Criminal Minds may seem like a fictional show, but it's actually extremely educational. The crime procedural has spent nearly 15 years informing viewers that everyone they have ever met is a potential unsub. It could be your neighbor, your accountant who is secretly planning revenge for the abuse he suffered from his mother as a child, the rejected nerd who serves you coffee every Thursday at your favorite cafe or just some random guy who saw you on the street and thinks you remind him of an ex who wronged him.
While almost every episode begins with a murder, the BAU has a pretty good track record of finding the victims who get actual dialogue before they are cut up into pieces. I've logged a lot of hours watching this show trying to figure out how Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) and the rest of BAU solve the horrendous cases they are assigned. It's entertaining watching them save the day, but Criminal Minds has also hammered home some key tips for how to avoid being captured by an unsub. You could pick the same thing up by catching a marathon on Ion or A&E, or you can check out the tips I've compiled here. They will probably save your life. You're welcome.
1. Parking lots are death traps, avoid them at all costs. If you're in the mood for being kidnapped, by all means, head to a parking lot, particularly an enclosed one while you're alone and babbling away on your cell phone. Women, alone in the dark, are nothing but targets for unsubs, and parking lots make it SO easy for you to be grabbed and shoved in the back of a van to disappear into the night. Seriously, so many second or third victims have been taken this way on Criminal Minds it is insane. If you can't have a buddy walk with you to your car, do not be on your phone or listen to your iPod because you need your senses about you and a small can of Mace at the ready.
2. Don't jog in the woods by yourself. Woods/canyons/trails are the second most popular place to be abducted or to have your body ditched after you've been gruesomely murdered. Countless bodies have been found by the BAU team by unsuspecting outdoor fitness enthusiasts or their off-the-leash dogs. Jog at the gym or at the park in the middle of the day with lots of people around. Actually, think of timing your jog like timing a swim at the beach. Unsubs hunt for victims the same way sharks hunt for food — at dawn and dusk. Don't be shark food, especially for a jog.
3. Learn Morse code. It might seem like a nonsensical art from the past, but it turns out Morse code is extremely useful. If you ignore the first two tips, there's still a good chance that your unsub will take you by a security camera. That is a great time to tap out a Morse code message for the investigators so they know where you are or where the unsub might be taking you. Any way that you can communicate without giving away that you're calling for help is going to help law enforcement find you before your unsub takes you out. This most recently helped Reid survive being kidnapped by a serial killer cult, so it can help you too.
4. Turn off location settings on your social media networks. Avoiding running trails and parking lots means nothing if you're just going to advertise where your stalker can find you. Do you know how easy it is to follow you to your favorite frozen yogurt place when you take selfies of every delicious treat you get there? You should assume that a creep is checking every post and make it at least a little more difficult to figure out your regular routine. If he doesn't know where you are, he can't find you alone and murder you. Don't make Garcia judge you for your ignorance.
5. Lock all doors, every night. Some stalkers don't need social media to find you; they do it the old-fashioned way. Therefore, you must be vigilant even in your safe spaces. Deadbolts weren't created because they look pretty. They were made to keep you from inspiring your own episode of Criminal Minds. If you leave your doors unlocked, there's no forced entry and law enforcement will waste half an episode interrogating someone you know rather than looking at the creepers you waved to at Target. That's valuable time you don't want to spend praying someone finds you tied up in a basement somewhere!
6. Avoid public barbecues or cafeterias. This is less about being murdered and more just a cautionary tale that public cookouts are more than likely serving human meat and cafeteria food is probably poisoned by a disgruntled government employee wanting to cause anarchy. The poison will almost certainly make you bleed from your eyeballs or melt your intestines. It will not be fun. Just pack your own lunch. It's better for you anyway and you need to stay fit in case you need to outrun a psychopath.
Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on CBS.
(TV Guide is owned by CBS.)