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Old 23.01.2008, 10:11
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Re: Twilight Break-ins - how to avoid

Bluefish - about "advice for women outside at night"... This is a difficult one as there are so many variables, but here are a few thoughts. Once again, remember that these are purely my thoughts and may or may not be helpful

The most important point to bear in mind is that generally, Switzerland is a pretty safe place. It's important to find a healthy balance between paranoia and carelessness. Both extremes are bad news.

Although Switzerland is generally relatively safe, there are situations where you should be especially careful. Look at it this way: An attacker (whether a mugger or worse) will be most likely to attack what looks like an easy target. So anything you can do to not make yourself look like an easy target will reduce the likelihood of your being attacked. What kind of things would this be?

- Be aware of where you park if you're going to have to walk back to the car late at night. A parking place way out in plain view during daylight may look totally different after midnight when your car is the only one left and it's in a pool of shadow with nobody anywhere near. Choosing a parking place close to a tram-stop or at least near a well-lit street may be worth remembering. By all means use those "for women only" parking places in parking garages, where available. They're usually well lit and close to the exits so you're not walking for miles through a deserted and dark parking garage. Listen to your "gut feeling". If you're really uncomfortable, say, when leaving a restaurant, ask a member of staff if they could walk you to your car. Sometimes (especially if you gave them a nice tip ) they'll say "sure". A staff member is not likely to be a risk because a) a whole load of people saw him leave the restaurant with you and b) the restaurant knows who he is, where he lives and that he probably wants to keep his job at the restaurant. If you do have to walk to the car alone in an "uncomfortable" situation, have you car keys ready and in your hand. Take a good look around, then go straight to the car, unlock the door, get in immediately (don't waste time opening the rear door and putting your handbag and coat in there and then walking around the car), close the door and lock it. Then take your coat off and so on. It's inconvenient but safer. If you try to drive off and realise you have a flat tyre, don't get out and walk around the car. Beware of the helpful guy(s) who suddenly appear out of nowhere and offer to help. They may be the guys who slashed your type in the first place. Just call the Touring Club on your mobile and stay put. If you're really uncomfortable, call 117 and the police can send a car to make sure you're ok.
- Some people give women advice like "don't make eye contact with strangers . It may encourage them to talk to you." I don't know. I think a woman shuffling self-consciously along with downcast eyes looks like a pretty easy target compared to a head-held high woman striding purposefully along with intent. I asked a couple of my female security colleagues how they would react to someone threatening them on their way home. They said "I'd beat the cr*p out of him", so they probably aren't a representative cross-section of female society (or society in general) and that wasn't really helpful, but it does bring me to my bext point.
- If you are likely to be in a situations where you are or feel you are at risk, take a self-defence course. And - and this is very important - repeat the course from time to time to keep your reflexes and knowledge up to date. The primary point is not to actually beat up an attacker. The primary point is that it will give you self-confidence that a potential attacker will definitely sense. You will NOT look like an easy target. If you are attacked, then at least you will be able to get in an incapacitating kick in the goolies or something. This will buy you time to get the he** out of there. You don't have to be an Amazon Warrior to take part in these courses, but they are definitely a good idea.
- How about personal defence equipment? Hmmm... You don't carry a gun legally in Switzerland unless you have a permit, and they are next to impossible to get hold of unless you need a gun professionally and can prove it. So let's strike that one off the list. Tazers and electrical shock gadgets are explicitly forbidden in Switzerland, so don't. If the police find you with one, you'll be in trouble. Pepper spray is legal (but subject to regulation regarding substance and concentration) and easily available. But there are a few things you need to know about pepper spray:
a) A can of pepper spray is useless if it's buried at the bottom of your handbag and someone grabs you. You need to have it in easy reach.
b) You need to practice with a papper spray. You can buy practice catridges for the better pepper sprays which spray water so you can get a feel for the range and how to best hold it. Practice. Practice. If you don't, you'll mess it up when you really need it because you'll be stressed and in a rush.
c) Pepper spray hurts. A lot. You know how cutting onions burns your eyes? Think that but unimaginably stronger. And it doesn't go away after a few minutes. Do NOT use one in an enclosed space (tram or car). The only effect that will have is make sure that you get an equal measure and that really isn't the point of the whole excercise. Do not use one against the wind, it'll blow into your face and not the attacker's.
d) If you manage to spray an attacker, don't hang around. Run away. Pepper spray hurts and the attacker won't me in a particulary mellow mood if you spray him. You do NOT want him to grab hold of you once you've sprayed him as he'll be mad as a nest of psycopathich hornets. Thing is, he won't be able to see anything so if you run away, you can get away pretty well.

But having said that, prevention is better than cure. Avoiding a threatening situation is better than getting out of one. There are books and tons of web pages on the subject.

Cheers, Dani

P.S. And by the way, you may have noticed the security people who patrol around all night on bikes, foot or by car doing their rounds. It may be worth asking one of them if they could quickly walk you to your car. Usually they'll do that for you as they do understand the situation.
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