Don’t be There. Simple Personal Safety

INTRODUCTION

Only you can take responsibility for your personal safety.  In addition, you may be with your spouse, friends, siblings or children, and need to help them.  Streets and other public places can be unsafe.  Unfortunately, there are bad guys looking for victims to rob or hurt.  Most adults have no training in the principles or methods of personal safety.  We don’t know how to avoid risky situations or what to do when we find ourselves in them.  Most of us don’t enjoy violence and we have been taught to believe that violence is bad, even if used in self-defense.

The following discussion is designed to help you avoid risky situations, defuse confrontations when they arise, and deal effectively with confrontations when they cannot be defused.  We cannot cover the entire universe of personal safety and self defense, but it is a start.

Fear is inescapable.  Like other animals, humans developed over hundreds of thousands of years in conditions that involved constant threats.  During that period of pre-history, humans often served as food for larger predators or were killed in tribal wars.   We are the descendants of those most successful at surviving lives of daily violence and threat.  Contributing to their survival was the emotion of fear, serving as a warning and motivator to take action to stay alive. Fear is “wired in” to our genetic makeup.  There is no way to get rid of the emotion of fear.  What we can do is make fear work for us.

Fear serves first as a threat identifying “sixth sense.”  (See, Gavin DeBecker, The Gift of Fear.)  All of us have had the experience of feeling that we were being watched, or that there is some unidentified threat in the area.  Something sets off a feeling of uneasiness, of unspecified danger.  Unfortunately, we have been taught to discount such feelings.  We have busy lives and reject these low level warnings as “just nerves,” or something non-threatening, so we can get on with our day.  But, ignoring those warnings makes us into more likely victims.  How do we avoid that?

Learn to be alert and sensitive to your initial fear warnings.  When they are triggered, check the area for any potential threats.  Look for people or things “out of place.”  Be willing to change your course, to be late for a meeting, or to just drop everything and run away.  The best defense is distance from any potential threat.

But, don’t be overly alert and sensitive.  If you are so fearful that you think there is a robber at every corner, in every car, in every building, you will overload your nervous system and your ability to detect real threats.   The goal is to stay alert to your surroundings and open to input from your subconscious threat detector.  When it warns you, trust it.  Don’t overload it.

After the “threat warning fear” discussed above, there are two other basic kinds of fear: mental and physical.  “Mental fear” is a generalized fear in the psyche when faced with a threat or potential threat. You may freeze or panic and become unable to act to protect yourself.  Obviously, learning how to handle threats and practicing how to respond to them will help you get past mental fear.  It will still occur, but you will not be disabled by it.

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Accepting fear as inevitable and natural allows you to control and channel it rather than panic and freeze.   When under threat, you experience fear and your body automatically prepares to fight or flee.  Adrenalin pours into the blood stream and blood moves to the muscles and lungs.  Anyone who has been in a fight will tell you that three things happen.  Reaction times speeds up so that events seem to move in slow motion.  Strength increases.  The pain threshold goes up, so that what would ordinarily hurt is hardly felt.

At the same time, the adrenalin dump is limiting.  It limits the number of things one can keep in mind while the danger is greatest, during the battle.  Since that is true of everyone, your attacker has the same limitations.  If what you do overloads his ability to process information and respond to your counterattack, that gives you the advantage.  Fear, and the resulting adrenalin dump, actually adds to your abilities.  Trust it as a positive addition to your defensive tools.

LOOKING FOR TROUBLE: AS IN “DEFENSIVE DRIVING”

Effective personal security is similar to the practice of “defensive driving.”  This is a mental attitude of pessimism about what other drivers might do.  If you assume that other drivers will make sudden lane changes without signaling, pull out from the curb, run stop signs, make unnecessary panic stops, or otherwise create risks for you, will see trouble shaping up before it happens so you can take evasive action.  You learn to be alert to conditions far ahead, to the sides and to the rear.

GOOD GUY PSYCHOLOGY

Remember: You are the good guy.  You have the right to go through life without being attacked, robbed, raped or killed.  You have the right to defend yourself with all reasonable force.  You do not have to give in to bullies or thugs.  You do not have to be concerned about their well-being or feelings.  You cannot depend on others to protect you, although they might in some circumstances.  This means you must develop some mental toughness, based on your rights stated above, to go along with your practice of personal security and self defense action.

BAD GUY PSYCHOLOGY

The bad guys who might threaten or attack you come in several varieties.  Some, the “street thugs,” are looking for a victim to rob.  They might be unarmed, in which case they rely on size or number, or they may be armed with knives, clubs or guns.  They want your stuff and are willing to threaten you with serious injury to get it.  They may even be willing to kill you for it, although that is rare.

Street thugs are usually young males, and not real bright. They typically have a “nothing to lose” attitude because they are poor and really don’t have much to lose.  To a thug, it’s worth the risk to commit the crime of robbery.  Even if caught and convicted, he might be jailed briefly, but he won’t lose a house, car or a job, because he has none of those things now.

The street thug is looking for a “soft target and the opportunity to do his work without drawing attention to himself.  He thinks like a burglar.  The burglar looks for buildings that have something valuable in them, are easy to break into, and with no one around to sound an alarm or identify them.  If, for instance, the burglar hears a dog barking, he passes that house up as a potential target.  Similarly, the street thug will pass you up if you look strong, alert and confident, are accompanied by a dog or a human companion, or look like you might be carrying a weapon.  Like any bully, he is not looking for a fair fight.  He wants loot at the lowest risk to himself.

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With both street thugs and macho punks, younger means more dangerous.  The brains of teen-agers are not fully developed and they have less real world experience.  This results in lack of good judgment.  The younger bad guys are likely to take more risks and be less concerned about the consequences.  So be particularly cautious around the young guys.

One of the most dangerous bad guys is the rapist, a truly sick person who wants to do violence to girls or women.  He may be an individual or they might be two or more.  Their motive is to inflict pain, physical and psychological.  But, they are not fearless so will look for a soft target and a situation where they can do their damage and still escape detection.

A recent development is “the knockout game.”  Groups of young males, almost invariably black, identify an inattentive victim walking down the street, either male or female, and almost invariably white.  One of the punks sucker punches the victim, knocking him or her unconscious.  The gang runs off trading high fives.  (See Colin Flaherty, ‘White Girl Bleed A Lot’: The Return of Racial Violence to America and How the Media Ignore It.) It is the victim’s inattention to his or her surroundings that opens the door to this sick violence.

DON’T BE A SOFT TARGET

Don’t be, or appear to be, a soft target.  Remember, bad guys looking for someone to rob, or rape, or knock out, don’t want anyone who is likely to fight back.  Nor do they want anyone else to discover them.  They don’t want witnesses.  If you are alone, look weak, and are not paying attention to your surroundings, the bad guy sees you as a soft target.  How do you avoid that?

Walk confidently.  Keep yourself in good physical condition.  Move like an athlete.  (Better yet, be an athlete, no matter your age.  For this, I recommend martial arts training, whether it is boxing, kick boxing, judo, jiujitsu, karate, aikido or others.  My favorite is Systema, a centuries old Russian martial art most fully developed in the twentieth century by Spetznaz, the Soviet special forces.  Check it out at russianmartialart.com.)

Be alert, on your toes.  The bad guy prefers the surprise attack, so if you are obviously alert to your surroundings, he will know he cannot surprise you.  Avoid being distracted, especially in higher risk locations.  A woman distracted by being on the phone, searching through her purse, text-messaging, etc., looks like an easy target.  The same goes for a man.

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Travel in pairs or groups.  There really is safety in numbers.  But, don’t lose your alertness because of conversation with your friends. Young people, especially, are easily distracted by their cell phones and I-Pods and in conversation with their friends.

If you like to exercise by jogging, go with a partner, especially a dog.  When jogging, do not use an I-pod.

When you can, carry an umbrella or anything else that could obviously be used as a weapon.  Potential attackers won’t want to test your ability to use it in defense.

DON’T BE THERE

This is the basic principle of personal security and self defense: Don’t be there!

(1) Do not put yourself in any situation that might end in a physical confrontation.

(2) If you do find yourself in a risky situation, take action to get out without being involved in a physical confrontation.

(3) If you do find yourself in an actual confrontation, act preemptively then escape quickly.

Let’s look at principle No. 1: avoiding risky situations.  It is much better to never be in a fight.  Learning to avoid risky situations is the best practice.  It’s cheap and has a huge payoff.  A few common sense principles will guide you and protect you from encountering threats or attacks.

Don’t go to areas or places where you are likely to encounter bad guys.  Also give consideration to the time of day.  Most crimes occur at night, and especially after midnight.  So, be aware of the areas in your town or city where you are likely to encounter poor, young males who have the “nothing to lose” attitude.  Avoid those areas, especially at night.  If you find you have driven in to such an area, be sure your car doors are locked.  (In fact, you should always lock your car doors.)  Don’t wait at red lights.  Try to get on a well-lighted main drag and drive rapidly away.  Do this even if you have to go a few miles out of your way or break traffic laws.

Avoid bars, clubs and other venues (e.g., fraternity parties) that have a reputation for rowdiness.  Here is where you are likely to encounter the macho punks.  Whenever (that’s any time of day or night) in any restaurant, club or bar, check the exits so that if you need to leave in a hurry you will know the route.  Don’t just rely on the door you entered as your exit.  Try to sit close to an exit and with your back to the wall.  Befriend the security personnel.  Watch the other people and identify the potential troublemakers before the trouble starts.  Tell security personnel if you have concern about someone, such as a loud, abusive drunk.  If the bouncers throw anyone out of the place, you leave too.  It is not uncommon for someone who has been ejected to return with weapons, or additional companions, to get revenge.  Innocent bystanders often get hurt when that happens.  (Indeed, the presence of several large bouncers is a tipoff that you might be safer somewhere else.)

Avoid remote parking areas and structures.  This applies whether at work, the mall, or at school.  Park your car close to where other people will be moving through regularly.  If you are parked remotely, be willing to ask security guards or someone else to go to your car with you.

Avoid deserted streets, alleys and parks that might provide hiding places for street punks.  Be willing to go extra distance to avoid such places and so that you remain among other people.

Be alert for potential attackers when approaching and using an ATM and don’t use one at night if at all possible.  There is always another ATM if the situation at one sets off your protective sixth sense.  Try to have a companion when you go to an ATM.

Always take the elevator instead of the stairs.  An isolated stairwell is an ideal place for an attacker, especially at night.  But, don’t get on an elevator with anyone whose presence and appearance sets off your subconscious danger signals.  You can always take the next elevator, or even change your immediate plans and go somewhere safe to wait until the coast is clear.

Walk or jog facing traffic so that stalkers cannot follow you in a car without you becoming aware of it.  Walk more toward the curb, away from buildings and corners.

Stay alert for young males in pairs or groups, whether on foot or in cars.  Be willing to cross the street, go into a store, or elsewhere so as not to confront them or move into their zone.

Stay alert for stalking activity.  Is someone following you or watching your movements?  Is the same person or persons in different places you go?  If so, assume they are up to no good.

Be willing to lose time taking evasive action.  Turn around and go back the way you came.  Go into a store or a gas station.

DEFUSING A CONFRONTATION — YOU DON’T WANT TO BE THERE

Let’s now look at Principle No. 2.  When it appears you might be in a bad situation, how do you get out without getting into a fight?  Remember: you do not want to be there.

What do you do when approached by a person who is walking normally and perhaps even saying something normal to you, such as asking for directions?  Assume you are by yourself and not in a busy area.  This is a situation in which the approaching person could get close enough to attack you, if you allow him to do so.  To protect yourself, assume the worst.  (He could be intent on robbery, rape or murder.  You don’t know.)  You must be willing to embarrass that person and yourself by warning him off and making lots of noise.   Tell him to stay back, stating it loudly and clearly.  This also informs him that you are willing to make noise, thus attracting attention.  Hold your hand up in the universally understood “stop” sign.  An innocent person will apologize and back off, realizing he has frightened you.  Even if he is not so innocent, he will realize that you are not a soft target and probably retreat.  If he continues to approach, start yelling and prepare to use all the weapons at your disposal.  The yelling will cause many potential attackers to leave because they don’t want witnesses who might come to see what’s happening.  If he continues to close the distance, you must quickly decide to either flee or go on the attack. It is crucial to decide beforehand the point at which you will flee or attack.  When the attacker reaches that point, you must act decisively.  If you choose to flee, throw something (e.g., a purse, a ball cap) at his face or groin and take off.

What do you do when confronted by macho punk(s)?  Remember, the macho punk psychology is basically a desire to be seen as the tough guy that all must respect.  So, be willing to let him or them be just that.  Don’t be drawn into a confrontation; you have nothing to prove.  Smile, make jokes, and pass on by.  An attack is much less likely if people are talking, so make conversation about anything (“how about them Giants,” “nice car”) until you can move out of the area.  If you are a young man, do not think you have to be a tough guy, although that may be hard to do.  Learn to be willing to let the macho punks have their turf.  Remember, not getting into a fight means you don’t get hurt.  Fighting will get you hurt, maybe very seriously.

DO YOU GIVE THE ROBBER WHAT HE DEMANDS?

Most experts, such as the police(?), recommend that you give a robber what he demands.  That is sound advice if you are clearly at a disadvantage, which you invariably will be if you have allowed the bad guy(s) to surprise or close in on you.  They will outnumber you and may have weapons to enforce their demands.  So, if all you know is that some street punks have you cornered and are demanding your wallet and watch, or even your car, give them what they demand.  Hope they will take the loot and let you go; but be ready to surprise him or them by going on the attack yourself.  In the end, running like Hell to escape is probably your best option.

Alternatively, you can use the loot demanded to surprise the thug(s) and make your escape.  For instance, when you pull out your wallet, throw it at his face or groin, as hard as you can.  (Throw underhand.  He won’t see it coming.  An overhand throw is slower and telegraphs what you are about to do.)  The surprise will give you the opportunity to follow up with an attack of your own, or simply to run away.  The same sort of thing can be done with car keys, a woman’s purse, anything to strike and startle the bad guy.  Alternatively, you can simply throw your wallet or purse away from yourself and the attacker.  He will probably go after it rather than you, so that you can flee to safety.

Unfortunately, some bad guys will go further than simple robbery.  They want to do injury to their victims, or even kill them.  With women victims, they may be intent on rape.   So, you must be alert to any signs that the thugs have more than robbery in mind.  If they do anything other than demand the loot and wait for you to produce it, get yourself ready to go on the attack and then flee.

RAPE AVOIDANCE AND OTHER MISCELLANEOUS PRECAUTIONS

The list of things you can do to avoid trouble is endless.  You could just hole up at home and never go out, but no one wants to live that way.  So here are some additional reminders to assist you when you do go out into a risky world.  Some of this information is based on interviews with convicted rapists and date rapists; so, female readers, pay attention.

Rapists typically attack in the early morning, between 5:00 and 8:30 a.m.  Their favorite locations to attack are grocery store parking lots, office parking lots or garages, and public restrooms.  They typically aim to grab a woman and move her to another location where they are unlikely to be discovered.  Some good news: only two percent of rapists carry weapons, that’s because they know that the criminal penalty is much greater if they use a weapon.

Rapists look for victims with a ponytail or other hairstyle that is easy to grab so they can control or throw the victim to the ground with minimum effort.  Short hairstyles are safer.

Rapists look for women whose clothing is easy to remove quickly, even easy to remove by cutting with a knife or scissors.  Sturdy jeans and jackets are safer than lighter stylish clothes.

When confronted with a potential stalker or rapist, look directly at him and ask a question.  (“Have we met?  You look familiar.”)  If he is a bad guy, he knows you can identify him so you become a less inviting target.

Again, when confronted with a potential attacker, make it clear you are not a soft target and that you are willing to make a lot of noise and to fight.  For instance, if you carry pepper spray, get it ready and yell “I have pepper spray, back off!”  Remember, yelling gets attention.  The thug wants to avoid that.

If your car is parked next to a big van, get in from the passenger side.  Many attackers pull women into a van when she is getting into her car.  Similarly, take evasive action if a male is sitting in the passenger seat of the car next to your driver side door.

Have car keys out and ready when approaching your car.  Get in quickly, lock the car and move out smartly, remaining alert the entire time.  Do not sit in the car making notes or cell phone calls.  Be willing to run over an attacker, run a red light, or break other traffic laws.

If your car key has an alarm button on it, have it ready in your hand and set off the alarm if you think a bad situation is shaping up.  You can easily turn it off if you were mistaken.

NEVER let a bad guy take you away in a vehicle, whether it is his or your own.  The risk of death (yours) increases dramatically when this occurs. NEVER make the mistake of thinking that you will be able to extricate yourself from the bad situation you will be in if you go with them.  Your chances of survival will be greater if you take action now rather than later after they have taken you to some remote location.  If you are in the driver’s position and carjacked, drive into something and wreck the car.  The airbags will protect you.  If you are being forced into a vehicle, do anything to escape and run away.    Flight is clearly your best option.

When walking, leave your strong side (usually the right) hand free, or carry a weapon in it, so that you can respond immediately to any threat.  Carry packages, purse, etc., on the weak side.

Learn how to use improvised weapons.  Your car keys, pen or pencil, belt, cap, umbrella, even your wallet or purse, a comb or a credit card, can be used to do damage to an attacker and allow you to escape.

Carry a weapon, real or improvised.  If it is small, like your car keys, or a pen, keep it in your strong side hand, ready to go.  Just having the weapon in hand and being prepared to use it will help maintain your alert level.

Even if the attacker has a pistol, run away.  He will probably not shoot at you and even if he does his chances of hitting you (a moving target) are only four in 100.  Even if you are hit, it will not be enough to stop you unless it hits your brain, spine or heart.

Be willing to drop everything and run screaming, to save yourself from injury or worse.

Finally, keep yourself in good physical condition so that you can act quickly and effectively to avoid danger or even fight your way out of it if that becomes necessary.

FIGHTING YOUR WAY OUT OF TROUBLE

There may come a time that you let your guard down and it appears you will not be able to extricate yourself non-violently.  But, let’s face it.  If you are in that situation it is because your attacker believes that you are a soft target and that he has all the advantages.  That is likely true.  He might have weapons or be accompanied by other bad guys.  If you engage in a straight up fight with him, you will probably lose.  Be smarter.  Your first step is to identify the “fight or flight” point as he approaches.  Be decisive about this.  Identify the point at which you will either take off or go on the attack.  Also, have your escape route clearly in mind.  Flight should be your first choice.

Although avoiding the fight is advisable, the circumstances might suggest that going on the attack is better for you.  For instance, the attacker may be between you and the only escape route.  If you do attack, your objective should be to surprise him by attacking violently, hopefully causing him to go down, even if only briefly, which allows you to stay on your feet and make an escape.  So, put him down and then get out of there immediately.

Again, the basic principle is: DON’T BE THERE!  Here is one fairly likely scenario.  The attacker may throw a punch, try to tackle you, put you in a bear hug, etc.  But he will be coming at you with some momentum.  Step out of the line of attack (don’t be there) and stab him with your keys or pen (even finger) in the eyes or throat as his momentum carries him by.  You might be able to trip him as well.  His reaction to being stabbed will be to pull his head and shoulders away from the pain, which upsets his balance.  Take advantage of his unbalance, by knocking him over with your body weight.  He will probably end up on the ground on hands and knees.  A good stomp on his elbow or wrist will stop him from getting up, at least for a while.  Or a nice kick to the head will serve.  You get the idea.  He will be confused, in pain and on the ground.  Here’s your chance to run away before he recovers.  Do it.

A final word on body weapons and body targets to attack.  Let’s keep it simple.  Your body weapons are familiar: fists (punches, hammerfists), feet (kicks), knees and elbows (strikes from various directions), the palm strike, edge of hand (both little finger and thumb sides), head (butts), fingers (jabs, pinches), and teeth (biting).  All of these work quite well when directed at appropriate targets.  (A finger jab to an opponent’s skull will just hurt your fingers.)  Learn to use them.

As to body targets, again, it’s best to keep it simple.  If he can’t see, he can’t fight, so attack the eyes.  If he can’t breathe, he can’t fight, so attack the throat and neck.  If he can’t stand up, he can’t fight, so attack the groin and knees.

CONCLUSION

When teaching self defense courses, I begin by telling my students we will spend ten percent of the time providing ninety percent of the value.  It takes only a short time to teach them how to stay away from trouble spots and how to get out of trouble spots without having to fight.  That’s the big, valuable payoff.  Then, ninety percent of the time must be spent learning how to use one’s mind and body to deal effectively with actual physical battles.  (Admittedly, most students really like that part.)  If students come to understand how to apply the first two thirds of the “Don’t Be There” principle out in the real, sometimes dangerous, world, I will have done the most important part of my job.