She was the type of victim he preferred: twenty to thirty, small to medium build, with her car keys in her right hand and in the left a cell phone she was talking on, plus her purse and shopping bag in the crook of her arm. And the big plus, she had a long ponytail.
He got within feet of her and grabbed the ponytail. Then, a big surprise--instead of pulling forward to escape, she spun back into him and smashed her cell phone directly into the base of his nose. Immediately, his eyes watered, accompanied by tremendous facial pain. As he began to utter his favorite curse words, another really bad thing happened: he had not noticed that dangling from her keychain was a small container of pepper spray. The blast hit him squarely between the eyebrows and nose.
This was too much for the lone bad guy, time to run and live to prey on someone easier next time. As he left, he heard the panic alarm go off on his victim’s car. Potential exposure is always a good reason to retreat, so he picked up his gait accordingly.
While this is a fictitious story it is not hard to imagine similar circumstances occurring in random American towns and cities. Our victim was not the typical prey many criminals seek. She was obviously trained to fight back an assailant grabbing her hair. This action requires many repetitions to build the appropriate muscle memory. She used a weapon, her phone, instead of breaking her knuckles on the bad guy’s face. She used her pepper spray effectively and upon returning to her car hit the panic alarm to further deter the assailant.
Finally, she carried more than one weapon. A Police Academy instructor is known for his grammatically challenged advice to students concerning the use of multiple weapons: “If you only got one, you ain’t got none.” Translation: Any single weapon may not function, may be dropped, or rendered ineffective to some extent. Specific to pepper spray: over time the efficacy of the spray may diminish, or the spray nozzle might clog.
Regarding the effects of pepper spray on a person, remember that this weapon deters but does NOT necessarily incapacitate. All police cadets get pepper sprayed directly in the face by a law enforcement-grade product. Then they run a modified obstacle course, punch, kick, and knee various pads, and finally get decontaminated with cold water. The pepper spray deters them from other activities. Alternately, a 12-gauge shotgun slug to the kneecap would incapacitate them. See the difference?
The actual effects of pepper spray on a person do not vary greatly among “normal” people, i.e., someone not heavily under the influence of drugs or accustomed to being pepper sprayed.
So, what does it feel like to be pepper sprayed? One recipient of pepper spray described it this way: “First, it stung, really bad. Then my eyes started to seriously tear up and my face felt like the worst sunburn I’ve ever had. My nose started to run with copious amounts of mucous falling out. I tried to reduce the effect on my eyes by keeping them shut but they didn’t want to open anyway. My breathing was labored as I tried to work through the pain. Since most pepper spray is oily, this stuff slowly dripped into my mouth and it stung and tasted horrible all at the same time.”
Fortunately, for most pepper spray recipients, the serious effects last for about 20 to 30 minutes provided you can hose off with cold water. Warning: warm water only exacerbates the effect, a warm shower allows the oily residue to move south and provides a whole new experience when it reaches the genitals. If sprayed while the recipient is wearing contact lenses, the spray will adhere to the contact and then leech through to the eye--a truly painful experience since now the lens actually keeps the spray on the eye itself. Most spray effects dissipate within 24 hours, although a skin “glow” might last longer.
Dr. Art Amann is an instructor in both Karate and Kung Fu, with over forty years of experience in the martial arts. He has a doctorate in education and has spent close to 20 years as an instructor and director of the Police Academy and the Public Safety Institute at Mercyhurst University. He is also the former Erie County Prison warden and chief adult probation/parole officer with a lot of experience to share from it. He is a certified instructor for the MUNIO Self Defense Workshops, a PA Act 120 Academic Instructor, PA Act 235 Classroom and Defensive Tactics Instructor, PA Municipal Police Defensive Tactics Instructor, NRA Basic Pistol Instructor, and Pressure Point Control Tactics Instructor.