What could make you a possible target?
Being glued to your phone. Get off it, and use your ears and eyes. You'll be able to spot danger earlier and be able to respond. It also makes you less of a target by sending a message that you're alert.
Any other mistakes?
Not locking doors immediately when you enter a car or house. You should do this before you even put your purse down. And have your keys out in advance, so you're not digging in your bag as you approach the door.
What should you do if you suspect that you're being followed?
Don't go home. Instead, go to a public area—say, a restaurant—and call the police. Then alert the manager. This way, if your pursuer comes in, there's someone who knows what's up.
What if you're with your kids?
As a general rule, stay between your child and the threat, even if there's a stroller involved. If your children are old enough to walk, prepare them with cues before these situations occur. Tell them, "If I say, 'Stay,' get behind me quickly, grab hold of my back pockets, then straighten your arms." This allows your children to be in constant contact with you, but you'll have the room to strike if you need to.
Doesn't that kind of conversation terrify kids?
You can turn safety lessons into a game when you're at the mall: "You have 30 seconds to look around and name as many safe people near us as possible that you could go to in case of an emergency. Ready? Go!" Help them spot folks like the security guard, a mom with a child, or someone working at a store counter.
Is there a way to escape if you're in an elevator?
Stand near the buttons. In the case of a threat, press every numbered button so the doors open on the next floor. Don't hit Emergency—that stops the elevator. If the attacker is blocking your way, you'll need to hit a vulnerable area and run.
What are the go-to moves we should know?
Try the knee to the groin or the heel of the palm to the nose or throat. These are the most vulnerable spots regardless of the person's size or strength.
What about dropping to the ground and kicking?
Some women are taught to do that, but you want to stay on your feet as much as possible. If you do find yourself on the ground, strike to create space and try to stand up.
What's the best way to alert other people that you're being attacked?
Yell action words that make it clear that everything is not OK: "No! Rape! Fire! Attacker! 911! Help!" They create a greater sense of urgency than screaming or even alarms and whistles.
Should you hold your keys between your fingers as a weapon?
No. When you throw a punch, the impact will push the keys into your palm and they won't do much damage. A better option is to get one of those acrylic self-defense key chains designed to look like a cat [$5, jarrettarthur.com]. They have "eyeholes" to slip your fingers through so they stay put; the "ears" are sharp.
What are your thoughts on pepper spray?
As with all self-defense tools, if it's not in your hand in the moment, you might as well not have it.
And if the assailant has a weapon?
If someone is intimidating you into giving up your wallet, do as the person says, but in such a way to give yourself an opportunity to escape. Toss it a couple of feet to the left, to the right, or behind the attacker. This shifts his or her focus so you can run. But if the assailant is using a weapon to coerce you to go somewhere, like a car or an alley, don't comply. You need to fight to better your chance of survival.
Anything else women should know?
Even if you live in an area where crime is low, having the skills to protect yourself and your family will make you feel more powerful and in control.