Safety in public places
It is important to always be alert and aware of your surroundings and to avoid dangerous areas and activities, particularly at night.
A public place can vary through the course of the day. It may be used by different groups of people at different times. It may be busy at certain times and isolated at others. It may be different during the day than it is at night. These differences can have a very different impact on the way you feel when you are in them.
- The street outside a hotel in the morning is likely to be used by people going to and from work or shopping. At night however, the people most likely to be on the street are hotel patrons. Alcohol consumption has now become a factor in these places, and for many (particularly for women), some areas may become less safe;
- A shopping mall during the day has lots of different people using it. Once it closes, it is often isolated and usually dark; and
- A school between the hours of 8am and 5pm is usually lively and active. After 5pm, on weekends or during school holidays however, it may be isolated or dominated by particular groups of people.
Being in a place when it is busy is very different from when the place is isolated. There is often no reason to be afraid, but – be alert, be aware, and be careful.
Personal safety on public transport
While public transport in Australia is comparatively safe, you should still exercise the same caution as you would at home.
Here are few general tips to help keep you safe on public transport such as buses, trams and trains:
- Keep your belongings close to you and know where they are at all times;
- Keep your valuables, like your wallet, mobile phone or iPod out of sight;
- If you’re travelling at night, travel with friends if possible and sit as close to the driver as you can;
- Where possible, stick to well lit, busy areas when walking between train or bus stations and your home;
- Always be aware of your surroundings, including where your fellow passengers are sitting;
- If someone is making you uncomfortable or goes so far as to threaten you, tell the driver;
- Always be alert at train stations, tram and bus stops;
- Never hang around train stations or bus stations at night. If you must get on public transport at a station at night, check the timetable and try to arrive right before the train or bus to minimise the amount of time you spend waiting; and
- Train carriages nearest the drivers are left open and lit.
In most cases taxis are a safe way of getting home at night. However, as with all forms of public transport passengers need to be alert. To increase your confidence when travelling by taxi, consider the following suggestions:
- Phone for a taxi in preference to hailing one on the street. A record is kept by taxi companies of all bookings made;
- You are entitled to choose the taxi/taxi driver of your preference. If a driver makes you feel uncomfortable you are within your rights to select another taxi;
- Sit wherever you feel most comfortable. This may mean travelling in the back seat of the taxi;
- Specify to the driver the route you wish to take to reach your destination. Speak up if the driver takes a different route to the one you have specified or are familiar with;
- Take note of the Taxi Company and fleet number (usually located at the front of the taxi). This will help in identifying the taxi if required;
- If you are walking a friend to catch a taxi, consider letting the driver know that you have noted these details (eg – "Look after my friend, Mr/Ms Yellow Cab number 436");
- Stay alert to your surroundings and limit your conversation to general topics;
- If you don't want your home address known, stop a few houses away from your destination; and
- If the driver harasses you when travelling in a taxi your options include:
- Ask the driver to stop. You may choose to make up an excuse to do so;
- Leave the taxi when it stops at a traffic sign or lights;
- Call out to someone on the street to attract attention and seek assistance. This may also cause the driver to stop; and
- Read out the fleet number and advise the driver you will report him/her if they don't stop.
A person who waves at unknown drivers from the side of the road to request a ride further along the road is called a hitch-hiker. Hitchhiking is illegal in Queensland and Victoria.
Elsewhere in Australia it is illegal to hitchhike on motorways (where pedestrians are prohibited and where cars are not allowed to stop). Some travel companies promote hitchhiking as an inexpensive means of travelling around Australia, however, many crimes have been committed against innocent hitchhikers including violent personal crimes and abductions. You do not know anything about the person whose car you get into.
Our advice to you is: DON’T HITCHHIKE! It simply is not worth the risk.
Dealing with confrontation
If you are faced with a confrontation, verbal or physical, don’t panic. There are things you can do to minimise the danger, evade your attacker and get away safely:
- Be prepared. Rehearse possible options and techniques to use in the event of a personal confrontation;
- If faced with a robber, ask yourself whether it is worth placing your personal safety at risk for the sake of property that can generally be replaced. Staying safe may mean handing over your wallet or handbag. Try and note the description of the offender, details of the attack (including how and in which direction the offender left) and report the matter to police. Remember that you should try to keep cash and valuables that you carry to a minimum, so that if you are robbed you will not be left entirely without funds;
- Attackers target vulnerability. Act with confidence, assertiveness and strong body language. If you are attacked, do whatever you believe will keep you the most safe at the time. If you can escape by any means, such as running away, do so. Report the incident to police as soon as you can;
- Scream. An aggressive, loud, guttural roar, rather than a high-pitched squeal of fear, turns fear of being attacked into anger. This produces an adrenaline rush, allowing you to move faster, think quicker and multiply your strength. It also is likely to temporarily shock the attacker and attract attention from any bystanders; and
Remember that in emergency situations you can call 000 and ask for police or ambulance assistance.
Sexual assault is a criminal offence. It includes sexual harassment, unwanted touching, indecent assault and penetration of any kind. It is important to remember that it can happen to anyone and at any time but certain precautions may make it more difficult for a possible perpetrator:
- When socialising, be smart. If you are drinking, drink in a way that leaves you in control. Leaving drinks unattended leaves them open to being spiked (drugged) quite easily;
- Walk with confidence and purpose;
- Avoid lonely or dark places;
- Be wary of strangers, whether they are on foot, in cars or at parties;
- Be aware of the people around you;
- Respect your intuition; and
If placed in a situation where you feel uncomfortable say "No!" loudly and with conviction.
What do I do if I am assaulted?
It is very difficult to tell someone that you have been sexually assaulted. It is important to remember that sexual assault is a serious crime and can happen to people regardless of their gender or sexuality. Your first point of contact should be the Police or your closest Sexual Assault Service:
- From a public phone or mobile phone, ring the police on 000. Do not hang up the telephone if you do not speak English well – say your language and an interpreter will assist you with your call;
- Do not wash, shower, change clothes or clean up in any way until after talking to the police and going to the hospital. You could destroy vital evidence. Don't drink alcohol or take tranquillisers or other drugs, as you will have to give a clear account of what has happened. Try to remember everything you can about your attacker; and
- Remember, you are the victim. You have nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about. Police officers are aware that a person who has been assaulted, sexually or otherwise, is likely to be suffering from emotional shock. They will do all they can to make things as easy as possible for you. It is likely they will provide a female police officer for a female victim. If not, you have the right to request one. You can also ask the police to contact a friend, family member, interpreter or religious adviser to be in attendance with you when you are dealing with the circumstances surrounding the report of assault.
Some contacts that can provide assistance include: