Expert Commentary

COVID-19: Stay Safe While Traveling or Navigating Around Home

Safety is more than just safe from illness. Staying alert in your surroundings can reduce your chances of becoming a victim.


Leadership at All Levels
September 2020

Even amid a pandemic, crime does not pause. In fact, some perpetrators may be taking advantage of a moment of inattention caused by COVID-19 concerns.

Yet, in a time in which the focus of safety measures has been on preventing COVID-19, there is still an ever-present need for personal safety. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), which tracks the instance of assault in the United States, one person is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds in this country.

On average, there are over 433,600 victims (aged 12 and older) of rape and sexual assault each year, and RAINN statistics show that of every 1,000 sexual assaults, just 230 are reported to police, and just 627 of 1,000 assault and battery crimes annually are reported to authorities.

As businesses and individuals begin to travel again and workers head back to offices, understanding where and how perpetrators are operating can help you stay safe. By being proactive, you can reduce your chances of becoming a predator's next victim.

Hotel Safety

That lock on your hotel door gives you a sense of security. But there are many ways in which a perpetrator can either gain access to your room or attack you on the premises.

Your diligence should begin at check-in. That's where criminals can overhear room numbers, plans you may be making with fellow travelers, and whether you are traveling alone.

If the front desk staff announces your room number aloud, ask for another room. Criminals have been known to overhear that information as well as meeting times you may be making with others. Likewise, avoid saying your room number out loud in public areas, particularly at the bar or dining room.

When asking for a room, ask for one near the elevator or midhallway. Rooms near exit doors or stairwells are where criminals can hide—and can escape without detection.

As you head to your room, be aware of who is in the elevator with you. If you press the button for your floor and a fellow passenger says, "That's my floor, too," let them exit first—never behind you. If you're uncomfortable, do not get off the elevator, but return to the lobby.

Once in the hallway, be aware of who is there and their proximity to you. Do not open the door without checking both directions in the hallway. The majority of "push-ins"—criminals entering your room by pushing you in—occur as you are opening your door. If someone is in the hall with you, allow them to pass and get far enough away that you can open the door without fear of them rushing in behind you.

As you open the door, ensure that no one is in the room before you close the door behind you. Set your luggage in the door to keep it open, then take a few steps inside—not far from the door—and check behind curtains, in the shower, and in the closet. Then close the door, making sure it closes, and use the latch.

Using the manual latch is important. Electronic keycard locks can be compromised either electronically or by human error. The manual latch is an added precaution that could save your life. Also, keycard passkeys are given to hotel housekeeping, who may not realize you have not checked out when they open your door for someone who claims to be staying there.

When there is a knock at your door, ask who it is. Do not open the door until you verify (with the front desk, if necessary) the identity of the person on the other side of the door. Never trust what you see through the peephole. Uniforms can be stolen or borrowed, and most hotels will be happy to verify the identity of the person asking to enter your room.

When leaving your room, make sure it completely closes before you leave. Should you have to go back to your room to pick something up quickly, remember to follow the same safety procedures as you did when first entering the room.

Also, if you are meeting others, do not make plans that others can overhear and capitalize on. If you announce you're meeting for breakfast at 6:30 A.M., any perpetrator could overhear that and wait outside your room at that time.

Parking Garages and Ride Sharing

If you're driving to meet someone, the parking lot becomes another area for potential criminals to attack. Many parking garages and lots have low lighting, dark corners, and plenty of hiding places. When walking through a lot or garage, stay off your phone and pay attention to your surroundings and cars parked near you.

As you approach your car, look to see if anything is obstructing your wheels or windows. If you see something, remove it before getting in. Many criminals will place some obstruction in the way, hoping you won't see it until the car is running. It is a perfect scenario for criminals who want to steal your car or, worse, take you as a hostage.

Before you unlock that car, survey the environment. Is there anything or anyone suspicious around you? Are you loading packages in the car? If so, unlock just the trunk, leaving doors locked. This prevents criminals from getting into the car as you're busy loading. Unlock your car only when you are close to it to avoid giving criminals the opportunity to get in without you noticing.

If you're using a ridesharing service, take care to survey your situation. Always verify the plate number of the car that is picking you up. Before you get in the car, ask the driver who they are picking up. Ask their name as well. Do not volunteer either who you are or who they are. That helps you to determine if this is your ride or someone with a possible criminal intent. And before you close the door, make sure the child lock latches on the doors are not engaged should you need to make a quick exit. They are usually found on the inside panel of the open door.

Once in the car, follow the route taken on your own map, and use location sharing with friends and family. If you're getting a ride home, have the driver drop you off nearby, not in your driveway. This prevents strangers from knowing where you live.

When in doubt, trust your instincts. Missing a ride is better than becoming a victim.

Out in Public

Instincts can serve you well in public, too. When you are walking, make sure to project an attitude of awareness. Walk with purpose, keep your head up, and remain alert to your surroundings. Use body language to project a strong presence that could signal to a perpetrator that you're not an easy mark.

That includes making eye contact with anyone you think may be watching you or following you. Should you experience the feeling of being followed, turn, and make eye contact with that person. That sends a message that you are not afraid and that they can be identified.

Keeping one hand free also sends a message that you can defend yourself if need be. When carrying anything, make sure to keep one hand free. Holding something in each hand tells a perpetrator that you are preoccupied and unprepared.

Also, try not to talk on the phone when walking. The distraction could be just enough for a perpetrator to take advantage.

Safety Now and in the Future

Even as the world is preoccupied with navigating a major health crisis, predators are looking for victims. A moment's inattention could be all that a criminal needs to take advantage of your vulnerability.

Whether traveling to a new area or around familiar territory, you can reduce your chance of being targeted by a criminal. Familiarize yourself with how criminals operate. A few proactive steps, plus added awareness of your surroundings, can help you remain safe no matter where your travels take you.

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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