What to do in a Big Strange City

Know the neighborhood.   Nothing places a bull’s-eye on your head in a bad neighborhood like looking lost and confused.   If you have the chance, it is a good idea to research neighborhoods before you enter them.   Look at maps and pictures.   Know where you’re going, and know the streets well enough so that if you get lost, you know how to find your way out without having to look at a map or ask for directions. For instance, in many urban neighborhoods, the streets are arranged in a grid.   Knowing something as simple as, “If I keep heading north on Washington Street, I’ll hit Century Avenue,” may be enough.   Even if you are lost, pretend you know where you’re going.

A person who isn’t street smart might think that  I can just find a gas station or store and ask for directions.    Rest assured, there are neighborhoods where you might not find a “safe haven” or you might find some shady characters inside, who’ve taken a keen interest in your wallet.

Don’t go into an unfamiliar neighborhood without a full tank of gas.   In fact, if there’s even a chance of getting lost or running into traffic delays, never let your gas tank go below half full.

Learn everything you can about the public transportation system, if there is one.   You might need to use it.   Understand how the routes and fares work.   Be sure you know the places and hours that attendants or guards are available, the safest places to wait for your ride and how to summon help if you need it.   A train, subway, ferry or bus station can be a dangerous place late at night, and not knowing what you’re doing will make the situation more dangerous.

Dress to blend in.  Even if you look different, keeping your clothing understated can go a very long way. This is not the time to look glamorous or unique.   See what people your age usually wear in the region and copy them.   Don’t wear flashy jewelry or bright colors.   In some places, certain colors like excessive red or blue are associated with gangs.    And, if you’re a woman, the most practical advice is don’t look pretty.    Yes, it’s a shame that you should have to suppress your individuality, but let’s face it, individuality draws attention, and that’s not something you want in a dangerous neighborhood.

Act like nothing’s a big deal.   You have to be paranoid enough to be alert to dangerous situations and interactions, but you have to ”pretend” to be nonchalant.   For instance, if you’re in a grocery store and a very intoxicated person bursts in, yelling and waving a fist, what do you do?   If you’re street smart, you notice and you casually go about your business, making your way out of the store without drawing attention to yourself.   Someone who’s not street smart might stare, might ”rush” out of the store, or might even try and help the person.   This  is a “Good Samaritan” thing to do or a “North Dakota” thing to do, but not a street smart thing to do.

Don’t look like a tourist.   Don’t look up.   Your attention might be drawn to tall buildings or trains running overhead, but it’s one of those things that people living in a city don’t notice.

Be quiet.   Don’t laugh, don’t giggle, and don’t raise your voice to get the attention of someone across the street.  (I do not see the point in this; I believe that you have to be yourself.  They are trying to tell you…to not draw attention to yourself.)

Avoid contact.   This is tricky.   If you’re walking towards a person or a group of people who are checking out you and/or your friends, try to walk in a different direction to avoid them. Don’t make it obvious, though—if you cross the street, for example, go into a store on that side so it seems that’s why you crossed.   Remember, you want to avoid dangerous situations, but you don’t want to come off as paranoid or scared.   At the very least, be alert so you can spot a potential confrontation early enough to cross the street without making it clear to them that you’re intimidated.

If you do have to cross paths with shady characters, however, don’t quicken your pace.   Pretend to be on a call or send a text message as you walk by, unless you have a really nice phone.  Certain items, like a smart phone or I-pad may actually attract unwanted criminals, like a moth to a flame.

If you’re walking with someone, don’t let your conversation get quiet right when you walk by—that can increase tension. Keep the conversation flowing but, avoid topics that might indicate where you’re going, where you’re from, or what kind of stuff you have.

If you make eye contact with someone, don’t look away suddenly; look away slowly and casually.  Think about how you make eye contact in a neighborhood where you feel safe.  You don’t shift your eye contact away in a big rush, do you?  At the same time, you don’t want to hold eye contact for too long, or else you might invite a confrontation or an advance.   Don’t stare, and if you make and hold eye contact, a friendly smile and nod of acknowledgment may reduce the tension of any perceived challenge.

If someone says something friendly, be polite, but brief.   If you walk by someone who asks you a question; keep walking and don’t say anything that invites further conversation.  Some people are genuinely friendly, but other people have bad intentions; this is not the place to learn  the difference.   If you’re a woman and the person being friendly is a man, you might want to be even more terse and do not smile.

If someone confronts you, stay calm and try not to be or look afraid.  Observe your surroundings, and start looking for possible help like; other pedestrians that look friendly, a place of business that is open, maybe even an approaching police car.   If no such help is available, be prepared to defend yourself. Start by memorizing their face, ethnicity, height (compare it to your own), age, and any odd marks or tattoos.  They may try to take you somewhere less public.  Do not follow them into a secluded area even if they have a gun.  You have a better chance to survive if you stay put.  If they try to take you by force, scream, kick, punch, and/or bite.  If they have a gun and all they want is your wallet or valuables, give it to them.  Don’t try to be a hero; it’s not worth your life.  Call the cops as soon as you’re able to and explain the who, what, where, when and how.

More tips to prevent Abductions

Play it safe.”’ Take preventative safety precautions.  If you’re walking in a public place, always be aware of who’s around.  Be attentive (rather than drowning yourself out with headphones).  Make it a habit to spot an escape route every time you enter a new environment.  Don’t face the wall when eating out. Lock your windows and doors at night.  Carry a cell phone and some safety devices (such as a loud whistle on your key chain).  If you are traveling abroad, carry a local paper or magazine in the local language.  Read travel precautions online.

Plan for and rehearse what you will due in the case that someone attempts to abduct you.  Try to envision different types of situations and what you will attempt to do in each case scenario.

Be prepared to resist, by carrying mace (pepper spray), a steel extendable baton, or improvise and use your keys, held by the key-chain, to rake across the attacker’s eyes.   It is also a good idea to have a small pen light on your person.

If there are multiple armed attackers seeking ransom who attempt to abduct you in an isolated or hostile place where there is realistically little to no chance of escape, you should be cooperative from the get-go.   This is frequently the case in parts of South America, for example, where well-organized kidnappers abduct businessmen for profit.   About 95% of people abducted in this manner are released alive, and the chance of being killed is highest in the first few minutes of the abduction, when something goes wrong — usually when the victim tries to escape or fight.

If the would-be abductor is unarmed, if the attempt is sexually motivated, and if you are in the vicinity of other people and can quickly get help, you should fight or do anything you possibly can to escape the attacker.  This is the case in most abduction attacks in the U.S. and other developed countries, and it’s also usually the case if the intended victim is a woman or child.

Put something between you and the attacker.  You may not be able to outrun your attacker, but if you can put something — a busy street, a group of people, or even a car between you and him, you may be able to delay him enough to get away or to cause him to give up.

Make a scene.   Yell to get help.  Do not scream.   Screaming emboldens an attacker, and makes you look and act more like prey.   Direct commands first at the assailant to stop, and then at bystanders to call the police.  Direct commands are often obeyed, whereas, screams are often ignored.  You want help, not just witnesses.  This technique is especially successful in or near public places, where the abductor hopes to remain inconspicuous lest others intervene or call police.   For children, who are relatively less able to fight or flee a would-be abductor, involving others is sometimes the only chance of escape.   Do not simply scream in terror or yell “help,” as people are apt to ignore this plea.   You should yell out the circumstances and a description of the attacker if at all possible: “A man with a knife is chasing me!  He’s wearing a blue sweatshirt and torn jeans!”   Children should be taught to yell “I’m being kidnapped!  I don’t know this person!” to other people or “I don’t know you!  Leave me alone!” at the attacker.  This should have the effect of deterring your attacker, or convincing bystanders that your plight is real and not a joke/game/quarrel, or at the very least, leaving behind a reliable description for the police to work from if you are unable to evade capture.

Grab on to people and or objects.  Sadly, people are often hesitant to intervene in an abduction.   Get someone’s attention and ”make” them intervene by grabbing him or her and holding on while yelling commands (never scream) and explaining the situation.   The bystander is now involved in the fight against the abductor, which shifts the odds in your favor considerably, especially if you’re a woman or child.   If there are no people around to grab, hold on to a large object, such as a lamp post, parking meter, or your bicycle.   If you can’t get away from an abductor, you at least want to prevent him or her from taking you away against your will.

Win a street fight as if your life depended on it,]] because it very well might.  Do whatever to prevent the abductor from getting you under his control.  While everyone should take a self-defense course, you don’t usually need specialized knowledge to ward off an attack.  Nor do you need to “win” a fight with your attacker: fighting should usually be used just to get out of the grip of an attacker or to enable you to get a head start running away.   If your attacker is a sexual predator and you think your chances of escaping are slim, still put up a fight the entire time.  Rapists look for easy targets, not someone who is going to struggle and flail.   If you fight hard enough, they may decide you are not a good target and give up.   The majority of assaults are stopped at the first sign of resistance. First verbal, then physical.  Weapons dramatically reduce the chance of an assault succeeding.

Fight dirty. Do whatever you need to get away: this isn’t a boxing match.  Pick up and wield any heavy object that is close at hand.  If you have mace, pepper spray, or a stun gun, use it. If you own these weapons, practice with them.   A weapon forgotten in a purse is useless.  This takes practice.   Don’t just feel safe because you have it on you.   Not knowing how to use your weapon merely gives the attacker another tool to use against you.)   If an abductor grabs hold of you, don’t be afraid or ashamed to make use of your teeth.  The seconds you need to escape can be achieved by stunning him with an extreme action like biting off part of an ear, finger, or nose.

Aim for sensitive spots. Poke the abductor in the eyes; hit or kick the groin, nose, throat, or kidneys; scrape your foot hard against his shin; stomp on the top of his foot with your heel, or stomp out sideways into his knee.  Your elbows, knees, and the palm of your hand are good striking weapons.  Your closed fist can be effectively used like a hammer but, don’t throw punches – without training, you’re more likely to break your hand than hurt your attacker.  Make your strikes count and do not stop until there is no chance that the attacker will have the ability to continue his attack.   One good blow is not enough, it may stun them and make them angry.  The idea is to stop the assault, and that requires a critical amount of damage to be inflicted on the opponent.  Your aim is never to kill the opponent, just to stop the attack.  Death may simply be a side effect of the effort needed to stop the attack.   Whatever you do, once you have started the offensive, do not stop until there is no doubt that you can get away safely.   They are angry now, and probably run faster than you.  Hit with elbows and knees until the assailant is no longer capable of pursing the attack.   Then go get the police.

Do not flail.   Flailing and using your nails wildly will only cause what the police call “defensive marks” on the attacker, and usually only provides forensic evidence on your dead body.   Biting can work to get out of most grips.   Or, get your fingers into their eye sockets, the windpipe on the throat, or the groin.   If you bite, then bite a small area with the front of your teeth in a “pinch” as this causes far more pain and damage than a full mouth bit.  Once you are out of the hold, hit the assailant as many times as possible with an elbow or knees until you are sure you can get away safely.  If you have a cell phone, dial the emergency dispatch number for your country.   If you can put some distance between you and your attacker, or if you can delay him by locking yourself in a room, for example, police may reach you in time to capture or at least deter him.   If, however, you are immediately subdued, try to conceal your cell phone, and then call police when your captor isn’t looking.   If you don’t have a cell phone, use any phone available.   If you can use a payphone, you may be able to hold onto it.   If the would-be abductor cannot quickly remove you from the scene, he may flee, knowing that police are on the way.  If you’ve escaped the attacker, run to a nearby house or business, let them know what happened and have them call the police; this 1) puts you in a safe place; 2) summons police, and 3) creates witnesses.

Lie about advantages you may have.   You should do ”anything” to make the attacker ”think” he/she is as unsafe as possible.  This means ”lying” about advantages you don’t have.  (I do not agree with this, because it is hard to lie and be sincere.  But, if you think that a lie may prevent your abduction…then do whatever you have to do.

Keeping your Workplace Safe.

Keep your purse, wallet, keys, or other valuables with you at all times or locked in a drawer or closet

Check the identity of any strangers who are in your office. If anyone makes you uncomfortable, inform security or management immediately.

Don’t stay late if you’ll be alone in the office. Create a buddy system for walking to parking lots or public transportation after hours, or ask a security guard to escort you.

Report any broken or flickering lights, dimly lit corridors, broken windows, and doors that don’t lock properly.

If you notice signs of potential violence in a fellow employee, report this to the appropriate person. Immediately report any incidents of sexual harassment.

Know your company’s emergency plan. If your company does not have such a plan, volunteer to help develop one.

Try to have an escape route out of your office and, if possible, set up your office so that anyone coming into your office is not positioned between you and that escape route.

Request that your company install warning buzzers or alarms, especially if you deal with potentially hostile or violent people.

Remove objects from the top of your desk that could be used as a weapon, against you.  Such as a three hole punch, computer keyboard,  name plates, staplers, or even pens and pencils.

If the company does not supply an emergency kit, keep your own emergency supplies (flashlight, walking shoes, water bottle, nonperishable food, etc.) in a desk drawer.

If you work at home, in addition to making your home safe and secure, you should hang window treatments that obstruct the view into your office.   You don’t want to advertise your expensive office equipment.

Review your insurance policy—almost all policies require an extra rider to cover a home office.

Mark your equipment with identification numbers, and keep an updated inventory list (with photos, if possible) in a home safe or a bank safe-deposit box.   It’s a good idea to keep backups of your work in a secure, separate location as well.

Follow the same caution with deliveries and pickups that businesses do.  Anyone making a delivery to your home office should be properly identified before you open the door.  Do not let the person enter your home .If you own the company, take a hard look at your business—physical layout, employees, hiring practices, operating procedures, and special security risks.  Assess the company’s vulnerability to all kinds of crime, from burglary to embezzlement. Follow basic crime prevention principles, and work with local law enforcement to protect your business.

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