Even the most confident and fearless woman occasionally experiences a moment that makes her genuinely fearful. Perhaps it happens as she’s walking home alone—she sees a shadow moving too quickly, a man who gazes at her a little too long, or a small sound that indicates she’s not as alone as she thought she was. Being attacked is every woman’s worst nightmare, and this fear is preyed upon and fostered by hysterical email forwards and news stories that make it seem like we’re at risk every moment of the day.
The sad truth is that one in six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, according to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN). Thousands of other women every year are victims of muggings, purse snatchings, and other forms of violence. Contrary to what some scaremongers would have us believe, there actually aren’t psychopaths and potential rapists lurking in every corner, waiting to attack the next woman who walks by, but it’s still smart for women to know the basics of how to avoid being victims, and, if necessary, how to defend themselves.
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times. This is the best way to remain safe. No matter where you are, be vigilant. Keep your eyes and ears open for people in the area, possible hazards, and available escape routes. That means if you’re walking home alone at night, no mindless chattering on a cell phone, and no listening to an MP3 player. Anyone looking to commit a crime of opportunity will be searching for the easiest target, and headphones are a sure sign that you’re distracted and vulnerable. Your hearing is a valuable tool—don’t shut it down when you need it most.
- Project an air of confidence. Criminals seek to target women who look like they won’t fight back. Walk with purpose; even if you don’t know where you’re going, pretend that you do. If someone appears to be following you, don’t meekly avoid his gaze. Turn around and look him in the eye. Not only does that give you a chance to get a good look at a potential attacker (thus making it easier for you to identify him later), but making eye contact is also an aggressive gesture that suggests you’re not afraid.
- Don’t feel pressured to be nice. Many opportunists prey on women’s natural inclination to be helpful. If you’re alone and a stranger asks for directions, the time, or help looking for his keys/car/contact lenses/puppy, it’s okay to say, “Sorry,” and keep moving. While not every man who requests assistance is a potential attacker, many potential attackers do use these tactics to distract their victims.
- Never carry more than you can afford to lose. If you’re the victim of a purse snatching or mugging, don’t risk injury fighting to save your possessions—let them go. A wallet’s worth of cash can make you think you have to put up a fight, but your life is worth more than the contents of your purse. Keep your house keys in a pocket when you’re walking, so that if a mugger or robber gets your purse, you’ll still be able to get into your home, and the assailant won’t have access to it.