How to Protect Yourself and Your Family

Self-Protection Tips


The following tips will give you some suggestions about how you can be aware of your immediate surroundings and any people around you. The way you react to people and things around you will depend on the specific situations.


Keep your head up.

Maintain a brisk and steady pace as if you had somewhere to go.

Look around you in a complete circle to be aware of your surroundings and notice people close to you.

When you exit the bus or your car and you feel unsure about your surrounding do a complete 360 degree turn - this not only lets you see what is happening around you but also tells anyone watching you that you take your safety seriously.


Your mind stores thousands of pieces of information which it uses to warn you that something is wrong. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS when you feel uncomfortable and get away from whatever situation you are in. You will only know if you were wrong if you ignore your instincts - is it worth the risk?


You should never fight someone who is trying to steal property. Losing a wallet, T.V. or even a car is not worth the risk of personal injury.

If someone attempts to steal a purse, wallet or is in the process of burglarizing your home do not attempt to stop them ? rather take down a mental picture of them to help identify them to the police.

Home Safety

Your home can be one of the safest places for you to be if special precautions are made. The saying that "one's home is their castle" is true. Never feel obligated to let someone in your home whether they are family, service workers or strangers. Most assaults occur in people's homes, not in a dark alley at 3:00 a.m.


If you live alone, try to establish a buddy system with friends or neighbors to do your shopping and laundry together if you feel the slightest uncertainty about doing it by yourself.


Always draw the curtains or blinds at night to prevent people outside from looking in.

It is a good idea to have lights on in different rooms of your home so others think that there are a number of people home. » A dog is one of the best ways to protect yourself at home. Size is not important as long as it makes a lot of noise.


When you move into a new home check the following points:

1. The phone number of the emergency services in your area (Does your community have a 911 emergency number?),
2. Police recommendations for safety precautions for your area,
3. Where outdoor pay phones are located,
4. Which stores and restaurants are opened late in case you need help,
5. See your neighborhood the way your children do - let them take you on a tour through their favorite short cuts, hide-outs and play areas.


Do not give out information about your family, friends or neighbors to anyone.


All entrances should be well lit to discourage people from hiding outside your home.


The house numbers should be large, clear and visible so that emergency vehicles can locate your home easily.


Outside doors should be equipped with a peep hole to allow you to see clearly who is outside.


Outside doors should be equipped with a one-inch dead bolt lock for greatest security.


Windows and sliding doors need special locks. You can also regulate how far they will open with special locks or with a sawed-off broom handle in the track runner.


If you see someone suspicious around your home or the home of a neighbor call the police immediately. Do not assume that someone else has already done so.

If your instincts tell you that there is someone inside or outside your home who should not be there, follow those instincts and call police.

If you suspect someone is outside then make sure, after calling police, that all outside lights are on and that some inside lights are on. Do not allow your silhouette to be seen as you do this.

If you wake up and there is a burglar in your home pretend to be asleep. He will probably not harm you if he thinks he can take what he wants and escape unnoticed.

Escape Plan
If a prowler enters your home and you are near an exit, escape if you can and call the police from a neighbor's home. Practise an escape plan - like a fire drill - with your family or household members.

"Safe Room"
If escape is not possible try to lock yourself into a room (e.g., bathroom) until the person has left.

If confronted by the burglar, remain calm and co-operative. Follow orders without hesitation or sudden movements. Do not assume that there is only one burglar. The chances are that there is someone outside or in a waiting car.

Try to get a clear description of the person, their car, direction they left, etc. Note down these descriptions as soon as they have left and you have locked all doors and windows. Do not disturb anything until the police arrive.

Never use force to protect your property.

Coming Home
If you arrive home and suspect that it has been burglarized, do not enter (the person may still be inside). Go to a neighbor and call police.


Check with the local police department about inscribing identification numbers on your valuables or record serial numbers and store them in a safe place.


All original copies of important documents (e.g., birth and marriage certificates) should be kept in a safe, fireproof place. Wills should not be kept in a safety deposit box because they will be necessary immediately after someone dies accidentally.

Photocopies of licenses, credit cards, car registrations, etc. should be kept in case you lose the original.


Never hide your keys in a "secret" place outside your home. Burglars will find them.


If you lose your keys change all outside locks immediately.


Do not attach personal identification to your key chain. It makes it easier for someone who finds or steals your keys to get into your home or car.


Attach a directory of the following numbers to your phone in large printed letters and numbers:


fire department

(general emergency number, e.g., 911)



poison control

rape crisis center

your own name, address and phone number in case you mind goes blank in an emergency

your work numbers.


When speaking on the phone never say that you are alone.

Wrong Number
If you receive a "wrong number" call, do not give out your own number. If necessary ask them to repeat number they wanted.

Your Name
Use only your initial(s) with your name in the telephone book or any other public place.

Obscene Calls
Do not respond at all to any obscene phone calls. Hang up immediately.

If an obscene caller persists contact the police and phone company. If necessary change your number.

Do not assume that an obscene call is some young prankster. These calls can be serious and should be treated as such.

Giving out Number
Most of all, avoid giving your phone number to anyone except to family, friends, business related people and on official documents.


Never open your door before finding out who is there. Check with your local police department to see if they have information forms on how to identify delivery and service people (e.g., police, fire fighters, utilities, department stores, delivery services, oil/ gas companies, cable T.V. companies, and others):

1. Peep Hole
Look through the peep hole or window to see who is there,

2. Ask ID
Ask for identification from a service representative, salesperson, or official (e.g., police),

3. Service Rep
If a service representative unexpectedly comes to your home ask them for their office number, verify it against a police summary sheet or phone book to make sure this person should be at your home or ask the person to return after you have been notified by their office,

4. Blocking Door
If your door is partially open you can prevent someone from pushing it open if you keep your foot flat on the floor with your toes pushed up against the bottom of the door,

5. Call Police
Call police or 911 if someone tries aggressively to get into your home,

6. Your Home
REMEMBER it is your home and you do not have to feel obliged to let ANYONE in.


Stand by the controls if you can and face the other people in the elevator.

If, for any reason, you feel uncomfortable with other people on the elevator do not get on or if you are already inside get off as soon as possible. Follow your instincts.

Do not take an elevator, especially with someone you don't know or trust, if it is going in the opposite direction (e.g., it is going to the basement when you want to go up).


Do not let strangers into your building by opening the door for them with your key or through your intercom system.

If you are in any danger and are near your lobby intercom system push as many buttons as you can and ask someone to call for the police.

If you get your mail from the mail room and there are no people around, take your mail to your apartment before opening it.

Avoid being alone in an apartment laundry room. Either do laundry on the buddy system or leave the laundry in the machine and go back later when the laundry is done.

When Leaving on Vacation


Have someone drop in regularly to keep the grounds neat, check the inside of your home, water the plants, and collect your mail or any newspapers you may have forgotten to cancel. Having a neighbor park their car in your driveway occasionally is also an indication that someone is home.


Draw the curtains and blinds only partly before you leave and ask your neighbor or friend to change the positions of the drapes and blinds occasionally.


Have lights, radio, and TV turned on in the evenings with timers you can buy in most hardware stores. This is useful even if you are out for only the evening.


Do not tell too many people that you are going out for the evening or on vacation, or for how long.


Lock all doors and windows to prevent easy access while you are away. Most burglaries occur through unlocked doors and windows (especially on second or third floors). Do not assume that balcony doors even on the highest floors of apartment buildings are burglar-proof.


Have a house-sitter if you will be gone for an extended time.


Contact your newspaper and other regular delivery services to cancel service. Do not inform them that you are going on vacation or when you would like service reinstated. Call them when you return.


Let a neighbor or a police officer know where they can reach you in an emergency. Also let them know when you expect to be back, so that if something occurs on your vacation, your neighbor will notify the police that you have not returned. Give a trusted neighbor a key to your home in case of an emergency.

Child Safety


Make a game out of the normal rules of child safety, e.g., equating "Look both ways before crossing the street" with "Don't accept candy or rides from anyone without getting permission first".


Warn your children repeatedly against going away with someone without telling you first.


Never use the word "stranger" when warning your child, for a child cannot be expected to understand that service representatives, delivery people, the neighbor down the street, and family acquaintances should also be considered "strangers". In many cases of assault the child knows the attacker.

Parents Set Example

Warn your child repeatedly about letting you know where they are, emphasizing that by going anywhere without telling you first you will worry and be unhappy. You should not instill fear in the child but rather a respect for your happiness and concern. As children learn from example, it is a good idea for parents to tell each other and their children where they are going and when they expect to be back, so that the children feel a part of this system of mutual respect and concern.


Avoid giving your child T-shirts or other garments with his name clearly printed on it. Strangers can use the name to address the child and therefore give the impression that they know the child and were sent by you to pick them up and drive them home.


Teach your children to cry out "Help Daddy!" instead of "Help Mommy" if they are being chased or threatened. This is especially important if a grown man is chasing your child, for then by-passers will know that it is not just a father chasing his child to punish him.


If your child is late and your instincts or "gut" feelings tell you that something is wrong, notify the police immediately. Rather than waste valuable time searching for the child, get professional help from the police. This is especially true if someone, even another child, tells you that your child went off with someone. Minutes can make the difference between life and death. It is definitely better to be wrong in this situation than to hesitate, and the police are always very willing to help.


Be sure that the child knows their full name, address, and phone number. This is essential information if the child is lost or injured. An imaginative way to help your child remember these things is to set their name, address and phone numbers (including area code) to a nursery rhyme or song such as Three Blind Mice, Old McDonald, or London Bridge. It may seem silly to adults but your child may learn more quickly that way.


Teach your children to use the phone in an emergency. Have important numbers by the phone, including numbers where you may be (e.g., work number, and neighbors' homes). At least the child should know how to dial "O" for the operator and give the necessary information.

Signature telephones can self-dial several emergency numbers by pressing one button and may be a good to have for your children.


Get to know your child's friends and their parents. Encourage your child to bring their friends over to the house.


A child should not be out at night alone and should avoid playing near empty or isolated areas. A child should not cut through alleys or vacant lots or take other short cuts home. However, children will do things that are unsafe at times. It is important for parents to get to know their children's neighborhood. Ask them to give you a tour so that if they do stay out late one evening you will know some of their favorite places to play.


A child should not be left alone in the house. If this is unavoidable, they must be instructed not to let anyone in the house without your consent by phone. Many cases of child-molesting or assault involve people whom the child knows.


A child should be taught not to let anyone (e.g., friend, teacher, or relatives) touch or caress intimate parts of their body. If this should happen, the child should report it to their parents, a teacher or another adult immediately.


In cases of child abuse or incest, the child must understand that they are never to blame. This is a most difficult task, for if the child is physically abused by a parent, their inclination is to believe that it was their own fault. To help a child, one must talk openly and listen lovingly.

The Child Getting Help

A child should be told that if they fear assault or abuse, they should run away immediately. This is hard to explain but important advice when it applies to the home environment. The child should not try to fight back but rather run away immediately to a neighbor, a relative, a friend, or should call the Children's Aid Society's 24-hour emergency number or one of the "hot line" numbers in the phone book.

The Adult Getting Help

Obviously the burden of protecting a child from abuse or incest lies within the family. If you fear hurting your child, request a neighbor or a friend to take the child for a little while when you need a break, or call your Children's Aid Society, who will be very willing to help. Also there are various organizations, including "Parents Anonymous", and telephone hot lines where you may find help.

Street Safety


Generally avoid walking alone at night in poorly lit, isolated streets and in high crime areas. When you cannot avoid such areas (e.g., because of your work) try to go to your car or public transit with someone else.


Always carry "emergency money" for a phone call and, if possible, for a taxi. Never use this money for anything else. REMEMBER that the 911 emergency number is free at all pay phones where the number is used.


Always carry the single key you will use next between your thumb and forefinger. This will allow speedy access to your home/car and, as a last resort, can be used as a weapon to strike an assailant.


Avoid public displays of large amounts of money. Many purse/ wallet snatchers wait by banks, post offices and expensive stores for victims.


On quiet streets always walk on the side of the road where you will be facing oncoming traffic. This is both common sense to avoid traffic accidents but also makes it difficult for a car to follow you closely.


If you are asked for directions by someone in a car, stay clear of the doors, keep your answer short and move on.


Avoid carrying a handbag for short trips to the store or post office. Keep some cash and your keys in a front pocket where you can place your arm or hand casually without looking suspicious.

Small Handbag

If you do carry a handbag, use a small one and tuck in under your arm. Use the shoulder strap if there is one but do not put the strap over your head.


Carry a briefcase, on the side where it will least likely be grabbed (e.g., curb side where traffic is).


If you are approached by a stranger requesting information or assistance, give him a short answer and move on. If you are suspicious of him, ignore his request and walk away.

If you are confronted by an exhibitionist, ignore him and move on. Do not make any comments or laugh as this may make them react violently.

If you are sexually solicited, ignore the person, or refuse politely and walk away.

1. If you suspect you are being followed, turn around and look at the person.
2. If the person continues to follow you, cross the street. If they cross as well you have several choices:

  1. Bulletmove towards other people and tell them of your situation,

  2. Bulletgo towards an open store, restaurant, hospital, hotel, etc. (remember "Know your neighborhood"),

  3. Bulletgo to a residence where someone is home and ask, from outside, that they call the police for you,

  4. Bulletdo not go directly home if you can avoid this as this will show the person where you live.


Know the bus, subway, train, and/or plane schedules so that you don't have to wait longer than necessary.


Do not fall asleep while you are travelling nor while waiting by your stop/station/airport - be aware of your surroundings.


Avoid waiting inside bus shelters where you can be trapped.

Proper Change

Have the proper change or tickets/tokens ready so that you do not have to display more money than is absolutely necessary.


Always try to sit near the driver or conductor. It is safer to sit next to a woman than a man. Always try to find an aisle seat from which you can get up quickly. (This is true for cinemas and theaters as well.)

Try to sit in a train or subway car where there are other people. Should most or all of them exit, move to another car. There is generally safety in numbers.

Hold Packages

Hold onto your briefcase, purse or packages. This will discourage a potential thief and prevent you from leaving them behind.

Abusive Persons

If someone bothers you verbally or physically, leave immediately and report it to the driver/conductor. Do not talk to a person harassing you. Move to another seat.


If travelling alone at night, ask someone to pick you up at your destination, or at least warn someone of your expected time of arrival so that your non-arrival will cause concern.

Being Followed

If, upon leaving a bus/subway, you feel that someone is following you, try to return to the vehicle or station. If that is not possible follow procedures outlined above about going to other people, an open business, etc.


Hitchhiking is always dangerous. However, for economic reasons, some people who leave their jobs in the middle of the night or travel extensively, do hitchhike. If you cannot car pool, at least use the following suggestions to minimize the danger:

Not to Home

Never allow yourself to be driven directly to your home or business but get out at a neutral site.


When accepting a ride, ask the driver's destination before giving your own. If he refuses, do not accept the ride.

Single Person

Accept a ride only if there is one person (preferably a woman or senior citizen) in the car, or a man-and-woman couple. Do not accept rides when there are two or more men.

Don't Accept Immediately

Do not accept a ride immediately. Talk to the person and look to see if the doors have inside handles. Make sure the locks are not controlled by the driver alone. Do not be afraid to refuse a ride.

Back Seat
v Do not get into the back seat of a car if there is someone already there. Your chances of escape in this situation are slight.

Front Seat

If there is a single occupant, sit in the front where you are in a position to grab the steering wheel and possibly the brake, after defending yourself against him. You can also see his movements more clearly.

With Couple

If there is a couple in the front seat, sit behind the driver, to avoid having the passenger in the front grab you should you need to escape.

Escape Plan

If you sense danger at all, calmly and carefully plan your escape. The car must stop at some time. Carry your keys in your hand or some other object which you can use as a weapon. When the opportunity presents itself, open the door and run away quickly. If escape is not possible without a confrontation, be prepared mentally and physically.


The types of clothes one wears does not make them more susceptible to assault (ie. mini-skirts or special "make-up" do not encourage rapists). However, if someone's clothes are restrictively tight, or if they are wearing shoes that are difficult to run in, then these clothes make it difficult to escape an assault. As mentioned in the "Awareness" section, it is the way one carries themselves personally that affects their chances of assault therefore one must be alert, confident, and aware of their surroundings.


A car is one of the most safe havens we have. Therefore always keep the doors locked (whether you are in the car or not). Allow no one entrance even if they wish to help you fix a flat tire. Look inside the car before entering to avoid possible assaults from within your vehicle.


Park your car in an attended lot or a well-lit or busy area. If you have to park in an isolated garage, drive around the area first to ensure you are completely alone and park close to the exit.

If you see someone lurking around in a parking area, do not leave your car. It is a very safe haven. Drive away and call someone who can escort you from your car.

Packing Car

When loading your car trunk with packages, have the driver's door open in case you need to get in quickly. Be alert. If someone approaches your car, get in, lock the doors, and wait to see what the person wants.

When getting into your car loaded down with packages, get in as quickly as possible and lock the door first. Then take the time to arrange your packages, coat, or groceries properly.

Need Help

If you are in a parked car and need help, blow your horn. The Morse code signal for help is simply three short honks, three long ones, and then three short ones again (S.O.S.), and it is well known to many people.

Being Followed

If you suspect that you are being followed by another car, drive immediately to the nearest service station, restaurant, police station, fire hall, or hospital. Blow your horn to attract attention.

Assault Situations


Except when your assailant is armed with a weapon or in a good position to quiet you forcibly, it is important that you yell from your diaphragm for help. The noise will confuse and concern the person. Yell "Fire" or "Call Police" rather than "Help" or "Rape".


If you are running away, kick off your shoes if you can run faster without them. The other advantage of this is that your pursuer will not be able to hear your footsteps if you are trying to run and hide.


Run in a straight line so that your pursuer cannot cut you off.

Don't Look Back

Do not look back, as this slows you down. Rather, listen for their footsteps.

Hiding Place

If you find a hiding place, remain perfectly still. Do not peek out to see if he is still around as he may be quietly waiting for you to reveal yourself. Wait as long as you feel you can bear, plus ten minutes, before coming out and seeking help, in case your pursuer doubles back and comes to look for you again.

If you are in a store or bank that is being robbed:

Follow orders without hesitation or sudden movements.

Do not assume that there is only one robber. The chances are that there is someone outside or in a waiting car.

If the robbers are unmasked, do not stare at them. Trying to note their description so obviously will only anger them.

If shooting begins, fall to the floor immediately. Be completely silent and lie motionless with your face down. Any attempt to be a hero could seriously endanger other people's lives.

Never use force to protect property. It is not worth physical injury.


Perhaps our strongest weapon and legal right in assault situations is our right to say "NO". The right to say no when someone begs for money in the streets; the right to say "NO" to anyone trying to touch or molest us in any sexual/physical way; the right to say "NO" to anyone seeking entrance to our home; the right to say "NO" when we feel that this is the correct response. THE RIGHT TO SAY "NO" SHOULD ALWAYS BE EMPHASIZED.


Do you resist or not? There is no pat answer for this difficult question. A woman must decide for herself, in advance, whether or not she will resist and under which circumstances she will resist. The deciding factors may include:

  1. Bulletwhether other people's safety is at jeopardy,

  2. Bulletyour ability to physically defend yourself and your loved ones,

  3. Bulletyour personal attitude.

The self-protection options are:

  1. Bulletchoosing not to resist the attack if you fear for your own life and the lives of family members or others also held captive;

  2. Bulletpassive resistance by trying to talk to the rapist to calm him down and play for time;

  3. Bulletactive resistance - be prepared and proficient to use verbal and physical forms of practical self-defense. If you are hesitant to hurt the man who is attempting the rape (e.g., someone you know, someone you care about) then you may lose in your effort to defend yourself. You must act quickly, proficiently and without hesitation. It is vital that you learn a form of self-defense. Saying "I'd kill anyone who tried" is not enough.

Other Rape Facts

As most rapists are known to their victims, loud and vigorous resistance is unexpected. Yell, be verbally aggressive, hit and kick with all your strength. Try to change your fear into anger.

» In situations where the rapist is well known to you (e.g., spouse, a date), state clearly, loudly, and forcefully, if necessary, that you mean "NO!".

Even if you choose not to report the incident to the police, call a rape crisis center or a friend for help. Do not keep the pain and humiliation of such an assault to yourself.

Remember that, no matter the circumstances, if you are raped, you are an innocent victim. There is no more reason to feel guilt than if you had been the victim of any other violent crime. There is never a valid justification for rape.


This is too complex a problem to be covered in this brief section; it involves the financial dependence of many women on their husbands, the emotional burdens of shame and fear, the reluctance and helplessness of the authorities to interfere in "family matters", the isolation of non-English-speaking women, and the still powerful notions of male domination. A few points are offered in hopes of helping in a small way:

Do Not Believe

Do not believe your spouse or friend when he says that it will never happen again. Regardless of their sincere regret, statistics point out that if it happened once, it will happen again.

No Guilt

The "victim" should never feel guilty or blame herself for provoking the assault. No matter how your spouse or friend is provoked, there are never grounds for them to use physical force.

Get Help

Ask your spouse or friend to seek professional help. There are therapy groups and individual counsellors concentrating on this very problem. Get help for yourself as well.


If your spouse or friend loses control, try to remain calm and avoid the confrontation. If it does erupt, get away quickly or defend yourself as best you can. Leave as soon as possible and get help from your family, friends or the various services offered to battered spouses. You are not alone. Local shelters are listed in the phone book. Seek counselling, legal action, and protection for yourself and your children.

Other than physically intervening in an assault against someone else you can:

  1. Bulletyell to the people involved that you have called the police (and then do so immediately),

  2. Bulletin a bus or subway situation stay at the opposite end of the vehicle and yell to the people involved to stop - this draws in the rest of the passengers; if there is an emergency call system, use it,

  3. Bulletnote down any details that may help police catch these people after they have run away.

How to Protect Yourself

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Copyright © 1989, 1993, 1999, 2006 Harry van Bommel

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