One of my primary goals in life is to not be the victim of a violent crime or murder, so in listening to a lot of true crime podcasts, here’s what I’ve learned about how to not get murdered (hopefully).
Listening to stories about women going through hideous ordeals – sometimes winding up murdered, without a clue as to who did it – doesn’t really sound like a relaxing pastime to have. But – like millions of women worldwide – for some crazy reason, I find myself repeatedly tuning in to listen to true crime podcasts (and sometimes, hopefully learning how to not get murdered in the process?)
There has been an explosion in the genre in recent years, and it’s all due to women like me, regularly freaking ourselves out – but whyyyy do we do it?
Perhaps it’s because some of us enjoy playing home detective (it’s me! I want to be Nancy Drew!), but, another big sway is that in listening to these stories, we hope we may glean some tips on how to not end up a victim of violent crime one day.
It’s a strange thought, but one I’m not alone in having. When I spoke to Kate Winkler Dawson who is one of the true crime podcast heavyweights, as a member of the Exactly Right network, fronting the show Tenfold More Wicked, she said it’s a very common driver for female listeners.
“Studies show that women actually change their routine based on true crime stories that they read about, because they pick up tips,” she told me. “The thing is, we are vulnerable. The majority of victims are women, so I think it’s a little bit of self-preservation, I think we’re constantly looking for ways to get out of it.”
So, what have I learned over the years? I thought maybe it would be a good time to share.
But first, a DISCLAIMER: One of my pet hates in this world is how many stories are generated that are all about telling women how to not be the victim of violence at the hands of a man. But, we shouldn’t be the ones changing our behaviour, and all the stories should be telling men why they need to quit being violent to women – they’re the ones with the problem and the ability to solve it. So, if you are a male and are reading this, please, keep an eye out for what your buddies are up to and if they exhibit troubling behaviour. And if you’re aware that you have violent tendencies – even if you never act on these thoughts – please book yourself in for some therapy sessions. If you can’t afford it, see if you work covers EAP sessions (they’re FREE and completely confidential so your workplace will never know about it).
With that said, I know it is not yet a perfect world though, so – sigh – here’s what I’ve learned:
Choose your partner wisely
A lot of true crime podcasts focus on unsolved murders, bizarre crimes and horrible mass murderers. Because, yes, sometimes people do kill complete strangers, but these cases are actually very rare. In reality, the vast majority of women who will be murdered this year, will be killed by someone they know. In most cases, that person will be their boyfriend, husband or ex.
Soooo…. how could you avoid this?
Be choosy about who you spend your life with!
It’s true that every now and then a woman is murdered by her partner or ex who has never exhibited any signs of violence, but those situations are very rare. Most often, it will come after a long period of abuse, that has continued to worsen over time.
Sometimes, it will have accelerated to a point where the man actually openly speaks about killing his partner, such was tragically the case with New Zealander Emily Longley.
In the Teacher’s Pet case, a young mother Lynette Dawson was killed by her husband in 1982 – a case that was finally closed late last year when Chris Dawson was found guilty of her murder. While the judge dismissed evidence given by many of her friends and colleagues (I can only hope his reasoning was to lessen Chris’ chances of appealing the verdict), her friends spoke of the large bruises they saw on her body and the worryingly increasing violence and threats that appeared to be happening. One friend alleged that just before Lynette’s disappeared, she had gone to therapy with Chris, who had said that if “this doesn’t work, I’m getting rid of you”.
And, it still boggles my mind that a jury could believe that it was more likely that a complete stranger (or some insane potential mafia drug cartel hit??) killed Nicole Simpson Brown, rather than the man who had been abusing her for years – even to a point where she said her husband was trying to kill her and begged for help on a recorded 911 call, as her ex-husband OJ Simpson could be heard in the background trying to break down the door.
Leaving an abusive relationship is incredibly, incredibly hard – but, could be essential in ensuring your survival. At the bottom of this story we have links for where to go to get help.
This is one of my favourite pieces of advice that comes from the queens of the True Crime Podcasting world: My Favourite Murder’s Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff.
All of us, at some point in our lives, will have experienced that sensation where something starts to feel off. Maybe the hairs on the back of your neck stand up about a situation you’re in – a place you are, or a person you’re with – or, things don’t feel quite right and maybe kind of creepy. Your intuition is telling you to get the heck out of there. But, thanks to social conditioning, as women we’re taught to be polite, and not make a scene.
Georgia and Karen encourage you to MAKE A GODDAM SCENE.
They’ve told the stories of so many women who have narrowly escaped violent attacks, by listening to their intuition, as well as stories of women who’d said to others that something didn’t quite feel right, and ended up dead.
Maybe you’re walking down a street and things don’t feel right, maybe a guy is talking you outside a bar and it’s feeling wrong – or worse, maybe you’ve let him into your home and now you’re getting a bad vibe. Now is the time to do something.
If that means getting up and leaving, do it. If it means running, do it. If it means asking a barman/bouncer/complete stranger for help, do it. If it means asking that man to leave your house, and screaming out to your flatmate to wake up and get out there, do it.
See, worst case scenario, you may have read the situation wrong and may end up feeling quite embarrassed. That’s a hell of a lot easier to bounce back from that the other alternative.
We’re also taught that lying is bad, but, if you’re ever in a situation with someone who might be quite keen to attack or murder you, you should really go ahead and lie your head off.
Over the years of listening to true crime podcasts I’ve heard so many stories where women have survived situations, simply by telling their would-be killer a few porkies.
An example is in the case of the Boston Strangler, where a single woman was living alone when one day a man pushed his way into her apartment, claiming to be a painter. He clearly wasn’t and began making her feel very uncomfortable so she told him her husband was sleeping in the next room. He quickly left – but later, a woman in her same building was killed by the Boston Strangler.
From what I’ve gleaned from the true crime genre, these psychopathic men who prey on women are looking for things to be as uncomplicated and easy as possible – so if you throw a few complications or cast some doubt in their mind, it can be enough to allow you to get out of their clutches.
On one episode of My Favourite Murder (I forget which sorry, I’ve listened to hundreds!) one woman told of how a man was clearly following her (yeah sure, in big cities we can end up walking in the same direction – but this guy stopped whenever she did, and changed back direction whenever she did).
So, she spotted a friendly looking couple walking towards her and ran up to the woman saying, “Oh my god, it’s been ages!” As she hugged the very confused woman who was obviously trying to be polite while she frantically placed this stranger, she quietly said, “Please help, this man is following me and I’m afraid”. It’s a great strategy because humans do really love to help in a situation like this – and that’s exactly what this couple did, sitting with her in a café for a while and then walking her home to make sure she was safe.
If your attacker knows someone has clocked what is happening and has seen their face, they’re much more likely to stop what they’re doing.
Another strategy a quick-thinking woman had on a MFM episode, was going absolutely nuts when a man grabbed her on a dark street, where no one was around, and was trying to drag her to a car. She figured screaming for help might not be effective as there was no one around to help, so instead she just acted as insane as she could.
She started screaming in tongues and not just hitting him, but herself in the head, and generally just behaving as batshit as she possibly could. He dropped her and ran back to the car immediately. Who wants to put someone that unpredictable in the boot of their car?
Generally, things start to go really south when women realise that no one knows where they are, and they’re now in a dangerous situation, with no one expecting them home at a certain time. If you’re going out on a Tinder or Bumble date, text your friends and say where you’re going and include screen shots of their profile.
I once had a flatmate who, if she knew I was out for the night, would take a photo of the guy she was bringing home and text it to me. This is extreme – but, at least he knew someone was keeping tabs?
It’s also worth having a look what features your phone has – many have secret button combinations that you click if you’re in an emergency that will automatically call emergency services with your location, as well as alert the people on your emergency contact list. Here’s how to do it on an iPhone and here’s how to do it on a Samsung device.
Never Go To The Second Location
Ok, so this is one that originated on The Oprah Winfrey Show, that she revisted a few times on the show, as well as on her podcast – Super Soul Conversations (which certainly isn’t a true crime show!) in an episode called ‘Best Lifesaving Lessons’.
It all stems from an episode of her TV show in 1991, where a retired police sergeant named Sanford Strong gave his best advice for staying safe.
He said: “Rule number one – and frankly it’s probably in my opinion the most important – never allow them to take you somewhere else. Never.”
He said most murders/violent attacks occur in two locations – the first crime scene is where they get you (your home, the street, a bar) and the second is where they take you, normally to commit the actual crime.
“Crime scene number two it’s going to be isolated, you won’t chose it and you will be the focus of the crime,” he warned.
His advice was to never let your attacker get you to the next location – fight back and do whatever you can to stop it happening. Again, as women, we’re taught to be quiet and polite and do what we’re told if someone is threatening us. Sanford says that in this situation, don’t do what you’re told – because wherever they’re taking you, there won’t be people around to hear or see what is happening to you. Take the opportunity to scream, shout, run or do whatever you need to get away.
Oprah did several follow-up episodes based on that piece of advice, including one where a viewer Lynne told her story of being attacked by a career criminal, eight years after watching that episode with Sanford. She says that in the moment he attacked her, Sanford’s advice immediately flashed through her mind and spurred her into quickly fighting back.
“I wouldn’t go with him,” she said. “And I said to him at that moment, ‘If you’re going to kill me, kill me here and kill me now, because I’m not going with you.’ I fought him, and I survived.” Lynne says he ran off and was later captured by police, who found out that he had kidnapped and murdered a woman the week before.
Got any advice of your own, or something you picked up from a true crime podcast? Send it to us at [email protected]!