By Tracey Hawkins
January 31, 2011 (San Diego’s East County)--January is National Personal Self-Defense Awareness Month, a time to reflect on safety information and tips, as well as to sharpen survival skills. As a safety expert, my job is to make sure my audience, readers and viewers have the best advice from the best resources.
In light of the recent news story about a young woman who was jogging locally and who was able to stop an attacker with pepper spray, I have created a guide to help you choose a self-defense class, learn basic safety tips, and choose the best weapon for your safety.
First and foremost, you are your best weapon. Along with your brain, we all have a built-in survival mechanism that is hardly ever wrong. Our gut-instinct warns us when there is danger. We are often conditioned to be nice and polite, therefore we don't listen to or respect fear signals. According to "The Gift of Fear" author Gavin deBecker, "Intuition is always right in at least two important ways; It is always in response to something. It always has your best interest at heart." Believe it, listen to it and respect it.
Law enforcement officials say a majority of the time when interviewing victims, they will say, "It didn't feel right", "I knew something was wrong", "I had a bad feeling..." etc. Do not question that voice, do not worry about being embarrassed in case it is wrong. Get out of the situation immediately.
Find a self-defense program—and learn basic safety tips
When choosing a self-defense program, you need to determine if you prefer a male or female instructor. You need to be comfortable with the instructor. Observe or take a trial class before you commit to it. Some women have been victimized by men and shut down when led by a male instructor. Janean Crapo, 6th degree black belt in Aikido, based in Battle Creek, MI, states that some women want to know for sure they can perform the techniques taught, so if they see a female instructor doing them, they have more confidence. She states the opposite applies as well, "If a woman doesn't value herself, she may not value a female instructor."
However, Ellen Snortland, author of "Beauty Bites Beast" states that some women value the fact that a woman instructor can relate to their fears, "Been there, done that" carries great weight when it comes to matters of violence prevention. She believes that whether or not you learn self-defense or carry a weapon, that you should remember that your elbows, heel palms and kicks are ALWAYS with you. San Diego-based, Tracie Arlington of Play It Safe Defense, teaches "Rape Escape" because she feels it is more practical and realistic than martial arts training.
"When you are habitually prepared to protect yourself and your family, you will probably never have to." states retired Deputy Chief for Westland, MI Police Department, Gary Sikorski. Having a Safety Plan should be mandatory. It is too difficult to be expected to come up with a plan of action when you are in crisis mode. You should know what you will do in any given situation before you are in it. Play the "What If" game. What would you do if you walk out of the store and someone is following you, what if you were jogging and someone approached you, if you were pulling into your garage, etc. Map out a plan of action before you need it. That empowers you knowing that you can get out of any situation and will not be caught off guard.
The key to being aware is making eye contact. Eye contact is crucial when you are out and about because it serves 2 main purposes. First, it lets everyone know that you are alert and paying attention to your surroundings. You are looking directly at them, looking everywhere, therefore, no one can sneak up on you (to take away your weapon of choice or you remove their weapon; the element of surprise). Take it a step further and speak to everyone. Just say "Hi" whenever you encounter someone. Not only is it polite, but it puts everyone on notice. Some women struggle with making eye contact, they are not comfortable with it, this makes it easy. Secondly, it lets that person know that you can identify them if necessary, you are paying attention.
Awareness training in the workplace addresses the fact that crime cost employers $5 billion annually. Employers are catching on to the fact that they play a role in their employee's safety. Experts, such as myself, often speak about creating a Safety Plan; learning techniques for ensuring awareness and reducing the likelihood of being victimized, securing their homes, implementing road safety rules through role-play and safety scenarios for roadside emergencies, distinguishing between reality and dangerous myths, debunking viral warnings and scares, safe use of social media (regarding privacy, etc.), as well as product education.
This type of program is typically held on-site at campuses, companies and organizations, sometimes as in-service training or as a wellness program. The key is getting employers to know there is a steep cost involved when an employee misses work as a crime victim. Many don't believe that what happens outside of the workplace is their business. When victimized employees miss work for court appearances, therapist visits, police report follow-up, medical leave, sick days and are sometimes are not able to come back to work, requiring the employer to train a replacement. Safety is everyone's business.
Choose your weapon
(Editor’s note: Legalities vary among states and local jurisdictions. When in doubt, check with your local law enforcement authorities.)
If you decide to use a weapon, do your homework. Pepper spray is recommended and carried by law enforcement officers. According to retired NYPD Lieutenant, Gary Gione, "OC is unlike tear gas in that it is effective in those even under the influence." However, he warns that nothing is 100%.
"San Diego Police Department's, Lt. Andra Brown, Media Services, stated that OC/pepper spray is legal, however, CN/CS/tear gas, is not. She also states that stun guns are legal to carry and use as well."
Pepper spray is indicated on containers as OC. Tear gas is indicated on spray containers as CN and CS. There is confusion regarding Mace being illegal. Mace is a brand name, they make OC/Pepper Spray and CS/CS/Tear Gas products and a combination product with both. As long as citizens of San Diego purchase pure OC, (not CS or CN), it is legal to possess and use for self-defense purposes. The website that I list for pepper spray sells only OC....
My most popular personal safety product is pepper spray and it has been for the past 15 years. "I don't care if you carry an ink pen, pepper spray, Taser or bazooka, you have to get the muscle memory down," according to Steve Kardian, safety expert, who adds, "You must practice." I educate people that they must read the label and know what they are buying. They must test the weapon of choice and practice regularly. They have to be comfortable with their choice and know how to use it. Here are some selections. Research and make a decision best for you, what to look for when purchasing a non-lethal weapon and where to buy:
- Must be pure pepper spray, OC (not tear gas combination, CN and CS).
- Heat rating should be a minimum of 2 million SHU's
- Check the expiration date on label, average 2-3 year shelf life
- Test the spray (outside) upon purchase and once a year
- Must be accessible and visible, the traditional case is easily recognized
- Check applicable laws in your State
- Shoots 6'-20'+
Con: Cannot legally go on board airplanes (may be able to be checked)
- Requires background check for felony convictions prior to activation
- Laser sight
- 1 live cartridge with 15' range, 1 practice cartridge
- Training DVD and user manual
- Check applicable laws in your State
- Free unit replacement with police report of crime
$379.99 basic package/starter kit, $49.99 2 refill cartridges
Con: Expensive start-up and on-going cost (refills)
www.tasercom, California retailers
- Small and lightweight
- Typically the sound and sight alone can frighten off an attacker
- Check applicable laws in your state
Con: You have to be close enough to touch the would-be perpetrator
Key Ring Personal Alarm:
- Accessible, key ring
- Minimum 120 decibel output, Loud
- Increases witness potential; people will look for source of sound
- Great for kids or frequent travelers
Con: Doesn't physically stop someone
- In Case of Emergency
- Identification in case of emergencies
- Sports bracelet, card or dog tag style
- Stores personal, medical, allegery and emergency contact in a USb device accessed by hospitals and some EMTs
- Can be engraved with pertinent info for immediate viewing
Con: Must carry at all times, USB connection necessary to read most info
- Cell phone program with panic button
- When in danger, press panic button, it automaticaly contacts your network of emergency contacts
including neighbors and conferences you in, e-mail and text alerts
- Video streams emergency incidents
- Connected to 9-1-1 system if situation escalates
- Approved in California
Con: On-going cost
$19.95/monthly family plan
Tracey Hawkins, aka, "Tracey, the Safety Lady" is a nationally recognized safety expert. She regularly appears on television news broadcasts to offer safety tips and product education. She writes safety and security topic columns and blogs and is a professional speaker and safety trainer across the U.S.. Follow her on Facebook; "Safety and Security Source" and visit her website: www.safetyandsecuritysource.com.