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I am always very conscious of overplaying it when writing about staying safe when you're out and about, because most of the time you will be safe without mine or anybody else's advice. However, now you know that as a student your risks of experiencing a crime are quite a bit higher than the population as a whole (See Students' risk factors) you should always expect the unexpected and practice 'safe steps' (That's safe steps!)
Before you go out
Make sure you’ve got your fully charged mobile phone on you with all relevant numbers for your friends and family. Use the PIN facility and see also Property identification - marking, tagging and tracking Mobile phones
- Tell someone where you’re going or leave a note to say where you’ll be and what time you expect to be back. Leave names and addresses and contact numbers. ‘Down the pub’ might not be sufficient – which pub? ‘Out with Dave’ – which Dave? Does your housemate know where Dave lives?
- Know exactly where you are going and plan your route there and back. Will you be coming home after dark? Do you have enough fuel for the journey? Does your travel card need topping up? When’s the last bus/train?
- Don’t flaunt your stuff. Keep valuable property, such as jewellery, in your pockets. You can always put it on when you arrive at your destination
- Carry your laptop in a bag that doesn’t resemble a laptop bag
- Avoid using back packs/sacks when in crowds of people as they can be cut open and the contents removed without you noticing – you can buy anti-cut ones
- If you’re able to, keep your house keys in a pocket and not in the handbag
- Only have on you enough money to do what you’re planning to do. This will help minimise your losses should the worst happen
- Wearing hoods, talking on the mobile and listening to earphones whilst out walking are a hazard to your road safety and greatly reduces your ability to hear or see trouble ahead
On your way out...
- Make sure you have locked all the doors and windows. Don’t forget that you and your housemates will be relying on each other to keep the house or flat secure
- Leave some lights on if it’s dark or you’ll be coming home after dark. You could buy some timers for your lights
Being out on foot...
- Walk with confidence and look as though you’re on a mission. Keep your head up and whilst you should look ahead to avoid unnecessary confrontations, such as a group of young men ahead of you, you should also be aware of everything around you
- Whenever possible use well lit and busy streets and definitely avoid alleyways, wasteland and other quiet short cuts.
- Walk towards oncoming vehicles, not just because it’s safer to do so, but so that somebody doesn’t pull up behind you unexpectedly.
- Walk in the centre of the footway and take bends on the outer curve. The latter will help provide early views around corners
- Be aware of footway obstructions, such as bus shelters with advertising hoardings that block the view of the footway ahead and which can provide a place for a thief to hide. If necessary cross the road at a safe place to avoid them
- If you can see or hear trouble ahead take avoiding action, such as crossing the road at a safe place or taking an alternative route. If you feel worried go into a shop or restaurant or other public place until the threat has gone.
- If you’re carrying a personal alarm, hold it in your hand (which can be in your pocket)
- If someone tries to follow you make for a public place, such as a shop or a restaurant or walk towards other people. Shout out to others that the person is following you and you want someone to call the police. Make lots of noise and use your personal alarm to shock the person and use this opportunity to make good your escape.
- If you need to use your mobile phone on route go into a shop or stand with your back to a shop window and constantly survey the area around you. Keep the conversation short and to the point and try not to be too obvious doing it
- Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged (carry a spare phone battery or a standalone charging device) Consider purchasing an app for your smartphone; one which allows you to use it as a personal alarm, which will also alert a monitoring station if you get into trouble and give them your location. Such apps will usually automatically instruct your phone to record audio and visual information when it is triggered.
Being out in the car...
- Take a look at Motor Vehicles for lots of advice
- Ring ahead to tell your housemates you’re arriving home in case they haven’t put the outside light on (they could also put the kettle on)
- Don’t let your guard down until you're in your home and have locked the door
- Have your door keys ready in your hand so that you don’t have to spend time outside searching in your bag or pocket
In my experience as a policeman in London, when I must have helped many scores of robbery and assault victims, this is a particularly difficult thing to advise you about. This is because I cannot predict what you might do if faced with a very real threat, such as a couple of robbers wielding a knife demanding your mobile and your wallet.
Most people usually give up the demanded property and live to fight another day. Others will simply run like the wind and hope that they’re not chased and a small minority just see red and attack the robbers. And it isn’t just the young, big and fit guys who take the third course of action, it’s also the elderly lady and the umbrella – we’ve all seen the incidents on the news and You Tube!
So my advice to you is this: The guy with the knife must be pretty desperate to want to do this thing in the first place so give them the phone and the wallet or handbag, but nothing more than they ask for. Amazingly some victims have volunteered extra stuff that the robber never asked for; a victim reaction that is more common than you might think! Try and think about after the event; think about what the police might ask you. I know I’m clutching at straws here, because you may well be in a state of shock, but if you can, and without being obvious, make a mental note of any descriptive detail about the robber’s appearance and their clothes and the direction in which they fled after the event. I am particularly thinking about ear piercings and rings, tattoos on hands, face and neck, gold teeth and scars.
These sorts of details are really important to the police and may make the difference of being able to identify the robber or not. But don’t worry if you forget about this stuff, because most victims do. As it happens none of us are particularly good at recalling events as this famous experiment by psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris demonstrates - follow the instructions given to you on the video After you've watched the video let You Tube continue running as there are further experiments that prove the point.
Rape and sexual assault
Updated August 2017