A toddler awakens with a fever, so his mother drives to the store for a bottle of Children’s Motrin. It’s only 10pm and she lives in a well-regarded middle class neighborhood, so it’s not a big deal. Right?
According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report (UCR), violent crime in America has trended down 1.5% in the past five years. That’s good news, for sure. But what does it really mean for the average woman going about her daily life? There’s no argument that a reduction in violent crime is desirable. Fewer assaults, rapes, and murders is undeniably significant, but the UCR and other such metrics are statistics, trends, and percentages. For an individual going to work, the mall or a friend’s house, there is little direct correlation with such averages. For a woman, dangers and risks abound, and knowing that there’s been a 4.4% year-over-year reduction in violent crime the past two years does not amount to much when she’s at the wrong end of a sexual assault–or worse, murder. In short, criminals don’t read these reports. If a sexual predator sees a woman who interests him and he perceives that the risk for him is minimal because she is not taking steps to protect herself, she will be victimized.
The mother going to the market for Motrin is what the FBI profilers from the famed Behavioral Analysis Unit refer to as a low risk individual whose risk level becomes “situationally elevated” because of the circumstances and environment in which she places herself. What does that mean and why is it important? Labeling her neighborhood “good” and “middle or upper class” does not prevent criminal offenders from entering those areas. On the contrary, some target such towns because police patrols are a lower priority, and thus are fewer, the residents don’t have their guards up, and they may not have seen fit to read or implement primers on personal safety. They are literally lulled into a false sense of security. It’s a frame of mind that can prove deadly.
The FBI has said that a little paranoia can be healthy. In essence, you alone are responsible for your personal safety. You can avoid becoming a victim by being educated in methods and strategies that will reduce your risk. Unlike some things in life, “trial and error” does not work well relative to avoiding violent crime. An error can be fatal. And the only trial will be for the offender, if he’s caught. But arrest is a small consolation after he has committed a violent crime against you or your loved one.
What can you do to protect yourself? There are proven methods of lowering your risk of becoming one of those statistical victims. The complementary 21-page booklet “Staying Safe: From serial killers to identity thieves, a primer to keep you out of criminals’ crosshairs”, available free at www.AlanJacobson.com, discusses the mindset of the violent offender so that you can understand what they want, how they think, and how they go about implementing their plan to victimize you. The concept is to “teach you how to fish” rather than giving you a fish, so you can apply these principles to any situation in your daily life. For the purposes of this article, however, here are three key concepts that can reduce your chances of becoming a victim:
1. Be aware. The overarching idea of personal safety is situational awareness. Situational awareness is a proactive style of being aware of what is going on around you, both in your immediate sphere of visual control and in your physical environment. The vast majority of the general public has no situational awareness. The next time you are walking into your local Target, select a person ahead of you and follow her around the store for ten minutes. You’ll see that she never realizes that she was being followed–or sized up.
Whether you are returning to your car in a parking garage–during the day or after the sun sets–don’t chat on your cell phone, text, or dull your senses by stuffing your ears with the buds of your iPod. These divert your attention from what you need to be doing: looking around to take in your surroundings, listening, and sensing.
Situational awareness is not just for late night excursions into dark parking garages. While such a scenario provides greater risk and is to be avoided when possible, the same safety principles apply during daylight hours. One example: you park your car beside a minivan whose windows are tinted or subtly obscured. Why is this significant? Women have been abducted, raped and murdered by men who wait for a vulnerable female to park beside their van. They slide open the side doors, grab the woman with a hand over her mouth, and pull her inside. They then shut the door and the woman is never again seen alive. Avoid parking beside such vehicles, or be aware so that when you exit your car you don’t walk alongside them. Get in the habit of carrying your keys so they protrude, allowing them to be used as a weapon.
2. Make yourself less of a target. An offender is looking for an easy “mark.” The woman he can attack with the least amount of risk and effort is the one he’s going to go after first. Compare these two individuals: one is walking down the street chatting on her phone; the other has a house key protruding between her knuckles, walking confidently and with her attention unencumbered, looking at her surroundings. Which woman is the offender going to attack? The first, without question.
In your home, draw your drapes or blinds so no one can evaluate if you have a dog or a significant other (both deterrents and reasons for them to look for a different victim). Install lighting around your house’s periphery and trim overgrown or tall bushes: a criminal doesn’t want to play his trade in full view of potential witnesses. And don’t ever open your door if you don’t know or recognize the person on the other side.
3. Put up a fight. Should you find yourself in a bad situation, do not hope that your odds will improve at a later time. They will not. Your ability to fend off an offender is greatest the moment he makes contact with you, not a second later. This is the most uncertain time for him because he cannot predict how you will react and he is focused on gaining control of you. Make noise. Kick, punch, pinch, bite, scratch. Scream as if there’s no tomorrow, as if your life depends on it–because it absolutely does.
For a comprehensive explanation of the above and a great deal more, including detailed safety tips, download the free booklet at www.AlanJacobson.com. The life you save will be yours, or that of someone you love.
Alan Jacobson is the national bestselling author of six thrillers, the latter four featuring FBI profiler Karen Vail. Jacobson did seven years of intensive research with members of the elite FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit. His latest release is Inmate 1577, set on Alcatraz Island.
Mark Safarik is a former Senior FBI profiler and Supervisory Special Agent. His law enforcement career spans 30 years, the latter 12 with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit; Safarik is currently executive director of Forensic Behavioral Services International and will be starring in NBC’s new Cloo network series, Killer Instinct.