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Staying Safe on the Mean Streets of Life
Others won't always rush to your aid if you are under attack - learn why and what you can do to make others help.
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It is frightening to think that you could be in grave danger, be crying out for help, and have many people witness your attack but do nothing to help you - yet it could happen. In fact, in heavily populated areas or in large groups this is very likely to happen. It is a sad irony; in order to stay safe we are told to stay in populated areas and yet in doing so, in the event of an attack, we are less likely to be helped by witnesses. The advice to stay in populated areas is still valid. For the most part assaults, rapes and murders do not happen with lots of witnesses around. The sort of predator who commits these crimes is looking for opportunity and anonymity and neither of these things tend to exist in areas where there are lots of people. Even with the risk of Bystander Apathy, you are always safer walking in well-lit, populated areas where lots of people can see you. If the unthinkable should happen and you should find yourself under attack there are strategies you can utilize to reduce the likelihood that witnesses and potential rescuers will succumb to Bystander Apathy.

  1. Yell very loud and try to sound authoritative rather than panicked. Do not yell, "Help!" instead yell, "Call 911!" or "Call the Police!" When people hear cries for help there are several reasons why they do not intervene; they are unsure that there is a real life-threatening situation happening, they fear for their own safety in getting involved and/or they believe that somebody else will respond to the cries. If you yell "Call 911!" it has two important psychological impacts on those who hear it; it sounds like an order and in emergency situations most untrained people need to be told what to do, and it makes it clear that somebody needs immediate help. Some safety advisors will tell you to yell, "Fire!" This is another good strategy but can backfire in settings where it is easy to verify if there really is a fire. What yelling "Fire!" usually will do is cause others to come out of their homes out of curiosity and in doing so they may spook your attacker or come to your rescue when they see what is really happening.
  2. Yell "Call 911!" and then start to describe the situation and the attacker(s). Speak in the third person as if you are a witness who is simply unable to make a phone call yourself (do not use the words "I" or "me"). Tell what is happening (ie: a girl is being pulled into a car, a boy is being hit with a club) and then start to describe the attackers (ie: a girl is being pulled into a red car by a tall heavy set White man with brown hair the license plate is ABC123, a boy is being hit with a baseball bat by an Asian teen wearing a brown jacket and ripped blue jeans). Give as many details as you can register and repeat them as often as possible. If you know your attackers name yell their name (ie: a girl is being pulled into a red car by a man named John Doe). This is an important strategy for many reasons; it makes the reality of the situation more personal for witnesses, it gives witnesses something valuable to tell police later on during the investigation, it helps you remember details of the crime to later relay to police, and for many assailants hearing themselves being described or called by name is enough to spook them and make them runaway.
  3. Repeat the "Call 911!" scenario described above as often as possible and add, "Nobody has called 911 yet!" This will push those people who think that somebody else has already made the call into action. Remember; yell these things as if they are orders and repeat them as often as possible. People witnessing or hearing a crime are going to feel stunned and a little shocked and are more likely to respond to calls they perceive as instructions than those they perceive as pleas for help.

For more important personal safety strategies see:
Before You Walk Alone in the Dark

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