Protect yourself with these self-defense tips

Television broadcasts daily reports about robberies, muggings, and other violent crimes. Understandably, this means more people worry about being assaulted while they are out. This is not an unreasonable concern, and since December was National Personal Self Defense Awareness Month, I want to share with you some ways you can protect yourself while you are out shopping or just out participating in your daily activities.

It takes three things for a violent or aggressive incident to happen – a victim, a perpetrator and an opportunity. The primary inciting factor in each individual crime is opportunity, so taking a look at your personal life to identify and minimize vulnerabilities is the number one way you can keep yourself from being a victim.  Ask yourself where in your life you are most vulnerable to a criminal looking for an opportunity to commit a crime. 

Do you sit in your car and check your email, completely unaware of what is going on around you?  Do you walk along texting or performing some other task on your phone without paying attention to your surroundings?  Do you leave your car unlocked while you are putting gas in your car?  We all have routines.  Ask yourself, where in your routine are you most vulnerable to an opportunistic criminal?

The more aware you become of these vulnerabilities, the more opportunity you have to make yourself more secure.  By taking some suitable safety precautions, you can reduce the opportunities and therefore the risk of becoming a victim.  Here are some tips to help you out:

1.    Be attentive

•    The attitude you project affects the odds of you becoming the subject of an assault. Criminals, generally choose the weakest victims.  Children, elderly people or individuals who are distracted and not aware of their surroundings are easy targets. 

•    Any kind of distraction, from listening to music on earphones to being distracted by your phone makes you more vulnerable.  If you walk with your head and shoulders down like a victim, or spend time searching for the keys in your pocket or purse before reaching the door rather than being alert to your surroundings, you are much more likely to be picked for a mugging or assault than someone walking with purpose and with their full attention on what is happening around them.

•    Being aware of your surroundings can help you perceive possible threats to your safety. Whether there is a shadow lurking in the dark, or someone raising their voice and showing signs of becoming violent, along with your attitude of confidence, it is imperative that you are actively aware of your surroundings, so you can take an action, such as fleeing or defending yourself, if the situation arises.

•    If you think you are being followed, trust your instincts.  As confidently as you can manage in this stressful situation, walk across the road, and turn to see who is behind you.  If you are still being followed, keep moving.  Always go towards places with plenty of people around.  Don’t go directly home and lead your pursuers to where you live.  Call the police.

2. Keep your valuables on you.

•    Keeping items such as backpacks, phones, and keys, on you keeps you from losing them, or having to search for them under stress.  This also enables you to quickly get in your car and drive away, or run inside your home and shut the door, and to call someone to help you.  Try not to keep all your valuables in one place. Keep items such as wallets in an inside pocket.

3. Act sensibly

•    Acting sensibly means always assessing the situation before making decisions. Walking away is as valid a response as fighting.  The right decision is the one that makes you safer.  Assess first, and then act.

•    This applies especially if you’re going to a new place. Know where the dangerous zones are and stay away from them. If you do have to pass danger spots, think about what you would do if you felt threatened.

•    Plan ahead. Before you go out, think about how you are going to get home, e.g.  Can you travel home with a friend?  What time does the last bus/train leave?

4. Don’t travel alone if you can avoid it.

•    This is self-explanatory. Having someone or a whole pack by your side is better for your safety. The odds of being assaulted or mugged while in a group is significantly lower than when you’re alone. 

5. Ignore bullies

•    Most people meet bullies all the time, while driving, walking or shopping for groceries.  The reflex response is often to stand up to the bullies and expose them, but in many cases this will escalate the situation into physical violence. So sometimes, the best response is to ignore the bullies.  Save your energy for situations in which your life or the life of your loved ones is truly threatened.

6. Program helpful numbers into the speed dial of your phone.

•    If something happens, you won’t have the time to remember numbers or browse your phone. Make sure you have important numbers on speed dial. This is especially useful when you’re being chased or followed. The first thing to do in such cases is to call law enforcement officers and let them know what’s happening before deciding whether to face the situation alone.  If at all possible, stay on the phone with dispatch and keep talking to them until you reach a safe place.

7. Use whatever you have as a weapon.

1.    Especially if you have no formal physical self-defense training, pepper-spray or a Taser is always nice to have and can be easily tucked into a purse or pocket.  This will disable your attacker and help you get enough space and time to get away.  You might also consider carrying a personal safety alarm, which can be used to shock and disorientate an attacker, giving you time to get away.

•    In all cases, everything lying around you in a room can be used as an improvised weapon: lamps, ashtrays, laptops, bottles, stationary equipment…etc.  However, always remember this rule: if you lift a weapon, you’d better be willing to use it.  If you’re not willing to follow through, the odds are good that your attacker will notice your hesitation.  This puts you at a big disadvantage. If the attacker takes the weapon from you, it might end up being used against you, even if it’s in your own hands.

8. Be willing to defend yourself.

•    Even if you’ve had self-defense training, if you’re not psychologically prepared or willing to physically confront another person and defend your life, all the training you went through and all the weapons you have will do you no good.  Many people don’t fight back, not because they’re afraid of getting hurt themselves, but because they’re afraid of harming others, even when they’re being battered.

9. Get in better shape.

•    Being fit is not just good for your health, it can also be essential for your safety. Whether it’s a natural disaster or a scuffle on the street, one of your best forms of self-defense is to be able to sprint for 5 minutes, grapple with a person to let go, or take a hit and stand up again.

•    Technical preparation like learning specific self-defense techniques is also important. No need for fancy flying kicks.  The basic techniques of striking and defending are the ones that work best in street situations. 

10. Your life is more important than money.

•    Many assaults are carried out with the intention of stealing something from the victim.  If that’s the case, give the attacker what they want.  Your life is more important than any material goods. Giving up
your money, laptop, or car is quite frustrating, but it’s better than getting killed or beaten.

11. Scream

•    Some people think that when they’re assaulted, it’s better to stay silent to avoid confusing the aggressor and making him more violent. Others freeze to the extent that, even if they wanted to scream, they cannot. Yet, screaming, and training yourself to scream is important, and even more effective if you can do it in a loud and terrifying way. 

12. Fight back

•    One common misconception about self-defense is that fighting back will cause the aggressor to inflict more damage than if you do nothing. Statistics, however, show that the opposite is true. According to most studies, fighting back a rape attempt, for example, only raises the rate of physical injury by 3 to 9 % [1]. Yet, fleeing or fighting back decreases the chance of being raped to 55 and 15 % [2] respectively, compared with women who do nothing or use verbal strategies such as crying or pleading the assailant.

•    Studies also found that most injuries occur before you try to resist the attacker, not because of resistance. It’s also important to mention that in the case of rape in particular, physical injury while resisting the assailant is much easier to overcome than the emotional, psychological, and physical injury of the rape itself.  When your life is in danger, there are only two workable solutions: get away or fight back. Doing nothing is not a workable option.

•    If you find that you must fight back, strikes on sensitive areas like the face, genitals, toes, and stomach, are more effective than pushing or grappling. Strikes can be carried out without prior training, especially with elbows, knees, open hand strikes, and even punches. The bottom line is, if you a psychologically able to physically defend yourself, it’s more likely that an opportunistic criminal will leave rather than continue the attack.  You are no longer easy prey.

Contact the Denton County Sheriff’s Office at 940-349-1600.

[1] Kleck, G. & Sayles, S, 1990, Rape and resistance. Social Problems.
[2] Ullman, S.E. & Knight, R.A. 1991, A multivariate model for predicting rape and physical injury outcomes during sexual assault. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 59, 5.

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