As the faculty sponsor of the Criminal Justice Association, I have been involved in a self-defense course offered by the association and the department of Public Safety. Most of the women in attendance want to learn to defend themselves in case they are attacked. Their fears are justified. We live in a violent society. Criminologists (people who study the causes of crime) have long understood that the most likely violent offender is a young male; that alone tells us that a college campus has a high potential to be a dangerous place if we aren’t careful.
Learning self-defense techniques is a good idea. But it must be realized that such techniques are an absolute last resort. The best technique is never to be put in the position to be a victim in the first place. There are some people who do everything right and still become victims; we cannot perfectly predict human behavior. We can, however, identify things that increase the likelihood of victimization. Being aware of your environment and thinking about your environment are critical.
Noted criminologist Marcus Felson tells us that there are three things that we find in almost every crime: 1) a likely offender, 2) a suitable target and 3) the absence of a capable guardian against the offense. We can’t control this first element. Anyone you meet may be capable of rape or other assaults. The only thing you can do is keep that fact in mind.
The second and third elements you have a great deal of control over. Most violent predators will seek out the weak. Alert people who make eye contact don’t seem as vulnerable as someone who walks with her head down and her arms folder over her chest. Probably the most critical thing to keep in mind is Felson’s idea of the capable guardian. This does not have to be a burly police officer with a small arsenal hung on his belt (of course that is a good one). The most commonly available guardians are everyday people going about their daily lives. Very few predators are willing to commit crimes in the presence of witnesses. Some of the best guardians are your family and friends.
One aspect of the capable guardian is the ability to see you. Don’t aid an attacker by providing camouflage. When out at night, walk in well lighted areas with the highest concentration of people possible. Park your car in an area that is well lit and well traveled at night. If you have a choice between a dark parking lot right beside the building you are going to and a spot farther away where there are people and good lighting, choose to walk that extra distance.
A simple piece of advice that follows from this is to never put yourself in a situation where you are alone with someone you are not completely comfortable with, especially when drugs or alcohol are involved. A group of half a dozen girls at a party is pretty safe. A girl alone at a party involving alcohol and young men is putting herself in danger. Likewise, a girl who allows a man she doesn’t know very well into her apartment is putting herself into danger. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking of predators as Neanderthals and thugs that can easily be identified. A predator is often a smooth talker regarded by causal acquaintances as a “really nice guy.”
By these few examples, I hope to have illustrated that by analyzing the situation you can substantially reduce your odds of being a victim. In every situation, ask yourself, “Who are my guardians?” If there is no one around that can see you or hear your cries for help, you should begin to feel fearful; a predator may have noticed it as well. If you absolutely must be without a capable guardian, at least carry a cell phone. If you are on campus, use that cell phone to call the department of Public Safety and ask for an escort.
© The Voice, 2005
Revised 050415 http://www.uamont.edu/Organizations/TheVoice/2_19/commentary3.htm