Thursday, January 05, 2012

Red Flag!

Recently, I had an encounter with a stranger that doubled as a lesson in why we are taught not to talk to strangers, or at least why we need to use caution, especially when the stranger is a member of the opposite sex.

I met the guy while traveling with my sons. At first, he seemed normal, and so friendly that I expected him to latch onto other people besides me. Hours later, however, things got a bit uncomfortable. One sniff told me that he’d been drinking. His tone and behavior reminded me that too much alcohol can do unattractive things to a person. I thanked God that we were in a public place. Still, I felt trapped as he bounced from one random topic to another, sat way too close to me, and made inappropriate suggestions. I didn’t have the guts to ask him to leave or to call for help. I figured that as soon as we reached our stop, I’d be out of there and he’d probably move on to someone else. But as I gathered our luggage and exited, reality started to set in.

When I told my sisters the story, I recognized red flags that had been waving wildly, even at the “he seems like a nice guy” stage. He’d hooked me with a sad story and seized every opportunity to connect with me; his interests echoed mine; the fact that I was with my kids and said I was married didn’t hinder him; he sat beside me uninvited even though I was clearly focused on something else. Then there was his unsettling habit of casually touching me. That’s when I got a little freaked out. What if I hadn’t been in a public place? What if I’d been traveling alone? What kind of message had my tolerant response sent my sons? And it had all started with nothing more than being friendly. News stories of rapists and serial killers played in my mind like a sobering slide show. How many times had I heard or read, “He seemed so nice?”

“Unfortunately,” a friend said, “When you’re friendly, some people take that as an invitation. I’ve learned to be aloof in certain situations. I’d rather be perceived as rude, than deal with weirdoes.”

As much as I hate to leave people feeling ignored, I decided to start taking my friend’s advice. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scary people out there who appear safe on the surface. Being female immediately makes us vulnerable. This experience has prompted me to ask God for sensitivity to red flags—to help me recognize them early on and have the courage to say no to inappropriate behavior.
In case you find yourself in a similar situation (and I hope you don’t), here are a few things rules that I made for myself:
• Be leery of strange men, especially if they are alone and seem bent on talking to you.
• If he strikes up a conversation, share as little as possible about yourself. Don’t tell him your name.
• Stand or sit at least an arm’s length away.
• Avoid friendly gestures like smiles, extended eye contact, and getting caught up in sob stories.
• If you’re in close quarters and feel uncomfortable, make an excuse to move. (“Excuse me. I need to ask that police officer a question.”)
• Take advantage of those around you. Start talking to someone else if you sense that he is getting too clingy.
• If he asks “Do you have a boyfriend” or “Are you married,” and the true answer is no, just say “I’m spoken for.” Your heart belongs to God.
• Don’t be afraid to say, “I need you to leave” or ask for help. If he gets mad or you’re shaking inside, at least you’ll be safe.

Remember that, as much as we want to be friendly and kind, it is not our job to be everyone’s friend. God wants you safe for His purpose and so you can impact those that He brings into your life.


Trinka said...

Eeek! That sounds pretty freaky! Thanks for the advice. :)

Aysha said...

Thank you for this!

I tend to feel rude when I don't want to interact with someone of the opposite sex, especially when I know their intentions are anything less than godly.

But it's important to remain safe, and cautious..because as you said, not everyone is as safe as they appear on the surface.

What a great reminder :)

Sapphire said...

Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I think the biggest reason we ladies let our guard down is that we forget how often that kind of stuff happens.

I'd like to share a few more red flags from security expert (and author on the subject) Gavin de Becker, if you don't mind:

1 - Forced Teaming. This can be either claiming similar interests, like he did to you, or more blatant statements like "We're in the same boat" or "We're all in this together."
2 - Charm and Niceness. This can be genuine, of course, but charm is a verb. Victims often say "But he was such a nice guy" because he was nice on purpose.
3 - Too Many Details. Most people don't divulge all sorts of details about their lives to total strangers; if someone is doing this to you, it might be because they're trying to fake credibility.
4 - Typecasting. When women tell a creep to leave them alone, one common tactic is to insult them, such as "Oh, you're just a paranoid (expletive)." This gets the woman to defend herself, thus continuing the conversation and giving the creep more time to attack.
5 - Loan Sharking. A creep may do some small favor for you, like picking up something you dropped or carrying your groceries, then try to make you feel like a horrible person who took advantage of him for not "rewarding" him with continued conversation or having coffee with him.
6 - The unsolicited promise. This is a subtle one - like, if he picks up on your uneasiness, laughing and saying something like, "Don't worry, I'm not a bad guy - I promise!" Again, this is a common tactic to establish credibility.
7 - Discounting the word "no." This is the biggest one to watch out for! If he offers help or asks you for something and you tell him no and he continues to press you, it's the time to get emphatic, put your hands out in front of you and say "No!" loud enough for everyone around you to hear. It's possible he was a nice guy unaware of women's safety boundaries, but it's also possible he had very bad intentions.

Sorry that's a big long. ^_^ Having experienced a few too many "what if" incidents like you did, women being able to recognize warning signs and defend themselves is very important to me. :-)

Sierra said...

Wow that is scary...I'll keep your tips in mind. Thanks. Sierra
Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Cause You Are!)

Bekah said...

I've so been there! Thanks for sharing. Glad everything turned out OK : )

Jeanette Hanscome said...

Sapphire: Your tips are great. Thanks for taking the time to share them.