City Safety: Beyond the Basics
by Jennifer Shukla
I may not be an expert on safety, but I do have a degree in psychology and have worked in a criminal law office, so I know a little about how criminals think. Plus, Iíve lived in lots of cities with high crime rates including New York, Boston, Washington D.C, and Philadelphia and picked up a few safety tips along the way that Iíd like to share.
Anyone living in a city and concerned about safety has heard the basics a million times: donít walk alone at night, stay in well lit areas, etc. Now, Iím not suggesting that you disregard this advice because itís good important advice to stick to as much as you can. But, I do know that realistically there are times when you just canít stick to those basics for some reason. The friend you are visiting lives in a dimly lit alley or you got a headache at a party and decided to head home earlier than everyone else. In those kinds of situations, keep these tips in mind:
REMEMBER ATTACKERS PREY ON VICTIMS WHO ARE ALONE:
If you are alone, your attacker doesnít have to know that. If you sense danger or are approached by an attacker, one of your best chances of escape is to seek out other people. If youíre close to any open store or populated building, go inside and talk to somebody. If you are near any people at all (other than the potential attacker), approach a group of random strangers and pretend you know them. If you walk up to a stranger and enthusiastically say ďItís so great to see you again,Ē most people will instinctively respond as though they know you, because they donít want to admit theyíve forgotten who you are. Youíll have plenty of time to explain the situation once the attacker moves on. You might feel silly, but attackers prey on victims who are alone. If you can fool your attacker into thinking you are with people, the attacker will move on and find a new victim.
USE YOUR CELL PHONE:
A lot of experts disagree with me on this point and say that you should always be aware of your surroundings and not distracted by a phone conversation. I say itís the opposite: would-be muggers, robbers, or rapists are fundamentally afraid of being caught. If they know that you are talking to someone else who might know exactly where you are, they wonít attack you because they will be afraid that the person on the other end of the phone will call the police or come to your aid. I say anytime you are walking alone in a city, call a friend or call a family member. If itís too late to call anyone, just pretend to call someone and have a fake conversation. You might feel silly, but no one else knows whether there is someone on the line with you. As long as youíre on the phone with someone, let them know where you are and what route you will be taking. That way if something ever did happen to you, your friend could notify the police or your family and at least they would have a good lead and know where to look for you.
HAVE YOUR SAFETY DEVICE ACCESSIBLE:
Itís always a good idea to carry some sort of pepper spray, stun gun, or other legal safety device. But, that device wonít do you any good if it is buried at the bottom of your bag. An attacker will not politely wait as you dig through your books, papers, iPod, and other stuff to find your pepper spray. Instead, if you are going to carry a safety device, keep it somewhere you can grab it quickly. If you donít have a safety device, consider keeping your car keys or apartment key in your hands. It looks perfectly natural to carry keys and a quick jab with a metal key in the face or crotch can give you a few crucial seconds to escape.
YELL FIRE OR SING LOUDLY FOR HELP:
Sadly, most people donít respond to the words help or rape. Maybe itís a fear of being put in danger themselves or an assumption that someone else will hear the cry and provide the needed aid. In any event, screaming help or rape is not very likely to cause people to run over to help you. If you find yourself in danger, scream something like ďFIRE,Ē ďOH MY GOD!,Ē or ďWOW!Ē Or you can sing really loudly or bang on things near you. They idea is to make a loud sound that makes people curious rather than sounds like you are asking for help. Curious people are much more likely to come see what the racket is all about. Once they observe your predicament, they will be more likely to help than if they had heard a cry for help in the first place.
LISTEN TO YOUR INTUITION:
This is the most important advice I can give you. The human body is amazing and can often detect danger at a subconscious level long before you have any cognitive indication that you are in trouble. What Iím talking about here is a gut feeling that something isnít right or that youíre in danger even when you canít put your finger on any specific hazard. When you get that hunch or intuition, listen to that feeling and get yourself out of the situation fast. You might be concerned that if you overreact and are wrong about being in danger, you will be embarrassed or feel awkward. But consider this, mere embarrassment is far better than being raped, mugged, or attacked. Iíve only experienced a really strong feeling that I was in danger once in my life; here is that storyÖ
While living in the financial district of New York City, I planned to meet some friends in mid-town for a few drinks one night. I decided it was only 10:00 p.m. and not that late, so I decided to walk the two blocks to the subway station rather than spend the extra money to take a cab. Just after I left my building, I noticed a man start walking behind me. When I turned at the street corner, he also turned. Then when I descended the staircase to enter the subway station, he also entered just a few feet behind me. When I got to the subway station, I saw that the train must have just left because it was deserted and the man behind me was the only other person there. The man wasnít particularly large and wasnít carrying a weapon; he wasnít screaming or trying to attack me, but for some reason every alarm in my body was going off telling me I was in danger. Logically, I told myself that he was probably just a perfectly nice person also waiting for the train, but nonetheless it didnít feel right to me. I listened to my intuition and quickly walked across the station to the opposite staircase, went up to the street, and jumped in the first cab I saw.
The next morning, a sign was posted in my building stating that a young woman had been raped by a man traveling alone one block from the subway station near my building at 10:30 pm, roughly 30 minutes after I had bolted from the train station. I donít know whether the rapist was the man that followed me to the subway that night, and I probably never will, but I do know this. I am very glad I listened to my intuition that night and got the hell out of that subway station.
I canít promise that if you keep these tips in mind you will be perfectly safe and nothing will ever happen to you. But, I can tell you that youíll be a lot less likely to be attacked than you otherwise would be if you consider these tips. Just remember these two basic rules: attackers are afraid of being caught, and itís always better to feel awkward or silly than to be raped, mugged, or attacked.
© Copywrite 2006 Jennifer Shukla. All Rights Reserved.