Unfortunately, the dating world isn’t a safe place. Taking precautions is necessary, even if genuinely dangerous situations seem unlikely. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Although women are more likely to be victims of sexual harassment and assault, it happens to men, too. Men are much less likely to be taken seriously when claiming victimhood, adding extra difficulty in coming forward. Both male and female victims deserve equal support.
The internet can be both a blessing and a curse. Dating apps and sites are convenient for meeting new people, and it’s nice to be able to connect no matter if you’re looking your best or lounging on the couch in your pyjamas. They won’t know. Just like you won’t know if they are who they say they are.
Imagine you are browsing a dating app or site. There are several things to consider when approaching someone online. First and foremost, examine their profile with care. Avoid profiles with one blurry picture, overly edited pictures, or pictures of celebrities. Having something to hide isn’t a good sign. Similarly, avoid profiles that offer no information about the person, and keep an eye out for lies (which are surprisingly common).
Once you strike up a conversation, pay attention to the way they speak to you. Are they respectful of your boundaries? Are they unfair or demanding? Do they flatter you to the point that it seems disingenuous? Do they seem too interested in where you live, or places you frequent? Is the information they give you consistent? Are they willing to compromise, or do they always have to be right? You can tell a lot about a person through their style of communication.
Cross-reference as much as you can before agreeing to do anything. If their Facebook profile is suspiciously void of information, or if their list of friends consists entirely of girls, it’s probably used for shady purposes. If you can’t find anything about them at all, they may have given you a fake name.
If you have agreed to meet someone in person for the first time, keep in mind that no matter how trustworthy they seem online, your instincts might give you very different signals when interacting face to face.
Always pick a public place for a first date. Let a couple friends know what you’ll be doing, keep your phone charged, don’t wear clothes that could hinder you if you have to run. Do not get into a car with them, and do not go home with them unless you are sure of their intentions.
If you’re getting drinks, avoid the “rounds” system. Make sure you can see the bartender pour your drink. Keep an eye on your glass at all times. You wouldn’t want your date to slip anything into it. Remember to pace yourself—you don’t want to get too drunk.
If you’re going clubbing, have a few friends tag along, and watch out for each other. Stick together when getting drinks, going to the bathroom, stepping out for a breath of fresh air. Don’t lose anyone on the dancefloor. Make a note of where the exits are, and confirm that everyone has gotten home safely when the night is over.
If you’re with someone who’s being controlling or threatening, or if you have been approached by someone who can’t keep their hands to themselves, remember that you can ask for help. An experienced bar staff will be familiar with signs of trouble, and will likely recognise that you’re being harassed, but there are several ways of asking for help if they don’t respond on their own.
If you feel safe doing so, simply tell a member of staff or the security guard that the person you’re with is bothering you. Let them know whether or not you consider them dangerous, whether you’re afraid that they will follow you. If you suspect that speaking openly would raise tensions, you have a few other options.
You can ask for “Angela” or an Angel Shot. This will let staff know that you are in a situation you’re not comfortable with and would like to get away from. If you order an Angel Shot neat, you will be escorted outside or to your vehicle. Order it with ice, and staff will call a taxi for you. Order it with lime, and they will call the police. Since the name of the drink is fairly well-known, some bars have their own versions of the Angel Shot in the interest of being more discreet. There are usually informative posters notifying guests of this in the bathrooms. If you can’t remember what drink to ask for, making eye-contact with a member of staff and shaking your head slightly should also get the message across.
If you’re too far from the bar, you can try pretending that a nearby stranger is an old friend, greeting them enthusiastically. This is also code for “please help”. The person you’re approaching may not understand right away, but if you keep confidently pretending that you know them, the penny should drop.
If you have decided to go home with someone you aren’t 100% sure you can trust yet, inform a friend you can trust to keep tabs on you where you will be staying (give them the address if you can), and when you expect to be home.
You can ask your friend to call you at a certain time to check in, and have a system ready in case things go wrong. For example: if you answer, you can let them know that all is well and you’re having a good time. If you miss their first call (strike one), they will call again in 10 minutes (strike two), and once more another 10 minutes later (strike three), and if you still haven’t answered, they will call the police. It may seem like overkill, but in situations like these it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you are walking home alone, remember to be aware of your surroundings. Don’t take a route you aren’t familiar with, and stay away from unlit parks, parking lots and alleyways. Keep your phone handy, but don’t distract yourself by texting or having a phone conversation on the way. Even though you’re being cautious, try to look confident. You are less likely to be attacked if you look less like a victim already.
An alarm necklace or keychain is a good way to bring the attention of bystanders, and pepper spray can stun any potential attacker long enough for you to get away. You can also be resourceful and utilise items you are likely to carry with you at all times. Position your keys between your knuckles (think Wolverine), or weild your reusable water bottle as a club. Nail files and pencils are sharp enough to stab with.
Whatever weapon you choose to carry, remember that it is only effective if you are prepared to use it. It might be a good idea to practice at home to make sure you can wield it with ease.
A potential attacker may approach you to determine whether or not you are a suitable victim. If you are approached by someone suspicious, act calmly, but confidently. Keep a safe distance. Answer assertively, set clear verbal boundaries. This may cause them to leave and search for an easier target.
If you are attacked on the street, you should prioritise getting away from them, and reaching safety. Scream, yell, draw attention to yourself any way you can. Your attacker will be less likely to pursue you if you have people on your side.
If fleeing isn’t an immediate option, fight like an animal. Hit them where it hurts! Go for the face, the eyes, the groin. Try to overwhelm them with the sheer ferocity of your response. It might be your only chance to avoid getting pinned down, especially if you are smaller and weaker than your attacker.
Use whatever you can to stun them. If they hesitate, even for a second, use the opportunity to run away and get to a safe place.
Sometimes there is nothing we can do to avoid being the victims of assault. It may be someone you least expected. Far more rape victims are assaulted by someone they know than by strangers.
The first thing to do is to ensure your own safety. Make your way home, call someone you trust. It will take a while for the shock to wear off.
If you feel prepared to do so, seek medical attention as soon as possible. It is not an easy decision to make, but it increases the chances of the perpetrator being brought to justice. Besides treating bodily injury, health care practitioners can provide you with a rape kit, which is used to collect evidence of assault. The less you have cleaned up (showered, changed clothes) after the assault, the more evidence there is to collect.
The evidence can then be frozen and kept until you are ready to file a police report. Some people are never ready, and that’s okay. This is your choice to make.
You will need time to heal from the trauma, both physically and emotionally. Survivor’s guilt is a real thing, and you may feel compelled to blame yourself in spite of the fact that you could not have been responsible for the attack. Rape is used as display of power, of domination. Do not let that define your emotional response.
It may seem like the assault has taken over your thoughts, your entire life, but the feeling will not last forever. Let yourself process what has happened. Let your friends support you. Remember that you are loved. You will make it through.
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