Harlem Word: Gabrielle Rubin, founder of Female Awareness—a company that teaches self-defense to women in NY—tells us what to do if you think someone’s following you

Editor April 22nd, 2010

Gabrielle Rubin, founder of Female Awareness, has been taking martial arts classes for the past 23 years. She thinks it's important for all women to take a self-defense class. Her classes teach the importance of being aware of your surroundings. Here, she tells us how to react if we think someone's following us.

Q: What should you do if you feel like someone is following you?

A: All women at one time or another have known without turning around that they're being followed. The hairs on the back of our necks go up. Our intuition tells us that somebody's there.
At this point, something in your gut tells you to turn around. Instead of looking quickly (which shows fear), look the person up-and-down to let them know that you see them. This shows the person following you that you could pick them out of a police lineup.

Next, you should cross the street. If they cross the street with you, you have to act fast to take control of the situation. It's always better to act from a distance instead of doing nothing, waiting to see if they go away, and then turning around and finding the person six inches from your face.

Saying something like "Why are you getting so close to me?" is not a good way to handle it. Because, if somebody really does have bad intentions, that's exactly what they are expecting you to say. But you should use your voice--it's your greatest tool! You should throw them off by saying something completely different. The person following you is going to have to wrap his/her mind around this for a second which will buy you some time and allow you to figure out what your best plan of action is: running away; screaming to get someone's attention; or "fighting" them off with your strikes and/or attitude.

The things that you say are up to you--but try to be clever. For instance, you could turn around, put a hand out in front of you which will signal the person following you to "stop" and also create distance between you and them, and say something like, "What, are we dating?" This keeps it light. I've used that line before. What's the worst thing someone would say if they weren't actually following you, "You wish."?

Whatever you say, you should be loud. Even if your heart is pounding fast, by speaking loudly you're saying, "I'm not afraid, I'm going to stand up for myself, and this is not going down without a fight!"
The funny thing is, as women, we don't want to embarrass ourselves and wrongfully accuse somebody. We would rather not be embarrassed and take a chance of someone harming us. This is pretty silly when you think about it.

Q: What could someone do if they aren't comfortable confronting the person following them as you just described?

A: If you're the kind of person who doesn't think they'd be able to do something like that, then don't. Instead, stop and use the "imaginary person" technique. Just look past the person behind you and say, "Hey!" as if there's a person behind them. If he is really just trying to get some place quickly, he's not going to care that there's somebody behind him and will keep on walking. But if you really were getting followed, you are now telling that person that there's someone else around who sees you, and you see them.

Interested in taking a self-defense class? The Female Awareness class is $65 and if you have six or more people the class can come to you! Check out the Female Awareness website or contact Gabrielle at (646) 717-0017 or Gabrielle@femaleawareness.com.

Read more from Gabrielle Rubin by clicking the links below:

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