Pepper spray: A means of self-defence?
Katherine, a 22-year-old Sydney law student, has to walk 150 metres from her bus stop to her house every night, usually on her own. It’s poorly lit and the road is against bush. It can be scary.
“It’s quite dark and I can’t see very far,” she told The Punch. Joking that she’s “totally paranoid”, she says she times runs with her keys in one hand (so they’re “like knuckledusters”) and her pepper spray in the other.
Yep, pepper spray. In most Australian states, the stuff isn’t legal. It’s classified as a prohibited weapon. In Western Australia it’s a “controlled weapon” - meaning ownership has restrictions.
Katherine’s pepper spray canister, which she purchased in the US on a holiday in 2006, makes her trip home feel safer.
We all know someone (or are someone) who has to get home regularly on their own after dark. Something we’ve been debating recently.
The answer can’t be: Women must get off the streets. It should be about empowering women. Giving them the confidence to walk outside.
But, as a part of that, should defensive weapons like pepper spray be an option for people in the future?
There’s a compelling case for and against. Here’s the against.
“There’s better ways to protect yourself,” said former WA deputy police commissioner Murray Langford. Now a professor at the school of law and justice at Edith Cowan University, Langford said: “The biggest risk you have is it’s taken off you and used against you.”
A self-defence expert The Punch spoke to yesterday, Kellie Toole from the University of Adelaide, had mixed feelings. She wondered: What if it triggered a US-style gun culture - where people felt like they needed a canister to feel safe?
And weapons in general are dangerous. While pepper spray isn’t lethal, it can have harmful effects.
“There might be better ways,” Katherine said in response to Prof. Langford, “but this might give me a few extra seconds and sometimes that’s all you need.”
But what else can be done to help women feel in control? Following a spate of sexual assaults in Adelaide, many are headed to self-defence classes. And any sort of program that’s going to make a woman feel more confident in her day to day travel is a great thing, says writer Nina Funnell.
Funnell, who is on the NSW Premier’s Council on Preventing Violence Against Women, says that the idea of women getting attacked after dark heading home isn’t the case with most sexual assaults. Usually its people they know in places they know doing the assaulting, she says.
And most (although certainly not all) of the time sexual assault stems from psychological factors. Like when a boy wants to have sex with a girl, the girl doesn’t want to but feels she can’t stop it.
“Teaching a girl to karate chop this boy is totally unrealistic,” Funnell says.
It’s more realistic in stranger danger circumstances, however rare they may be.
On Schoolies in 2008, one of the rooms near Katherine’s was raided for marijuana by the police. Her bag ended up being searched by a female cop.
She saw the pepper spray. But didn’t give her a spray.
“She just looked at me and put it back in my bag. ‘I won’t tell’...
“It’s a reasonable thing to have, especially at Schoolies”.
* Full name withheld for legal reasons.
Comments speculating on cases before the courts will be denied. Comments close on this post at 8pm AEST.
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