Whether out of concern over crime reports or in response to new people in the area, Minot-area residents are becoming more conscious of their personal safety.
Tonya Holbrook, a spouse at Minot Air Force Base, wants people to be aware. She is one of a number of North Dakota women who have teamed up with a company called Damsel in Defense that sells a variety of non-lethal protection options that are particularly geared toward women.
"There's no reason not to have something to help yourself be more prepared and not be a victim," said Holbrook, who has been a consultant with the company since April 2012.
Tonya Holbrook, a consultant with Damsel in Defense, holds her keychain, which includes a pink, pointed self-defense device called a kubotan, on Wednesday.
Damsel In Defense was founded in September 2011 by two Idaho women. Response was so strong that a month later they began signing up consultants, called Damsel Pros, and now have hundreds of consultants across the country.
Holbrook, a North Dakota native, said the company's start was timely given the changes occuring in her home state. Concern about the safety of her stepdaughter going to and from her job at a shopping mall prompted Holbrook's initial interest in Damsel in Defense. Since then, she's realized that there's a lot of interest by both women and men in self protection.
She set up a temporary booth at Dakota Square Mall last year and sold out of product in two hours. If she would have had three times as much product, she could have sold it, she said.
"People want it," she said. "I am getting phone calls almost on a daily basis for parties and for product."
Damsel in Defense uses Personal Protection Parties to create a comfortable environment where women won't feel intimidated to ask questions or make purchases.
Holbrook said her aim is to not weigh women down with the seriousness of the matter but to create a fun environment at the parties that puts them at ease.
"I don't want people to walk away more afraid than before they came," she said. "Fear is not my thing. It's being aware."
Damsel in Defense sells a variety of stun guns, pepper sprays and a kubotan. A kubotan is an aluminum tool that increases the force of a strike against bony surfaces, soft tissue and nerve points. Developed for use by police officers to restrain suspects without permanent injury, it is suitable for self defense because of its ease of use.
Other products include a doorstop that sounds an alarm, an alarm/flashlight that can be carried on a keychain, a monitor to keep track of a small child and a tool that can be used to cut a seatbelt, shatter a car window or give off a red strobe light. Although sold as a defense tool, Holbrook said it can offer security in other situations in which the owner finds herself in trouble.
The most popular stun gun is one that is carried with a wrist strap. If an assailant pulls away the gun, the action will remove a safety pin that is required to operate the gun. If the pin is removed before gun storage, the gun cannot be operated if it inadvertently falls into the hands of a child.
People must obtain a concealed weapons permit to carry a stun gun. It also is illegal to carry stun guns or pepper spray in some states. People should check the laws of states or foreign countries if they plan to travel, Holbrook said.
A person must be age 18 or older to purchase from Damsel in Defense.
Margie Zietz, crime prevention officer with the Minot Police Department, said women who buy these products need to be able to use them properly should a situation arise, and that is more difficult than many people realize. Pepper spray can affect the user as well as the assailant, and stun guns increase the danger if they fall into the wrong hands, she said.
"As police officers and as crime prevention officers we want to reduce that fear in our community," Zietz said. "Granted, we can't be right there all the time. We have to rely on people to provide some of that protection for themselves."
There are steps people can take to be safer without investing in weapons, though, Zietz said. These might include staying alert and changing some practices or routines that inadvertently increase the risk.
Last year Zietz conducted 40 self-protection awareness training events, presenting to community groups and businesses.
Married to a cop and trained in self defense, Holbrook noted that having protection tools is just part of staying safe. It is important to assess and know your surroundings and display confidence, she said.
"One big thing women can always do for themselves I don't care how small or big they are is walk with confidence. They are less likely to attack you if you are confident," she said.
Having tools of self defense that they know they can use in an emergency helps breed that confidence and reduces the chance of assault, Holbrook said.
"I hope people buy my products and never have to use them, but reality is, one in six will," she said, referring to statistical odds. Damsel in Defense cites figures from a national survey that one in six women has been the victim of a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault in her lifetime.
"It shouldn't ever happen when you have ready, available, reasonably priced tools that can help you," Holbrook said. "In this day and age, it doesn't hurt to be protected in any way you can."
Several Damsel in Defense consultants operate in central and western North Dakota. They are listed at (www.damselindefense.net).