Responsible teachers of the effective use of firearms and tactics focus on, above all, avoiding trouble if at all possible. 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: 

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 10.47.52 PM

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 does not go into detail, but from what is provided, the man that attacked Cutrona apparently got away and has not been captured. He’s free to attack her–or other women–again. Imagining that his intention was merely to scare her from being free to run in her “favorite spots” is the worst and most dangerous kind of refusal to recognize reality. One can’t blame someone from being shocked, and from 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 in reality.

“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.

credit: boobytrapbras.com
credit: boobytrapbras.com

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, in fact, 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. 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.

"Just In Case Pepper Spray Bra" credit: boobytrapbras.com
“Just In Case Pepper Spray Bra”
credit: boobytrapbras.com

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.

I have no doubt that 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, and far less aggressive than men. Even highly skilled female martial artists understand the size and weight disparity is so significant 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.

Thus, when teaching women self-defense, the only responsible course is to teach situational awareness so that 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 absolutely means 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 of who saw it. They were all facedown in their cell phones. He eventually randomly shot a man in the back, killing him.

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, and they know it is an unreliable stopper, at best. 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 their use 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 that when pepper spray is used, everyone, including the officers, 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 above all, it requires that 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.

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, they must work to understand the intricacies of distance, timing and situational awareness, and this for a sport, not actual combat with actual swords. This takes years. Even in fencing, women do not fence men in competition. The difference in strength and speed is simply too great, the outcome preordained.

A woman holding a knife, even if she can pull it out of her bra in time, can be easily rendered incapable of using that knife, or unconscious, by a single blow from a male attacker with a substantially longer reach.

Knives, properly used, can produce ugly and debilitating wounds, but again, 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.

Ruger LCP .380 ACP pistol

There is only one easily mastered tool that can keep determined attackers–even more than one–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 been available for years.

The development of many small and light handguns, many with polymer frames that help to prevent rust from constant contact with sweaty skin, has been 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.

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 ACP pistol
Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 ACP pistol

Cutrona can do a real service by expanding her product line to include holsters for such useful and easily carried handguns as the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard or the Ruger LCP, both in .380 ACP.

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.

I wouldn’t try to convince any woman I love, or have any hope of persuading, to make that bet.

Mike’s Home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.