As the executive director at the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing, Cindie Alwood sometimes works long hours alone. “It was probably 8:00 at night, and some guy was across the street this way, and saw me come out the door, and immediately came across Michigan Avenue and started talking very fast,” Alwood said. Even though she’s trained to protect women and knows firsthand how easily it is to become a victim, she nearly froze. Her arms were full with work items, and the man tried to get between her and her car. Eventually she talked him down.
“It turned out okay,” Alwood said. “After he was gone, I was a little shakey. I don’t feel unsafe here. I feel very secure here. I’m not worried about going in and out at night or anything.”
There’s a harsh reality that crime experts need women to face though. “The fact of the matter is crime does happen throughout the day, whether it’s dark, whether it’s early in the morning, or whether it’s noon time,” Michigan State Police Trooper Marco Jones said. It happens where you might least expect it because women are the most vulnerable there, which is where the first location comes in: parking lots or ramps, like at your work or leaving a store.
“They come out and their hands may be completely full, and let’s face it, sometimes people consider women easier targets,” Trooper Jones said. That makes parking lots an easy place for women to fall victim to a large van parked too close or a scam at your own car – another dangerous place if women aren’t careful.
“People have placed things on the windshield to get your attention,” Trooper Jones said. “Sometimes when we’re about to get in our vehicle we see something on the windshield, and we say, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ We’ll get back out and start reading it.
In that case, go somewhere else before you remove it from the windshield. Don’t hang around and read it in the parking lot. The same goes for checking make-up, brushing your hair, or answering a text – it gives criminals an opportunity to approach. Experts say let it wait until you’re home.
“People have been known to approach at an intersection and try to gain entry into your vehicle, and that’s why we recommend that the vehicle is always locked,” Trooper Jones said. But what if you’re not the one driving? Taxis aren’t just for big cities. Gary Marchal owns DD’s Taxi here in Lansing, and he said it’s young women who use cabs most on the weekends, usually after a trip to the bar.
“If you call one company, and another company pulls up and says, ‘Oh yes, uh, we work together,’ or ‘We’re with them,’ Don’t do it,” Marchal said. Intoxicated or not, using a taxi means putting all your trust in that driver. Marchal recommends calling someone on the trip home. But if you’re walking, phones can also be a distraction on the streets you know best.
“If you show signs of weakness or whatever, sometimes criminals will prey on it,” Trooper Jones said.
Criminals are paying attention most when you’re not, usually in very familiar areas.
“People tend to walk the same areas, whether it’s a residence, going to work or school or what not, and just becoming a little bit too familiar with the area,” Trooper Jones said.
It can even happen in the place we feel most comfortable: home.
“Sometimes we have a tendency to get complacent once we get home,” Trooper Jones said. “It’s our place of solitude, it’s our refuge, as well as it should be.” Open windows and unlocked doors are an invitation to criminals, who also might try to draw you outside with a suspicious noise – something Alwood won’t let happen now.
“We’re not in the 1950s anymore,” Alwood said. “If you are out in the world, and not paying attention to your surroundings, you are putting yourself at risk.”
If you feel threatened in any of the places, Trooper Jones says a woman should always make a scene – yell fire, scream, run, anything.
Self-defense moves could also come in handy – literally. Self-defense instructor Wayne Lindow offers free classes once a month at the Women’s Center. He said there are 13 different ways to use your hands in an attack.
“I offer ways to get out of a tight situation, not breaking something, not kill the guy,” Lindow said. “Get away without being hurt.” He calls it defensive living, like defensive driving, just being aware of what’s around you, and how to use what you have.
“Your elbow is the hardest bone in your body,” Lindow said. Knees and feet are also useful. He says aiming for the groin, shins, tops of feet, or eyes is best – key areas that allow you time to get away.
“As soon as you feel threatened, strike,” Lindow said. “Don’t wait to make sure.” He said most women are often too nice, but we shouldn’t be afraid to hurt someone if you feel like they might hurt you. Alwood has taken his class several times.
“Maybe in that one time you’re going through a parking ramp and you hear footsteps but don’t see anybody, you may think, ‘Ok, what’s going to be the best course of action for me right now?’” Alwood said.
For Lindow, that’s the most rewarding part.
“I have no sisters, I have no daughters,” Lindow said. “Girls are special.” He can’t protect us all, but he can teach us how to protect ourselves. A self-defense class will be held at the Women’s Center on March 5.
The Five Most Dangerous Places for Women:
Make a mental note of exactly where you parked before you go inside. Walk with purpose with your keys ready on your way out. Check in the back seat and under the car before getting in.
Your Own Car
Start the car and drive away immediately. Don’t get back out for any reason – scams include someone standing behind your vehicle blocking your way, a note in the windshield, and someone even asking for directions from a few parking spots away. Always keep your door locked once inside. If someone does gain entry to your car, don’t be afraid to cause an accident.
Look for MDOT stickers and signage. Stay awake on the ride home. Call someone on the ride home letting them know where you are, and when you’re expected to arrive. Don’t be afraid to talk loudly so the driver knows someone else is aware. Don’t reveal personal information (except your address) to the driver. Only take the taxi that you specifically called. East Lansing taxi drivers are required to have a license, Lansing drivers are not.
Keep distractions (phone, music, etc) to a minimum. Walk down the center of the sidewalk with purpose, avoiding larges bushes, alleys, and doorways. There’s safety in numbers – walk with at least one other person whenever possible. Don’t be afraid to cause a scene if you feel threatened – yell fire, scream, run.
Your Own Home
Check the doors and windows before you leave and when you get home. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to call police. A suspicious noise outside or power going out might be a scam.