One of the most common questions I'm asked is regarding whether Saudi Arabia is safe. In the past month or so there have been several incidents of western women being targeted. Since I have only been here 5 weeks it's difficult to say whether there is an increase in violence as of late. Word on the street (compound) is that things are on the rise, and to be cautious when going out. Go out in groups, cover your hair ect.
I do not cover my hair when I go out (unless I've just curled it and its very windy out). I carry a scarf with me, and if told to cover would do so. I have never left the compound alone, but feel that I could comfortably do so. I have a couple drivers that I trust, and would feel quite safe going somewhere I am familiar with. Some of the women on the compound do not feel the same way. A neighbour of mine reports feeling like she has no control here, and because of this she is reluctant to go out alone.
There is violence in any major city, and I don't really feel like it's much different from back home. I think the difference is that word of incidence spreads like wildfire, and the expat community is quite well linked. I do notice that I'm on guard more than I am back home. I feel like I often go into "bitch mode" when out. Basically my face reads don't eff with me!! I think its also important to realize that cultural norms of back home are very different here. Back home we smile at guys in the mall/ grocery store, or innocently joke around. Here this type of behaviour is easily misinterpreted, and can invite some unwanted behaviours.
I feel pretty safe inside the compound. The entrance to our comound is well protected and armed. Vehicles must stop, and are often checked under the hood and trunk. The real question is are they checking for explosives, or to make sure we're not smuggling men in???