Yesterday we took a broad look at the variety of weapons available to a woman who is looking to defend herself. While practical and entertaining (for me anyway); a weapon of any kind is actually a last resort in a self-defense situation. As a civilian, I view the personal use of a firearm for self-defense as the sign that I either have no other options, or have exhausted all my relevant options except for lethal force.
While I am oft glib in my writing, the use of force is something that should be taken very seriously. I also feel that while violence is often a useful tool for defending yourself, that if violent encounters can be avoided, they should be. The following piece is in a nutshell exactly the same counsel I would give my wife or any of our female friends on what you can do before and to prevent a violent encounter.
A teacher once said to me (and no doubt cribbed from elsewhere) that “The best way to win a fight is to not be there when it happens”. I wholeheartedly subscribe to this theory, and encourage its practice. Of course, it’s very easy for me to say “avoid the fight” – but how exactly do you go about avoiding the fight?
Your most efficient weapon for self defense is what resides in between your ears. The phrase “knowledge is power” is quite literally true, especially when it comes to self defense and avoiding dangerous situations. I’m not saying that you need to be constantly keyed up and ready to rock-and-roll; the list below contains what I generally consider to be “vital” knowledge.
- Know your area – Be familiar with your town/city. Know which parts of town are considered less safe than others, and avoid those areas if possible. It isn’t foolproof, but if you avoid areas that are statistically high in crime, you reduce your odds of becoming a statistic.
- Know where you are – This partners with the above, knowledge of where you live can prevent you from being in a situation where you don’t know where you are. One of the key reasons that you should know where you are is that if something bad should happen, you’re more likely to escape if you’re knowledgeable of the area you’re in and where you are in that area.
- Know your surroundings – This is as simple as “don’t look at your own feet” when you’re walking around. Awareness of your surroundings and who or what is occupying them allows you to take preemptive action if necessary to escape or evade a potentially dangerous situation.
- Trust your gut – Have you ever had a “bad feeling” about a specific place or person? Odds are that your “gut feeling” is actually your animal self-preservation instinct. Listen to that feeling.
- Retreat – This is the final option in avoidance. Also called the “track shoe defense”. If your knowledge has lead you to believe that you’re in imminent danger, the safest and smartest option is to avoid that danger altogether and beat a hasty retreat to the safest place. Like the man says, the best fight is one you don’t get in.
Second to avoiding a dangerous situation entirely, there are also ways that you can actively deter threats, literally make yourself an unappealing target for someone out to do no good. Deterrence is strongly tied to avoidance – since the key to good avoidance is knowledge, that same knowledge can be used to deter potential threats. Here are some general guidelines for deterring others from seeing you as a tempting victim.
- Posture – This is actually a much bigger deal that you’d realize. Whether or not you consciously think about it, humans respond to the body language of other humans. Head up, shoulders back, good posture while walking around says that you’re confident and aware of your surroundings. Slouched over, looking at your feet or the sidewalk says that you’re not aware of what’s going on around you.
- Travel in packs – While it may seem silly, a group of people is less likely to be attacked than an individual. There is quite literally safety in numbers. Honestly, most women do this anyway, so I wouldn’t worry too much about this issue.
- “I’ll call you right back” – Wait to make that call. People on their cell phones are some of the most distracted and least situationally aware people out there. If you’re in a place where it would behoove you to be paying attention to your surroundings, chit-chatting with Stacey on your phone is not going to help Team Awareness. Wait until you’re in a safer location to have that conversation.
This section could also be titled “don’t be stupid”. Common sense and not doing things that a reasonable person would regard as foolish/dangerous go a long way towards avoiding and deterring dangerous encounters.
- Don’t walk 4 blocks home from the bar by yourself at 4am – When sober, or drunk. I have had multiple discussions with young ladies who insisted that “I’m fine to walk home, it’s only four blocks” when they were having difficulty standing on their own power. There is no shame in asking for a ride (from a sober driver), or having someone you trust walk you home.
- Don’t let someone you don’t know walk you home – While I’d say that the majority of people aren’t psychos and rapists, some people are. When you’re getting someone to walk you home from the bar at 4am – your new BFF that you’ve been doing tequila shots with for the past 2 hours isn’t the best option. I don’t know how to break this to you, but his intentions might not be…honorable.
- Don’t take a drink from a stranger – Seriously. The fact that women do this boggles my mind, it honestly does. Even here in Indiana where people are nice, you just don’t accept a drink of unknown origins from someone. Honestly.
- Don’t count on the cavalry – You cannot depend on the police to respond in time to save you. The Supreme Court has actually ruled that the police officer’s obligation to defend “the people” does not mean that they have a specific obligation to defend you as an individual. What that means is that even if you call 911, the cops might not be there fast enough to help. I’m not saying don’t call 911 (because you should), what I’m saying is that it’s unwise to place the trust for your safety in the hands of police.
Ultimately, there is one person responsible for your safety. It’s not me, and it’s not Officer Friendly either. It is you, and you alone. The goal of this entry isn’t to make you paranoid, or to think you’ve got to walk around with your head on a swivel like some “long-range-low-heat” tactical operator. Nothing in the above should interfere with how you live your daily life. What it’s designed to do is give everyone (man and woman) some handy solutions for smart things you can do to minimize your personal risks.
It all boils down to responsibility. You have to be willing to take responsibility for your own safety – when it all boils down you are your most reliable defense.
Nathaniel raises a good question in the comments – some of his female friends feel like a cellphone creates a digital equivalent of the “travel in packs” concept, so they call people while they’re walking home.
After some thought, I’d recommend against that. Your situational awaren
s is your best weapon, I really feel like a cellphone conversation is only going to serve to distract your from your surroundings. Here’s my other problem with the “simulated” pack idea. Say something happens and you drop your phone. Your friend on the other end doesn’t know your exact location, and they best they can do is call 911 for you. I’d reckon that you’re better off waiting to make that call – that way you can call 911 yourself if you need to.