By Wendy Holdren The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va.
Instead of playing the damsel in distress card like so many women have been taught to do, a new product line called "Damsel in Defense" encourages women to be their own knights in shining armor.
Attorney Vickie L. Hylton proudly sells this product line, which strives to equip, empower and educate women about self-defense.
"Unless they're all ninjas and trained in martial arts, women need some way to protect themselves," Hylton said. "We can't all run like Flash. We're not Superman. We're real, everyday people and you need to learn to protect yourself because there's not always going to be somebody there who can do it."
Hylton, a former assistant prosecuting attorney in Fayette County, has always had a passion for helping women help themselves.
As an assistant prosecutor, she prosecuted crimes against women and sex crimes against children. She also worked with the Women's Resource Center to help secure funding and spoke to women's groups about how to protect themselves.
Now, Hylton has a law office in Beaver which focuses on wills, probate, real estate and powers of attorney.
She still works to help women, but in a different way. She helps women protect their assets from Medicaid spend-down if they have to go to a nursing home, or she works with the woman and her spouse to ensure their children inherit what they've worked so hard to achieve.
Plus, she still gets to work with children because she takes appointed cases for abused children or children in custody battles.
"But there was such a void in my ability to be able to work with women who needed to be protected," Hylton said. "The moment I saw (Damsel in Defense), I thought, 'There it is. That's the thing.'"
Damsel in Defense was founded in September 2011 by Mindy Lin and Bethany Hughes, two friends and moms who had a passion for safety. Because they had children in their homes, they wanted a way to protect themselves without a gun.
Hylton said she's found the same with her customers -- many are looking for a way to protect themselves without the aid of a gun.
"I like the convenience of these products, the way they're designed to be able to carry with you all the time. It's not something you necessarily have to hide like with a concealed carry permit."
The product line features "Hermergency" kits, which are geared toward essential travel items.
The pink "Junk in the Trunk" kit even includes jumper cables.
Pepper spray is an option, which can enable a woman to defend herself while keeping a safe distance from an attacker.
"The potency of this spray enables it to bring down the most aggressive of attacker; even those under the influence of alcohol or drugs," according to the product description.
This spray causes no permanent injury and there are safety features in place to prevent accidental discharge.
Hylton's most requested items, though, are the stun guns, which use high voltage and low amperage to temporarily stun an attacker.
The energy stored in the stun gun is released into the attacker's muscles, causing the muscle group in that area to work rapidly, which causes loss of balance and debilitates the attacker.
And even if the attacker is touching the victim, the victim need not worry -- the current will not pass from body to body. The electrodes have to be touching the skin of the recipient of the stun.
Users can also activate the stun gun while standing in water or standing in the rain without fear of being shocked.
"They are not designed to kill, unlike a gun. It's just designed to stop someone for a short period of time and enable you to get away."
Hylton said the fan favorite so far is the pink "Get A Grip" stun gun, which features 7.5 million volts, an LED flashlight, built-in slide-out charger and a black nylon wristband that doubles as a safety feature.
The wristband can be slid around a woman's wrist and then if her attacker takes the stun gun away from her, the strap detaches and deactivates the stun gun.
Other products include "Where's Yo Baby," which helps moms keep track of their little ones by using a Velcro wristband and keychain alarm, and "Sock It To Me," a martial arts weapon called a kubotan, which increases the power of any strike. No martial arts training needed -- just hit as hard as possible on bones, soft tissue or pressure points.
Hylton said "Sock It To Me" is a great self-defense tool, which is legal in all 50 states to women of all ages.
She also said there are no laws in West Virginia that preclude the use of a stun gun or pepper spray.
Some states do have laws that prevent them though, so be sure to check ahead of time when traveling with the products.
"That's one thing I like about being a lawyer doing this -- I can educate people on the law and give them facts and figures about crime rates, which is something not a lot of people have access to."
She's getting extremely positive reactions from women, many of whom didn't know these products were on the market or simply didn't feel comfortable going shopping for self-defense products.
"With Damsel in Defense, we bring the products right to your home." Hylton said parties can be hosted, just like Avon, Thirty-One or other similar product lines.
"They can hold the products, push the button on the stun gun and see what it feels like."
Hylton can send out invites for parties already planned, or if someone wants to host a party, she can arrange that too, even if they want to host the party after hours at her law office.
Products can also be ordered online at www.mydamselpro.net/hylton. Hylton said she finds the line affordable for everyone, especially with such a wide range of items to choose from.
These products make great graduation presents for young women heading off to college, she added.
"How are you going to protect yourself with night classes, walking long distances in parking lots or riding the rapid transit at Morgantown?"
Sometimes it can take several minutes before a police officer can arrive at the scene of a crime, and the victim would have needed to be able to make a phone call in the first place.
"What are you going to do then? Say, 'Wait right there, don't attack me yet, I've got to use my cell phone.' No, you don't get that kind of time. You need to be able to do it now, take care of yourself now, protect yourself now."
Hylton said most importantly, whether or not someone buys a product, is for everyone to take the time to listen and learn.
"Men do things that are physical and discuss self-defense with each other. They push and shove around on the playground and football fields where girls don't. Men are more geared toward knowing how to protect themselves physically... Women are not educated by their parents on the same level that a man is about security and being ready to protect yourself."