I am not qualified to talk about martial arts and I won't pretend that I am. Most of them require many, many years of devoted study and practice to learn enough to be truly useful. I've chosen to carry a handgun, as I was able to learn to use one with reasonable accuracy fairly quickly (still practicing and getting better--it isn't something you "finish" by any means!) Pepper spray or foam is more accessible (doesn't require a license--at least, not in Georgia, but of course you need to check in your area!), less expensive, and requires far less time to learn to use than a gun, so it is a better choice for many people. Do not even start to consider carrying any sort of weapon unless you learn to use it properly and practice regularly. You'll be a bigger danger to yourself and those you love than any criminal is, otherwise.
There are plenty of things you can do that don't involve martial arts or weaponry, though. Most of them coming down to being aware of your surroundings, and being assertive in your body language and actions so you do not look like an easy target.
When you do go to your published address--or anywhere else, in fact--be aware of your surroundings. Look at the people and vehicles around you--really look. Most of us go through life in a halfway-there haze that's one step better than sleepwalking, and couldn't remember the color of the car that was behind us for the last 15 miles if our lives depended on it. Criminals love that, because it is so much easier for them to safely attack a sleepwalker than an aware, assertive person who is prepared to defend herself. In her book Not an Easy Target, Paxton Quigley says, "Serial killer Ted Bundy stated in an interview that he selected his targets based on whether they were alert and aware of their environment. If they were, he would look for someone else."
Make direct eye contact with anyone you encounter in person. It's disconcerting enough that many criminals have said that they will not attack a woman who looks them in the eye, because they do not perceive that person as an easy victim. Move in a way that makes it clear that you have a definite destination and you know it, even if you're completely lost.
If you are attacked, fight back. Without pausing. If you freeze, you're his. Make as much noise as possible--scream with everything you've got. Your aim is to disable the bastard long enough for you to get away. Don't hang out to see how he's doing. A man once attacked me on the last day of a lovely vacation in Paris. He'd been flirting with me for a week, and made some not-very-subtle passes, but I just wasn't interested. Knowing it was the last day of our stay he tried a more forceful approach. I was 16 years old and weighed about 120 pounds. I'd say he outweighed me by 80 pounds, was several inches taller, and certainly had the advantage of knowing that he was about to grab me. I surprised both of us, though, because as soon as he did I went utterly berserk. I walked (ran) away and he didn't. I still believe that the only reason I got away was that having a victim fight back shocked the hell out of him--but that was enough, in that particular instance. A few years later one of my boyfriends made the mistake of sneaking up on me from behind and grabbing me in a parking lot--and learned quickly that the results weren't funny at all (no permanent damage, although he wasn't very amorous for a while). He just didn't expect me to fight back, even though he knew me well otherwise.
There are two books by Paxton Quigley that I recommend very highly--Not an Easy Target and Armed and Female. The first goes over the same kinds of things I've said above, but in much greater breadth and depth, and also goes into privacy issues. It is directed at women, but valuable for men and women. The second is slightly dated now, but still a good introduction to handguns, written in full knowledge that most women don't know squat about guns to begin with. Both books point out that handguns are not the best choice for a self-defense weapon you carry unless you're very comfortable with them--pepper spray is better in many cases.
Last updated 10/21/00
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This file last modified 05/18/06