By Jeff Van Pelt
People love to debate how much crime there is in their town, whether it is getting worse, and where it is the worst. A more profitable enterprise is to look at how to avoid being the target of crime wherever you are.
The information in this article could save you from being the victim of a robbery or other violent crime. Unfortunately, it will not reduce the number of crimes – criminals will just move on to an easier target.
There are four principles to remember:
- Increase your awareness of dangerous situations.
- Use your intuition to assess the risk posed by people and situations you encounter.
- Avoid myths and denial that can cause you to let your guard down.
- Become a difficult target for criminals so they move on and leave you alone.
The best way to minimize the likelihood you will be the victim of a robbery is to keep a low profile so as to stay off criminals’ radar screens. When a predator seeks a victim, he first conducts a search. He scouts around for potential victims and looks for the right gender and age, apparent wealth, weakness, the right setting and so forth.
The would-be predator evaluates the environment – are there potential witnesses, can he seal off the victim’s escape routes, etc. He approaches the victim and may begin a conversation aimed at assessing how tough a target they are likely to be, attempting to gain their confidence, to keep them distracted and off guard until he decides the moment is right to strike.
Criminals look for easy victims. They prefer scared, timid people. They don’t want to work too hard, much less get hurt or be arrested. Your job is to look like a tough target. Do this by projecting a confident image, being assertive. Even when an attack is imminent, if you show anger and determination to prevail, to defend yourself, often the criminal will give up and leave. Don’t do this if they show a weapon; give them what they want.
Knowing this, here are some suggestions:
- Walk quickly and with confidence.
- Be vigilant; look straight at people.
- Don’t walk around looking at your phone or listening to music.
- If approached aggressively, be assertive, say “No” and mean it.
- Yell to bystanders, “Ladron! Llame la policia!”
Avoid the kinds of situations criminals look for; that is, where there are not likely to be witnesses or help available, and where they could approach you unnoticed before you could get away. Walk on busy streets or around lots of people when possible. Steer clear of alleys and other places where someone could hide and jump out. If someone in a car or on a motorcycle asks you for directions, answer from a safe distance.
You have probably heard the advice never to give your credit card number or other personal information to someone over the phone unless you placed the call. The logic is simple: the chances of you placing a call and it being a fraudulent outfit are much lower than the chances of a fraudulent outfit placing a call to you. The same holds true when you need directions or other help in public places. The likelihood of you randomly picking a violent criminal off the street to ask for help is much lower than the likelihood that the guy who comes up and offers to help you is a criminal scouting for a victim.
Having done all the preceding, if you have still failed to stay off a criminal’s radar screen, and are being scouted as a potential victim, your best preventive tools are awareness and intuition.
Awareness means paying attention to your surroundings, observing people and their behavior, and noticing anything unusual. Awareness does not equate to being always fearful; in fact, constant, unwarranted fear is counterproductive. It is a focus on what could happen, and as such means you are less aware of what is happening. A sudden feeling of fear is an important cue, but if you are always fearful, that sudden feeling can’t emerge as a clue.
Intuition is unconscious wisdom that processes information instantaneously and can give us cues when danger exists. Gavin DeBecker, in his excellent book The Gift of Fear, tells the following story to illustrate the value of intuition:
“An off-duty airline pilot walked into a convenience store to buy a few things, and for some reason he was suddenly afraid. He didn’t know why he felt fear, but he turned around and walked out. He later learned that a police officer walked into that same store moments after he left, interrupting a robbery in progress, and was shot to death. The pilot’s intuition possibly saved his life. At first, he couldn’t figure out how he knew something was wrong, but he eventually pieced together several bits of information. There was a car with its engine running in the parking lot with two men sitting in it. There was a customer in the store with a heavy coat on even though it was a hot day, under which it turns out he had a shotgun. And when the man walked into the store the clerk gave him a rapid glance then jerked his head toward the other customer. Consciously, all this had registered nothing with him, but unconsciously, through intuition, he had taken it all in, had registered danger, and acted accordingly, saving himself.”
David McRaney in his book You Are Not So Smart writes about something called normalcy bias, which causes us to ignore our intuition in a dangerous situation. He says that your first analysis of any situation is usually to see it in the context of what is normal for you. Because of this, you tend to interpret strange and alarming situations as if they were just part of business as usual. This leads you to ignore important cues that there is danger. “Normalcy bias is stalling during a crisis and pretending everything will continue to be as fine and predictable as it was before.”
This brings us to the next point. For intuition to function for us, we must dispel myths and avoid denial. There are all sorts of myths about violence: It doesn’t happen in this neighborhood, in midday, on Sunday, to innocent people.
Some examples of denial of the risks that may be out there:
- “I don’t want to be afraid to live a normal life.”
- “I hate not trusting people.”
- “He seems really nice; I can trust him.”
- “You can’t predict violence; if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it, so why worry.”
The fact is, crime is often predictable and avoidable if we remain aware of our surroundings and pay attention to our intuition.
Following are some of the “messengers” by which intuition informs us (from The Gift of Fear): nagging feelings, persistent thoughts, unexplained anxiety, curiosity, hunches, doubt, hesitation, suspicion, apprehension, and gut feelings.
Pay attention to this advice and reduce your likelihood of becoming a victim of crime.
Jeff Van Pelt is from Virginia, USA. He earned his master’s degree in applied social psychology from New York University and his doctorate in counseling psychology from the College of William and Mary. He has worked as a psychotherapist, wellness program consultant, and health and psychology writer. Jeff and his wife are retired and have lived in Cuenca since 2013.