You can never be completely safe against an assault. Just like a house fire starting or an illness catching, someone seeking to cause you physical harm is not within your control.
No sexual assault, no matter what the victim was doing, wearing, drinking, saying, etc. is ever the victim’s fault – you cannot fully prevent the actions of another person. Real assault prevention has to start with the people committing the crime in the first place.
However, you can take precautions to increase your safety and peace of mind.
For the apartment fire, you can reduce the risk: don’t leave candles burning, keep electrical outlets free and clear, check smoke alarms regularly, and don’t try to imitate the chefs on the cooking channel who create fires in their frying pans. To avoid that cold or fever, you can make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating right, and staying hydrated. Similarly, with the risk of sexual assault being so high (1 in 4 women, 1 in 6 men on average), you can gain a greater peace of mind and be better prepared in the event of an attack.
I’ve changed several habits since becoming more aware of various rape protection tips. You may not be able to stop an assault if it comes but you can do things which increase your safety for the time being.
Understand, it is NEVER the victim’s fault. It doesn’t matter where they were, what they were doing, what they had to drink, or what clothes they were wearing. I’m sharing these protective behaviors with that in mind.
For example, I carry pepper spray on my person at all times. It’s been said that yelling a warning in the event of an attack, “I have pepper spray!” and making it visible will dramatically lower the risk of you becoming a victim. I wouldn’t stake my life on it but if I ever hear of it working, you’ll be the first to know. Either way, I feel safer with my little pink high-pressure tube in my hand.
I also stopped sitting in my car in a parking lot for any period of time. It’s a pretty typical habit for most people, especially women. I remember telling my mum that I had stopped doing it – that as soon as I was in the car, the key was in the ignition and I was backing out of my spot – she said, “Wow. I never thought about that. I do it all the time!”
Chances are you’ve done it, too. It’s daytime. You’ve just come out of the store and put the groceries in the back seat. You get into the driver’s seat. You send a text. You write down the amount that went onto your debit card. You file the nail you broke trying to lift that crate of oranges (because you’re trying to avoid that cold). You sign the birthday card you just bought for Aunt Thelma and address the envelope. Maybe you check your e-mail quickly to be sure you haven’t missed updates from work. Or you let the tweeting world of Twitter know that you just saw someone wearing clown shoes in the frozen foods section.
First of all, were your car doors locked? No…that’s bad. Yes…that’s good but may not be good enough. I would do most of the above when running errands, with the doors locked, never thinking that I could still be an easy target. Distracted female alone in a car…looks like an easy target. You don’t want to make yourself sick thinking about all the terrible things that could happen to you but neither do you want to throw caution to the wind. Cars are also easy hiding places for people wanting to assault someone, especially at night. Statistically, parking lots are the number one place rapists or muggers choose to prey on pedestrians (note: sexual assault and rape are most commonly committed by someone the victim knows so this is an example of violence committed by a stranger).
Now that half of you won’t feel safe in a parking lot ever, ever, ever again…
I’ve also learned to trust my gut regardless of the situation. Is that man across the aisle making you uncomfortable? Grab the Nutella and leave the aisle (ok, maybe leave the Nutella for another trip). He’s likely a very nice man who would never want to cause harm to anyone but you just feel uncomfortable. Rapists don’t look like rapists so trust your other senses for your safety.
Is that woman giving off a bad vibe when she looks at your kids? Maybe she’s just overwhelmed by how beautiful your little people are. But it’s not worth risking your child’s well-being. Listen to the mummy or daddy radar; walk away and keep them close. It’s amazing how sensitive our instincts can be. Listen to them. Even if you feel sort of silly. Be aware of your surroundings and help your children learn to do the same.
RAINN provides all sorts of suggestions for how to keep you and your family safer. Like most organizations seeking to fight against abuse, they also provide training (typically for people hoping to volunteer with them or a similar group) and educational opportunities. See the link below for tips and resources related to safety and sexual assault prevention.