Please Read This: The Real Fear

Although I write stories involving made-up, improbable things, I am fully aware that the real fear is rightly held for the horrific things that humans do to humans.

As a security professional with over twenty years of experience, I have had to review, react, and remind people of the dangerous world we live in. Many times these reminders come after a horrific event and the latest in no different.

Last week two employees of one of our clients were overpowered after hours in their store. The two women were beaten and sexually assaulted. One of the young women died, the other was left bound and injured. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t name the client, but the story, if you care to find it, is of public record. The location was not some shady, scary section of a dangerous big city. It was the affluent community of Bethesda, Maryland, noted as one of the most “educated communities” in America.

The purpose of this blog is not to suggest these women did anything wrong. The victim is never to blame for the atrocities of another. The purpose is to ensure that I share my knowledge and experience with you. I hope that if you have a wife, girlfriend, a daughter, a niece, a sister, or a friend that you pass this on to them. Because while I enjoy scaring you with short stories, in the real world I want you to be safe.

If you haven’t read Gavin De Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear, please do. He is one of the foremost authorities on the topic of avoiding danger in the real world. What I am providing here is a combination of his thoughts and my own experiences over my twenty-year career. I am not suggesting you live in fear or that you never go anywhere alone. What I am suggesting is awareness and a healthy measure, be it ever so small, of distrust. These seven guidelines are probably more important than any weapon you might carry, because in the end avoidance of bad situations is better than victory over one.

1. Live with the probability by considering the possibilities

You have to live your life. You cannot stay inside afraid of the outside world. In truth, the probability of being assaulted or murdered is small (far less than one percent but many sexual assaults aren’t reported).  The difference between being the “1”who it happened to and the “100,000” it did not happen to is in considering the possibility. Before you get yourself into any situation, simply and honestly consider the risk. I know that for people under 25 this is difficult. You feel bullet proof, you believe you can handle yourself and mostly you don’t think it can ever happen to you. You have a long, heroic, and confident list of “what YOU would do” in that situation. Still, consider every situation and ask yourself, “Can I be certain I will be safe?” and more importantly, “is this really worth the risk?”

2. Pay attention

You’re busy. You have to answer your phone, return that text message, update your Facebook and listen to your IPod.  These distractions mean that you don’t always pay attention to your surroundings. This is the most critical mistake you can make. The majority of assaults are planned. The attacker has watched you, they know your behavior, they know your schedule, and they are counting on surprise to overtake you. Even in cases of a random attack, the attacker’s success is based on surprising you. The more you pay attention to your surroundings, the more difficult it will be to sneak up or catch you off guard.  So whether you are walking to class, down the street, going to your car or out for a jog…pay attention to your surroundings. Watch for who is watching you. Paying attention to the environment, taking a good look before you get out of your car, or walk down that street, is one of the most important things you can do.

3. You control the situations you get into, not the one’s you’re in

I know you are strong. I know you can handle yourself. I know you are smart. But control is often an illusion. The only thing you really control is the situations you do or don’t get into. Once you are in that situation not all of the control is yours. If you choose that secluded path, or if you go to that party where you don’t know most of the people, you have relinquished your control of the situation. “Well if it gets crazy or he gets creepy I’ll just leave.” Sure, hopefully you will, assuming he’ll let you. Assuming he doesn’t want to hurt you, assuming the people at the party aren’t as crazy as he is and assuming you haven’t had too much to drink or someone hasn’t slipped you something. Over dramatic? As I said, you control the situations you get into, not the situations you are in. Choose those situations very carefully and when uncertain avoid them or bring three or four friends with you. And if you know less than half the people at a party it’s a high risk, if you go to “his place” before you really know him, it’s a high risk, if you jog alone in secluded areas (or in the early morning or late night), it’s a high risk.

4. Redefine how well you know him

Most assaults and murders are committed by people the victim “knew.” You could argue that if they are victims they probably didn’t know them that well. Before you go somewhere non-public, consider how well you know this person. Do you know him from social networking? Maybe you have talked at work or school. Had a few conversations in the parking lot, at a party or some other event? However, consider this. Of all the people who “know you” how many “really know you?” I bet that list is two or three people long and I bet those people on it have known you for a while. Well the same is true for this “guy” you “know”. I’m not suggesting you don’t get to know him or that you don’t go out with him. I am suggesting you meet him several times in a public place (not a party at his friend’s house/apartment) before you claim to know him. Even then, proceed with caution. Creepy, freaky, scary guys aren’t the one’s committing all that date rape.  I am so surprised when a person tells me that someone is a “friend” and they can’t tell me that friends birthday, favorite color, where they were born, or where they went to school…that’s not a friend, that’s an acquaintance.  Here’s another big rule. Introduce him to family and friends. Listen to what they think about him. If he avoids meeting the people you know, especially you’re family consider that a big red flag.

5. One exit is another way of saying “dead end”

The more exits out, the more safety you have. When you get in a car with someone, you have only one exit. When you go into someone’s apartment, you have one exit.  When you go into an unfamiliar place, you have one exit (because you only know the way you came in). One exit is the same as a dead end, because if a person means you harm they can easily block your escape. These things may at times be unavoidable, but always consider how you get out before you go in. Consider if the situation feels wrong and if it does, follow rule number six.

6. Being smart is better than being brave

Human beings have this great instinctual gift. It’s called fear. In our modern society, we often override those feelings as being foolish. We want to be brave so we ignore the warnings in our head. Don’t!. When that person seems to be watching a little too closely or too often, move away, get somewhere with more people. When you have a funny feeling about that group at the end of the street, turn around, and go back. When that street seems a little too dark, find another. When your date seems a little off, trust it, and bail out. When your car looks a little too lonely in the parking lot, ask someone to escort you. Pay attention to your environment and trust that fear. Who cares if you feel silly later? You’re safe and that’s what counts. Smart and alive is always better than brave and dead…always.

7. Tell the World

Make sure people know where you are going and when you will be back. I know, I know, you want your privacy. That privacy can cost you dearly. Those two women in that store, they were found the next morning because no one expected them home at a certain time. How difficult is it to say, I will be “here” with “so and so” and I will be home around “this time.” And if that “here”, that “who” or that “time” changes, send a text or make a call. Tell more than just the person you’re with where you will be…and make it clear to the people or person that you are with that people know “who, where and when you will be home.” This is the same for your jogging route, your weekend getaway, and your nature walk.  

Although the majority of this information is directed towards women, it applies to men also. More men are assaulted and murdered than women (77% of murder victims are male). And, while the advice may seem directed at the under twenty-five group, it applies for all of us. It may all seem like common sense. It may all seem a little paranoid. But if a little paranoia makes you a little more aware, and that awareness helps you avoid even one bad situation…I think that is a fair trade…be safe.

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