A Personal Appeal To Women: Don’t Be A Statistic

Protect yourself from predators
What would you do?

TL;DR: Please do yourself a favor and arm yourself with something to keep you safe, like pepper spray. It just may save your life. It did mine.

UPDATES: After publishing the post, I remembered about the amazing EmergenSee mobile app, which I talk about below. And a friend alerted me to a legal alternative to pepper spay for people who live in regions where pepper spray is illegal, such as the UK, also added below.

I’ve never written a personal post before. I’m a pretty intensely private person, so I usually like to stick to business on my blog, with some shoes and shenanigans thrown in along the way. But I’m going to make an exception with this post. If it saves even one life from tragedy, stepping outside my comfort zone will be worth it.

Some Background

I thought I was pretty safety conscious. I stay aware of my surroundings, shoot off the stink eye to questionable characters, avoid parking or even walking next vans with no windows, let a friend know if I’m meeting with someone from Craigslist to cash in on a good deal, etc. etc. Every once in a while an episode of Law and Order would alert me to a danger I hadn’t considered before, and I’d add a new line item to my mental list.

But then a stalker turned my world upside down. After a few incidents that creeped me out but didn’t seem to warrant a call to 911, he found out where I worked and who my boss was and left several incoherent and bizarre but vaguely threatening messages at his extension throughout the night. No one at my work knew I had a stalker. (See earlier note about being intensely private.) So when I got to work that morning, my boss’s assistant told me what had happened, and they put the place on lockdown. I was mortified by the spotlight and kind of embarrassed that I didn’t detect the signs that his stalking was escalating. I didn’t even know the guy’s last name.

Needless to say, this incident catapulted my personal world into a frenzy. I did learn his last name later that day and did an instant background check on him. He had a history of aggravated battery. Great. The good news was I had no problem getting a restraining order against him, and the judge made it permanent. But I was in a fog. I really never felt in danger from the stalking, more annoyed and baffled over why he was doing it. I barely knew the guy. And we had never dated or anything else that you would think would potentially trigger obsessive, stalking behavior.

I’m not writing about this because it’s fresh. It’s not even painful anymore. That weird season of my life is almost 10 years in my rear view mirror now. But the lessons I learned from a very wise crisis intervention counselor I had to meet with at the courthouse (part of the restraining order process) set me on a course I’m now very grateful for. She saw that I was in way over my head and went down a list of safety tips with me:

  • Get some pepper spray and put it on your key chain.
  • Stay alert when walking alone at night, especially in parking lots.
  • Don’t talk on the phone, put headphones in, or look too distracted if you’re walking by yourself at night.
  • Always look into your backseat before getting in your car.
  • Invest in an alarm service.

As you’ll see later in the post, little did I know at the time, the advice she gave me in that fateful meeting very likely saved my life several years down the line.

The Power Of Pepper

Near Miss 1

The tip she taught me that has yielded the greatest returns, without a doubt, is putting pepper spray on my key chain. It has saved me on a number of occasions that I’m actually aware of. That’s not counting the times I felt a little unnerved by someone’s suspicious behavior and just made sure he saw I had pepper spray in my hand, forefinger on the button.

One time, in particular though, I was in a Best Buy parking lot in Ft. Lauderdale, just walking out to my car, and on the other side of the aisle were three guys. No big d. It was so inconsequential that I took the time walking to my car at the far end of the lot to check out something on my phone. But then I thought I caught something out of the corner of my eye. When I turned my head slightly to the left, I saw one of them beside me but behind maybe a couple steps behind. Then I looked to the right and saw one of the other guys to my right. So I can only assume the third guy was behind me. I was too scared to turn around (although I definitely would now). I really think, given that it was dusk and not late at night, they were probably just after my car. I don’t know. What I do know is they weren’t there to help me put my bag in the trunk.

So, when I pulled my keys out (now I have them in hand before even entering a parking lot), I opened up the pepper spray and just held it straight up in the air. I never said a word. I just let them know that if they touched me, there was going to be some serious pepper drama raining down on them. And, God as my witness … they dropped back and went back to their side of the aisle, and I got in my car and left.

Near Miss 2

I had another incident several years later that was much more terrifying. I had just moved to Tampa and was living in an apartment until I decided where I wanted to buy. But it was brand new and still being developed. My building still wasn’t finished, and I was in the very back where there were few people living. (I was only the second resident to move in to our building.) But I felt safe because it was a gated community in a nice area of the ‘burbs.

But one night I came home late, a little after 1am. When I drove to my typical parking spot, I noticed a car in an area I didn’t normally see cars parked. And I thought I saw a person sitting in the car. But I dismissed it and parked maybe 20 yards away. I mean, c’mon. People don’t sit in a dark car in a nearly empty parking lot on a weeknight at 1am, right? I must have just thought the head rest looked like a head because I was so bleary eyed.

But when I opened my door, I heard a car start. Then he pulled his car back at an angle and turned on his lights. And then he just waited there while I got my computer bag out of the back seat. I couldn’t make out his face at all because of the distance and blinding light. My first  reaction was annoyance, not fear. That was a mistake. In retrospect, I should have run as soon as he did that instead of gathering my personal belongings. But my first thought was, Why is he doing this? Does he think he’s being helpful with the light? Then it quickly turned to annoyance because of how weird it was. It didn’t occur to me that my life was in danger until he drove his car in front of me, blocking me from my apartment building. (There was only a drainage pond behind me.) My chance to take off running had already eluded me. That slight delay gave him the opportunity to put me in a very vulnerable position. And because I was at the very back of the complex and there was no way out in the direction he was driving, I knew he had no other reason to be going that way but to block me.

I couldn’t see his face because his windows were tinted dark, but his window was down maybe an inch, enough for me to just see the top of his head.  When he wouldn’t move after what was realistically 10 to 15 seconds (but felt like minutes) of just sitting in front of me, I held my pepper spray out right in front of the open window and mustered my most heinous Jersey face. With that, he slowly moved forward, and I hightailed it to safety. I made so many mistakes in that incident but was thankfully saved by at least using pepper spray to regain my power.

There’s no question in my mind that pepper spray saved my life that night.

Near Miss 3, This Time My Daughter

One afternoon my daughter Destinee went out for a run. I had always told her that when she went for a run she needed to take her pepper spray with her and not play her music too loudly, so she could stay aware of her surroundings. There were a few patches of heavily wooded areas along the bike trail that snaked through our neighborhood, and they squicked me out a bit when I was alone.

Sure enough, right before entering one of those patches of trees, she noticed a guy walking on the sidewalk adjacent to the trail. I can’t remember what prompted her to look back, but when she did, she saw that he had entered the path and was running in a full sprint right toward her. He was wearing street clothes and flip flops, so she knew this wasn’t just a case of a dude trying to impress her with his super-jock powers.

And, to her dismay, although she usually carried pepper spray, she didn’t have hers on her that day. So all he had was a boatload of adrenaline and sheer panic fueling her sprint at the end of a long, hot run. She got off the path and ran with all her might through the neighborhood and eventually lost him by ducking behind someone’s door after turning a bend. It was the mother of all close calls. And guess how often she leaves her pepper spray at home when she goes for runs now? NEVER. (Right, honey?)

Near Miss 4, This Time Two Of My Daughters

In another incident, when we were living in Tampa, Destinee was out “clubbing” with my other daughter, Tori, in a historic and super-hip but questionable area called Ybor City. I use the term clubbing lightly because they were under 21 so there was no alcohol, but it’s supposed to be a really fun area. And they usually went with friends. Even so, any time they ventured out, I’d make sure at least one of them had pepper spray in her clutch, whether they drove or not or were with other kids. And this one night it came in handy.

The two of them were walking to their car after a night of dancing, and a group of 10 or so sketchy thugs came up to them and just started smack talking. The girls ignored their jeers and catcalls and kept walking, but one guy decided he wasn’t going to be brushed off and grabbed Tori’s arm, pulling her toward him. What they didn’t realize is Destinee already had the pepper spray in her hand.

Quick aside: In what might be considered questionable parenting by some, I have always told them that if they’re ever in a dangerous situation like that to dial up the crazy and forget all their manners. IOW, curse like a sailor! It’s tantamount, in my mind, to making yourself look as big as possible under the threat of a bear.

That’s exactly what she did. She hulked out and held the pepper spray right in his face and bellowed for him to get his [edited] hands off her [edited] sister. It worked. The dude let go of Tori’s arm, and the gangstahs left with some choice words but without incident.

These aren’t the only incidents we’ve faced, and we weren’t living in dangerous areas. We were just going about our daily lives doing the things that women should be able to do without fear of harm.

Survivors
Still standing

Why I’m Issuing This All Call For Women

After one of my daughters’ roommates had a close call on their college campus a couple months ago, I outfitted both of their roommates with pepper spray as well. (Destinee and Tori both go to UCF and live together with two adorable and amazing roommates. I just adore them.) And it really got me wondering if there was something more I could do to get the word out to women about how easy it is to potentially reduce their chances of falling prey to a monster disguised as a human.

But I have to admit it was an agonizing choice. I’ve literally wrestled with the idea for two months because I really don’t like to put my personal life on display. Very few people have known I had a stalker. I don’t know … There’s just something sensational about even the sound of it. Like this stuff isn’t supposed to happen in middle class neighborhoods among people who have backyards, mortgages, and kids. Or so I thought.

But, as I thought about it, it occurred to me that in all the years I’ve been carrying pepper spray, I’ve only seen two other women with pepper spray out and visible. Two. But it’s, in my opinion, the easiest way to let a would-be attacker know that you aren’t an easy hit. They want easy; they don’t want a face full of pepper spray. And they ESPECIALLY don’t want a face full of pepper spray with dye in it. Yes, dye! And you can get one on Amazon for under $10 (pick one, any one). We also carry a rape whistle and a killer kitty (Destinee’s find). Below is what my key chain looks like.

Protecting yourself with pepper spray
A typical Cushing key chain. Don’t. Mess with us.

Be Proactive

I’m not saying pepper spray will save women from all dangers out there. It’s not a full-proof plan, and there are no guarantees in life. But I’m an analyst; I’m not going for guarantees. But I DO want to do everything I can to keep statistics in my favor.

And, having also watched quite a few crime episodes in my day, I’m continually amazed to see how many tragedies could have been prevented with something as simple as pepper spray and a rape whistle. (I didn’t have a whistle during either of the incidents I listed. I learned about them when Destinee started school at UCF. They provided students with them.)

But think about it: If you’re in danger and set off a warning that people can hear (and these whistles are piercing), you’ve just brought people to their windows, adding to a potential list of witnesses who could provide key details to law enforcement at worst and scare off the perp at best. And you’ve also provided everyone in your immediate area with a potential timeline, if (God forbid) something terrible happens.

So I have nothing to gain by writing this post. It’s not link bait, and those aren’t affiliate links I shared, though I’m an Amazon affiliate. I wrote it with the hope that it will alert not just girls and women but anyone who’s vulnerable to the dangers out there and how easy it to protect yourself. So, provided carrying pepper spray isn’t illegal where you live, there’s really no reason not to. (This site provides some information broken down by state for the US, but I don’t know how reliable it is. Check the laws for your region.)

If it is illegal where you live, find a legal alternative. Just remember to remove any threatening items before entering airports, courthouses, schools, or anywhere else it could be interpreted as a danger to others around you.

Use Technology

My girls and I have a great app on our phones called Emergensee. It’s a mobile app that allows you to set up people to be alerted if you are in danger. It captures your GPS coordinates and sends them along with the alert. My girls and I have used it when we weren’t sure if we were in danger. You can easily cancel the alert if it turns out you’re not in danger. But it’s a comfort to know people who love and care about you are on high alert if they don’t get that cancellation notice shortly thereafter.

UK Alternative To Pepper Spray

A good friend of mine and brilliant marketer, Jane Copland, alerted me to a good alternative to pepper spray that’s legal in the UK. It’s a dyed spray gel that is reported to last on a person’s skin for up to seven days. The most prominent one I found on the market was Farbgel. Their video demo is underwhelming, but it seems like a solid product. What I like about it is the canister looks a lot like pepper spray. My only complaint is I couldn’t find one that’s attached to a key chain. The closest I could find was a miniature-size canister that came with a carrying case.

I like key chain accessories because I only have to remember to get my keys out wherever I’m going. And walking around with a canister in your hand could look a bit dodgy. So I’d probably gravitate toward the carrying case until someone figures out the opportunity to create a sheath for it that can be attached to a key chain.

Any Advice You’d Like To Share?

If you’ve had similar experiences and have advice you’d like to share, please share them in the comments below. I’m always on the lookout for better ways to protect myself. I’d like to avoid discussion about guns. It’s just too incendiary of a topic, and no one will be convinced by your thoughts on the topic because of a blog comment anyway.

Comments

  1. ronellsmith says

    Annie,

    Just…wow. First, I am so happy you were able to avert disaster in those instances. I am also exceedingly happy to see you sharing your story and calling on women to take their safety seriously.

    I grew up a country bumpkin in Mississippi, so going to college in an urban area was a huge shock for me. The proximity of people and buildings and cars, in addition to the high incidences of violent crime, shook me to my core.

    I’d always been a gun guy, having used them extensively while hunting as a youth. But at this point, I became a handgun aficionado, and I also began reading some of the works of the most recognized experts in self-defense and/or law enforcement circles.

    My mind was blown at reading some of the tales surrounding home defense and violent encounters. In the 1990s our family lost a close friend to a carjacking. That incident reshaped my thinking on urban life, and our society’s tolerance for crime, entirely.

    In the years since, I’ve counseled numerous friends, male and female, of ways to thwart violent encounters.

    1. Carry some form of protection.
    2. Use the buddy system. If you must go out at night or to less than savory areas, do not go alone.
    3. The eyes tell the story. If someone is approaching you, making you feel uncomfortable, stare right back at them while increasing the distance between you and the person.
    4. Look at the hands. Pay close attention to where their hands are located, or what’s in them. Might be a weapon.

    5. Distance is your friend. The average male can close 21 feet of distance in one second. Keep objects, such as vehicles, between you and strange parties when entering/exiting buildings.
    6. Have your keys ready. Many violent attacks occur when people are entering vehicles, as the victim looks down and fumbles for keys.

    7.Don’t go quietly. If you are attacked, fight like hell, but under no circumstances–even at gunpoint–do you leave the scene.

    Sorry for the essay. Personal safety is a big deal for me, even more so now that I have two daughters.

    RS

    • says

      Please don’t apologize! I love what you wrote. In fact, when I was out this morning, I regretted not including my advice to my girls that lines up with your #7. We talk VERY openly about these types of things. But I tell them not to comply, unless they’re just demanding their wallet/purse. Then I tell them to throw it as far away as they can and take off running. But if they are ever attacked (God forbid!) I tell them not to assume their compliance will be rewarded, as the attacker may promise. Assume they’re going to die and fight like hell to get away, bring their attacker to his knees (we all know how), and as a last resort get DNA. I didn’t say a word to the guy who blocked me, and that was a mistake. Even though I didn’t have a whistle, I should have screamed bloody murder.

  2. says

    Annie,

    I am so proud of you, my friend, for having the courage, willingness and insight to write this article. I’m going to be sharing it with everyone in my circles.

    I don’t believe anyone should walk around acting like a victim waiting
    for an incident to happen. I believe in being aware, prepared and
    conscious.

    Here are some more suggestions. I know they work because back when I was in the military police, I was in charge of crime prevention and have seen these suggestions and techniques (along with the ones you’ve already provided) in action:

    Do NOT walk with your head down – it’s a sign of fear. Always walk with your head UP – facing forward.

    Always pay attention to your surroundings – the more you are aware of them, the more you will be alert to potential problems. If you “zone out”, you’re more likely to miss what could otherwise be obvious.

    In situations where you need to, learn to use my favorite forensic audit technique of “soft eyes” – where you become able to see odd anomalies in your surroundings. if you fixate on any narrow aspect of what your eyes see, your brain fuzzes out everything else. By allowing your visual senses to soften, you are able to be aware of more within your vision and that’s when out-of-place things/people will be most observable.

    Until someone gets a killer kitty, the alternative is to walk with your keys in your hand, where the keys are protruding out between your fingers – so you can use them as a stabbing weapon if needed. Or even if you don’t carry them that way while you walk, and want to opt for the pepper spray first (good choice), practice getting those keys into weapon-position.

    It’s a last ditch maneuver, yet stabbing an assailant’s eyes or gouging their face or ribs could save your life.

    Remember -this is NOT about being a victim. It’s about recognizing that this world can be harsh and cruel, and by being mentally and physically prepared for the worst, you are much more free to go about your life with confidence.

    And that is the last thing I’ll offer. Simply by being prepared, and feeling more confident (without being foolishly arrogant), you exude that confidence. And like a dog and the mailman, a criminal can sense fear in people, and will more likely avoid anyone sending out confident energy…

    • says

      All the yes, Alan! Thank you for sharing these very helpful tips! As someone who is ridiculously tunnel visioned by nature, I love what you said about keeping soft eyes. It’s a skill I’ve learned over the years. If you ever saw surveillance video of me, I’d probably look a little crazed b/c I’ve trained myself to be guarded and watchful, even turning behind me from time to time.

      Another one I learned along the way is to make eye contact with someone who’s acting skeevy. It communicates that you aren’t afraid (even if you are) and that you can pick him/her out in a lineup.

  3. netmeg says

    Good stuff, and thank you for posting this. As one of the ones who couldn’t get away, I wish we’d been as aware years ago as you are now.

  4. says

    Annie, thanks for sharing those stories and for bringing awareness to a real issue. It happens more often then people think and I personally know of two incidents that have happened to women in my life in the past 2 months.

    Another thing to consider is self-defense classes. My local gym has started offering free self defense classes for women and I encourage people to see if their gym or local Y does as well. I took one in college and still use some of the tips they showed us today…oh so many years later :)

    Here in MA, it’s really hard to get pepper spray or mace but there are mini-bullhorns you can keep on your keychain or whistles as you mentioned. There are always ways to be cautious.

    Thanks again for writing this and I’m glad you and your family have made it safely through these terrible incidents.

    • says

      Thanks, Casie! Yeah, these things happen a lot more than people realize because I think most people who have been victimized on some level are too embarrassed to talk about it. Also, I was able to find pepper spray the first time at a Walgreens, but they’re hard to find everywhere. That’s why I use Amazon now. I even keep one in a decorative shoe box by my bed.

  5. RavenCourtney says

    Thanks for sharing your story, Annie. I know it’s going to prompt me to make some changes, and I bet it will for others, too.

  6. says

    I first thought she was joking. I then thought she was superstitious when she showed it to me for the first time. I’ve never seen anyone carry taser… Why would anyone?

    But the fact was – I was the one who was naive about 5 years ago when I started to get to know my future wife back at the University of Washington then. She was smart, cautious and did the right thing.

    She would openly carry taser in the evening and after dark when coming back to her house across the campus after practicing piano at the music building (she is my super star music education teacher now). She had to use it once out of precaution (just for freaky sound of it) for 2 guys suspiciously approaching her from behind once.

    It was after this revelation (funny to me then) that I finally took notice about how many text messages we, students, were getting from UW Police at the time about potential incidents of robbery or rape. It was then that I started to take it seriously. And it’s not just the campus – Annie made that clear. I think all of us, men and women, should realize how crazy the reality is out there. Take precaution and help protect others if you see them in trouble or by doing what Annie is doing (preventive is always better).

    Thank you for this, Annie! :)

    • says

      Sounds like you married a really smart lady, Max! Thank you for sharing your story. I think it’s just as important for men as it is for women to be aware of their surroundings and to do everything in their power to keep themselves and the people they care about as safe as possible in this crazy world.

  7. Paul Thompson says

    Annie – good on ya for not just stepping, but leaping out of your comfort zone. As a guy with three sisters and a bunch of nieces, I worry about this stuff too.

    I would suggest two additions to what you’ve already said, based on my experience with actual bear spray. I live in the mountains and hike in bear country all the time – the principles are actually very similar.

    First – do NOT allow yourself to become complacent or overconfident because you think you have the extra protection of spray. The stuff is mostly only useful when the attacker is danger-close, and by that time there’s just too much that can still go wrong. Also, spray is only useful against 1 or 2 attackers, and allowing yourself into a risky situation makes no allowance for how many nasties may be involved.

    Too many incidents to count around here where hikers were in places they never should have been because they figured with a bear bell and a can of spray (equivalent to whistle & pepper spray) they could get away with it.

    Second – when you buy your spray, order as many as you think you need, then ORDER AN EXTRA. As soon as the canisters arrive, take the spare outside to a safe area and practice deploying it!

    Everyone we’ve done bear spray training with has been VERY surprised at how little distance the stuff actually sprays, and how few seconds of spray before the canister dies. And that’s with bear spray canisters which are massive compared to keychain versions. Get a couple of friends together and share a couple of test canisters for practice.

    Obviously, showing the canister can discourage the need to actually use it, but you sure don’t want the first time you try to figure out how it works to be when you’re in the middle of deep shit. Or worse yet, use it up before the attacker is close enough to be hit.

    Last – read the fine print on your canister. Most such sprays have an expiry date and should absolutely be kept fresh. No point in carrying it if it’s not certain to work. (The contents oxidize and can lose their pressure).

    I hate that we have to talk about this stuff, but you’re absolutely right – not talking about is far worse.

    Paul

    • says

      All very good points, Paul! And you’re right about needing to test your pepper spray and keep it fresh. I just got a new one a few months ago and just put it on my key chain. Totally forgot to check it. Then one day I tested it, and I couldn’t get it to spray for the life of me. Eventually I felt a tab below the trigger break, and it worked fine. But, yeah, you have to be smart with this stuff.

  8. Dustin Verburg says

    Hey Annie,

    I feel like I don’t have anything super amazing or insightful to say, but thanks for writing this. I guess I just feel compelled to comment because I appreciate how you helped your daughters empower themselves and have a plan (everyone needs a plan or five in case of these situations, and everyone’s plan is different). I’m not expressing myself very well, but I tried.

    No one should have to deal with threats of violence (physical, emotional or mental) while just going about their business. But in reality it happens. Thanks again.

    • says

      I think you expressed yourself quite eloquently. Thank you! Putting plans in place before disaster strikes is the critical element. If you think about it, we do that in business. Look at all the talk about business continuity planning after each of the big disasters that have rocked our country. Yet how many families take that same approach to staying safe? Hopefully at least a few more now. That’s all I can hope for.

  9. kimkrauseberg says

    I got choked up reading this. I developed a “Don’t come near me” vibe a very long time ago and trust nobody. It’s something I have to constantly control. Unless someone has been through rape, stalking, etc. it’s hard to understand how deeply the trauma goes. Raising a daughter is scary but I made sure to teach her, her friends, and my son’s girlfriend the same lessons you share. Pepper spray is a great Christmas stocking stuffer. Thank you for writing this. You may have saved lives by doing so.

    • says

      Thanks, Kim! I really hope that’s true. I still really suck at putting out that vibe. I have to make a conscious effort to not be overly friendly. I had a good friend in NY tell me the first time I had to navigate the city alone on a business trip, “Don’t smile at people!” It’s probably at least part of the reason I’ve had as many incidents as I’ve had – that and the freckly girl next door look. But I’m getting better at my blank face.

    • Alysson says

      I, too, have that “get away from me” vibe, Kim. And while it can rub some people the wrong way or give them the wrong idea about me personally, I don’t care. I’m okay with people thinking I’m a bitch. I’m not okay with dying a violent death at the hands of an attacker.

      Being considered stand-offish or anti-social by strangers is an opportunity cost I’m willing to pay to lessen the chance that I’ll be identified as an easy target.

      You’re right that those who have never been through it can’t truly understand how such an experience changes how you view and approach the world. That said, I have criss-crossed the country on road trips all by myself many times. I have no fear and I will never let our violent society rob me of my wanderlust or purposeful independence. I’ve simply learned how to mitigate the potential to become a target and prepared myself as much as possible to survive should I find myself in a life-threatening situation again.

      That’s really all we can do. That and to make sure our sisters, mothers, daughters, nieces, et al. are similarly armed with knowledge and tools like pepper spray and Safety Cats.

    • says

      So true. Although I’m so careful to communicate that women aren’t responsible for getting raped, even if they’re drunk, I’ve told my girls it makes them so much more vulnerable. Ultimately, that’s what perps are looking for: any kind of vulnerability they can exploit. Whether they’re due to drinking, distraction, fear, ignorance, naivete, etc., it’s critical we try to minimize them as much as possible.

  10. kristibug says

    Such great action items. Thank you for sharing. I enrolled my 7yo at a UFC class (Ultimate Fighting, etc) and she is learning great tips on self defense. I hope to continue the class for a few years so she gets some great background. I don’t have pepper spray but I will definitely have to get some.

  11. says

    Aww Annie,

    I’ve definitely had some scary run-ins myself. I feel like this post must resonate with a lot of women. I remember one time in college, we walked over to the Mexican restaurant (literally neighboring building to our apartment complex) to get some late night burritos. On entering I noticed these guys who had been suspiciously sitting in their truck went to go sit down and watch us order, without ordering anything themselves. They followed us out as well and I remember thinking, “Oh my God, I’m about to get robbed- at the LEAST.” I stared at one of the guys and they just kind of slowed down and held out his arm for his friend to stop chasing us…it was a really surreal experience. To this day I wonder what it was that stopped him or what could have happened.

    On top of that I’ve been grabbed and what not even on my own college campus leaving the gym at night- I was lucky one of my guy friends was trailing behind me and told the guy to ” ****-ing let her go”. It’s sad that we live in a world where girls have to be concerned so much with their own safety…but that’s the way things are for now.

    Some of the girls I know prefer tazers but I don’t like how you have to be within arms distance to use it. I feel like at that point, you could be easily strong-armed in to a bad situation. Big lots has a good pepper spray selection :) this post reminded me to get a new one.

    • says

      Thanks, Jackie. It’s kind of remarkable how many stories I’ve heard of close calls and actual crimes since publishing this post. I’m glad people are talking about it and thinking about it. We’re everyday people. We don’t purposely insert ourselves into threatening environments or hang with unscrupulous people. Yet these are just a handful of experiences we’ve had.

      But good to know about Big Lots! I love that store. #bargainshopper :)

      • Alysson says

        Just remember, stuff ends up at Big Lots for a reason. Be sure to check the expiration date on the can before you buy it. If it expires in 6 months, you haven’t really saved any money because you’re going to have to buy another one sooner than you should have to. Saving a couple bucks isn’t worth your life. Just sayin’.

  12. akvileharlow says

    Annie, thank you incredible amounts for sharing your stories. You’re such a brave woman and I’m relieved to hear you got away unharmed during those scary situations. There’s really nothing creepier than the feeling of being preyed on by a stranger. It’s unfortunate that so many women have encountered situations like yours. I’ve had some very close calls in the past as well and am extremely grateful that my father equipped me with pepper spray in high school when I began going out at night. I’ve had it on my person ever since. Thanks to your post, I just purchased a whistle and the cat self defense keychain as an extra measure of protection. Thank you again for the courageous and enlightening post!

    • says

      Thank you, Akvile! You had a really smart dad! And it’s great you had self-protection ingrained at such a young age. Some people are afraid talking about this topic will make your kids fearful of the world around them. I’ve found with my girls that it’s made them feel empowered. We still see so much more good in the world than evil, but we take precautions to try to keep the bad stuff in the world at bay as possible.

  13. FreeRange Pamela says

    This is really good stuff, Annie. Thanks for sharing it. One thing to remember if you’re carrying around pepper spray is that you can’t get through airport security with it — so put it in a checked bag. I’ve known of people who had their pepper spray confiscated at security, which means they were without it for a while, while they were getting it replaced. My mom always had pepper spray on her keychain and we never thought of her as being too cautious — just smart and safe.

    • says

      Yeah, I always try to remember to take mine off my key chain when flying and reminded people to do that in the post. But, oddly enough, I’ve gotten through security all three times I accidentally had it in my bag. And one time they flagged me in Vegas, and I was sweating bullets thinking they were going to interrogate me. Instead she pulled out a little bottle of water I totally forgot I had and said, “You can’t take this through security.” But I accidentally brought it with me into a courthouse once, and they flagged it. They were really nice though and just let me take it back to my car.

  14. Katherine Michel says

    Great post, although I think it is worth adding that people who pose a danger do not always look suspicious, and that can be part of their strategy to disarm a potential victim.

  15. says

    Annie, this was a powerful post and I’m so glad you had the courage to write it. I think this is sound advice for anyone, not just women. I am a male and even I got goosebumps reading some of your stories and wondering what I would do in a similar situation. Men aren’t immune to robbery, theft, etc. and yet we never really think about it until a post like this comes along, or it happens to someone close to us.

    I think the fact you told personal stories makes this more real. It’s not the media saying, “Hey women, don’t be victims. Buy pepper spray!” This is a real person saying, look this happened to me, this happened to my daughters, it could happen to you and here’s how you can help protect yourself, which makes it so much more powerful.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. I think I’ll buy all the women I care about pepper spray for Christmas this year.

    • says

      You hit the nail on the head of why I wrote the post, Mike. You can’t talk about this too close to a tragedy, or it could sound like you’re somehow saying the victim didn’t do enough to protect him/herself. And yet when danger’s not lurking right around the corner, it’s a really uncomfortable topic for people to think about, let alone talk about. But after hearing about my daughters’ roommate very close call with disaster and watching a show that struck me really hard last night, I just decided to start writing and try really hard not to hit the delete button before publishing.

  16. Greg Shuey says

    You better believe I’m getting my wife pepper spray and a rape whistle right now… thanks for the post Annie!

  17. Lei_5 says

    These are the most terrifying incidents I’ve ever read in my life! Me and my cousin once had a similar sort of situation happen to us. We were biking around our upper class neighbourhood, not caring that it was getting dark. This is Canada, and a small city, and a very nice area of the city at that.

    We stopped on our bikes on the side of a road to rest, chatting while completely oblivious to our surroundings. I was telling my cousin a story, when she interrupted me quietly with my name. I kept going, not hearing her at all. It’s only when I saw the look of fear on her face, directed at something behind me, that I turned around. A man was coming towards us, walking very quickly with his face slightly turned down. He was wearing that classic oversized black hoodie, with a long object in one hand. We just stared. Felt like minutes, but must have been seconds. As he drew closer, it clicked that the object was a knife. In one swift movement we were on our bikes, and pedaling wildly down the road in a random direction. It’s only when our lungs screamed for air that we stopped and stared at each other with a look of horror.

    • says

      Wow, it sounds like you narrowly escaped. I’m so glad you did. I think most people can relate to that feeling of being stunned and immobilized by the shock. That’s why I think education and training are important.

      We lived a few miles up the street from Columbine when that tragedy took place. Because of a lack of preparedness training, valuable time was lost. Law enforcement came under a lot of scrutiny and criticism because of it, but who could have ever anticipated that high school students were capable of wholesale slaughter? But now schools and law enforcement agencies have been forced to put detailed disaster recovery plans in place. I think individuals and families would be wise to do the same.

  18. TNg says

    I, GREATLY appreciate your article to share and educate prevention methods in reducing statistics. Just a quick blurb. Not everyone is reactive to pepper spray, and it has a shelf-life 3-4 years. The burn lasts 15-45 minutes.

    http://www.redhotpepperspray.com/pepper-spray-faq.html#shelflife

    When I was younger I didn’t want to look weird for giving the stink eye. From my experience of having a harassing-stalker-ex and didn’t know what they were capable of. I was always on the lookout and on high alert. Giving the stink eye alone has saved me numerous of times. Walking with a strong posture and brisk walking. Letting at least one emergency contact when I’m out late and where I would be, what I’m wearing, the route I plan to take, with a time-frame to contact them. If I didn’t contact them within said time-frame, then they should call 9-1-1 and give all the information possible.

    The killer kitty and the whistle are amazing add-ons.

    IF no whistle is at hand, THEN set off car or any ALARMS, yell “FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE!!!”, make a SCENE, and get HULK!. If cornered, find an easily wielded implement to use. For me, I hide a small sharp implement on my person, in the case I were to be abducted and tied up or have to use it. From the prior paragraph…you’d understand.

    I have a BRIGHT pink pepper spray bottle on my keychain, and I gifted one to a classmate that would walk to their off campus housing. I plan to take Krav Maga (Military self-defense developed by English Special Forces), and researched/learned disabling points to strike for far and close-up. I’ve been researching prevention and being aware of my surroundings, because I am shorter than your daughters and not as fast a runner (I went to UCF with Destinee).

    Universities have services available to students:Martial Arts, self-defense courses through campus police/security, you can ask campus police/security for an escort to your car at night, the alarm towers, and travel as a pack.

    • says

      Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and tips. The topic of Krav Maga has come up several times in this context, which has my curiosity piqued. I’ve never had an interest in martial arts, but from everything I’ve heard Krav Maga focuses on how to survive an attack. But your last paragraph is positively priceless. I want to commit it to memory.

  19. Christina Joella says

    Thanks for being bold and sharing these stories! I work for a non-profit called Assert Now, Inc. http://www.asserttraining.com We empower and educate women, teens, and children to be safe by showing them how to be aware, avoid, and if necessary taking action. Our curriculum was developed by a police officer and has roots in the martial arts. Taking a safety course is another great way to protect against victimization. We are very passionate about this topic!!! Thanks for being another voice =).

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by Christina! You’re absolutely right. I’m so glad you’re out there empowering women to take their power back. I’m glad I could echo your voice on this topic!

  20. says

    Thank you for writing this, Annie. I like to think I’m pretty aware, but reading your post, I realized that I’ve relaxed a little too much when I go out. I haven’t been as vigilant as I should be. It’s easy to fall into a false sense of security–until something actually happens. So thank you for the reminder. And I’ll be purchasing a few of the items you recommended, both for myself and my mom.

    The tip I’d like to share is about staying safe at home, too. Because I work from home, I’m here alone quite a bit. At the same time it’s convenient whenever the cable guy or any other service provider needs to be here, it also makes me a little nervous to let a stranger in the house when I’m here by myself.

    Rather than putting Murphy (my dog) in a room, I put his harness on, attach his leash, and keep him out with me whenever someone has to come into the house. He’s the sweetest, friendliest dog, but he’s also protective of me, and will pull and push to keep himself between me and whoever is in the house, especially if it’s a man.

    I would hope that no service provider would be dumb enough to try something during a scheduled call–it’d be too easy to get caught. But I’ve seen those crime episodes, too, where someone comes to the house and they’re very friendly and nice–but then they come back later on their own. Keeping Murphy out makes me feel more comfortable, but I think it’s also a deterrent. At least, I hope it is. :-)

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by, Michelle, and sharing your ideas! If dogs didn’t poop and have wet noses, I’d totally have one for protection. :)

      Back in the 90s I was staying in a hotel, and someone knocked on the door and said he was there to fix something (forget what). I told him through the door I didn’t ask for anything to be fixed. When he insisted, I asked him to come back later but called the front desk to ask if they could just do maintenance after I left since I didn’t notice anything broken. They told me that there was no order for maintenance for the room. I figured it was a mix up, but later I saw something on the news that this was a trend. So I’ll never know if that was a mix up or someone trying to get in the room, but it just goes to the point of always being aware and taking precautions without becoming fearful of the world around you. I can honestly say I still see FAR more beauty in the world than evil, and I try to enjoy it to the fullest. I’m sitting in a Starbucks right now, working from my laptop, on a breathtakingly beautiful, crisp fall day. Life is good. I just want to keep it that way. :)

  21. Alysson says

    I, like you, tend to be a pretty private person when it comes to my personal life… so I truly understand how difficult it must have been for you to share stories that are so intensely personal. I commend you for having enough courage to step outside your comfort zone. More importantly, I’m thankful that none of these incidents took a tragic turn!

    On a more practical note, as someone who has been the victim of violence at the hands of an ex-turned-stalker, you can’t always rely on being able to get your hands something else, like pepper spray or a safety cat, to defend yourself.

    I encourage women of ALL ages to take a self-defense class. Sometimes your only means of defense is your body and you need to know how to use it. We always wonder what gifts to buy the women in our lives… why not give them something that, at best, may one day save their lives or, at least, will give them a sense of empowerment that may lessen the statistical probability of them becoming a target in the first place.

    You’ve inspired me, Annie. I’m going to start putting together “Bad Ass Bitch” baskets that will contain a variety of self-defense tools (pepper spray, rape whistles, personal alarms, Safety Cats, etc.), as well as a gift certificate for self-defense classes.

    Bravo, Annie! You’ve probably saved some lives today! At the very least, you’ve helped who knows how many women better prepare themselves to avoid becoming a victim of a violent crime. Feel good about that!

    • says

      Aww! I wrote a reply to this yesterday, and now it’s not here. Disqus has really freaked out on this page.

      Thank you for stopping by and for your kind words, Alysson! I love your idea of the baskets! And, after hearing so many women talk about the importance of self-defense classes, I’m going to find one in my area. I wish I had done that with my girls.

      I’m really sorry you’ve been a victim of violence. :( I really hope that this post can, in some small way, help women possibly avoid adding to that statistic.

      • Alysson says

        Thanks, Annie. No worries. It was a long time ago (almost 10 years now). And what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right? :) I have no doubt that your post will help women better prepare themselves to handle a potentially life-threatening situation.

        I’m glad you’re looking into self-defense classes. While the skills themselves are essential to protecting yourself in any physical altercation, the self-confidence that comes from knowing you CAN defend yourself truly lessens the probability of being identified as a target in the first place.

        You will find that you carry yourself differently. Instead of trying to avoid eye contact with someone you identify as a potential threat, you’ll find yourself making eye contact with them purposefully, almost as if to say, “You better think this through, man… because this is not going to end well for you. I am going to fuck you up.” :)

  22. Donna Fontenot says

    Thank you, Annie, for being brave enough to write this. As a rape survivor myself, and a volunteer on the phone hotlines for our local Rape Crisis Center, I deal with this far more than anyone should. Some things I’ve learned over the last 30-something years since my attack include:

    1. I always always lock my doors. 5 guys just waltzed into my apartment one day while I was taking a nap. Would a locked door have prevented what happened? I don’t know, but it might have at least given me a chance to wake up and call for help.

    2. Always be aware of your surroundings. Always. It has become a habit to take a quick glance around, no matter where I am, to look for possible weapons (heavy objects, sharp objects, etc.), possible hiding places, and possible exits. Whether I’m in a restaurant, store, open area…wherever…I spend at least 10 seconds right away, knowing what my options are.

    3. Take a self-defense class. You won’t become a Kung Fu master, but you’ll quickly learn some great tips to defend yourself. Everyone can and should learn these things.

    4. Do all the things you mentioned here.

    Thank you for mentioning the app. Didn’t know about it, but now I’ve downloaded it. Great idea!

    You were already on my “favorite people” list, but now you’ve cemented your position for life.

    • says

      Oh, Donna … I’m so, so sorry to hear you were a victim of such horrific violence. :( But how amazing that you’ve taken your pain and done something so amazing with it. Just think of how many women you’ve probably helped over the years working on the rape hotline. I’m so proud.

      I’ve never taken the steps in number 2. That’s really brilliant. I remember hearing that Matt McGee looks for the emergency exits when he stays in a hotel, which I now try to remember to do too. But it is a huge challenge for me to proactively take stock of my surroundings. I am ridiculously tunnel visioned, but by repetition I’ve trained myself to be observant when I’m out and about now.

      I’m really glad you got the app! It’s my fave app on my phone, and I make sure it’s on my home screen and keep it outside my app folders. I don’t want to go fumbling for it in the event of an emergency.

      Really glad you stopped by and shared your story and advice. Thank you, lady!

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  25. dave says

    Hi Annie….

    For starters, I <3 your content. Great stuff!

    Ok, gotta admit I'm a little late to the party, err post… but still think I may be able to lend a hand.

    Humbly said I've been a student (and teacher) in self defense for over 20 years and feel the most effective tool anyone can carry is a tactical flashlight. Like most I laughed when I first heard of this, but after being on the receiving end I became a believer. The concept is simple, visual (sensory) overload is quite achievable, especially if the person is night adapted; just add some bright light. Plus, you don't have to worry about the wind blowing capsaicin in 'yer face and as far as I can tell flashlights are legal worldwide.

    Since I preach what I practice (not a typo) I carry my Surefire E1L with me wherever I go. It is very compact (4 inches) and packs about 60 lumens which will handle most jobs. If you are up for it, you can buy tac-lights that crank out over 200 lumens. Yeah… that will blind someone, day or night. The downside is Surefire is a bit pricey, but you can get similar models (compact 60 lumens) at most big box stores.

    'Jes try to help. Keep up the great work!

    Best,
    Dave

  26. Rachael Fishman says

    What brand pepper spray do you use? I have wanted to purchase some, but I worry if I don’t get a good recommendation that it will backfire on me.

  27. Anon says

    Looks like you’re lucky to live in a country that allows concealed carry. Get a firearm if you are serious about personal protection.

    Also, the article is somewhat sexist. Men need to defend themselves too.

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