It’s important to pay attention to your environment when walking in public. Victims of “stranger” assaults are usually targeted by their assailants because of behaviors that indicate the victim is not paying attention. Instead, the victims are “mentally elsewhere.”
Fortunately, there are some simple habits that people can develop to reduce their odds of being targeted by assailants. Safety involves focusing on the activities taking place around you. Below are some ideas that will you develop safe habits for walking in public.
Watch your surroundings
Use windows to see behind you – Windows are wonderful things. They reflect images. As you are walking along, glance at the windows in the buildings and cars to the side of you. Learn to use the reflections to check behind and see who is following behind you. If you see someone who makes you uneasy, or is focused on you; then walk into a shop, restaurant, or other public place. Glance behind you and see if the person has followed you into the building. If they have, then find a security officer, or store personnel, to help you. If you believe a threat is imminent, call 9-1-1.
Look up – If your eyes are focused on the ground, it’s hard to see someone approaching you. It’s also difficult to see where you are going. Someone with their eyes focused on the ground may be seen as lacking in confidence by an assailant. This translates into being defined as “victim” in the assailant’s mind. So, keep your eyes focused on where you are going.
Keep your head up – Body language is a potent communication mode. It speaks louder than verbal speech. A pedestrian with their head down is communicating to watching assailants, “I’m distracted.” This is a signal that encourages the assailant to attack. The solution is to keep your head up.
Listen to the sounds behind you
Running footsteps – The sound of someone running behind you doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an assailant. It most likely is someone who is late or in a fitness program. However, there are other reasons for people to run up behind you. I have been the victim of a purse snatching and the first indication I had have been the sound of the criminal running toward me from behind. When you hear someone running behind you, turn to your side and look in the direction of the sound. If it is a threat, dial 9-1-1 and seek safety in a public building.
Loud talking – Verbal intimidation is often a prelude to a physical attack. NEVER respond to verbal intimidation by yelling or screaming at the person(s) confronting you. This would only escalate the situation. Instead, leave if you are able to do so. If necessary, seek safety by walking into a public building. If you feel threatened, dial 9-1-1.
Avoid being distracted
Texting – Pedestrians who text while walking are not paying attention to where they are going. The most likely danger is walking into something or someone. However, this activity signals “victim” to assailants, who are looking are targets that are not paying attention to their surroundings. Bottom line: don’t text while walking. If you have to text, find a safe place to stand or sit.
Playing games – Playing video or on-line games while walking is equivalent to texting while walking. The distraction isn’t worth the risk.
Talking to others – Talking to another person while walking can distract pedestrians’ from their surroundings. Allowing oneself to become so absorbed in a conversation that the pedestrian is no longer aware of his or her immediate surroundings, can be dangerous. Assailants can use the pedestrians’ distraction as an opportunity to assault them. The remedy is to scan your environment, every few seconds, while walking. Make note of who is close to you and focused on you.
Be prepared to respond
Walk in lighted areas – Dark, unlighted areas are dangerous. Assailants can hide in the dark. Stay in areas that are lighted by streetlamps, flood lights, shop windows, or other areas that are well lighted. Doing so will allow you to see other pedestrians’ around you and give you plenty of opportunity to change your direction or travel or reach an area of safety is necessary.
Walking past someone – When walking past another person, pay attention to their body language. Are they focused on their own path of travel or watching you? Are their hands in their pockets or behind their bodies? (Hint: this is a danger signal. They may be hiding a weapon that they will use to surprise you with.)
Walking past cars – Parked cars can block your view of people hiding behind, under, or to the side of them. As you approach a parked car, look for shadows that would indicate someone is using the car to hide. If you see a questionable shadow; change your path of travel so that you do not pass close enough to the car that someone can reach out and grab you.
To avoid being grabbed by someone in a moving vehicle, walk far enough away from the roadway that vehicle occupants cannot reach you without exiting the vehicle. This will hopefully give you a head start in running away. NEVER let yourself be pulled into a vehicle. Run, scream, struggle, fight, brace your hands and feet.
Keep your keys in your hand – Before you walk to your car, get your keys out of your pocket or purse. Hold your keys in your hand, with the narrow end of the key showing between your fingers. If an assailant grabs you, jab the narrow end of the key into the assailant; then run away and call 9-1-1.
Check for intruders in your car – As you approach your vehicle, look for suspicious shadows coming from behind, under, or the side of the vehicle. Walk up to your vehicle and look into the interior of the vehicle and ensure that no one is inside before you open the car door. If you do see anything suspicious, walk away immediately and call 9-1-1.
There is a lot that people can do to reduce the odds of being the target of an assailant. Learning safe practices and habits, like the ones discussed above, is a very good start.