Expert Advice to Handle Dangerous Situations

Oct. 20, 2005 — -- Every year in the United States more than 50,000 women are raped. More than 100,000 women are assaulted, and hundreds more are slain by strangers.

But women can take important steps to protect themselves, says safety expert and ABC News consultant Bob Stuber.

"When crime comes your way, it comes fast," said Stuber. "It strikes and if you're not ready for it, then you end up a victim."

Together with "Primetime Live," Stuber showed some female volunteers that their instincts weren't always correct and that there's almost always a way to get out of or avoid a dangerous situation -- if you know what you're doing.

"PrimeTime" volunteers had little idea what was coming -- they knew they were being filmed, but were not told what the story was about.

Elevator Attack

In Stuber's first scenario, volunteers Dana and Nicole each ride alone in an elevator with a stranger. Suddenly the man stops the elevator between floors, catching the women off guard.

"It's like a woman's worst nightmare to be in an elevator alone with what seems like a psychopath," Nicole said after the incident.

Stuber says both women make the same mistake, moving to the rear of the elevator and allowing the bad guy to get between them and the "safety zone" -- the elevator's button panel.

There, he says, you can light up all the buttons -- forcing the elevator to stop on every floor -- use the alarm, or you can try to knock the emergency phone off the hook so someone can at least hear you're in distress.

If an attack is unavoidable, Stuber says, get to the corner where an attacker has a limited ability to hit or grab you. Women can defend themselves with something as simple as a purse.

"You have a shield," he said. "One thing you can do is drop down, get lower, make yourself smaller and now, use your purse to protect."

Using the same techniques, a 12-year-old girl in Orlando, Fla. was able to fight off an attempted assault by a convicted sex offender in an elevator. By fighting back -- biting his hand and making it to the buttons -- she was able to trigger the alarm, open the door and get to safety.

The Parking Garage

In the second scenario, volunteers are told to wheel a shopping cart full of packages through an empty parking garage, pack them into a car and drive off. No one is told what to expect.

The first volunteer, Shawna, makes herself an easy target by failing to look around the garage or even peer over her shoulder.

Stuber is able to sneak up on her before she even knows he's there.

The next volunteer, Janet, thinks fast as Stuber surprises her by simply putting the shopping cart between her and her would-be attacker as he approaches. Stuber says she puts herself in a good, defensive position.

"When she turned her body, the cart came with her, which is good," he said.

But even without a shopping cart, Stuber points out that anything from a car antenna to a windshield wiper can send a painful message to an assailant -- helping to keep him away and stall his plans.

If that doesn't work, or you can't find an object to use, get under a car and use it for cover. Stuber also reminds women to scream when danger strikes -- or even better, carry a small whistle, which he says will carry farther and attract more attention.

In the Neighborhood

Not all abductions occur in dark parking garages or lonely elevators.

Authorities say 19-year-old Rachel Cooke disappeared when she was as close as 200 yards from her home in Georgetown, Texas. She's been missing for more than three years.

To illustrate the dangers of abduction or assault near home, "Primetime" asked a volunteer named Georgia to ride a bicycle down a residential street and to react naturally to whatever she encounters.

When Stuber jumps out to simulate an attack, she screams but makes a crucial mistake -- she lets go of her bike.

Just as with Janet, who used a shopping cart to keep Stuber away during the simulated parking garage attack, a bike can be a great defensive weapon.

"If I can't separate you from the bike, how can I even think about putting you into a car?" Stuber asks.

Road to Trouble

Thousands of violent assaults and attacks occur every year against women in parks where they walk and jog.

To illustrate the risk of assault in such places, "Primetime" selected a park where women could be found running along a trail that runs under a dark overpass and next to a busy freeway.

"Primetime's" volunteer joggers are asked to go on a long run and react normally to whatever they encounter.

When they come to a man apparently writhing in pain and begging for help, the women have to decide whether to rush to help, or to stop and assess the situation first.

Stuber's point is that you should always be aware and prepared.

"I would think of myself as a cautious person," said Ashley, one of the volunteers, "but I never thought of a plan for something like that happening."

Into the Danger Zone

Often potential abductors impersonate someone familiar, like an authority figure, to lure in their victims.

Serial killer Ted Bundy, who confessed to murdering 28 women in the 1970s, was known for using this technique. Stuber illustrates the risk by purchasing "caution" tape and some inexpensive props that make him look like a park worker.

As the volunteers walk past, Stuber says officials are spraying for mosquitoes there, and directs them around the tape to a more secluded area.

It may seem easy to fall for a scheme like this, but Stuber says even if you do, remember his motto: Use your environment.

A broken bottle, stick, or even the dirt around you could be used as a weapon and could mean the difference between life and death.

Life on the Line

In the final scenario, Stuber adds an element missing from the previous examples: a gun.

Experts say that most often people will do what they're told when at gunpoint and that's exactly what the first volunteer does.

Stuber confronts her with the gun, orders her into the car and she complies.

But when he confronts the second volunteer, Stephanie, something surprising happens. Even with the gun pointed directly at her -- she runs away.

"I was taught in elementary school if that happens, just run and scream," she said.

According to Stuber, Stephanie's elementary school teachers taught her well.

"I don't care if they're pointing a gun at you or a bazooka," he said, "if you get into that car, you're probably not coming home."

Running, Stuber says, is statistically the best chance you have to save your life.