What’s a danger you have to pay attention to?
As a white woman living in Massachusetts, I have little fear of being caught in gunfire, being shot by police at a traffic stop, or being attacked by some random racist. I am grateful for my lack of fear. It does not relieve me of the demand for justice for those who have legitimate fear of dying, suddenly, of gun violence.
I get windows into the visceral fear of guns when I am pulled over for having kinky-curly hair. It has happened to me so often that I can only assume there’s some “driving while Black” going on. But, for the most part, I do not sense life-and-death in these encounters. Most cops in Massachusetts know what a Jew looks like.
Not that I feel certain I won’t die because I am Jewish. But, for the most part, it is not first-to-mind the way sudden death is first-to-mind for Black and brown people in angry confrontations in America. For this lower level of daily stress, I am grateful. It does not relieve me of the demand for justice for those who have legitimate fear of dying, suddenly, of angry confrontations with police, vigilantes, or other strangers.
As a woman, I am more likely to be subject to domestic violence. In my life, I was able to leave potentially abusive relationships before being too emotionally or financially entangled. For this lower level of daily stress, I am grateful. It does not relieve me of the demand for justice for those who have fear of injury or dying at the hands of their intimate partners.
As a woman, I have a higher risk of being raped than men do. I am grateful that I had sufficient self-defense training. When a man tried to rape me in Somerville in 1991, I successfully fought him off. Although I resent that I needed to know what to do, I was grateful that I could do it. I have actively shared my skills regarding situational awareness (a part of self-defense training that I can teach).
Be grateful for the privilege of not expecting to experience certain daily dangers. Be ready for those that you might.
Parents of young children make decisions about how to teach their children about strangers. It is a balancing act: teaching safety – on one hand – while not creating prejudice or general anti-people attitudes – on the other hand.
Parents of children in groups that are targeted for hate, must teach their children how to behave when around authority figures and other strangers. There is, unfortunately, more to learn. Immigrants, Black and brown people face hostility, sometimes, when they are seeking help from authorities.
Fast-forward to adolescence and young adulthood. How do young people discern who is a potential friend or romantic partner and who is a possible stalker or rapist? People are not required to be suave and have a great line all the time — especially when they are teens. How can an adolescent discern between awkward and creepy? It is easy to make a mistake in this kind of danger.
Answering dangerous questions
A friend posted a graphic about anti-rape behaviors that women should practice. That got me thinking about how I teach verbal self-defense and situational awareness.
Verbal self-defense is the practice of planning what you might say in a given situation, so that you have the best possible reaction ready.
Rona’s general verbal self-defense rule about answering stranger’s questions: Be pleasant, but be vague. Give as little information as possible.
You do not want to disclose to a stranger where you live or work. When you can reliably be found in a certain place, or that you are in a public place alone. You do not need to be rude. You can give non-answer answers.
Where do you live?
Vague answer: Near a (very common) commercial site. The post uses Walmart. For Massachusetts, Dunkins or CVS or Starbucks would work.
Is this your car, your house? (Remember that license plates can be traced)
Vague answers: I am just using it. I borrowed it. I share it. I am visiting a friend. I am running an errand right now. Or, change the subject: Do you like Subarus? What do you drive?
A stranger in your house (doing work) asks if you live alone
Vague answer: If you do live alone, don’t say so. Change the subject and answer that you are expecting company soon. Say you are preparing for company. Even if you don’t live alone, say you don’t and also say you are preparing for company.
Someone chats you up on an airplane or bus or train. Are you traveling alone?
Vague answer: If seats are assigned, you can say you have friend in another part of the plane. If it is open seating, say someone is meeting you at your destination.
Give a man’s name when placing a food delivery order.
Giving your real name, like showing your ID in the subway, is giving information to someone who might mean you harm. The delivery person has your phone number and your address. Don’t add your name.
Vague answers: If you are uncomfortable making up a man’s name, choose a gender-neutral name that might be male. Remember it as your “pizza name.” You can also use it when ordering in a place where the barista will be calling your name in public.
Interlude: A story about how too much information harmed me. I was 21.
I was selling a car that I was still driving. I put a sign in its window with the year, model, price, my phone number, and “call Rona.”
One night, I got an obscene phone call, starting with “Is this Rona?” then describing me and asking about the well-being of my private parts. After a pretty sleepless night, I figured out that my name was on the placard in my car. He didn’t call back, but it freaked me out whenever the phone rang for a while.
Lie about your work schedule if someone asks you if you go to work this time every day.
This can also be done without lying.
Vague answers: “Not really” “this is a special day”, “rarely” can work. Changing the subject works; “Boy, it’s cold!” “It’s too early for this!” You can mention that you are in a hurry because you are meeting someone.
Pretend you don’t speak the language if a stranger is asking you out.
I don’t like this tactic. Immigrants are often targets of random violence, so I see this as making yourself more vulnerable. I would suggest you use a different tactic or a simple, “No, I don’t know you and I do not want to have coffee with you.”
Situational Awareness is a skill that can prevent injury, or even death. Example: Parents teach their children to look both ways before crossing the street; that’s situational awareness. It involves teaching a child where a car might be, and where a car is unlikely to be. If a child needed to watch for cars while on the sidewalk or in a yard – all the time – think how anxiety would build up for a child playing outside.
For more adult situations, the graphic I mentioned above gives these examples:
Don’t travel with your business ID showing in public.
It gives your workplace and your name. This is sharing information that is easily withheld. Just put it in your pocket. If someone means you harm, you are making it easy for that person to follow you to and from work.
Use your car alarm as a personal alarm.
Keyless entry fobs and car alarm fobs will chirp or cause the horn to sound. Use it to distract someone near your car or to attract attention to you; use it if you need help because someone is near your car.
Stand between the elevator control panel and the door.
Whenever you are in a public place that is confined, stay aware of how you would leave, in a hurry. Do not allow other people to block that access (as much as possible).
Similarly, follow a stranger into a room, so that you are nearest to the door.
Sit near exits on trains and buses. Sit near the driver, or move near the driver, if you are uncomfortable on a bus.
Hang bells on your hotel doorknob.
This does not seem necessary to me. Hotel room doors automatically lock, when closed.
But, lock your doors, habitually. At home, lock your door when you come home, every time. This reduces the chance of forgetting and leaving it unlocked overnight. People who live in apartments with halls get into this habit, but people with private entrances sometimes get lax about it.
These are everyday dangers that are stressors. The more vulnerable a person is in public, the more they need to pay attention to these dangerous situations. Be grateful for the dangers you don’t have to think about, everyday. Get into safe habits to be safe for common dangers.