Don’t make an easy target. Warning signs and pre-attack indicators are always there. Once you know what to look for, once you begin paying attention, you’ll see them. For example, when on vacation, just because you’re taking time off, the local predators certainly are not.
Look, see, and learn
Like most places with large numbers of tourists, there are predators looking for victims. Quite often you can be walking the streets or sitting on your balcony, watching them operate.
They stand stationery and watch, where the vast majority of people are walking to and from shops, restaurants, and sights. They position themselves so people will have to walk close to them. Or, they approach strangers immediately putting a handout for a handshake or putting an arm around a stranger’s back. Once they get close, they start with a variety of cons, either to get money without physical violence, or to get people to a more isolated location where they can rob them away from witnesses.
Most people are afraid to say “no” when a hustler puts his hand out for a handshake. It’s rude not to reciprocate, and the hustlers rely on that social convention to get close and establish control.
Pay attention to your surroundings, how people behave, what they’re looking at, and where they position themselves in relation to others. You may be surprised by how much you’re able to see. Again, don’t be an easy target.
How to prevent the attack
If you have failed to avoid dangerous places, to increase the risks, and to decrease the rewards enough for a predator to choose another victim, and you see pre-attack indicators, it’s still not too late to prevent the attacker from succeeding. What’s essential to realize in order to maintain control of the situation, is that you do have a choice, and you must make that choice.
Your attacker cannot successfully attack you unless you provide him that opportunity. He cannot control you without you allowing him to do so. The choice is yours, but only if you know that it is. I can’t overemphasize how important it is that you remain in control and make purposeful choices, even if the choice is to comply. Stop, and think about this for a while. Don’t be an easy target.
In addition to the warning signs, there are a number of common pre-attack indicators you should be aware of. One of the most common is the witness check. Before an attack, the perpetrator will know he’s about to do something illegal. He either wants witnesses to see what he’s doing, in the case of violence for status, or he wants to be sure there are no witnesses to see what he’s doing, in most other cases. Many of them will do a witness check right before they launch their attack, looking around to check for witnesses, and some will continuously look for witnesses as the time of the attack gets nearer. If you have a strange feeling about someone, if they’re somewhere they shouldn’t be or doing something they shouldn’t be doing, and they’re looking around frequently, there is likely a problem. Don’t be an easy target. If a stranger has approached you, is within striking distance, and does a witness check, you’re about to be attacked.
Highly skilled predators may operate in groups. Doing so will allow them to hide some pre-attack indicators, but this often creates others. In a team of two or more, the predator in front of you can avoid the witness check for example, by relying on his partner or partners as a look out. One may be approaching you from the front while another walks up from the rear. The man approaching from the front sees what’s behind you, and the man coming from the rear can signal the one approaching from the front if the coast isn’t clear, removing the need for the witness check. It’s also possible for two or more predators to use cell phones for this purpose, as lookouts and to coordinate the timing of their movements.
But when predators operate in groups, they are often all within sight of each other. If you turn a corner and two men, one in front and one behind, begin walking toward you at the same time, it could be a pre-attack indicator. If you’re in an isolated area and one man is leaning against a wall with a phone to his ear, and another is approaching you with a phone to his ear, but neither looks like they’re talking, it may be a pre-attack indicator.
In addition to the witness check, many armed predators will do a weapon check at some distance from the victim, assuming they’re not already holding the weapon (concealed or not). Obviously, the existence of a visible weapon in the hand of an approaching stranger is a very reliable pre-attack indicator. But if the weapon isn’t already being held, the predator may “check” with his hand, touching his weapon (under his clothing or in his pocket) to make sure it’s in position and ready. This quick pat or weapon check should be familiar to most people who carry or have carried a weapon.
The third common check is the victim check, where the attacker surveys the victim as he approaches, to make sure he’s made the right choice and to monitor the victim for a weapon or counterattack. The average, relatively unskilled predator will be obvious with his victim check, looking the victim up and down nervously. A more skilled predator will tend to “zone out” so he can notice everything peripherally without being obvious. However, the average well-meaning stranger will not approach you in such a manner, so the victim check should trigger as a pre-attack indicator in most cases.
As always, there are exceptions. If a predator is sure about his location and victim choice, or if he has no regard for his own safety, he may not do any of the checks.
Some predators may avoid the weapon check by holding a weapon in concealment, in their pocket, behind their back, under their shirt, etc. Pay attention to where a person’s hands are. If one hand is swinging naturally and another appears to be unnaturally placed in concealment, for example, this may be a pre-attack indicator.
Location can also be a pre-attack indicator. Watch for people standing or waiting where they don’t belong, especially in isolated areas. Another key can be in dress. If a person is in a location they don’t fit in, and they’re wearing something that also doesn’t fit, pay attention. Their clothing may be hiding something, or it may reveal they don’t belong in the location they’re in.
One of the best pre-attack indicators is position. For a predator to attack you, he’ll need to get close. When there are few people around, it’s entirely abnormal for a stranger to get too close to you. So, when a stranger attempt to invade your personal space, particularly when there are few people around, it may be a pre-attack indicator. He may also be testing your boundaries or attempting to establish dominance.
Other pre-attack indicators are obvious. When a person begins raising his voice, yelling at you, turning red, making big movements, and being otherwise aggressive, he may be gearing up for an attack. Don’t be an easy target, this is so important. I cannot stress this enough.
Distance is prevention
Distance removes opportunity from the attacker’s equation. It can be used to avoid or escape (leaving, in the previous list of choices) from a potential attack. Maintaining a safe distance, such that a potential threat will need to take at least a few steps in order to reach you, is crucial. It isn’t realistic to assume you can maintain a safe distance from all people at all times, but it’s also unnecessary to do so. In the company of friends, there is no need to maintain a safe distance. In a crowded place, under normal circumstances and where there are no warning signs or pre-attack indicators, it’s also unnecessary (and impossible) to maintain distance. But when you’re in an isolated area, see warning signs, pre-attack indicators, or don’t feel right, you should strive to create as much distance as possible between yourself and any potential threat. Don’t make an easy target.
In isolated areas, you should also keep a safe distance from places an attacker may hide in order to surprise you. Keep your distance from recessed doorways and corners and walk on the side of the street where there are no cars. If someone is approaching and on track to cross your path, cross the street or change direction. Run if you need to.
If you’ve already been approached by a potential attacker, your first choice is still to escape or leave as long as you can do so safely. The key is to do it under the right circumstances, with the right attitude, and at the right time. Many predators will “interview” potential victims, asking questions, violating distance, and watching to see how the target responds. At the interview stage, especially in areas where witnesses are present, where the predator will need to get you to an isolated area first, leaving can be a sign of uncooperativeness, a sign that you will not comply or make a good victim. But in an isolated area where the predator already has the opportunity to attack, leaving may make that opportunity even more attractive. So, the key to leaving as a purposeful strategy, is only to use it during the interview stage, as a sign of active noncompliance.
Another very important point to keep in mind when walking away from a threat, no matter where you are or how many people are around, is to maintain your awareness of the threat’s position and location. Keep your eye on the threat to make sure he’s not coming up behind you. Leaving may seem obvious, but if you don’t purposefully make the choice, you may not do it. Social conventions or fear may stop you from leaving when you should. Understand that leaving is your first choice and make it whenever you can. Don’t make an easy target.
Self-Defense is the key
Whatever situation you may be facing, your chances of staying safe will be greatly increased by a little self-defense knowledge. It could be the chance you need to escape and survive, and sometimes that’s the only chance you need. Do yourself a favor and learn today and remember, don’t be an easy target.