Women, here are four tips for summer safety!

July 5, 2018

By: Brittany Wright
B.A. in Creative writing and English – University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana

In the midst of multiple rap beefs and presidential buffoonery, something very ugly is happening in Chicago and no one is talking about it. Over the last few months and weeks, there have been a string of terrifying kidnappings and mutilations of young women on the south and west sides of Chicago. With barely any news or radio coverage, many of us are faced to gather news from Facebook posts or by calling our local government offices only to get half or misinformation about what is really going on.

Many are speculating that these kidnappings and murders are linked to organ trafficking while others suspect that we may have a serial killer on our hands. Anna Stanislawczyck , 18, has been missing since March 16; Sadaria Davis, 15, had been missing since April 15 before she was found dead recently. Yasminda Mitchell, 13, the youngest of the known missing women disappeared May 31. Victoria Garret, 15, has been missing since June 5, and Shantieya Smith, 26, the oldest of the group, had been missing since May 26 but was found on June 12, also dead.

Out of these five women who have all gone missing since late March, only two have been found and both were found in abandoned buildings. It is alleged that Sadaria was missing several fingers and organs but the Cook County Police Department has yet to confirm these facts.

It is suspected by many community members and activists that these are all connected but the lack of information is terrifying. What we do know is that these women disappeared during their normal routines, which makes us question the general safety of our daily lives. As more bodies are found each week many of us are left feeling that we can, at any moment, become a victim. These stories resonate with me, not only as a Black woman living in the metropolitan area; but also as a victim of attempted rape and kidnapping.

Just last year, while walking to work at 7 a.m., I found myself in a similar situation. I was attacked, held at gunpoint and forced into an alley. By the grace of God, I was able to get away before things escalated. The assailant turned out to be a serial rapist. With the help of my description and a witness, law enforcement was able to find and arrest him.

With thousands of black women being abducted from their neighborhoods each year in this country, I feel blessed because I could have easily been one of the women who is missing today. It is so important that we pay attention to what is happening in our community. It’s very easy to become complacent and think that things like human trafficking, kidnapping, and the black market organ trade are things that only happen in movies or foreign countries, but we need to wake up. This summer, familiarize yourself with some tips that could possibly save your life and make sure your friends and family adopt new, safe habits as well.

1. Pay attention to your surroundings:

This may be obvious but even though many of us know to pay attention, it’s amazing how oblivious we can be to what is going on around us. While you are outside, try not to wear headphones, especially at a volume that you can’t hear someone approaching you. Keep your phone charged, powered on, and accessible but try not to be caught up in it so that you can be aware of your surroundings. Briefly scan the area before you leave the house, or exit your car in the evenings for unknown vehicles, people walking or loitering and anything that seems out of place. Being more attentive can clue you into possible threats and deter criminals.

2. Share your location:

One of the great things about technology is that it can be hard to get or be lost, especially if you have your smartphone. You should be sharing your phone’s location with at least one person you trust and communicate with regularly so that they can easily find you if need be.

This actually saved the life of University of West Georgia student Jalia Gladden earlier this year. After being kidnapped she was able to share her location with her boyfriend who, with the help of the police department, was able to find and save her. If you don’t feel comfortable with someone knowing your every move all the time I would suggest exclusively doing this while you are out on dates, on vacation, away at college or while out drinking with friends.

It’s very easy to turn this feature on and off so you can use it occasionally and have it still be effective.

3. Monitor your social media activity more closely:

We are in the age of sharing and although most of our social media activity can be harmless, oversharing can land us in a sticky situation. Just consider how much information a stranger can gather from your Facebook profile: Your name, pictures of yourself and children, where you work and live. Also, many apps allow users to update their location in real time.

This can be a fun way to connect with friends, but it can also allow the wrong people to know exactly where you are, making you or your family a potential target. If you don’t want to be as censored on social media you can easily cut down your friends list, weeding out any strangers or unfamiliar folks. Occasionally checking your privacy settings and overall being mindful of what you are posting are also things that can keep you safe while online.

4. Protect yourself:

In the event that you are in danger, having some form of defense can help save your life. While walking outside make sure you have a can of mace or a taser in your hands or in an easily accessible place. You may not have time to fumble around in your bag, searching for it in the case of an emergency so locate it before you start your trip.

I like to clip my mace to the inside of my purse so I know exactly where it is. You should also try to keep your hands free. Wearing a messenger bag or backpack while commuting to work is a great way to do this. That way, your hands remain free in case you need to ward off an attacker.

Taking a self-defense class can also help you to feel safe and empowered in your daily life. Many fitness centers and MMA gyms offer these classes for women who would like to learn a few basic moves that could help save their lives. Brazilian ju-jitsu is known as ‘rape defense’ because many of the moves taught can be easily done by a woman against a male attacker. It’s also a great form of exercise and a way to meet new people.

You can also help others stay safe by accompanying your loved ones on outings when you can, commuting with coworkers if you travel the same route to and from work, and by calling your friends to make sure they get home safely after a night out. I also like to park near or next to my friends while out at venues to avoid being alone in dark parking lots or garages at the end of the night.

It can be daunting to carry the weight of constant impending danger with you each time you leave your home but the key is to be as safe as possible and not discouraged. It is my hope that the missing women in Chicago are found, along with the people responsible for these crimes. We live in scary times, but instead of living in fear, we can feel empowered to protect ourselves and prevent things like this from happening in the future. #WeAreNotAfraid