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Publication Date: Wednesday, May 28, 2003

No fear: Thirteen years after escaping from a stalker in Menlo Park, Kathleen Baty has written an upbeat book about personal safety and launched a nationwide 'Safety Chick' campaign No fear: Thirteen years after escaping from a stalker in Menlo Park, Kathleen Baty has written an upbeat book about personal safety and launched a nationwide 'Safety Chick' campaign (May 28, 2003)

By Rebecca Wallace
Almanac Staff Writer

Five radio interviews per day. Her picture in "People" magazine. Flying to New York to do the "Today" show on a 20-city book tour.

That's life these days for Kathleen Baty, the self-styled "Safety Chick": preaching a fast-talking message of personal safety and promoting her new book, "A Girl's Gotta Do What a Girl's Gotta Do."

Talk about making the best of a bad situation.

In 1990, Ms. Baty was in the news for more unpleasant reasons. A former high school acquaintance who had been stalking her for eight years tried to kidnap her from her Menlo Park home, armed with a knife and a gun. She escaped unharmed as he was trying to take her to his car ("I sprinted 50 meters and hurdled the fence"), and the stalker was captured by police after an 11-hour standoff.

After years of fear, anger and frustration, Ms. Baty decided to funnel those emotions into changing the system. While her stalker had harassed her on the phone and in person, there had been no laws that made stalking a felony.

Ms. Baty worked with U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, then a California state senator, to help get federal and state stalking laws enacted. Testifying before legislative committees, she said, "I saved thousands of dollars in therapy. It was so empowering."

She kept advocating for victims' rights, giving speeches, assisting in police training and learning self-defense techniques from a French mercenary.

Her book, published earlier this year, offers advice on avoiding violent crime, purse-snatching and abusive relationships. It's aimed chiefly at women, but some of the topics, such as identity theft and cybercrime, could apply to anyone.

Ms. Baty, 41, says she's hoping to counteract the negative, frightening tone of many self-defense training books. Personal safety, she says, is about avoiding crime through common sense and courage. Not paranoia.

A bright yellow silhouette of a woman in a defiant hands-on-hips pose graces the cover of her book, and Ms. Baty addresses crowds with a quick smile and a self-possessed attitude. Not much seems to faze her.

"I've been held at gunpoint, tied up. I mean, come on!" she said. "You can either live as a victim or turn it into something positive."

On alert

Life on the road has certainly yielded its share of anecdotes.

During her April 25 live appearance on the "Today" show, Ms. Baty gave a hand-held safety alarm to news anchor Ann Curry, who promptly pulled the pin on the alarm by accident, setting off a deafening racket.

"She couldn't get the pin back in. They had to go to an extra-long commercial," Ms. Baty said with a grin.

In Chicago, a camera crew followed Ms. Baty around a mall while she reminded shoppers to keep a close eye on their belongings.

"I'd go up to women and say, 'I'm the Safety Chick. Your purse is unattended,'" she said.

But the appeal of the camera is secondary to the joy of educating people, she said. Some are inspired by her story, while others pick out tips from her book, such as shredding used airline tickets and luggage tags to avoid identity theft or throwing a handful of coins at a would-be attacker.

"I wish I'd had this book when I went away to college," said Mary Sheila McMahon, a parent at Castilleja School in Palo Alto.

The first chapter of the book urges people to use their intuition. Don't drive around town in a daze; be aware of vehicles or people coming up closely beside you or following you for too long, Ms. Baty said. If something about a person just doesn't seem right, stay away. Don't stick around to be polite.

Gavin de Becker, author of "The Gift of Fear," a book about survival skills and warding off violent attacks, praised Ms. Baty in the introduction to her book.

"You must listen to internal warnings while they are still whispers," he wrote. "The voice that knows all about how to protect you may not always be the loudest, but it is the wisest -- and Kathleen speaks in that voice as she teaches lessons."

Strong and smart

Shunning the podium, Ms. Baty perches on the edge of the Castilleja School stage in a T-shirt and jeans. She beckons the middle-school and high-school girls, who have come with their moms to hear her speak, up to the first two rows.

"Life can paralyze you if you let it," she tells the intent young faces gazing up at her. "Do you want to live weak and in fear, or strong and smart?"

Besides braving the Big Apple, Ms. Baty thrives on bringing her message to young people. Even her three sons have earned the "Safety Dudes" moniker by learning personal safety basics from a young age.

Ms. Baty is married to Greg Baty, a former football player with the Miami Dolphins. Because of safety concerns, she says only that the family lives on the West Coast. She will not talk about where her stalker is now.

Barring details, however, Ms. Baty is open about her experiences and emotions.

"I was first in denial and then scared to death, and then really angry," she said about her years of being stalked, addressing the students at Castilleja on May 6. "I lived like a hunted animal. ... I just wanted him to kill me. I just wanted it to be done."

Mostly, Ms. Baty focused her talk on steps the students could take to make themselves safer. She showed off wedge-shaped alarms that could be shoved like doorstops under doors, and coasters that could detect "date rape" drugs.

She reminded the girls to always go places "with a buddy," and told them to bring their own sealed drinks to parties. And she warned the students to be leery of adults asking them for help, emphasizing that this doesn't typically happen without sinister motives.

"Adult men don't ask young girls for help. They don't ask you to look for their puppy," Ms. Baty said. "Please don't fall for that! Don't you watch 'Oprah,' for God's sake?"

Fast moves

And then the audience screamed.

Ms. Baty had asked everyone to yell in a high-pitched voice. Then in a low-pitched voice. The theory is that using a low, powerful tone is more likely to ward off a would-be attacker than screaming helplessly.

Shouting, "No! No!" in a low voice, the petite but suddenly threatening Ms. Baty demonstrated a few self-defense positions, moving toward Castilleja 11th-grader Lindsey Thomson-Levin, who was pretending to be a man trying to attack her.

"I'm gonna drive his testicles up into his pelvic cavity," Ms. Baty confided to the audience with an angelic smile. "The two most vulnerable areas on a man's body are a guy's nose and his groin."

Ms. Thomson-Levin grabbed her prey's arm, and Ms. Baty deftly fell to the ground and began kicking upwards, turning around as the hapless Ms. Thomson-Levin tried to get out of the way. Everyone applauded.

Leaving the stage, Ms. Thomson-Levin muttered, "I'm not going to get in a fight with this lady."

Afterwards, students lined up to have Ms. Baty autograph her book. Many said they'd be certain to remember some of the tips they'd heard.

Eighth-grader Marielle Giancarlo said she'd "walk more confidently" now, and Kelly Schryver, also in 8th grade, was impressed with the deep "No!" yells.

A Castilleja mother, who gave her name only as Jean, looked over at her daughter and said, "I wanted her to hear it. I thought she could pick up some tips that she wouldn't listen to from me."

Kathleeen Baty's tips for living safe, smart

These tips are excerpts from Kathleen Baty's book, "A Girl's Gotta Do What A Girl's Gotta Do: The ultimate guide to living safe and smart." For more information, go to Ms. Baty's Web site at

At home

** There should be one room in your house that has one door and no window. A walk-in closet, storeroom, pantry -- you get the idea. Security experts call this a safe room. In this room you need to have a flashlight, batteries, a cell phone plugged in and charged at all times, a list of emergency numbers, and a weapon.

** Plant thorny bushes, such as roses or bougainvillea, under windows and along fences; this puts someone trying to break and enter in a "stick-y" situation.

While traveling

** Don't ever rent a car at night. There usually are only one or two employees on staff, and getting to your car in a dark parking lot isn't safe.

** Request a hotel room from the fourth to the sixth floor that does not have a connecting door. Did you know that many fire department ladders will not reach beyond the sixth floor? Anything lower than the fourth floor, or a room with adjoining door, is easier accessibility for criminals.

** Put a business card or matchbook of your hotel in your purse before you leave so you can be assured that you will return to the right place. Do you know how many "Hyatts" there are in New York City?

If you fear you are being stalked

** When you leave or return to your home, take the time to drive up and down the streets for about a four-block radius. Scan every parked car for the stalker's vehicle. If you see the car, do not approach it. Drive straight to the police station for help.

** Install sensor lights all around your home. Nothing bursts an intruder's bubble more than a bright light exploding through the cloud of darkness.

** If you have filed a police report and are a victim of a stalker, check with your local victim services office: Many security companies provide victims with a necklace-type panic button. When pressed, it calls the local police department directly for immediate help.


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