Should You Buy Pepper Spray?

Photo courtesy of Flicker user U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The latest self-defense gadget I’ve seen is a whistle that women can wear around their neck and blow to send an alert, along with their GPS coordinates, to seven people.

The ad for this device made me angry: A woman is strolling down a sunny street when suddenly she glances around uneasily, then runs for cover. The camera makes sure to show she’s wearing heels, because women are so impractical, am I right?

She blows the whistle, then it cuts to a man seeing the alert on his cell phone. He uses the GPS to find her, and next thing you know, the big, strong guy is holding out his hand to the woman as she smiles adoringly at her savior.

Carol Middleton, who runs DC Impact Self Defense, doesn’t recommend this product or others such as pepper spray, sharp keychains, or whistles. “Your voice, unless you have none, is right there at all times,” she says. “It can never be used to strangle you,” unlike the string on a whistle. Meanwhile, “pepper spray may have you fumbling in your purse, or it’s out of date or the wind’s blowing in the wrong direction.”

If you’re determined to carry a self-defense implement, Middleton recommends taking a class on how to use it: “If you’re going to have pepper spray and you don’t take a course on how to use pepper spray, you’re not really prepared at all.”

Associate Editor

Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.