3 tips to help you have a safe and secure night out : Life Kit Safety experts explain how to prevent harm in nightlife settings like bars and clubs. That includes how to project an air of confidence with your body language — and how to effectively say "no."

3 personal safety tips to help you protect yourself on a night out

3 personal safety tips to help you protect yourself on a night out

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friends at a pub toasting, having a good time, birds view
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It can be fun to go out on the town at night — to clubs, restaurants, bars and concerts. But for me and my friends, who are mostly women in our early 20s, it can also be scary.

Most of us have been catcalled on the street while walking home, grabbed at while moving through a crowd or pressured into having another drink or staying out later than we'd like.

Because of concerns like these, it can be hard to enjoy going out. In fact, studies have shown that popular nightlife destinations like bars and clubs aren't the safest places to hang — especially for women and girls. According to a 2017 study published in the journal Violence Against Women, this group frequently experiences unwanted sexual touching and persistent advances in these settings.

The burden shouldn't be on people like me, my friends and others in marginalized communities to protect ourselves — but depending on who you are and what you've experienced, you might feel like you don't have much of a choice. So what can we do to have a safer time out?

I reached out to health and safety educator Karen Hughes at the University of California, Berkeley, and Michelle and Zelda Gay, a mother-daughter duo who runs the personal safety group Self-Offense, for advice. They say there are practical ways for people to reclaim control and minimize harm in these environments. And it starts with thinking about your well-being and security before you even step out of the house.

Here are their top three tips, which they say are helpful not just for marginalized folks, but for everyone.

Create a safety plan before the night begins

Create a safety plan before your night even begins, says health and safety educator Karen Hughes. It can help prevent negative experiences. For example, you might want to call a car using a ride share app instead of waiting for a bus to take you home. Oscar Wong/Getty Images hide caption

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Create a safety plan before your night even begins, says health and safety educator Karen Hughes. It can help prevent negative experiences. For example, you might want to call a car using a ride share app instead of waiting for a bus to take you home.

Oscar Wong/Getty Images

For most people, the goal when going out is to have a nice time and prevent negative experiences, says Hughes. So take a moment to think about how to do that.

Reflect on previous nights out. What strategies helped you feel safe? Maybe you asked your bestie to join you on an outing with new friends. Or perhaps you took a taxi home late at night instead of waiting for the bus.

What did you regret the next day? If you went out with someone who ditched you minutes after getting to the venue, for example, you might consider not going out with her again — or inviting a trusted friend to tag along.

If you are planning on drinking or using drugs, Hughes says, ask yourself: what is your limit? Make sure you're sober enough to be aware of your surroundings and safety risks at all times. And if you're not partaking in these activities, that's totally OK — you can enjoy a night out sober, so ignore people who might try to tell you otherwise.

After considering these questions, create a personal safety plan, says Hughes. Do it before the night begins when you have a clear mind. And make your plan as specific as possible. You might say to yourself: "Tonight, I am going to take a taxi home before midnight. I am not going to have more than two cocktails. And I will not go out alone with that friend who ditched me if she asks to hang out again."

It can be hard to stay true to these commitments, says Hughes, especially if friends beg you to stay out longer or have more drinks than you planned for. But try to find practical and creative ways to follow through. Make it convenient to stick to your curfew, for instance, by scheduling a ride share home in advance. Or make plans early the next morning as an extra incentive to go home at a reasonable hour.

"Respect your earlier, more mindful self," says Hughes, and "remember there was a reason [why you made those choices]."

Communicate confidence with your body language

When walking home alone at night, actively look around you and make brief eye contact with passersby, say Michelle and Zelda Gay, a mother-daughter duo who runs the personal safety group Self-Offense. This can potentially deter someone who might otherwise try to bother you. d3sign/Getty Images hide caption

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When walking home alone at night, actively look around you and make brief eye contact with passersby, say Michelle and Zelda Gay, a mother-daughter duo who runs the personal safety group Self-Offense. This can potentially deter someone who might otherwise try to bother you.

d3sign/Getty Images

You might have seen those viral self-defense videos on TikTok, where people demonstrate how to escape choke holds or explain how to free your hands if they're bound by zip ties. Zelda and Michelle, who teach workshops on safety, sexual harassment and conflict de-esclation, say these strategies may not be helpful in a real-life scenario. If you're not comfortable with the maneuvers and haven't practiced them enough, they add, you may find yourself freezing up in the moment and putting yourself in harm's way.

An alternative approach to staying safe, say Zelda and Michelle, is to communicate alertness and confidence with your body language.

First, pay attention to your surroundings. When walking home alone late at night, your instinct might be to avoid making eye contact with passersby. But Zelda and Michelle say that can make you look like an easy target for harassment because you don't seem to be aware of your environment.

Instead, they say, actively look around and occasionally behind you. Is there anything that is making you feel nervous or unsafe? If something bad happens, are there any potential allies nearby who might be able to jump in and help? Michelle says making brief eye contact with passersby can communicate confidence and potentially deter someone who might otherwise try to bother you.

Another tip is to project an air of self-assurance, say Zelda and Michelle. If you're waiting at a bus stop, for example, don't slouch over your phone — stand straight and be vigilant of your situation. When you're walking, look as though you have a clear destination in mind. If you don't know where you're going — let's say you're looking for your venue or your ride share pickup — focus on a fixed point ahead and walk toward it with purpose. These moves, says Zelda, "read as confident," and can make people think twice before approaching or harassing you.

Learn how to say 'no' effectively

Holding a drink in your hand, even water with lime, can prevent people from pushing you to drink, says Hughes. It signals you are not in need of a drink because you already have one. vm/Getty Images hide caption

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vm/Getty Images

Holding a drink in your hand, even water with lime, can prevent people from pushing you to drink, says Hughes. It signals you are not in need of a drink because you already have one.

vm/Getty Images

If someone is harassing you in public, say, catcalling you on the street, you might want to turn around and tell them off. But sometimes, the safest course of action is to walk away, says Michelle. When people feel humiliated or shamed in public, she adds, they can get more aggressive — and the situation could further escalate and put you in a dangerous position.

If you can't walk away — maybe a person has cornered you at a bar and is repeatedly asking to buy you a drink — Michelle suggests a kind but persistent "no, but thank you," to communicate your message as clearly as possible and avoid a potentially aggressive outburst.

You can also help avoid this situation by trying a non-verbal tactic. Hughes says to hold a drink in your hand — even if it's a Shirley Temple or a diet Pepsi — to signal that you are not in need of a drink because you already have one.

And remember, says Zelda: our relationship to "no" has a lot to do with our gender. Men are often encouraged to be persistent and aggressive to get what they want. And women are conditioned to acquiesce and get along with everyone. That dynamic — especially in an environment where people are drinking and can be more uninhibited or vulnerable — is a recipe for disaster. Learning to say and respect "no" is an important practice to communicate your boundaries on a night out.

The audio portion of this episode was produced by Audrey Nguyen. The digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.