Maximizing Personal Safety

Safety Issues: Phones

The most important thing you can do is work with those inner parts that are vulnerable to the harassments, who believe the threats and feel it is safer to capitulate. That's a good issue for therapy and for a much longer article than this one. There are some simple things you can do, though, to protect yourself and minimize the impact of the harassment. We'll touch on precautions you can take in various areas of life, starting with phones this month.

Survivors report getting phone calls that consist solely of tones which are designed to mean something to specific alters and to reinforce programming or transmit instructions in code. People have also described direct threats, triggering sounds (like a buzz saw), and weird "wrong numbers."

Your best friend is an answering machine. Turn the ringer off, let the machine collect messages, and have somebody else screen them periodically. If you start thinking of your phone as working only for outgoing calls, life will get a lot more peaceful.

A more expensive but more convenient way of accomplishing the same thing is to get a new unlisted number, keeping the old one for the answering machine. Give the new number to people you trust. Gradually, the only people calling the old number will be the abusers, and they will be none the wiser, especially if you change the message on the tape periodically.

There are lots of options that the phone company offers, like displaying the calling party's number, but these options keep you involved with the screening process and therefore can cause a good deal of anxiety. Still, they work well for some people.

In the old days, it was possible to take a phone apart and look for mechanical bugs. These days bugging techniques are much more sophisticated and it is very difficult (impossible without a lot of technical knowledge and equipment) to determine whether your phone is tapped or not. Simple "tests," like calling some number and diagnosing your phone by the signal you get, are hoaxes.

If you are concerned that your phone might be tapped, probably the best thing to do is to assume it is, and not to say anything over the phone that you don't want the world to know. Treat it like a cellular phone or a cordless unit, both of which afford very little, if any, privacy. Think how bored the eavesdroppers will be if all they hear is chatter about recipes and the weather!

Safety Issues: Your Home

I have never lived in an isolated area, but I guess that many of these suggestions would be pretty useless without other people within a short distance. Perhaps some of you can write and describe what has helped you become a little safer out in the country.

Locks and window guards are your first line of defense. If you own your home and can afford it, install iron bars on any windows that can be reached easily from ground level. Make sure your doors are solid and install dead bolts. Re-key the locks if you have been broken into or if you lose a key.

If you rent, put safety high on your priority list when looking for an apartment. See if you can talk your landlord into installing better doors, locks, or window protection devices. Makes sure the locks are changed when you move in. Deadbolts are cheap and easy to install yourself.

Good visibility around the house allows you and your neighbors to spot anybody suspicious. If possible, install adequate outside lighting. Trim back the plants around your home so there will be no place for anybody to hide.

Alarm systems are generally pretty pricey and complicated to install. They work by sensing when a window or door is opened and either sounding an alarm or calling into a security company or police station. Additional sensors can detect breaking glass, movement, or a person walking through a beam. (Pets can sometimes set off these alarms.)

If you rent, you will need permission to have a system installed. A low-cost alternative is a personal alarm that can be hung over a door or window and rigged to go off if disturbed. You can take these devices with you when you visit or stay the night in a motel. Watch dogs are considered good protection, but many rental units don't allow pets. Dogs are also a pretty big responsibility.

All alarms require you to trust your memory enough to turn them on when you leave the house and when you come back. Neighbors may complain and police and security companies may charge you or stop responding if you have too many "false alarms" from forgetting to turn them off when you enter or leave the house.

It's recommended by some anti-stalking groups that you keep a cell phone near you in case somebody breaks in or cuts the phone lines. Pre-set emergency numbers can save you dialing time.

I don't think these suggestions can guarantee safety, but they do make it a more difficult for somebody to break in and hurt you.

Safety Issues: Cars

Many of us feel inviolable in our cars. They are like little portable fortresses surrounding us with thousands of pounds of steel. We can curse or sing off-key and nobody will hear us. Sometimes we almost feel invisible.

If another car starts messing with us, that illusion goes out the window. Being followed, being cut off, or being tailgated is a frightening experience for anybody. But for ritual abuse survivors, especially those who have escaped recently, such incidents make us question immediately if we are being harassed by the cult.

Here are some safety suggestions. Some are simple and can be put into place immediately; others are a little harder to implement. Choose what works for you.

If at all possible, keep your car in an alarmed garage. Don't let another person borrow your car keys, and if you think there is a possibility your key has been stolen or duplicated, get the locks changed.

Whenever practical, park in high traffic areas. Know where the highly populated areas are in your town, for you are less likely to be attacked where there are plenty of witnesses. Lean on the horn to attract attention and draw witnesses to you if you feel you are in danger.

Lock the car doors when you park and whenever you are in the car. Keep the windows closed and use the fan for ventilation. Before unlocking the car, check the back seat to make sure nobody is hiding on the floor.

If you have a cell phone, take it with you whenever you use your car. Keep pencil and paper handy to record incidents, including time, place, description of the car and driver, and license plate if at all possible.

It's a good idea to vary the times that you use the car, as well as the routes that you take to work, friends' houses, or stores. Being unpredictable makes it a little harder to follow you.

If you think you are being followed, make four right turns and see if the suspected car does too. If you are being followed, never go home or to a friend's house; instead, drive to a police station. Park illegally and stay in your car until an officer arrives rather than going into the station. Make a report of the incident, giving as many facts as possible.

If you are worried about tampering, check the tires and lug nuts to make sure they are tight before starting out. You can protect your gas tank by buying a locking gas cap that can only be opened from inside the car.

Ask the Department of Motor Vehicles not to give out your name and address. Remove your name or identification from reserved parking spaces at work. Remove bumper stickers and easily remembered items like magenta fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror: they make your car easy to spot.

Safety Issues: E-mail

E-mail dangers fall into two categories: 1. Messages that appear to be legitimate communications, and 2. Messages that are harassing or threatening.

If you have a feeling that there is something "off" about a particular message, trust your instincts and be cautious. It is far more important to protect yourself than it is to be polite and answer every e-letter.

Perhaps you start to feel trancey, dizzy, nauseated, or very frightened. This might indicate that the message, whether by accident or on purpose, has touched an issue of yours or triggered a program. In this case, stop reading and either delete the message or save it to analyze later or to show to your therapist. Do something to get back into the present -- move around, wash your face, drink something cold -- whatever works for you. Promise yourself you will not finish reading it and you will not act on any suggestions containing in the message.

Other times, you may start to get an uncomfortable feeling about a particular person. As in "real life" relationships, it's wisest to go slow and not reveal a lot about yourself in the beginning. You can always share more later. It's perfectly okay to say, "I'm not in a place right now for this kind of correspondence" or simply to let the e-relationship fizzle out. It's also okay to delete e-mails before reading them. Some e-mail software allows you to block any mail from addresses that you choose to avoid.

If an e-mail contains a threat or is grossly offensive, there are two additional things you can do. You can report it to the police, which may or may not help, depending on the department and the particular officer you report it to.

You may also report it to the ISP (Internet Service Provider) (the company that the writer uses to send his or her mail). For details on how to do this, contact the Webmaster or Postmaster. ISP's are not happy about people misusing their services, and they will close that person's account. Since they are concerned with their reputations, they are often much more responsive than the police.

The hardest part of dealing with frightening e-mail is refusing to read it. The rest is common sense and a little technical knowledge.

Safety Issues: Documentation

We've sort of done this backwards, writing about specifics before the generalities. Better late than never!

All experts agree that it is important to keep good records about any kind of harassment. You should note time, place, who was present, what happened, who might be responsible, what action you took. Good documentation will make it more likely that the authorities will take you seriously and may also help you spot a pattern to the harassment.

In all likelihood, keeping records will serve as a reality check and help break through any denial you may have. It will draw your attention to the environment and may help you become more alert. It may also frighten you deeply if the harassment is severe.

It's a good idea to make more than one copy of your records. Copies should be kept in different places: your therapist's files, an attorney's office, or a safe deposit box are all good choices. If you have chosen to go to the police, they should get a copy of each write-up.

Funny story -- just after I realized I was an RA survivor, my phone started acting peculiar. At that time I was paranoid enough to believe that the cats could read my mind, but the phone problems were so odd and so erratic that I couldn't tell if it was harassment or not.

I told the phone company. They discovered that squirrels were using the phone wires as a freeway and rubbing off the insulation with their little claws. New insulation, end of problem. Except for those darn cats.





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