Last night I caught the anecdotal TV series I Survived in which people describe life-threatening situations (mostly of a criminal nature) and how they cheated death. I'm fascinated with the human body's and spirit's abilities to click into survival mode and see it through. Some of the stories involve accidents and injuries, but most relate crimes against the survivor. Last night's episode featured a young woman who was house-sitting with her two young children when four gunmen came through the door to rob the house. They didn't break in; they didn't have to. They simply rang the doorbell.
Why did she open the door without knowing who was on the other side of it? Whatever happened to "Don't talk to strangers"? Have we become so focused on safe sex, safe investing, and safe websurfing that we forgot the safety rules most of us learned at our mother's knee? As the scope of risks broadens to heretofore unimagined areas of our lives, we can easily forget the basics. Looking both ways before crossing the street pales in comparison to dodging the DC Sniper. Yet the simplest dangers are still out there, preying on future subjects for I Survived. Maybe it's time for a refresher course. June and Ward Cleaver's safety rules may seem antiquated but they are no less sound in our technological age:
- Don't open the door unless you first know who is behind it. That means looking through the peephole, window, sidelight to see who's there. If you don't recognize the person, call out "Who is it?" or "Can I help you?" Although it may seem paranoid or rude, don't open the door to anyone you aren't expecting. Even if the caller is wearing a work uniform or business suit and claims s/he has legitimate business at your address, call out "I can't help you right now; please come back later." Verify the visitor's stated business by phone or internet. Someone can easily muscle his way into your home once the door is open even a crack, unless there is a chain lock. Better to speak through a window or the closed door. If the visitor's business is valid, s/he'll come back or otherwise contact you.
- Don't hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers. Another victim on I Survived was approached for a ride at a convenience store while refueling his car on a long trip. He had misgivings about the shady-looking characters but assented anyway. Needless to say, they robbed him, choked him, ran the car over him, and left him for dead. Similarly, don't ask any strangers for a ride yourself. Cell phones pretty much eliminate the need to ride with strangers but if you're stranded somewhere without a cell phone, ask the Good Samaritan who stops to call the police for you. If it's after dark and you're fairly isolated, stay in your car and speak to anyone who stops through the car window, if possible. I still remember the grisly story of two young men who stopped on the highway to aid a Towson girl whose car broke down on her way home from a party in the wee hours. They raped her, beat her to death with lengths of chain and a tire iron, dismembered her, and set her on fire.
- Keep all doors locked even when you're home. Charlie Manson's cuththroats just walked right into Roman Polanski's house the night they murdered his wife and unborn child. No matter how safe your neighborhood, keep access doors locked, preferably with a dead-bolt, chain, or other device that will prevent an unauthorized keyholder from entering. Yes, I saw this too on I Survived. A woman decided to move into a particular apartment complex because of the added safety of a 24-hour security guard on duty. Not long after, she awoke in the middle of the night to find she was being raped. The rapist then stabbed her in the throat multiple times before he fled. She managed to call 911 and as she was on the phone with them, a loud knocking came at the closed apartment door. The security guard called from outside to let him in so that he could help her, that a neighbor had reported her screaming. The 911 dispatcher instructed her not to open the door despite her dire injuries. Good thing. The security guard was arrested for the rape and attempted murder after he let himself into the apartment with the spare key he had to all the apartments in the complex.
- This goes for your car, too, while you're in it. A carjacker probably isn't going to stick around if he can't open the door to yank you out or put a gun to your head. Case in point: a young woman driving in in Memphis was stopped at a red light. A stranger reached in through the open passenger window, grabbed her infant -- carseat and all -- and ran. The baby was soon found unharmed, but the man should never have had the opportunity to snatch him. True, the baby should have been secured in the back seat, but the point is that the open window allowed the kidnapper access. A less vulnerable way to ventilate the car is to open all the windows about six inches only.
- Don't offer any information on the phone to unknown callers who might be casing potential victims. Such info includes: your routine, work hours, if you live alone, if you're going out of town. Exception to this rule: Even if you don't have one, talk freely about your dog. A big one.
- Don't agree to meet strangers in an isolated area. Selling something via classified ad, or responding to an ad to buy something? Do not invite interested parties to your home, nor should you go to theirs. Arrange to meet in a public place to view the item. If it's a car for sale, do not go alone with a stranger to test-drive it. If it's an item that is too large to remove, have someone with you during the viewing, preferably that police officer friend who moonlights as a bouncer and practices kung fu.
Cynthia Polansky "Expect the Unexpected" http://www.cynthiapolansky.com/ http://www.cynthiapgallagher.com/