Written by Kelsey Cook, Assistant to the President & Project Manager at Hathaway Strategies
Take a minute to think about an average day in your life – how many times do you unlock and lock your home, office, and car doors? How often do you do a double-take as someone gives off a “weird vibe” when you’re walking down the street? How often are you aware of your surroundings for the sole purpose of having an emergency plan? My answer and my guess is your answer is – way too often.
As a twenty-something-year-old woman living in Indianapolis, IN, I check the back seat of my car when I get in. I intentionally walk a different route so there’s less of a chance someone follows me and so I don’t have to pass the men who catcall me. If on the off chance I’m out alone when it’s dark out I have my keys in hand and am ready to bolt at any second. If I get the slightest gut instinct that something about a situation feels “off”, I’m texting or calling someone or getting out of the situation. I know many people who do these same things, and I know many people who believe nothing bad would ever happen to them so they don’t feel the need to be cautious. However, women in my age group are the highest victim pool, of people who will be harassed, assaulted, and so on. So how can this be addressed to avoid another notification from the Citizen app about *fill in the blank*?
The two biggest things that come to mind are vigilance and education.
There have been countless times where I believe if I was not being vigilant, my life would have been drastically different. In some situations, I’ve been overly wary of my surroundings and in some situations, I wonder if there was more going on than I was aware of. Here is my unsolicited advice on staying vigilant:
- Keep your head up – When you’re walking around an unpopulated or populated area, look up and look around. How can you watch out for yourself if your focus is on your phone? We all do this, but whether it prevents you from running into a person or prevents your purse from getting stolen, it’s worth a few minutes looking away from your screen.
- Recognize what’s familiar and what is absolutely not – are there people that seem out of place at your community park or neighborhood? Growing up, I knew everyone in my neighborhood and when someone new or suspicious was there, everyone knew. Be familiar with places you frequent. I don’t say this to be judgmental, I say this because oftentimes your gut instinct tells you when someone is “off”. While some predators look like your average Joe, many are easy to identify if you are actively aware of what is “normal”. If you see something different than normal, pay attention to it, there’s a reason it stuck out to you in the first place.
As the media tells the stories of more and more women falling victim to violence or harassment in any way shape or form, awareness is being raised. The public gets scared and upset and wants this problem to be fixed, then the event is out of the headlines and everyone goes back to their daily lives and doesn’t worry about it until the next headline appears. Essentially, we react, but we don’t respond, and I think this is because we don’t know how to, me included. Every time I listen to a Crime Junkie podcast episode or watch the newest true crime documentary, I want to help the people whose stories are being told, but even more so I want to prevent it from happening again.
Educate women and MEN. Ladies, ask yourself this – generally, who do you see that you are more frightened by, women or men? My response, and the response of those I know, are men. Men, I’m sorry, but you can scare us. Whether you’re my work acquaintance, grocery cashier, barista, waiter, apartment manager, or a stranger on a casual stroll with your dog – I don’t know you well enough to know you won’t hurt me. I do not say this to say all men, it’s not all men, we know this. But it is men, and we don’t know your motive, and we have to be prepared for the worst. If I’m on a walk, and you come up behind me running and startle me, how am I supposed to know the difference between you running and jamming out to the newest Odessa song, or if you’re chasing me and are going to tackle me to the ground? If someone unexpectedly approaches me, I’ll fling my arms and jump out of the way, if you know me you know this is true. I don’t care who you are, I’m watching out for you.
Men, I hope your question is, “what can I do to help make women safer?”.
Thanks for asking, here are some ideas:
- Just like bikers say “on your right/left” when passing, you can do the same to warn us you’re approaching.
- If walking around downtown, if we look skeptical of you, change your direction, cross the street, or again, warn us that you’re there.
- Stop being obnoxious and cat-calling. Those six words shouldn’t need an explanation, but since it’s 2021 and people of all ages are still doing this, let me lay it out for you. Do not provide women of any age with unsolicited comments in public. There is no need to yell something about her appearance or make a face or make noise of any sort at a woman. If she wants to say something she will, but oftentimes when it comes from a man, we will be more bothered than we likely were in the first place. Oh, please please please, do not tell me to “smile”.
- If you see someone you know or don’t know, in an uncomfortable situation, HELP THEM. No one will be upset that someone tried to help. There have been moments I’ve wished friends or strangers had stepped in during uncomfortable situations, but the bystander effect falls into place, and we assume someone else will intervene if need be.
Ladies, we now have an idea of what we can do for ourselves, and what men can do, but what can we do for each other. We MUST have each other’s backs and know what we can do to keep each other safe.
- If you see a female walking alone and see someone suspicious around her, let her know. Again, she will not be upset you looked out for her.
- If you see a strange interaction between a female and a suspicious individual, intervene. Again, she will not be upset you looked out for her.
- If you don’t feel comfortable intervening in a situation, depending on the severity, go get help, call the police, or literally scream to get other people’s attention.
- If you’re at a bar and see someone making someone else uncomfortable, intervene or tell an employee.
- If you know a friend is walking alone either at night, in a remote area, or in an uncomfortable setting – call them and/or have their location shared.
- If you’re out and your friend wants to leave and you don’t, and they offer to leave alone – go with them.
This is a lot. It’s heavy and something many of us don’t want to think about, but it’s real. We could talk about this subject matter all day, but I believe being aware of what is happening around us and encouraging others to do the same is a crucial first step. It’s something that affects children, teens, and women daily, and it’s time we combat the fears and empower each other to feel confident and safe.
Stay safe, and live with light and love.
About Kelsey Cook
Kelsey Cook joined the Hathaway Strategies team in 2019 and has since served as the Assistant to the President and Project Manager. She operates scheduling, meeting preparation, project management, digital media, and assists with planning events and advocacy projects.
Kelsey serves as the coordinator for the Richard G. Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series, a profound women’s leadership program, which perfectly meshes her passion to get more women into leadership roles and creative strategic planning. Most recently, she has created websites and content for client’s social media platforms, which she is working to continue by taking digital media courses.
During the 2019 Indiana legislative session, Kelsey was a communications intern for the Indiana House Republican Caucus where she composed news releases, weekly columns, graphic design pieces, and other media content for six state representatives. Beforehand, she was a Public Affairs intern at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is where her love for politics and Republican policies began to grow. While in DC, Kelsey’s newly sparked interest led her to become passionate about news and media, especially involving national security and human rights.
Kelsey attended IUPUI where she received a bachelor’s degree in Media and Public Affairs in May 2019. Raised in Northwest Indiana, she grew up dancing and in performing arts. Now she enjoys spending her free time learning and teaching people about health and nutrition, listening to true crime podcasts, trying new coffee shops, and being outdoors.