Personal safety: Expert shares tips after woman says she was followed for 40 minutes in Vancouver
VANCOUVER -- Days after a woman posted an unsettling video online, showing a man she says followed her for 40 minutes in Vancouver in broad daylight, a local protection expert is offering tips for how to stay safe when walking alone.
Jamie Coutts had just finished doing her grocery shopping Wednesday evening and was walking home, when she felt like someone was following her.
"I first noticed he was following me between Keefer Street and Keefer Place," she told CTV News last week. "I decided to film so I could see how close behind me he was and what he was doing."
The entire situation lasted about 40 minutes, Coutts said, and only ended when she went to ask a group of people at a skate park for help.
Kris Greffard, a personal protection expert and police officer, spoke with CTV Morning Live on Monday, sharing ways women can keep themselves safe.
The following is part of a five-minute interview and has been edited for length and clarity.
Jason Pires: What was your reaction to the video? Did Jamie do the right thing?
Kris Greffard: Well, let's be honest. It was a little creepy. From a woman's point of view, it was creepy. I don't think what she did was wrong. She did what came to mind immediately. Was it the same thing that I would've done? Maybe not, but I can't cast criticism on anything she did that day.
Pires: What are your tips for women if they feel like they're being followed?
Greffard: With any sort of stranger-on-stranger attack, specifically against women, one of the biggest commonalities is the predator will approach from behind. So what I would suggest doing if somebody's walking behind you, don't give the back.
Instead, casually step to the side of the sidewalk or side of the path and dig into your purse and pretend to get your cellphone or look down at your cellphone as a distraction but keeping your mind and focus with them.
So as they pass by, make eye contact. Shoulders back, chest up, head up, make that good solid eye contact. Send that message that I see you, I know that you're there and I can identify you if I have to.
Pires: What happens if they move into your personal space?
Greffard: So if they stop and engage in communication or any sort of conversation be strong, be assertive. If they tell you not to yell, yell. One of the biggest things that predators will do, they want to conduct this interaction in an area of isolation.
The way that we turn an area that's isolated into an unisolated area is to make as much noise as possible. So strong, assertive voice. If you can, put a barrier or an obstacle between you and that person. So when you're going to step to the sidewalk or side of the path, think about putting a park bench or electrical box or a garbage can between you and that person to at least have some sort of a barrier.
Pires: What items are helpful to carry with you at all times to protect yourself?
Greffard: I don't think the phone was a bad idea. It's tough now because we're in an age where people have masks on, it's very difficult to identify them. Being in her spot I would've preferred maybe calling police and getting assistance on its way.
In this case, some things that I would suggest carrying are your keys. Don't put your keys between your fingers but instead wrap your key ring around your knuckle or your finger and be able to use that.
You can also use a flashlight. A flashlight is a great thing to keep on you as a runner, as a personal safety option. If you flash it in your eyes in nearly blinds you so you've at least got a two or three step ability to create some space and get to safety. But it's also a great blunt-impact weapon to use against the clavicle, up into the face if you ever have to.
I strongly recommend don't carry bear spray or pepper spray or knives. These are not devices for women to be carrying.
One of the biggest ones I've come across in the past few years (is) called a Get Gone. It's actually a dog training device and it sounds and looks like just like a Taser, but there's no electrical current. Speaking as a police officer, electricity scares people. This is a great device. Not only does it draw eyes and attention, but it also scares off an attacker.
Pires: As it's spring, what is your biggest advice for people on trails, especially for those going solo?
Greffard: Know where you are at all times. Have a plan, know your exit routes. If you ever find yourself in a position where you feel unsafe – and same thing on the street – rely on people. Safety in numbers.
If you feel like somebody's following you and somebody's coming up, approach them and say, "hey, I feel like somebody's following me." Exactly like what Jamie did in the video, so she did a great job in that regard. So maintain that personal distance and eliminate the opportunity for an attacker to target you. Shoulder's back, head up, be confident.
Watch the full interview in the video player above.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Allison Hurst