Things we need to teach our daughters about personal safety

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

The day my daughter turned six-months-old I practically did cartwheels with joy.

"Holy crap!" I marvelled as I kissed her all over her rosy pink cheeks and drooly baby mouth. "She's actually still alive!" I shouted at no one in particular. I'd admit the scene was odd and she seemed more than perplexed (in fact she may have just been working on an monstrous poo) but the reason for my joy was simple; since she had just turned six months, her risk of dying from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) had decreased dramatically. Finally, finally, I could stop worrying about her so much and perhaps even get some sleep without waking up to check on her every hour. Yippee!

My joy was short-lived. The next day I woke up and found my attention had turned to everything else that could kill her (choking on a piece of toast, being hit by a car while chasing a ball, getting abducted by someone while I walk to a nearby bin etc etc) and then I realised, F**K, I'M NEVER GOING TO STOP WORRYING ABOUT HER. I think about her getting older and driving a car or going clubbing with friends and before you know it, I'm reaching for a paper bag because I've vomited – just a little – in my mouth. Wow, this parenting business sure is a lot of fun!

My first reaction to this is to wrap my baby in cotton wool and prevent her from doing anything in life. Believe me, I already have serious reservations about one day allowing her to collect mail from our letterbox – even as an adult – prompting your father to threaten to have me sectioned (he's romantic like that). I could drive myself crazy thinking of all the things that could hurt her but then I've got to remember that as soon as I turned 18, I packed my bags and jetted off on a solo backpacking adventure around Europe for a year. This was back in the time before the internet and mobile phones (funny story: I had to fax reservations and research destinations at a library) so while I was camped out with dubious fellow travellers in crack den pensions, the only clue they had to as to whether their only daughter was dead or alive were the postcards which would arrive in the mail every couple of months. I didn't think much of it at the time, it's only now as a mother I wonder how on Earth my parents didn't just shrivel up and die with worry. 

Recently I asked my mother about how she coped and she said, "Well I can't put my faith in anyone else not to harm you, but I've always had complete trust in you to know better." You've got to trust your child will take on everything you've taught them and hope they'll always keep their wits about them – even while drinking nail polish remover from a red plastic bucket at a full moon party. She didn't say that part obviously, I just wanted to write it so I could write I don't ever want my daughter to drink nail polish remover from a red plastic bucket at a full moon party. Other variations of this rule include drinking anything with nail polish remover in it, drinking any kind of cocktail out of a bucket –red or otherwise, or attending any kind of full moon festival. 

Ahem, other pointers we should tell our daughters to keep them out of harm's way include:

* There's a very real danger of having your drink spiked, so for this reason you need to always, ALWAYS buy or pour your own drinks, and pour from a bottle you have either opened yourself or have witnessed being opened for the first time in front of your very eyes. The only exception to this is if an incredibly hot guy offers to buy you a drink at a bar. You can accept but only if you go to the bar with him and keep watch as the barman pours it. Never leave your drink unattended, even if you're leaving it in the company of friends. I'm not saying your friends are going to spike you, but their attention might be diverted briefly while you're gone. If you desperately need to go to the toilet and must part with your beverage, say a silent goodbye to it and get a new one later. If you start feeling dizzy, sick or not quite right, tell your friends, security and the police. Doctors can test your urine for traces of drugs within the next 24 hours so act quickly. Just get to a safe place as soon as you can - preferably in the company of a good female friend. 

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

* Take down the number of any cab you get into and never get into a cab alone if you're drunk. Ask a (sober) friend to go with you and offer to buy them a breakfast in the morning to make up for it.

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* Master the look of seeming completely unapproachable when you're walking out and about. Would-be attackers are looking for the meek girl who enjoys puppy dogs and pink lace, not the one who looks like she eats babies for breakfast. Keep your head held high, meet people's gaze as you walk (so they know you've seen them) and walk confidently like you're being paid $20,000 to strut the footpath.

* I realise they're probably surgically attached to yours ears by your teenage years but you're going to have to find a way of removing your headphones while you're out walking in a quiet neighbourhood, or if you're out and about in early morning or night. You need to be able to listen out for anyone coming up from behind. Stay alert. 

* It's a sad fact of life but in the event of danger you should yell 'Fire!' rather than 'Help!' People are inherently selfish and will come flying out of their homes if they think they're in danger themselves (thus averting a possible attack), but the likelihood of them putting down the remote to come to the aid of someone else, is well, remote. 

* Always be accessible by email or phone: this means keeping your phone charged at all times and in an easy-to-reach spot. 

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

* There's plenty of talk about stranger danger but the unfortunate truth is that most sexual predators are someone you know. I'm not saying become paranoid but keep your wits about you, particularly in the company of male company. If you've got a mate who keeps offering to give you back tickles, he may not be a rapist-in-waiting, but he may also be looking for more than friendship. Probably best to not accept a drink from this guy either. 

* I can only think of a few reasons why you'd be loitering in a back alley, namely: a) you're doing a drug deal, b) you're soliciting clients, c) you're shooting up, or d) you've gotten lost. If you're smart, you know the only way this will end well for you is if you choose d (yes, even in a theoretical multiple-choice quiz). Basically, what I'm trying to get at is don't hang out in any back alleys. Try and avoid walking through one if you can – even in the light of day.

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

* There's nothing that screams 'mug me' quite like a woman standing by her car fumbling through her oversized handbag as she searches for her keys. Avoid putting yourself in a precarious situation by always having your keys ready in your hand before you get to your car.

* As soon as you get into your car, take a good look in the back to make sure there's no one hiding in there and then lock the door immediately. The door needs to be locked whenever you're in the car – even if you're only going to be in there for a couple of minutes.

* Don't take the stairs if you can get the lift (unless there's a fire or some other kind of emergency). Yes, I know personal trainers will tell you otherwise but safety first. 

* Keep your handbag zipped up, carry a minimal amount of cash on you and guard your purse as though you're carrying the secret formula to cold fusion in it. That way, if you are robbed you won't lose a motza. 

* Don't become as sitting duck. Vary your routine so you're not always walking or jogging the same path at the same time every day. Being predictable makes you an easy target for stalkers.

* No matter where you are in the world, regardless of whether it's a cheap pension or a five star resort, always use the latch or safety chain on the door of your room whenever you're inside and stick a rubber wedge under the door. Staff aren't immune to being creeps and I've heard plenty of stories of hotel staff making an appearance in the middle of the night.

* Don't leave any ground-floor windows open, particularly when you're sleeping.

* Remember the number 112. It's an emergency number you can use in any country in the world should you need assistance.

* If you're ever in a situation where you are abducted, you need to know he will try and get you to a remote area to do whatever he's planning. DO NOT let him get you there. Try everything you can – pull at the steering wheel to drive the car off the road if you have to, but your goal at this point is to get the car to stop and get out as soon as you can.

* If someone is chasing you and you have nowhere to hide, get under a car, hold tightly onto something and keep screaming for attention. He will have a very hard time pulling you off and will probably go and find an easier target elsewhere.

* You need to fight back and you need to fight hard and dirty. I would advise you to take self-defence classes but if for some reason you haven't, just keep in the back of your mind you're not aiming to injure him or inflict pain – at this point you're all about killing him. Gouge his eyes, punch his throat and kick the crap about of his kneecaps and groin, Whenever he has one hand on you, that's one part of his body he's not covering and that's where you need to aim. Hard. Have I mentioned the importance of self-defence classes? Thank about it. 

* Attacks don't just happen at night; they can happen at any time of the day so always be aware of your surroundings and be prepared.  Having said that, I don't want you to live in fear of everything that could happen; that would be waste of a perfectly good life. Trust your instincts. That's the best anyone can do.

* If you're at a party with friends, DO NOT DRIVE if you've been drinking or getting stoned, or get in a car with anyone who has. This is a time when you can call your parents, an Uber or a taxi. Again, it's essential you have a sober friend with you if you're going with option B or C. 

* Oh, and here's a throwaway tip that has nothing to do with personal safety. If you ever have to perform CPR on someone, compress their chest to the beat of the Bee Gees' Stayin' Alive. Sounds weird I know but medical experts have weighed in and decided that its 100-beats-per-minute is the same rate recommended for heart compressions. Just a thought. 

This piece on personal safety was first published (2012) by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited in Dilvin Yasa's first book, Things My Daughter Needs to Know. Yasa's second book, Good Enough: Confessions Of A Less-Than-Perfect-Mum is available through Pan Macmillan.