Self Defense = Risk Management

First of all, I need to make one thing clear: I firmly believe that 100% of the responsibility for a criminal’s violent act rests with the criminal. It’s his fault.

Now that that’s out of the way, what I have to say might make some people annoyed: Self-defense is about having the tools, skills, training and determination to keep ourselves safe when trouble finds us, but it’s also about managing the risks we take to stay out of trouble’s way in the first place. If we’re serious about our personal safety, we have a duty not to do dumb stuff that brings us into the path of harm.

I got thinking about this while reading an article about protecting oneself from rape on Marc “Animal” MacYoung‘s terrific “No Nonsense Self-Defense” web site. And what Marc had to say gets some people’s hackles up, because they hear it as blaming the victim when it’s really about acknowledging reality. Because, you see, a lot of Marc’s advice boils down to “don’t do stuff that makes you more vulnerable to being raped.”

“But wait,” I hear some people screaming. “I should be able to get dressed up and go out to party and that doesn’t mean I DESERVE to be raped.” So before I go any further, I need to say that, in addition to my own firsthand history with violent crime, I was also a rape crisis advocate for about seven years. I’ve talked to dozens of sexual assault survivors, and noticed some common threads in their stories. From that vantage-point, here’s how I see it.

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Being Embarrassed Is Worth Being Safe

Recently, I was in a gas station filling up my car when my internal radar went “ping”! I wasn’t sure right away what had tickled my senses, but I’ve learned the hard way to ignore those feelings at my peril, so I immediately took two actions. I stepped to my right, to a place where I had some cover from the concrete pillar at the station but where I was not stuck between it and my car and had a bit more room to maneuver. At the same time, I did a slow scan all around me to figure out what had triggered my intuition.

It only took me a second to notice the man. He was riding a bicycle toward the gas station, but the way he moved was oddly jerky and unstable, and his eyes were fixing on people, staring for a few seconds, then moving to the next person, as though he was looking for something. I took another step back to cover, made eye contact – my expression was neutral, but my eyes said “I see you, and I’m watching you.” In Colonel Cooper’s color code, I was definitely in Condition Orange.

I watched him like this as he peddled, ever so slowly, through the middle of the gas station. None of the other customers seemed at all aware of him (or of their surroundings at all), but he definitely had my attention. He tried for the intimidating look as he approached, that “what the hell are you looking at?” stare. But if there’s one lesson I’ve learned by now, it’s to trust my intuition, and my intuition was saying “be careful!” His expression changed, then, and he sharply turned his bike and rode away, muttering something that might have been “crazy bitch” as he passed me.

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The Double-Edged Sword of Fear

I’ve been reading through some old posts on the excellent A Girl and Her Gun blog (if you aren’t following her, you should be), and I came across this one which talks about Colin Goddard, who survived the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.

There’s lots of great info in the post, so I’ll let you (and strongly encourage you to) read it, but I wanted to pick up a thread of thought that really jumped out at me: Fear is a double-edged sword.

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