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How to Protect Yourself Against Crime

Experts give advice on ways to fend off criminals -- and avoid danger in the first place.

Habitual Security continued...

"Security has to be habitual," says Jordan. "If you allow yourself to get into a lax way of thinking when it pertains to your security, it is very difficult to change that pattern when you find yourself [in not-so-safe situations]."

To clarify his point, Jordan points to security alarms that people have in their homes but do not turn on. The hardware does nothing to thwart burglars if it is not used.

People have an internal alarm as well. It usually tells them they are walking into a bad situation. Yet many ignore it because they have a false sense of security or are in denial that crime can happen to them.

5 Ways to Avoid Danger

To fine-tune your personal alarm, crime experts make the following suggestions:

  1. Trust yourself. Many times, your eyes, ears, nose, skin, and tongue will give clues indicating that something threatening is ahead. Another powerful indicator, widely known as a sixth sense, can also hint at danger. "Trust when something doesn't seem right," advises Nelson.

  2. Be aware of your surroundings. No matter how safe you think a neighborhood might be, it's still not a good idea to leave the front door open, your valuables in the car, your purse on top of your office desk, or to flaunt all of your expensive jewelry and other belongings. These actions simply provide temptation and opportunity for offenders, says David Silber, PhD, a consultant psychologist in Washington, D.C. who has worked with police. He also advises against walking through dark, isolated alleys, fields, or parking lots. Bad things happen in "safe" areas all the time. In fact, would-be attackers lurk around places where they can have the opportunity to catch people off guard, and remain anonymous. Again, they usually don't want to get caught.

  3. Pay attention to the people around you. This advice is part of both listening to your instincts and being aware of your surroundings. You can often sense peoples' intentions just by the way they look at you. Heed warning signs even when you are with people you know and trust. In 2004, U.S. Department of Justice statistics show seven in 10 female rape or sexual assault victims stated the offender was an intimate, a relative, a friend, or an acquaintance. Officer Jason Lee, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department, says questionable looks from people you know can gradually advance to touching or words that may make you feel uncomfortable. "Tell someone else about the warning signs, someone who can help you, so we can prevent this," urges Lee.

  4. Act confident and focused. Just as you can sense people's feelings, others can sense yours as well. Predators look for people who are meek, mild, weak, unfocused, and distracted. "Criminals are looking for easy pickings. They're looking for someone who they can take by surprise and will likely not resist," says Jean O'Neil, director of research and evaluation for the National Crime Prevention Council. She suggests presenting yourself in an assertive manner. When walking down the street, make eye contact with people who look at you. O'Neil says that signals the would-be offender that you are in charge and aware that they are there.

  5. Understand that alcohol or drugs can cloud judgment. Certain substances can certainly dull your senses and slow down your reaction time to danger. They can also lower other people's inhibitions and make them more aggressive or belligerent. It is for this reason that Silber says certain places like bars and pubs may present some danger, particularly if they're crowded. He also says mutual drinking can increase chances of rape or sexual assault among people who know each other.

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