If you've just graduated from school to your first real job, and from a room in your parents' home to a place of your own, you might want to know some of the basic precautions that most veteran working women take to keep themselves safe:
We pay attention to everything -- and everyone -- around us. We know that awareness is our most important defense against an attack.
We lock our doors. Always. Even for a quick trip to the yard, garden, pool, a neighbor's house or the mailbox. We call locksmiths (in the Yellow Pages) and have peepholes and dead-bolt locks installed on all exterior doors and never open the door to someone we don't know.
We find our car keys before we leave a secure environment. We get our car keys duplicated by the nearest hardware store or locksmith, as well, and carry an extra one with us, so that we won't find ourselves locked out of the car on a dark side street or in a deserted parking lot.
We lock our car doors the minute we get into the car -- before fastening our seat belts or starting our engines -- and leave our windows closed until we're moving too fast for anyone to reach in and unlock the door.
We keep our cars carefully maintained, so they aren't as likely to break down, and keep them equipped with jumper cables, a viable spare tire, and a blanket and flashlight, so we don't have to leave a broken-down car to look for help.
And we give parking attendants and valets our ignition keys only, never the rest of the key ring. House keys are easily copied, and our addresses can be lifted from the car's registration.
We never use our first names on mail boxes or in telephone books -- just one or two initials -- and while our answering machines confirm that callers have reached the correct number, they do not confirm that a single woman lives at the number. The message simply says, "We will call you back," even if we live alone.
We keep a careful eye on the casual acquaintances in our lives because we know that the vast majority of assaults against women are committed by someone we already know.
We take notice -- and action -- if an acquaintance, neighbor, relative, repairman, delivery person, maintenance supervisor, security guard, co-worker, boss, ex-casual-date -- anyone -- pays undue attention to us.
We meet new and not-so-new dates at restaurants, coffee shops, lounges, movies, museums, concerts, or other public places instead of allowing them to pick us up in their automobiles. We never, never invite someone we don't know well into our homes -- or go into theirs.
If we do invite a date in and he becomes aggressive -- won't take no for an answer or refuses to leave -- we leave and call the police from a safe location. What comes first is our own safety, not our material possessions or what someone else might think of us.
If we work late, we make sure that there's a lock on the building or office door, that we have access to a security guard or alarm system, and that we're provided with an escort when we're ready to leave, especially if our cars are parked in deserted parking lots or underground garages.
Most of all, we trust our instincts. If we feel uncomfortable in any situation, we remove ourselves immediately. We don't second-guess ourselves or question the validity of our own feelings. We don't worry about causing a scene or embarrassing someone else, either, although sometimes we have to apologize later.
We know that far too many women are assaulted -- and worse -- every year because they didn't want to cause a scene or hurt someone's feelings. We know we must trust our own emotional responses in any given situation -- without question! -- because this, above all other measures that we may take, is the one that's most likely to keep us safe.
Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.