Self Improvement — 26 December 2009
How you can reduce the risk of being assaulted

Recent Santa Cruz groping incidents have raised the concerns about the safety of women in a certain areas of the city. Certainly, the police have taken all steps to catch the perpetrator and to restore security to all citizens. In addition, there are some valuable research findings and information that may help people reduce the chances of becoming victimized.

Those who prey on individuals in public have utilized cues to pick their victims. A study conducted by researchers Betty Grayson and Morris Stein used convicted criminals, who have served time for armed robbery, rape and murder, as consultants. The criminals viewed a video of New York pedestrians walking down a busy street, unaware that they are observed. The criminals quickly selected those whom they would pick as their targets. Their choices were not determined by size, gender, age or race, but were based upon “posture, body language, pace of walking, length of stride, and awareness of environment. They are what psychologists call ‘precipitators’, personal attributes that increase a person’s likelihood of being criminally victimized.” Criminals look for people they can easily control and who appear that they will not put up a fight.

Potential victims are people who are distracted (on the phone, preoccupied with finding their way, reading, or unaware of their environment), vulnerable (who are drunk, impaired), submissive (who have a slumped posture, downward gaze, or unsteady pace). Rapists seek women who appear passive, submissive (tend to wear body-concealing clothing in multiple layers). Robbers select people with cocky, condescending attitude and who flaunt material possessions.

The researchers and crime experts emphasized that people who become victims are not responsible in any way for the violence committed against them. They also pointed out that many attacks are random and cannot be prevented by any action taken by those who end up being victimized. They do, however, encourage some awareness that may reduce the chances of being assaulted or harmed during a robbery.

A New York crimes officer once recommended to a group of physicians, who practiced in a dangerous part of the city, ways to avoid being hurt during robbery. “When approached for money, lie down facing the pavement and hand over your wallet. Do not resist, defend yourself or try to reason with the criminal.” Facing down may prevent the robber from fearing you will identify him and thus may reduce his incentive to hurt you physically. Darryl Falls, a convicted armed robber with a record of 100 robberies states: “The quicker you comply and give them the goods, the quicker they’re out of your face.”

In “Psychology Today” article by Chuck Hustmyre, Georgia State University Psychologist, Volkan Topalli, gave the following recommendations on how to reduce your appeal to street criminals:

• “Be Alert” – Look around you and make quick eye contact – but do not stare. “Don’t look scared. Stay off your cell phone.”
• Dress Down – to entertainment events. Park in an attended garage.
• “Walk With Purpose- Look like you know where you are going and how to get there. Don’t ask people on the street for directions.”
• “Don’t let people stop you- if someone tries to ask you something, keep moving. Don’t follow strangers.”
• “Stay in well-lit areas- if you can not avoid walking alone after dark.”
• “Have your keys in your hand when approaching your car. Check the passenger seats before you get in.”
• “Don’t flash money”.
• “Tell someone where you are going- if something happens to you, police can reach you more expediently.

Additional logical tips:

• Stay home while ill or intoxicated.
• Educate yourself about physical safety.
• If attacked – hand over your money but scream and fight for your survival.
• Remember that none of your possessions, your dignity or high moral stance, are worth risking your life or limb.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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