Self-Defense & Violence Prevention Blog

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City Safety: Beyond the Basics

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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Stay Safe

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.

By | August 21st, 2006 | SHOW COMMENTS (8)


I am the creator of this website, which I use to post about self-defense and violence prevention. I have two children who I love so much. I want them to be proud of me, and I hope what I do here contributes to that. Please let me know what you think about my posts by leaving a comment below. I throw my opinions around pretty openly here, but I am totally open to opposing viewpoints and a productive discussion. So please post a comment. And follow me on Twitter: @scottmhughes

8 Responses

  1. squeezebox boom says

    They yelling/singing idea is brilliant, thankfully I’ve never been in a position where I wasn’t able to beat the crap out of anybody who trys to harm me (I’m big!) but it’s definitly something I will keep in mind in case a bigger guy comes along lol.

  2. James Raymolnd says

    Good post. The tip on having the self defense weapon in your hand is important.

    One thing I might add is to ” Walk the street like you belong there ” or as a NYC taxi driver once told me ” Walk the street like a lion”. Don’t show that you are afraid by nerviously looking over your shoulder. etc

  3. szise says

    Nice tips, however ideally is never walk alone outside the populated areas or after X hour.

  4. Teri 'Coffee' McDuffie says

    I am a Women’s Self Defense Instructor and have been teaching the program for 20 years. Many very good and important tips and advise are offered here by Jennifer and should be taken heed by all who walk the streets in every city both big and small. I do feel cell phones can be life saving as well as a distracting attractant to preditors and shoud be utylized with awareness but important to have available! I am not a huge proponent of outside sources to defend oneself such as pepper spray which can be overly depended on while forgetting about all of your physical availabilities that are so readily there to use..but I do teach resoursefulness of the moment which could mean utlyizing everything around you, and ‘the kitchen sink’ so to speak. Trusting your instincts and listening to them is critical and ignoring them is detrimental to our safety and well-being. Great advise from Jennifer to our safety mindedness as women in this crazy world..thanks!

  5. Scott says


    Mace Triple Action has dye in it. Get it here.

  6. Mike says

    Also, it’s a common misconception that deficating or urinating on yourself prevents rape. Since rape is not a crime about sexuality (although it is a sex crime) and more of a domination crime, this will more than likely not deter your attacker.

  7. Mike says

    Tip #3 is really important. My brother who is a police officer stresses this all the time. If you can’t have pepper spray or a stun gun in your hand (as in you don’t have one) a set of keys or a lollipop works well, too.

    As far as pepper spray goes, you should get some of the stuff that has blacklight die in it. That way the police can more easily identify your attacker.

  8. Scott says

    Wow, what a great article by my sister, Jennifer Shukla. She’s right that the key to safety is to get in the mind of an attacker, and realize that they prey on easy targets. So, don’t make yourself an easy target, by using all the great advice and all the great tips in this article. Pass along this advice!


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