Food & Fitness

How to stay safe in a sketchy neighbourhood

I live in the heart of the downtown in Winnipeg. I absolutely love it. I’m so close to everything and the heritage buildings are absolutely gorgeous. The only problem is that there aren’t too many people living in this area – yet – and so it can be a rather sketchy place after nightfall.

There was one particular day last fall I went for a walk at 8pm. Within half an hour, the sun had set and it was very dark. I was out by myself, there wasn’t much light on the streets, there was no vehicle traffic and I became painfully aware that there was pretty much no one around. Except for a few lone drunks. I hustled my way home and promised myself that I would be wary of going out too often by myself after dark in the middle of winter.

In the summertime, it’s a little bit different, because there are more people out and about. The more people, the better: much less chance of being caught unawares. There’s also a big difference from being at my current location in the Exchange District, as opposed to my old homes in Osborne Village and West Broadway. Both of those areas are also in the downtown, but Osborne Village is always packed with people, and West Broadway is home to many university students. In my new area, everything shuts down after dark (until summertime, when everyone heads to the pubs and clubs around the Exchange).

Having been once jumped by a group of girls in the broad daylight, I am very well aware that no matter where you are and what time of day it is, there’s always the chance of getting mugged or otherwise attacked. But that doesn’t mean you should hide at home, especially because the likelihood of being assaulted is statistically very low. From all the times I’ve been out in potentially sketchy neighbourhoods, I’ve only been jumped once – that in itself says a lot. That being said, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

There are many ways that you can protect yourself and become street-savvy so that you don’t have to be afraid about walking around in your city’s downtown, any time of the day or season:

1) Move in groups. You are way less likely to get mugged or jumped if you have a few friends around. Safety in numbers!

2) Keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t listen to music when it’s dark and you’re alone. When you turn down a new street, take a quick glance to see if there are other people on the road. Trust your instincts; they’ll assess whether those people are ones you want to stay away from or if they might be able to offer help if something happens.

3) Take a couple self-defence classes. It’s not about being paranoid, it’s about being prepared. Kickboxing and martial arts work well too. If you know how to throw a punch and a kick, and if you get a sense of how to move your body when an adrenaline rush hits, you’ll be that much more capable of defending yourself in case of emergency.

4) Don’t carry a ton of valuables with you. If you do carry valuables, keep them hidden. Waving around an iPod for the world to see probably isn’t the best idea. Try not to carry a wad of cash and, if you can get away with it, leave the purse at home. If your pockets can hold your necessities, that’s great. A purse is a magnet for would-be muggers.

5) Acquaint yourself with the area. Is there a police station nearby, or a store that’s open at all hours? Know your safety zones. While you’re at it, steer clear of back lanes when you’re alone. Even if they’re the faster way to get to your destination, you’ll be better off to take major streets that get more traffic.

6) Be polite. Most of the people you meet aren’t going to hurt you. They’re harmless. As soon as you’re rude to someone, it catches their attention and can start a fight. Keeping your head down and not attracting attention can be your best form of defense.

7) Don’t assume that women are safer to be around. In my experience, it’s the women you have to watch out for. They can be much more vicious than men. Potentially dangerous men on the street don’t see a purse-less woman as anything worth mugging, particularly because a lone woman isn’t much of a challenge. Potentially dangerous women on the street, on the other hand, will be more likely to see other women as their equal in terms of physical toughness, and therefore they’ll be more likely to want to prove themselves. Watch out for women!

8 ) Walk with confidence. Your best approach is to simply not be afraid. Walk at a quick but even pace and keep your head up. You don’t have to make a bunch of noise, but walking with confidence can be a great way to prevent people from coming after you. Most bullies are cowards, and if they see that someone is walking without fear, they aren’t going to go for that. It’s those who look scared to death that they’re going to target.

How do you keep yourself safe when you’re in an unfamiliar or “sketchy” part of town?


    1. Sagan Morrow

      If I see women out on the street late at night, I would honestly be more likely to cross to the other side of the street than if I see men. But I think it also depends on who you are – I expect that if I were a really big guy, I’d be more of a target for other men on the street.

  1. Michelle

    2 summers ago, at the beginning of June, my friend recently moved to corydon area, close to hugo. Not even 2 blocks from her place, on a friday 1t 11 pm though, we were jumped/attacked by 2 girls.. opens your eyes I tell ya!! But I totally agree, you cant hide in your house forever!

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