It’s no secret that women lead very different lives than men when it comes to safety. We’re taught to travel in groups, never be distracted by your phone, and have a basic background in self-defense just in case. As a young woman from a safe and sheltered suburb, I didn’t think anything of it. But the harsh reality is that women don’t have a choice in being hyper-aware of their safety. Before college, I took all of these tips and warnings to heart and was rather paranoid at times. It didn’t stop me from living my life, but I definitely lived in fear when traveling in an “unsafe area.” Fast forward two years later and I’m living in a “dangerous” city as a young woman. As time has gone on, I’ve come to realize that these tools have empowered me rather than let me cower in fear of going out. As a woman, that fear has fueled me and kept me safe in situations that would otherwise have given a predator the chance to take advantage of me. In my first month and a half of living here, I’ve been catcalled, approached by men and women on public transportation who were possibly under the influence of drugs, and faced the harsh reality of what being “street smart” truly looks like. Just keeping my head on a swivel doesn’t cut it here anymore. Here are the top 10 things I learned about living in the city:
1. Travel in groups
Traveling somewhere by yourself off campus is a risk, regardless of how comfortable you are in the area. There’s no shame in asking a friend to go with you, especially if you’re planning on using public transportation. There’s safety in numbers and even if no situation arises, the comfort of having an extra pair of eyes in any situation is worth it. Better to be safe than sorry.
2. Install the Safetrek app.
I heard about this app during high school, and it has been a game changer. Basically, you create an account and set up a PIN and an emergency contact. Then, whenever you’re in an unsafe situation, you hold down a button in the app until you feel safe. When you take your finger off the button you have 10 seconds to put in your PIN before it calls the police, automatically sends them your location, and lets your emergency contact know you’re in danger. It costs money to use the service, but when it comes down to it, the 2.99 per month is worth it. I have been in a situation where I wish I had the app, and since that day, I haven’t thought twice about paying for the subscription. This app is a great tool, and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.
3. Don’t be distracted by your phone in public.
Distraction is one of the best ways to be an easy target. If you must be on your phone, have another friend be looking out while you’re “off-guard.” If you’re alone and have to be on your phone, make sure you’re in a well-lit area near other people. And this should go without saying, but don’t revert to checking social media while you’re bored and waiting. There’s plenty of time for that when you’re back in a place you feel comfortable.
4. Don’t engage with strangers who ask you who you are or where you go to school.
Sometimes conversing with strangers is unavoidable, but minding your own business is a good rule of thumb, especially in an area you’re unfamiliar with. Don’t engage in unnecessary conversations, especially if it involves personal information about you.
5. Know exactly where you need to go before you get off public transportation.
Having a game plan is important when using public transportation. Standing by the side of the train platform staring at your phone makes you a much easier target than someone who gets off the metro with their head up, clear on where they need to go to get where they need to be.
6. Look up the train schedule before you get to the metro stop.
One of the most uncomfortable feelings is waiting on the platform for 15-20 minutes because you didn’t time the stop correctly. By looking up the schedule before you get to the stop, you can minimize idle time stuck somewhere that’s out of the way and less densely populated.
7. Never play music so loud that you cannot hear what’s going on around you.
I love listening to music, and having it in the background as I go about my day has become a habit. Something to keep in mind, however, is volume. If the music is too loud to the point where you cannot hear your own footsteps or conversations around you, turn it down a couple notches. Being aware of your surroundings will keep you safer (without completely having to compromise music).
8. Always tell somebody where you’re going and when you plan on being back – especially at night.
Having someone else know what you’re up to will make sure that if something actually were to happen, your absence would be noticed. It’s a seemingly simple tip, but having a home base could prove to be essential in an unsafe situation.
9. Walk with a purpose, and be confident.
In my experience, people are much less likely to see you as an easy target if you walk and hold yourself confidently. Acting like you know what you’re doing is so important when walking or traveling alone. Predators are much more likely to prey upon you if they suspect that you don’t know what you’re doing or where you are.
10. Trust your gut.
If a situation doesn’t seem right, trust that feeling. I’ve been in a handful of situations where my gut was right, and above everything else, it has proven to be one of the most essential tools every person is equipped with. A built-in security system isn’t something we should take for granted. Our body is looking out for us and can sense when things are different or not right, even before we may cognitively know it.