A Lesson in being Observant and Trusting your Instincts

Being a woman anywhere in the world, you can often find yourself targetted for one reason or another. Because of ethnicity, because you may appear weaker and thus easier to take advantage of, or because of your age. We get a lot of talks about being careful and aware of your surroundings, but I can’t stress enough how important this can be. Not to make you paranoid of everything, but to have an observant watchfulness that could very well save you from bad situations. I’m not in law enforcement, nor am I trained in self-defense. An incident that happened on my way home from work today made me feel like I should share some stories with you, because a woman’s instincts are one of the most important tools she has in staying safe.

I am generally observant by nature, and prone to question people’s motives or why they are doing a certain thing. I’m not what you’d classify as paranoid. I also don’t possess an overtly negative outlook towards the world. But in my adult life, there have been 3 situations where being observant and aware of my surroundings has helped me, and I want to share these with the women out there in the hope that you will employ some of the same techniques.

1. A number of years back, 3 friends and I were shopping at the Las Americas outlets in San Diego. We’d gone shopping in pairs, and had decided to meet at a fast food restaurant nearby to go home together. After a successful shopping trip, my friend and I decided to drop our purchases off at my car, and to walk back to the shops to check out a couple more places we missed on the first go around. As we were walking through the parking lot towards my car, a white sedan pulled out of its parking space just ahead of us. We stopped to let it pull out before proceeding ahead. I noticed the man glance at us, down at our shopping bags and then kept backing out. Nothing to make me worried, but just something I’d noted. As we kept walking towards my car, I noticed that the car had come back around into the parking lane we were in, and park only a few spots away from where he had pulled out of. I thought to myself: “Why did that man pull out, just to park again a few spots from where he left?”. I mentioned this to my friend and she didn’t really think anything of it. It still seemed odd to me because the parking spot was further from the shops, so it’s not like he was getting a more convenient parking spot.

We put the shopping bags in the trunk (boot) of my car and as we walked away, I noticed the man get out of his car. I turned around once, and he was walking back towards my car. Then he saw me notice him and he kept walking behind us in the direction of the shops. As we turned our backs and kept walking, a few seconds later, I looked behind me, and he had turned around and walked in the direction of my parked car. He looked and saw me watching him so he pretended to walk back towards us towards the shops. This proceeded to happen twice more. I told my friend I’d wait for her in the parking lot so I could keep my eye on the man. He kept up the charade of walking towards the shops and as he disappeared around a corner, I saw him glance back at me. I am certain, that had I not turned around, he would have broken into my car and taken all of our purchases. He noticed we had quite a few shopping bags, and once it became clear we were about to do more shopping, he was going to break in. I’m sure at a few points during this scenario, my friend thought I was paranoid, or crazy. I myself questioned it a few times, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

Lesson: If something seems off to you, don’t just brush it off as coincidence. Even if you don’t act on it right away, file it away. What triggered it for me, was the man’s eye movement. I saw him observing our shopping bags. That movement felt odd and everything that happened after that just confirmed what I had observed.  In the off chance I was being overly paranoid, the worst that could have happened was that he’d think I was some paranoid female and shake his head and move on. I would never see him again, so why would i care what he thought of me?

2. I was driving home from my fiance’s (now husband) house one evening around 11pm. The area I lived in wasn’t super posh, but it wasn’t necessarily unsafe either. I was driving through residential areas and noticed a truck behind me. It got really close to me, and then backed off and started following me at a further distance. At the time, I didn’t think “oh, this truck is following me” but I thought it was odd that it had done that. The streets were practically empty (because it was late) and if it’d wanted to pass me, it could have. Why did it back off? I didn’t pay any more attention to it until I was making a turn and I noticed it slow down and pull over. I figured it had pulled over it front of their house. But no, once I made the turn, it kept driving and following me. I noticed that each time I pressed on the brake, it would slow down and pull over, as if to see whether I was stopping at that house. Because I was taking backstreets through residential, there were a lot of turns, so I was able to observe this happening quite a few times. As I approached my street, I pulled over to the side of the road, turned off my engine and stayed in the car with the doors locked. I kept the keys in the ignition. The truck pulled over into a street behind me. It pulled out and drove past me. In that moment, I told myself “See? You’re just being paranoid” and got out of the car. As I got out, I saw that the truck had turned around ahead of me and was driving back in my direction. In that moment, I cursed my stupidity for getting out of the car so quickly. I stood there, realising that I might not have time to get back into my car and lock the door. I was determined to get a look at his face so I stood there, in front of my open car door and stared into the drivers side window. The windshield and the window were tinted so darkly that I couldn’t see a thing. The truck slowed in front of me, but didn’t stop. After it passed me, it sped up and drove away. I looked to see if I could get a license plate, but it didn’t have one. I’m not sure what would have happened, but I drove an older camry, so I doubt I was about to get my car stolen.

Lessons: Getting out of my car was a stupid idea. I should have had a populated place in mind that I could have driven to in order to get a bead on whether the truck was really following me. Either that, or I should have been aware of where the nearest police station was so that I could have driven there. Ladies, it pays to plan ahead in case you believe you’re being followed. The truck was old, so why did they pay to have the windows tinted so darkly? It was also missing plates, so they clearly didn’t want to be identified. I was dumb to get out of my car, but I was probably staring directly into the eyes of the driver, and my awareness scared them off. An attacker wants to catch their victims when they’re off guard. Digging for keys in your purse, or juggling a lot of items. I know that even though getting out of the car was stupid, being defiant and letting them know I saw them probably made up for my stupidity because they drove off.

3. Today’s incident wasn’t as dramatic as the last two, but I want to tell it because seemingly benign behaviour, should be noted. I was walking home from the tube station and there was this man walking a bit aimlessly in front of me. He was caucasian, well dressed and clean cut. There were a lot of tourists in the area, but he didn’t strike me as a tourist. I thought he could be a man going home from work, but his aimless walking is what made me notice him. Most people on their way home from work in the city, walk quickly and purposefully to their locations. I passed him on the sidewalk and walked ahead like I was going home. I noticed that he’d started walking faster, and was keeping pace with me, but a few metres behind me. This can happen, because there are a lot of people in London, and inevitably, some will live near me. I did slow down a bit to see what he’d do, and he slowed down too. Again, nothing earth shatteringly obvious, but another thing to note. I decided that I would stop at the local pub and check my phone as if I was waiting for someone. I turned the corner and stopped just out of the eye line of the street. The man walked up, saw me standing there with my phone out. He turned, crossed the street, and walked back in the direction we’d just come. Only once did he glance back at me. I waited until he was out of sight before I went home. Now, I live in a very nice area, and it was practically broad daylight. I’m fortunate to have restaurants nearby that I can go to if I need to. The man may have decided that he was going the wrong direction and turned around to go back, but I wasn’t going to risk putting myself in a situation to find out.

Lesson: No matter how benign you think a situation is, test it. Do what I did and walk a bit faster, and then a bit slower to see what happens. If you’re wrong, then there’s no harm done. People may just think you have an erratic walking pattern. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re instincts are wrong, or that your gut is misleading you. I’m a normal female adult, and I truly believe that my ability to observe, and not just see (an homage to Mr. Holmes), as well as to trust my instincts, has served me well.