You're attacked in a parking lot. What do you do now?

Self-defense expert teaches women how to prevent attacks, fight back

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The I-TEAM wants to help you stay safe in parking lots, especially if you plan to shop during odd hours on Black Friday.

We asked a self-defense expert to teach three women what they can do to avoid being targeted by thieves and how to get away from someone who tries to attack them.

“Situational awareness is key,” said Charlie Moore, a retired US Marshal who now offers self-defense classes to the public and businesses.  

How a mother can be less vulnerable

Moore told Jacksonville mother Simone Houslin about the importance of scanning a parking lot as she walks to her car with her 2-year-old son Justin.

“Look between cars and scan the parking lot for anyone who may be lingering,” said Moore, explaining a mother’s most vulnerable moment in a parking lot.

Houslin said her greatest fear in a parking lot with her son is being abducted, which is why Moore focused on teaching her how to avoid being “exposed” in a parking lot.  

He said a mother’s most vulnerable time is typically when she straps her child into the car seat.

“Most mothers turn their back to the parking lot, which makes it easy for someone to come up from behind and you can’t see,” he explained.  

He showed Houslin a safer option. Moore suggests putting your child’s car seat in the middle of the back seat, so that a mother can physically get into the car with her child, close the door behind her and lock it, while she straps him/her into the seat.  

“It’s safer,” said Moore.  

Houslin’s son’s car seat is behind the passenger seat, so Moore showed her how she and Justin can get into the back seat behind the driver’s seat together and then close the door behind her.

“If someone still tries to come up to you, that’s when I want those feet to come out, or you can even use your fist, turn and spin,” he demonstrated as he stood outside leaning into the back seat to show Houslin how to use her feet to kick someone who might try to grab her. Moore said her feet and legs are strong and should be able to kick off an attacker if he is bigger than her.

Moore also showed Houslin how to use Justin’s stroller to create a barrier between her and anyone else in the parking lot, if she chooses not to get into the car with him to strap him in.  

“We’re going to put it here, your back is here, so you would like to face the open area which we’ve closed off with the stroller, giving you a little more time to see and hear. I can’t get to you because we have a stroller here as a physical barrier,” demonstrated Moore, who positioned the stroller so it blocks the open space between Houslin, the car door, and her son sitting in his car seat.

How to get away from an attacker

Kirsten Decembrino said she worries about what to do if someone ever tried to grab her from behind in a parking lot.  

“I try to be aware, but sometimes you never know with bad guys,” she said.  

Moore showed her some moves to get away.  

He showed her if someone grabs her hair from behind, she should grab the man’s hand on her head and spin around to face him.  She can then use the strongest part of her body -- her legs, specifically her knee -- to hit him in the groin and stomach.  

She can also use her other hand like a hammer, making a fist and hitting her attacker in the ear, which is very painful.

“It was great getting some tactics of getting control when someone grabs my hair and showing me how to hurt him instead of him hurting me. It’s definitely something I would use if I were ever in that situation,” said Decembrino.

Avoiding a purse snatching

Henny Stewart wanted to learn how to fight off a purse snatcher.  

Moore first taught her how to avoid being targeted, and then taught her what to do if someone tried.

He said women should try to avoid carrying big purses, since they can be a signal to a potential thief that they are loaded with stuff worth stealing.  

Moore suggests just carrying the essentials in your pocket or in a small purse that is easy to conceal in a parking lot. If you do have a purse: 

1. Don't wear the strap across your chest (as you may have been previously told) because if it's grabbed, you could be chocked or dragged.

2. Do hold your purse as close to your body as possible, but do not swing it at your side. That makes it easy to grab.

3. Do try to carry your purse in your less dominant hand. So if you are right handed, carry the purse in your left. This frees up your “strongest” hand to hit an attacker to defend yourself, or to easily get yourself into your car as you run away.

While there are things women can do to try and prevent a purse snatching, if someone does try to grab it, Moore strongly urges women to give it up.

“Your purse is not worth your life," he said. "Let it go."

Protect your personal space

Charlie Moore refers to the space between you and someone else as your personal space. He said you should never let someone you don’t know enter that space and get close enough to grab you.  

He tells women, if they are being approached by a stranger, they need to yell with a firm, confident voice: “Stop!  Don’t come any closer to me.”  

He said most attackers are looking for someone who is weak, who won’t make eye contact and does not look confident. By facing a stranger, looking that person right in the eyes, and raising your voice, it may make the person reconsider bothering you.  

It’s why Moore hopes women will remember this: It is okay to be rude.   

Moore teaches self-defense classes and classes about how to react to an active shooter. This Saturday, Nov. 17, he has two spots still available for his class on holiday parking lot safety strategies for ladies. He's offering those two spots at a discounted price of $30 each.

The class is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saint Simon’s Island in Glynn County, Georgia at 545 Skylane Rd. To register, call 912-996-7200. To find out more information about classes offered, go to

About the Authors:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.