Perhaps I should start with a statistic to scare you, but I won't. Numbers can make you gasp but do they really provoke you to change your life? Suffice it to say that women are common targets of assault.

If you are a woman, your chances of becoming a victim of assault are greatly increased. Does this mean you should prepare for the worst by packing your pistol along with your lunch everyday? No. You can lessen your chances of becoming a statistic by having the right attitude, learning physical defense tactics, and yes, even learning how to use weapons to protect yourself.

Attitude Is Everything

Your mind can be your body's greatest defensive weapon. "The more confident you appear, the better off you are," according to Beverley Brakeman Colbath, a member of the Women's Self-Defense Alliance (WSDA). She also advises using common sense at all times, such as moving your car closer to the building if you need to work late.

Good self-defense programs are based upon teaching women to use common sense, while working to build their confidence. Many potential perpetrators assume that women will cower and succumb to fear.

One day while walking home from work, a coworker of mine passed a nicely dressed man standing on a corner. After turning the corner she noticed that he was following her. Sarah (not her real name) turned around and the man inquired, "Can I look up your dress?" She swore at him angrily, a response he wasn't expecting. He quickly walked away.

Surprising Weapons: Intuition and Voice

An important, but often under-used self-defense tool is your intuition. Sarah sensed the nervous and hesitant nature of the potential perpetrator and she responded forcefully through her body language and voice to deter him. From a young age, girls can be taught the effectiveness of using their voices. Many programs offer classes for young children that focus on prevention tactics and use of words to avoid being assaulted or abducted.

Lynn Sauerbach, a clinical psychologist with the Boston branch of the nationwide program Impact Model Mugging, reported her youngest success story. While at the supermarket, a four-year-old girl became separated from her guardian and was scooped up by a stranger. As she was being wheeled out of the store, the child repeatedly yelled the refrain, "I don't know you, I don't know you," causing the man to release her and flee. As with Sarah's situation, the child used her voice to dissuade a perpetrator.

Three Styles of Self-defense

If you decide to enroll in a self-defense program, begin by checking with your local YMCA or police department, or use the internet to locate a program near you. Below are three types of programs that provide women with ways to protect themselves.

Feminist Approach

The WSDA approach to self-defense focuses on natural weapons of defense, including ways to use your voice. The idea behind this philosophy is that if you have a weapon it can be used against you. The key to the techniques taught at WSDA lies in their simplicity.

Despite the generally superior strength of men, they are not without vulnerable areas. Women learn to target and strike at areas such as the groin, Adam's apple, the eyes, and ears, in addition to learning effective blocking strategies.

WSDA has special programs for children, the elderly, and disabled people. Women with disabilities are taught techniques to work beyond their disabilities. For example if a woman is wheelchair bound, she is instructed on ways to use the chair as a weapon.

Model Mugging

If you need a more dramatic method of learning self-defense, Impact Model Mugging may be the program for you. According to Sauerbach, what makes the nationwide program unique is that it uses men to model or act out threatening situations such as mugging or assault. Sound disturbing? It is supposed to. The idea behind this approach is to teach women how to react quickly and appropriately with their bodies and voices when they are in danger. Women are supposed to feel scared, and adrenaline levels are supposed to rise as the women are taught to fend off their mock attackers.

Says Sauerbach, "In that adrenaline state we teach them to stay calm and focused." She adds, "Once a woman learns her body works for her, her body and demeanor changes. There is no better feeling." For some women, especially victims of past assaults, this can be a traumatic experience.


If you decide to arm yourself with more than your body and voice, there are programs that teach the effective use of defensive weapons, from pepper spray to firearms. Arming Women Against Rape & Endangerment (AWARE) offers courses at low rates that are taught by specially trained volunteers. According to Lyn Bates the program's vice president, AWARE believes that the best protection you can have is prevention, but if this fails, your chances are better if you can fight back.

Tips to Live By

Even if you decide not to enroll in a self-defense class, you can still reduce your chances of becoming a victim of a violent crime.

Tips for Every Day

  • Walk with confidence and assurance.
  • Be alert at all times.
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Speak your feelings clearly and confidently.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Avoid expensive jewelry, scarves, and long necklaces.
  • Try to keep your hands free.
  • Look people in the eye.
  • Carry your keys in hand, with one key between each finger.
  • Walk facing traffic.
  • Use a fanny pack instead of a purse.
  • Do not wear headsets when walking.
  • Avoid stairwells.
  • If you think you are being followed, don't go home. Go to a public place and call the police.

Tips When Driving

  • Check inside, around, and under your car before getting in.
  • Lock doors when inside.
  • Keep windows closed or near closed when stopped.
  • Carry a cell phone.
  • Keep your purse hidden on the floor.
  • Park in well-lit areas and move your car close to the building if working late.
  • Keep the gas tank at least half full.
  • Don't stop if someone is flashing headlights at you.

Tips When at Home

  • Keep doors and windows locked.
  • Consider installing a peephole, alarm, and motion sensors.
  • Leave your house looking lived in when not at home (eg, timer lights, car in driveway).
  • Consider getting a dog.
  • Keep a cell phone in the bedroom.
  • Don't open your door to someone you don't know, even police (call the police department for verification).