April is sexual assault awareness month, and we cannot turn our backs on the shocking numbers that the Bureau of Justice Statistics has reported for 2008. In the United States alone, an estimated 222,000 rapes or sexual assaults of individuals 12 or older had occurred, and these are the cases that were reported. Even more startling is that studies indicate 18% percent of women in this country will be raped over the course of their lifetimes.
This information is a frightening wake-up call, and every woman and girl must meet reality head on and devise a personal safety plan that she can incorporate into her daily routine. Several components are required to make a personal safety plan effective, which includes both physical and emotional decisions based on the comfort zone of the individual. Attitude, common sense, survival instinct and the motivation to fight back are all critical factors that need to be addressed on a very personal level. There also has to be a firm conviction that developing an individual safety plan is as critical as having a disaster emergency kit in place. This belief is not only essential, it is crucial.
Even now in the 21st century there is still doubt that a woman could actually defend herself and are rarely thought of as Xena the Warrior Princess welding a powerful weapon to combat the evil forces of the world. That’s a man’s job right? Women are the weaker sex, soft and feminine and not strong enough to defend herself if confronted with a potentially dangerous situation – NOT! Women have the power within them to be strong and in control, empowered to take on whatever challenges they are faced with head on without losing their femininity. The perception that women need to rely on a man to save the day whenever she is in trouble is ludicrous. Unfortunately, Superman is not going to sweep down and fight the bad guys and whisk the girl away to safety. In reality, women and girls need to become more proactive in making personal safety a part of their everyday lives.
The first step in developing a personal protection plan is to imagine different scenarios that may place you in threatening circumstances. Play out in your mind what would you do in the event if someone attacked you while walking to your car with your hands full of packages while looking for your keys. If you enjoy jogging or running solo and a predator jumps at you from behind, will you be ready to react?
The Women’s Self Defense Federation offers a very informative article on how to avoid predators which can be found at http://aaa-selfdefense.com/avoiding-predators, and all women and girls should make the time to read it. Here are some common sense guidelines regarding how a woman’s mindset can help prevent her from becoming a victim:
· Always walk with confidence and with a purpose: Stand straight with your shoulders and your head held high. Don’t exude a “shrinking violet” posture with shlumpy shoulders and a lack of confidence. Predators seek out potential victims who look timid and vulnerable.
· Always be aware of your surroundings. Your instinctual radar should be up at all times. Avoid multi-tasking and distractions while walking from point A to point B, i.e. talking on the cell phone while fumbling for your keys in your purse.
· If someone gets into your personal space or is following you, look that person straight in the eye and ask “what do you want?” Predators don’t like it when someone looks directly at them because they can now be identified.
· If you must go to a grocery store or shopping mall at dark, park as close to the entrance as you can and always in a lighted area. Do not park next to a van or a vehicle with someone in it with the engine running. When leaving your car, make sure the doors are locked. When coming out of the store, make sure you have your keys out and ready. While loading the car with packages, put your purse in first and always look around you while placing the rest of the bags in your vehicle. Once you are in your car, lock the doors immediately and turn on the engine. Don’t sit there for any length of time because even if your doors are locked, it doesn’t stop a predator with a gun at your window. Get in the car, lock the door and take off immediately.
· Avoid walking solo in dark, isolated areas and choose a path that is well lit and trafficked. If you must walk a dark and isolated route, carry a flashlight, a personal alarm, a charged cell phone and a personal protection device such as a pepper spray, Mace, stun gun or TASER at ALL TIMES. Non-lethal personal protection products are affordable, compact and very effective in protecting an individual from being attacked by a predator. These devices are very easy to use and require very little or no training and are legal within most of the 50 states.
· If you are confronted with a potential assault, scream as loud as you can or set off your personal alarm to attract attention. Yell “I HAVE PEPPER SPRAY!!” and start running in the opposite direction as fast as you can. If you have a pepper spray on hand, don’t be afraid to use it. Pepper spray is made from hot cayenne peppers. The active ingredient is called oleoresin capsicum (OC) which is derived from chilis and most effective when sprayed in the eyes of a predator. The immediate result is severe burning of the eyes, tearing and pain, which can last up to 35-40 minutes. Some sprays also include an indelible dye to mark the attacker.
· Another effective personal defense tool is Mace, which is an irritant similar to tear gas. Unlike pepper spray, however, Mace will not have any effect on predators that are on drugs or alcohol. Mace® is also the brand name for personal defense and security products.
· TASERs are more expensive than a pepper spray or Mace product, but this personal defense device is one of the most powerful non-lethal tools a civilian can own that is legal in all states except Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. Check local state laws on any restrictions regarding the use or possession of a Taser. Tasers can incapacitate an attacker up to 15 feet away and can also act as a stun gun upon body contact. The Taser is very easy to operate with a simple point and shoot mechanism with a laser light that will guarantee an accurate aim at the predator.
· It is important that you learn more about these personal defense products and choose the one that you are comfortable with so that you are not afraid to use it when necessary.
· Learn some basic self defense techniques that are easy to remember but effective enough to escape a predator’s attack. Self defense classes are relatively inexpensive and there are organizations who offer free self defense workshops for women and girls. There is a great website that all young women should visit, which makes available a 20 minute long video that teaches girls how to fight back against sexual assault and abduction. Since 2006 Just Yell Fire has empowered 1 million girls in 44 countries with getaway skills and the right to live without fear of being a victim of sexual assault.
Date rape drugs are becoming a very popular method of disorienting an individual so that she will not have the ability to defend herself against a sexual assault. The three most popular date rape drugs are Rohypnol, GHB, and Ketamine.
These drugs are powerful, dissolve quickly in liquids and take effect within 15 to 30 minutes of ingestion. If you are going out to a club, a party or even to dinner with someone you don’t know very well, you need to take these precautions to avoid becoming a victim of these date rape drugs:
· Don’t take drinks from people you don’t know
· Open your own beverage container
· Never leave your drink unattended.
· If a drink tastes funny, pour it out.
· Don’t drink from punch bowls.
· If you feel drunk and you had no alcohol, get help immediately
· Never leave a social situation with a stranger or even an acquaintance that you don’t know very well.
The rule of thumb is when you are out with friends or on a date, keep your wits about you, have a charged cell phone handy, and don’t drink too much alcohol. It is also a good idea to ALWAYS tell a friend or family member where you are going and check in from time to time.
Assault doesn’t always have to happen outside your home, and the major cause of injury to women each year is from domestic violence. According to the American Institute of Domestic Violence, http://www.aidv-usa.com 5.3 million women are abused each year in the United States. If you are a victim of domestic violence, do you have a safety plan in place to prepare an escape from an intimate partner’s violent episode? Do you have resources such as trusted neighbors, friends or family members who can offer you and your children a safe haven from your abuser? Visit http://www.aardvarc.org/dv/plan.shtml for more information on a step-by-step Domestic Violence Safety Plan along with a link to download a “Family Disaster Plan” worksheet.
Home invasion in the United States is also a very harsh reality and according to a United States Department of Justice report:
- 38 percent of assaults and 60 percent of rapes occur during home invasions
- One in five homes undergoes a home invasion or break-in
- There are more than 8,000 home invasions every day in North America
- 50 percent of home invasions involve the use of a weapon; the most common weapons used are knives or other cutting instruments
- In 48 percent of home invasions, victims sustain physical injuries
- Victims age 60 or older make up 17 percent of home invasion victims
- In 68 percent of home invasions, victims and the accused are strangers; in 11 percent of these cases, victims and the accused are friends, business associates, or family
Here are some recommended tips to help you prepare and defend against the threat of home invasion:
- If your home uses hollow wooden doors rather than doors with solid cores, invest in some heavy duty locks.
- Install security devices in windows such as alarm systems or bars. These devices can be relatively inexpensive, and you do not have to spend a zillion dollars to secure your home.
- Lock all entry ways such as doors and windows at all times.
- If your front door does not have a peephole, have one installed. Your investment will be about $30 which is worth having the ability to see who is at your door before opening it.
- If you have some extra money to spend, install an alarm system such as ADT. Do your homework and shop for the best deals to keep costs low.
- It is highly recommended that you install surveillance cameras inside and outside of your home. However, this equipment can be extremely pricey, and there are less expensive options such as dummy cameras that will give the illusion your property is being monitored.
- If you live in a house, ALWAYS keep the front, sides and back of the property well lit when it is dark.
- When entering your home garage, be especially aware that no one has followed you in. Once you have determined you are alone, immediately close the garage door behind you. If someone has followed you into your garage, lock your car doors and back out immediately and drive away as fast as you can to safety.
- If you live in an apartment complex or dorm, always make sure no one follows you into the building. Proceed to your apartment quickly and lock the door behind you.
- If your apartment, condo or dorm complex offers underground parking, try to park as close to the exit as possible in a well lit area. Before getting out of your car, do a quick scan of your surroundings to make sure there is no suspicious activity at play.
- Keep a personal protection device such as a pepper spray, Mace, stun gun or TASER close to reach inside and outside of your home.
- If you notice any suspicious individuals in your neighborhood, alert neighbors or Neighborhood Watch groups. If your community has an outside security company assigned to patrol your area, call them immediately to report any unusual activity.
- Have a discussion with your family regarding home invasions, preventative measures and escape plans in the event they become necessary.
A well defined personal safety plan is an option that can no longer be ignored. The veracity of living in a world full of economic duress, raging unemployment, relentless foreclosures, and social apathy from too much online networking and very little human interaction clearly defines that society is becoming an increasingly hostile environment to live in. Television shows it, the newspapers report it and statistics prove it. We must stop sticking our heads in the sand like frightened ostriches and deal head on that it ain’t pretty out there. We need to accept it but understand that we DO have the power to prevent the chance of ever falling victim to a ruthless crime. Women and girls must have the strength and the determination to fight back against violence without fear, embarrassment or guilt. You don’t have to be Supergirl to defend yourself and win – awareness, preparedness, and a personal protection device will help you stay in control when circumstance puts you in a precarious situation.