Commuting Women’s Self Defense Advice: Q&A With The Experts

Commuting Women’s Self Defense Advice: Q&A With The Experts

This week, we take a question on women’s self defense from an SOS subscriber, who asked the following:

*Q: “My wife commutes nearly one hour to and from work, and she works in the city where I am afraid something might happen. Do you advise women to carry mace? What other women’s self defense advice do you have?”

We contacted experts in the field and included their responses to the question below:

Jennie Trower Women's Self DefenseName: Jennie Trower

Bio: Jennie Trower is the co-founder of Jarrett & Jennie Self-Defense, M.A.M.A.® (Mothers Against Malicious Acts), Customized Self-Defense for Women, and other specialized self-defense and safety programs for women, moms and kids. Jennie began her martial arts training in 2000. After a couple of years, she decided to expand her knowledge and try a Krav Maga class. It was love at first punch, and she was hooked! Since that time, she has earned numerous Krav Maga/self-defense teaching certifications, built a career around helping other women connect to their own personal power, and reached hundreds of people across the country through live training events, her blog and social media, and speaking engagements.

Response:  First of all, we commend you for being concerned about your wife’s well-being during her commute and proactively seeking out information to keep her safe. The good news is there are some simple ways she can instantly make herself safer during her commute or anywhere else.

  • Practice situational/environmental awareness: Limit distractions such as cell phones, music, and multitasking in general so you can hear and see what’s going on around you. By increasing your general awareness, you will be better prepared to notice, assess and respond, if necessary, to something that seems contextually out of place.
  • Walk tall: Adopting a confident body posture – chin up, shoulders back, taking a quick glance around your environment regularly communicates your awareness and potential preparedness to a predator looking for an easy mark, making you a less desirable target.
  • Listen to your gut: Frequently our body sends us signals before our mind can process what is happening. If you get a tingling sensation, “butterflies” in your stomach, tightness in your shoulders or chest, or any other manifestation of your body’s unique personal alarm system, trust it. Once again, take a moment to assess and respond, if necessary.
  • Identify emergency exits and potential escape routes: In public spaces, on public transportation, your home or office, it’s helpful to spend just a few moments making a plan just in case.
  • Choose who helps you: Statistics show that you are better off asking someone for help than accepting help from someone who offers. If walking alone to your car, especially at night, consider asking a security guard (if available) or a friend to escort you.
  • Keep one hand free: Avoid loading up on bags or belongings in both hands, so that you can keep at least one hand free to fight with, if necessary to create the opportunity to escape.
  • Take a self-defense class: A growing body of research shows that taking even one self-defense course reduces your risk of being targeted and increases your chance of surviving a violent encounter.


Ed Kress on Women's Self DefenseName: Ed Kress

Bio: Growing up on Chicago’s Southside, Ed learned early in life to pay attention to his surroundings in order to avoid potentially dangerous people and situations. For over 30 years Ed Kress has been an instructor and student at the Degerberg Academy of Martial Arts, named “Best Overall Martial Arts School” worldwide by Black Belt Magazine.  Master Fred Degerberg recently awarded Ed his 7th degree Black Belt. Ed is the founder of the ACT In Self Defense training program.

Working with local law enforcement officers and directors of campus security, Ed has developed a program which focuses on teaching Personal Safety/Self-Defense for school, work, home and on the streets. He has trained thousands of adult men and women, high school and college students to improve their personal and situational awareness and to physically defend themselves using a wide variety of Martial Arts techniques..

Response: The first one would be for his wife to take a women’s self-defense class. It should focus more on learning to improve personal and situational awareness, than on physical self-defense. Being able to physically defend yourself is great, but it takes more time to learn than how to avoid putting yourself in danger in the first place.

The use of pepper spray/mace is a good defense tool when you take the time to train with it. This means going outside with the wind at your back and actually firing it. You need to see how it works. Don’t depend on the description on the package or the fact that you just bought it to assume it functions and works the way it says it does.

The husband doesn’t mention whether his wife commutes by car or public transportation. There are different things to watch for depending on which mode of transportation she is using. Driving into the city usually means having to park in a parking garage of one type or another. Very few parking lots are totally secure so when you arrive park as close as you can to the pedestrian exit you are going to use. Make sure your car is locked before you leave and have your mace/pepper spray on your key ring where you can use it quickly. Focus on what is going on around you. Try not to use your phone or any other electronic devices that may distract you or attract a robber. If you enter or exit using an elevator, pay attention to who gets on with you, or who is in it before you enter. If you don’t feel comfortable getting on wait for the next one and if someone enters who looks suspicious get off. When returning have your keys in your hand and scan the area near your vehicle. If someone is loitering nearby you may want to leave and alert security. If you decide to go to your car have your mace/pepper spray in your hand and be prepared to use it. Lock the doors immediately after entering, start the car, pull out of your spot and leave the area. You can put on your seat belt before you drive out of the garage.

When using public transportation and walking to and from work one should minimize distractions by not focusing all your attention on your phone or tablet. These devices attract robbers especially when they see that the owner is focused on the device and not on what is going on around them and who is nearby. This would include not wearing earbuds or headphones, which would keep you from hearing someone approaching from behind. if you are using your phone or tablet on public transportation look at the faces of the people standing near you. Do they suddenly turn their faces away? When you see this type of behavior you need to start paying very close attention to where they are and what they are doing, especially when your bus or train is approaching a stop because this is when thieves will strike.

Analyzing the Experts:

  • Takeaway 1– Jennie emphasizes situational awareness. To sum it up, the best way to win a violent encounter is to not get into one in the first place. The best way to win is to “not play the game”. If you can take a detour or run away, do it. She also recommends taking women’s self defense courses such as the ones she teaches so you are prepared.
  • Takeaway 2 – Ed further emphasizes the need for situational awareness. If you can avoid a violent encounter, you will win. He also recommends undertaking a self defense training regimen in case the worst happens. He also recommends that you verify whether your defensive tools (mace, etc.) work as advertised. You don’t want to attempt to use something of that nature, only to have it fail at the worst possible moment.


Image Credit: Knock Out India

Dan Vidal

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