BY RACHEL CHEESEMAN, FOUNDER OF STREET SMART SELF DEFENSE
Before we were able to put down that last leg from our turkey dinner, the department stores were calling us out to take advantage of their “can’t miss” Black Friday sales! Parking lots are an obvious place for high risk activity, and we spend a greater amount of time navigating these environments during the holiday season. Due to the increasing amount of distractions, especially from cell phones, I’m going to focus this month’s article on safety reminders in parking areas Of course, locking your doors, keeping packages out of plain view, walking with your head up and scanning the area as a means of general awareness should always be part of the daily routine. These are great ways to prevent someone from violating your personal space. But what about dealing with those potential criminals who have already begun their “selective interview” process? Here are three types with examples of real-life situations and what to do:
1) The follower. This one actually happened to me. I had just exited a grocery store, and as I was walking to my car, I had this weird feeling I was being followed. I glanced back and there was a young man trailing slowly behind me. When I stopped at the back end of my car, he stopped too. He then asked me if he could help me put my bags into the car. My gut instinct didn’t like being followed so I told him “no thank you”. I purposely kept my cart between us as a barrier. He then walked two steps toward me, grabbed my cart and said, “I’ll just stand here until you’re done”. It was then I put my command presence skills into action. I stood up straight, shoulders back, put one hand up (like a stop sign) and forcefully said “no, I’ve got it!” He then took two giant steps backwards with his hands up and left me alone. It was my command presence through body language and tone of voice that convinced him to leave. Remember: It isn’t what you say, it’s also the manner of how you present yourself that can make all the difference.
2) The Scammer. This happened to my cousin very recently. A man in a pickup truck, who she encountered at a previous intersection, followed her to a parking lot and confronted her by accusing her of doing damage to his vehicle. She captured the audio of the incident on her cell phone. The man kept pressuring her to reveal her insurance information. She wasn’t guilty of an accident, so she declined. But he kept insisting she give up her personal information. Fortunately, an officer was nearby (she was confronted at a school parking lot). She repeatedly told the man that there was a cop in the area and that he could help sort out the problem. This man wanted nothing to do with the police officer. He ended up getting back into his pickup truck and drove off. By standing her ground, she was able to thwart an obvious insurance-type scam against her. Even if there was no officer present, she could have also picked up her cell phone and said she was calling the police as well.
3) The Beggar. This one was in our local news over the summer. A man was standing outside of a pharmacy asking for money. One woman stopped to do a good deed, and as she looked in her purse for cash, the man slashed her throat. The woman survived but will have the permanent scars of trauma forever. In these situations, it’s best to keep walking. If you choose to respond, keep walking while quickly raising your arms in front of you and say, “I don’t have any money”, then immediately enter the store.
Your personal space isn’t a democracy. You don’t have to stop if someone asks anything. If it’s an emergency, keep your distance and call the proper authorities for help. As far as donating to a passerby it’s best to contribute to local charities directly—and a lot safer!
Have a safe and blessed holiday season!
Rachel Cheeseman is a 2nd degree black belt and has studied the martial arts for the past 28 years. She founded Street Smart Self Defense Academy in Erie, PA 17 years ago to empower women, due to the rape of her sister in her off-campus college apartment. She is a certified instructor for the national full-contact self-defense program called “Model Mugging” and a certified instructor for the MUNIO Self Defense Workshops. Rachel is also a member of and former seminar instructor for the American Women’s Self Defense Association, and she has been inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame, Action Martial Arts Magazine Hall of Honors and the World Karate Union Hall of Fame.