When possible, travel with an akido-master to all shifty areas, such as the ATM at night. There is safety in numbers.
Many months ago, there was a warning on the local television news about a rapist who attacked a woman at 5:30 a.m. Wearing only a T-shirt and jeans in wintertime weather, the man came into her home and brutally attacked her.
I brought this up to a small-town lady, and she scolded me for using the word "rapist" in my description. "Rapist" was too harsh; to her, it suggested that he was a repeat offender. She went on about not living in fear and how she looks at the good in things and tries not to worry.
I did not launch into a tirade of how we should barricade ourselves in closets with machetes and mace. I just said that there was a rapist running around. Turn your personal threat level up to red -- burnt sienna, perhaps? Any guy that randomly comes into a stranger's home and brutally beats and rapes her is most likely not a sane individual, and, in my opinion, will most likely strike again. Nobody who can commit a crime like that gets bored and moves on to bocce.
Initially, I thought her perception was some horrible symptom of the rumored "Midwest Nice." But after meeting people who seemed more in-the-know, I chalked it up to a mild case of "Ignoramus Numbskullerus." As I walked city streets, pepper spray in my pocket and my wits about me, I looked at other females who roamed solo. Did they, too, suffer from this lack-of-logic affliction? Nah... right?
Since that reported incident, there have been numerous other crimes in the Madison area, most notably the Kelly Nolan case. While many would like Frank Zappa's "It Can't Happen Here" to be the town tune, the fact of the matter is, it can happen anywhere, and it does. Yet despite rapes, assaults, murders, etc., some people, young women in particular, don't seem to be fazed.
While driving home late last Saturday night, I saw a girl zigzagging barefoot along the construction on Bassett Street. She was alone in a poorly lit area and, clearly, not with the program. Part of me wanted to see if she needed help. Part of me wanted to slap her upside the head. All of me hopes she got home safely.
When possible, it is important to be diligent with one's safety -- be it in a shady corner of downtown Madison or Harlem. Living in paranoia is a lot different from living with a constantly poised trigger finger. As someone who has traveled solo to over 12 countries without incident, I pass on some pearls of wisdom I have acquired along the way:
- Never walk alone; especially late at night, or if you are too tired or intoxicated. Walk with a trusted friend or get a campus safe-ride or take a registered cab back home when needed.
- If solo ventures are mandatory, do it right. Walk in well-lit areas and arm yourself with pepper spray. Better still, take a self-defense class and bring that knowledge to your walk home. Particularly at night, don't blast your iPod or chatter on the phone -- this deters you from paying attention to your surroundings. Be confident and purposeful in your strides; people can sense fear just like dogs. Avoid individuals who make you uncomfortable, and keep calm and collected. If someone does try to attack you, make a loud scene, fight back, and run like hell.
- Keep valuables and jewelry close to you. In a train station in Rome, I watched a couple checking out travelers in the great hall. I didn't know until I got on my train that they had robbed countless people that morning. When the police came up to my compartment, I was told I was the only one who was not robbed, most likely because I didn't have any "bait" -- no shiny watches, big jewelry, etc.
- Tell someone your plans. You don't need to provide a detailed agenda, but briefly mentioning your intentions to a roommate, friend or family member will help clue someone in if something goes awry.
As Joe Strummer begged in "Guns of Brixton": "When they kick at your front door, how you gonna come? With your hands on your head or on the trigger of your gun?"
I hope you have your answer.