Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Can You Talk Your Way Out Of Violent Crime?

You're sleeping peacefully in your bed when suddenly something disturbs you. You don't quite know what it is, but whatever it is, it is enough to rouse you from your slumber and so you slowly open your eyes...only to wish you hadn't. That little disturbance you felt wasn't in your mind; it was a knife being pushed against your throat. You go from being in a deep sleep to being fully awake in about a second as you see a large naked man kneeling next to you on your bed. In a blur of motion he leaps on top of you as he covers your mouth with his hand and pushes the blade of the knife a little harder against your throat as he says in a low growl, "Don't scream or I'll cut your f$%ing throat."

This scenario is extremely scary, and what's even scarier is that untold thousands of people have woken up to find that this, or a very similar situation, is happening to them. In the middle of the night an intruder has crawled through a window and now plans to victimize them, and this is probably going to be the most horrible experience they ever have. The big question here is: can they talk their way out?

This issue comes up over and over in the self defense world: can you actually talk a violent criminal out of attacking you? Despite the fact that certain martial art and self defense instructors teach various verbal techniques to do just this, the simple answer is that out of a thousand situations you might be able to talk your way out of one, maybe.

There are those people who really believe that if you talk to a criminal and you are able to humanize yourself you can then get that criminal to see the errors of his, or her, ways and they'll go away. They believe that all you need to do is get that criminal to see you as a person and not just a target, and as soon as you do their humanity will take over. If you think about it, it really does make sense...but that is the problem.

To you and me it may seem perfectly reasonable that you would be able to rationalize your way out of a violent situation, but that would be assuming that your attacker is making an out-of-character "mistake" by attacking you when it's far more likely that attacking you is perfectly "in character" for them. The real problem in this kind of thinking is that we are applying our morality and reason onto another person, but if you've never robbed someone at knife point then chances are that your particular moral code doesn't apply to them.

The truth is that most criminals commit crimes for a living so victimizing you is part of their daily life. Add on to that the fact that about 63% of attacks in the United States happen with the attacker being either drunk or on drugs. If somebody does something all the time, may possibly be doing it for a living, and there is a good chance that they are either drunk or on drugs, do you really think that you will be able to get them to stop with a few words? Unfortunately, the only thing that will consistently deter criminals is the chance of being hurt or caught.

There are only three things that will deter a criminal from attacking you. The first is the likelihood of getting caught, the second is the likelihood of getting injured, and the third is actually getting injured. Very few criminals actually care about hurting you and reasoning with them just won't work. You have to convince them that they'll be caught or injured if they commit the crime or you have to actually injure them, and the only way you can do any of this is with actions, not words. Anything less just won't work and can make the situation worse.

The only way you can convince a criminal that it's likely that they will be caught is to attract other people to you, who could possibly help or call the police, and typically this means yelling. If you are approached by a criminal and you start yelling for help you may be able to scare the criminal away but it's a gamble. Most criminals either attack you by surprise, which means that you won't have time to yell, or they come up and talk to you first and do an "interview" to size you up. If you recognize that someone is approaching you to attack you and you start yelling for help while they are 15 or 20 feet away if could work, but if the attacker gets closer and you start yelling they might lunge at you to shut you up. The success of this manner of deterrence is a matter of whether there are people in the area to attract and whether the attacker is close enough to get to you and shut you up before your yelling draws attention. In any matter I wouldn't want to trust my safety to the possibility of scaring off an attacker by yelling for help.

So if scaring them away by attracting other people isn't reliable, what about convincing them that they might get injured by attacking you? This actually works a large percentage of the time. There have been many studies done with both serial killers and repeat violent offenders in prison that try to determine what makes a violent criminal attack. Across the board the criminals said that they wanted to commit their crimes as cleanly as possible and if they suspected that their victim would fight back or that they wouldn't be able to take them by surprise then they would pick someone else rather than risk being hurt. Therefore, they carefully picked their targets and focused on people who showed certain vulnerabilities, namely not paying attention to their surroundings and certain mannerisms that showed a lack of confidence (which indicates that they won't put up a fight). Of these two, not paying attention to their surroundings was seen as a much more important vulnerability than a lack of confidence because with a skilled surprise attack they can avoid a fight.

There are certain techniques that have been identified as communicating the message to an attacker that you, as the potential victim, will either fight back or will not easily be taken by surprise, and these techniques are surprisingly simple. For example, both serial killers and repeat violent offenders admitted that if they were looking for victims and one of those candidates looked them in the eye then they most often would pick someone else. This goes back to the desire to take their victims by surprise; if the potential victim does something that shows the criminal that they know and recognize that they, the criminal, are "there" then the criminal feels that there is a lesser chance that a surprise attack can be successful. Acknowledging the presence of a criminal has proven to be a great deterrent.

The way you use this to deter a criminal is to constantly be on the lookout for them. You want to not only be aware of who and what is around you at all times, but you also want to show off the fact that you are doing so. While it is important that you walk in a confident manner, it is far more important that you walk with your head up and be constantly looking around and behind you. If a criminal sees you doing this it will make you unattractive as a target. Next, you want to acknowledge anyone that makes you feel uncomfortable or looks out of place. Look them in the eye for a second, give them a quick smile, a wave, a nod, or say hello. By showing a criminal that you know that they are there you become undesirable to all but the most determined.

The other way that you communicate to a criminal that they may get hurt by attacking you is to show them you will fight back. If a criminal approaches you to "interview" you, to test your vulnerabilities, and you appear fearful or you let them get as close as they want, then that communicates to them that you won't fight back and that you're an easy target. What you want to do is the opposite, if they try to get close you need to look them in the eye, confidently tell them to stop, and assert your boundaries. If they test your resolve by taking another step you need become aggressive with them. Again, studies with criminals have shown that if you become aggressive then they will most likely leave as opposed to risking injury or attracting attention.

Beyond that the only thing that you can do to deter them is to actually injure them and this is where a lot of people get uncomfortable. A lot of the so called "experts" tell you to not resist being victimized, to give a criminal everything they want and hope that they take what they want and leave. While it is usually better to give up a purse or wallet then risk serious injury fighting with a criminal, if they want something more than a material possession I advise you to ALWAYS fight back, even if you don't know how. If all you do is to aggressively start hitting them and screaming it could be enough to create a chance for you to escape or convince him to leave.

Don't listen to people who tell you not to fight back, and that if you do then you're just inviting more violence from the attacker. Federal victimization studies show that people who resist an attacker and fight back are not injured any more than those who don't. The fact is that it is just the opposite. Studies have shown that over half of all attackers will actually leave if the person indicates that they will resist. So if they want your purse or wallet it may be better just to give it to them, but if they want more there isn't any benefit to not fighting back.

Now, I want to make one point very clear, when I said "injure them" I didn't mean "hurt" them or cause them pain. Techniques that rely on causing pain or discomfort to a violent individual are simply unreliable because of differences in pain tolerances, the fact that some people actually enjoy pain, and also that 63% of attackers are either under the influence of drugs or alcohol which can effect the functioning of there pain receptors. When I say "injure" I mean that you have to take a part of their body and render it nonfunctional and in need of medical treatment.

If a violent criminal grabs you and you punch them in the face the result would be pain and that pain may only serve to make them mad because the punch didn't actually "do" anything. If, however, you lowered the punch and hit them in the throat you could cause an injury by crushing their windpipe. A crushed windpipe is not subjective nor is it something you can "shake off". If your windpipe is crushed you will not be able to breathe, which will quickly induce panic, and unless a tracheotomy is preformed you will die of asphyxiation. While punching them in the face will probably just make them angry, punching them in the throat and crushing it will cause them to stop their attack, involuntarily grab their throat, make a high pitched noise while trying to inhale, drop to the ground in a panic, and continue to make the noise until they...well...stop.

The point is that the punch to the face is an example of pain and the punch to the throat is an example of a medically verified injury. A criminal will only stop their attack for two reasons: if they decide to stop, or if you make them stop, and the only way to make them stop is to stop the functioning of a part, or all, of their body.

As far as talking a violent criminal out of their plans of attacking you goes, as you can tell from what I've presented here the chances are incredibly slim. The only way that someone would be talked out of the crime would be if they were a rational person to begin with, sober, did not have a criminal nature, and they were new to this whole "hurting people for kicks, money, or sex thing".

Studies have shown that trying to talk or plead with your attacker can actually make things much worse. For instance, since rape is about power and not sex, if you plead, cry, beg, or try to verbally dissuade a rapist it may increase his sense of control and make it more enjoyable for him or her.

I encourage everyone here to take what I've written to heart and not only pay more attention to your surrounds but take a reputable self defense class as well. I hope that all of you not only learn some dependable self defense techniques but also learn to get in touch with your aggressive nature because it is primarily your ability to be aware or who and what is around you and your ability to be aggressive and fight when cornered that with keep you safe.

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