In the first eleven months of 2005, police in the Czech capital Prague, reported about eighty-five attacks on women of different ages. Seventy of them were of a sexual character, in short rape or attempted rape. To prevent this from happening in future the city hall has, hand in hand with police, started a campaign to make women aware of the danger.
"A girl or a woman can't assume it is not going to happen. She has to bear in mind that it is possible and that she is the one who has to do everything to stop it, simply to prevent it. It is impossible for police to be everywhere therefore women have to be able to recognize a danger and respond to it."
Says Jan Chodera from the city hall. The campaign called 'Self defense' carries a clear message "Women: be alert and don't put your lives at risk."
Advice? Pretty straightforward - don't take dark short cuts instead of safer routes home and watch out for anything or anyone suspicious. In case of need don't hesitate to hit back below the belt.
"If the campaign is successful, crime should decline. If people do foresee an attack, there will be fewer opportunities for attackers. Potential assailants might be put off and change their mind if they see an alert person. If it doesn't help and a person is attacked anyway, the campaign will definitely help them to know what to do."
The campaign definitely drew my attention. Metro carriages, trams and bus stops are plastered with posters warning of the danger. Not that I had been careless before, but now I pay even more attention. The poster hit the right spot with me. I still remember the very first time I spotted one of them.
Its message is more than clear and rather shocking - a path in a forest leading to a girl's naked legs sticking out from a bush. The slogan reads 'Hide-and-seek or a tragic end of a young life?' Jan Chodera again.
"We discussed at length whether the campaign should be so aggressive and we came to the conclusion that this way it would be much more powerful. This poster shows the worst that can happen and warns of the tragic consequences."
The campaign is going to last the whole year. After a series of workshops in schools with mainly female students, it is now concentrating on the general public.
"All of a sudden I felt someone pulling my handbag from behind. It was hanging from my shoulder but he pulled it. I turned round and saw a young man running away from me. He was much taller than me."
Says a seventy-seven-year-old lady who sat next to me at the very first public self defense workshop.
"I started running after him but to be honest I had no chance of catching up. I guess he was seventeen maybe eighteen years old. So I gave up and let it be."
As we giggled at various instructions on how to get rid of an attacker, I had to doubt whether I myself or the old lady would be able to defend ourselves.
"Every time I walk from a bus stop I look around to check who is behind me. If there is someone suspicious walking behind me I usually stop and wait until there are more people around. I have been robbed three times. Once it happened in the block of flats where I live. I doubt I will be able to do anything to defend myself. I am weak and my reactions are rather bad."
Admits this eighty-year-old lady and shrugs her shoulders.
Zdenek Nachodsky specializes in self defense. He has been called in as an expert to many difficult cases to assess the behavior of a suspect.
Years of experience have taught him a few good tricks which he now passes on to students at a police school and - currently - also via this campaign to audiences in Prague.
First of all, you should avoid your enemy, Zdenek Nachodsky advises. Cross a street when you see a suspicious person. Don't fight a lost battle, trust your instincts and don't hesitate to fight unfairly, just like children. It is the best way to gain precious seconds. Bite, scratch, pull hair, kick and scream 'fire', not 'help'. As statistics show people are much more likely to help you to put out a fire than if you are being attacked.
"The most common mistake is that people think that all people are polite and honest. Secondly people are not used to these situations when they are likely to be attacked. People usually aren't able to react."
Zdenek Nachodsky answers my questions about the most common mistakes we make when faced with danger.
"Some people would defend themselves, but they are worried about the law. Everybody should know at least a little bit about it. People don't know where the line between self-defense and assault lies, and it holds them back. They are scared to hurt an aggressor."
Sometimes unnecessarily. According to Czech law you can fight as long as an attack continues and, even if you kill, it is still in self defense. However stabbing an escaping thief to death would get you into huge trouble.
And here is the last handy piece of advice from Zdenek Nachodsky. Get a small purse with a small amount of money and if a thief asks you 'Your money or your life?' give it to him. He will certainly be too pressed for time to search your handbag and won't find the second "money-stuffed" purse. If you are interested in a few tips how to fight look at www.nutnaobrana.cz
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