Creating awareness around personal security

According to a report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in October 2012, violent crime rates rose across the United States by 17 percent between 2010 and 2011, with assaults going up 22 percent. With crime rates on the rise, what can we do to protect ourselves?

"You watch the news and you see all these crimes and pickpockets and purse snatchings or abductions happen and you think, 'What's out there that can educate me more?'" said Angela Lee, founder of SHOLDIT accessories, and an advocate for personal safety.

In an effort to raise awareness, Lee has established April 2013 to be the first annual "Personal Security Awareness Month."

"People tend to remember stories more than they're going to remember statistics," Lee said. "There's a lot of information out there on the Internet but we wanted to create an epicenter with our website (www.personalsecurityawarenessmonth.com) where people can support one another. The value of having a dialogue about this and hearing about what 'almost' happened to someone else can start the conversation and raise awareness."

Here are some of Lee's tips for staying safe:

Have a purpose when you walk.

"Don't walk and use your phone if you can avoid it. This makes you a target. Focus on your steps. If someone is following you, make sure you have a plan. Think quickly on your feet about how and where you can escape the situation if needed."

Look people in the eye.

"No matter who I pass, I always look the person in the eye, because that makes you human and not just an object they can abuse or harm. And be sure to smile and nod. Think, 'I'm confident. I see you. I recognize you.' Research shows if you look someone in the eye, they will be less likely to attack you because if you were to get away, you'd be able to identify them."

Trust your instincts.

"I think we're all given that internal alarm and we need to listen to it — especially when you're kids. Kids are more vulnerable and may be called a wimp or a baby if something makes them nervous, but that can change if we bring awareness to this in younger people. Go with your gut. Go with your instincts. Be confident in who you are and listen to what your body is telling you."

Be aware of where you park.

"I've heard examples where you pull up in your car next to a van and maybe they have a sliding door, and the next think you know someone gets kidnapped into that van. Also, I like to park far away from the door in a parking lot when I go shopping so I can get some exercise, but if you do this, you could be putting yourself in danger. You're distancing yourself from where people could hear you scream if something were to happen."

Spot your exit signs.

"If you walk into a room or a store, always make sure you spot the exit signs. If you walk in somewhere and someone has a gun or is taking hostages, ask yourself, 'How can I get out of here?' This sounds kind of dramatic, but it's important to be aware of this."

Look behind you.

"If someone looks away from you and seems suspicious as you pass them, be sure to keep looking over your shoulder to see where they are going. Never assume and be sure to over inspect…Don't think 'It can't happen to me.' Every day I'm hearing about examples of crimes, they happen everywhere."

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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