We’ve discussed in an earlier article the need for environmental awareness when considering personal safety. I bet you never thought rain was an issue in whether you could be attacked- but there are many factors that can lead to you being victimized. Now let’s discuss awareness of your surroundings. Remember my story about a trip to the grocery store? Well let’s see if there are things that I could have done differently had I been aware of my surroundings.
As I was getting out of my car last night to go into the grocery store I always go to when my cell phone rang. It was my husband who needed to discuss a situation that happened at work that has us both worried. I was busying myself with getting the canvas bags out of the back of the car, struggling to get my car keys into my purse, while holding my umbrella, and balancing the cell phone on my ear. The grocery list fell out of my hand and I bent over to pick it up out of the puddle. I had just come from work and was dressed in a tight skirt, wearing matching high heels and my hair was in a ponytail. I didn’t see the man sitting in the passenger side of the vehicle next to mine. Even though it was raining I had parked in a remote area of the parking lot because the walk to the front door would provide some much needed exercise since I’d skipped going to the gym. When the man got out of his car and asked me if I needed help I nearly jumped out of my skin. He startled me but I politely said; “Oh, thank you so much, but I can manage.” I didn’t look directly at him because I was so embarrassed that he’d scared me I didn’t want him to see the expression on my face and think I was mad at him when he’d been so polite. Once I got all of my belongings together, I noticed he was still standing there. By then it was too late.
Being aware of your surroundings is the one thing that can save your life. Let me repeat this- being aware of your surroundings is the one thing that you can do to save your own life! It seems simple doesn’t it… but seriously if you can see it coming or anticipate that it might happen you can be better prepared for it. Just as a driver distracted while texting on their cell phone can have a car accident, you being distracted just walking into a store can also prove fatal.
Let’s examine a few of the mistakes I made that I’m sure we all regularly make when it comes to our surroundings. Of course we’ve established that I should have parked in a more lit area of the parking lot and away from other vehicles. I obviously didn’t notice the man sitting in the car next to me- on his passenger side. A person sitting on the passenger side of a vehicle has easy access to me on my driver’s side if I park next to them. The worst vehicle to park near for a woman alone is a van. Even if it means having to park further away, never park near a van if you are alone. It has been proven that many serial killers use vans as a way to transport their victim from one location to another. We’ll talk later about the dangers of being taken to a secondary location. Vans also limit your ability to see who might be inside, waiting to attack you. Avoid vans whenever possible, and if you drive one, be aware that you’re causing a state of panic in others! In my story I should have parked elsewhere.
I was also distracted by a phone call from my husband. Instead of sitting in my vehicle with the doors locked to finish my conversation with my husband, I chose to get out and gather belongings, while outside of the vehicle. The safest place for you to be is inside a locked vehicle, with the windows up and the engine running. The simple act of keeping your car doors locked can do more to save your life than any self-defense move you learn in a class. And I know it’s not very environmentally conscious to leave a vehicle running, but if the vehicle is running you have the ability to use it as a weapon. One of the first things we learn in Basic Training is that it’s very difficult to hit a moving target. So if you are approached by someone with a weapon, like a gun or a knife- if they don’t have a hold of you, run or drive off. Statistics show that a predator can usually only hit a moving target 4 out of 100 shots and generally those shots aren’t accurate enough to hit any vital organs. If you are forced to run away from someone with a gun, don’t run in a straight line, run in a zig zag pattern so the person with a gun can’t easily take aim at you. Frankly, I would rather be hurt than dead… so remember run, run, run! Or as they tell us in the Army- escape and evade!
Once I got out of my vehicle I should have taken in the details of my surroundings. Because I was distracted by talking on the cell phone I didn’t notice the man approach me. I also didn’t look at him carefully because I was embarrassed about my reaction to him. The quickest and easiest way to possibly deter a predator is to make eye contact. Often a person who intends to attack you fears being identified if their attack goes pear shaped and you escape. Take in as many details about the people, vehicles and buildings around you. I often play a game with myself when standing in a line at the grocery store or at the DMV. I try to memorize as many details about the people around me as I can, things like; how tall are they, what color is their hair, what do they weigh, what are they wearing, do they have any distinguishing marks like tattoos or scars? It may seem rude to stare at people, but if you’re really good you can do it discreetly. This simple exercise while I’m not in any danger is great practice for being able to do this automatically if I am in danger. That is the most important thing with any self-defense tactics- practice until it becomes routine.
Another good technique, keep your distance. We all know those people who are what I call close talkers… they don’t understand personal space and practically stand on top of you while talking. When it comes to talking to a stranger, keeping them at arm’s length and a little beyond can keep you from being seriously hurt. If the predator can’t reach you, chances are good you can escape. Predators of young children use this technique all the time. A predator will be sitting in their vehicle and ask a child to approach on the pretense that they have something the child might desire, like a puppy or some candy. Once the child is close enough to the vehicle the predator can snatch them and make a quick escape. With adults a predator might ask for help with directions and use the pretense of you showing them on a map or helping them program it into their phone or GPS. Same effect if you approach the vehicle close enough to be snatched- in this scenario, keep your distance and leave if they insist you come closer. If someone invades your personal space, don’t feel impolite about taking a step back. If they keep stepping back into your personal space their intentions are probably not honorable. In my story had I been paying closer attention I would have noticed that the man didn’t walk away when I declined his help.
One of the things I didn’t mention in the story that is important when considering how aware we are of our surroundings is to check your vehicle before entering it. As you approach your vehicle from a distance check to see if there is any damage, a flat tire, a broken window, or even a bent fender gives a predator an excuse to approach you. If you see the damage before getting to your vehicle, back track. Go someplace safe and find help. This car damage ruse lets a predator either offer to help with the damage or claim they did the damage and want to exchange insurance info or some other legit excuse to get you near enough to distract then attack you. Don’t be afraid to return to a public location to enlist the help of a trusted witness or even call the police. A police officer’s presence is not always required to file an insurance claim, but they will gladly come to ensure your personal safety. Remember you are not required to give your personal information to anyone for the purposes of an insurance claim, your name is all the info they need- they do not need your home address or phone number. I spoke with my insurance company USAA who said the basic info of your name, year, make, model and license number of yours and the other driver’s vehicle, plus the name and phone number of each others insurance companies is all the info you need to exchange. Someone who truly caused an accident will want police involvement- a predator won’t. Always remember your safety is more important than anything else. If you are in a vehicle that is involved in an accident, stay in your vehicle until you feel safe. You don’t have to get out to inspect the damage or converse with the other driver. Stay in your vehicle until someone you know or a police officer arrives to help you deal with the situation.
If you are in a vehicle that breaks down, always stay inside the vehicle with the doors locked until legitimate help arrives. Police officers, your best friend, road side assistance, and tow truck operators would be legitimate help- a passing motorist or good samaritan is not. As helpful as many people are to a fellow motorist who’s stranded, your safety comes first. If a fellow motorist stops to assist you, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR VEHICLE- and do not roll down the window far enough for them to be able to reach inside. Even if you know how to change a tire or repair what is wrong with your vehicle- be lazy and wait for a legitimate source of assistance. A true good samaritan will not think you are rude for staying in your vehicle, they will understand that your personal safety is more important. A predator will make you feel guilty for not accepting their help, because they can use that to overpower you, don’t trust anyone aside from yourself. Likewise if a tow truck operator or road side technician comes to your aid, you are within your rights to ask for identification. If you have called for their services, ask the dispatcher the name of the company (some road side assistance services sub contract their operators) and the name of the driver who is coming to assist you. Once that person arrives ask to see their ID- both driver’s license and company ID. People who regularly work in this field understand personal safety issues and will gladly put you at ease by providing this information.
Another consideration with vehicles is to keep your car clean. Don’t pile things inside your vehicle that someone can easily hide under, like a blanket or a pile of packages. Keeping valuables in your vehicle can also make them a target. Be aware of what your bumper stickers and window decals reveal about you as well. It makes me crazy to see car decals with kids‘ names on them or worse yet your name. A predator with your name or your child’s name can use that against you- “Hey Susie, can you come with me your daughter Julie has been in an accident.” works just as effectively on an adult as it would on a child being told- “hey, your mom sent me to get you she’s been hurt.” Don’t give a predator any information to distract or entice you to a secondary location.
Lastly let’s discuss the secondary location. I can’t stress this enough, the one thing you never want to allow to happen to you is to be transported to a secondary location. A secondary location means that your attacker plans to kill you and doesn’t care if you can identify them. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the military technique of Escape and Evade. These techniques are especially effective if you find yourself being taken to a secondary location. Escape and Evade teaches us to do everything within our power to escape and evade… escape our attacker and evade being recaptured by hiding or in the case of a civilian drawing enough attention to ourselves to deter our captor. Being aware of your surroundings is especially important when you find yourself being taken to the secondary location. Draw as much attention to yourself as possible- yell fire, scream “NO!” at the top of your lungs, improvise a weapon and aim for those vulnerable spots or in you’re forced into a vehicle do something to cause an accident. Be aware of possible escape routes, even things that seem unlikely like a window or a doggy door. If you are shoved into the trunk of a car many of the newer vehicles now have an inside trunk release that has a glow in the dark latch. Otherwise try and kick out the tail light and reach your hand through to signal other drivers. Whatever you do, don’t give up and be resourceful.
Last but not least the best way to be aware of your surroundings is to trust your instincts. Be paranoid and suspicious… it could save your life!