Small Town Girl, Big City Lesson


Written By: Gina Verrastro

I arrived in Philadelphia at the age of twenty-two, a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed product of a small town. Fortunately, I had a mentor who grew up in a rough part of the city and she was willing to take me under her wing and teach me how to walk home alone at night in areas that aren’t the safest without getting myself killed. I now pass that wisdom on to you, not to scare you but to prepare you. So – you’ve been out with friends having a great time, but now it’s late, and it’s time to walk home…

First things first: if you’re carrying a purse, take out your house key and your ID. Those are the things you need most, and that will be the most difficult to replace in a hurry, especially if you live alone. Tuck those items into an interior coat pocket, or in your bra, or undergarments. A mugger isn’t going to frisk you. If there’s room, you can add your debit card to the secret stash. Don’t bother trying to conceal your phone. They’re all too big and bulky nowadays to conceal it with subtlety, and if you try and fail you risk revealing your key and ID as well.

Now that you’ve gotten your necessities safely tucked away, it’s time to start walking. Walk briskly and with purpose, as if someone is expecting you and you’re running late. Never look at your phone, your watch, or any other distracting item. Be aware of your surroundings, but resist the urge to look around. You don’t want to appear lost or nervous. Try to avoid walking past parks or areas with nooks and crannies where someone could be lurking. Cross the street to avoid these areas if you have to.

There’s someone behind you. Are they following you, or are they just going in the same direction? There are a few tricks you can use to figure it out. Try varying your pace – pause briefly to glance at an interesting piece of architecture, speed up, or slow down. If the person behind you stops or varies pace with you, making an effort to match your footsteps, it suggests that they’re attempting to mask their presence. If you can safely do so, cross the street without waiting for a light or a crosswalk. If they follow, cross again.  If they’re still behind you, there’s a good chance you’re being followed.

Don’t panic. Find a business that’s still open – or where there are people still inside who might let you in if you knock – or a well-lit area that’s populated. From there, you can wait them out or call a taxi or a friend. Never take out your phone or appear distracted unless you’re in a safe location. If there are no refuges to be found, all is not lost. There is one strategy for deterring pursuers that is tried and true: out-crazy the crazy. Turning to face the lurker and barking loudly like a dog has been known to be effective. This has also been known to work on street harassers. You’re an easy mark when you’re predictable, but as soon as there’s no telling what you might do, you become less appealing.

You’ve made a solid go of it, but you still find yourself being mugged. Your heart is racing and adrenaline is coursing through your system. Tempting though it may be, don’t look at the mugger’s face. You’re less of a threat if you can’t identify the mugger. It won’t help your case when you speak to the police, but you’ll be safer in the moment. Throw your purse away from you and then walk – don’t run – away as calmly as you can. Don’t resist, struggle, or fight to protect personal items! Only fight if your physical safety is threatened. No purse and no item in your purse, no matter how sentimental its value, is worth getting hurt over.