Last winter, Casey Tsamis, an Emerson College sophomore, sat alone on a bench in the Mohegan Sun Casino, waiting for her mother and grandfather, when a strange man approached her. The man, who looked to be in his thirties or forties, tried to talk to Tsamis, but due to his thick accent she could only make out the compliment “you’re beautiful.” Tsamis immediately felt uncomfortable.
She texted her mom for help, but received no answer. Tsamis became even more uneasy when the man asked a passerby to take a picture of the two. The man scooted further down the bench and pulled her in until they were touching. Tsamis was unable to push him away. People were slowing, taking in the scene and Tsamis’ distressed appearance, but did not stop. “I was looking at them with those ‘help me’ eyes,” she says.
No one has control over being attacked. So the best safety practice becomes thinking preemptively about ways to help yourself as well as others who may be in a dangerous situation.
One of the strategies Dr. Melanie Matson, Director of Emerson College’s Violence Prevention and Response department encourages is active bystander intervention. If you come across a situation that looks questionable Matson says, “rather than making the choice to continue and walk by, maybe I turn and pay attention to what’s happening. It’s that first step of recognizing.”
Realizing that the casino bystanders weren’t coming to her aid, Tsamis started to take off, only to be pulled back by her attacker. “I just started walking away, and he grabbed the back of my sweatshirt and pulled me. I said ‘I have to go, my mom’s going to leave without me.’ I tried to leave again and he kept pulling me. He pulled my arm this time too and said ‘no stay.’ I was tearing up at this point,” says Tsamis.
Her attacker then pulled her towards him. “At first I thought he was going to kiss me,” she says. Instead he whispered in her ear, something she couldn’t make out, then released her. Tsamis left as fast as she could.
The Three “Cs”
When put in a potentially harmful situation or when witnessing one, Matson recommends evaluating the “three Cs.” She stresses that when picking a course of action, or “C,” one should choose what makes them feel safest.
The first “C” is to confront the situation.
She says, “that might mean I’m sitting on the T and I notice someone hovering over someone else looking like they might hit them. I might directly confront the situation. I may say to the person being hovered over, ‘hey is everything okay here?’ Or to the person hovering I might say, ‘you need to get off the train.’”
The next “C” is to cause a distraction.
By creating a distraction the situation can potentially be broken up, or more attention might be drawn to the altercation. Jeremy Warnick, Director of Communications & Media Relations at the Cambridge Police Department, says, “just create as much of a scene as you can, especially if you’re in an area where people may see or hear you.”
The final “C” is to contact others.
“Contacting others for assistance is helpful because sometimes there’s safety in numbers,” says Matson. Contacting others could mean reaching out to bystanders or potentially contacting the authorities.
“Just report it,” says Cambridge’s Warnick. “There’s never an issue if people are over reporting situations.” He says to call the police, 911, if it’s an emergency. Additionally, reporting suspicious behavior, people and situations is a good preemptive practice. One can do this by reaching out to a police department’s separate number for non-emergencies.
Other precautionary safety practices include walking in groups and walking in well-lit areas. Warnick suggests that people should be extra aware of their surroundings during the warmer months, at night, and when in high traffic areas.
“In terms of overall crime there tends to be an increase in the warmer months,” he says. “So certainly over the course of the summer. Then on top of that, [crime] tends to be [higher] during the weekend nights.” Additionally Warnick states that a majority of Cambridge’s crime happens in more commercial and business oriented districts, including the squares.
He attributes these higher crime rates due to the increase in outdoor activity during the warmer months, as well as a higher concentration of business, bars, and nightclubs in some of the commercial areas.
Emerson’s Matson suggests the preemptive strategy of thinking ahead. “Have a plan of action ahead of time,” she says. “It might be helpful for you to be thinking about where you spend a lot of your time. Similarly if you’re going out it might be helpful to think: Who am I going out with? Should we have a meetup point? Do we have each other’s numbers incase we get separated? Do we have a plan of action on how we’re going to cover each other if something [does] happen?”
One way that certain individuals plan ahead of time is by carrying different types of tools around in order to feel safer. It should be noted that certain colleges do not allow students to carry around tools that are considered dangerous, including knives and pepper spray..
Isabel Macomber, a Brookline resident, has recently started carrying a knife. “It looks like a key, but the knife part flips out,” she says. Macomber’s knife is attached to her keyring and stored in her backpack for most of the day. Yet when walking home, especially at night, she will hold onto it.
“I am very afraid of the dark, so I think it makes me feel a little safer. I don’t plan on ever needing to use it, obviously, but I do like that I have it if I ever need it,” says Macomber. This being said, Macomber believes she might be more comfortable using pepper spray to protect herself.
Maria Santora, a Boston college student, does recommend carrying a can of pepper spray. Santora was given a can by her father before leaving for college. “My dad’s philosophy is things can happen anywhere. He just wanted to make sure I have a way of
protecting myself even a little bit if anything were to happen,” she says.
For Santora, carrying a can of pepper spray on her gives her an extra sense of safety, and she definitely plans on using it if the moment ever does arrive.
One should be mindful of not only their college’s policy on carrying pepper spray, but also their state’s. Some states have restrictions in regards to pepper spray or require a license.
One of the devices Cambridge’s Warnick highly suggests carrying is a flashlight. He says, “[you should carry] anything that can create more visibility and can give an extra sense of protection when walking, particularly at night.”
Both students agree that they make great use of the flashlight app on their phones.Santora says, “whenever I’m outside I pretty much use it. I definitely think it makes me feel safer. I won’t go anywhere without it.”
Macomber previously lived in an area in which she felt unsafe walking home. “If I were walking home in the dark I’d be on the phone with someone,” she says. “ I feel a lot safer doing that, and generally I feel like someone’s not going to mug you or attack you if you’re on the phone.”
Warnick agrees that if you don’t feel safe, being in communication with someone can certainly help.
He also suggests that people do their basic research: looking at their local police department’s website, as well as contact information, and recent crime reports. Because when it comes to safety, one can never be over prepared.