By ANGIE CARNATHAN
In response to recent criminal incidents against women on University Drive, Starkville Police Department is warning females to be vigilant when it comes to their safety.
Master Training Officer Laura Hines Roberson said the most important aspect of vigilance is a person’s awareness of his or her surroundings.
“The criminal is scoping you out and determining whether or not you’re a good target,” Roberson said. “If you are aware of your surroundings, then you are not a good target. If you’re listening to your iPod (with) speakers in both ears and you’re oblivious to what’s around you, then you are the perfect target.”
Although officers believe both incidents were unrelated, Detective Josh Buckner said both victims were approached from behind. Neither of the women knew their attackers.
Roberson said a person’s awareness of someone approaching can be key in staying safe. Even in full daylight, Roberson said continually looking around and being proactive about your surroundings will make you safer.
“If you see them first, a lot of times that’s a good defense because they don’t get to sneak up on you,” Roberson said. “So if you beat them on that particular aspect, you’re doing good because they want to be sneaky.”
Roberson said the department’s warnings are not intended to scare anyone, but officers want residents to be smart and aware in light of recent events. Officers say running alone during the early morning or late at night is unadvised. They also encourage runners to avoid listening to music in both ears, change the time of day they run as much as possible and avoid using the same routine route.
Roberson said although she means no disrespect to previous victims, walking alone at night is never a good or safe idea and everyone should do everything in their power to make themselves a bad target for criminals.
“If you have somebody with you, that makes you less of a good target,” Roberson said. “It never hurts to have a cell phone with you. You can call 911 if you need it, or you could be a witness to someone else being attacked and need to call the police.”
Roberson said she encourages anyone who witnesses any suspicious behavior, who is in fear of their safety or who thinks they are being followed to immediately call 911.
“Don’t be afraid to be rude or to be wrong; it’s always better to be safe,” Roberson said. “Your fear of being rude or unsure should never outweigh your fear for your own or someone else’s safety.”
Roberson said the police remain confident the person who attempted the sexual assault will be apprehended, but they will need the public’s assistance.
“We want to catch this guy,” she said. “Somebody has to know him. I guarantee you he’s around females every day because he wants to be around females. He’s scoping out (potential victims); he could be a guy you see at the grocery store. If somebody is making you feel uncomfortable, don’t second-guess yourself. Trust that instinct and call the police.”
Roberson said it’s helpful to give police your name when reporting someone suspicious, although it’s not necessary and shouldn’t stop someone from reporting something.
“It’s helpful because if the officer doesn’t get there in time to identify the subject, we might need to contact you for additional details,” she said. “However, we would never give out your name, and if you want to call anonymously you can.”
Roberson listed the following tips to remember: “If someone approaches you in a threatening way, scream your head off. If you have access to your keys and your car is nearby, hit the alarm on your car. Carry mace or a loud whistle with you and have it in your hand, ready to use. If you don’t have mace, use your keys as a weapon. Use anything you can reach as a weapon. If you can get to rocks, sand or dirt, throwing it in their eyes can temporarily blind them. The best places to injure an assailant are the eyes, throat, nose or genitals. If you are caught from behind and you can’t head-butt them in the face or get a foot between their legs, place the heel of your foot underneath their knee cap and rake down their shin as hard as you can. (Do) anything ... to get them to release their grip for just a second so you can run for safety. You cannot hesitate or think. It is very important thing is to practice these things ahead of time. Don’t wait until an attack is imminent to think through what you’re supposed to do. Practice ahead of time what you will do so that it comes naturally to you if something were to happen.”
Roberson said she wants to make it clear that these self-defense tactics are suggestions to keep you safe, but obviously if your life is at stake, there are no perfect rules to follow.
“Just do whatever you have to do to survive — whatever it takes,” she said. “The most important thing is to get away with your life.”
Roberson said based on her experience as a counselor, she believes sexual assault is an addiction-related crime and progressive in nature, which means the attacks can get worse and sexual offenders are statistically likely to attempt the attack again.
Roberson said if you are involved in an altercation, kick, punch, scream, pull hair, scratch, do anything within your power to get away. When you reach safety, call the police immediately.
“And as hard as it may be, do not wash your hands or shower,” she said. “You could have DNA underneath your fingernails or hair on your clothes that could ultimately put a criminal behind bars.
For walkers and runners who do not want to give up their daily exercise routines, Starkville Parks and Recreation’s indoor track is an alternative.
“Our track is open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday; and 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Sunday,” employee Walter Williams said.
For those interested in learning more on self-defense, Cheryl Chambers, an assistant instructor at the Starkville Martial Arts Academy, said residents can try a self-defense for free.
“We teach several forms of martial arts that incorporate self-defense moves,” Chambers said. “I started about three years ago and had never done anything athletic in my life. We’ve had people who are out of shape and even had people who are disabled take classes with us. We pride ourselves to adjusting to any person’s athletic activity or lack thereof, and we welcome anyone who is interested to come and give it a try.”