Fighting your way out of an attack is the stuff of nightmares, and hopefully something you’ll never experience.
But knowing what to do should the worst happen is important, for peace of mind as much as safety.
Of course, everyone should follow basic safety rules, such as never walking alone at night, parking your car in well-lit areas, and avoiding going alone to places that are unfamiliar.
If you should be caught in a nasty situation, fighting is the last resort – particularly if it’s only valuables at stake, in which case it’s always best to hand them over – so first of all, try to talk the attacker down, remaining as calm as possible.
If the situation escalates, however, there are a few basic rules anyone can learn to follow. (It’s worth noting that although self-defence laws differ in each state and territory in Australia, the general rule is that you’re legally permitted to take any defensive or evasive steps you believe necessary – the court will later decide whether those steps were proportionate to the threat.)
As soon as the attacker makes a move to touch you, or it becomes clear they won’t be calmed down, shout as loudly as possible, using words along the lines of “back off” or “leave”.
Hearing a loud shout will shock often them, as well as scaring them if there are people nearby.
Attackers generally aim for vulnerable-looking people, so walking and talking confidently is always a good idea whenever you find yourself in an unsafe situation.
Once you’ve shouted, you may have a few seconds left in control, and it’s important to conserve energy and get away as fast as possible.
Hitting out immediately is key, ensuring you injure the assailant enough to make your escape – a kick to the knee or the shin is a good distraction.
Grabbing, pushing, or scraping the attacker’s eye will cause a lot of pain and may even limit their vision long enough for you to get away.
A handy trick is to grab hold of their ear with one hand, using the thumb of the same hand to then push firmly into the eye, back towards the skull. This action should cause them to flinch back at very least, and if they try to move to the side, your hand will remain firmly in place.
If the attacker is close in front of you, use the heel of your hand to drive up and punch the bottom of their nose, using your whole weight behind the hit to push them back.
If they grab you from behind, the same principle applies, but this time you can throw your head back – being careful not to jar your neck – and head-butt them with the back of your head, aiming if possible for the bridge of their nose. If you have an elbow free, you can try to use that to hit them too.
Jabbing your attacker in the throat can limit their air supply and stop them in their tracks.
Aiming for the throat directly in the middle for women, or between the Adam’s apple and the top of the breastbone for men, use a finger or elbow to jab inwards to hurt them and stop their air flow. Alternatively, the side of the neck is a large target to aim for. Using the side of your hand, make a knife hand strike (with all your fingers held straight and tight, with your thumb tucked and slightly bent at the knuckle).
Rather than injuring yourself in a way that might prevent you from escaping, use solid objects to injure your attacker.
Something as simple as carrying your key in your hand means you have a sharp object to stab and swipe at their face to distract them.
Aerosols such as hairspray or perfume can also come in handy as something to spray in attacker’s eyes to temporarily blind them.
No matter how small you are compared to your attacker, using your weight is key, says Tim Larkin of Target Focus Training.
By focusing on the key pressure points, use your weight for one targeted blow, ensuring you remain balanced so you can leverage yourself. By thrusting all your weight behind a hit, for example, it can mean the difference between injuring your attacker or just distracting them.