fairly common in many big American cities for women to hold onto long (5-6 inch) hatpins in one hand
Never heard of it, but maybe there are some women who do that.
I've walked plenty at night on the Northwest side of Chicago when I came here and did not have a car yet. All I met were people walking dogs...:)
I took subways at 2 or 3 am in NYC where I lived as well and besides a friendly smile from another late night rider - nothing happened.
Also, due to work I drove around midnight through "no so safe areas" and never found myself in a hint of trouble. Maybe just lucky or maybe...for a huge city like Chicago or NYC it's not really that bad as long as you are not taking your chances in some gang infested neighborhoods.