Here’s how to protect yourself in everyday situations

Gender-based violence is another ‘pandemic’ that is targeting South African women. You need to know how to protect yourself…

We are constantly aware of our vulnerability, and our need for self-defence… We try not to walk on the streets alone, we guard our drinks when we’re at a bar (pre-pandemic), we hide our cash in our bras, and keep our handbags tucked under our arms. We’re always looking over our shoulders.

Some horrific stories

And while government and society continue to ‘call for change’, women still have to live this reality every day.

In 2020, All4Women published a story about a young jogger in KZN who ran into a store when she felt like she was being threatened. This action may have saved her life. Shortly afterwards, All4Women published another horrific story about a jogger who was raped, but managed to overpower her attacker and have him arrested.

Thousands of women have similar experiences every day. But while society struggles to implement change, there are some things that women can do to help protect themselves.

All4Women spoke to some self-defence and combat experts about how you can protect yourself in 5 vulnerable situations.

Two keys to safety

First, there are two keys to safety: always remain aware, and always remain confident.

Put your phone away and take note of your surroundings. “One of the biggest things that women can do to keep themselves safe when out alone is to leave their cell phones alone,” says self-defence expert and co-owner of Fight Like a Girl, Ann du Plessis.

“We’ve turned into a zombie-like world where everywhere you go; you see people walking around staring at their phone screens. 90% of self-defence is being aware of your surroundings. If you know who is around you at all times, you are able to identify a potential threat. You can then take action to prevent a dangerous situation.”

“Never drop your head, or look scared,” says Port Elizabeth based self-defence and combat expert, Quinton Kruger. “You may feel terrified, but don’t let it show. Being confident puts the attacker on the back foot. Look them in the eye. Let them know that you know they are there. They will wonder why you’re not afraid and will often change their minds about targeting you if they can’t take you by surprise.”

Du Plessis agrees. “Attackers look for easy targets, people who they think won’t fight back. 80% of what we communicate is non-verbal so if you act confident, walk with purpose and make eye contact, then anyone watching will see you as a confident woman who values herself and will fight back.”

How you can protect yourself in scenarios

Jogging/walking to work/walking to a terminus to take public transport

Awareness is the most important thing. Being aware of your surroundings and identifying potential threats ahead of time could save your life.

“I always recommend that women take some sort of self-defence classes,” says Kruger. “However, if they don’t have any training, carrying a taser is a way for women to feel more confident.”

While many experts recommend pepper spray, Kruger says that this can be less effective in a windy area, or if the attacker closes his eyes, or kicks or stabs you.

“Tasers make a loud noise, which is already a warning for a potential attacker to stay away,” says Kruger. “They are very effective in temporarily disabling an attacker, and they are available at numerous stores. You can even get ones that look like cell phones.”

Coming home from work alone: What should women look out for before turning into the driveway?

“When driving, be aware of vehicles behind you. As you are nearing your home, if you suspect you’re being followed, then drive to your nearest police station,” says Du Plessis.

She suggests applying the 3 “R” principle for self-defence:

If you think you’re being followed: turn right, turn right and turn right again. If the car is still behind you at the third right turn then it’s very likely that you are being followed (just make sure you don’t end up in a cul-de-sac).

“Call your security company, if you have one, and ask for them to send a vehicle to escort you,” says Du Plessis.

To protect yourself when approaching your driveway, Du Plessis advises:

  • Check if anyone is behind you
  • If you need to come to a stop before opening your gate, then stop parallel with the road so that it’s not possible for a vehicle to come up behind you and box you in
  • Avoid bushes near your gate so that there’s no hiding places and if you arrive home often in the dark then make sure the lighting is very good at your gate and on your driveway
  • When you arrive at home make sure you listen to what your dogs are telling you. If they are acting strange in any way then you need to be on high alert as this could mean there is someone on your property. In this case, leave your property and call your security company to come and take a look.

Meeting someone you were introduced to online

“If you want to meet someone in person who you’ve met online, don’t go to their home or invite them to yours if you are alone,” says Du Plessis. “Rather protect yourself by meeting them somewhere you know well. It should be in a public space where there are people around. Make sure you tell someone who you are meeting, where you are meeting them, what time and how long you think you’ll be.”

Driving on the freeway, possibly being followed

“Depending on where you are, or how far you’re going, try keep your distance from the car that’s following you,” says Kruger. “Hopefully there are other cars on the road. Try to keep up with another vehicle in front of you until you can get to safety.”

Kruger also says, “don’t EVER pull over.”

“To protect yourself when driving alone, don’t stop for a dog in the road, for an ‘accident’, for someone who looks like they need help. NEVER stop for anything. Unfortunately, this is not the kind of world we live in,” says Kruger.

Criminals employ many tactics to try to trick people into stopping. If you really feel like someone is in trouble, rather drive past and call the police or emergency services when you’re a safe distance away.

If a woman is under attack, should she scream and fight, or how should she practise self-defence?

Home invasion scenario:

“In a home invasion and there are multiple attackers with weapons and all they want is your belongings, then this is the time to submit,” says Du Plessis. “Do as you’re told and allow them to take your possessions because those are replaceable, your life is not.”

Potential kidnap scenario:

“Scream, and fight back as hard as possible,” says Kruger. “When it comes to self-defence, don’t feel bad about hurting the attacker. Don’t stop until he drops… strike, strike, strike. Channel your anger and then get away as quickly as possible.”

Du Plessis agrees. “If someone is holding a gun to you and trying to force you into a car then you shout, you kick, you hit, you do whatever it takes to not get into the car. In this scenario, the attacker does not intend on hurting you at the first location. They want to move you to a second location where it’s quiet, there’s no one around to help you and they can take their time with whatever it is they want to do. Your chances of survival at the first location are much higher because even if you do get hurt you are very likely to be able to get help, whereas there’s no one to help you at the second location.”

Where should you hit an attacker?

“There are two key spots,” says Kruger. “Go for the groin. Grab, twist, pull if you can. But most guys will try to protect themselves there, so if you can’t hit him in the groin, aim for the Adam’s apple. Strike, chop, punch, it’s a very sensitive area too.”

Should women in South Africa take self-defence lessons to protect themselves?

“I strongly believe that every woman should learn some form of self-defence, especially in South Africa where violence against women is 5 times higher than anywhere in the world,” says Du Plessis.

Kruger agrees. He believes all women should learn some key techniques that will help give them confidence to fight back if they ever need to.


Article by

Claire Warneke
Acting Editor, News & Current Affairs, Relationships