By: Lindsay Codgill
This is not my usual type of column – normally I cover more political themes. However, I consider protecting oneself from assault and harassment to be political, because violence against women is politicized by the media and popular thought.
It is frequently assumed that women who are assaulted – whether it be sexual assault, assault and battery, robbery, or harassment – should have “known better” than to walk down the street at night or be alone. I consider this assumption to be based on the same misogynistic principles that form the basis of gender inequality in the law and media.
In my opinion, the way to avoid getting hurt or violated, as a woman, is not to avoid independence – rather, one should learn how to protect oneself and be smart in any situation.
The reason I am choosing to write on this topic is because I have heard of several instances of harassment in the past week or so, in the Hood area. We all received an email from Chief Puller on January 30, informing students that “a man grabbed a young woman at the intersection of Dill Ave.and Elm St. The woman was able to spray her assailant with orange pepper spray.”
This incident aroused student interest and fear – my Facebook news feed included several posts about the increasing crime rate in Frederick and how scary it is to walk around downtown at night or alone.
The same week, I heard about two other incidents of harassment from a man following and verbally harassing female students near Hood. One student in this situation called Campus Security to pick her up, which was a smart move. Although the incidents that took place this week were scary, we can learn from them what to do if we find ourselves in similar situations.
First of all – buy some pepper spray. It’s the easiest and quickest way to fend off an assailant, because it can incapacitate them without permanent damage, and doesn’t require you to get very close to them.
Pepper spray is available in some stores, such as gun stores and auto stores. It is also available on many websites; one with an excellent selection is Safetygirl.com.
There are laws about pepper spray in some states, but in Maryland it is entirely legal. If you live somewhere else on breaks, however, you should check the laws in your area.
Second – take a self defense class, or at least learn the absolute basics of how to physically protect yourself. I took Self Defense at Hood in my sophomore year, and served as a TA in the class for 3 following semesters. I am currently enrolled in Advanced Self Defense.
Learning how to protect yourself makes you more confident – and confidence in itself can protect you from being harassed or attacked. When you walk alone or at night, be aware of your surroundings and maintain confident posture. Your strength will discourage potential attackers.
Even knowing the basics of self defense can help. Stand with your legs apart, to maintain balance, and utilize a fighting stance (like a boxer) to protect your upper body. When you strike, aim to distract if the situation is not life-threatening, or to incapacitate if it is (by going for the eyes, nose, and throat.)
Above all, don’t get into a fight unless you absolutely have to. If someone says they want your valuables, throw your wallet away from you and run in the other direction.
Also, never let anyone take you to a second location (kidnapping). Your chances of surviving a kidnapping are very low, and this is considered life-threatening force – so use the same amount of force in return if necessary.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t have the freedom or right to walk around alone or wearing a certain kind of clothing; but, always look out for yourself and your friends.
Be confident and know how to protect yourself. Believing you have the right to go where you want needs to be accompanied by the knowledge of what to do if an unfortunate situation occurs.