I Carry Pepper Spray...But I Shouldn't Have To

Trigger warning: mention of sexual assault and rape.


Avoid parking garages at all cost.

Never walk outside alone when it’s dark.

Don’t scream “rape,” if someone assaults you, scream “fire,” it’ll get more attention.

Never leave your drink unattended.

Don’t even accept a drink if you didn't see the bartender pour it.

Take catcalling as a compliment, at least they notice you.

Stop wearing such short skirts, it’ll get you the wrong attention.

These are all sentiments I’ve been told since I was a young teenager. In fact, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say every woman has heard most, if not all of these cautionary statements before. The list could go on forever.

This month I celebrated my birthday, and among the presents, cake, and balloons was a pink cartridge that fit perfectly in my palm. A small can of police-grade pepper spray along with an extremely loud personal alarm.

After reading the instructions (I don’t want an accidental spice-rocket shooting into my eyeballs thank you very much,) I slipped the pepper spray onto my keychain and didn’t think about it until the weekend was over.

Walking to my car the next Monday, I pulled out my keys and laced them through my fingers as usual. I’ve seen a lot of women do this when walking alone. It’s a practice my mom told me to do as soon as I learned to drive. Now I don’t know if a couple keys between my fingers would have a lot of weight in the event that something bad happened, but I do know I would put up a fight. And with my nifty new pepper spray, I felt like an extra layer of security was with me.

The long walk to my car gave me time to really think about this new addition hanging from my lanyard. With sadness, I thought about why a lot of women carry pepper spray, lace their keys through their fists, or take self defense classes.Before anyone gets defensive, this is not an article claiming “all men are trash.” I have wonderful, compassionate, kind men in my life that I love dearly. No, not all men are bad. The problem is, in our day-to-day worlds, decent men are often not the norm.

I’ve been catcalled in front of my OWN HOUSE. My body has been looked up and down by men three times my age. Obscenities have been yelled at me and my girlfriends from across city streets. Worst of all, a lot of men feel they not only can treat the women around them as objects, but have the undeniable right to. And unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell who’s a potential threat, and who’s not just by looking at them.

When I told others in my life that I’d added pepper spray to my keys, there was a general response of go-get-’em attitude. Girl power and standing up for yourself are great, but why should I have to carry police-grade spray with me every day? According to RAINN, the nation’s largest organization against sexual assault, 1 out of every 6 women in America have been the victim of attempted or completed rape. One out of every 33 men are victims of the same crimes. Statistics can be even worse for college-age adults, women of color, and members of the queer community.

In a world of acquitted rape trials, victim blaming, and slut shaming, are we forced to be our own vigilante justice with nothing but pressurized cans of pepper spray to aid us? What good will pepper spray do if a drink is drugged? If an attacker comes from behind? If the perpetrator is someone the victim knew and trusted, therefore was unprepared?

The icy feeling of dread that comes while approaching a group of guys when alone. The suffer-in-silence message that’s been employed for as long as history has been recorded. The Chris Brown, Louis C.K., Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, and Kevin Spacey-status men that are barely reprimanded because they're better known than most of their victims.

But hope is not lost. A shining beacon of humanity amongst the tragedies of assault are the reports of incredibly strong men and women coming forward about the horrible aggressions placed upon them. This gives me faith in the future. I want to live in a world where rapists are scared for their lives. Where abusers aren’t able to get jobs. Where people who take advantage their power to harm and degrade others are immediately expelled from whatever industry they belong.

A world where pepper spray, alarms, and keys aren’t on my mind when I’m alone. No, we don’t live in this world yet. But I’m inspired by where we’re headed. Yes, there are horrible people, and there always will be. But the voices being shared, and the dialogue that’s created are a big step in the right direction. May rapists and abusers rot in the deepest fiery layers of hell for all dimensions of eternity known to humankind. Amen.

If you or someone you know is a victim of rape, or other forms of sexual assault and abuse, these resources are here to help*:


National sexual assault hotline (open 24/7): 800-656-HOPE(4673)

National sexual assault online chat (open 24/7): https://www.rainn.org/

Utah Crisis Line (open 24/7): 801-467-7273

Salt Lake City Rape Recovery Center: https://www.raperecoverycenter.org/

University of Utah’s sexual assault response and awareness website: https://sexualassault.utah.edu/

*Todos de este páginas y números telefónicos tienen recursos en español también.


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