We are afraid. Studies of crime and its effects show that nearly half the public is “highly fearful” of falling victim to a violent crime, murder, robbery, rape or assault. Most of us have changed some of our habits out of fear such as cutting back on evening shopping. To some extent, our fears are exaggerated. One study showed that while 23% of us fear robbery, less than 1/5 of 1% of the population is robbed in any year.
As the baby-boom generation grows older, there are fewer males aged 15 to 24 – the group most likely to commit a violent crime. This, along with stiffer prison sentences, has caused the crime rate to drop in recent years. Still, violent crime does happen, and you should take steps to avoid it. There are no guaranteed defenses but you are less likely to become a victim if you remember to “be alert, be prepared, and have a plan,” says Douglas Cassidy, public information officer with the Phoenix Arizona Police Department.
One important place to stay alert is in your home, Cassidy says. “People have this safe feeling in their homes, so they leave their doors unlocked, they leave windows open, they are just primed for an intruder.” He points out that the majority of all rapes occur in the victim’s home. Rapists look for women living alone. Do not tip them off by listing your first name on your mailbox. Your first initial is fine. The same goes for your phone listing, says Officer Tom LaCoste of the community services division of the Houston Texas Police Department. “If someone calls and asks for your husband, or for the man of the house, say he is working on the car, or he is at the store.” LaCoste says “Indicate that you are not alone, that someone is there or will be shortly.” You should also give the impression you are not alone if a stranger comes to the door, Cassidy says. “When the doorbell rings, holler out, “I’ll get it!” like someone else is there. If a stranger asks for the man of the house, say he is busy getting his hunting gear together. But do not open the door.”
Women who are home alone with their children must also be careful. “We have had situations where the doorbell will ring, and the children rush to the door and open it,” LaCoste says. “We tell people to teach their children not to open the door.” Even adults must be on guard against tricks attackers use to get inside. “If a stranger says he needs to use the phone because his car broke down, offer to make the call for him. But do not let him inside,” LaCoste says. “If he says he is from the utility company, ask to see some identification. Even go so far as to call the company to see if any work is being done out your way.”
If a stranger tries to force his way into your house, you need to get to a “safe room.” Cassidy says, “You should have a room in the house that has an extra lock on the door and a phone so you can call police.” he explains. “It should also have a window or door that leads to another part of the house so if that person gets in, you can get out. The last thing you want to do is confront that person in the house.” You do not want to confront an attacker outside your house, either. You should have bright lights outside so no one can hide in the shadows by your home. You should also have your keys out when you cone home so you do not have to stand at your door and fish for them in your purse or pocket. In fact, you can make your keys into a weapon by lacing them between your fingers. “It looks formidable” Cassidy says, “If you walk around with your keys like that, it will act as a deterrent.”
Women need more deterrents because they are more likely to be mugged than men. Cassidy says this is partly because muggers know a man is more likely to put up a fight. But it is also partly because women carry purses.”You can run past a woman and take her purse.” LaCoste explains. “With a man, you must have a face to face confrontation with a weapon and make him get out his wallet.” LaCoste says women should hold their purses under their arms so they can not be easily grabbed. But Cassidy cautions not to wrap the strap around your arm. If you do, you can be dragged to the ground and badly hurt, especially if the purse is grabbed by someone in a moving vehicle.
The best way to avoid being attacked at all is to use the buddy system. “There is strength in numbers. Try to go out during daylight hours when you can walk with a friend,” LaCoste says. If you must be out alone, it is important to avoid looking like an easy target because muggers “shop” for victims. Cassidy says, “The type of individual assaulted varies, but victims have a common characteristic, they are preoccupied with something other than their environment, so they are not alert to what is going on around them. This tells any muggers that this person is primed for an attack.”
If you are out walking and notice someone who appears to be sizing up people, avoid him. And try to appear confident and alert so no one decides you can be taken by surprise, Cassidy says. You can also avoid surprise attacks by not becoming a creature of habit. “If you take a walk at the same time every night along the same route, anyone who has been watching you will know it. He knows he can wait for you by this bush or that alley and grab you,” Cassidy says. “Change your time, change your route, do things differently from day to day.” Whenever you can, stick to busy, well lighted streets. Try to avoid walking past alleys, doorways, trees, or anywhere an attacker could hide and grab you as you walk by. You should also avoid walking too close to the street. Rapists have been known to pull women into their cars. Walk on the side of the street where you will be facing oncoming traffic so no one can pull up behind you. If someone in a car stops and asks directions, keep your distance, LaCoste says. “Do not get close enough to where the person could grab you from the vehicle. Stand far back, and talk in a loud voice. This notifies people around you that you are giving directions and draws some attention.” Cassidy suggests that if you are waiting for a bus, you stand behind the bench if there is one, to put a barrier between you and cars.
If someone pulls up, points a gun at you and orders you into the car, do not do it. “If you get into that car, you are trapped,” Cassidy states. “The best thing you can do is clutch your chest and pretend to faint. Now something has happened the guy did not plan on. He is not going to put his car in park, get out, and drag you in. He does not want people to see him.” If someone seems to be following you on foot, look behind you to show you are aware of his presence, Cassidy says. “Do not just glance over your shoulder, look him right in the eye. It is intimidating to him.” If the person still seems to be following you, change directions abruptly, Cassidy says. “Do not brush shoulders with him, but turn around and walk past him, five or six feet to the side. Again, it is beyond what he is planned. He will be hesitant, and that will give you an opportunity to get away. If he is going to follow you, it will be obvious.”
If you are sure you are being followed, do not walk home. That only shows a possible attacker where you live. Run to the nearest open business such as a gas station or convenience store, and call the police. “There is no law against following someone, but we will come out and talk to the guy,” Cassidy says. “While we are doing that, we will run a computer check on him to make sure he is not wanted somewhere. Meanwhile, the lady is free to go.” If you cannot get to a business quickly, run to the nearest home and pound on the door. “If it is late at night, you might find that nobody will cone to the door,” Cassidy says. “But if you pick up a rock and throw it through the window, you will get someone out there yelling, “I’m calling the police!!” Well isn’t that what you want?
According to Cassidy, the police will not arrest you for damaging property in an emergency. He points out that people should not be so law abiding that they will not break the law to escape an attack. Sometimes attackers try to get into a woman’s car. Again, do not hesitate to break the law to get away, Cassidy says. “If the light is red but there is no traffic, run the light. If you have to jump the curb, jump it.” Aside from keeping your doors locked and windows rolled up, you can protect yourself by not letting your car get “boxed in,” “When you cone to a red light, don’t pull right up to the bumper of the car ahead of you. The person behind you will probably pull up to your bumper, and then you are trapped. If someone tried to get in your car, you would have no where to go,” Cassidy explains. “If you leave 10 or 12 feet in front of you, you can drive around the car in front.”
LaCoste says many women are robbed coming back to their cars after shopping. “When you are coming back to your car, take a look around where you have parked for anyone who seems to be loitering around,” he says. “Have your keys out so you can open the door and get in immediately.” He suggests parking in areas that will be well lighted if you will be coming back to your car after dark. You should also always look to make sure no one has gotten inside your car. If your car breaks down in a neighborhood that is unsafe, do not get out, Cassidy says. Put on your emergency flashers and ask anyone who offers help to make a phone call for you. Cassidy suggests taping quarters to three by five cards with a friend’s first name and phone number written on them. Hand these to people through the window. “If someone who appears threatening offers help, just say help is already on the way,” Cassidy says. If anyone tries to get in your car, honk, flash your lights, and try to drive away, even if you have a flat tire. It is better to ruin a wheel than lose your life.
You can take every possible precaution and still find yourself trapped by a mugger or rapist. If so, you must decide what to do according to the situation. If the attacker just wants your money, surrender it. Police suggest carrying your valuables and cash on your person and keeping only credit cards which can be canceled, in your purse. Rape is difficult to deal with. Some women report that rapists run away when resisted fiercely, but LaCoste says many rapists react to violence with more violence.
He and Cassidy suggest trying passive resistance. “Try to talk your way out of it,” Cassidy says. “Tell him you have VD. He is not going to take you to get checked. Most rapists are married and go to church on Sunday. It is going to be difficult to explain this to his wife.” If this does not work, you might try making yourself repulsive by forcing yourself to vomit on your clothes, Cassidy says. You can purchase small repellent capsules that fit on a watch, capsules give off an offensive odor “like a skunk.” Police generally discourage women from carrying weapons. “They give you a false sense of security, and they are likely to be turned against you,” LaCoste says.
If you believe an attacker intends to kill you, you have no choice but to fight for all you are worth. Go for sensitive areas, such as the groin, throat, and eyeballs. But concentrate on getting away. “If you don’t focus on getting away, if you focus on hurting him, he is going to hurt you and hurt you badly,” Cassidy says. And when you do get away, do not just bless your luck and try to forget the whole incident; that leaves your attacker free to prey on others. Call the police. With your cooperation, they may find your attacker. That way, there will be one less reason for everyone to be afraid. Self defense is common sense!