The rape and murder of Polish student Paulina Dembska earlier this month has left many women questioning their safety and has stirred up a discussion on whether it is time for pepper spray to become legalised.
Pepper spray, also known as capsicum spray or mace, is an inflammatory agent and causes an immediate burning sensation and irritation to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.
Like some other European countries, including Denmark, Belgium and Ireland, it is illegal to purchase or carry spice up spray in Malta.
According to law, members of the armed forces, the police plus prison services may carry a firearm or ammunition for use while on duty.
In 2020, a legal notice was issued giving detention officers the authority to carry pepper spray canisters as part of their own uniform.
But after Dembska’s lifeless body was found at Sliema’s Independence Garden early on January 2, there was a surge within women wanting to join self-defence classes , others wishing to take matters in their own hands and carry self-defence tools such as pepper aerosol to protect themselves.
Hairspray plus deodorant ‘just as effective’
On popular Facebook group, Women for Women, many discussed the use of spice up spray and other alternatives which can be used for self-defence.
“Do you believe pepper squirt should be lawful, ” one woman asked.
“I’m used to carrying it abroad all the time and it does make me feel a lot safer. ”
Others say that hairspray and deodorant are just as effective while one woman suggested the use of Deep Heat, a pain relieving and warm spray used for muscle injuries.
“I’m going to start keeping one (Deep Heat apply can) in my bag, ” a woman commented, as others agreed it was a good idea.
One mother told her daughter to carry perfume: “I think it’s still good but , at that time, you will be shocked and confused, so it might not come to mind to use it. ”
More and more women shared what they usually have in their bags, ranging from perfumes, deodorants… 1 even went on to say she carried a pair of scissors at a point in time.
Other people said they were concerned using any weapon out of fear that it could be used against them by the aggressor. Some shared their particular stories of how they bring their keys in their hands when walking home.
“My mother taught us when walking in the dark to hold a key between our fingers just in case someone attacks you… I still do this till this day and passed it on to my kids… and when someone is following you enter the first open door and say: ‘mum, I am home’, ” a single woman said.
A petition for the legalisation of pepper spray has been set-up days after the killing of Dembska, 29. Yet what happens if someone is caught making use of perfume, deodorant or deep-heat for self-defence?
A home affairs ministry spokesperson explained that it must be a clear case that the object is being used for self-defence and that the victim’s life was in danger.
Legalisation is a ‘slippery-slope’
Lawyer and director of the Women’s Rights Foundation, Lara Dimitrijevic explained that this legalisation of pepper spray is a ‘slippery slope’ and is not truly tackling the true issue.
“If we are tipping to the point that we remain in a situation where women and girls continue to feel the need to protect themselves whenever they are outside their house, then, clearly, we are not tackling the root problem, ” Dimitrijevic told Times of Malta .
“If we are to allow women to hold such a weapon, it will lead to the slippery slope associated with ‘I should have the fundamental human right to carry an armed weapon as a man or any gender so that I can sense safe when I go out’, ” the girl said.
“I don’t think it is a matter of whether pepper aerosol or any other weapon should be legalised to make a person experience safe. Instead, we need to identify the root cause of what is not making that person feel safe and do something about it. ”
Dimitrijevic said that change must come from the cultural, educational and legislative level.
“We need to make sure that, when it comes to prosecution and charging the aggressor, the gender motivation behaviour is addressed and offences are placed to show that our legislation does not tolerate it, ” she added.
“If change is not holistic and across the board, ladies will always feel unsafe and need to find means to protect on their own. Ultimately, all society, the particular authorities and the state need to take responsibility. ”
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