GirlSafe: The Ultimate Street Safety Manual For Girls
Welcome to GirlSafe! As a girls self defense organization, we are devoted to providing our students with the information they need to lead safe, confident, and successful lives. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw in our city and around the world a serious increase in assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking. We realized we needed to educate our students better on street safety and awareness, so we began gathering expert information and put our findings into this manual.
As a note before we begin, I want to emphasize that discussing safety principles requires an acknowledgement of some bad things that can happen in life. Our goal is not to make readers become more fearful of the world. This would actually be detrimental to a life well-lived, and even to a safe and successful life. What we want to do is arm our readers with as much useful information as possible so that if they ever must face one of these situations they will be better prepared. So that they can go about their lives with more confidence in their ability to handle scary situations. And so that they can be aware of signs of danger and avoid it altogether.
Let's Learn GirlSafe!
First we must start with some general rules that help our understanding of safety as a whole.
The Familiarity Rule
75% of kidnap victims are kidnapped by someone they know. This is an important thing to understand because we often think of self defense in terms of a stranger in an alley way, but the reality is that most kidnappers are someone the victim already knows and trusts.
The Disguise Rule
It is important to know that online predators do not say "I'm a 48 year old man, what's your address?" but instead, they disguise themselves as the same age of the victim to gain their trust. Similarly, in person or on the phone, predators don't say "When do your parents come home? I want to know when you'll be alone." We must be aware of the fact that predators will always use some sort of disguise to trick us, and it's often not obvious.
Yelling vs. Screaming
Since yelling is such an important component of self defense, it is important to differentiate between the two. High pitched screaming is easily misinterpreted- 'maybe it's some teenagers fooling around'. It is always better to YELL words that people nearby will understand. Yell specific things that will get attention and tell people what is going on: "HE'S KIDNAPPING ME", "GET AWAY FROM ME", "SOMEONE CALL THE POLICE NOW".
The Never Cooperate Rule
If you yell, people will come to help and call the police. The attacker knows this, so they will always tell you (and threaten you) to not yell or make a scene. It is very important that you don't listen and continue to yell as loud as possible and fight back relentlessly. The fact is, the attacker only has so much time before someone notices and calls the police. They are not willing to risk going to jail over you. We have to use this knowledge against them- every second you fight back is a second closer to them giving up and running away as fast as they can.
Now that we have established a few key principles, let's begin with the specifics!
Situational awareness is being aware of your surroundings- where you are, what’s around you, and the potential dangers. Good situational awareness can really be effective in staying out of harms way, because you will see dangers coming ahead of time, increasing your reaction time and your ability to call the police or avoid the danger completely. Here's how you can have better situational awareness:
1. Remove distractions
Do not walk around in public while on your phone or with headphones in. When you stop your eyes and ears from sensing, you significantly reduce your awareness and reaction time to possible threats, and you are perceived as an easier target than someone who is demonstrating good awareness.
2. Scan the environment
Make sure not to keep your gaze on the ground or only in front of you. Look forward at where you are going, and periodically scan from left to right. In situations that require heightened awareness, make sure to check out whats going on behind you as well.
3. Stay aware of environmental hazards
Situational awareness is as much about awareness of the natural environment as it is about human threats. Pay attention to where you step (a pot hole?), what’s above you (hanging street lights? Weak trees or wires?), and always be aware of traffic.
4. Note the exits
When entering buildings, concerts, and parks, make a mental note or keep the map of where the exits are. In the event of an emergency, knowing the escape routes will be extremely useful.
5. Position yourself wisely
Get in the habit of positioning yourself where there is an easy route to an exit. Try not to position yourself in a corner, in the middle of a huge crowd, or where you have no cell service in case you need to escape quickly. This is useful at concerts, restaurants, and even on the subway.
for a list of games and activities you can play as a family to develop situational awareness, click here.
The most common way for a kidnapper to abduct someone is by luring them into a car, and in most cases this happens within a few blocks of the victims home. When discussing kidnap prevention, it is crucial to remember the following rules.
1. Never approach a car that stops for you.
Kidnappings most often happen by luring a child or woman into a car. Under no circumstances should an adult ask a child to come towards their car, even if it is someone the child knows. If a car stops by you and tries to start a conversation, keep walking (quickly) and get out your cell phone, prepared to call 911. If they get out of the car and approach you after you have walked away, run away and dial 911 to tell them exactly where you are, what the car looks like, and what happened.
2. Know the tricks.
Kidnappers use the same tricks to lure children to their vehicle. Understand that adults do not ask children for help and they don’t give them free things. Here are the most common lures that kidnappers use for children:
The Awesome Offer: offering the child money, toys, pets, food, or a ride.
The Animal Trick: offering to show or give the child an animal.
The Emergency Trick: faking an emergency involving their parents and asking the child to come with them to the hospital.
The Help Trick: asking for help with directions, finding a lost pet, or carrying something.
The Bad Kid Trick: pretending the kid is in trouble to get them to go with the kidnapper.
The Friend Trick: pretending that the kids parent sent the kidnapper to pick them up.
The Model Trick: pretending to ‘recruit’ the child for modelling or acting, promising fame and fortune.
3. Run in the opposite direction the car is facing
if they get out to approach you. This will grant you extra time to run and find another adult or safe space to call 911.
4. Don’t take shortcuts.
Always take the path with the most people on it- don’t try to save time by taking back roads or alley ways. Attacks are more likely to happen in areas where there are not many people around to see or hear what is happening.
5. Find good strangers.
If you get lost, don’t run around yelling for your parents. Find an adult that works somewhere close by. If you are on a street, go into one of the stores and find someone with a name tag and ask for help to find your parents. Do not go anywhere with someone who approaches you and offers to find your parents or take you home.
6. Never go into someone’s house without parental permission.
Even if it’s a neighbour, teacher, or family friend. No adult should ever ask a child to go into their house when they are alone. If this happens, say 'I'll just call my parents to ask if that's okay first', and if your parents say no or they don't pick up, tell them you have to get home and leave immediately.
7. Don't trust someone because they are familiar.
Remember the 75% rule- most abductions happen by a person the victim knows- including family members. Do not go into anyone's house or car because they seem friendly or you know them- unless your parent said that you can trust them (and even then tell your parents beforehand.)
8. Memorize your information.
Your parents phone numbers, your address, and 911. In case of en emergency you want to have this information ready.
The main danger at home is that kidnappers pose as someone who is collecting information, while trying to figure out what times parents are not home. This could be through a phone call or from someone knocking at the door. Here are some tips you can follow.
1. Never open the front door without parental permission,
or when your parent isn't home. An adult should always be aware and present when you answer the door.
2. Never give out personal information
about yourself, your parents, your school, your address, over the phone or to someone at the door. Remember the disguise rule- bad guys will pose as someone you can trust to try to get information out of you. Anyone who is trustworthy will always ask to speak to the parent- if they don't- that's a sign that you should no tell them anything and hang up or close the door.
The internet gives kids access to so much information, but it also opens them up to dangerous content and the ability to be contacted or targeted by online predators. Always follow the following rules to avoid danger.
1. Get parental approval for the websites you use.
We know it can be lame, but your parents will be able to make sure the website is safe, and tell you about the things you should look out for. Remember that they have more experience, and their advice is meant to spare you from harm.
2. Do not accept strangers as friends on social media.
No matter how cool you are, it will still be true that normal adults do not follow or message minors on social media unless they know them personally. As a minor, your profile should always be private. Do not accept people you do not know just because you want more 'followers', or because you want to be polite. Do not respond to any messages sent by people you don't know.
3. Never send personal information online.
If you need to, ask your parents first. If you don’t want to ask your parents about it, that’s a great sign you should not send it. Remember the disguise rule- kidnappers don’t introduce themselves as adult criminals. Online they will pretend to be a kid your age to get you to open up to them and offer valuable information.
4. Don’t send or upload inappropriate photos or videos on social media/online.
Remember that once it is online, it's almost impossible to remove. That is something you do not want to put yourself through! Do not let anyone pressure you into doing something that you are uncomfortable with- no matter who they are- your best friend, your boyfriend, or anyone else!
5. Don’t share your location on social media.
Just because social media lets you report where you are and what you’re doing at all times doesn’t mean you should. Never reveal important addresses like your home or your school. Do not make it easy for predators to see when you are home or not.
6. Tell your parents.
If anyone says or does anything to make you uncomfortable online, tell your parents immediately. Whether it has to do with bullying, inappropriate content, peer pressure, or predators. Your parents will be there to help you make the right decisions, and take the appropriate measures to report them. We know this can be super hard- but remember that they are there to guide you through difficult times.
7. Do not participate in cyberbullying (or bullying).
Hate pages, mean comments, fake accounts, purposefully excluding others, has a big impact on a person and can bring big consequences to those involved. Do not take part in bullying to keep both others and yourself safe. If you are the victim of bullying online or in person, tell your parents as soon as you can.
To learn about our tips for parents when setting boundaries for social media click here.
What does confidence have to do with safety? Well, studies have shown that women who simply walk and present themselves confidently are significantly less likely to be targeted by a bully or predator. We took a deep dive into the data on this topic here. Follow the following rules to deter anyone from messing with you!
1. Stand Tall.
Stand with your shoulders back and your head up. Keep your arms at your side, not tucked in pockets or covering your chest. Think of having open body posture instead of a closed body posture.
2. Walk Tall.
When walking, maintain this confident posture. Let your arms swing naturally at your side, and take wide strides with your legs instead of short stubby steps. Look ahead of you instead of at the ground.
3. Walk like you have a place to be.
Don’t dilly dally around aimlessly when walking down the street. Walk like you know where you are going, people are waiting for you, and you are in charge! Walking confidently tells a predator that you are assertive and that you are more likely to stand up for yourself.
4. Make eye contact.
Eye contact is a sign of confidence. Try to meet eyes with people who cross you on the street- this will tell them that you noticed them, you’re looking around, and you’re not afraid of confrontation. When speaking to someone, practice keeping a natural eye contact (especially if it’s a situation where you are standing up for yourself) instead of breaking eye contact every 3 seconds and looking at the ground- which shows a lack of confidence.
For more on presenting a confident self click here.
It is super important to be aware of local crimes, risks, and cultural norms before traveling somewhere foreign.
1. Conceal your wealth.
You may be thinking ‘wealth?”, but in many countries, the average person from a Western nation is considered rich. This makes you a greater risk of being targeted for several crimes. Phones, computers, jewelry, watches, expensive shoes, purses, should all be left at your hotel and not worn when walking around the street.
2. Learn about local crimes/dangers.
Government websites share tons of safety information about every destination, including weather, crimes, diseases, and cultural customs. Before every trip, do your own research on what you should be aware of when traveling to your destination. For example, before I went to Cape Town, South Africa, I checked the Canadian government travel advisories. It advised that if a police car tries to pull you over- don't stop- and instead drive to police station. Apparently it is a very common crime to impersonate a police officer to rob vehicles in South Africa, and I never would have known this if I didn't do my research.
3. Don't look lost.
If you're lost, don't wander around looking confused and open up your phone or map. Find a nearby store and sit down, and then use your phone to find out where you're going.
For more on solo travel safety tips for women, click here.
Tips for the worst case scenario.
1. Defend with ALL you got.
If you know self defense, use everything you know. If you don't, do everything in your power to fight back- whether its punches, kicks, eye pokes, bites, and scratches. The only priority is to not get taken to a secondary location. The more you fight back, the harder you make it for your attacker, raising the chances that they will give up and run away.
2. Attack the face.
If a kidnapper picks you up, attack their face with as much force as possible: poke the eyes, scratch their face, even bite if you have to. We know it sounds 'mean'- but remember your life matters and that's what you're fighting for.
3. Never, ever, get in the car.
The advise from every self defense expert is to do anything you can to stop yourself from getting taken to a secondary location. Use your feet to push off the car door. If you have a bike hold onto it so they can't fit you in the car. Throw the attackers keys far away from the car if you can. Yell as loud as possible the entire time. The goal is to show to attacker that you are too difficult to kidnap.
4. From inside the trunk.
There are a few things you can do from the inside of the trunk.
Look for a white escape handle on the trunk door that will open it from the inside. Most new cars have this for that reason.
Kick out the brake lights of the car. Most cars are made very weak from the inside around the brake lights, and can often be kicked through. If you can, kick them out and wave your hand outside of the car as aggressively as you can.
If you can’t do 1 or 2, tear away the fabric on the inside of the car. Try to find wires and disconnect them by tearing them out. You are likely to disconnect the brake lights, which will signal to other cars and police that something is wrong, bringing attention to the car.
To learn more about what to do in the trunk of a car, this article is really informative!
5. If you are in the front of the car
as soon as they open the door to get out, unlock your door and run away yelling as fast and loud as you can- even if they threaten you to stay in the car. The most important rule is to never get taken to a secondary location.
6. Never cooperate.
They are not expecting a headache. Make them know that this will be extremely hard and annoying for them. There are cases of attackers letting their victims go because they refused to be quiet and go down without a fight. Tear the car apart, yell constantly, attack them in the car, kick the seat, bite and scratch. You want them to decide that you are too risky and too much work to kidnap. We know this is scary- because what if you make them mad and they hurt you more? Statistics show that you are more likely to survive by doing everything you can to get away from your attacker and not cooperating with them, then by going to a secondary location.
Thank you for reading! This is our first draft of GirlSafe- it will be updated as we learn more about the best safety tips for girls. Stay tuned for more articles like this on our GirlSafe blog to learn about self defense, safety, and confidence!
Author: Gemma Sheehan, Founder of Girls Who Fight Inc.
Gemma is an ex-MMA fighter who started Girls Who Fight to teach girls and women self defense, martial arts, and help them build confidence.