On Her Own: Tools of Non-Defense

Many self-defense tools marketed to women are not only somewhat useless, but they can also be dangerous to the user.

by posted on April 29, 2020
Woman Holding Stun Gun

The female self-defense world is littered with all sorts of products that are marketed as safe and effective, while still convenient. Unfortunately, many of them are not only somewhat useless, but they can also be dangerous to the user. Whether these tools can directly injure you or give you false confidence heading into a sketchy situation, some could prove problematic. Here are some examples:

Stun Guns
I’m not talking about TASERs used by police, but rather those little zappers that boast 50,000 or more volts of electrifying power to shock your attacker. Claims range from disabling bad guys immediately to causing enough of a painful distraction to let you run away. Sometimes, the ad copy will even claim that the zapping sound from an activated stun gun can be enough to scare off an attacker.

However, these claims are more than a little far-fetched. The immediate downside of a stun gun is that you have to be close enough to touch the attacker to use it. Stun guns do not have projectile barbs like on TASERs, so you have to press the device’s prongs directly into the assailant, hard enough to get through their clothing, in order to work. If they are not already that close, you do not want to get that close–and if they are close enough, it can be very difficult to make that happen.

If you are successful in getting a stun gun to work as intended, it is simply not going to work very well. The electric shock delivered is at best painful, and often not even that to an adrenaline-fueled aggressor. Some people are no more fazed than if you shook their hand with an April Fools’ shocking buzzer ring.

As for the noise? There is no guarantee it will deter an amped-up attacker, assuming they even hear it. A sizzling sound is not nearly enough to rely on to protect yourself from rape or worse. Leave the stun gun out of your Amazon cart.

Defense Keychains and Rings
Many of us grew up with the advice to spike your keys out between your fingers to punch or claw at someone trying to attack you. As we got older, we might have seen special keychains or rings intended to do the same thing: add some Wolverine-like talons to our fists to help us fight off bad guys or, at the very least, collect some of their DNA.

Unfortunately, they’re not terribly effective and even worse, can be downright dangerous … to you. By design, none of these products can be used until you are actually in touching distance of the other person, and they require you to hit them in some way. At best, they can only multiply damage you are already capable of inflicting. If you don’t already know how to throw a good punch, a pointy keychain won’t magically impart that skill to you. At worst, and much more commonly, they will break or bend and injure you with the jagged pieces.

That’s if you’re lucky. Some of them will hurt you even when used as intended. Rings that your fingers fit through may seem like a good way to keep a defensive tool from being taken away from you. However, they can also cause serious damage to your hand if the attacker does not care to stop at your knuckle’s resistance, but continues to pull no matter how much of your skin comes with it. Claw-like rings or keychains, and even some poorly designed brass knuckle-type tools, can slam into your fingers, breaking bones or tearing skin.

The self-confidence that having these tools in your arsenal gives you is tempting, but false. Don’t fall into their trap, at least not without determining which are actually useful and training on their proper use.

Whistles, Personal Alarms, and Panic Buttons
Another popular class of self-defense tools doled out to young women are essentially akin to noisemakers or emergency call buttons. They work on the principle that drawing attention will either scare off an attacker who doesn’t want to be apprehended, or bring someone to your aid.

There are a lot of assumptions built into that logic: that an attacker cares, that someone is there to hear, that they are willing to come save you, and that they can do so in time and effectively. When was the last time you paid attention to a car alarm? Yeah, it’s just like that.

Much like hoping a bad guy goes away because he’s hurting, hoping that being loud will stop him is playing poor odds. It will work sometimes, but not with any level of certainty. The problem is that the really bad guys who want to do real harm are the ones who won’t care.

As for myself, I prefer to be a self-rescuing princess, because, how does the saying go? “When seconds count, police are minutes away.”

Nobody will be faster at coming to your aid than someone who is already present (like, for instance, you). Blowing a whistle, setting off a personal alarm, or jamming a panic button to call your friends or the police will never magically transport a savior to your side. The sad truth is that many of these devices will do no more than (maybe) let someone know you are in trouble, and they’ll either not care or not arrive fast enough.

Just …
An awful lot of self-defense advice starts with the word “just.” Whether it’s just keep your head on a swivel, just run away, just kick him in the balls, just stomp him with your stiletto heels, just shoot him, just, just, just.

But life is never quite that simple. Bad guys don’t all have the same motivations, skills, and tools. They don’t all work at the same times, in the same environments, or with the same physical strength.

Women can’t always avoid, as John Farnam recommends, stupid places at stupid times with stupid people. It’s a reality of life that sometimes we have to navigate empty parking lots or leave home or the office after dark. Sometimes, a girl just wants to go out and have some fun with her friends. It is OK for a woman to enjoy herself, even if it means she might go to the bar district, get a little tipsy, or be somewhere she can’t have her gun or pepper spray.

If there were a one-size-fits-all solution to keeping people safe, I’d be delighted to tell all of you—for free, even. One simple trick that would end muggings, assault, rape, and murder? It would win me the Nobel Peace Prize if I could share that with the world. Even if it were something that was expensive or required significant time to learn, it would still be an incredible development in the field of self-defense. Sadly, no such sorcery exists.

Instead, we may need multiple strategies and multiple tools that fit each of the settings we might find ourselves in, and can work against different types of attacks. Since life is short and girl pockets are small, it’s important to make sure we pick the most effective options available, not ones that we simply hope will work if we get lucky.



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