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Shopping for Stun Guns

I was 12 years old, riding home from school on an L.A. city bus, when I noticed the middle-aged man staring at me. When I got off the bus, he did, too. As I walked, he followed 30 feet behind me. When I turned a corner, he turned, too. I picked up my pace. So did he.

I didn’t know what he wanted. But I knew, like an animal knows it’s being hunted, that I was in danger.

Unarmed in an era before cell phones, I considered my options. Break into a run, try to beat him to my house, lock the door, and call the police? No — he’d know where I lived. Bolt to a stranger’s front door and start banging, hoping someone was home? Dive through the hedges up ahead and hide? Or start screaming “HELP!” and crying like the little girl I was trying really hard not to be?

When I think back on that day, I get angry. What enrages me most is that I can’t even remember how I made it home safely. All I remember is being terrified, humiliated, certain that I couldn’t overpower him, uncertain if I could outsmart him — and filled with a resentment that’s never really gone away.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt threatened by a middle-aged man. But last week, I was invited to a party billed as “a girls’ night that could save your life.” It was a casual sales presentation for Damsel in Defense personal protection products — think Pampered Chef but with pink weapons that pack a wallop: the Tiny Takedown stun gun. The Pouch O’ Pepper spray. And a very pretty, palm-sized, keychain-ready martial arts weapon used to “jab soft tissue or break bones.”

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