This weekend, I received an e-mail from a reader who was mugged at gunpoint near Stanton Park in the middle of the morning rush hour. The police told her that street crime in the area around Capitol Hill is up, and that people, esp. women, need to be more careful.
As you may have gathered by my occasional post and tweet about my Father, he is a bit of a safety nut. Since I was in elementary school, he has been teaching me to be security minded. So I thought I might share some of his tips with all of you, since as my reader pointed out, this blog reaches a lot of single, independent women who could benefit from such advice.
Don’t Make Yourself a Target. Like a lion can smell the wounded gazelle, muggers prey on the weak. So the question becomes, what makes a person a target?
Being drunk. Never stumble home alone. Buy a cab, ask a friend for a ride to your door, or have a sober male friend walk you. Not a drunk friend, a sober friend.
Headphones. In the age of the iPod, lots of women listen to music when they walk. But a person wearing headphones is an attractive target because it’s easy to sneak up on her.
Right now, you might be saying, “But Belle, I always listen at low volume so I can hear what’s going on around me.” Even if you can hear them, they think you can’t, so you’re still an attractive target. Your white iPod headphones might as well be a sign that says, “Please rob me.”
Same goes for being on a cell phone. Your call can wait until you get home. When you’re walking alone, you need to be paying attention. No talking or typing, just walking.
Piles of bags. A woman who has been out shopping and is loaded down with bags is a very attractive target. Piles of bags encumber you, which makes you unable to run away or defend herself. If you have more than one or two small bags, take a cab.
Sidewalkers. Resist the programming that says you have to stay on your side of the sidewalk. If you’re alone, always walk in the middle of the sidewalk. This keeps you further away from someone who might jump out from behind a parked car or an alley way. The couple of feet may not seem like a lot but an arms length is more than enough to gve you time to run away.
Walk the Right Way. When I’m walking home, I walk fast. Crazy woman on a mission fast, and I don’t do it because I like the exercise. I do it because when you’re alone, on the street, in a big city (and yes, no matter how gentrified your neighborhood is, this is still a big city), this is not the time to bounce about enjoying the day.
You want a leisurely walk? Buy a treadmill. You want to stay safe? Then pick up your feet and hurry up.
Also, don’t walk with your head down, moping along. Your posture shouldn’t say, “I’m tired and weak and a loser who wants to be mugged.” Instead, puff out your chest and stand up straight. Walk with ease and purpose, like the kind of person who isn’t a target for bullies and muggers. You might not think these little things matter, but anything you can do to signal that you’re not an easy mark is a good thing.
Stay Vigilant. You should always be aware of your surroundings. What do you see? What do you hear? Who looks out of place? And especially, what’s happening behind you?
When I walk down the street, I’m always glancing at my reflection, and not just because I’m vain. I don’t have eyes in the back of my head, but windows and car mirrors are a great way to see what or who is on your six. And if it’s a sunny day, sometimes shadows work too.
Be unpredictable. First off, I never take the same route home two days in a row. And I never leave for work or come home from work at the same time. Don’t keep to a strict routine, change it up.
Also, if I’m walking and I think someone has been walking behind me for too long or if someone comes up behind me suddenly, I’ll do something unpredictable. I might cross the street for no reason. I might go into a shop or a coffee bar. If there’s traffic, I might suddenly signal a taxi even if it’s just a short fare. Or if I see something up ahead that makes me wary, I’ll yell a couple of obscenities, like I forgot something, and turn back around the way I came.
Assume the Worst. Bottom line: You are programmed from eons of evolution to sense danger. If the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and your adrenaline starts pumping, don’t tell yourself there is nothing to be afraid of when your physiology says that there is. If you think you are in danger, react like you are.
Sound paranoid? You bet it is. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
Six years ago, I was walking home from the Metro when I noticed that a man had followed me out of the station entrance. He was walking behind me, matching my pace. I sped up, he sped up. I slowed down, he slowed down. He was completely freaking me out, and I knew I needed to lose him like a bad boyfriend.
I saw a man and a woman walking about a half block away, so I stared calling after them like I knew them. I actually yelled fake names like I knew them. They thought I was nuts. But the second I reached them the man suddenly turned around, complete 180, and walked back towards the Metro. I then explained the situation to the couple and asked if I could walk with them for a bit back to a main road where I caught a cab.
I don’t know who the man was or if I was actually in danger, but his behavior was suspicious and that was good enough for me.
Carry Pepper Spray. The very best kind of pepper spray to have is Kimber Pepper Blaster. It sprays foam at 90mph, maximizing impact and minimizing the chance of blowback. Having caught some pepper spray blowback once upon a time, I can tell you that this is a very good thing. It would be tough to run for your life with tears gushing from your eyes and your throat closing up on you.
But no matter what kind of pepper spray you buy, there are three rules for owning pepper spray. 1) Carry it with you. Too many women own it and it sits in a drawer at home. 2) It must be accessible. Don’t let it get buried in your purse. And if you’re walking at night, carry it in your hand. 3) Spray first, ask questions later. If you feel threatened, trust your instincts. If it turns out to be nothing, pepper spray is non-lethal so you won’t have killed anyone.
The District of Columbia has several laws regarding pepper spray. And while I could go on forever about how the incompetent nitwits in the D.C. government and their ridiculous rules create a defenseless class for criminals to prey on, I won’t. Instead, I will just tell you that if you are going to carry pepper spray you need to register it with the local police per D.C. law.
Usually, the vendor who sells it to you will have you fill out a form and forward that to the police. If they don’t, you need to go to the police precinct and fill one out. If you don’t, you could face a fairly hefty fine.
Also, if you work for the federal government, you should know that technically pepper spray is prohibited in the Capitol and all federal buildings. I’ve been stopped one time in seven years. In that instance, I showed my ID, explained that I lived in a bad neighborhood and the nice Capitol Police officer let me go on my way. But I know of one other staffer who was asked to throw hers away when she entered the Capitol proper. So, I don’t know how much the rules are really enforced.
If You’re Mugged. If someone approaches you and threatens you, and there are people around, scream, yell and draw attention to yourself. Don’t yell, “Help.” Instead, yell, “Fire.” I promise everyone will look at you if they think you’re alerting them to danger that impacts them. Don’t be afraid to look crazy, just draw as much attention to yourself as possible.
Maybe someone will help you, maybe they won’t. But more than likely, your attacker will take off. It’s not worth the hassle for him.
If you’re alone and there’s no one around, and someone demands your wallet, do not hand him your purse. Instead, throw it away from you and run. I’d say toss it about ten feet to his right or left, close enough that he can get to it, but far enough that he’s got to walk away from you to reach it. This will maximize the distance between you, and give you time to make a break for it.
Then, once you’re sure that you’re safe, call the cops immediately. Don’t wait.
Also, I tend to carry my phone and my keys in my hand. That way, if someone demands my wallet, I won’t lose them too. Everything else is easily replaceable.
Make sure to send this post to your friends.