For Women: Safety In Numbers

When it comes to going out at night, women have heard safety warnings for years. But since the shocking murder of Imette St. Guillen, 24, a New York graduate student, many women have been re-evaluating the steps they take to stay safe.

To discuss how women can better protect themselves, The Early Show brought in CBS News legal analyst Wendy Murphy, and Atoosa Rubenstein, editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine, for an in-depth discussion.

Murphy points out that random murder, as in the case of St. Guillen, is relatively unusual. "It's not that common," she told co-anchor Hannah Storm. "This type of random act of violence really doesn't happen frequently to women."

Thus, while the incident is an important reminder about threats to women, it's also important not to blow it out of proportion for all women. "We have to be careful not to do fear mongering, over the top," Murphy said. "Women have a right to live full and free lives. But this is a very, very serious case. There's no question women are at risk to some extent, so we want women to be careful.

"We also want not to blame women," Murphy adds. "We always want to make clear it's always the criminal's fault, 100 percent."

Rubenstein emphasized that the first of the hard-and-fast rules for women is to stick together, finding safety in numbers. "Stick with a group and really look out for each other, even if your friend meets the guy that she's falling for. Even if he has a group. It doesn't matter. The crowd you came with is the crowd you must leave with."

She also points out that women need to be mindful of the effects of alcohol. "Of course, when girls are out, they want to have fun — and we're talking about girls that are of drinking age. But it's really important, even when you're hanging with the boys, not to run with the boys, because girls' bodies metabolize alcohol differently than men .If you are going drink for drink with a man, you're going to lose that."

When it comes to crime statistics, the effect of drugs and alcohol is startling, according to Murphy. "Something like 85 percent of all crime has some connection to alcohol or drugs. So it's important as a matter of criminal policy-making that we talk about the role of alcohol and talk about drinking less, for men and women."

Rubenstein emphasized the importance of waiting inside for a ride to arrive, rather than standing alone on the street . She also said women should be sure to listen to their instincts. "Whether it's about yourself or your friend: If something, a situation, anything, is giving you a funny feeling, get out," she said. "You won't regret getting out, but you might regret staying there."

Spring break, which is coming up soon, is always a time of concern. According to the American Medical Association, 83 percent of college women and graduates admit heavier-than-usual drinking and 74 percent increase sexual activity on spring break.

Rubenstein says that should be a big red flag. "You have to be very careful. Girls have to remember, everybody has to remember, that your spring break can go from being that postcard, that picture perfect postcard, to a nightmare in a flash," she said. "Really keep your guard up."

A subject of continuing debate is whether women should be carrying weapons. "It's a little bit controversial, said Murphy. "Nobody wants everybody to have a gun, even though we'd probably all be a lot safer. It's not exactly an ideal society to live in. I think the bad guys are out there. It would be a good thing if they wondered whether the woman they are, you know, thinking of attacking might be carrying a weapon."