We’ve been following the story about a Michigan teen who was kidnapped while walking her dog since it came out last week: April Millsap was only 14, and authorities are still working to track down the person responsible for her death. This is a truly tragic loss, and it makes us think about how very important it is—whether you’re walking around on campus or just strolling through your own neighborhood—to know what to do if you suddenly find yourself in a threatening situation and need to escape.
Your school or local community center likely offers a women’s self defense class, and if you’ve never taken one, it’s definitely worth doing (we recommend gathering up some girlfriends and going together!). But in the meantime, we reached out to the self defense experts at Urban Martial Arts Academy in Brooklyn for some pointers on what to do if you think you’re in a potentially hazardous situation. Better safe than sorry, right?
Be Actively Aware of Your Surroundings
We all know this one, but it’s easy to forget: When you’re not paying attention, you’re much more vulnerable to an attack—no matter where you are. So stick your headphones in your bag, put your phone away (though make sure it’s easy to grab), and keep your eyes and ears open to what’s around you. Urban Martial Arts owner Serge Sognonvi points out that people who look like they’re easy targets tend to be easy targets, and draw the attention of a potential attacker. Staying alert to what’s going on around you will not only help you be more prepared to defend yourself, but you may be less likely to need to in the first place.
Don’t Phone a Friend—Go Straight to the Cops
The last person to hear from April when she went missing was her boyfriend, who received a text from her that read: “OMG…I think I’m being kidnapped.” Chill-inducing, right? Sognonvi points out that the first number you should really dial is 911, and put the phone on speaker. These days, about 70 percent of all 911 calls are made from mobile phones, and (at least if you’re outdoors) your location should be traceable. The most important thing to do is let the operator know exactly where you are so they can send help immediately.
Know How to Handle an Attack
So, this is a nightmare scenario—but there are things you can do to help increase your odds of getting away if you’re being overpowered. First off, think like Sognonvi: A lot of people focus on the part of their body that’s being pinned, instead of employing the counterattack options available to them. His example? If your arms are being held to your sides, you still have free feet and legs to stomp on your attacker’s toes, knee them in the crotch, or kick their kneecaps or shins. If you’ve got free hands, go for vital points like the throat (you want to aim for the trachea, which is right below the chin) and the eyes (yep, as hard as you can, right in the eyeballs).
Another thing Sognonvi mentions is that when a person is trying to physically move you, stabilizing your base can help fend them off. What does that mean? Basically, if your feet are spread apart on the ground and your knees are a little bent, you’re harder to knock over and have more control over your movements—which could keep someone from being able to pick you up in the first place.
Remember: You’re Not Trying to Win the Fight
An attack will trigger your flight or fight mode—but without a doubt your main job is to get away, as fast as you can. Make a scene: Scream as loud as possible, and alert anyone in earshot that you need help. But don’t just start swinging punches without trying to aim. You could wear yourself out, and that might make it harder to escape.
You might not be stronger than your attacker, but you are smarter: Grind your heel into the little bones of their foot, or aim for their nose. Both of those zones have bones and cartilage that can be easily broken, which would distract your assailant—and allow you to run for it. Adrenaline will help you to book it out of there, and try your best to run toward familiar territory and open spaces where you know there will be other people around.
We’re thinking about you guys—stay safe and aware out there. Have any tips we missed? Add them in the comments below.