When it comes to bullying and being attacked or mugged on the street, confidence (or the appearance of) is really important. Individuals can be chosen as victims depending on how they walk, where they look, their body language signals and other nonverbal communication that they broadcast subconsciously. The more that someone appears to be confident, and looks like they know what they are doing, the less of a target they seem to be.
“Potential victims may be signalling their vulnerability to would-be assailants through gestures, postures, and exaggerated movements” - Attracting Assault - Victims Nonverbal Cues - Grayson Stein
Appear to be Confident
This statement is supported in a classic study carried out in New York by Betty Grayson and Morris Stein in 1981. It is just as true in today’s society as it was then. In the study convicted felons were shown videos of various people walking down the street and then asked to identify who they would consider mugging or attacking. A significant majority chose the same people. When studying the chosen individuals, it could be seen that there was a common theme in terms of outward appearance and body language. For example, they looked ill at ease or apprehensive, looking at the ground and not making eye contact with anyone else. Other key indicators included a short or shuffling stride as if unsure of where they were going – all these things leading to the attacker’s belief that they were not confident and would not put up much of a struggle.
Mobile phones, tablets, laptops and headphones
Teenagers (and adults too) can be seen everywhere looking at their phone or with headphones on as they walk around the streets. There are two really important issues here:
1) if you are totally focused on looking at what is in your hand, you will not be aware of your surroundings
2) if your hearing is ‘blocked’ by music, you will not hear someone running up behind you, or someone shouting, or a car screeching to a halt
Lack of awareness of your surroundings not only makes you a potential target, but also makes you more vulnerable to accidental injury from cars, bikes, or other pedestrians.
Not displaying or ‘wearing your wealth’ was another element of the 1981 study, as it was given as another reason for the muggings. When possible have your phone in your pocket or carry your laptop/tablet in a bag rather than have them in your hand.
In November 2018, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies released a report on the evidence and reasons for the increase in knife violence amongst young people in the UK. It is a factual reality of our current society that muggings and threats of violence towards young people not only exist, but show no signs of decreasing and therefore need to be taken into account when we educate our teenagers.
In the unfortunate situation of being mugged or threatened for your possessions, the best thing to do is to hand over your phone or wallet while backing away and gaining space, whilst being confident but non-threatening. There have been several self-defence articles in the past that have suggested throwing your wallet or phone to the floor and then running in the opposite direction. This is not necessarily the right course of action as it runs the risk of angering the attacker. Remember they have an internal script outlining their perfect outcome - any departure from this is going to create frustration which can often worsen the situation.
As long as the attacker only wants your possessions, and is not looking to physically harm you or force you to go anywhere with them, just calmly hand over whatever it is they want. Struggling, fighting or creating a problem is only going to escalate the scenario and the best result is one where you walk away safely – money and possessions can be replaced.
Be Fit and Healthy
Quite apart from anything else, being able to run away from a situation, if necessary, is a useful skill to have! Good health, nutrition and fitness also have many other well researched benefits including physical confidence and an improvement in posture, which as previously mentioned are vital to avoid having the ‘look’ of a victim.
Self Defence Training
Good self-defence training can help by developing the skills required to deal with situations, practising what to do in a confrontational scenario and helping to build the confidence required to talk calmly under pressure. Emotions run very high in potentially violent situations and being able to create a plan of action on the spot is virtually impossible.
There are several different types of self-defence training. Krav Maga is a highly effective system that focusses on developing strategies for self-defence scenarios so that, in the unlikely event that you are involved in a confrontation, you have a much greater chance of escaping the situation.
Remember the 3 P’s – Prevention, Preparation and Practice
Use your common sense to Prevent situations from ever happening, but in case they do, make sure you are Prepared by engaging in some training where you can Practice self-defence scenarios.
Be Aware and Use your Common Sense
Examples of suitable strategies:
• If you don’t know the person coming up to speak to you, just calmly keep on walking.
• If someone invites you over to a car window to see a cheap deal on a phone – don’t go!
• If someone appears to be hanging around you as you approach an ATM, walk on and go to a different one.
• If you think you are being followed, cross the street or enter a shop.
• Have your keys ready as you approach your front door
• Tell your friends/family where you are going (or use a tracking app like Life360)
• When walking at night, avoid shaded or overgrown areas
All good common sense reactions but they do all rely on having an awareness of your surroundings - something that can be taught, trained and practised – and not compromised by wearing headphones or looking at a phone screen.
Key Points to Be Safe when Walking
• Avoid listening to music
• Don’t play with your smart phone
• Keep valuables out of sight
• Look around with your head up and stride confidently
• Use well lit and populated routes
• Know where you are going before you start
• Travel in a group if possible
Useful Apps and Information
• Life360 – Lets your family access your current location
• What3words – Precise geolocation tool
• Call 999 – then 55 if you cannot talk
Written by Simon Pither, a 2nd Degree Black Belt with the European Federation of Krav Maga who has been teaching self-defence since 1994. He currently runs clubs in Brixton, Tulse Hill, Gipsy Hill and Hoxton. kravdefence.co.uk, 020 8432 2023, firstname.lastname@example.org