Portland’s neighborhoods and downtown district have much to offer residents and visitors. Being comfortable while living or working in the city or while enjoying the city’s many offerings, can enhance the overall experience in Portland.
There are no hard and fast rules for staying safe on city streets. Although traditional safety tips are often helpful, there are not tips available for every circumstance that might be encountered. Knowing some basic principles of street safety, can be helpful and guide you confidently through a variety of encounters.
Basic Principles of Street Safety
- Be aware that people who commit crimes against others on the street typically use three things to their advantage – intimidation, isolation, and surprise.
- Be attentive to the happenings in your environment and prepare some possible responses.
- Trust your intuition, your "gut feeling," about people and circumstances. Be flexible. Avoid or remove yourself from situations that you feel unsure about.
- Communicate that you are assertive and that you "belong" by using confident body language and speech.
- Know your personal space boundaries. Take up space when sitting, standing, and walking.
- Speak up. Use short phrases and a voice that can be heard. If threatened, be willing to call attention to yourself.
- Be aware of "hooks" that are often used to engage you in a conversation or to detain you. Keep all interactions on the street brief.
- Plan ahead to maximize your chances of making a fast exit if you are detained or are in a threatening situation.
- Wear functional clothing.
- In the areas that you frequent, identify places where you could go for help.
- Carry as little as possible. Consolidate bags and packages.
- Have keys ready for unlocking doors.
- Keep moving whenever possible.
- Develop techniques that could help you calm yourself in emergency or stressful situations.
- Prepare some phrases that you could use if it becomes necessary to communicate that you do not have the time or interest to stop and talk.
Some Guidelines for Specific Situations
If you are followed…
Consider looking behind you as this can eliminate the element of surprise and can communicate that you are not intimidated. Get to a place where there are other people.
If you are harassed by someone who seems to be looking for a confrontation…
Instead of being verbally direct, consider being more verbally evasive. Keep moving and say something that confidently communicates that you cannot stop to talk. People who harass are looking for people they can intimidate.
If you are harassed by someone who seems to want something from you without a confrontation…
Consider giving a look that communicates your answer or being verbally direct by using firm, but respectful and honest words. Be aware that insults, challenges, and "dirty looks" can escalate a situation beyond what you may be prepared to deal with.
If your path is blocked…
Assess the situation, including the number of people involved, the distance between you and them, and whether the action was deliberate or not. Being attentive to what lies ahead can help you avoid uncomfortable interactions with groups and with individuals who try to intimidate others. If possible, change course in a matter-of-fact and confident manner. If changing course is not possible, continue moving in a confident manner while maintaining space around you, and plan what you might say if spoken to.
Some sample phrases, verbally direct and verbally evasive…
- "No," or "Sorry, no."
- "Not interested."
- "I need more space than this."
- "Leave me alone."
- "I don’t have time to talk."
- "I have to catch a bus," or "I’m late for an appointment."
Verbal responses can be enhanced by confident eye contact, serious facial expressions, repetition, a change in tone, and acknowledgment of what the other person wants, e.g., "It sounds like you want to talk, but I don’t have time to talk."