Dani Stewart isn’t selling makeup or Tupperware at the product party for the launch of her latest business venture.
Instead, partygoers will be introduced to self-defense ware like the “Pack a Punch,” a 7.5 million-volt stun gun ($50) and the “Pouch O Pepper” pepper spray with a UV dye in a pink and paisley decorated can ($10). Or how about the pink keychain Kubotan – a metal baton with ridges used to increase the power of a strike?
Stewart is the first Missoula consultant for “Damsels in Defense,” a Boise, Idaho-based personal protection products company offering pepper spray, stun guns and “security on the go” tools designed with a feminine flare.
Most products have a pink option. Some are designed to fit inconspicuously into a woman’s purse. The “Hot Lips” 950,000-volt stun gun is disguised as a lipstick case. It includes a flashlight, charger and disable pin ($45).
A former nuclear medicine technician, Stewart now designs jewelry out of her Grant Creek home. She signed on to sell Damsel products after several incidents when she felt underprepared and insecure while running, hiking or traveling alone.
A number of sexual assaults have raised the issue of women’s safety in the Missoula community in recent years. The Damsel product pamphlet includes the widely cited national statistics that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
Stewart sees the Damsel products as a good tool for helping prevent attacks on women, but emphasized that they also can ease fears about a wide variety of safety concerns for women.
“I think Missoula is changing. We used to be able to leave our cars unlocked, our houses unlocked. Now we’re getting our garages broken into and things taken. And it’s not only people, but animals,” Stewart said. “It’s not specifically for one type of crime. It’s for all types of things.”
Stewart has a can of Damsel pepper spray strapped to her bike and carries different Damsel products when she hikes or runs.
The tools can be ideal for real estate agents who are often alone in homes with strangers, college students walking on campus at night or even pharmacists working late at night. The “Holla At Me” personal alarm is a good option for younger girls, Stewart said.
Founded in Boise by a pair of moms, Damsels in Defense uses direct product sales representatives to sell their wares. There are roughly 2,000 “Independent Damsel pros” around the country.
Along with women’s self-defense tools, Damsels offers child monitoring devices and roadside emergency kits.
All the products are legal to carry under Montana state law, Stewart said.
Stun guns are not specifically mentioned in the state’s concealed weapon statue. A weapon must be considered lethal to fall under the statute, Missoula Police Detective Sgt. Travis Welsh said.
“Generally, if it’s sold on the open public market it’s probably not something that’s lethal,” Welsh said.
Missoula Police Crime Prevention Officer Rob Scheben doesn’t often get calls from women asking for recommendations about which personal protection tools are best to carry.
He noted, however, that a person’s comfort level, familiarity with a weapon and training are important factors when choosing a weapon.
“What I think is really important is the training. It really makes a difference,” Scheben said.
Stewart launched the Damsels line at a party in her home last Wednesday night and plans to continue introducing the products to Missoulians through product parties and a variety of other venues.
The Damsel parties give women a safe and inviting place to purchase defense tools. It’s a one-stop shop for all things protection and they’ll always know where they can get refills and the information on proper use, Stewart said.
Amanda Rosbarsky teaches the Worth the Fight women’s self defense class at the Missoula Taekwondo Center, which she owns with husband Steve.
While she doesn’t discourage women from using personal protection tools, Rosbarsky encourages women to use “built-in” tools, like their voice or car keys, to help fend off attacks.
“I think the bottom line is there are no bad tools to keep yourself safe. But the best tool is going to be one you can use in any situation that you’ll have available and ready to use in any situation,” Rosbarsky said.
Rosbarsky has seen an increase in interest in her class in the past year, as the community discussion of sexual assaults increased.
“I think it’s actually taking women form the point of just being interested in it to actually taking action,” she said.
Worth the Fight teaches self-defense techniques that include a strong self-empowerment message.
It’s crucial to teach students “their self worth comes from within, having a clear idea of who you are and teaching them to give every effort to protect that against all costs,” Rosbarsky said. “As many tools as there are, none of them are going to be effective unless they feel like they should step up and be their own best advocate.”