How to Stay Safe: Advice Learnt from Experience
Foreign Correspondent in Germany, Rupali Naik, shares her experience and gives important advice on how to stay safe when on your own.
This has been an article I’ve been meaning to write for some time. Much like my article last year, which covered my encounters with racism in Exeter, this too will act as a form of therapy – while also lending some advice.
The Christmas of 2013 I received my first ‘proper’ bike. It was a sky-blue Pendleton, with a brown basket. One night I had dared myself to wake up before sunrise and go on a bike ride. Little did I know that this childish dare would start a love affair between my bike and I. I would cycle to the sea and watch the sky. I studied how the sun and the moon would move. Not once was I ever followed. I never had a single horrible encounter in these blissful six years.
Until this summer. Since August 2019, I have been followed by either one or a pair of men four times. Four. In the space of two months. To even bring myself to even think, let alone write, about my first experience brings a wash of emotions I wish not to revisit. But like I said, I write in the hope that this helps someone else.
Not once was I ever followed. I never had a single horrible encounter in these blissful six years.
From what you’ve learnt of me, I like a walk. I was at Boomtown. The sun was rising, and I decided to go for a walk. None of my friends wanted to join, which was understandable. There were a lot of people about still and there was security around too. I felt safe. I surveyed the situation and went on. I did a couple laps of the camp I was at – admittedly people were giving me strange looks. I had wrapped myself in my sleeping bag to stay warm. I decided to venture into Boomtown to find the high point and see the sunrise. Again, there was security around. I took a left down a lane. Luckily, I had lost my earphones during my stay at Boomtown, so I heard the fast footsteps behind me. I found this strange. I slowed down. I let them overtake me. It was a blonde man, who looked like he was in his late twenties or early thirties. I slowed down more. This was a very long lane with no turn off for a while. As I slowed down more, he did too. I slowed to a halt. He stopped too. Fight or flight, they call it. I turned and headed the direction I came. I heard him do the same.
Luckily there was a group of people ahead of me; I went straight for them and explained my situation. The man passed us, staring right at me. What came next was worse. People just didn’t believe me, or didn’t want to believe me. I asked if two people could walk me back to my camp, but they all disdained from that. They abandoned me with a couple who were supposedly going my way but looked at each other and decided to go down another lane. I was so angry. I took the sleeping bag off, scrunched it up and thought if I die here, then I hope these people feel guilty when they hear it on the news. I got back to my camp safely, the couple, who had left me, came back once they saw me take the sleeping bag off. The man apologised and said he thought I was just too smashed (I was sober).
But even if I was, does that make a victims’ claims and experience any less worthy of notice?… apparently so. That’s sadly the world we live in. I called my auntie in the morning and cried. She told me I did all the right things and that I was lucky. And I was. Who knows what that man would’ve done to me. I still see him when I’m walking home at night sometimes.
I believe everything happens for a reason. If I hadn’t been followed in August, I wouldn’t have been as vigilant in September.
The timing of this initial incident was a week before I left for my study abroad. And then three followings took place in my first month, here in Germany. I believe everything happens for a reason. If I hadn’t been followed in August, I wouldn’t have been as vigilant in September. So, here’s what I’ve learnt:
- Carry some form of deterrent on you – a pepper spray or a whistle. Don’t be threatening or aggressive as this could get you in worse trouble.
- Know your night – if you’re going out, plan if you’re going to walk home with someone or take a taxi. Better yet, plan to stay at a friend’s house.
- Call someone – now this can be faked or real. I often start a fake call and talk to myself about my night and about what I’m going to do when I come home. This will make it seem like a housemate is up and waiting for you.
- Always let your friends or family know where you are – message one of your friends that you’ve just been out with or a group chat. Don’t be afraid to be annoying and spam them.
- Don’t be preoccupied on your phone – Don’t listen to music. Don’t be distracted, be aware of who is in your area.
- Appearance – look tough. Walk with purpose and control. Dominate your space with your body language. But be calm and centred.
- Footwear – be ready to run. Trainers are a must when you’re going out.
- Be aware of your surroundings – know your journey, know what routes are safe and unsafe. Look at all possible exits.
- Communicate – if someone is following you in the day or with lots of people around, shout at them. Draw attention to what they’re doing. This helped me in one out of four incidents, the man stopped following me. Or go ask for help from someone who looks trustworthy.
- Order a taxi – if you are being followed at night go to a public place, find somewhere safe and order a taxi home.
- Stay active – building up stamina and strength. Learn to protect yourself.
- Listen to your instincts – if something doesn’t feel right, act on it. Better safe than sorry.
In November, Exeter experienced two sexual assaults, which triggered a petition made by Izzy Smith and Millie Chatfield, both Exeter University students, demanding much needed night buses. Simultaneously, there have been reports of sexual assaults around the University of Glasgow, leading to increased security and measures by the university. Overall, it is great that people are drawing attention to these issues. It is important that we look out for other people.
I hope this article has been somewhat enlightening. I am grateful that I was able to evade four out of four run-ins. I am sure there could be more to come for me. I’ve taken up a self-defence class and speak openly on my Instagram about these issues. Keep sharing and listening. Be empathetic towards those who may need your help. Be vigilant and stay safe, all the best.