Do not forget that being a woman you are firstly a human being and you have the same rights than males. You have a right to be respected and it is not true that while hitchhiking you expose yourself for a risk on your own wish.
For women, hitchhiking seems to be more risky. Hitchhiking as a woman can be easier though. Often, women stop for other women or girls. Even families (or other usual-not-hitch-hiker-friendly car owners) stop to "save" women from a situation in which they think she could be in "danger".
Some precaution you can take as a women hitchhiker
Whatever statistics are concerning violence to women, there are some things you can do in order to avoid/go out from difficult situations
Choose your driver
There are many different ways to get a ride from staying on the side of the road to asking directly to people at petrol stations. It could be better to ask people because you can then have a feeling of who is driving. It is of course difficult to know what kind of person someone could be just from how they look, but that first contact may compel you to avoid guys who already have macho or strange behavior towards you. If you want to or have to stay on the edge of the road, your attitude will of course attract different people. The 'positive attitude' thing is important but be aware of what you may suggest when standing and smiling. Body language is really important. I have a friend who almost got raped when hitchhiking in Europe for the first time. I hitched with her a few months later and understood then how this may have happened. She was standing on a half highway road without sign indicating her direction and with a huge smile, a slightly denuded t-shirt and a suggestive attitude. I am not saying we should all wear burka when hitchhiking, some people also use their charm and flirt a little bit with people without any problems. It is just a matter of being aware of how we do it.
Also the car sometimes tells about the owner. I am personally more careful when asking. For example, I flatly turned down a car with a big sound installation and loud music since this can show that the driver gives a lot of importance (and money) into appearance, and probably likes to be seen and to impress. It is not rare that their car is also a tool to flirt and impress girls. This is just an example and there is of course no generality. I have often met really nice people, which at first glance I wouldn't think of as sympathetic. Just follow your feeling and don't hesitate to refuse a ride if you don't feel like it!
Listen to your yourself / set up some safety rules
Set up some rules for yourself before begining to hitch hike. I personally have this one that if I happen to think/feel something is strange with somebody, I refuse the ride or ask to be dropped as soon as possible, even in the middle of nowhere. This is also valid for your security whith some drivers driving like crazy or really fast because they usually do so or because they want to show you how fast their Audi TT is. It may be better to spend an extra night in the middle of nowhere (which can actually be really nice) than being raped or smashed in a car accident.
There are two main ways to protect yourself: Prevention and action. Prevention means taking steps to avoid being in a bad situation in the first place, i.e. steps you ALWAYS take while on the road. Action means defending yourself if your prevention fails and you end up in a bad situation: you have to take action to save yourself.
First and foremost, be assertive. If you are a solo female and choose to accept rides from single or multiple men (which many people say is a big no-no, although many single women do it) you need to be paying attention to how they act and be able to steer the conversation how you want it to go. Don't let them drive the conversation towards sex, partying or dating. If they insist tell them about your fiance - you know, the 250lbs professional boxer you are on your way to visit. They may try to see how easily intimidated you are, "Aren't you scared out here all by yourself, (a pretty girl like you)? Don't you know there are bad people around?" Of course many people will ask you variations of this without ill-intention, but sticking to a general answer along the lines of "yes I know there are bad people, but I believe that there are more good people than bad out there. Many people go out of their way to help me, like you". This invokes guilt if they had bad thoughts, and gives them an honourable way out. You could also mention something meant to be slightly intimidating, but this may be taken as a challenge and work to your disadvantage.
Here are other preventative techniques that can be used:
- Having a mobile phone and knowing the important numbers (police, friends, etc) may be useful. Have an emergency code word with a family member so that you do not set off alarm bells with a potential aggressor (this may tempt him to take immediate action against you).
- Keep your bag at your feet if it is not too big, in case you have to leave quickly.
- Some people send a text message to a friend with the license plate number of cars they are about to get into. Always ask the driver first, if they object then don't get in their vehicle. Make sure you tell them it is only a safety precaution you take with all drivers, so that they do not feel you don't trust them (after all, they are trusting you by letting you into their car.
If prevention has failed and you find yourself in a situation where you are almost certain you are in danger, it is time to take action. Do not wait. Your chances of escape go down significantly once he has taken you to a back road or isolated area. If you start feeling uncomfortable while on a main road or in a populated area, get out then. Make an excuse to stop: washroom ("that time of the month!"), private phone call etc, and then simply take your stuff and leave. Or jump out at a stoplight or at low enough speeds (see WikiHow: Jumping out of a moving car. Better to be safe than sorry. Here are some other self-defense ideas:
- Knife: keep it on your body and accessible, but hidden. A belt or bra-strap are good locations. It may be enough to dissuade your aggressor, but beware that if you don't know how to use it, it may end up being taken and used against you (this is far too common).
- There are pepper sprays you can find in some specialized shops, thought difficult to use in closed spaces. Take care, in some countries it is illegal to use pepper spray against people (or to use it at all).
- Remember that as the passenger, you ultimately have a lot of control - after all, the driver has to drive. If you have asked the driver to stop and he refuses, or becomes aggressive, be ready to take action. Know where the door handle,lock and window mechanism are (in some vehicles this may be more complicated than one would think). Opening the door while the car is in motion will draw attention, but remember at high speeds this is difficult due to wind resistance. Flailing your arms out the window also draws attention. Pulling the parking break can be the best resort at high speeds. Hopefully he be forced to slow down enough for you to jump out.
We all hope to never be in a situation where such extreme actions are needed, but if such a situation arises, resolve and confidence in your chosen course of action is key.