An awful lot of people who look like me have been feeling more and more afraid recently. Whether they’re right or wrong or whether you think you’re part of it or not, it is an undeniable lived reality. People are afraid. I am afraid. Like violence against women, it will be feared and it will happen regardless of whether or not any of us believe in it. And with the way things are going, I don’t think there’s much you and I can do today to help people feel safe right now. What you and I can do, though, is to help people be safe.
Perhaps the most powerful tool I know of for that is something that give someone a measure of real protection against personal attacks against them, individually. The one I’ve been asked about the most recently, and the one I like to recommend most in this type of exigency is pepper spray. It’s relatively inexpensive, easily accessible, generally legal, highly effective, and very easy to learn how to use correctly. It’s a fantastic tool for discouraging people from continuing to harass and even physically attack you if words don’t work, and without requiring you to get within touching distance or using a lethal weapon such as a gun.
As many of you know, my preferred product is POM. You can get it on Amazon, Primed to your home tomorrow (affiliate link) or you can get with free shipping direct from the manufacturer. Either way, I recommend that you get one or two of the inert practice units – and if you get the special On Her Own package deal, one is included (affiliate link). That’s because while pepper spray is easy to use, practice will make you more likely to use it correctly when it counts and that will give you confidence that you have, in fact, taken control over your safety.
Once you get your pepper spray and practice spray, there are a few things you should do to get there on feeling strong and confident with your new personal safety tool.
First, take the live spray outside to a well-ventilated area. Shake it up a few times, make sure you are standing upwind, then let out a tiny, short burst from your pepper spray, in the direction the wind is blowing. You aren’t doing anything here except making sure that the spray is functional. You don’t need to experience what the spray smells or feels like. While there are arguments that you may want to see how that feels in a controlled environment, I don’t think it’s a necessity for how most people will use pepper spray, as a way to discourage someone and to provide distraction and an avenue of escape. It’s generally enough for you to know that whatever misery you feel, your attacker will feel it more if you have applied the spray correctly. You are capable of fighting through it (and so are they, but likely less than you since they got the full dose and by surprise), and you will not be permanently injured by it.
Second, put that live spray back inside and go get your practice spray and if you can, a partner and a pair of sunglasses or safety glasses. A sunny, calm day is best, but don’t be too picky – you’ll learn something regardless as long as it’s not pouring down rain or snow. Then you’re going to do three things:
Find a clear area and just try letting out a few short bursts of spray. Use your thumb on the nozzle and see what the spray pattern looks like and how far it goes. Don’t spend a lot of time on this step. It’s just to familiarize yourself with the product. Doing this with the practice spray means you don’t waste the real stuff, and you don’t risk getting maybe a bit more of the experience with the real stuff that you might have been prepared for or wanted. To stretch your practice spray even further, you can combine it with the next part.
Have your partner put on glasses to protect their eyes and give you an aiming area. If you don’t have a friend to practice with, you can also print out a simplified face and put it on a wall. From several arms’ lengths away, work on getting that spray across the person’s eyes, which is your primary aiming zone. In real life, if they’re wearing glasses, you’ll want to get above their glasses, on their brow line, but for practice, go right over those eyes. That way, you can look on the glasses or on your piece of paper and see if they’re wet and therefore, that you hit what you were aiming at. Because distances and spray patterns might not be immediately obvious to you, spending a few minutes here will help you dial yourself in so you have success when it’s for real. By the way, when you use actual pepper spray, it will generally be a reddish color so you may be able to see where your spray landed, unlike the clear water used in the practice units. Do this just a few times, and make sure you have enough left for one more exercise.
Finally, if you have a partner available, have them come up with some simple scenarios to help you use your spray in something similar to a real situation where a potential assailant might actually be talking to you, moving around, maybe trying to grab you. The video here shows you a few examples. It might feel a little silly and unnatural, and that’s normal. The point is to get a feel for how you can actually use pepper spray in reality. If you want to keep it in your purse or pocket, you’ll get to work on getting it out quickly, or maybe you want see how it works if the spray is already in your hand at least sometimes. You can even find out how much wind may be a factor if there’s a breeze that day. After every iteration, check your partner’s safety glasses and see if you got spray on them. When you run out of practice spray, you can still work on these types of scenarios and the motions of getting the unit out and into your hand, and pressing the nozzle at the appropriate time.
By taking a little bit of time to go through all of these steps, you’ll know that you didn’t just buy yourself a new talisman against danger, but that you’ve acquired a tool and skills that will make a real difference in your safety if you are harassed or threatened. You might not feel safe because you might have to actually use your pepper spray, but you will absolutely be safer if and when it comes to an actual situation where your safety is at stake.
Want to know more about using pepper spray properly, and incorporating it into the beginnings of a practical self-defense plan? Check under the Videos tab on my page for the Pepper Spray playlist, and Google up the concept of “Managing Unknown Contacts.”