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Stay Safe When You Park

Parking? Yes, parking.

Parking lots and garages are among the top four places where women are assaulted. (The others are their homes, outdoor trails and paths, and college campuses Parking lots and garages have too few or no security guards, poor lighting, and many places to hide. If there are security cameras, very often no one monitors them. They’re not there to help prevent crime, but to provide footage for evidence after the fact.

A little preparation can go a long way to preventing an attack. Next time you get in your car to drive to work, the mall, or a store, think about your personal safety.

Get in the habit of running through this checklist:

Before you leave home, empty your vehicle of items you don’t plan to carry on you.

Thieves sometimes break into cars for nothing more than a jacket or phone charger left in plain sight. Hiding items after you park may not help. A potential attacker may watch for people putting things in their trunk, glove compartment, or other hiding place.

Park in a well-lit space.

Bright lighting in a parking garage makes it harder for a potential attacker to hide there. Studies have shown that adding more lighting and higher watt bulbs in commercial garages has decreased the number of attacks. If you are concerned about your workplace parking structure, ask your employer for more lighting. That’s an easy fix.

Park as close to your destination as possible.

Parked cars obstruct sight lines and provide many hiding places for attackers so the fewer you have to walk by the better. I understand some people purposely park a distance away for the exercise but there are safer places to get your 10,000 steps in!

Avoid parking next to columns, garbage containers, or any large object a person could hide behind.

Security camera footage has shown attackers hiding for hours behind an object waiting for a target. If the only space left is in a corner, back your car into the space so the driver’s door is farthest from the corner.

So you were careful about where you parked. What can you do to be safer when you return to your car?

Take a moment and scan yourself and your environment:

  • Look at the people around you. Are they paying attention to you? Are they sitting at a distance in a car watching the parking area? Is there more than one person watching? Is there someone standing idly by? Do they appear to be waiting for someone, or are they watching people walk to their cars? Are they standing in view or partially hidden?

  • Look at the vehicles around you. Is there a van or car with an altered appearance such as tinted windows or a covered license plate? Is it parked too close to the driver’s side of a car? Is it driving slowly through the aisles and not parking?

Walk to the parking lot or garage with other people. Friends and colleagues can arrange to walk together or drive one another to their cars -- especially when coming off late-night shifts when the possibility of an attack increases sharply. If you are returning to your car after shopping alone, wait until you see other shoppers going to their cars. The more people in an area, the less likely it is that someone will attempt an attack and the less likely an attack will be successful if they do.

Get your key or car fob out and ready to use before you get to your vehicle. Walk with confidence and scan your environment as you go. Occasionally look behind you or use reflective surfaces to detect unusual movement. Do not talk on your phone or fumble with your bags. If you look distracted, you are more of a target because you are less ready to react to a threat. If you forget where you’ve parked, don’t wander around looking lost. Click your car fob to locate your car. If you don’t immediately see or hear your car, remember to click the fob again to lock it, so no one can get inside it while you search. You might want to go back inside and think about where you parked rather than standing in the lot where you’re vulnerable.

Walk in the center of the parking aisles and try not to cut between cars. This lessens the chance of being grabbed by a hidden attacker. If a stairwell seems dangerous, walk up the garage ramps instead.

Once your car is in view, scan it and the vehicles next to it from a distance.

  • Look for objects underneath the vehicles or on either side of them.

  • Look behind the car wheels, as this is a common hiding place for attackers. If possible, walk around your car to check the wheels and make sure your tires are not flat.

  • Look at the vehicle parked next to the driver’s side of your car. Does it look suspicious? Is it a van with sliding side doors? Is it parked too close to open your door fully? If so, get help or enter from the passenger side door, if you think you can do so safely.

  • Look at any nearby pillar or large object and scan it from all sides for a hidden person.

Remember, scan from a distance as it allows you time to get to safety or, if the threat is unavoidable, confront your attacker in the open. Position yourself where others are more likely to hear and see you and where you can put parked cars between you and the threat.

Now you have reached your car, what do you do?

Check the back seat and trunk (if it is visible) for a hidden person.

If you have an electronic opener that turns on the overhead light in the car interior upon unlocking, click it as you arrive next to the car. Alternatively, carry a small flashlight with your car keys and shine it in the back of the vehicle before you get in. You can also use a small flashlight to shine the light in an attacker’s eyes and as added weight behind a strike if you need to fight back.

Glance behind you as you unlock the car door.

If there’s someone behind you, your goal is to get into the car without them, as fast as possible. Try to put the car door between you and them. Use it as a barrier and a weapon: repeatedly strike the attacker with it as you continue to get in the car. If you can’t get on the other side of the door, use the car door frame as a brace and kick straight behind you multiple times, as hard and fast as you can while yelling at them to get away.

Lock the doors as soon as you are in your car and turn on the ignition immediately.

If there is a threat, turn on your lights and use the horn to scare them away and signal to others you need help. Otherwise, put on your seatbelt and drive away immediately! Attackers have been known to break a car window or use a slim-jim to open a car door after a person has locked the doors. Do not make a phone call, turn on the radio, or check for directions until you can pull over in a safe, well-lit place with other people nearby. If you think you are being followed, drive to the nearest police station.

Take care and stay safe,


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