By Jackie James

You’ve just spent a fun evening hanging out with your friends, when you decide to head home. As you walk along the street, you become painfully aware you’re not alone, and fear that someone is following you. What do you do?

Most of us believe we’ll never find ourselves in a situation where we are potentially at risk—it’s the “it-couldn’t-happen-to-me” mentality. We all find ourselves guilty of this behavior, but with the perfect storm of events, the consequences can be dire.Here are a few tips on how to stay safe in public:

  1. Be aware of your surroundings. Keep your eyes open for potential threats, such as cars that drive by you slowly, or a person standing in the shadows. While not everyone has bad intentions, it is better to spot a potential problem then it is to have to react to one! 
  1. Stay together! Whenever possible, grab a buddy because there IS safety in numbers. While traveling in packs won’t guarantee your protection, having someone else with you might dissuade an attacker. 
  1. Always let your parents, friends, siblings—someone—know where you are at all times. If you are alone in an unfamiliar area, take snaps with your phone so someone can locate you by street signs or landmarks. If you suspect you are being followed, keep your phone on 911 just in case. 
  1. Don’t be a target. Expensive phones and wads of cash are great to own, but you never know who is watching. Criminals look for vulnerable people, especially those who flash valuables. Carry your phone in your front pocket, and keep your money out of sight. 
  1. Limit distractions. You may find comfort in looking at your phone or listening to your music on headphones when you’re alone, but these simple distractions can put you in a dangerous place, leaving you unaware of what is going on around you. Don’t be left with your guard down! 
  1. Be prepared. Stopping a robbery or a kidnapping is like playing chess—you need to be three steps ahead of your opponent at all times. Prepare yourself in the event you are thrust into a scary situation by learning self-defense, by carrying a whistle to alert others, or even wielding pepper spray to ward off an attacker. Carry your keys in your hands so you aren’t standing around, digging in your purse searching for your keys or your pepper spray, giving the bad guy ample opportunity to surprise you. Having a game plan in place can make all the difference! 
  1. Be helpful, but be cautious. There are times when someone may genuinely need your help, but don’t assist at your own risk. If someone you don’t know asks you for a ride, you could offer to call an Uber for him or her instead. Don’t approach a car of a stranger who needs assistance with directions or a lost pet; offer your help from a safe, well-lit distance instead. 
  1. Use your memory. Try to memorize small details that might turn into helpful clues. Take a picture of yourself and your friends before you go out, and make mental notes about where you go, who you speak with, and any suspicious activities you may encounter. These could be meaningful at some point. 

Trust your feelings; don’t be afraid to speak up if circumstances feel off to you. Get yourself to a secure location as soon as possible. The world is a complex and scary place at times; it is necessary to know how to keep yourself sheltered from potential harm, so always have a plan!