If you’ve been following along here at On Her Own, you know that I’m rather open that there isn’t much in the way of certainties of self-defense against violent strangers. Every strategy and every tool is about increasing your odds in bad situations, but no single one is enough to guarantee your safety. Sometimes, it seems like that means there are just so many things you need to do and carry in order to survive the big, bad world out there. It gets overwhelming. How much of it do you really need to do?
It turns out that for a lot of us, it’s very little. Avoiding a violent confrontation in most cases for most people requires relatively small amounts of effort. This is especially true for those of us who generally avoid hanging out with people we already know to be trouble, in places we already know are risky. When we aren’t in the places where troublesome people gather, or have connections to people they want to punish or fight for some reason, they are unlikely to come to you. Obviously, we can’t always stay away from them, especially when we are living in a neighborhood that isn’t quite on the up-and-up, and those troublemakers are close friends or family. But even then, we have a pretty good idea of the things we have to do to not get caught up in the violent problems that go along with them.
Beyond that, some of the most basic skills that we can use to interact with people we don’t know will often be enough to ensure that a violent one won’t decide that we’re a good victim choice. It starts with simply walking like we know where we’re going and what we’re about, and like we’re paying attention to the world around us. Moving with hesitation, like we’re scared, shy, uncertain, or even injured, attracts the type of people who want to harm others. Burying our heads in our phones or otherwise allowing ourselves to be oblivious is also attractive to those people, because they know we are unlikely to see them coming or be able to describe them later. There’s a theme here: predators look for easy prey. The more you look like you’ve spotted them and their nefarious intentions, and the more you look like someone who might be willing and able to fight back, the less they’ll want to tangle with you. That doesn’t mean you have to crank your head around like you have a tic, and you don’t have to look like you’re ready to punch out anyone who crosses your path. It does, however, mean that you should carry yourself with confidence and alertness. And that’s not very much to do, and requires you to carry nothing at all.
You can go a little further too, by applying the Managing Unknown Contacts (MUC – pronounced “muck”) skill set. We’ve talked about before here, but it boils down to a way of establishing boundaries as you run across strangers. It can be as simple as circling around them and as complicated as engaging them in a simple conversation to determine what their intentions are and to direct them to keep their distance. By giving a potential bad guy an indication that you see them, and that their attentions are unwelcome, you not only signal that you are prepared to deal with their actions, you also draw a line that helps you spot if and when they intend to do something you don’t want them to do. Rather than try to interpret their intentions in a vacuum, you create a box around them. If they stay inside it, then you know they may be awkward but they don’t mean to do bad things to you. If they don’t, then you know that you may have to defend yourself against them. Funny thing about the entire process of using MUC though…potential attackers can spot exactly what you’re up to. When they do, it’s a warning sign to them that you might not be a good target for their shenanigans. Again, not much for you to do, and nothing for you to carry.
Just that much is all that’s needed to avoid an awful lot of potential trouble. The problem is that what we’re preparing for is a worst-case scenario. The kind where you can do everything right and still not come out uninjured or even alive on the other side. Dissuading possible bad guys through deselection – this entire process of appearing to be a little too much work to be worth victimizing when there’s someone else easier they can go after instead – is extremely effective most of the time. It may be that that’s enough, and certainly you’re likely to be right almost all the time. After that, it’s up to you how much you want to prepare for the outside, edge cases where someone is specifically targeting you or if someone doesn’t care that you might be a difficult victim. Are those situations likely to come up? If so, how important is it to you to be prepared for them? How important is it to you, compared to what not being prepared looks like? Or, and this is perfectly okay, are you satisfied with what these simple tactics will do to keep you safe?