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As women, we have grown up learning to remember stranger danger, not to trust the person who says, “I’m your mom’s friend” and to be wary of all men and women alike. Somewhere along the way, all the rules that intended to bring us back home to our parents safely when we were in elementary school amplified into not becoming the next missing woman in your hometown: making it to and from the grocery store, safely executing a quick food run from your dorm to McDonald’s — or merely surviving the day.

We’re constantly exposed to kidnapping cases such as the abduction of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Georgina DeJesus in Cleveland, Ohio — all who were imprisoned for about a decade. Each kidnapping began with an offer to be driven home. We’ve seen heart-shattering movies we wished ended differently, such as “The Lovely Bones” with unforgettable protagonist Susie Salmon’s kindness and trust toward a next-door neighbor ending in her death. Lengthy docuseries are made on serial killers, like Ted Bundy. He confessed to murdering 30 women, some of which were students at Florida State University that were attacked without any luring.
How do we stay safe under society’s conditions that seem like a death trap?

Being Alert

From plastic bags and zip ties placed around car handles, strange lettering written or spray-painted on single women’s homes, suspicious stalking in a Target or Walmart, theories and experience behind these events are proof of potential human trafficking or danger. All of this shows how it is always important to stay vigilant.

It’s important to note that if anyone feels uncomfortable leaving a store at any time of the day due to any suspicious activity, they could always ask security or a staff member to walk them to their car. Moreover, if you notice any unusual stickers, writing, bags or zip ties on your car, do not stop to remove them. You need to get into your vehicle immediately and lock all doors.

By rule of thumb, if you are ever having a drink of any kind, never leave it alone or uncovered. Carry the drink with your hand over the cup to avoid any narcotics being slipped into it without your knowledge. Never leave an inebriated friend alone or at their most vulnerable state, especially in a public setting at night.

Woman to Woman

Being exposed to violence against women can feel exhausting and horrifying and can sometimes even leave you feeling hopeless. Without a doubt, somedays I feel too afraid to leave my apartment past sundown. However, women are a functioning and important members of society: We have jobs, classes, chores and fun to be had. So every day, we put one foot forward, hold our chest and head up and conquer the day — safely. But you may wonder how we, as women, stay safe if we can’t avoid a night shift at work, late study sessions on campus, club meetings or even an emergency tampon run?

Chelsea Blanco-Soto, a management junior at the University of Florida, has late shifts at Smathers Library and said she always makes sure that at least one person is aware of her whereabouts and her schedule in case anything were to happen. She emphasized that women who work late shifts should make it imperative that a close friend or partner know their location and arrival and departure times. She also recommended carrying a pepper spray keychain as an extra layer of protection to ease the mind.

Blanco-Soto explained that awareness is vital.

“It’s really important to just be aware of your surroundings, whether it’s not wearing headphones or looking around every now and then to make sure there’s no one following you,” she said.

It’s a Lifestyle

Doesn’t it get tiring, always being cautious? Being cautious comes with the territory of being a woman. The key between knuckles, reflex towards the lock button, quick glances over the shoulder, grip on hidden pepper spray in our pockets, and inspection of our back seats and under our car before unlocking are all part of the survival guide.

Being alert, careful and wary have become part of the female experience; it’s unfortunately part of the lifestyle.

Blanco explained that her precautions are part of her daily life. However, the fact they exist is upsetting.

“It shouldn’t have to be that way for women, but it’s the sad reality,” she said. “There are things we need to keep in mind. One way or another, these mechanisms are part of our lifestyles whether we realize we’re doing them or not.”

Mercado shared the same sentiments. Her precautions for harsh realities have become routine work, but she wishes they were not necessary. She shared one particular desire as a woman: “I wish I could go outside at night without being afraid that something will happen to me.”

I’m sure many women, if not all, share this dream.

Women nearly everywhere live with the constant fear of being targeted and, because of this, have to follow a set of precautions day-to-day. Being aware is one of the most powerful tools in our survival guide but, most importantly, remember to protect not only yourself but other women by spreading awareness and offering safe spaces.

Racheal Jones is a senior at the University of Florida studying Sociology. She's completed research on family violence and is currently working on a new research project. She loves Marvel movies, sapphic fantasy novels and Taylor Swift. Outside of school, she's learning how to roller skate, take care of her plants and rock climb.
Lover of writing, literature, art and photography. Determined to not only help but give people a voice. Building a better world for all the people I love and have yet to love.
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