Sunday, January 10, 2010

On Safety in Group Situations

This was going to be a rant admonishing men for their bad behavior.  But after an evening of reflection, I've decided that a tutorial for the fairer sex might be a bit more apropos.

I see it all the time, especially at faire.  Girls get themselves cornered by the creepy, drunk, smelly guy (or girl, I've seen that too) and end up needing help from either a female friend or a male companion to escape the situation.  Sometimes in extreme cases, this can lead to everything from unwanted physical contact all the way up to rape.  If this has happened to you and you're fine with it... well, why the hell are you reading my blog?  If you're not okay with it, however, there are a few things that I have picked up from years of parties, performing, and living in LA that I would like to impart to all of you.  I would also like to add the caveat that these tips are in no way a replacement for good common sense, and I am in no way an expert.  I'm just a pretty, 5'3", 27-year-old that has never once been grabbed, kissed or touched when she didn't want to be.

First of all, always be aware of your escape route, and whenever possible, travel with a buddy. There really is safety in numbers, and even if you're just planning to meet someone somewhere and leave at the same time, at least there is someone else who is aware of your comings and goings.  When you arrive somewhere, note the lay of the land.  This will help you even in an uneventful evening, because you'll know where the bathroom is, and you'll also note any casual acquaintances that you can talk to if none of your friends are there.  If you must travel alone, make sure somebody somewhere knows where you are and when you're expected back.  Also, never leave a party, bar, whatever, without having your car keys in your hand.  The highest percentage of assaults against women are perpetrated when they are standing outside their car, digging through their purse for their car keys.  Don't be that girl.

Second, know how to spot your weirdos.  Your gut will generally tell you there's something not-quite-right about them.  Usually their body language or motor function is off, their clothes might be noticeably dirty or disheveled, but more than a visual cue, its that voice in the back of your head that says, "Danger!"  We're all equipped with this thanks to the glory of evolution and pheremones, and if you haven't cultivated the dialog between you and that little voice, its time you've begun.  If you are lucky enough to spot this person heading towards you, do what you can to escape the situation.  Cross the street, excuse yourself to the bathroom, find your group of friends and stand with them.  Anything to signal that you are not available to talk.  Try not to make eye contact if possible, because this signals interest.  Again, basic evolution here.

If you are unable to escape, for example you are already with a group of friends that don't want to leave, or you didn't notice them approaching you, watch your body language.  Make as little eye contact as possible, cross your arms over your chest, do NOT turn to face them.  If you can, pull somebody else (preferably male) into the conversation.  If you've done your homework and you have some friends with you or know which casual acquaintances are there, this can be done easily and smoothly.  Then, excuse yourself.  There are a million ways to do this, but the most important thing is that you remove yourself from the situation.

Sadly, sometimes this isn't enough.  And this is the point where things get scary.  They're following you, they're trying to touch you, perhaps they've grabbed you.  But 90% of creeps like this are not rapists or axe-murderers, they're just normal guys that have had a few too many to be able to read your signals.  Either way, your behavior in the next ten seconds will be the difference between marking you as a victim or or an adversary.  You want to be an adversary.  Stop, turn around and face them, hands crossed and look them square in the eye.  I am 5'3" and this works on 6'5" men.  I always do this with a smile on my face, because it tells them that they haven't even ruffled my feathers (even if inwardly I'm screaming), and say in no uncertain terms, "Back off."  If the situation is such that you need to be polite, you can say something to effect of, "I just need to get some air." or "I need to make a phone call."  Then leave the immediate area, find a friend, and stay next to them the rest of the night.  If you're there alone, find the host and ask them to walk you to your car, and go.  If you're too drunk to drive and you're alone... well, shame on you.  Call a friend and have them come pick you up, because its time to go.

Here's the thing ladies.  We are programmed to be polite and nice and not to hurt people's feelings.  This is what makes so many of us fantastic mothers.  But this will not help you when your safety is at stake.  I see so many of my female friends get cornered because they "didn't want to be rude."  Well, my dear gal pals, they were rude first by invading your personal space.  If you take nothing else from this article, remember only this:   Nobody's feelings are as important as your safety.  If you can keep this thought in your head, it will go a long way in making your social life less stressful and more fun.

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