Street Sense: The Ultimate Street Safety Manual for Women
Welcome to StreetSense! As a women's self defense organization, we are devoted to providing our students with the information they need to lead safe, confident, and successful lives. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw in our city and around the world a serious increase in assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking. We realized we needed to educate our students better on street safety and awareness, so we began gathering expert information and put our findings into this manual.
Let's Learn StreetSense!
First we must start with some general rules that help our understanding of safety as a whole.
The Familiarity Rule
75% of victims are abducted by someone they know. This is an important thing to understand because we often think of self defense in terms of a stranger in an alley way, but the reality is that most abductors are someone the victim already knows and trusts.
For example traffickers use the same tricks to lure women into sex trafficking. Remember the familiarity rule—victims are often recruited by someone they know.
The 'Loverboy' Tactic: a person (usually young man) seduces another (usually young woman) into a relationship which eventually becomes abusive (either emotionally or physically). They might also use blackmail and violence to intimidate their victims into cooperating.
False Job Advertisements: offering employment or travel opportunities which lure victims to exploiters. These might be jobs in your own city posted in newspapers or posted online for jobs overseas. Always do background research on the company before going to an interview.
Religious Cults: similar to the 'loverboy' tactic, a charismatic leader will lure someone into becoming trafficked by using religious beliefs against them. This can also be done via emotional and physical abuse overtime. Trust your gut, and leave any organization if you get a strange feeling about them, and report it to authorities.
The Disguise Rule
It is important to know that online predators do not say "My picture is fake, what's your address?" but instead, they disguise themselves as someone the victim might trust and be comfortable with. Similarly, in person or on the phone, predators don't say "Do you live with family? I want to know when you'll be alone." We must be aware of the fact that predators will always use some sort of disguise to trick us, and it's often not obvious.
Yelling vs. Screaming
Since yelling is such an important component of self defense, it is important to differentiate between the two. High pitched screaming is easily misinterpreted- 'maybe it's some teenagers fooling around'. It is always better to YELL words that people nearby will understand. Yell specific things that will get attention and tell people what is going on: "HE'S KIDNAPPING ME", "GET AWAY FROM ME", "SOMEONE CALL THE POLICE NOW".
The Never Cooperate Rule
If you yell, people will come to help and call the police. The attacker knows this, so they will always tell you (and threaten you) to not yell or make a scene. It is very important that you don't listen and continue to yell as loud as possible and fight back relentlessly. The fact is, the attacker only has so much time before someone notices and calls the police. They are not willing to risk going to jail over you. We have to use this knowledge against them—every second you fight back is a second closer to them giving up and running away as fast as they can.
Now that we have established a few key principles, let's begin with the specifics!
Situational awareness is being aware of your surroundings—where you are, what’s around you, and the potential dangers. Good situational awareness can really be effective in staying out of harms way, because you will see dangers coming ahead of time, increasing your reaction time and your ability to call the police or avoid the danger completely. Here's how you can have better situational awareness:
1. Remove distractions
Do not walk around in public while on your phone or with headphones in. When you stop your eyes and ears from sensing, you significantly reduce your awareness and reaction time to possible threats, and you are perceived as an easier target than someone who is demonstrating good awareness.
2. Scan the environment
Make sure not to keep your gaze on the ground or only in front of you. Look forward at where you are going, and periodically scan from left to right. In situations that require heightened awareness, make sure to check out whats going on behind you as well.
3. Stay aware of environmental hazards
Situational awareness is as much about awareness of the natural environment as it is about human threats. Pay attention to where you step (a pot hole?), what’s above you (hanging street lights? Weak trees or wires?), and always be aware of traffic.
4. Note the exits
When entering buildings, concerts, and parks, make a mental note or keep the map of where the exits are. In the event of an emergency, knowing the escape routes will be extremely useful.
5. Position yourself wisely
Get in the habit of positioning yourself where there is an easy route to an exit. Try not to position yourself in a corner, in the middle of a huge crowd, or where you have no cell service in case you need to escape quickly. This is useful at concerts, restaurants, and even on the subway.
for a list of games and activities you can play as a family to develop situational awareness, click here.
The most common way for a kidnapper to abduct someone is by luring them into a car, and in most cases this happens within a few blocks of the victims home. When discussing abduction prevention, it is crucial to remember the following rules.
1. Never approach a car that stops for you.
With smartphones and google maps these days, it's very rare that people stop and ask for directions. If a car stops by you and tries to start a conversation, keep walking (quickly) and get out your cell phone, prepared to call 911. If they get out of the car and approach you after you have walked away, run away and dial 911 to tell them exactly where you are, what the car looks like, and what happened. Often a kidnapper will try to lure a woman to their car by asking them for help. This could either be with groceries, lifting something heavy, or for directions. Use your senses and your gut, if there aren't many people around to help you if something terrible happens, it is best for you to refuse them. Never put being polite over your own safety.
2. Check in and around your car before getting inside
Someone trying to abduct you might try to trap you from inside your own car as well. Check around the sides and underneath the car before you approach it, and peer into the back seat of the car before you open and get inside.
3. Run in the opposite direction the car is facing
If they get out to approach you, run in the opposite direction the car is facing. This will grant you extra time to run and find another person or safe space to call 911.
4. Don’t take shortcuts.
Always take the path with the most people on it—don’t try to save time by taking back roads or alley ways. Attacks are more likely to happen in areas where there are not many people around to see or hear what is happening.
5. Never go into someone’s house you don't know.
If you are meeting someone for the first time, do so in a public space where there are many other people around. Tell a friend about your meeting, when you plan on arriving home, and let them know when you have arrived safely.
The main danger at home is that abductors pose as someone who is collecting information, while trying to figure out what times people are home alone. This could be through a phone call or from someone knocking at the door. Here are some tips you can follow.
1. Never open the front door to someone you don't recognize,
or when you are home alone. If you live alone, use a peep hole in the door first before opening it to make sure you know who is there.
2. Never give out personal information
about yourself, your work, your address, over the phone or to someone at the door. Remember the disguise rule—bad guys will pose as someone you can trust to try to get information out of you.
1. Never send personal information online.
Remember the disguise rule—people looking to take advantage of you don’t introduce themselves as criminals. This is especially important if you are online dating. Make sure to pick your first meeting spots with someone you meet online in public places that you know well, in the daylight. Never reveal your address, school workplace, or other personal information.
2. Don’t send or upload inappropriate photos or videos on social media/online.
Remember that once it is online, it's almost impossible to remove. That is something you do not want to put yourself through! Do not let anyone pressure you into doing something that you are uncomfortable with- no matter who they are—your best friend, your boyfriend, or anyone else!
3. Be careful about sharing your location on social media.
Never reveal important addresses like your home, school or work. Do not make it easy for predators to see when you are home or not.
4. Report and block inappropriate messages or behaviour.
If anyone says or does anything to make you uncomfortable online, report it. If you are feeling nervous or worried about it, tell someone you can trust for advice, or contact the police if you are feeling threatened.
Young girls and teens are particularly susceptible to online dangers. To learn about our tips for parents when setting boundaries for social media click here.
What does confidence have to do with safety? Well, studies have shown that women who simply walk and present themselves confidently are significantly less likely to be targeted by a bully or predator. We took a deep dive into the data on this topic here.
1. Stand Tall.
Stand with your shoulders back and your head up. Keep your arms at your side, not tucked in pockets or covering your chest. Think of having open body posture instead of a closed body posture.
2. Walk Tall.
When walking, maintain this confident posture. Let your arms swing naturally at your side, and take wide strides with your legs instead of short stubby steps. Look ahead of you instead of at the ground.
3. Walk like you have a place to be.
Don’t dilly dally around aimlessly when walking down the street. Walk like you know where you are going, people are waiting for you, and you are in charge! Walking confidently tells a predator that you are assertive and that you are more likely to stand up for yourself.
4. Make eye contact.
Eye contact is a sign of confidence. Try to meet eyes with people who cross you on the street- this will tell them that you noticed them, you’re looking around, and you’re not afraid of confrontation. When speaking to someone, practice keeping a natural eye contact (especially if it’s a situation where you are standing up for yourself) instead of breaking eye contact every 3 seconds and looking at the ground- which shows a lack of confidence.
For more on presenting a confident self click here.
It is super important to be aware of local crimes, risks, and cultural norms before traveling somewhere foreign.
1. Conceal your wealth.
You may be thinking ‘wealth?”, but in many countries, the average person from a Western nation is considered rich. This makes you a greater risk of being targeted for several crimes. Phones, computers, jewelry, watches, expensive shoes, purses, should all be left at your hotel and not worn when walking around the street.
2. Learn about local crimes/dangers.
Government websites share tons of safety information about every destination, including weather, crimes, diseases, and cultural customs. Before every trip, do your own research on what you should be aware of when traveling to your destination. For example, before I went to Cape Town, South Africa, I checked the Canadian government travel advisories. It advised that if a police car tries to pull you over, don't stop, and instead drive to police station. Apparently it is a very common crime to impersonate a police officer to rob vehicles in South Africa, and I never would have known this if I didn't do my research.
3. Don't look lost.
If you're lost, don't wander around looking confused and open up your phone or map. Find a nearby store and sit down, and then use your phone to find out where you're going.
For more on solo travel safety tips for women, click here.
Tips for the worst case scenario.
1. Defend with ALL you got.
If you know self defense, use everything you know. If you don't, do everything in your power to fight back- whether its punches, kicks, eye pokes, bites, and scratches. The only priority is to not get taken to a secondary location. The more you fight back, the harder you make it for your attacker, raising the chances that they will give up and run away.
2. Attack the face.
If an attacker picks you up, attack their face with as much force as possible: poke the eyes, scratch their face, even bite if you have to. We know it sounds 'mean'- but remember your life matters and that's what you're fighting for.
3. Never, ever, get in the car.
The advise from every self defense expert is to do anything you can to stop yourself from getting taken to a secondary location. Use your feet to push off the car door. If you have a bike hold onto it so they can't fit you in the car. Throw the attackers keys far away from the car if you can. Yell as loud as possible the entire time. The goal is to show to attacker that you are too difficult to kidnap.
4. From inside the trunk.
There are a few things you can do from the inside of the trunk.
Look for a white escape handle on the trunk door that will open it from the inside. Most new cars have this for that reason.
Kick out the brake lights of the car. Most cars are made very weak from the inside around the brake lights, and can often be kicked through. If you can, kick them out and wave your hand outside of the car as aggressively as you can.
If you can’t do 1 or 2, tear away the fabric on the inside of the car. Try to find wires and disconnect them by tearing them out. You are likely to disconnect the brake lights, which will signal to other cars and police that something is wrong, bringing attention to the car.
To learn more about what to do in the trunk of a car, this article is really informative!
5. If you are in the front of the car
as soon as they open the door to get out, unlock your door and run away yelling as fast and loud as you can—even if they threaten you to stay in the car. The most important rule is to never get taken to a secondary location.
6. Never cooperate.
They are not expecting a headache. Make them know that this will be extremely hard and annoying for them. There are cases of attackers letting their victims go because they refused to be quiet and go down without a fight. Tear the car apart, yell constantly, attack them in the car, kick the seat, bite and scratch. You want them to decide that you are too risky and too much work to kidnap. We know this is scary—because what if you make them mad and they hurt you more? Statistics show that you are more likely to survive by doing everything you can to get away from your attacker and not cooperating with them, then by going to a secondary location.
Thank you for reading! This is our first draft of StreetSense—it will be updated as we learn more about the best safety tips for girls. Stay tuned for more articles like this on our StreetSense blog to learn about self defense, safety, and confidence!
Author: Gemma Sheehan, Founder of Girls Who Fight Inc.
Gemma is an ex-MMA fighter who started Girls Who Fight to teach girls and women self defense, martial arts, and help them build confidence.