I hate to get serious in a blog, but it’s time someone introduced a Stranger Danger course for adults.
I acquired two stalkers this week on my afternoon stroll. I wrote the bare-bones of it with a detached viewpoint yesterday (click here to read it).
With that experience in mind, and with a few tips I’ve gleaned over the years, here’s something you can do if you sense you’ve picked up unwanted attention:
- Never walk alone: What’s good for grade-schoolers is good for grown-ups, but sometimes you will walk alone, even for just a block or two, in which case, be aware of your surroundings.
- Don’t be a talker with your stalker: When someone chats you up for no obvious reason, do not acknowledge them and do not stop. It gives bystanders the impression you are acquaintances and they will then be less inclined to intervene. No one wants to get in the middle of a private or a domestic squabble.
- Keep your wallet/purse closed: It’s obvious that you don’t want to reveal the location of your valuables, but many people are robbed right at the moment they are fumbling around in their purse because thieves know that is when you are least likely to notice their approach.
- It’s only money, honey: If someone demands your stuff; give it to him.
- Don’t follow the leader: If someone demands you go with him, he plans to take you somewhere that no one can hear your cries for help. Don’t go with him. Where you stand right now could be your last chance to get away. Take it.
- Talk the talk: Learn how to ask for help in the language of the country you are in. I was in a particularly bad spot because my stalker spoke German, French and English, giving him a decided advantage over me. If, for example, I had seen a bystander and asked for help, there’s no sure bet the bystander would have understood English, and there’s every chance my stalker could still control the situation by “translating” for me.
- Break from the script: In sociology, we learn that even criminals expect matters to unfold in a certain way. If you break from that script, you might unsettle them enough to make them ‘break their stride.’ My stalker peppered me with personal questions to keep my eyes on him and away from his partner. I broke his script by firing questions at him, not going in the direction he was herding me, and not hiding the fact that I was surveying the area (although, I still couldn’t see his friend, which made me very uneasy).
- If you are being followed, that makes you the leader: Take your stalker to a busy store. They’ll stop at the door. If you have to walk into someone’s yard or house to evade your shadow, just do it.
- Stay out of the strike zone: Standing well back of a stranger makes it harder for them to lunge out and grab you while giving you a better chance at escape. It isn’t possible in every country to maintain a safe distance because cultural interpretations of personal space vary, but give it a try.
- Are you just being paranoid or is that guy watching you? I’ve heard police say again and again that if you think something might be wrong, something is wrong. Act on your intuition. It’s probably right, and if it is wrong, the worst thing to happen to you will be that you are mildly embarrassed in front of a stranger. So what?
I wish I could say this week’s stalker incident was my first, but it is the fourth time in Switzerland that I have had freaky men get way too close. That is a lot in the course of one year of day-time walking. I somehow managed to go the half-century before this with only about six or seven scary encounters.
Be careful out there.