Last year, on the first nice day of spring, I was leaving work just before 5 p.m. The sun felt brighter than it had in months, and the redbuds were flowering above me. As I walked to my car, I noticed three guys about my age sauntering down the street toward me. They were joking with each other and clearly enjoying the warm weather in t-shirts and shorts. As we neared each other, one of the men stepped off of the sidewalk and into the street. I thought he was letting me pass between him and his friends, so I gave him a smile. As soon as I did, he pushed me down and grabbed my purse strap. It didn’t break off of me easily, so he dragged me with him until it did. Again, this happened in broad daylight, not 20 feet from my office door.
When we talk about muggings, so much of what we talk about is what the victim didn’t do. She didn’t have a gun. She didn’t have any martial arts training. She didn’t have pepper spray or a Taser or a whistle. She didn’t have a buddy, particularly a man, to walk her to her car.
She’s sick of it.
In the moment, it’s hard to consciously do much of anything. Autopilot kicks on, and you scream or fight or comply. You do what you can to make the mugging end as soon as possible. When it is over, when your mugger runs away, or when you are left alone, you regain your senses. You jump to your feet and realize that it’s up to you to replace your things and recover your health and sense of safety.
This is the moment that we need to talk more about. This is the moment in which you can find control, recover, and get help. This is the moment in which what you do matters more than what you didn’t do.
- Call 9-1-1. If you aren’t hurt, you may be tempted to call your local police department instead of emergency services; don’t. A mugging warrants a call to 9-1-1. It will dispatch police officers and ambulances, if appropriate. Additionally, the operator will stay on the phone with you until help arrives. Reporting your mugging is important, not only because it could help you recover your possessions. First of all, it will prevent a criminal from using your identity. Secondly, when you report an incident of violence or robbery, it will appear in crime data for your neighborhood. Neighbors can use that information to keep themselves safe and alert. Your police report may prevent someone else from being mugged by your attacker.
- Alert campus police. It’s important to file a report with the local police department if you are mugged, but if the incident happens on or near campus, let your school know as well. Campus security may respond positively by increasing its presence on campus. It can also alert the student body that a serious event has happened in the neighborhood.
- Tend to your physical traumas. If you are bleeding or otherwise seriously injured, seek medical attention before doing anything else. Your physical health is urgent. It is more important than recovering your belongings.
- Tell police officers about any security cameras located nearby. If the building has a camera, or if there is one on the block, let police know so that they can revise the footage. Not only can this help identify the person responsible for the attack, but it can indicate which direction your mugger ran. If the person is found, camera footage will help you build your court case.
- Call your parents or trusted family member. When you’re mugged, you must act quickly, but give your parents a call, especially if you have any credit cards linked to their accounts. Give them a brief explanation of what just happened, tell them about your injuries, ask them to cancel any credit or debit cards they have access to, and promise to call them back as soon as possible. You need to get your affairs in order before you settle into an hour-long phone call.
- Cancel your cards. If your wallet has been stolen, you need to cancel all of your bank cards before your mugger can use them. Your parents can help if their names are on the account. Otherwise, you need to know that each bank has a different customer service number, which you can easily find by googling your bank’s name plus “stolen (credit or debit) card.” If you don’t have access to a smartphone or computer right after you’ve been mugged, ask to use a police officer’s phone. If you have a credit card and a debit card from the same bank, you may have to call a different number to cancel each card. When you cancel a card, your bank will send you a new one via mail. Most banks will tell you to expect your card in about 10 business days, but it will generally arrive sooner than that. Keep in mind that if all of your cards were stolen, you may need to borrow money from your parents or best friend to tide you over until you have access to your account again. Otherwise, if you still have your checkbook, you can withdraw cash by writing a personal check out to “Cash” on the “Pay to the Order of” line and taking that check to your bank.
- Check your phone’s GPS remotely. There are a host of apps out there that can help you find your smartphone if it has been lost or stolen, but they are only useful if you’ve installed them before your phone was taken. If you did, follow up with your app. Otherwise, if your smartphone was stolen, you might still be able to locate it if it is on and connected to the internet. Most smartphones are programmed to transmit GPS signals by default, but those signals will stop as soon as your mugger turns the phone off. It’s important to act quickly if you are hoping to recover your phone. Please remember that you should not try to find your phone in person, as it could risk your personal safety. No phone is as important as your life. Only a police officer or other member of the authorities should respond to the data being transmitted from your phone’s GPS. If you’d like to get started, find a computer or ask to borrow an officer’s smartphone.
- For iPhones, head to the iCloud. Sign in with your Apple ID and password. Click “Find iPhone.” If your device is still on, a dot on a map will appear to indicate its current location. This is the information that may be able to help officers track your mugger. At this time you can put your phone into “Lost mode” which will display a message that warns that your phone has been lost or stolen. You can also “Erase iPhone,” which will delete everything from your phone (e.g., saved passwords and credit card information) so that your mugger will not have access to that data. Choosing this option will also delete photos, messages, apps, and everything else, which you may be able to recover if you have recently synced your phone to the iCloud. If your mugger has already turned off your phone, you cannot locate your phone on the GPS, but you can still initiate “Lost mode” and “Erase iPhone.” Neither feature will engage until your phone is next turned on.
- For Androids, go to Google’s Android Device Manager. This will only work if your smartphone has previously been set up with a Google account, is connected to the internet, and is connected to the Device Manager setting (which it is by default). Log in with your Google account. You will be able to see the location of your Android if your mugger has not yet turned it (or its internet connection) off. This information may be useful to police officers who are hoping to track your mugger. Otherwise, you can “Lock your phone” or “Erase your phone.”
- Change your passwords if your phone has been stolen. Even if you choose to remotely erase all information from your phone, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Change any passwords saved in your keychain or to apps. These may include passwords to social media accounts, mobile bank accounts, and email.
- Call someone to come be with you. While you have access to an officer’s phone, give your parents a call back if they are nearby. If you attend a college far from home, phone your best friend, significant other, or the most important person in your life who can come be with you. You may not want to walk or drive home alone after a mugging.
- Get a business card from the officers who responded to your call. You also want to find out how you can get in touch with the detective who has been assigned to your case.
- Shower. To be mugged is to be treated terribly. Now, treat yourself with kindness. A shower can help you rinse away the immediacy of the experience. You might have dirt on your wounds. Maybe your attacker spat on you. Maybe the dirtiness you feel is figurative. A shower is a fresh start.
- Take a sick day or two. It’s hard to talk about what happened to you, but let your professors and your work-study boss know. You may be encouraged to take a day or two off to recover quietly. Use those days to rest and do the things that make you feel good. Do not feel guilty about requesting a day off if you were not physically harmed during your mugging. It is crucial to respect your mental and emotional health. Most professors and bosses will understand that.
- Consider returning to the scene. If you were mugged on campus, near your workplace, or close to your home, think about visiting the scene where it happened. For some people, this is triggering. For others who may have to return to the scene soon because of their daily routines, it is healing. Make associations with the area that are not traumatic, and request that a friend or coworker accompany you if you must return.
- Call a police officer to escort you. If you do not want to return to the scene but you must in order to attend class or work, request a police escort. This means that an officer will sit outside of your building during specific hours. This solution is not indefinite, but it could help you feel somewhat protected until you manage to recover a sense of safety in your life.
- Let your things go. You might not get your possessions back, and that’s okay. When it comes down to it, a phone is plastic and glass. Cash is paper. Cards and licenses are replaceable. Your mugger didn’t take everything from you. Concentrate on your studies, your health, your friends, and your family.
- Replace what you’ve lost. When you feel up to it and you have the money, it’s time to get a new phone, purse, and/or wallet. Your requests for ATM cards from your bank are usually free and automatic when you call to report the theft. You may need to get a new license. Each state has different requirements. If you attend college away from your home state, you may be able to request a new license by mail.
- Download tracking apps on your new phone. If your phone has been stolen, you’ll probably want to replace it as soon as possible. Smartphones are expensive, even if you pay for them in monthly installments. You may consider buying insurance on your new phone or installing extra tracking apps, which will help you in case—heaven forbid—you find yourself in this situation again.
- Tell yourself that it isn’t your fault. Unfortunately, some people experience feelings of shame and humiliation, but under no circumstances are you to blame. If you need to, say it out loud: “This wasn’t my fault.”
- Take a break from the “what ifs.” It’s easy to let your mind run away with hypotheticals. What if you had gone to lunch with your friends instead of walking to the library? What if you had just stayed home? Coming to terms with your attack won’t happen overnight, but you can give your mind a break from all of those pesky “what ifs.” Distract your mind and body with a simple breathing exercise.
- Talk to someone. It’s hard to move on immediately after a mugging. You may keep your purse on your lap in restaurants or quadruple-check that your front door is locked. You aren’t crazy; you suffered a trauma. Talking to someone you trust can help. It can be a friend, parent, family member, or counselor. If you aren’t ready to leave your house again yet, you may be able to talk to your mental health provider over the phone. Otherwise, your campus may offer support groups or therapy. Read more about on-campus mental health support.
You’re going to be okay. You’re going to move on and recover your sense of adventure. You’re going to rely on your friends and loved ones. You’re going to feel happy again. You’re going to be okay.
Really. You’re going to be okay.