I want to start by stating the obvious: It’s not fair that we as women have to protect ourselves as much as we do.
OF course, that is true.
It’s not fair that we have to watch where we go alone.
It’s not fair that we have to be careful about what we wear and how quickly we are to trust people we don’t know.
It’s not fair that we have to be constantly on guard against violence and assault.
But we do. We do if we want to be safe from harm.
I used to believe differently. I grew up in a small town with a community I could pretty easily trust and a family that encouraged me to be bravely and boldly myself, not cower in fear from others.
But since then, I’ve spent a lot of time alone. I travel alone, walk the dark streets of New York City home from the office alone, board planes another, go to other countries alone, go to other cities alone, go on road trips alone and at times live alone entirely.
I’ve learned that people can be kind, helpful and gracious, but they can also be strange, predatorial and dangerous. You have to remember that you don’t know them, and therefore should be very aware of that when you evaluate the amount of trust you invest in them.
Something else I’ve learned since growing up and experiencing life as an adult woman outside of that small town, is that being safe isn’t just about protecting yourself from strangers.
That is why this fact is my first tip, and arguably the most important item on this list for you to truly internalize and understand.
1. Protect yourself from toxic or abusive behavior from an intimate partner.
I know what came to mind for you when you clicked on this article and thought about the crimes you wanted to protect yourself from.
Some scary, faceless man snatching you off a dimly lit street and stuffing you into the trunk of their car. But that’s not how most violent crimes against women occur.
More than 90% of the women murdered in this country are killed by someone they know.
1 in 3 women has experienced severe violence from an intimate partner.
1 in 10 women has been raped by an intimate partner. And half of all rapes committed in the United States were from someone the victim knew.
I can’t possibly stress enough how aware you have to be of your own safety, even when it’s with someone you love.
Most of these tips will concern the importance of protecting yourself from compromising situations with strangers, but please please please know that self-protection stems far deeper into the home and interpersonal relationships with men.
On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide. If you or someone you know might be in need of help or protection at home, please call the hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit their chat online.
2. Be conscious of your surroundings, and mentally note details of suspect-looking people.
Look at who is around you. On the street. On the subway. In the bar. At the grocery store. Everywhere.
Just tonight, I walked into the laundromat to find that I was alone with one other man. He gave me a weird vibe, and let me tell you, a woman’s gut can be very telling when it comes to sniffing out potentially weird characters.
Also, he was picking at his bare toenails sitting on a bench next to the washer, so, ok, buddy…you’re disgusting.
Immediately, I started doing my checklist.
Man. Early-mid forties. Brown hair. Glasses. A little over six feet tall. Tattoo on his left inner forearm. Driving a white, dodge charger with New Jersey license plates.
I note every detail that I can, in case I need it later. In case he actually does do something weird. But there’s a reason I was OK walking in to get my laundry, and that’s the next tip.
There was a cop parked right outside watching the whole time.
3. Gravitate towards the police when you’re out alone.
I don’t know when seeing the police started to be scary for me, but that’s quickly been reversed in my recent years.
It must have been somewhere around the time I started fearing speeding tickets that the site of a cop car made my heart drop. Or maybe college parties, when cops would come flocking into the crowd with their big flashlights shining into the musty basements. With me, a hardened criminal, cowering in the corner with my cup of cheap, warm beer.
But now, I intentionally keep close to the police while I’m out traveling alone.
If I see their car parked outside a dark gas station or see a group of them standing by the exit of the train station in the middle of the night, amongst 8 homeless people, my mind thinks, “SCORE! I AM STICKING WITH THOSE GUYS.” And you should, too.
**Que the COPS theme song**
4. If the police aren’t around and you feel uncomfortable, try to find people you think you can trust and pretend to be with them.
I know I have been brow-beating the idea that strangers are all scary…BUT we know that’s not necessarily always true. And sometimes they can be helpful.
I have done this multiple times. Once in an airport, I had a weird guy following me so I quietly asked this elderly couple if I could pretend I was with them, and they immediately obliged. I asked a family once too when a guy in a hotel was giving me a hard time and they helped me lose him. We even got lunch together after that.
Not all people are bad. Exercise caution, but trust your gut. Like in my two examples, I could sense that they were trustworthy and had to act fast to avoid a potential threat. If you’re ever in that situation, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
5. Build an “If I Go Missing” Folder.
Again, another shameless Crime Junkie reference.
This is a folder or rather document you create with pertinent information that can help law enforcement or your loved ones find you in the event you go missing for any reason.
Missing persons cases are sticky, and often any difficulty maintaining information in the early stages drastically impacts how likely the person is to. be found safe and quickly.
An If I Go Missing folder contains things like:
- Your iCloud password so they can locate your phone
- Social media logins for last communications
- Banking accounts in case there is any activity
- Ride-share account logins if you were in an Uber or Lyft
- Personal details: Medications, blood type, appearance details
- Even DNA samples if you REALLY want to be able to speed up the process in the event you are in trouble.
It goes without saying, I have one. And I’m glad I do.
6. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, go home with a man you’ve just met.
I get the allure of the one-night-stand. I’ve seen movies and tv too, ok?
But you know why I’ve never had one?
CUZ I LIKE LIVING.
Imagine the concept of just walking around on the street, alone in the darkness, and a good-looking guy comes up to you and talks to you for a half an hour. Then he asks if you want to hop on in his car and go back to his apartment to get freaky.
You would NEVER do that.
But in the setting of a bar/party, influenced by alcohol, AND again under the pretext of sexual relations, something even more vulnerable and dangerous than just being alone with a stranger, we think it’s safe? They bought you a vodka soda and said they liked your hair, so they must be a good guy?
No. No. No.
You don’t know him. You don’t know what kind of guy he is.
Even if they aren’t a murderer, because obviously, I realize that’s a bit of a stretch. You could still end up in a situation where you’re pressured, threatened or forced into sexual relationships you don’t consent to or want. And be trapped.
I know that firsthand. I have been there. And it’s absolutely terrifying. It happens all the time.
Please again remember the statistics.
There are 321,500 reported cases of rape and sexual assault in the United States every year.
1 in 6 women will experience sexual assault at some point in her lifetime.
Get to know someone before you are alone with them.
7. If you’re going to be traveling alone, be conscious of your alcohol intake.
I have been guilty of having one too many glasses of wine while on the road for a conference alone or checking out a new city. We all have been.
But remember, alcohol makes just about every single situation less safe.
It disorients you, therefore potentially impeding your ability to find your way back home or to the hotel you’re staying at.
It decreases your self-awareness, leading you to skip tip #2 far too often.
It compromises your judgment, making it easier for you to be caught off guard, manipulated or trust someone you shouldn’t.
Just be careful, and conscious of how alcohol can play into situations that make you vulnerable to predators of any kind.
8. Make smart choices about where you go alone on the road.
Like I said earlier, I love a good road tip. And I often get to driving late at night. Therefore I have before a pro at selecting the safe gas stations.
I know which gas station brands are typically franchised, smaller and draw shadier characters.
I also know which gas stations are more mainstream, and therefore will be better lit, fully staffed and have better security.
I keep this in mind when I’m rolling down the interstate trying to find an exit to get gas or go to the bathroom. Not all stops are created equal. Gas stations. Fast food restaurants. Rest stops. Be smart about it.
9. Protect your home or apartment with locks and video surveillance.
This one seems obvious, maybe even drastic, but it’s really important.
I listen to way too many true crime podcasts. Crime Junkie, in particular, is my absolute favorite.
But the scariest true stories they tell are the crimes of opportunity. Where a family just left their house unlocked and some monster came in and murdered them. It’s a horrifying thing to think about.
Again, this is not near as likely as a homicide from someone you know. But it does happen, and you should be aware of how important it is to make your home a safe place to live. Especially if you live alone.
I have a Ring doorbell. If you don’t know what these bad boys are, check out this link and the picture below.
It’s a motion-activated video camera and doorbell that hooks right up to an app on your phone, and can also be connected to your lock and other systems depending upon how fancy you are.
I LOVE this thing. I can see who is standing at my door before I open it, which grants me an unbelievable amount of peace of mind.
I also have two doors and three locks between me and the outdoors that are always locked. So if I see someone scary out there, I have ample time to think of a plan.
Also if anything was to happen to me, there would be video footage of me coming and going from the house, something that helps the police find missing persons. Which brings me to my next point…
10. Be aware of how you look and how much you stand out.
I know this one isn’t fair. I get that. But it’s valid here.
When I have errands to run late at night, am traveling or am working late, I go into incognito Lexi mode.
I slide on a baseball cap, sneakers, and hoodie. I tuck my hair into a low bun or braid or even into my hood itself. Sometimes I wear sunglasses. I look like freaking Leonardo DiCaprio trying to be a regular person in public.
I’m not a celebrity, obviously. But I am a pretty young woman, clearly alone in the dark. It’s not the time or place for my normal staples of freakishly long blonde hair, bright-colored clothing, and red lipstick. It’s the time to get from point A to point B without making eye contact with a living soul.
If you have similar situations, don’t be afraid to go incognito like Leo and I do.
11. Carry pepper spray or whatever defense mechanism gives you peace of mind.
I really want to be clear that weapons of any kind at all are not something I encourage or would even support unless you are completely comfortable with it. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this tip when talking about self-defense and safety for women.
I have a few containers of pepper spray. One in my purse, one at my house and one in my car. I also have a baseball bat at my house by the door like some old-school husband in a horror film from the 1970s.
It just helps me feel safer and gives me a little more comfort knowing that in the event of an attack, I’d have some other line of defense other than my sick right hook.
12. Tell people where you’re going. Or, if you’re OK with it, share your location with people you trust.
In the above example from tonight with the creepy guy at the laundromat. After I noted his details, I texted someone and told them I was there.
I’ll admit, I’m normally bad at this. I am naturally a fiercely independent person, so I hate the idea of telling someone my every move. Also I forget. Mostly, I forget.
For this reason, I have my location shared with my whole family and many of my friends. We are on. Find my Friends and love it.
It’s unbelievably safer for people you love to know where you are.
There could be an endless number of tips on this list. But at the end of the day, my most important advice is to look out for yourself.
Be aware. Be vigilant. Be intelligent.
Be your own biggest protector in this world, because you (and I) are in this life for the long haul.