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Molly Tibbetts
credit: facebook

I’ll be specifically addressing the death of Molly Tibbetts this coming Tuesday, but it may be worthwhile to review an article I published at Bearing Arms more than two years ago.  Here’s the updated article:

Responsible firearms/tactics teachers focus on avoiding trouble above all. An integral part of such avoidance is developing situational awareness, of always being aware of one’s surroundings, of thinking ahead, of asking “what if,” and having a plan when “what if” becomes “happening right now.”

This is particularly important for women.Unfortunately, there is a great deal of bad, even dangerous advice out there. People sell security that doesn’t exist, and products that can’t work as advertised. Such a product is now being marketed. Via Fox News: 

It’s a bra that comes with a life-saving boost.

A year ago, mother-of-two Jennifer Cutrona was off running on her favorite trail near her home in Texas – earbuds in and her mind focused on an upcoming marathon – when a man suddenly leapt out from the woods and tried to grab her.

‘I got away from the guy, but was extremely upset at how oblivious I had been to this possibility,’ Cutrona told FoxNews.com. ‘I did not want to listen to anyone who would try to scare me from being free to run my favorite spots.

The article did not go into detail, but from what was provided, the man that attacked Cutrona apparently got away and remains at large, free to attack women again. Imagining that his intention was merely to scare her from being free to run in her “favorite spots” is the most dangerous kind of refusal to recognize reality. One can’t blame someone for being shocked, and for avoiding the realization of what could have happened in such a situation, but that’s not what responsible self-defense teachers can afford to do. They have to deal with reality.  As I noted recently in Theory vs Reality, refusing to recognize and prepare for danger all too often ends in disaster.

The incident inspired Cutrona to think about the need for women to be fully prepared, even when dressed down for a run.  Soon after, “Booby Trap Bras” was born – a line of sports bras made with self-defense in mind.

The little pocket knives I had collected over the years were all at home in the drawer with my pepper spray. I needed something I could pull in less than a second,’ Cutrona said. ‘I sewed a knife sheath into the layers of my sports bra.  I put it back on and realized it worked wonderfully.  My confidence was back. I was not trying to come up with something that would kill. Just something that would give me a few seconds to get away [emphasis mine].

She doesn’t want to really harm someone that would rape or kill her, she just wants to distract them for “…a few seconds to get away.”

Cutrona’s now-patented creations are advertised with the motto ‘Stay safe. Stay active.’ They provide a means to securely store – yet easily access – a small knife or pepper spray for protection.

‘My message is not to live in fear.  It is to wear something on you just in case.  This will most likely never happen to me again,’ Cutrona continued. ‘I am not paranoid.  I feel great. If I get approached again, however, I will be prepared.

Tragically, carrying a small knife or pepper spray does not make Cutrona, or any woman, prepared or safe.  No woman need be paranoid, but they do need to recognize realistic threats, and be prepared to counter them if all else fails. I do not begrudge anyone making an honest profit selling a useful product. As an endurance athlete, I have had to invent means of carrying a handgun, cell phone, and other necessary items while wearing athletic clothing. It does appear that Cutrona has had some success, and reasonably so:

The ‘Just In Case Knife Bra’ which retails for $55, features a knife sheath made from nylon neoprene built into its layers. Cutrona’s company also offers the ‘Just In Case Pepper Spray Bra’ for $50 and unisex compression sleeves for $25 intended to hold anything from a phone and credit cards to keys and knives.  The product line has been a hit, with Cutrona claiming that she has sold out of every production run to date. She is planning a new collection for men.

The “Booby Trap Bras” website features a number of testimonials. Two follow:

Since investing in this product, I have felt safe and confident to take out on runs by myself.  I had been intimidated before, due to dangerous situations I had found myself in.  Thank you Booby Trap Protection!

I remember it like it was yesterday because I pass that trail every day. I love to run in the early evenings and at times the darkness is upon me faster than I would like. Some evenings I find myself far away from my car and the sun is setting very fast. One particular day in September the sky was a dark gray and I find myself alone on the trail with a young man who was clearly not dressed for exercise in his dark jeans and sweatshirt. He fell in behind me and I realized very quickly that I need to carry some form of protection. I was totally vulnerable. At that moment every episode of 48 Hours that begins with a woman jogging flashed through my mind.  Just as I was running faster and my heart was pounding a friendly man in his 60’s approached walking his 4 Alaskan Huskies. Upon seeing him the young man veered off the trail into the woods. I will never know his intentions, whether he was friend or foe, but I vowed at that time to never allow myself to be that vulnerable again.

Even The Federalist published a complimentary article.  I have no doubt Cutrona has the best intentions, and female athletes certainly need useful products that allow them to comfortably carry a variety of necessary items, but in a very real way, she’s selling fantasy.

Women are uniquely vulnerable to physical attack. They tend to be smaller, weaker, slower and far less aggressive than men, in other words, at an enormous, potentially deadly disadvantage in hand to hand combat.  Even highly skilled female martial artists understand the size and weight disparity is so great as to be potentially deadly. The average man with no training or skill is generally strong enough, empty-handed, to seriously injure or kill the average woman. Most women–indeed, most men–have no idea how destructive and paralyzing an unexpected physical attack is.

We’re used to seeing single heroes, male and female, fight off multiple attackers, even those carrying weapons.  This isn’t fighting, it’s fight choreography, designed to lookpretty.  Real fights, real criminal attacks, are fast, brutal, bloody and anything but pretty.

The only responsible course for teaching self-defense to women is to emphasize situational awareness so they have the greatest possible opportunity to recognize and avoid danger. For the long-distance runner, this means, if at all possible, never running alone, and always carefully analyzing what lies ahead, step by step, mile by mile, and being prepared to deal with whatever danger presents itself.

It means absolutely no earbuds and no music. A woman running alone cannot afford to be distracted, to lose her sense of hearing.

One of the most horrifying illustrations of this kind of danger in recent years took place on a commuter train in San Francisco in 2013.  A killer with a .45 pistol repeatedly pointed it at several dozen passengers; none saw it. They were all facedown in their cell phones. They were roused from their collective cell phone stupor only when the shooter shot and killed a man, chosen at random.

Bra with pepper spray holster
credit: boobytrapbras

But what about knives and pepper spray?  Aren’t they effective? For most people, and in most situations, no. 

In any physical confrontation, distance is life. Letting an attacker close to grappling distance for anyone, man or woman, particularly if the attack is a surprise, means that attacker will get in the first blow or blows, or the first cuts. It could easily mean serious injury or death. This is particularly important for women. Keeping an attacker at a significant distance is vital.

Pepper spray for citizens is virtually never as powerful as that available to the police, who know it to be an unreliable stopper. During my police days, I developed what I called the SPOIT rule: Sober Police Officers In Training. All manner of less than lethal weapons and techniques tend to work splendidly against sober police officers training in dry, clean, well-lit dojos or gyms. They don’t want to get hurt. But against drugged, stupid, enraged, homicidal, or all-of-the-above criminals in the rain, at night, in rural areas where there is no help, they tend to fail spectacularly.

Every experienced police officer knows when pepper spray is used, everyone, including the officer, is affected. I’ve been sprayed many times, and it is unpleasant. It made my eyes water, I coughed and hacked a bit, but I could still see, and still subdue the equally crying, coughing and hacking bad guys. Were I a criminal bent on rape, I could easily have beaten my intended victim into unconsciousness–it would probably have taken a single blow–even chased and caught her if necessary. In most circumstances, and for most people, pepper spray only makes violent, determined criminals more violent, determined and angry, while causing them to sling bodily fluids everywhere.

Is pepper spray completely unreliable? No. It does work on some people some of the time in some circumstances, but remember that police officers virtually always have help, and they tend to be large, strong people experienced in subduing bad guys that don’t want to be subdued. It simply can’t be counted upon to delay or end a violent attack.

But what about knives? Knives are indeed potentially deadly weapons, but their effective use requires substantial skill and experience, and the user be within grappling range of their attacker. Merely carrying a knife does not make one a fearsome warrior capable of fighting off an attack.  Notice the knife in the photo sequence above.

What if an attacker is armed with a knife? When anyone fights with edged weapons, everyone gets cut–badly. Engaging in a knife fight is begging for horrific injuries, even death.

I am a teacher of fencing, and the experience of new students is universal. It’s nothing like the movies. Handling a sword–an edged weapon–is very difficult. Not only must one master the necessary techniques and build the specific muscle groups and muscle memory, they must work to understand the intricacies of distance, timing and situational awareness, which takes years. This for a sport, not actual combat with actual swords.Even in fencing, women do not fence men in competition. The difference in strength and speed is simply too great, the outcome preordained.

Note the small, flat knife
credit: boobytrapbras

A woman holding a knife, even if she can pull it out of her bra in time, can be easily rendered unconscious by a single blow from a male attacker with substantially longer reach.  A woman holding a knife with a short blade, and a design that limits its employment, is generally going to be out of reach of her attacker.

Knives, properly used, can produce ugly and debilitating wounds, but their use is a martial art in and of itself, and without years of training and practice, they cannot be relied upon to reliably stop a determined attacker or to produce the freedom from fear and ability to escape Cutrona believes they impart.

Flashbang bra holster

There is only one tool that can keep determined attackers at a safe distance, and that can allow even a slight women to absolutely stop a much larger and stronger attacker: the handgun. Interestingly, bra holsters for small handguns, usually .380 caliber, have long been available.  The Flashbang bra holster  is among the best, and a review of bra holsters is available here.

S&W Bodyguard with integral Crimson Trace laser sight

The development of many small and light handguns,many with polymer frames that help to prevent rust from constant contact with sweaty skin, was a fortunate development of the Age of Obama. Unprecedented numbers of women have become first time gun owners, because they recognize that not only can the police not protect them, they have no duty to protect them. Because I can’t be with my wife all the time, she is armed and capable.

Belly band holster

Another option is a belly band holster, an elastic band that allows secure carry and concealment of a variety of sizes of handgun under clothing. A review of five common belly band holsters is available here. 

Ruger LCPII

The smaller and lighter the handgun, the more clothing options women have for running or other athletic endeavors, but when carrying a handgun, they’re not going to be able to wear the minimal coverage, trendy bras and shorts some women favor.  They won’t have to wear sweats by any means, but properly concealing even very small handguns like the North American Arms .22 mini revolvers requires one to adapt their clothing. One would hope any woman’s primary consideration would be survival rather than looking trendy while being attacked.

NAA-22LR mini revolver

Should women avoid buying Cutrona’s products?  Of course not. They are obviously well made and useful for a variety of purposes.

Should they never carry a knife or pepper spray? Of course not, but they must be aware of their very real limitations, and of the techniques–the very close range techniques–necessary to use them with any effectiveness. They must also be willing, understanding all of that, to bet their lives on them.

That’s a losing bet for any woman.