Pretty young loving couple is walking in park

Cheerful man and woman are falling in love. They are riding bicycles. Lovers are holding hands and looking at each other with passion. They are smiling happily

Along with many of you, I have mourned the tragic passing this week of beautiful Mackenzie Lueck whose life met an untimely and horrific end this last week.

I did not know her, but learning of her death made me just sick inside. In the days that have passed, I have had many conversations with people about how this tragedy could have happened and if there was anything that could have been done to help prevent it. Much of our conversations ended on the same conclusion: learning how to safely date is of upmost importance and needs to be talked about. Note that I am not suggesting in any of this that Mackenzie is to blame for what happened to her. She is not at fault for her untimely death, at all.

Earlier this year I conducted an exercise with my future health teachers class. I divided the white board into two sections. On one section, I had the males in the class answer the question, “What can you do to prevent being a victim of dating violence or assault?” There were two responses: Avoid sketchy places and watch your drinks. I then turned to my female students and asked the same question. There were 30 responses of things they do to keep themselves safe. They ranged from carrying mace to using the buddy system to making sure they have a location app like Life 360 installed on their phones. The differences in the ways that opposite sexes viewed safety when dating was stunning to say the least.

For staying safe while dating in person, here are a few tips.

Tell someone, text someone or leave a note to where you are going and who you will be with. One of my students would take a selfie with whoever she was dating for the first time and would send it to her friends or her mom. She said, “If they have to come find me then they will know exactly who took me.” I thought it was a clever idea.

Learn self-defense. This awesome idea can save your life. I wish they would teach it to grade schoolers with refresher courses every year in PE class.

Don’t get in the cars of people you don’t know. Ride sharing aside, safety experts agree that getting into the car of people you don’t know, or even just know slightly, is a very risky move.

Keep your phone fully charged and on. Also, consider using location finding apps. But remember that these only work as long as your phone is on and in a serviceable area.

For those of you who consume alcohol, keep your eyes on your drink. Never let a stranger bring you a drink that you didn’t see made. There are coasters you can buy from Drink Safe Technologies which test for date rape drugs in your drink when you put a bit of your drink on the test strips Consider though, not drinking to excess with people you don’t know.

Online dating creates a little different playing field. You can be anyone online; you don’t have to be yourself — although that is not recommended. MTV has a very popular TV show about connecting people that are dating online only to find out that one or both of them aren’t who they say they are.

So how do you avoid this? Here’s a few tips. If you are using a dating site, make sure it’s a respectable one that has a direct messaging service inside the app. That way you don’t have to give out your personal email to anyone.

Make sure people don’t have access to your location through the app.

Don’t put all of your personal information out there. If in doubt, have another person look at your profile to see if you are oversharing.

If you are going to talk to them on the phone, set up a phone number not related to your actual phone. Google Voice has great options for this.

If you are meeting up with them, see the above list for tips.

Lastly, have a safe word that you can text to people if you are in a compromised situation.

A few years ago I had a student who was kidnapped for six weeks by a guy she went out on a date with once. Her story is one of bravery and tragedy. Her overwhelming message, as she speaks about it now, is to make that safe word so that whoever you say it to, or text it to, knows you are in trouble.

Be safe out there.

Dr. Merilee Larsen is an assistant professor of public and community health at Utah Valley University.

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