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Awareness is the first line of defense:

Increasing your personal awareness is both an integral part of crime prevention and perhaps the single most important element of effective self-defense. An awareness of the reality of crime and violence, as well as an awareness of your environment, are the keys to your personal security. Being aware does not have to mean being paranoid. Train yourself to be more alert and adjust your level of awareness as needed. For instance, if you have good locks and live in a decent area, you shouldn't have to be constantly on guard. On the other hand, if you're out late at night, perhaps a little paranoia is a good thing. Just use good common sense and remember to pay attention to what's happening around you, and you will go a long way towards keeping yourself safe in an increasingly hostile world. For example, if you are parked in a shopping mall or supermarket parking lot, look around for anyone or anything suspicious before approaching your car. If you feel you are being watched, go back to the store and ask someone to escort you or call the police.

Trust your instincts:

Learn to trust your instincts and listen to what your intuition tells you. Trust those "little voices" when they tell you that something or someone "just doesn't look right." Come to full alertness and be prepared to take action to get out of the situation or away from that person as fast as possible.

Your first priority is escape:

If you do end up in a dangerous situation, remember that your number one priority is not to fight, but to escape. Obviously, the best plan is not to be there in the first place, but if you do find yourself in trouble, don't hesitate to take every available escape route. When you are confronted and you cannot immediately get away, you may want to consider complying, at least until you CAN escape. When faced with someone who demands your wallet, purse, jewelry, or other item - give it to them and get out of there. No possession, however valuable, is worth risking your life.

Developing a survival mind set:

No one has the right to harm you or the ones you love, but violence does exist and it can touch your life at any time. If this happens, and you aren't mentally prepared to deal with it, you will most likely become frozen with fear. The best way to avoid this is to develop a survival mind set. Practice scenarious before they happen. Imagine yourself in a dangerous situation and visualize what actions you might take to survive and escape. The key is to address your fears before you are confronted with them. While it is unpleasant to visualize yourself as the victim of a rape, robbery or assault, it's necessary to prepare the mind to deal with the trauma. Preparation while you're still in a safe environment is the key.

Avoid presenting a victim profile:

Crime victims are frequently chosen because they are perceived as easy targets. Criminals prey on the weak or unsuspecting, and usually avoid people who are aware of what's going on and might put up a fight. When out in public, look people in the eye, keep your head up, and walk with a confident stride. This tells the predator that you are more likely to see him coming and resist. Without the element of surprise, they will likely pass you up for someone who'll put up less of a fight.

Your voice is a self-defense weapon:

Learn to use your voice. This is true for both men and women, though it is particularly important for women. Women's voices tend to be higher pitched then men's and this can seem less forceful. If someone accosts you in public, interact with them with a deep authoritative voice. Don't be embarrassed or ashamed to yell out loud if needed. Even if you are wrong and the person had no intention of attacking you, it is always better to be safe than sorry, and any normal person would not begrudge you an attempt to protect yourself if you truly felt uncomfortable. Yell, "NO! Go away! Leave me alone!" if the person is making you uncomfortable. If the person actually physically touches you or tries to take any of your items you can scream, "Call the police! Call 911! Emergency!" Don't be afraid to swear loudly. These are things an assailant will not expect. The shock might prevent an attack.

Lights, people and noise:

When protecting yourself, always remember that your greatest allies are lights, people and noise. These are the three things that criminals fear most because they increase the likelihood of being seen or caught. Whenever possible, travel in groups and in open, populated areas - especially at night. In dark areas or isolated places criminals will have the advantage - especially if you are by yourself. Carry a whistle in your hand or around you wrist. Don't hesitate to use it if you feel threatened.

You must react quickly:

One of the greatest challenges to defending yourself is that in the real world, unlike in the movies acts of violence usually happen very quickly. When an attack occurs you are at an extreme disadvantage if you are not prepared to react. This is especially true if you rely solely on some form of weapon for your defense. Pepper spray, stun guns and firearms are useless if you can't get to them instantly when you need them.

Try to anticipate dangerous situations in advance and prepare yourself to take quick action. For example, when walking to your car at night, have your keys out and your pepper spray readily accessible.

Have a cell phone:

Cell phones can be a safety distraction, but they have been known to save lives also. While you should not walk down the street or drive while talking on a cell phone, having a cell phone on your person can make a huge difference in case of an accident or assault. Purses and briefcases can be snatched, so it's best to carry your cell phone on your person or keep it in your pocket. The sooner you call for help, the faster help can arrive.

Remember another reason to be aware of your surroundings. Unlike a land line phone, cell phones don't tell 911 or emergency operators where you are, so you need to know how to tell someone to reach you if you have been assaulted or if there are suspicious people around.

Almost anything can be a weapon:

In an extreme situation, you can use many everyday objects as a weapon. Anything that is harder, sharper or stronger than your hands can be used effectively, so take the time (preferably in advance) to look around for everyday objects that you could use to defend against a violent attacker. Objects such as a key, book, magazine or even a pen can be use as a weapon.

When attacked...attack back:

One of the most importance tenets of self-defense is that when attacked - you must attack back! You need to make your attacker worry about their own safety, instead of letting them focus on how they're going to hurt you. In an extreme situation, you may have to be vicious. Attack your assailant's weaker points, like their eyes, groin or throat. Do not hesitate, since hesitation will only give your attacker more time to formulate their own attack. Overwhelm your assailant, try to momentarily disable them, and escape!

The element of surprise:

Second to awareness, surprise is perhaps the most important element of effective self-defense. Using it to your advantage can give you a devastating edge in a confrontation. The number of deceptive counterattacks is limited only by your imagination. For example, you might pretend to be passive, appearing to submit to your assailant's wishes, only to attack them when they least expect it. You might also try to talk to your attacker, then suddenly throw something at their face - and run. In any case, it will be your ability to stay calm and prepare your own, that will make the difference in preserving your safety.