Danger Signs

“Be aware of your surroundings.” It’s the first thing taught in every self-defense class I’ve ever attended. One of the most common pieces of advice dished out to those looking to protect themselves. And it’s good advice, so far as it goes.

What’s missing, though, from the all-too-frequent repetition of this advice, is any guidance about what we should be aware of. Without knowing what we should be watching for, what behaviors should trigger our Condition Red awareness, knowing that we need to “be aware” is empty advice. It sounds good, but standing alone, it helps us not at all.

I certainly learned this lesson in spades during my own encounters with violent predators. Operating without the benefit of any understanding of criminal behavior and victimology, I equated “be aware” with the sort of reflexive “stranger danger!” conditioning that was so popular when I was growing up, back in a time before society fully realized that the most likely threats were people we knew. But the predators that found me weren’t strangers, and I didn’t realize until much too late the dangerous hole in my knowledge.

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Criminals Don’t Think Like You

I was listening to the latest of Ben Branam’s Modern Self-Protection podcast today, and wanted to underline something Ben talks about that’s important to understanding how to respond to a violent attack: The criminals don’t think the way you do.

When we try to imagine what a criminal will do, and how we can respond to it, it’s only natural to think about what we would do in a similar situation. People tell us “talk about yourself to make the criminal empathize with you”, or “give him what we wants and he won’t hurt you.” I’ve heard some people tell rape victims to urinate or vomit on their attackers. These seem like natural suggestions on the surface. After all, we don’t deliberately hurt people we care about. We don’t deliberately hurt people who give us what we want. We find throwing up a turn-off. If that’s how we would feel, that’s how the criminal would feel too. Right?

Wrong. What would work on us if we were criminals doesn’t work on actual criminals, because actual criminals don’t think the way we do. This is the gap between “the reality of violence” and “the fantasy of violence” that Rory Miller talks about, and wrapping our heads around it is hugely important if we want to stay safe.

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What Do You Fear?

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day. She shares my desire to be able to be responsible for her own safety and the safety of her family, so the conversation turned eventually to topics of self-defense. In the course of our conversation, she mentioned that a question she often got asked when she was training in martial arts on a regular basis was “what are you so afraid of, that you’re learning combat?”

Her question got me thinking, partly because I’ve been asked it too (usually combined with insinuation that I’m paranoid and unstable), and partly because a piece of this personal safety and self-defense pie is, for me, making my fears and doubts conscious so that I can protect myself and my loved ones despite them. So, what am I afraid of?

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The Threat You Don’t See Coming

Take a moment to think about the kinds of threats you’re preparing and training for. Got it? Good. Now, I invite you to consider a question: When danger comes, will it come in the form you imagine? Or will you fail to recognize the threat until it gets too close, because the threat that you didn’t see coming is dressed up in distressingly familiar clothes?

I was thinking about the issue of what kinds of scenarios we prepare for because of a conversation I had the other day with a friend. I used to volunteer with my local rape crisis center, and they’ve invited me to do some in-service training for them. I sat down with my friend, their volunteer coordinator, to discuss the training and, as is wont to happen, we got talking.

“One thing I see over and over,” my friend said, “is women who worry and stress and prepare for the stranger in the alley, but they don’t prepare for the friend of a friend who gets them drunk at a party. The people who seem familiar get discounted, but that’s where the real threat lies far more often than not,”

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Choosing Not to Be a Victim

Lynne over at Female and Armed had a terrific post today titled “A Woman’s Right to Choose“. I’ll let you read it, but she makes some very good points:

It is your right to tell a stranger to take a step back, to meet the eyes of those around you, to stand tall, be strong and alert, to protect yourself and your family, to walk with a presence.

Only you can choose to be a victim. Stand tall, do everything to reduce the odds that you will be selected.

I wholeheartedly agree with Lynne’s post, and decided to comment on it because I want to underline two realizations I had on my own journey toward being aware, safe, self-sufficient and armed:

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