‘Why I carry pepper spray in my handbag, even though I know it’s illegal.’

Demeter

Australia is in the middle of an epidemic.

Just days after the brutal rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon, 22, in a Melbourne park, another young woman has been attacked, this time in a park in Junee, near Canberra.

According to a report by Daily Mail, the 19-year-old had just left her friends and was walking through the park at around 1.30am on Saturday, making her way home, when she was set upon and raped.

Speaking to Daily Mail following this latest horrific attack against another woman, police issued a statement advising people to walk home in groups.

It’s just not good enough.

As previously reported by Mamamia, 31 women have been murdered by men in Australia so far this year. And it’s only June.

Meanwhile, we’re only just starting to discuss the prospect of making it legal for women to carry tasers or pepper spray in an effort to try and defend themselves against such senseless attacks.

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I know this isn’t something I should be openly admitting, especially given the current legality around it, but I actually do carry pepper spray in my handbag.

And I wouldn’t hesitate to use it if I felt threatened or at risk of being attacked.

In fact, I would recommend all women do the same, regardless of the law, because it’s becoming more and more evident that as women, we are still not safe in this country.

Pepper Spray
I carry pepper spray in my handbag, because I want to know I stand a chance if I'm ever attacked. Image: Supplied

For the record, it's not like I actively set out in search of pepper spray.

I was actually opposed to the idea at first.

But last year, I was living in Los Angeles (where pepper spray is legal) and working nights in a seedy neighbourhood.

My mum, who was back in Sydney, was concerned about me walking back to my car alone at night, so when my sister came to visit me, she instructed her to go out and buy me some pepper spray.

I argued with her about it at first - having been born and raised in Australia, the concept of carrying pepper spray felt a little dramatic, strange and foreign. Wasn't it something only the police were entitled to?

But after more and more reports of people being attacked and even murdered in the streets around where I worked, I finally relented.

So, my sister and I went to Walmart together (kind of like Big W), and bought pepper spray.

At first, I was pretty blasé about the whole thing.

"Have you got your pepper spray in your bag?" my mum would ask me over FaceTime.

"No, I forgot it," I'd tell her dismissively.

But then I had a conversation with a female colleague about it.

"You don't carry pepper spray?" she asked me incredulously. "I carry my pepper spray in one pocket and my taser in the other pocket whenever I go out walking."

"Dude, even I carry pepper spray!" commented one of my male colleagues.

It seemed a bit excessive, but okay.

I went home, dropped my pepper spray into my handbag and forgot about it.

Thankfully, I've never actually had to use it, but just knowing I have it on me makes me feel a whole lot safer.

I'd walk back to my car after my shift had ended with my car keys and my pepper spray in my hand, knowing full well I'd have a better chance of defending myself if anyone tried to attack me.

I don't understand why we deprive women in Australia that same feeling of safety and reassurance.

There was one night when I was going to a music concert by myself in LA, and I completely forgot I still had the pepper spray in my bag.

When I was stopped by a female security guard at the door for a bag check, she looked at the pepper spray, looked at me, paused for a moment, and then told me to keep going.

It was like an unspoken girl code.

You see, the thing is, most men will never understand just how terrifying it is to be a woman.

They'll never understand the fear we feel as women when we walk down a quiet street or through a park alone at night - and this is before anything has even happened.

All day, every day, we are hyper-aware of our surroundings.

Knowing full well pepper spray is still illegal in Australia, I never intended on bringing it back from LA with me when I moved back to Sydney at the end of last year.

But as I frantically packed up my apartment, I absentmindedly tossed it into one of my many suitcases, and didn't actually realise I still had it until I later opened up one of my bags back home in Australia.

And with everything that's been going on lately, the pepper spray has made its way back into my handbag, and I can honestly say I wouldn't hesitate to use it if I had to.

If I had to choose between being arrested for defending myself or potentially losing my life, I'd say: "Do I have time to reapply my lip gloss before posing for my mug shot?"

But pepper spray isn't enough.

When I was about 13, my uncle, who works in security, taught me a few basic self-defence moves I could use if I ever needed to defend myself from an attacker.

I don't understand why it's not compulsory learning for all students when they're at school.

While violence definitely isn't an issue that only affects women, there's no denying that women are at a serious disadvantage when faced with it.

We should be doing everything we can to ensure the safety of ourselves and our fellow sisters, not just telling them to be aware.

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