Between the real world and the social media world online, new forms of danger are popping up everywhere. The internet is as harmful as it is helpful especially with all of the trolls and the screens of anonymity they hide behind. As the laws catch up with the current times, death threats and harassment online are resulting in suicides, shootings and things like stalking that spill into the real world. As a reminder: Online cyber stalking, doxxing, harassment, and threats are illegal at the state and federal level.
As a single mom with college-aged sisters and a young daughter, safety on and off the internet is always a top concern of every moment of every day. Living through the days of AOL instant messenger, I look back and cringe of how many dangerous situations I put myself in before I was 16.
For this article I am focusing on the physical dangers that all women could encounter. Some of these tips may sound over-the-top, but after seeing friends as well as myself experience this in real life, I don’t take any chances. Here are 15 tips that I follow the minute I step outside of my home.
Trigger warning: the following content references kidnapping and other sensitive topics.
Who, What, Where, When
1) Safety in numbers
Bring people with you wherever you go, especially once it is dark outside. It is especially important for the young adults who are just now leaving the safety of home to live on their own. If you are going to pick up your laundry from one building over, see if someone can go with you but if not you should be fine in this scenario. But if you are walking home from a bar, from a late class, from a friend’s house, to the gym, or anywhere where there are blind spots away from security cameras or in certain areas where there are less streetlights keeping the areas well lit, the buddy system is a good idea to make a part of your routine.
In this first video, a woman is walking alone in a familiar area and is quickly overpowered. She was missing for a few days, but was found safe.
Females are an easier target, but males can be victims as well. This boy was walking home and was stalked all the way to his house.
Kidnappers are unpredictable and can strike even five feet from their front door like in this video.
2) Location sharing with your trusted friends and family
I “share indefinitely” my iPhone location with a handful of trusted family and friends at all times. In the situations where you may be at a party or on a date or somewhere that the buddy system just isn’t an option, the ability to track last known location makes it much easier to find you should something go wrong (or if you decide to stay the night at a friends house). I share my location with my brother who lives in the same city, so he is familiar with the area and would be one of the first people that would have information if something bad happens.
3) Tell someone where you are going and your plans for coming home
This might be more of a “mom” type rule, but tell at least one trusted person – roommate, friend, sister, etc. – about where you are going and who you are going with. It doesn’t have to be someone local. If you forget to text that you are home safe that night, definitely text in the morning to the same person so they know that you are ok.
4) When meeting for the first time, ask for personal information and a selfie proving they are Real
This one might seem excessive, but I believe this is the most important one for these scenarios since you will probably be on your own for these date-like encounters.
POV: You are getting ready to meet someone from Tinder for the first time in person
- Ask for a selfie that shows what they look like right now. I go with “hey can you send me a selfie with you holding up a number 4?”
- Get their real first name and last name and address where you will be hanging out. Make it known that you gave the info to your friend/brother/sister etc. has this information in case anything bad happens. It sounds crazy, but every time I’ve asked for this info, the response has been “Absolutely, I totally understand and am happy to”. It lets them know that you are not messing around. If they are weird about it, take it as a red flag. Since I have a child at home, I take an extra step and check out his criminal background even if there are no plans on coming back to the house.
- Meet in a public place with lots of people around and familiarize yourself with the area if you haven’t been there before.
5) Consider keeping an Apple AirTag or something similar that stays in your car that only you have access to
Not only is it helpful to locate you car if you forget where you parked, it also helps as another layer of last known location in case of emergency. In the rare circumstance that you are carjacked, it will be easier to find your car.
Being prepared for a safe night out with your friends
6) CHARGE YOUR PHONE TO 100%
This one is probably the easiest one to do yet easy to forget. Keep a portable battery in the car and have an iPhone and Android cord so that people can use it. Not knowing where you are with no one to call because your phone is dead is risky, especially if you have car or people troubles where you need assistance.
7) Set up a meeting point to check-in throughout the night
Everyone has that someone who wanders off from the group to pursue someone interesting (I am that someone every time). Check in with at least one person in the group that you came with so they can help determine if you are coherent and not too wasted. I suggest having a check-in every 30 minutes with the whole group. If you left the bar and are waiting for everyone else, have a meeting point nearby in a well-lit area next to a food truck or bouncer or and make sure security cameras are rolling.
8) Write the phone number of the person who would bail you out of jail in permanent marker on your body that is hidden from plain sight
This one seems silly, but these days people don’t have phone numbers memorized nearly as much as they used to. If you did get arrested or have to make a phone call using someone else’s phone, you have their number to call even if you have nothing else on you. I suggest writing it on your ankle or somewhere covered with clothes of shoes.
running errands, shopping, and parking lots
9) Don’t pull anything off your car if it is something that wasn’t there before
Sometimes carjackers or other criminals will use those to mark cars that are a target for theft, assault or kidnapping. Wait until you get home to deal with whatever it is, assuming the bad guys don’t follow you all the way home.
10) Locate the nearest police station
If you feel like you are being stalked or followed while driving, your best bet is to drive directly to the nearest police station. If you aren’t too sure that you are being followed, find a few blocks where you can do four right or left turns. If it is very obvious, call 911 and stay on the phone until you get to the nearest police station.
11) When running errands, Park as close to the entrance of as possible
If it is after 8pm and you intend to be in an out quickly, parking in the handicap spot will probably not be a problem to the establishment. You will be within sight of the front security cameras if they have them. Also, try to park away from windowless vans and if possible, choose a parking spot that does not have any obstacles in front so that if you are blocked in from the back, you might be able to go forward.
12) Keep your hands free, wear a crossbody purse and scan the lot for suspicious cars
I rarely go out after dark, but if I have to, I wear a crossbody purse that leaves both my arms free and the purse harder to steal. I walk fast and take a 360 degree look for anyone waiting in their car. If I do see someone, I give them a look that insinuates that I see them and I am not scared. If it gets weird, run back inside the store you just came out of and give as much information as possible.
13) Ask an employee to walk you to your car
I often do this at grocery stores where I will have to load a bunch of bags in the trunk. I’m pretty sure that establishments would be fine with this request, and it is definitely makes it less stressful when someone is there to watch my back.
14) Call 911 first, then anyone else
If you are legitimately scared that you are in danger, call 911 first. In most cases, its better safe than sorry. I had to do this once, and they instructed me to drive to a police station while they dispatched a police car in the area.
15) Trust your gut
Don’t feel like you will hurt someone’s feelings if you want to leave the date because you have a bad feeling about them. No need to keep engaging. Be firm, objective, and clear that you are no longer interested. Leading them on when you already know you are going to break it off but don’t want to hurt feelings could result in some weird behavior from the other person especially if they start obsessing or stalking.
At the end of the day, it is better to be safe than to be sorry
Just a reminder that these tips are based on the experiences that my friends and I have been through, so there may be even better advice out there from others who have been through situations like these. There is little that can be done to change the actions of the predators, and these type of crimes happen more often than not. As for deterrents and weapons like pepper spray, tasers, and guns – do what you feel is best for you and your safety within the law, regardless of the judgement that may come with using them.