon Do club -- she will NOT learn how to escape from an assailant or explicitly defend herself. What she will do is get in wicked good shape, learn how to throw punches and kicks safely, and get used to doing so at full force, and being able to work through that adrenaline high. I found it helped my confidence enormously, too.)
posted by kalimac at 6:52 AM on September 4, 2007

I had a friend who, after one of her friends was attacked, always wore running shoes home. I do that today, even as I'm walking home in broad daylight-- keeps my nice shoes nice and means I can sprint if needed.

Now, the friend *also* had her shoes outfitted with a very sharp, two-inch blade coming out of the upper toe box and heel. No one noticed it, but she swore that if someone grabbed her at close range, she should be able to kick forwards or backward at least once, and then run like hell.

She also took a self-defense course, which I'd highly recommend for the nth. Please tell her that just having someone try to strong-arm or choke you once-- even in practice-- can make the situation real enough for you to learn to manage the situation as best you can. It can make all the difference.
posted by Arch1 at 7:37 AM on September 4, 2007

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