You’re Being Followed…Now What?

Have you ever been followed?

I have, but I was prepared. You can be prepared, too. Whether you are running, shopping, or driving, would you notice if someone was watching you? What would you do if you believed someone was following you? Always paying attention to everything in and around you, listening to your “personal alarm”, known as your intuition, and having a plan will help you to quickly determine when something doesn’t look right or feel right. Establish the baseline for what’s normal for the current situation or environment. Normalcy bias may place you in a state of denial. When something seems out of the ordinary, your mind refuses to believe that this situation may cause harm to you. Your mind underestimates the impact of a traumatic event, causing the body to refuse to heed the danger warnings or minimize threats. Recognizing people and actions that seem out of place is the first step of your action plan. Can you spot the red flags easily? It’s a skill that must be practiced. The more you practice, the more likely you will be able to respond accordingly should you be faced with a threatening situation.

The Day I Was Being Followed

It was a beautiful day in downtown Chicago and the weather was approximately 85 degrees. I was visiting a friend and I stopped at a nearby department store to pick up some items. The parking garage was adjacent to the store. It was open to the public, not well-lit, and unexpectedly desolate…first flag. I didn’t notice a security guard or security cameras, although there may have been both. I remember pulling into a parking space on level two and noticing two guys sitting in their car…not talking, just sitting. It felt suspicious to me, so I decided to move to another space. I parked on the third level, closest to the elevator, and entered the elevator to gain access to the store. Unable to carry a firearm, I had my pepper spray in my pocket. Upon entering the store, I proceeded to scan the area, as the store was new to me. I was gathering information about its layout. As I was scanning the store, I immediately noticed a guy standing nearby. What stood out for me was his attire. Remember, it was 85 degrees, sunny and beautiful. The guy was wearing a heavy coat that was zipped up to his neck and he was wearing a knit hat pulled down over his ears…second flag.

He immediately went on my radar. I proceeded to shop and noticed that this same guy was in every aisle with me. He was following me.

The first time I saw him, I locked eyes with him and chalked it up as nothing. By the time I got to the second aisle, there he was. It was then that I decided to place my shopping cart between us, as a barrier, and in case I needed to use it as an improvised tool or barrier. It was at that moment that I placed my pepper spray in my hand. By the time I reached the third aisle, there he was again. He was clearly following me. He mumbled to me asking if I wanted to buy something he was selling. I spoke loudly saying that I wasn’t interested and telling him to back away from me. The volume of my voice surprised him, and he scurried away. I later noticed him approaching other women. I informed management and advised them of the situation. He was escorted out of the store. As I walked back to my car, I noticed him in the parking lot. My pepper spray was unlocked and ready. I watched him watch me as I loaded my car and headed out. I remember checking my rearview mirror to ensure that he was not following me. My intuition was right about the man who landed on my radar at first glance. Was he dangerous? Who knows. Did he make me feel uncomfortable? Yes. What wasn’t “normal” was the way he was dressed. Your plan goes into action based on your observations and how they make you feel. If you don’t have a plan, make one. Begin by developing “What If” scenarios and practice your responses. Take a situational awareness class to learn how to become more aware of your surroundings and how to respond to imminent threats.

If you determine that you are being followed, here are a few tips for your consideration:

Being Followed on Foot

    1. Use reflections from store windows or mirrors to see who’s behind you.
    2. Use your cell phone, as it you’re taking a selfie, to capture picture or videos of the suspect.
    3. Alert local security guard or police officer that you are being followed.
    4. Stay in well-populated and well-lit places.
    5. Have a personal safety tool readily accessible.
    6. Mentally gather as much information about the suspect as possible.
    7. Go in a different direction than your intended one.
    8. Prepare mentally for your next step and be ready and able to take further action, if necessary.
    9. Walk with confidence, staying away from dark streets and alleys.
    10. Do not confront the person.
  1. woman being followed

Being Followed by a Vehicle

    1. Take a few turns to confirm that you are being followed.
    2. Note the make, model, and tag number, if possible.
    3. Contact the police and report that you are being followed.
    4. Note your location and cross streets.
    5. Never drive to your home or place of business.
    6. Drive to the nearest police station, if possible.
    7. Do not detour onto a secluded road.
    8. Take an exit off the highway and get back on at the very next exit to confirm you’re being followed.
    9. Remain calm, don’t panic, and think through your viable options.
    10. Stay ready for an opportunity to escape by leaving enough space between the car in front of you to exit quickly, if given a chance.
    11. Stay in your vehicle until you’re out of harm’s way.
Whether you are on foot or traveling by car, being aware of everything and everyone around you is paramount. If you determine that you are being followed, follow these tips and activate your plan to get back home safely.

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