Lately, I can't go online without seeing some kind of sex trafficking warning about the own town I live in. While I don't want to live in fear, I have anxiety every time I'm running errands or leaving work. Then I realized instead of being scared, I just need to stay informed and take the proper precautions to protect myself to ease my mind. Here are some tips for being more cautious in your everyday life so your life doesn't have to be stolen from you or cut short.
1. Keep a pepper spray keychain/pocketknife handy at all times.
Pepper spray keychains and knives camouflaged as colorful keys or lipstick tubes are affordable and easy to find on Amazon. Hopefully, you will never have to use them, but knowing that you have them if the time comes is reassuring. Having these items as keychains is great because I always keep my keys in my hands, so I can get into my car or whip out my pepper spray without having to fumble through my purse.
2. Purchase a taser if you feel like the extra protection wouldn't hurt.
This might sound extreme, but a taser is an extremely useful and powerful self-defense weapon that can completely stop somebody in his or her tracks. There are actually phone cases with stun guns built into them that you can purchase from multiple websites online. The Yellow Jacket phone cases include a built-in stun gun and a backup battery that can recharge your phone wirelessly.
3. Be hyper-aware of your surroundings in parking lots, parking garages, gas stations, etc.
Attackers go for people who look vulnerable and oblivious. Staring down at your phone and zoning out while walking through sketchy areas by yourself is a recipe for disaster. Don't make it easy for somebody to catch you off guard by distracting yourself with your phone or drowning out all outside noise with your headphones. Stay alert, utilize your senses, and always watch your back.
4. Be extremely wary of any unusual markers on your car.
Young women have been finding weird markers on their cars such as red pieces of paper, cardboard, and shirts stuck in their windshield wipers that were not there before. These strategies are said to be used by predators that want you to inspect your car and be easy to grab or to mark your car so you can be easily followed out of the lot. Although some articles I've read have debunked this "myth," I feel like you can never be too cautious. Don't remove the marker right away until you can roll down your window and take it out while you're already driving and be aware of any suspicious cars that could be following you.
5. Try not to take Ubers or Lyfts alone or wander around by yourself if you're intoxicated in any way.
I'm admittedly guilty of leaving the bar myself in an Uber when I'm ready to go home and don't want to wait for the rest of the group. I urge you to get out of the habit of doing this or at least find one friend that is willing to leave with you every time. Nobody seems more vulnerable and easy to take advantage of than a drunk person alone in a car with a stranger. I also have a setting on my Uber app that automatically shares my trip with my boyfriend, so he gets a notification when I'm in a late-night Uber and he can track my route from his phone.
6. Make sure that you share your location with a few close friends in case of an emergency.
Find My Friends is a really useful tool to make sure where your friends are or where they were last before their phone was turned off. Frequently checking Find My Friends isn't a bad habit to get into just to make sure your friends are safe or where they said they were going to be. It might seem like a "mom" thing to do, but real friends look out for each other.
7. If you feel like you're in an unsafe or abandoned area, don't hesitate to call somebody.
Call somebody if you're walking through a sketchy area and feel uncomfortable. Don't text, because it's important to keep your head up and be aware. This way, a nearby predator knows that somebody else knows where you are and what you're doing, and will obviously be able to tell if you suddenly drop the phone or hang up. I have actually had somebody approach me in a parking lot as I was about to get into my car, and my phone rang right at that moment and they walked away.
8. Don't give in when people approach you for money, a ride, etc.
Predators will prey on your good intentions in order to get their hands on you. Ted Bundy would pretend to be disabled and use his charm to lure people in to help him carry his books or unload things from his car. It's sad that this is the world we live in, but now is not the time to be charitable to random people asking for stuff. The same woman has come up to my friend at two different places desperately asking for a ride, and one time she had a British accent and one time she didn't. People are not to be trusted. Don't always assume the best of people and look out for yourself first.
9. If you have a weird feeling that somebody is following you, call 911.
I saw a viral post on social media about a girl leaving her job in Orlando as she noticed a car following her down random roads and unusual turns home. She called 911 and they told her they'd meet her at a nearby Walmart. The police were waiting for her and they allegedly arrested two men who had warrants for sex trafficking. Even though this viral story could easily be debunked as "fake news," the principle behind it is still important: be aware. Listen to your gut. Take sudden and unexpected turns to see if you're really being followed. Call the authorities if you're truly scared and feel like you're in danger.