During the interview I talked about the importance of having awareness and some concepts for managing your personal space, however, there were some things I did not have time to mention about transportation safety that I wanted to address.
Public transportation offers some unique challenges to personal safety in that people you do not know have a justified reason for being close to or within your personal space. Also, while you are riding or waiting for a subway train or bus you are stationary in a transitional space- a space where people move to and from regularly. Criminals often take advantage of transitional spaces because of the ease of access to victims and general lack of awareness people have of their surroundings.
Preemptive safety tips:
Maintain mobility: select a position, whether seated or standing, in an arrangement that allows the greatest number of exits and movement directions. Sure the seat in the back corner of the car seems comfortable because there will be less people around you, but it also means that you are boxed in with only one way out if something happens.
Is there an emergency button/pull that will contact authorities? This does not make help materialize, but it can potentially draw attention and help get someone to your aid eventually, and should be pulled early if something is escalating.
Some of the problematic encounters with public transportation:
Incidental and intentional unwanted contact- trains can be crowded and incidental contact can occur between passengers in close proximity. There will be those that will deliberately touch others, particularly women. Someone might take advantage of close proximity and touch you. If you feel that someone is taking advantage of the close proximity in order to touch you, or if you feel uncomfortable about a certain person being near you, consider removing yourself and moving to a different part of the train. Depending on the circumstances you might need to say something assertively to get the person to back off- the severity of what they do can justify more aggressive actions as well.
Getting people acclimated to the social element of attacks is an important focus of my self defense classes. Get comfortable with using your voice and being loud and assertive in situations where it is not an outright assault, but a violation of your space in an unacceptable manner.
A belligerent or aggravated passenger harassing others but not particularly targeting you- options:
- STAY UNDER THE RADAR- do not give the aggressor a reason to antagonize you. If possible, try to maintain or increase your distance from him.
- GET OUT. Consider if relocating is feasible then call security or the police once you are in a safer place. If a fight breaks out and you are situated between the combative parties, you be incidentally at risk of getting hit or injured for an altercation that you were not a part of.
- DE-ESCALATE/INTERVENE. This is a judgment call since there are risks to your safety for getting involved in someone else’s aggression, and I would not recommend it, especially if you do not have the mindset and skills to handle it if it goes physical. That said, sometimes you don’t have a choice, but if things go physical, you must always be prepared to FIGHT.
If you feel unsafe about someone specifically targeting you that has not attacked you yet:
Prioritize having mobility- standing rather than sitting; this could mean moving to another area where you can stand up. Keep in mind, movement can range from difficult to impossible when a train is packed like sardines.
Get to relative safety- away from the potential attacker where more people are around then contact security or the police. If you are completely freaked out by someone’s behavior, better to be early than late, after he attacks.
Relative safety could mean getting off the train or bus, but in some cases exiting could also be a risk if you are in a bad area of town or moving to a more isolated area.
Getting off the train at a stop and re-entering the same train 1-2 cars down or the next train could work if the person does not follow you. If you relocate and someone follows you, you KNOW you have a problem. Get your head right and ready to fight or run. If you have training and are carrying force-multiplier (pepper spray or other self defense weapon) having it in hand and readied prior to contact is ideal.
Being isolated is always a red-flag-your alertness should be at a higher level when you are isolated. You should be paying close attention to anyone else getting on the train, especially if their presence or anything they are doing makes you uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter if it’s 9am on a weekday.
Alerted safety tips
- Can I remove myself or stand in a manner that I am readied if I have to defend an attack?
- Both hands free, senses clear, body unencumbered
- No newspaper or phone in hand, no headphones-no backpack on my back/shoulder.
A recent student told me about an encounter she had on the metro when she was the only one on the train and a man approached her, sat down next to her, exposed and started touching himself. She immediately left and called security- fortunately before anything worse happened.
For example, another passenger boards the empty train and takes a seat uncomfortably close to you or after getting settled in, moves closer to you. There could still be a natural hesitation in these cases, since this person could be doing so without malicious intent and has a legitimate reason for being on the train with you- to get to his destination-but why would he come closer to you? Is he oblivious to personal space/doesn’t care? Does he want to talk to you? Is he physically attracted to you? Or is this an opportunity because nobody else is around?
There is no catch-all for any self-defense situation; the proximity of the aggressor to you, your circumstances, your options: observe, remove/assert yourself, de-escalate, intervene, fight, etc., will always require analyzing what has lead up to the moment you are in and thinking on your feet to determine your best course of action.
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Train smart & stay safe,
NOVA Self Defense