Pamela McKee, a District shop owner, sleeps with a butcher knife within arm's reach. Karen Lamb, a Metro employee, buys season theater tickets for Saturday matinees so she doesn't have to travel at night. Katie Hogan varies the time she takes the bus each day from her Alexandria home to the subway a half-mile away. A Silver Spring landlord gave a gun to his tenant, a woman living alone, to keep by her bed.

Confronted with the possibility of being attacked at home or on the street, many Washington-area women have incorporated burdensome measures into their daily lives to reduce their chances of joining the 1,234 women who reported being raped in the area last year or the thousands of others who suffered assaults, muggings and attempted rapes.

In the past decade, national rape rates have risen nearly four times as fast as the total crime rate, according to the FBI.

While some women say they do not worry about their safety, others say they have developed a sixth sense devoted to self-preservation, a sense that clicks on when a stranger approaches or someone walks up behind them, when they retrieve a car from a dark parking lot alone or enter a nearly empty subway car late at night.

"It's just a part of me, one slice of my pie," said Peggy Sweeney, 22, a personnel manager for a District law firm. " . . . We all carry around different scripts for our environment. When I'm {walking around downtown}, I keep a distance between myself and others. I look people in the eye and am prepared for a confrontation."

Washington is a city of working women; 67.8 percent of District women work outside the home, a higher percentage than in any other U.S. city. That factor, plus the interest in physical fitness that has more people exercising outdoors, has meant that women must be more concerned about their safety outside the home.

The fear of being attacked keeps some women from working late or attending civic and cultural events alone, keeps them up at night listening to unfamiliar noises and, at times, forces them to find companionship when they would prefer to be alone, according to interviews with working women and local crime prevention experts who talk with women about their safety.

They have adopted a range of measures to protect themselves.

The telephone book is full of last names preceded by just an initial -- a common way women attempt to hide their identities. Many women carry weapons in their purses -- Mace, hairspray, whistles, squirt guns filled with perfume or lemon juice. Others keep their weapons in hand -- scissors, spiked brass knuckles, car keys, pens.

Lee Miller, a coordinator of the Religious Task Force on Central America, walks with her thumb on the trigger of a hand-held alarm after a man attempted to rape her three years ago on her short walk home from her Metro stop.

"I'm always nervous now and I can't stand having someone walking behind us," said Miller, who now walks home with her roommate, going five blocks out of the way to avoid the street where she was beaten.

Whenever Vera Glaser, a writer, has a night meeting downtown, she arrives a little before 6:30 and sits in her car until she can legally park near the building and not have far to walk when her meeting ends. "I just have gotten highly sensitive," she said.

Mary Keefe, a retired police officer who lives in suburban Maryland, said she makes sure her gas tank is full when she must drive at night so she doesn't have to stop at a station. "It's very inconvenient," said Keefe. "You change your life. You have to worry about whether you have gas or about having change for a telephone call."

Some women walk in the middle of quiet streets when they feel unsafe; others do not hesitate to run full speed when they feel uncomfortable. Some arrange to be picked up from the Metro or bus stop, no matter how short the distance home.

Some women said they will not go out at night for groceries. Lauren Taylor, a self-defense instructor, will not do laundry at night in the laundry room of her suburban Maryland apartment complex, a decision she described as "really inconvenient in the winter when you get home and it's dark."

One self-defense class for women includes a lesson on laundry room tactics: Keep bleach and detergent readily available to throw in an attacker's face if necessary.

On more than one business trip, said Marty Langelan, past president of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, she has scolded a hotel check-in clerk for calling out her room number in the lobby and has insisted that the clerk assign her another room and write its number on a piece of paper.

Feeling comfortable and staying safe in their homes means that many women forgo less expensive ground-floor apartments and install expensive security systems and extra door and window locks. One woman hangs tiny bells inside all her doors. One sprinkles gravel below each window so that anyone trying to break in would make a crackling sound. Another has nailed shut all her first-floor windows.

When 44-year-old Susan Hornblaser, a legal secretary, started living alone in a suburban neighborhood after her divorce, she would yell "I'm home!" every day before entering her house. "I thought if anyone was there, they would leave," she said.

Before she could relax, Hornblaser would check every closet, something other women said they also do. She also developed the habit of staying up late "because I would listen to all the house noises." Although her living situation has changed now, she is still frustrated by what she sees as the uncomfortable and unsafe nature of going out alone.

"At my age, I cannot go into a bar and sit down by myself. I'd like to," she said. "Some Friday nights when I'm going home, I think, 'Why can't I go sit somewhere by myself?' "

Taylor said Hornblaser's dilemma is far from unusual.

"A lot of it is a very fine line -- when you're making a reasonable accommodation to the realities of life and when you're putting yourself in jail in your own home," said Taylor, who has been asked to teach self-defense classes at colleges, professional offices, neighborhood association meetings, homes for battered women and shelters for the homeless.

To women such as Heather Dolstra, a businesswoman who lives in a quiet residential neighborhood and who recently attended a self-defense class organized by her neighbors, the choice seems clear.

"My exercise is strictly indoors," she said. "It would never occur to me to be out on a bike alone after 5 p.m."

In "The Female Fear," published last year, authors Margaret T. Gordon and Stephanie Riger interviewed more than 5,000 people in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco to find out how the fear of being raped influences women's daily activities.

They found that 75 percent of the women but only 32 percent of the men questioned said they never go to the movies alone after dark; 68 percent of the women but only 5 percent of the men said they never go to bars and clubs alone after dark; 46 percent of the women and 29 percent of the men said they never use public transportation alone after dark; and 47 percent of the women but only 7.5 percent of the men said they never go downtown alone after dark.

Riger, a psychology and women's studies professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the book is one way "to make women aware of the price they're paying in lost opportunities and in stress."

The women who come under the greatest stress are those who have been attacked.

Ann Wroth, 30, was raped five years ago in her ground-floor apartment in Northern Virginia. She was asleep about 4 a.m. when a man pried open the living-room window she thought was nailed shut, unplugged the phone and came into her bedroom, she said. He covered her head and upper body with the sheets and raped her. She never saw his face.

Wroth said she has often imagined that after the attack, as she sat in shock, her assailant -- who has not been apprehended -- was at a nearby fast-food restaurant having breakfast.

Wroth, whose roommate was out of town when she was raped, did not spend another night in the apartment. She stayed with friends for a few weeks, then moved to a second-floor apartment that has no balcony. She still struggles with her emotions, she said, has fought insomnia and for years could not sleep at home alone, preferring to stay with friends as far away as Hyattsville.

"I've had a loss of perception on safety," said Wroth, who allowed her name to be published because she believes the stigma of rape belongs to the rapist, not the victim. "I have no idea whether I'm safe or not, so I just go on the assumption that I'm not.

"It comes and goes. Sometimes I think, 'Okay, someone is going to grab me.' {Before the rape} I was just always afraid outside, but I was attacked in my apartment. The really horrible thing is, you can't say, 'Okay, I'm not going to sleep again.' "

She refuses to go to Adams-Morgan or Georgetown, even with companions, because "there are too many people to keep track of," she said. "Subconsciously I must have this radar on all the time."

When Wroth filled out a job application recently, she responded to a question about whether she had any medical condition that might affect her job this way: "As a result of being raped, I have slightly higher than normal concerns about my safety."

Pamela McKee, who worked for The Washington Post in the mid-1980s, was mugged at dusk in January on her walk home from her District shop. She was not physically hurt, but the attack traumatized her: When alone, she locks the bedroom door when she is sleeping and the bathroom door when she is in the shower. Often when she goes outside, she carries scissors.

McKee, who is president of the Kennedy Street Business Association, now drives from her home to her business. Like other women confronted by violence, she said the assault has influenced her life far beyond the obvious.

"I'm a walker and it's robbed me of my freedom to walk out my door," she said. "It's robbed me of my confidence as a woman and a human being."

Since 1974, assaults against women ages 20 to 24 have increased 50 percent nationwide, while the rate of assaults against young men has declined. The most recent nationwide survey by the Justice Department found that 16 women are confronted by an assailant each hour, and a woman is raped every six minutes.

In the Washington area, the number of reported rapes in each of the past five years has ranged from 1,147 to 1,238.

Recent attacks here and elsewhere have drawn attention to the vulnerability of women and to the inexplicable rage within some men: A man ranting about "feminists" gunned down 14 women students in Montreal last December; two women were slain on suburban bike paths in Arlington and Prince George's counties this spring; eight area prostitutes have been killed since April 1989.

Those incidents and others like them generate local, and sometimes national, headlines. But thousands of rapes and sexual assaults go unnoticed by the public. While the number of attacks has continued to skyrocket nationally, the anti-rape movement that brought the issue to the fore in the mid-1970s has turned to the less-visible task of running rape crisis centers and other institutions its efforts spawned.

Take-Back-the-Night rallies that drew thousands 15 years ago now attract a few hundred. Men's anti-rape groups have dwindled in number, and reporters routinely pass up covering rape and assault trials because they are considered commonplace.

"There is some wishful thinking in the public that now that we have rape crisis centers we don't have to worry about it," said Langelan, the former president of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, which recorded a 38 percent increase in the number of crisis calls it handled in the past 12 months. "It's really a type of denial."

Rus Funk, coordinator of the Men's Anti-Rape Resource Center in the District, said he often encounters skepticism in the men he speaks to about sexism and safety.

"They think I've been brainwashed," he said. "There's always a lot of doubt it's as serious as I paint it, even when I throw out the statistics."


Sexual Assault Hot Lines:

The District: (202) 333-7273

Alexandria: (703) 683-7273

Fairfax County: (703) 360-7273

Arlington County: (703) 358-4848

Prince William County: (703) 368-4141

Loudoun County: (703) 777-3399

Prince George's County: (301) 618-3154

Montgomery County: (301) 656-9420 or (301) 217-1355

Howard County: (301) 997-3292

Anne Arundel County: (301) 222-7273

Men's Organizations:

D.C. Men Against Rape: (202) 234-2000

Men's Anti-Rape Resource Center: (301) 249-2710