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Walk Softly and Carry a Loud Whistle

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RALEIGH — Every time a woman walks across a dark parking lot, drives down a deserted road or spends an evening home alone - she is susceptible to attack.

One Raleigh woman wants her horrifying experience to help others stay safe.

"I always used to say it wouldn't happen to me," victim Elizabeth Lewis said. Unfortunately it did. Five years ago a man jumped into Lewis' car at an intersection, forced her to drive to a cemetery, and then raped her.

"I was so shocked," she said. "It just happened so quickly, and there wasn't any time to really think. It didn't register until after he was in the car with a knife in my side."

As a result, Lewis says she has changed her life. "I watch my back constantly."

Most importantly, she always locks her car doors. "I think it's a really big deal to lock doors," Lewis said. "That night, before he tried to get into my car, he tried two other women's cars, but they were locked."

Cary Police Officer Tracey Barker says a cellular phone is a must for women on the road. "It's very important, I highly recommend that if you don't have one, get one," he said.

College student Courtney Duncil made a video of the places she went for an entire day to illustrate the many unsafe situations women face very single day. Walking to a parked car at night topped the list.

"This area is well lit, but to get to my car I have to walk down a road which isn't very well lit," Duncil said. "I would kind of notice that my car is the only one around. I'm here by myself. It's night. Nobody is around, if I scream, nobody would hear me."

"When approaching your car you should look underneath your car and also inside before you get in," Barker said.

Officer Barker also suggests holding your key in between your fingers as a weapon to prepare for an attack. "You can rake it across their face, punch them in the face with it and use it as a weapon," he said.

Recently, a female runner was attacked at Shelly Lake by a man with a gun. He dragged her into the woods and raped her. Police say this is another example of a place where it's not safe for women to be alone at night.

"Always be aware of your surroundings," Barker suggests.

Many attacks on women happen in parks and on jogging trails. Pepper spray can offer protection, but it is not fool-proof. "The main thing to keep in mind is that it always can be taken away from you and used against you," Barker says. For this reason, Lewis uses a whistle to scare off potential attackers.

Barker says the best protection is a friend. "Have someone with you. Like the old phrase, there's safety in numbers."

"There's no lock on any of these student center doors, so it's easy for anybody to come in," Duncil said. "It would be a very vulnerable place to get attacked because nobody's around at all."

Inside can be dangerous too whether you are a student studying late, or someone working late at the office.

"Is there security there? If so, let someone know where you're going to be in the building and what time you may be leaving," Barker said.

At home an alarm is good protection, but Barker says many people need to start with the basics. "We've investigated a lot of break-ins where the doors were actually unlocked."

Lewis has trained her dog "Happy" to protect her from strangers.

"Women really have to be careful," she said.

After her experience with the video camera, Duncil agrees.

"It made me realize that it's something I need to think about all the time," Duncil said.

Police say citizens cannot underestimate the importance of playing it safe. The National Crime Survey says four out of five people are attacked at least once in their lives.