There are pros and cons of pepper spray. Learn the advantages and disadvantages of any item before relying on it for personal safety and self protection.
Awareness and physical fighting skills will enhance all methods used in personal protection and self-defense. Do not rely solely on a weapon or personal protection device (pepper spray or mace) against rape aggression or other violent crimes for self-defense. Any safety device or weapon is a tool and limited by the abilities of the user and the conditions confronted.
Pepper Spray and Mace Chemical Agents
There are a variety of chemical agents available. In the 70’s women were encouraged to view hair spray and a potential deterrent against assault. Then additional chemical self-protection products came out on the market to include Mace, Dye Witness Chemical Identifier, and then pepper spray gained immediate popularity as a defensive chemical agent. In 1993 Richard Isaccs counted over 100 chemical defense sprays sold on the market, each with varying degrees of potency and effectiveness. Even though they are legal in most states, you should check with your local and state law enforcement agency to identify any restrictions before you make a purchase.
Consider the the DeFuser pepper spray product (pictured to the right) that has a disabling bracelet cord should the canister be taken away from you during a struggle. The canister becomes inoperable and the pull cord must be reinserted for it to operate again.
This was the first chemical agent manufactured for personal safety use in the form of a defense canister as depicted in the picture. Mace is not as effective as pepper spray. Mace is a product of CN gas, which was originally developed as a chemical agent during World War One. In 1928, Courson and Stroughton developed Orthoclorobenzamalononitrile (CS), which is a crystalline powder and not a gas. In the 1950’s, the U.S. military began working with CS, which was found to be about ten times more effective/irritating than CN gas. In 1965, CS was adopted as a tool used by law enforcement agencies used in crowd control during civil unrest.
- See pros and cons of Quick Fix Items
- Manufacturers put a shelf life on each spray canister. (Due to linkage or possibly in order to sell more canisters, but pressure has been found to dissipate within canisters)
- Do not expose canister to extreme heat or cold such leaving in vehicle.
- The assailant must be within range and not out of range.
- The spray canister must be aimed properly.
- If you use it on someone you can also be affected.
- Ask yourself, would the spray incapacitate me? If you are not incapacitated, neither is the assailant.
CN or CS gases do not affect everyone equally, and in cases where someone is angry or on drugs/alcohol, and it may take 20 to 60 seconds to take effect, if at all. Some of the symptoms of CS are tightness in the chest, nose, or throat, a coughing or choking sensation, profuse watering and involuntary closure of the eyes, and profuse runny nose, as well as a burning sensation in the eyes, lungs, and skin. The skin may have a burning sensation that is more painful if the skin pores are opened by previous or current sweating. Sometimes nausea, vomiting, disorientation, and panic are experienced, but usually occur when higher dosages derived from riot control/military sized canisters, or during training exercises in teargas chambers are used for gas mask familiarization, or during civil unrest or during SWAT operations.
Before pepper spray, law enforcement officers carried Mace canisters with a potency level three times greater than what was sold to the general public. If police officers would not carry what is available to the public; that should tell you something about the effectiveness.
Dye Witness Chemical Identifier
This spray canister is a variation of mace and was designed for the purpose of identifying and prosecuting assailants who are rebuffed during an attack. It sprays a foaming dark green dye up to 7 feet. It has approximately seven seconds of spray inside it and upon contact foams all over the object it sticks to. The manufacturer claims, “it will obscure an assailant’s vision and assist in the user’s ability to escape.” The manufacturer also claims the green foam “leaves a trail from the scene as well as a green stain on the assailant’s skin for up to seven days.” The point is to make the assailant easily identifiable and unable to mingle among others without raising suspicion. The outcome is to allow law enforcement officers to place the assailant at the scene of the crime, which is often one of the most difficult tasks in the criminal prosecution process. This product has been commonly distributed through multi-level marketing.
A newer variation of Dye Witness is the combination of pepper spray mixed with a staining dye. Instead of a green dye, the dye is red or orange, which lends itself naturally to the color of pepper spray. The manufacturer claims that “the user only needs to spray the chemical in the assailant’s face, then the assailant will feel the effects of the pepper spray, and that will be the end of the attack. When the assailant flees the scene, he will be easily identified because the red dye is all over his face and simultaneously stains his skin for up to seven days.” In reality, the manufacturers of these products do not take into account how criminals actually approach their victims or respond once the attack has been initiated.
Pepper spray is scientifically known as Oleoresin Capsicum (OC), is overwhelmingly replacing mace but its origins date back to ancient military history. The Chinese burned oil and red pepper in a stinkpot and used it against enemy soldiers in 311 BC. In 673 AD, it was given the name “Greek fire,” when Greeks burned sulfur, quick lime, and pepper. It was first used on catapults in 1200 AD and was also used in the American Civil War. In 1973 OC was originally manufactured for personal protection against dogs. It was not until the 1990’s that law enforcement began to replace their Mace canisters with OC, and it has been a popular personal safety gadget the last five years of the millennium.
- It is more effective than CS and CN gas but still may not affect everyone.
- Manufacturers place a four-year shelf life on the product. (Due to linkage or possibly in order to sell more canisters, but pressure has been found to dissipate within canisters.) Canisters should be shaken on a regularly.
- It should be kept away from children.
- Average canister ranges vary from a few feet to 15 feet. Maximum effectiveness is 4 to 6 feet.
- If you use it on someone you may also be affected.
- Ask yourself, would the spray incapacitate me? If you are not incapacitated, neither is the assailant.
The effects of pepper spray are the constriction of the trachea and a coughing sensation that may create a feeling of panic, “I can’t breathe.” Some people may experience temporary loss of strength and coordination. But most people will experience severe involuntary twitching or involuntary closure of the eyes. It is an inflammatory agent that causes dilation in the capillaries and swelling in the eyes from the burning effects; the eyes burn and blur with tears, and the sinus membranes begin to produce more mucus as the upper respiratory system becomes inflamed. Breathing is impaired by the constriction and swelling of the trachea, which reduces the intake of oxygen and causes excessive and uncontrollable coughing, gagging, and gasping for air. The skin may have an intense burning sensation that is more painful if the skin pores are opened by previous or current sweating and exposed skin may become discolored ranging from slight orange to bright red. OC does not persist in clothing like CS does. The effects can last from 30 to 45 minutes after being removed to an uncontaminated area of fresh air.
Pepper spray will not protect you just because you are carrying a canister. One commercial selling pepper spray showed two women walking by a street that led to a “bad” area of town. The one carrying the pepper spray started to walk in the bad/crime area’s direction when her walking partner objected. The one armed with pepper spray convinced the other woman to walk into danger because “they would be safe just because she was carrying pepper spray.” Remember that true self-defense is avoiding danger in the first place.
New product lines for pepper sprays are becoming more creative. One product called the flair pen is being marketed as being “always ready to fire on an unsuspecting assailant for commuters and other travelers.” The marketer claims the pen has a range of 8 feet and “will disable any attacker instantly for up to 1/2 hour with no permanent after effects.” However, don’t get caught on an airplane with it because it violates federal aviation laws. This model contains an ultra-violet dye that cannot be seen or washed off and only shows up under a police black light for positive identification of the attacker (if your local law enforcement department even has such a device). But the assailant must be apprehended first. Another item manufactured is hand held jogging or walking weights that are loaded with pepper spray. Additionally, there is the super blaster that falsely claims to provide protection “against all aggressive attacks” with a 20 foot spray blast that eliminates the need for pinpoint accuracy. The features include “a wide angle jet spray like a fire extinguisher.” The unit claims it “will stop an attacker or a group of attackers at a distance far exceeding many standard units.” Don’t face the wind if you deployed this one.
Chemical sprays have numerous problems. Michael Castleman described a tear gas test in his book Crime Free:
In April 1981, in cooperation with the ABC television program “20/20,” the Ventura County, California, Sheriff’s Department arranged a unique experiment to test it. The television producers invited twelve Los Angeles women, all licensed to carry tear gas, to participate in a realistic simulation of street assault, with deputies playing the assailants. A parking-lot scenario at the Sheriff’s Academy was created. The women were given shopping bags and told them to imagine that they were leaving a supermarket. Each carried her usual type of tear gas, either CN or CS. Both the women and the deputies were of average height and build; in some cases the women were bigger than the deputies. The women had the tear gas in their hands with the safety off. They knew something was going to happen, but not exactly what or when. The scenario had diversionary activities going on such as kids playing, people walking into the “market,”’ a guy changing a tire in order to create an environment in which the women wouldn’t just spray the first person who crossed their path. Then a deputy posing as an assailant confronted each woman and attempted to grab her purse or push her to the ground. Each woman was attacked four times, for a total of forty-eight simulated assaults. Even though they knew they were going to be attacked, not one of them stopped the deputies who played the assailant.
The Lieutenant running the event said the women were absolutely convinced the Mace would work. They had been told it would instantly disable any assailant. They were cocky. One woman even said, “We’re going to wipe you guys up!” The experiment was arranged to give them many more advantages than they would have in a real assault-the tear gas was in their hands and not in their purses, and they knew they were going to be using it. After the test, they were all upset and felt the tear gas school they had attended had misled them. They said the school’s promotional videotape showed assailants instantly incapacitated.
Even with the tear gas in hand, the women hit the deputies less than 20% of the time, and hit them in the face only a few times. In the few cases where the officers were hit in the face, the spray did not stop them. The manufacturers’ claim of immediate incapacitation” simply did not hold true. The deputies who were hit in the face did feel some ill effects but only after a minute or so, which would not have stopped a real assault.
Even though this experiment was conducted with Mace and pepper spray is more effective, it still does not affect everyone. Pepper spray has the same deployment risks. Most of the women in the above test missed entirely. An average assailant can cover 6 feet in less than a second, which does not provide the time to aim and shoot, much less effect the assailant with the contaminating solution. This is not what manufacturers would like you to believe. Since the product has been on the open market, the effectiveness of this product has been continuously dropping. Chemical agents affect everyone differently.
One police officer was killed because he was led to believe, by those same manufacturers, that pepper spray would work on everyone. A violent criminal who had just walked out of his house after beating his wife confronted the officer who was walking up to the house in order to answer the call he was dispatched. The officer sprayed the criminal with his canister of pepper spray numerous times. The officer was mentally distracted and surprised when the pepper spray was not working. After all, he was told it would work. He relied on what he was told instead of using another option. The criminal grabbed hold of the officer and beat him to death. The officer died with the pepper spray canister still in his hand.
An assailant must be inside the effective range of the canister’s spray. If you were lucky enough to spray him in the eyes and mouth, the effects are not immediate, and he will probably be able to grab hold of you. As he begins to feel the effects of the chemical, he will probably become very angry that you spayed him. Because pepper spray does not incapacitate an attacker, he will hold onto you will with one hand and punch you with the other.
Canister Problems? The spray must be aimed properly, which is not hard with new dummy proof canister designs, but under the stress of an assault situation, turning the canister around into the proper direction could cause life-threatening delays. If you do not have a dummy proof canister, there is the possibility you could spray yourself in the face as one police officer did while trying to apprehend a suspect.
Some canisters come with a clip that allows you to attach it to your belt or purse for faster access. Additionally, many of the key chain canisters, which women are encouraged to purchase, have an impractical carrying case that must be adjusted and hinders immediate use. However, the smaller canisters do allow them to be concealed from plain view.
Regardless of canister size, each canister requires mechanical operation and could malfunction, but more than likely it might run out of spray while the assailant is still coming. The smaller the canister is there will be a smaller quantity of usable spray available. Police officers have had canisters run out of spray while in the middle of fighting with a violently resisting suspect, and they have also had canisters malfunction (or not function at all) in the middle of the conflict.
Are You Prepared? Any weapon, including pepper spray, requires that you be prepared and have it ready before the assault. The canister, like all weapons, can be taken away from you and then be used against you. In 80% to 85% of all rapes, victims know their assailants and fifty percent of assaults occur inside the victim’s own home. Rapists are not always the stranger in the alley or the weirdo in the parking lot.
How many women will hold their pepper spray in their hands while they are out on a date? How many will keep it in their hands while someone they know is visiting them? If a woman feels she must hold onto it while she is on a date, which should be a clear indication she should not be dating this guy in the first place. If a criminal is using the con or surprise approaches, the victim will not even have the canister or any “quick fix” item in her hands; and in the blitz approach she won’t have time to use it.
One 26 year-old woman had just sat down inside her small truck after buying some take home food. Before she could close her car door an assailant immediately attacked her. The assailant, now 31 years old, had been arrested on two separate occasions for rape, but only convicted for robbery. The victim was positioning her food on the passenger seat of her truck when the robber/rapist positioned himself in the open car door threatening her with injury. He had just recently robbed two other people a couple blocks away before identifying her as his next victim. He robbed her and began fondling her breasts. As he was fondling her, he told her to give him her car keys. She complied and handed him the keys with a small canister of pepper spray attached to the key chain. The assailant then sprayed the woman in the face with her own canister of pepper spray. He then told her to lie face down on the seat. She realized that he intended to rape her in the parking lot and started to physically resist. Her physical resistance is what prevented her from being raped and got her out of his control. However, the rapist seemed to be more interested in committing robberies and allowed her to get away because she did not hurt him. His 5-8, 210 pound, large muscular, penitentiary stature would have easily kept her from escaping. He committed another robbery a few minutes later and was soon arrested.
What Is the Situational Stress Level? Unless you train to use any tool or weapon under stress, you will experience the “freeze response.” Your mind will go blank and you will forget that you even have the weapon. During the physical portion of the physical course women have wanted and have been allowed to use personal alarms (when they were popular) during the fighting exercises. Ironically, each student forgot she had the item until her coach reminded her to use it.
Where Is the Canister? Women have been attacked while they were taking a shower! How many women will shower with any protection device in their hands? The canister, like all weapons, is not a part of the human body and must be put down eventually. In the con or surprise approach, women will not even have the canister in their hands, or it will be simply taken away from them. Pepper spray, mace, and other items are usually carried at the bottom of a woman’s purse out of convenience, which will be unavailable during an attack. Even if a woman constantly carries such items in public, protection devices are normally left inside a woman’s purse while she is at home, where women are assaulted 50% of the time.
A 30 year-old woman was walking down the street at about 8:30 in the evening when she turned and realized two males were approaching her from behind. One of them suddenly grabbed her from behind and the other struck her in the stomach knocking the wind out of her. They pulled her off the sidewalk into the bushes. She fumbling in her purse for the pepper spray but one of the assailants stopped her. She was being groped and told to take off her clothes. She could smell alcohol on the breath of both of the assailants. Unable to get to her pepper spray, she was still able to flail, breaking free of their grasps. She fled and they did not chase her.
The Mind-Body-Spirit Relationship: Predators understand how to use the element of surprise and know how to distract victims when attacking them. Many understand the mind-body-spirit principle of attack. Criminals prefer that you are not ready when they attack you. They can also see what you are carrying in your hands. During a blitz attack, they will grab hold of the spray canister and then hit you with their other hand.
Some companies have developed a fake cellular telephone as a spray canister to disguise the weapon. But if an assailant did allow you to get ready for his assault and you started to use your disguised cellular telephone for something other than a communication device, he will immediately realize what you have in your hand. He may run away or he may simply move around, under or through your efforts to spray him. Then he will punch you while he takes it away from you.
While you are concentrating on using the pepper spray or any other weapon, your mind and body are separated; and if you were to simultaneously try to use physical force, you will probably be ineffective. When in stress, people are far more effective if they concentrate all of their effort on one effective task; attempting to use pepper spray on a rapidly advancing and violent assailant while attempting to kick him is not an easy task.
Diversionary Tool: If you choose to carry pepper spray or mace as a means of self-protection, think of it as a diversionary tool that may allow you to escape. Realistically the chemicals won’t stop the assailant, but optimistically it can buy you a few seconds, at best, to possibly escape. But keep in mind that you are still subject to the mental and physical vulnerabilities of trying to escape a pursuing assailant who is not happy.
Dissemination: There are four methods of dissemination for this agent:
- Liquid — common in mace and pepper spray canisters.
- Fog — solid to gas or liquid to solid.
- Burning — the smoke disseminates the particles.
- Pyrotechnic — blast or burst projectile shot or thrown with agent inside the canister.
Delivery Concerns: The distance the spray will reach, like mace, will depend on the size of the canister and the delivery mechanism. The amount of spray will also vary, and obviously larger cans contain a greater duration of spray. Anything less than 5 to 10 seconds is going to be ineffective. The manufacturer should be able to offer specification of deployment so you do not need to purchase numerous types of cans for testing. Pepper spray sold on the commercial market is disseminated by liquid. There are two categories of liquid spray.
- Cloud – The Cloud is in the shape of a funnel or cone which makes it easier to hit a moving target/assailant because you do not need to accurately hit him in the face. It also spreads out over a greater distance but is slightly slower than the stream. But if it is sprayed into the wind, the chemicals will blow back and affect you instead.
- Stream – The Stream is like a small stream of water coming out of a hose that makes it almost impossible to hit a moving target/assailant in the face who is attacking you. It has less chance to blow back on you in mild wind conditions.
Maximum effectiveness for most canisters is between four and six feet away from the assailant. Such distances can give the advantage to a rapidly approaching aggressor. The desired target is the face, which can be difficult to hit on a moving target even when he is closing the distance from 6 feet away.
Contamination Indifference: If you do use pepper spray or mace on someone you may also be affected. The particles in the canister do not discriminate between the good guy and the bad guy. The particles bounce around and fly all over. Chemical particles cannot recognize who is the bad guy and then just stick on him. These particles will also affect you too. This is especially true after pepper is deployed inside an enclosed area. In such cases, fans are recommended for airing out indoor rooms that have been contaminated and usually require at least an hour to air out. This was the case when one “brilliant” officer deployed his pepper spray as a joke in the locker room as the next shift was preparing for duty. Before you carry pepper spray test your reaction to it by spraying some in the air and walking into it (Do not try this if you have a repository condition or allergies). After you are finished heaving and hacking, you will probably have second thoughts about using it.
Self-Contamination When Threatened: Possibly one of the best ways to deploy pepper spray when confronted by an assailant may be to spray yourself with the chemical instead of the assailant. If the assailant attacks you, more than likely, he will not stick around to rape you. However, if he is an anger retaliatory rapist, he may continue to violate you under such conditions. Regardless, the coughing and gagging sensations will definitely affect you. Your hair and clothes will all be contaminated and any movement you make will probably put you into a coughing fit and you will need to shower as soon as possible. Don’t wear your clothes inside the house or you will contaminate your home as well. Do not attempt this technique, if you have any medical side effects or allergic reactions to the chemical. This technique is not a guarantee to stop the assault and you would be at a physical disadvantage to do anything else but cough and gag.
First aid for contamination from pepper spray or mace is the combination of fresh air, clean water, ice, soap and water. Sometimes water may seem to increase the burning sensations. You should check with the instructions provided by the manufacturer regarding treatment after contamination. The effects you experience should dissipate between 20 and 45 minutes depending on exposure levels. Do not rub your eyes. Do not use ice to cool the skin or eyes and do not use creams, oil based soaps, or saline eyewashes. If the effects still persist beyond 45 minutes, contact a physician immediately.
Assailant’s Condition and Mindset: Do not think just because it worked on you that it is going to work on a predator. The effects on you may be uncomfortably effective, never count on it working similarly to an angry, drunk or drugged predator with a high pain tolerance level or commitment to inflict injury. Your mindset is geared on being affected by the chemicals while you are conducting your experiment, which is nothing compared to the mentality of a violent criminal committed to attacking you. Alcohol and drugs will also reduce the effectiveness of chemical agents and can make some individuals even more violent if sprayed. There are reports that some individuals who commonly eat cayenne peppers sometimes become less affected by OC. However, effectiveness seems to be more as a result of an individual’s commitment level. When a person has commitment, the effects are minimal or non-existent.
Pepper spray was used on police attack dogs testing its effectiveness. When the dog was calmly sitting still, with no attack stimulus, the dog was sprayed in the face and ran away yelping. Later, the same dog was presented a target and then sprayed. The spray had zero effect and the dog charged at full speed attacking the target as if he had not been sprayed at all. The effects on humans are very similar. The effectiveness will depend on the commitment level of each individual.
Another effectiveness experiment conducted in 1997 by the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers demonstrated the ineffectiveness of pepper spray. Twenty officers were told to stab an individual 20 feet away after being sprayed in the face. Upon success, they could dive into a swimming pool. Each of the twenty officers was individually sprayed with a full blast of pepper spray directly in the face. The all succeeded in stabbing the targeted person with a simulated knife, but most significant was the fact that no one fell to the ground.
Some criminals are mentally resistant to chemical agents. The potency of the spray that police use is far greater than what is sold on the open market, and police officers are issued canisters with easier operational mechanisms. If the effectiveness of pepper sprays used by law enforcement agencies is declining and they carry a stronger ingredient mixture, what do you think are the effectiveness of the less potent sprays that are sold to the general public?
Some may argue that conditions where the police use the product are different from when civilians will need to use it. That is true, first the police go into situations expecting the possibility of trouble, versus women who are attacked by the surprise, blitz or con approaches. Secondly, the police are not normally attacked by people they know. Third is the fact that the criminals who are arrested by police officers are the same criminals who come into contact with the police because they victimize the general public.
In general, quick fix items are just an attempt to give women a “quick fix” to a complicated problem. These items can become a “crutch” that can cause dependency, reduce environmental awareness, and weaken any response to a threat both physically and mentally. Rape is on the rise and these items are not the “quick fix” answer to the problem of personal safety.
Most rapes are committed by someone whom the victim knows and these items won’t be in a woman’s hands when she is attacked. An assailant, who commonly knows his victim, may know she has a self-protection device and can easily counter the item physically or simply lure her away from the item. These items are designed to be deployed and used during the approach and control phases of an attack, which are usually the least appropriate time for a woman to initiate a self defensive counter strike to resist rape aggression or other violent crime.
The true impact of personal safety through effective self-defense comes from realistic training in women’s self-defense. A gadget, firearm, or other personal protection weapon-device should never be one’s sole method of personal safety.