So many of us have heard this: “Don’t scream ‘help,’ scream ‘fire.’” As a self-defense teacher of almost three decades, I disagree. Instead, I suggest yelling things like:
- I’m being attacked–call 911!
- This man is bothering me!
- Get your hand off me!
Why? Well more than 80 percent of attacks on women and teen girls are by people we know. We’re most likely to be attacked on familiar ground: our homes, the homes of our attackers, school, work, social situations, etc. So we’re generally inside. If you’re in a building and yell “fire,” I hope most people will run outside, not run to the “fire.” Yelling “fire” inside can send help away.
Yelling if you’re being attacked serves several purposes. It can attract attention, it reinforces your message, and it can dissuade the attacker. For these second and third of these reasons, it’s more helpful to be yelling something consistent with what you want to happen (that the attacker should stop).
And I have personal experience: Before I studied self-defense, I was mugged in daylight on a major street with lots of people around. The attacker not only grabbed my purse, he also tackled me. I yelled “FIRE!” really loudly, and no one responded. So that’s another reason I don’t think yelling “fire” is effective: It didn’t work for me.
Of course I’m not opposed to anything that works! (And almost anything might work sometimes.) The most important thing is to yell — and yell loudly.