I’m thinking about my personal safety a lot at the moment, for obvious reasons, and it’s triggered some unwelcome memories, but I wanted to write them down in case they’re of some help.
When I ran a bar night for the social club I used to belong to, I lived a mere five-minute walk around the corner from the pub, but always (if it wasn’t offered first) asked someone to drop me off by car, or walk me there (if they were a male friend). They were usually happy to do so but there were occasions when I had to walk home alone and I held my keys in my hand while running all the way. (On one occasion, I was followed by two men and a woman, but got home in one piece and kept all my lights off until I was sure they had gone, so they wouldn’t know which flat I was in.)
I know of women who were robbed in the street and who were raped on their doorsteps (both by knifepoint), so I guess I’ve been lucky so far. Interestingly, one female friend, who should have known better, thought nothing of walking miles home very late at night (too skint for taxis) and thought I was being silly and fussy when I asked kind friends, male and female, to see me safely to my door! She’s been lucky, too.
Another friend drives her car to a larger and much busier railway station than her closest one, if she is planning a late night in town, and always parks in a well-lit and overlooked part of the car park.
Someone once told me this handy tip: If you’re in a tube or train carriage on your own and a man tries to talk to you or, as has happened to friends of mine, exposes himself to you, obviously leave the carriage and move to another one at the next stop, so long as it’s safe to do so, but, in the meantime, start muttering to yourself and talking gibberish. It should put them off.
If in a cab or taxi late at night, and you feel unsafe or uneasy, talk about yourself, your home, your job, your partner (even if you don’t have one. Make one up). It lets the driver see you are a person who has a life. This happened to the writer and campaigner Erin Pizzey years ago, when she realised the cab driver wasn’t taking her home, as requested, but going on a completely different route, and she could sense his tension and anger towards her. Halfway through her talking calmly about herself, she sensed the atmosphere change and the driver switched routes and took her straight home. (I doubt she gave him a tip.) I have felt uneasy a couple of times in this situation but I survived. I find asking them questions about themselves helps, as well but, then again, I’m naturally nosey and always want to know all about people’s lives.
I read a letter in a magazine years ago from a woman thanking them for (probably) saving her life. In a previous issue, they had advised a woman under attack to try saying she was pregnant. This particular reader had done just that, and her attacker simply said: “Go, then,” and she fled. (If you are clearly way beyond your child-bearing years, as I now am, you will have to come up with something else. Just be prepared.)
A friend has pointed out that we should always be able to run in our shoes or boots – so think twice before you don those heels, or take something sensible to change into later on.
When out and about, be aware of your surroundings and don’t walk around with ear-plugs in while on your phone, or listening to music. I’m always surprised by how many people I see doing this. It’s not a great idea!
A colleague of mine used to tick me off for often not carrying enough money on me. Back then, she reckoned I should always keep a tenner for emergency cabs. I would up this to nearer twenty, these days; it all depends, obviously, but you get the gist.
Those are just a few tips for staying safe outside your home. But what about inside it? There have been times in my life when I’ve felt uneasy in my own home and no way was I leading anybody on!
On the first occasion, a long relationship had just ended, and the partner of a woman who lived upstairs in my block knocked on my door one evening, “to see how I was”. I barely knew him, but I naively thought, ‘How kind,’ and stupidly invited him in. Thank God my next-door neighbour had previously arranged to come round and, as soon as she did, he scarpered. I prefer not to think about what kind of consolation tactics he might have had on his mind…
On the second occasion, and in another block of flats, a neighbour wanted to see what I had done with my new flat. (I had had the entire place overhauled: fixed up, redecorated, new kitchen and bathroom, curtains and flooring. The works. It had needed it.) He said he was thinking about doing his own place up, prior to selling it. Again, I barely knew him, but he came in anyway. He may well have not had anything untoward on his mind, but my instincts are usually right about people, and I started to feel a little nervous with him there. Thankfully, my boyfriend rang me unexpectedly, and I was able to let him know who was in my flat with me. My neighbour left soon after…
By far, though, the oddest one was in my present home, a few years ago. A plumber, recommended by a friend, came to fix our loo and, when done, turned to me and said: “There you go. You’ll be able to have violent sex on here now.” It was totally unexpected and totally uncalled-for.
I’m always polite with people, I don’t flirt (never known how to, without feeling false and silly, to be honest), don’t dress in a “come-on” way (quite the reverse) and don’t regard myself as the “sexy” type, so where that comment came from, I have no idea. It was such an odd thing to say to a total stranger!
I can’t now remember how I responded, but I do remember feeling scared to be alone in my house with him after that and I couldn’t wait for him to leave.
When I told the friend who had recommended him, I’m afraid he smirked and shrugged, though I’m sure if it had happened to his wife or daughter, he’d have done a bit more than that…