As our girls get older and want to stretch their wings as adolescence arrives in all its glory, it is a challenge to let them go given all the messages about the increased dangers out there in the big wide world.
We want them to be able to travel on public transport or to go shopping with their friends or to go for a job interview or go out to have a night of dancing to celebrate a friend’s birthday – and come home safely.
It is still only a tiny percentage of assaults that do occur randomly against boys and girls, even though the media portrays a different fear-driven perception that it is happening every single day.
The vast majority of assaults occur at the hands of people we know and while this blog post is really about being aware of personal safety when out and about, it’s important to teach our girls skills to be assertive, set boundaries and get help when they need it for any situations.
Research has looked into how male perpetrators choose their female targets and when that information is combined with some serious common sense we can teach our girls how to stay brave and safe.
A good starting point is to have a conversation about personal space and that everyone has a different sense of what that means. Maybe get into the habit of checking in with others if it’s OK to step into their personal space – and then explore consent in all its contexts. I recommend the book by Dannielle Miller for teen girls The Girl with a Butterfly Tattoo as she writes beautifully and wisely about helping girls shine assertively and boldly.
Next step may be to empower your daughter’s intuition by fine tuning it with practice. Maybe start with a large plastic hairy spider and surprising your daughter with it. OK that’s a bit mean however her early warning system will kick into action. She will feel bodily sensations of goose bumps, knots or butterflies in her stomach, chills up the neck or tension all over the body.
Explore these sensations with her and remind her these same sensations will occur when she is in an unsafe place, with an unsafe person or about to do an unsafe thing. Maybe sit with her in a large shopping centre and discreetly scan for ‘unsafe’ looking people and more risky parking spaces so she can become attuned to observing different situations.
Staying present and aware are the best tips to remind your girls, as the element of surprise is a key ally of perpetrators.
Unfortunately alcohol and drugs impair the early warning system and many girls have made decisions they later regretted while under the influence of these substances. Sadly, too, sometimes drugs and alcohol can leave us without any capacity for decision-making and we’ve all heard terrible stories about girls being sexually assaulted while incapacitated. Obviously girls have as much right as boys to have a few drinks (this is not about victim blaming) but it’s important to at least inform your daughters and sons that alcohol plays a factor in a very high number of sexual assaults so all young people can at least be aware of the risks. It’s terrible to have to talk about this but it sadly happens all too often so they need to be aware.
Some teens can be irrationally terrified about going out in public and some can be far too naïve – hopefully with some grounded education and practical experience we can give them the confidence to explore their world with the confidence of Wonder Woman (but maybe dressed a bit warmer!)
Some safety tips when travelling alone:
- Look confident – head up, shoulders back and keep looking just above people’s heads with occasional fleeting eye contact. Wear something bright – as it can also project confidence.
- Keep headphones out of your ears – you need to be able to stay tuned into local sounds including traffic sounds and approaching footsteps.
- Keep your phone in your bag, hand or pocket – being distracted by looking at your phone is a key indicator that you are not paying attention and it can make you a good target to be attacked.
- Walk with purpose – stepping out as though you need to be somewhere soon – rather than slowly or meandering as again purposeful walking makes you less of a target.
- If possible travel in groups of friends or trusted associates – especially at night. Never leave a friend behind. And discuss your plans for getting home before you go out… This is especially important when drinking or taking drugs as they make your more vulnerable. Also, that way you will be less likely to have to make a snap decision.
- When on public transport sit closer to the driver or near an older ‘grandparent’ type person if your gut feels OK.
- Catch buses, trains or trams from well-lit locations.
- If on a train or tram where you feel uneasy sit close to an exit or stay standing near exit and at next stop change carriages. If others are on the train who appear safe – sit closer to them rather than sit alone.
- If catching a taxi – always sit in the back and take a photo of taxi drivers name and taxi number as you get in. Keep conversational (professional and not personal) and have your keys ready before you get out of the taxi.
- If someone grabs you from behind remember that elbows are weapons – swing them back hard and fast. If you can use, your bag hard and fast as well.
- Scream loudly – maybe practice this at home as it is common to freeze when attacked. Perpetrators tend to leave victims who are hard work. Yelling things like “Help – Help, NO, STOP THAT, GET AWAY FROM ME!!” repeatedly will draw attention.
- If still being held – hit, bite, kick, scream and aim for the bits that hurt: nose, throat, feet and groin. Again perpetrators tend to give up if it’s too much effort. Also if you can scratch your attacker, you may end up with a DNA sample for police to identify them.
- To learn the best protective moves it’s a great idea to attend boxing, martial arts or self-defence classes (especially those designed for women). These can be a great idea to build skills and confidence … there are also loads of great clips on YouTube but training with an accredited instructor is the best way.
- Practice scenarios at home with mum, dad or older siblings – as the more automatic the response the better in situations when the body experiences sudden shock.
- Share this information with your besties and cousins as the more informed girls are the better.
- If you have been attacked tell people – your parents, your friends, your teachers and warn others where and when it happened. Your actions may save another and may help get that perpetrator apprehended.
- Watch your drinks… drink spiking happens so don’t accept drinks from strangers and don’t leave your drink unattended.
- As a back up, check out some of the personal safety apps that are around such as the Daniel Morcombe Foundation’s Help Me! app.
Finally remember life has many risks – swimming in our oceans and rivers, climbing mountains, driving a car, being a pedestrian, and taking substances that are potentially dangerous to our health. So much of life is quite amazing and divine though and waiting to be experienced.
Having a healthy understanding and awareness of risk assessment and some life-enhancing strategies in our handbag can make all the difference.
So let’s all support our girls to go and embrace life with passion.