Thursday, November 8, 2007

Survival: The First Rule of Self Defense

Today's Washington Post has a frightening story about a woman who was abducted at gunpoint, driven around town, robbed, and raped.

But there's good news here: The woman survived and she remembered crucial facts about her attackers, facts that enabled a good police officer to find and arrest them.

According to The Post story, one of the attackers told the woman that his mother had just died and that they were going to bury her the next day. Prince George's County (Maryland) Detective Sherry Prince jumped on that fact, and, because she knew the area, called the right funeral home. The man was arrested after the funeral.

This is, of course, the kind of attack women worry about the most: Being grabbed by strangers out of the blue. And this one took place at 8:50 in the morning, near a subway stop -- a time and place most of us tend to feel safe.

There are many factors we don't know -- were other people around, were the men hiding, did the woman dismiss any bad feeling she had about them because it was morning and they were young guys? But here's one important thing we can glean from the newspaper story: The woman who was attacked kept her head the whole time. Note these facts:
  • She was able to give the police a thorough description of the rapists.
  • When the man told her about the funeral -- the kind of detail that people aren't likely to make up -- she paid attention and remembered to tell the police.
  • And -- perhaps most important -- she figured out how to go along with the attackers so that they did let her go.

That last point is important. We don't know how she did that, and perhaps she doesn't know either. Maybe she could just tell that these men weren't killers and likely wouldn't cross that line unless she did something to make them think she was a threat. Maybe she did something that allowed them to think she was having a good time, so that it never occurred to them that she would go to the police.

What I am sure of is that she figured out how to survive. And that's the bottom line. Rape is a horrible crime; armed robbery is terrifying. But surviving it -- and not just surviving it, but coming away with enough information to get the attackers arrested -- that's a victory.

Remember, the core principles of self defense apply even if you're in a terrible situation, such as this woman was. If you've been abducted, you really have to stay calm, pay attention, be flexible, and trust your instincts: You're sizing up the attackers and watching for opportunity. You may really want to spit in the face of the man who's hurting you, but if your instinct tells you he'll let you go if you pretend he's a nice guy, follow your instinct.

And always remember: It's not the victim's fault. If you're attacked, it may be important for your future self protection to figure out what -- if anything -- you could have done to prevent it, but even if you find something you could have done better, the attack was not your fault.

A criminal attack is always the fault of the attacker. The purpose of self defense is to limit your vulnerability to criminals, not to make you responsible for their bad actions.

No comments: