What to Do When You See a Suspicious Stranger – Say you’re walking home after having dinner with friends. It’s dark, but you don’t live too far away from the restaurant. Soon, though, you get that creepy feeling that someone is watching you. You see a dark figure walking toward you from an alley. What should you do? Well lucky for you — here’s my list:
1. Stay Calm
It’ll be hard, but don’t let the stranger know that you’ve caught on to them or that you’re nervous. Stay aware of the stranger and your surroundings, but do something that will let you collect your thoughts: fiddle with your jacket zipper, bend down and pretend to tie your shoes, look in a shop window…whatever it takes to make you slow down, do some deep breathing, and think of a plan.
2. Pay Attention
Take notice of your surroundings and watch for anything that seems out of place. Listen to your gut, too: your “fight or flight” instinct probably runs deeper than you think. If you can get a good look at the stranger, get enough details that you can commit to memory in case you have to give someone, or the police, a description later. It’s much better to give too many details than not enough. Stay alert!
3. Look like you’re walking with a purpose
This is part of that “don’t look nervous” thing. Look like you know where you’re going. Even if your nerves overcome you and you take a couple of wrong turns, try not to look lost. This is a good way to determine if the stranger is really following you, and it gives you additional time to think. Plus, if you look like you’re walking with confidence, the stranger might decide that you’re not such an easy target. You might be headed to a party filled with people, for all the stranger knows.
4. Don’t Text!
More on how your phone can be a useful tool later; but in general, if you’re walking a short distance to your car, such as through a store parking lot, don’t text. If you’re texting, your head is down, and you may not even see a suspicious stranger that’s there in the first place. If you’re on your phone, the stranger might assume that you aren’t aware of your surroundings—and let’s face it: if you’re just on auto-pilot and texting, you probably aren’t. If your head is down and your attention is on your phone, you’ll look more vulnerable.
5. Don’t keep looking over your shoulder
It would be tempting, but if you keep glancing behind you, it will let the stranger know that you’re onto them, and this may cause them to attack. Plus, if you’re too focused on what’s behind you, you might miss escape routes,save havens, or helpful people that could be in front of you. This is part of staying calm and being aware of your surroundings.
6. Be Prepared to Fight
If the stranger decides to come at you, you’ll need to defend yourself. One option is to hold your keys in your pocket with the end of one key’s “teeth” sticking out between your middle and ring finger. If you have to defend yourself, the key could do just enough damage to give you time toget away. Also, having your key ready in your fist inside your pocket is a quick and easy plan, and knowing you have a plan should make you feel safer.
7. Know when and how to use your phone
If you’re walking home and know you’re being followed by a shady character, takeout your phone and call a friend or family member. Tell them where you are and stay on the phone with them until you reach your destination. There are also plenty of personal safety apps that you can get on your phone, so do some research! Do you have any favorite safety apps? Let me know in the comments!
8. Get to a public place
When you get a funny feeling about a random stranger, there is safety in numbers! Get to a coffee shop, restaurant, or a store as soon as you can. If it’s late at night, don’t worry—there are some grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations that are open 24 hours a day. You’ll be—and feel—much safer once you’re with other people, and you can get help from someone if you need it. Stay in that public place—preferably with someone who helped you—until a friend or family member can come pick you up.
9. Take different routes
If you feel like the same shady stranger is making a, um, habit of following you, try taking alternate routes to and from places. This goes for driving and if you’re on foot. It will make it harder for the stranger to track you if you don’t take the same routes. Change up any observable routine that you have. The goal here is to confuse them as much as possible.
10. Never hesitate to call the police
If the stranger is just too close for comfort, or especially if you’re being repeatedly followed like I mentioned earlier, call whatever the emergency number is where you live. First tell the dispatcher where you are; if you can’t give an exact address, at least give a street name or describe what’s around you—this way, even if the call is dropped or you’re forced to hang up, the police can still find you.
It’s way better to be safe than sorry—if the situation turns out to be nothing, you won’t get in trouble, and at least you’ll know! All of this Stranger Danger talk may make you wonder about basic safety measures you can take when you’re out and about. I’ve got you covered!
• Let someone know where you’re going. Whether it’s a trusted friend or good old Mom, letting at least one person know where you’re going will give them a place to look for you if something happens. It will keep you safe in the long-run, and will give all parties peace of mind.
• Try to stay in well-lit areas. If you’re walking home, try to take the most public, well-lit route that you can. Don’t take any shortcuts through dark areas, like the woods or an alley. If you’re driving, park under a street light or the most well-lit part of the parking lot. Also, park as close as you can to the building you’re entering if you know you’ll be exiting it after dark.
• Speaking of walking home…don’t walk alone! Even if home, or the next destination, is a short distance away, don’t make the walk by yourself. Ask a friend, or group of friends, to walk with you, especially after dark. Do the same for a friend if they ask you to: take care of each other! After being out, let your friends—and family—know that you’re safe and at home.
• If you’re passing a stranger, make eye contact with them. I know this might sound uncomfortable; the eye contact doesn’t have to be long. Just make it long enough so that you’ve basically said “I see you and could give a description” without actually saying it out loud. This will make the stranger think twice about attacking.
• Be aware of potential scams. If a stranger stops you on the street and asks for directions, money, or wants to sell you something, be wary. Keep a good distance between the two of you. Make the interaction short. Respond in brief, firm sentences. Never, ever let your guard down; and never, ever let a stranger get you on your own away from the public eye.
• When walking to your car, have your keys ready. Especially after dark, you don’t want to be standing at your car door fumbling for your keys. This could make you an easy target. If someone has been watching you, they’ve probably been waiting for you to be still and distracted like this. Have a good grip on your keys too; you don’t want to drop them and be searching for themon the ground. This means your head and body will already be down, putting you in a pretty vulnerable position.
• Know some basic self-defense. A good pop to the throat or solar plexus—that place right under the center of the rib cage—will knock the wind out of someone. The nose and eyes are the most sensitive parts of the face. A swift kick to the knees or shins will make anyone buckle. You get it—do some research, or better yet, see if your local community center gives self-defense classes and take a couple with some friends.