Protecting Yourself In Public Places

Every six minutes, one reported rape or attempted rape takes place in the United States.  That means there are about two million Texans who are sexually assaulted every year. In Wichita Falls, there have only been 9 reported cases of sexual assault in 2011.  That's a 30% decrease from the same time period last year.

But sexual assaults and other violent attacks don't always happen like they do on TV; they're not always in a dark alley or an abandoned field.  They can also happen in public places, even when other people are nearby.

In 2008, a woman was walking home from work when the unthinkable happened.  Police say a man shoved the woman into some bushes and sexually assaulted her.  But the woman wasn't on some back road or behind a dilapidated building -- she was on Seymour highway

"It could take place anywhere.  There's no rhyme or reason.  There's no particular area.  Sometimes it's just a crime of opportunity," said Wichita Falls Police Officer Harold McClure.

Police linked Paul Anthony Moreno to the case through a DNA database.  He's now serving a 60-year sentence in prison.

Just last December, police say two men mugged a woman and dragged her along the ground -- right outside of Sikes Senter Mall.  While you may not always be able to prevent similar attacks, there are some things you can do to lessen your chances.

"Places that aren't lit well, parking lots where people don't expect things to happen is usually where things will happen," said United Regional Security Manager Steve Beggs.

Awareness of your surroundings may be the biggest factor you have control over.  But other people are looking out for you, too.  We went to various public areas in Wichita Falls to see what types of measures are in place to look out for you while you're among crowds of people.  At Castaway Cove water park, at least 40 staff members, some of them in plainclothes, keep their eyes on even the outer edges of the park.

"We have spots on the park where a manager or supervisor can stand and actually see almost every location on the park," said Sales and Marketing Manager Ed Michel.

That makes it so there's virtually no place where an assault or attack could happen without being noticed.

McClure says it's a good idea to limit the time you're completely alone, especially when it's dark.  Keeping a group mentality will be for your benefit, too.  Also, have an escape plan in mind.

"Know where your vehicle's parked.  Know who you're with.  If you're goin' to a strange place, if you're goin' to a strange area and you're goin' by yourself, make sure someone knows ahead of time," he said.

But how about an indoor location?  Depending on the event, there could be hundreds or thousands of people crammed into Kay Yeager Coliseum.  That doesn't mean there aren't any darkened stairways of empty seating where someone might not be watching as closely.  Fortunately, folks at the MPEC have that covered.

"Part of the job of the security is they each have their own sections that they're responsible for.  So what they're responsible to do is patrol, to keep a vigilance on the crowd.  If they see something out of the ordinary, watch that.  If they need assistance, they'll radio for help," said Executive Director Bob Sullivan.

The so-called 'T-shirt staff' security at the MPEC- regularly patrols corridors and checks bathrooms to make sure nobody's in trouble.  Still, it's a good idea to check alcoves and similar places when you're in any type of isolated hallway.

"I don't think there's any particular place because we keep a pretty good eye throughout the entire complex.  There aren't too many places one can hide," Sullivan said.

United Regional Hospital is yet another place where lots of people gather.  But could doctors or patients ever get attacked there?  Security Manager Steve Beggs says surveillance cameras inside and out can see virtually every visible, public area on the campus at any given moment.  The hospital's level three security officers, including a bike patrol, are licensed through the DPS.

"We're able to carry the weapons that a police officer would carry - baton, taser, and firearm," he said.

Beggs says waiting rooms sometimes leave people's tempers pretty short.  Observing people's actions -- and their words -- could keep you well-prepared.

But even with electronic security aides, sometimes one of the most effective aspects of it, is that the public doesn't know about it.  Michel says they won't talk about the electronic security at the water park.

"That's part of our safety program.  If we don't tell everybody what we do, then these bad people won't take advantage of us," he said.

Regardless of your situation, security personnel say if you don't feel right about something, don't override your instincts.

"You do need to be aware of your surrounding.  Don't become complacent.  Don't become just too relaxed that you're not aware of who's around you," McClure said.

"A lot of people just think that things happen to other people.  You gotta realize that sometimes you might be the other person and bad things might happen," Beggs said

McClure also had advice for parties.  Along with at least letting someone know where you're going, he says you should never take drinks from strangers.  If you leave a drink unattended at any time, just toss it out, just to be safe.