The Galveston Police Department is warning residents about a string of attempted kidnappings of women on the island.
The description of the incidents reads like the script of a TV crime drama: A man pulls up alongside women walking at night, gets out of his car and tries to talk them into getting into it. In one incident, he physically assaults his target and tackles her to the ground.
But it’s not a TV drama. It’s theater of the living, and it’s happening in Galveston. The creep factor ratchets way up when you learn that one incident involved two women and a man. When the man confronted the aggressor, the response he got was, “I just want the girls.”
Galveston Police on Monday released a composite sketch of the suspect. Now that the guy’s mug has been made public, we’re hoping he’ll be found and arrested.
But that could take a minute. Or it might not happen at all. And even if it does, there no doubt are other nefarious actors out there looking for trouble.
According to Women on Guard, an online store specializing in self-defense products, there are several crucial safety tips for women walking alone at night.
• Sign up for a self-defense class at a local marital arts school, gym or YMCA. Or find them on YouTube. Even basic moves can help you escape an attack.
• Carry a whistle or other noisemaker, pepper spray and/or a Swiss Army knife. Even keys can be used to defend yourself.
“If someone strange is approaching you, you can have your whistle ready to give it a nice, loud blow,” Women on Guard suggests. “A potential attacker will run off instead of attracting unwanted attention.”
If you opt for pepper spray, learn how to use it before you need it to avoid actually hurting yourself. (The same is true of any weapon, including stun guns and regular guns.)
• If you’re coming from work or a dressy occasion, consider keeping a change of clothes in a bag to change into, including a pair of flats or running shoes.
• Keep your eyes and ears open and keep track of who and what is around you. Also avoid wearing headphones and carrying too much stuff in your hands.
• Don’t use the same route on a regular basis. Plan a few different routes and mark spots you can run to and call for help, as well as spots to avoid such as dark areas and parking lots where someone could hide in wait.
• Trust your instincts. If something feels off, it probably is. If you feel someone is watching or following you, turn around and let that person know you’re aware of his presence.
“Don’t rush to your car or home,” Women on Guard advises. “Instead, head into a nearby restaurant or store. If the person follows, inform a store employee or manager.
“If you don’t feel safe, call someone,” Women on Guard suggests. “Let them know you’re walking home and where you are. If someone approaches you, don’t lower your gaze. Instead, maintain eye contact. Looking a potential enemy straight in the face might scare off your attacker.”
It pains us to have to write this, but if it raises awareness of personal safety for even one woman or equips even one woman with the tools she needs to defend herself and possibly save her life, it’s worth it.
We hope you never need it.
• Margaret Battistelli Gardner