Self Defense and Risk Assessment


Risk Assessment of Potential Dangers.

Risk Reduction

RAPE: Reduce those risks!

Spotting the Bad Guy

Places of Opportunity

The Behaviour of the Bad People

Deciding what to do


Risk Assessment of Potential Dangers. (Index)

In my view the way to cope with life is with risk assessment. This is a lot better than a series of does and don'ts, or a list of rules.

We all do risk assessments everyday; just think about taking a hot plate out of the oven. We risk assess it, and reach for the oven gloves. This applies to parents as well, too many parents keep their kids protected at all cost, sometime it is necessary to take a few risks otherwise they will not grow, or be able to assess risks themselves. On the other hand insufficient care is worse than too much care. Risk assessment plays an important part in safety assessment in industry, the function of risk assessment to focus the mind in what are the real risk and what are the probable results. You might take the view that this is bloody obvious. It usually is, as is the accident report forms I see. For example: "tried to check light fitting while standing on a chair with castors on it", there is a prize if you can guess what happened. Here is my risk assessment table of life, yours might be a bit different.

Risk Assessment No harm Little harm Major injury Death
Never happen Safe Safe Safe Very risky
Might happen Safe Safe Risky Don't do it
Could happen Safe Debatable Very Risky Don't do it
Will happen Safe Debatable Don't do it Don't do it

So either reduce the likelihood of something happening, or reduce what could happen. Lets take a particularly rough pub. We can move the risk from "Could happen" to "might happen" by going to a slightly less scary pub. Going as a group should move the risk from "major injury" to "little harm".

Often perceived risk and real risks differ quite considerably. When I was on the top of a mountain and the only way down was to ski, I was convinced I was about to die -I didn't. On the other hand, how many of us felt like giving some stupid driver a piece of our mind (very risky, as a number of stabbing have proven).

In a nutshell, think what could happen, and what result there could be. But remember even sitting at home surfing the net all night has its risks, the idea is to not take stupid and avoidable risks (like telling those drunken teenagers that swearing in public is not nice).

Risk Reduction (Index)

So if you can't avoid the risks, then reduce either the severity of harm, or the likelihood. If you have to walk down that narrow alley, know how to fight, defend yourself, and be ready to run like anything. Ladies, just switching your shoes to trainers will increasing your options. Failing that, one lady drove off a determined rapist lately by really screaming very loud and summoning help; practice those ki-up shouts. One of best risk reducers is mates. Being with friends or having them close by will significant reduce the risks; however do not make the mistake of think that will keep you safe under all conditions. Also there is a big difference between friends and acquaintances. Friends are someone you have know for at least a year, they are people who's behaviour you can predict (if someone attacked you they would a:run and get help, b: wade in c: phone the cops etc.), and they are people who care what happens to you and would not leave a party without you whatever happens. An acquaintance is someone you have just met (and can be a fantastic and interesting person), you are not sure what they might do (if some tried to pick a fight with you), and you have no proof that they care. Obviously all friends start off as acquaintances, but do not put your trust or safety in the hands of an acquaintance -you just do not know them well enough.

One most import aspect in risk reduction is to avoid looking like a victim. One of friends related an incident where he got attacked and beaten up. The reason being his coat was in the wash and he was wearing a nerdy looking out of fashion jacket; this made him look like a wimp and a potential victim. Whereas his normal leather jacket makes him look "dangerous". So dress is important, but equally important is attitude. People with high self esteem look confident, I know I can fight (badly) so I don't necessary look scared in a confrontation, even though inside I am shaking like a leaf. Needless to say, I believe that martial arts really help in this area. I have attended courses that work on building self image, and they are great; but knowing how to move, how to block, how to punch and kick are the skills I start reviewing when someone one the tube is acting in a threatening manner.

Gangs often start the "looking at me" game. Here's a technique for coping with that. Walk down the street, see that lamppost it's an evil lamppost intent on hurting you, watch it with caution as you try and get by it. Notice the difference? You looked at it, and probably your body language became defensive. Now normally you would not have looked at it, let alone altered your body language. So, a group of young people, could be a problem or not. See them as a lamppost and carry on regardless -they don't exist, even if they call out to you. Of course that does not mean that you don't use peripheral vision to track what is going on, and if they start to move in on you, be prepared to leg it. Of course, routinely avoiding the places where gangs are the better solution. Don't fall into the argument about I have a right to walk down that road, go to the chipshop when I like, etc. these people are nutters (technical psychological term) and will happily put a knife into you and then go get a McDonnell. Principals are great but your friends and family would rather have you around, unless you have lots and lots of life insurance that is.

The bad guy, or girl, is looking for an opportunity either for assault, robbery, or something even nastier. To do this they have to be with range. One of the easiest techniques to ascertain intention is to move or change direction, if the other person copies, then you have a problem. For example, if you are being followed, move to the other side of the path so that you are parallel to your original direction; or on train platform "restlessly" pace about in a relaxed manner (remember a moving target is hard to hit). Don't let anyone within grabbing distance. Again, consider what option are available when sitting on a seat at the train station as opposite to "pacing" around, risks are reduced.

RAPE: Reduce those risks! (Index)

Offender psychology is an intriguing area, and my conclusion having studied psychology and some case studies is that these are sick bunnies; but do not make the mistake of thinking that they are stupid. They are preditors, and have "animal" cunning for approaching you or getting you on your own. The majority of rape incidents happen to women, but men are at risk as well so pay attention. The biggest concern over rape is about stranger rape; but see the bit about perceived and real risks. Most rapes are committed by men known to the victim -read that bit again - most rapes are committed by men known to the victim. Now to generalize, these are going to be acquaintance rather than people you would class as friends by the above standard. I repeat:do not put your trust or safety in the hands of an acquaintance -you just do not know them well enough. So, how do we spot the bad guy?

Spotting the Bad Guy (Index)

In the movies the bad guys wear black, and are usually British (even the Orcs in Lord of the Rings have english thug accents!). In real life this is not so easy, but there are a few guidelines that can help. Some people say that we should not make value judgments about people, and I would agree; except for where personal safety is concerned. The guy on the tube who forgot to shave, looks like he has fallen asleep from too much drink and is dressed in worn out, ripped clothes, could be me after a hard nightshift. However, it also a description of someone who behaved in a most unpleasant manner on the Tube recently. Making sure that you don't get into the same carriage as this guy is moving the risk from "could happen" to "might happen". You have a lifetimes experience of assessing strangers, if something makes you feel uneasy listen to your feelings (this is your subconscious picking up on something you might not have consciously noticed). While you are alertly scanning for bad people, the bad people are busy looking for victims. Watch for people that are taking an interest in you.

Places of Opportunity (Index)

There are certain places that are more risky than others, and not necessary where you would think. Okay, we all know the underpass at night is not a good place, but how about the supermarket car park? Risk assess it. You are on your own, you are distracted (where did I put the car keys?), and someone asks you for a light. Similarly when you are reaching for your door keys just outside your house, a good time for an attack.

Always lock your car doors, carjacking is on the increase and just outside my works in London we have had a spate of people grabbing laptops off passenger car seats; as well as lads on bike grabbing mobile phones as they cycle past.

Sadly a good victim is a helpful person, beware people approaching you for help, directions, time, or a light. They are looking for people they can control. There is no reason to be rude but "sorry no" and keeping moving -remember to grab you they have to be in range. A slightly more sophisticated version is lads attacking a girl, when you go to help they all turn on you. Remember: assess the situation, assess the risks.

The Behaviour of the Bad People (Index)

With self defense, it is difficult to generalize on behaviour since there are many motivations (and even no motivations). A mugger is clearly motivated to be after your goods, and less likely to get involved in sadistic violence. On the other hand, an evil shit (another psychological technical term) only cares for himself and really, really does not give shit about you at all. He may attack you because he want your mobile, but then beat you up as well.

Anything that loosens restrictions on behaviour is bad. Drink and drugs are often mentioned but it is the social groups that effects behaviour the most. There is an interesting experiment where students are fed booze (wouldn't you just like to get invited on these experiments?), the booze was nonalcoholic but the students were not told this. They all behaved in a "drunken" manner, laughing joking and having a very good time. Watch a group of youths egg themselves on to attacking someone. I once avoided a fight by standing there and looking puzzled, eventually the youth could not bring himself to attack someone who was not behaving in either scared or aggressive manner (the truth to be told, I was slightly the worse for wear having had one to many a drink and could not work out what was happening, oh I had crash helmet on as well).

Of course experience is everything; how do you get experiences? You guessed, by doing it. Nevertheless, you can learn from people who have had good and bad experiences. Listen to what other tell you, instructor and parents are very good sources of information, but those who have been there, for whatever reason are the most reliable source of information.

Deciding what to do (Index)

Finally, when you have to make choices, then it is your decision at the time. You might act the complete opposite to this advice, freeze and do nothing for example. With hindsight these can often be seen as less than perfect decisions, or even just plain wrong. Never let anyone put you down for this, you were there, you had to make the decision, it all happened so quickly, and life is not perfect and the best decision are often hard to spot at the time. Avoid guilt, blame, or recrimination; things happen; think how things might have been avoided, or gone better, and learn from these lessons.

Remember, shit happens, even in this the best of all possible worlds. Hopefully I have made you think about safety and prevention which is the best form of self defense. Lets be careful out there.