Whether you live in the city or the suburbs, walking alone can be risky, especially at night. It leaves you vulnerable to a mugging or attack. While violent crime in the United States has been declining for the past several years, it pays to stay vigilant.

How can you make yourself a less likely target? Mark Vinci, director of Model Mugging, a California-based non-profit organization that trains men and women in self-defense and crime prevention, recommends taking these 10 precautions.

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1. Walk in groups. The old adage stands: There is safety in numbers. Muggers are less likely to target groups than individuals. Groups provide more witnesses, which discourages potential muggers, Vinci explains. 

2. Choose a well-lit path and avoid isolating shortcuts. Walking along streets that are well-lit will help keep you out of the dark, making you less of a target. A shortcut may save you a few minutes, but if it brings you into a more deserted area, best to skip it. Also, bring a flashlight when walking at night.

3. Look confident. Like sharks, muggers can sense your vulnerability. While it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, constantly looking over your shoulder can make you look nervous. Stand tall, look sure of yourself and walk with confidence.

4. Take a self-defense class. Taking a self-defense class can help you tackle your fears, making you feel and appear more confident. It can also teach you how to identify a potential perpetrator and how to fight back if attacked.

5. Make wide turns to avoid “ambush sight.” Make 3- to 5-foot turns (or wider) when walking around corners or cars, Vinci advises. In other words, don't hug the wall or stay too close to the car. Attackers often hide behind corners to catch you off-guard and minimize your response time (Vinci dubs this “ambush sight.”) Making wide turns will help you see around the corner to identify anything suspicious and give you more time to react.

6. Don’t wear headphones. When walking alone, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. “Walking with headphones isolates one of your senses all together, making you more vulnerable,” Vinci says. If you’re exercising and must use headphones, compromise by using only one earbud.

7. Put your phone away. Cellphones are one of the easiest items to steal and one of the most common objects stolen, Vinci says. Plus they serve as a distraction, taking your attention away from your surroundings. Keep it accessible in case of an emergency, but don’t bury your nose in the screen while you walk.

8. Don’t flaunt the bling. Diamond rings and gold watches and necklaces make you a target. As Vinci puts it, “Don’t flash the bling bling.” If you’re going to a nice event, carry your jewelry in a bag and put it on when you arrive.

9. Tell someone where you’re going. Let a friend, family member or co-worker know where you’re going and what routes you commonly take. That way, if something happens to you, someone has an idea of where you are.

10. Walk facing traffic. If you’re walking or running with the flow of traffic, someone can pull up behind you, giving you no time to prepare. If you’re facing traffic, you can see what or who is coming toward you, Vinci says.

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What to do if you feel threatened

  • Cross the street. If you do this and the person follows, you have reason to be suspicious and may want to call for help, Vinci says. If the person continues on their way, you may be in the clear but continue to be on guard, just in case.
  • Pause. If you feel you’re being followed, Vinci suggests pausing to tie your shoe, window shop or act like you’re waiting for someone. If the person pauses as well, this is a red flag and you should call for help. Never pause with your back towards the follower. Instead, stop with your back toward a wall or facing away from the sidewalk.
  • Go into a business. If a store is open nearby, walk in, and watch the person you think is following you. If he lingers nearby, you may want to call for help.
  • Make yourself appear unattractive. “One woman I trained who traveled alone in South America liked the ‘loogie’ routine,” Vinci says. He suggests coughing up phlegm, spitting, picking your nose or itching your rear end and other body parts. Engaging in such socially unacceptable behavior makes you less appealing.

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