Waiting at airports and stations for your next flight or ride can be boring. It is only natural to while away the time by getting into conversations with fellow travellers. It can relieve the boredom and help you pass the time and usually most fellow travellers are harmless, helpful, gracious, and kind. This is precisely why we are tempted to extend the benefit of the doubt to those who are not.
However, as cliched as it may be, all that glitters is not gold, and you should not accept people at face value. When you are away from home, be especially aware of these five ways dangerous people might attempt to ingratiate themselves with you or your family.
1. Stranded strangers:
Forced teaming is a manipulative method of establishing premature trust. A shared predicament often stimulates mutual support, but may be exploited by predators seeking a socially appropriate way to invade personal boundaries.
A canceled flight, train or bus trip creates common ground among those left stranded. Particularly if it is dark or late at night, the stranger who approaches you and asks, “How are we going to get home?” should be regarded with caution. You have not become part of a stranger’s “we” through mutual misfortune. While bonding over a common predicament can lead to cooperation, it does not automatically require you to collaborate or share travel plans — particularly with someone who makes you uncomfortable.
2. Etiquette shaming:
preying upon politeness
We are socialised to be gracious and kind. Deviants prey on this social custom with the occasional, “Excuse me, you don’t know me, but I really could use your help/advice/money.” We are socialised to attend to the needs of others within reason, and to listen when a stranger politely speaks to us.
Yet, if you are alone, traveling with young children, or otherwise wary of engaging with someone who makes you feel uncomfortable, remember that you are not obligated to talk to strangers, much less help them do anything.
3. Boundary violations:
too close for comfort
Airports and train stations are crowded. Yet do not let a friendly stranger invade your personal space by sitting too close to you or your children because you are afraid of appearing rude. Many space invaders are harmless — but you cannot spot a sex offender by looking. If someone sits too close to your child, particularly when there are other seats available, and immediately strikes up a conversation with him or her, move.
4. Strangers turned stalkers: friends, fans, and followers
Before the Internet, people experienced the “strangers on a train” phenomenon — feeling comfortable sharing intimate details with a stranger while traveling whom they never expected to see again. If you did this today, you would immediately pick up a new Facebook friend and Twitter follower, and maybe have the selfie you took together tagged, flagged, and retweeted as soon as your conversation is over. Never feel bad about declining to give a curious stranger your name or personal information if you are uncomfortable with the request.
5. Likability is a lure
Some predators are so polished and practiced in their craft, they lower defences through likability — appealing to parents and children alike. Be particularly wary of strangers who approach your child to ask for help or directions. And remember that rapport-building professions of similarity such as “My son is the same age as yours” are not always true.
Although reminding your loved ones about stranger danger and discussing sexual assault prevention is never pleasant, knowledge is power. Awareness of the ways in which predators think and behave will enhance your ability to spot red flags and proceed with caution.