Gershon Ben Keren was invited to present a talk at Google, after his book, "Krav Maga: Real World Solutions to Real World Violence" was published. In this talk he outlined many elements and parts of the SEPS framework for predicting and preventing violence. If you are looking to learn more about how to improve your personal safety this is great lecture/presentation to watch.
The SEPS System is a personal-safey/self-protection system; it presents a framework and a set of tools that allow you to predict, prevent, identify and avoid violent situations before they occur. Self-defense systems are those that teach you how to physically defend yourself if you're unable to do this, or if violence is unavoidable. In, "Krav Maga: Real World Solutions To Real World Violence", Gershon Ben Keren, presents physical solutions and techniques to deal with violent assaults. You can get a preview of the book, and purchase it through Amazon by clicking here
In 2013, a young South Boston women was abducted from her home and murdered. SEPS Co-Founder, Gershon Ben Keren was interviewed on NPR abou this, and was asked to prescribe what to do if you were to find yourself in an abduction scenario. To listen to this interview, please click here.
Gershon Ben Keren is regularly interviewed and consulted by the media, on issues of personal safety, security, and self-defense. In this interview he explains how predatory individuals select victims. To watch the interview, please click here.
The world we live in, by and large, is a safe one. Whilst on a day-to-day basis this is good thing, it does mean that we rarely have to consider our personal safety, which means when we do find ourselves in aggressive, violent, and dangerous situations, we are unsure and unaware as to how we arrived at them, and have few, if any, plans and ideas on how to deal with them. It may seem that the best solution to this issue is to learn self-defense, so that we are physically able to deal with such incidents, if we find ourselves in them - however this doesn’t prevent us from experiencing such situations in the first place, and if we are honest with ourselves, that should be our primary goal. It is always much better to not have to deal with a rapist, than to have to fight one off. Whilst knowing how to physically defend yourself is a good thing, perhaps a more important skill to have is the ability to predict, prevent, identify, and avoid danger before it happens; this is the goal of self-protection, and personal safety training.
When you choose a college or university, your personal safety is probably one of the last things you consider, which is understandable. When looking to advance your education, your mind will be on getting into the best educational institution you can – not the safest. Whilst this is perfectly understandable, your personal safety should be a consideration; many women who are raped at college or university, end up dropping out, due to the emotional trauma caused by the assault – if you don’t graduate, then the caliber and standing of the institution you attended will matter little. Your personal safety, should be a factor in every decision you make, including your choice of college or university, and the college or university you are wishing to attend should respect this.
The Clery Act, requires all colleges and universities (that receive federal aid programs) to report on the crimes that are committed on their campuses. One of the stipulations of the act is that all universities and colleges should publish and distribute their crime statistics to existing and prospective students. Take the time to look at the Annual Campus Security Report of any institution you are thinking of attending – the university or college should either give you a link to a webpage or similar, or provide you with a paper copy. Understand that any institution that doesn’t receive federal aid, isn’t obliged to provide you with their crime statistics.
Most people are aware of the phrase, “lies, damn lies, and statistics”, meaning you can make statistics say anything you want, and whilst this is true, few people are very good at doing this. When people try to adjust statistics to tell a different story, they normally adjust them too far e.g. be very wary of crime statistics related to alcohol, that seem extremely low; all universities and colleges have issues with drugs and alcohol; that is just a simple truth - if an institution tries to argue through using statistics that it doesn’t, then it is more than likely they are trying to cover up a larger problem. The Campus Police Department should also conduct itself with a level of transparency, and not be overly defensive of its statistics – if you visit the campus, before deciding whether or not to attend, visit the police department, and ask to see the public log of reported crimes; the log is required, to keep a record or crimes reported in the last 60 days. Make a mental note of the types of crimes, and the frequency with which they are reported so that you can compare them to those of the other institutions you are looking to attend.
The log also records the location of where each crime is committed, and so when you first move on to campus, looking at the records will give you an idea, as to where it might be a bad idea to walk alone, or where it’s inadvisable to park, or leave your bike, etc. If you have accurate information, you can make better personal safety decisions.
Some institutions will not want to make a big deal, concerning crime & personal safety, as they believe bringing up such an issue will only draw prospective student’s attention towards safety concerns and lead them away from selecting their institution as an option – never forget that a college or campus runs as a business and may feel that being transparent on these issues doesn’t help them sell their services to you. If you feel this is the attitude that a particular university or college has, when you ask questions about campus crime and safety, be aware that it is unlikely that they will be supportive if you find yourself a victim of crime. Crime happens, and any institution that tries to argue that it doesn’t, be it seemingly petty thefts, such as textbooks and the like, or more serious types of crime such as sexual assault, is in a state of denial (unfortunately these things happen everywhere), and is probably not to be trusted with dealing with such incidents when they do occur – if you happen to be the victim of a crime at such an institution, it is unlikely that you will be dealt with or treated well.
We are very, very bad at managing and assessing risks: we swing between imagining worst case scenarios, that are unlikely to happen (such as being abducted), and discounting more likely events, such as having something stolen from us because we left said item(s) unguarded/unattended. We exhibit a strange dichotomy when looking at risk, ignoring likely events, and focusing on remote and unlikely ones, simply because the consequences of these are so great: you are more likely to have a text book stolen from you than to be raped – but because the consequences of having a textbook stolen are limited, little thought is given to preventing such a crime. It is easier to fixate upon an unlikely assault such as an abduction, which will probably never happen, than to put in place some simple safety practices, which would protect you from becoming the victim of a textbook theft – even if it does cost you $90 to replace it, etc. Our fixation on worst case, rather than likely, scenarios does us a great disservice.
A mistake people often make about personal safety is that they tend to concentrate on worst case scenarios. It is easy to look at a College or University Campus Spree Shooting incident, and convince yourself that there is nothing you would be able to do in such a situation, and because of this, it’s not worth taking measures to increase your personal safety, because at the end of the day, there’s always something out there that you won’t be able to protect yourself from. By and large, most campus crime involves low-level crimes, such as thefts and burglaries, etc. These are common crimes, which can be prevented relatively easily by some sound security practices. By taking the time to learn how different predatory individuals operate, and the methods they employ, it is possible to identify sexual predators such as rapists and other sexual assailants, and drop off the radar off muggers and other financial predators.
Some crimes are very difficult and often impossible to predict. These are crimes which by and large target groups, and not particular individuals. A College Campus spree shooting, where a student or ex-student goes on a rampage, indiscriminately shooting students and faculty members, is almost impossible for those who encounter the shooter, to predict. The only people who may have had the ability to foresee that a certain student would engage in such in such an action, would be possible friends, and/or professors and lecturers who might have noticed the individual’s actions and behaviors leading up to the event – but even then, it would have been hard for these different individuals to have come together and shared their information and concerns. Fortunately, these types of incidents are rare – and despite not having the ability to predict such events, there are still things you can do to increase your survival chances if you find yourself in a rampage or spree shooting situation.
Violence can be broken down into two basic types: spontaneous and pre-meditated. A spontaneous act of violence occurs when somebody becomes aggressive, and possibly violent, due to your actions and behaviors in the situation, whether real or perceived e.g. somebody might become aggressive with you because you jumped the line of a meal queue, took a parking spot they’d been waiting for, accidentally spilt a drink over them, etc. In each of these situations, the person who has reacted aggressively didn’t come to the situation with the intention of becoming angry and aggressive, but something you have done or that they think you have done – they may have actually knocked into you causing yours or their drink to be spilt – has caused them to become emotional. It is impossible to predict such events, as by nature they are spontaneous. Fortunately, incidents of this nature can usually be dealt with through de-escalation and conflict resolution.
Pre-meditated acts of violence involve predatory individuals who plan and orchestrate their assaults e.g. a rapist or sexual assailant, plans their assault, or orchestrates and takes advantage of a situation, in order to assault a victim. The key thing here is, that they are looking to cause harm to another individual, regardless of the situation, or what their intended victim has or hasn’t done; their actions and behaviors are pre-meditated.
This is something that needs to be fully understood, in order to avoid victim blaming. A rapist who plans their assault can hardly argue that their victim “lead” them on. This doesn’t mean that a victim doesn’t do things which help or facilitate the assailant in making their assault, such as propping open a dorm room door, late at night; however this doesn’t make them to blame for the assault/attack.
All predators have a process that they operate to, and actually make their assaults in stages and phases, which we will look at later. Because a crime and/or assault, follows certain steps, if we are able to identify these, we will be able to predict and move away/disengage from an assault before it occurs. At this stage, it is worth presenting the typical predator profile, so that we can understand exactly who it is that we are trying to protect ourselves from – as well as understanding how such individuals try to disguise themselves, so that we have difficulty identifying them.
Predators are usually socially skilled and adept individuals, who know how to present themselves to us, so that we don’t recognize them for who they are. They are normally polite, often good looking, and do a good job of getting us to think that they are nice people; people we can trust. They are often so skilled at doing this that we find ourselves putting aside our personal safety concerns, such as letting them into our dorm room, or getting a ride with them when in truth we barely know them. It is far easier to identify them by the methods they use, than by the character they present to us. They are also very aware of the ways that we judge character and know how to exploit this to their advantage e.g. most people believe that when someone is lying they will look away, and not make eye contact – predatory individuals know this, and so will keep eye contact when lying, etc.
Predators are different to us: they see the world differently, they interpret other people’s behaviors and actions differently, and generally march to the beat of a different drum when it comes to their relationships with other people. Five common characteristics of predators, and how they differ to normal people, are listed below:
Sexual predators believe that they are entitled to have sex without consent, that their victims have no right to refuse them. Most rapists are smart enough to know not to vocalize this believe but nonetheless they believe it. A mugger believes it is their right to rob people of money and possessions – they may justify it to themselves by making the argument, that it’s not fair that other people have and can afford nice things and that they can’t. Predators when caught, will make many “moral” arguments concerning why it was their right to act in a certain way, and this really only goes to demonstrate their entitled view of the world e.g. many rapists will claim that their victim lead them on, and they weren’t able to control themselves sexually i.e. they were entitled to continue their sexual advances, even when their victim said no or didn’t consent. If someone you know demonstrates a sense of entitlement to life in general, although this doesn’t mean by default they are predator, be aware that they may well have views of entitlement concerning the relationships they have with others, including how they view women and sex.
Entitlement often goes hand-in-hand with a lack of conscience. If a rapist believes they are entitled and right, to continue with sex, after the other person demonstrates that they don’t want to and/or doesn’t offer consent, then it is unlikely that they will feel any guilt or remorse about an assault. This can be very confusing for women who are assaulted by friends and acquaintances, who feel that the people they know should feel sorry for what they have done, and at the very least apologize for the physical and emotional stress they are enduring. To see their assailant walking around campus without a care in the world, as if nothing ever happened can be extremely distressing. The fact is, predatory individuals have no conscience concerning what they have done, or about the individuals they did it to. They are not like us, and we shouldn’t expect them to act like us.
Violence gets easier over time. The first time a financial predator, such as a mugger, put a knife to a victim’s stomach and demanded their wallet, they were probably nervous and, at least internally, shaking like a leaf. By the 10th or 20th time, a lot of those nerves will have gone or disappeared. A sexual predator, after several assaults, will experience a similar calming of the nerves, and be far more confident in their assaults. For most of us, violence is a shocking thing, but for those who regularly engage in it, the shock value diminishes. If someone tries to sexually assault you, especially if it is someone you know, don’t be surprised at how calm and collected they may appear to be; if they have a history of this type of violence, it won’t be as nerve wracking for them as it was the first time.
Predators believe that their own entitlement allows them to operate above the law. They may also recognize that, in many situations, the law is oftentimes powerless to act, especially if there are large elements of doubt regarding a particular crime. A sexual predator, operating on campus, will know that at parties where there is alcohol they can always make the argument that their victim doesn’t correctly remember what happened – if their victim was seen by others going into a bedroom, or separate room, with them willingly, they may try and make the argument that the sex was consensual, and that their victim later regretted what she had done, and so brought the charges against them. Many victims fail to make allegations against their assailants because they understand the many different ways in which they might not be believed – rapists understand this and exploit it. Many criminals have experience dealing with the police, understand the legal process, and don’t have much regard for either.
One of the ways that predators differ from us, is that they have a plan as to how to deal with us, whilst we don’t have a plan as to how to deal with them (hopefully after working through the course modules this will change). Also, predators update their plans, based on their experiences. A non-student sexual predator, who preys on campus students, may have learnt from a previous assault that it was unwise to park on campus property where the campus police might be able to recognize that a car parked in a parking lot was not regularly parked there. It might take a few weeks of a new college year, but Campus Police are fairly good at learning who new students are, and what vehicles are regularly in the campus parking lots. Local criminals often realize this and spend the first few weeks of a new semester and year, targeting students, knowing that after those initial few weeks, it is likely that the campus police know who is and who isn’t a student, and that they’ll be easily spotted. Extra vigilance is essential in the first few weeks of a New College Year, or semester.
Predators are not like us, and we should accept that. We don’t need to try to understand why someone acts and behaves in a certain way, we just need to understand that they do, and that this separates them from us. Predators are entitled individuals, with no conscience, who have probably committed crimes and assaults before, with little regard for the legal consequences of their actions, and who plan and revise their plans in order to use us to satisfy their different motives.
There are five situational components present in any violent act. These are:
The three most important of the components to understand are: location, relationship and motive. If a woman is abducted on campus, it’s naturally assumed that all women on campus are at risk. However, if it is later discovered that the person who abducted the student was an ex-boyfriend from the neighboring town, then the location where the assault happened, is a secondary factor to the relationship the victim had with their assailant (this isn’t to say you shouldn’t be extra vigilant, when crimes of this nature are committed, but that the two key aspects of any assault are location and relationship).
Motive normally targets one of two things: you or your possessions e.g. a rapist targets you, a mugger targets your wallet. In general, if violent criminals, such as armed muggers, want things you have, it is better to acquiesce and hand over whatever they want. Whilst there is a chance you’ll get stabbed or shot after you hand whatever it is over, it is a guarantee that your attacker will cause you harm if you don’t. If somebody is armed, and demands your phone, laptop, or money, hand it over - don’t do a mental calculation of the value of your goods, and base your decision on that – it doesn’t matter if it’s $1 or $1000, your ability to handle the situation is the same e.g. you don’t develop better skills, and more options to deal with your assailant(s) as the worth of your goods increases.
There is a huge difference between a friend and an acquaintance, and this often gets blurred on campuses. The person you room with might not be your friend, but merely someone you room with, and yet it can be really easy to forget this distinction. A classmate, who you’ve gone to a few lectures with, is a classmate, not necessarily a friend, which can easily be forgotten when they ask you out on a date, etc. It is easy to trust people by default who have behaved in one role, to behave the same in another.
If somebody asked you if you’d get into a car with a stranger, your automatic and knee-jerk response would be to say no. One of the first pieces of personal safety advice we receive from our parents is, don’t get into a car with a stranger. The situation(s) your parents were trying to protect you from, and spelled out to you, were ones in which a stranger in a car, pulled up to your front yard, or another place where you were playing, and offered to take you to see some puppies, etc, if you got in the car. In our heads, when we think about not getting into a stranger’s car, we are still thinking about a complete stranger pulling up next to us and asking us to get in. Predators who prey on adults have to be a little more subtle about the ways they get prospective victims into their cars.
Imagine a situation where a classmate who you’ve seen in class before asks you on a date and offers to pick you up in their car; are they a friend, an acquaintance or a stranger? One of the safest definitions of a stranger is, a person who you don’t have any experience of, or know how they’ll behave, in a particular situation. You know how your classmate will behave in a classroom, or campus setting, you don’t know how they’ll behave in a social or dating setting i.e. they’re basically a stranger. Would you get into a car with a stranger? Far better for you to arrange to meet your date at a particular location, than accept a ride from someone you’ve never been alone with before. Understand that in 95% of situations, accepting a ride to a date is not going to result in anything bad happening, but it really isn’t worth playing the numbers game when it comes to personal safety – meeting your date there and arranging your own transport back is a much safer way to go.
Predatory individuals are extremely good at disarming you. Maybe you have arranged to meet your date at a restaurant, choosing somewhere well lit, and telling a friend where you are, etc. - all good, sensible personal safety steps to take. Over the course of dinner, you find yourself really liking your date (remember predatory individuals are usually skilled social players who can present themselves as nice and trustworthy). As the dinner draws to a close, your date says, “this has been a really great evening. I think your amazing, and it would be a shame to end the evening here. I know a great bar, a few miles across town; why don’t we grab a quick drink, and finish the evening there? We’ve both got classes tomorrow, so we don’t need to make it a late one.” The offer seems genuine, and sensible e.g. the acknowledgement of classes tomorrow.
Let’s say you drove to the restaurant in your own car, or borrowed a friend’s. As you walk to your respective cars, your date says, “tell you what, why don’t we take my car, it’s not the easiest place to get to and I can be designated driver.” Your date has just put you in a very difficult position. You’ve already accepted the offer of a drink, and everything he is saying makes sense; refusing the offer would seem rude, ungrateful and without any good practical reason. This is something many predators do; they will put you in a situation where your only possible objection concerns your personal safety – and nobody wants to accuse the person they are with, of having harmful intent towards them. In most cases, people will accept the ride, feeling uncomfortable with the whole situation. Dates are strangers, until you get to know them better - and they should be treated as such. They know how to get you into their cars, etc., and it isn’t by offering to show you puppies, but by making you feel rude and socially awkward if you don’t.
A stranger is someone who you don’t know how they’ll act and behave in a particular setting e.g. the quiet guy in class could be a monster at the bar, etc. The polite classmate could become the pushy, pressurizing, predator when you’re on your own, etc. Everybody is basically a stranger until they are a friend.
The more prepared you are for the possibility that you may be targeted by a predator, the more likely you will be able to deal with the situation, if it occurs. There are many people who live their lives in a state of denial, believing that because something hasn’t happened to them before, there is no chance of it happening, at all. I have heard many people argue that because they’ve walked home, or gotten into unlicensed taxis, when drunk, and nothing has happened to them, that these things are safe to do. The problem is that the more often individuals engage in risky activities without suffering an adverse consequence, the more likely they are to believe that what they’re doing isn’t potentially dangerous; walking home on your own late at night after drinking heavily doesn’t matter, until it does. Leaving/propping the door of your room open whilst you’re taking a shower, doesn’t matter, until it does. If your state of mind is one where you believe you can act and behave how you want without putting yourself at risk, you will be caught off guard on the occasions you do encounter danger.
Some people are too frightened to consider or think about the situations they may face, and so ignore them. They don’t want to have to think about a friend of theirs trying to have forced sex with them, or having to encounter an armed mugger, etc. What they fail to see is that thinking about these things, and learning how to prevent them, is empowering, rather than debilitating. If you take the time to understand how sexual predators operate, and learn to identify the methods they employ, you don’t have to imagine yourself in a scenario where somebody is trying to rape you, as you will understand all the steps that lead up to such a moment, and how to avoid being in that situation. Violence can be a scary thing to think about, however not thinking about it means living your life in fear, and with a constant underlying anxiety.
You may believe that you shouldn’t have to think about your personal safety, that the responsibility for all crimes and assaults belong to criminals and assailants. To a degree, I agree with you. A sexual assailant is responsible and to blame for a rape, not their victim. However, that thought is of little comfort to the victim who is dealing with the trauma and consequences of a sexual assault. Unfortunately, in the world we live in, there will always be men who rape. There is a lot that can and should be done on college and university campuses to change and educate male student’s attitudes towards women, and change campus culture, however there will always be those men, regardless of the information and education they receive (and the potential punishments they may get), who will believe they are entitled to have sex with women, whether they are willing or not. No amount of education or shift in culture will change that. Unfortunately, this means we have to take steps to protect ourselves if we want to avoid becoming a victim.
Your state of mind is your greatest personal safety asset, and whilst you should not turn yourself into a paranoid individual who is paralyzed by fear, you should have a healthy understanding of what puts you at risk and what doesn’t, and learn to mitigate these risks in your daily life. When we learn how violent situations develop, we can understand how to avoid them.
We generally feel safer with others than when we are on our own, however when we are on our own our levels of awareness are much higher (our situational awareness also drops when we are in crowds). There is a big difference between feeling safe and being safe. Whilst it’s true that walking late at night with a friends means that you are less likely to be approached or targeted by the lone sexual assailant looking for a single victim, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be targeted by a group of armed muggers looking to rob you – the more of you there are, the more cash they’ll likely get.
It might also mean that because you’re talking to and focused on your friend, you fail to notice the group, or understand that they’ve synchronized their movement to yours (Predatory individuals have a distinct process they follow, and this is explained in module 3).
You should also acknowledge, be aware, and recognize, that you may have friends who compromise your personal safety. If you are with a friend who has had a few drinks and wants to get into a car with some strangers, you may feel obliged to do the same, as you don’t want to leave them alone in this situation (friendship and loyalty are admirable things, but they cut both ways). These are conversations that you need to have with your friends before these situations occur, as at the time you may find your loyalty to your friend outweighing your safety goals. You may also want to make plans if you have friends who tend to make bad decisions, to make sure that you don’t find yourself in the position of always being the one who takes responsibility for their actions and behaviors e.g. arrange to make your own way to and from any social events you both attend, letting them be responsible for theirs. You may also want to try educating them somewhat to the ways in which the things they do puts them at risk – don’t be surprised though if your efforts are not appreciated.
There is also a huge difference between having someone with you, and talking to somebody on a mobile phone. Many people when they are walking alone and feeling anxious, nervous, or generally uncomfortable, will phone a friend to make them feel better and safer. It might be that one of the reasons they feel safer is because somebody knows where they are. Unfortunately, just because someone knows where you are doesn’t mean they’ll be able to get any practical help to you. Imagine you are talking to someone and you are grabbed by an assailant, knocking your phone to the floor. What do you think the reaction of your friend on the other end of the phone will be? It’s likely that they’ll spend a few seconds, asking you if you’re ok, they’ll then probably hang up and try calling you again. When you don’t pick up, they’ll start deliberating what to do, maybe telling themselves that your battery probably went dead, etc. They may eventually call the Campus Police, if they know or can remember the number. None of this is because they are a bad friend, they just don’t have a plan, so they don’t know what to do. Let’s say they immediately call the police. It is going to take them longer to get to you than it will take for your assailant to assault you. Violent assaults, including rape, can happen in a few seconds (a woman on a New York Subway train was raped between two stops, in an assault that took under 10 seconds – her assailant was already aroused when he attacked her, lifting up her skirt, and pulling down her underwear).
If you feel that you want to call somebody because you feel scared, you should recognize that something in your environment has caused you to feel this way, and rather than simply deny it, you should try and identify what it is. It could be that you’re approaching the end of a street, where somebody seems to be waiting. Rather than deny your fear, you should try and understand if the threat is real, and come up with a plan for dealing with it e.g. crossing the road, turning back, putting some form of barrier such as a parked car between you and them, etc. This is far more effective and practical, than phoning a friend (who isn’t in your location with you) and asking for their advice, which might be, “walk past him, and stay on the phone with me, he won’t attack you if he thinks somebody knows where you are”; every predatory individual knows that they can do what they want to you before your friend does anything, so trying to ignore them by being on the phone is no deterrent – if you think a rapist is going to respect the social convention of not interrupting someone when they are on the phone, you are very much mistaken. If you feel scared or frightened, there is a reason, and you need to identify and deal with that reason, rather than tell yourself that you because you don’t like this feeling, you should phone somebody to make you feel better.
A lot of people don’t understand that there’s a huge difference between talking to a passenger whilst you are driving and talking to someone on the phone. A passenger sitting next to you is watching the same things as you are, they are aware of your environment e.g. if they are talking and a car suddenly pulls out in front of you, their voice will change, as they experience a moment of fear. There change of voice/tone will confirm or draw your attention to the danger. If you are talking on the phone when the car pulls out, the person on the other end will continue talking normally. The problem with this is that your eyes are telling you danger, and your ears are telling you the opposite. Hearing a calm voice, from a friend who is safe in their dorm room, will take you out of your environment and into theirs – which is one of the reasons why you feel safer – and will thus lower your awareness of what is happening around you.
Your mobile phone is a great personal safety asset. The Campus Police will give you a ride anywhere on Campus. If you’re coming back from the library late at night, call them for a ride. But stay off your phone when you walk, and don’t use it as a means of making you “feel” safer, when there’s a potentially dangerous situation that needs to be dealt with. If you are with friends and other third parties, be aware that although you and your group are not going to be targeted by certain predators, such as rapists, you may attract the attention of muggers, aggressive panhandlers, etc.
People who have been assaulted will often say that their assailant came out of nowhere, and it was all very sudden. In certain instances this may be the case, however in most violent assaults, people experience warning signals beforehand; it’s whether they are able to interpret these signals or not which lessens or increases their survival chances. Violence happens along a timeline, and when we understand this, we have a better chance of successfully dealing with it. The Timeline is broken down into five stages. These are:
In the Non-Conflict phase, there is no identifiable harmful intent towards you in your environment; there is nothing to react or respond to. If we adopt good personal safety strategies into our lives, such as keeping our room locked, making sure we always take our possessions with us, that we avoid excessive drinking at parties, and are known for setting strong social boundaries and sticking to them, we are unlikely to attract the attention of those that might mean us harm, and so can live the majority of our lives in this relaxed state. It doesn’t mean that we have to cut ourselves off from the world, just that we need to know what danger looks like, and be able to respond to it, when it’s encountered.
A gazelle can graze peacefully within 20 yards of a sleeping lion – its natural predator. It is fully aware of the posture(s), actions, and behavior of a lion that has no intention of moving, and one that is about to hunt. It may seem strange to us to think of a prey animal being in such close proximity to its primary predator, but the gazelle knows when it is safe and when it is in danger; if the lion’s behavior changes, it will put as much distance between it and itself as it can, but until then – if the grass is good, it will graze.
We should aim to be like the gazelle. If there is no danger present, we should remain in a “Non-Conflict” state, where our heart-rate and blood pressure are normal, and where our blood stream is clear/free of adrenaline. This is a very different state to being hyped-up and over-vigilant, which is what many people believe being aware is. To be aware and pick up on danger, you need to be in a relaxed state, where you are open to what is going on around you.
As you are reading this, you are probably not consciously aware that you are wearing clothes, or of the background noise in your room or wherever you are. Although your brain is subconsciously processing all of these things e.g. the clothes against your skin (once you think about it, you can feel them), it would be distracting to have to consciously process all of this information, whilst focusing on whatever it is you are doing. This is why your subconscious doesn’t alert you to these things; they’re largely irrelevant and don’t affect you in any way. There are things that your subconscious will alert you to, and that’s anything that could affect your personal safety. Most of us have had the sensation at some time, when walking, that we were being followed - we hear footsteps behind us. What has happened here, is that your subconscious fear system, which is processing things that are going on in your environment, has picked up on somebody’s footsteps that might be approaching too fast, or have fallen in to step with yours, and has given you a shot of adrenaline both to alert you and to prepare you for a possible attack/assault. You are now in the Conflict Aware stage.
Our “Fear System” is one of our first emotional systems to develop (we are born with flinch reactions that are triggered by sudden noises and erratic movements). Our DNA recognizes that our safety is paramount and should be our first preserve, and has does its best to educate itself concerning the behaviors and actions of others, which may contain harmful intent, such as someone walking in a determined fashion towards us, or picking up on a person’s footsteps behind us (different synchronizations of movement). The important thing to understand is that our fear system is constantly running in the background, subconsciously identifying things “of interest” in our environment, and then filtering them out if they don’t appear dangerous.
Two 19th Century Scholars, William James and Carl Lange, working independently, came to similar conclusions about how our fear system operates – this is now referred to as the James-Lange theory. Most people naturally think that the order of events when scared is as follows: You see a bear, you become afraid, and because of the fear for your safety, you run. Both James and Lange postulated that this wasn’t in fact the order of events and what really happens is as follows: You see a bear, you start to run, and because you are running, you recognize/understand that you are afraid. In effect what they are suggesting is that it is due to a change in your emotional state that you recognize you are in danger, not because you first consciously identify the threat.
In the Conflict Aware stage you have become adrenalized – your emotional state has changed - and know that there are signs signaling a potential danger. What you don’t know is if the danger is real, and, if real, whether it is directed at you. It could be that the person who is walking behind you is in a hurry, and whilst rapidly advancing footsteps behind you are a warning sign, in this case the intent behind the movement is non-violent, and not directed towards you. Imagine that instead of hearing footsteps behind you, you hear a lot of shouting, and angry noises; you know there is obviously danger in your environment, but you don’t yet know if the angry and aggressive voices are directed at you, or somebody else.
When you become adrenalized and recognize that your fear system has been triggered, you may well go into a state of denial, and get caught in the denial and deliberation loop. If you’ve ever felt that somebody was walking behind you, your first reaction was probably to tell yourself that you were being stupid and/or that you were imagining it. This is denial. Part of this comes from our belief that bad things happen to other people and not to us e.g. other people are likely to be targeted for a sexual assault, not us. The other reason that we are quick to go into denial is that it is emotionally easier for us to ignore the threat and not thinking about it than to try and deal with it. When people in bed hear noises downstairs, they may initially be scared, but as soon as their house goes silent again, they relax and tell themselves that they were imagining it – it will take a fair amount of further noise for them to convince themselves to do anything, and many people will just stay in their room, hoping that nobody comes into it. If you are living in a house where this might happen, and your door doesn’t have a lock on it, buy a security door wedge that you can wedge under your door at night.
Denial is a very strong state of mind, and easy to get stuck in. When the second plane, hit the second tower on 9/11 as part of the terror attacks that occurred that day, the average evacuation time was around 7 minutes. That is, on average, people stayed at their desks for 7 minutes after the plane hit, before actually leaving. These were people that were aware that a plane had flown into the first tower, and had felt their building shake when the second plane hit their tower, some even had friends and family call them, telling them what had happened. Despite all the information they received, they still were in a state of denial as to the danger they were in. This is not to judge those that took their time evacuating the building, or never left their desks, etc. - it just goes to show how strong denial is.
The difference between the Conflict Aware phase and the Pre-Conflict phase, is that you know that the threat is real and it is directed towards you.
After you come out of denial – maybe you keep hearing noises downstairs, or the footsteps behind you are getting louder – you will enter the deliberation phase, thinking of all the things you could possibly do. The problem is that you will start to compare the different options you have, trying to decide which one is best. Imagine that you are walking home from having had some drinks in a friend’s room, and you pick up that someone is following you. Initially, you think you’re being stupid, however when you change your pace slightly, they change theirs, and when you cross the road, they cross too. Understanding that the threat/danger is real, you start to run through some solutions, and you come up with the following list of alternatives:
The problem is that our normal method of decision making is to compare all the different options against each other, and select the best e.g. you compare the option of running against the other four, then you compare the next option to running, and the other three, etc. This process of comparison is slow and time consuming. Rather than look for the best option, you should choose the first effective solution, and act on it e.g. if running would work, run. This is how you make effective decisions under high stress and duress i.e. choose the first effective solution, and do it.
You should also understand that you will not want to act on your decision. In 2013, a young South Boston woman called Amy Lord, was beaten in her home, and then taken to a number of ATMs to withdraw money before eventually being murdered. CCTV (Closed Circuit TV) footage showed her getting out of her abductor’s car, going to an ATM, and then returning to the car. One of the common questions that was asked was why she didn’t run, why she got back into the car with her assailant. There are a number of possible reasons - she could have been drugged up, her attacker might have told her that they had a friend or family member as a hostage, etc.; however another possible one is that whilst she was withdrawing money, she wasn’t being hurt, or experiencing pain. The human condition is one which will do anything to avoid pain in the present, even if because of this, pain in the future is inevitable. If you are being followed by someone, and you have confirmed they are following you, you will need to act, however acting could cause the person following you to initiate their attack, and so you will convince yourself that your best cause of action is to do nothing. If a threat or danger is real, you have to act.
It may be if it’s a spontaneous act of aggression - e.g. somebody has become aggressive towards you because you have spilt a drink over them - that you can deescalate the situation. It may be that running away from your aggressor allows you to avoid a physical conflict, or that by handing over your wallet, a mugger doesn’t stab you. However, depending on the situation, a physical confrontation may not be avoidable, and now you enter the Conflict stage.
It could be that such a situation is unfortunately inevitable. It may be that you have invited someone back to your room for sex, but during the course of events you have decided that you no longer want to sleep with them, and when you inform them of this, they become aggressive towards you. You are now alone in your room with someone who has harmful intent towards you. It may be that you have no choice but to engage in a physical confrontation. The goal of such a confrontation should be to extricate yourself from your room, and call campus police, in order for your aggressor to be removed – don’t think that you should try and physically force a stronger, bigger aggressor from your room; your job is simply to get to safety. Despite initially wanting to sleep with them, if you change your mind, and they don’t respect that, then they are committing an act of rape.
The Post-Conflict phase covers both the immediate stages after an assault, which may see you left hurt or injured, as well as the long-term effects.
A physical confrontation can see you coming away unharmed (the way we would always like to imagine it would go), or harmed to a varying degree. It may be that the environment you are in isn’t safe e.g. you were raped or sexually assaulted at a fraternity party, whilst asleep (due to over consumption of alcohol or because someone spiked your drink), and have woken up half dressed in somebody’s room. In such a situation, you must try and find your clothes and leave, as it is not a safe environment for you to be in. It could be that you were sexually assaulted in your room, and your attacker is still there; either way the environment you are in is not a safe one, and you should exit it.
Take some time when you arrive on Campus to check out the women’s resource center (or Campus Health Center) to get an overview of what the process would be if you were to be raped or sexually assaulted. It may seem a bit extreme, but having an idea beforehand, will make it easier to go through the process, and know what your options are, than when you are emotionally distraught after being sexually assaulted. This will also allow you to be of assistance to any of your friends who may be raped or assaulted.
The reason it is worth understanding the process, is that you can decide to take a couple of routes with sexual assaults. You can decide to report to either your college, the police or both. Your college/university has a responsibility under Title IX, to protect your sexual rights and freedoms. If you are raped or sexually assaulted, your college/university will have to investigate what happened; this is not from a criminal perspective, but from a personal one, with the aim of making sure that you are both physically and emotionally safe, and best able to continue your education. It could be that this sees your assailant expelled from the college, however if you pursue this route alone, no criminal charges will be brought against them. You can choose instead (or as well) to report the incident to the police, who will then investigate the incident as a criminal act, which could see the case going to court, and your attacker being prosecuted and facing a prison sentence. At the end of the day, nobody can tell you which route to take.
If you do decide you want to involve the police, then understand that everything will be looked at from a legal perspective (not necessarily from the viewpoint of what is actually right and wrong), which means early reporting will help your case considerably. Many lawyers/attorneys defending sexual assailants will often try and call into question your testimony, if time passed between the assault and when it was reported to the police. This isn’t fair or right, but it is how the legal system works.
One thing you should understand about any violent encounter, even if it is something like a mugging, where you come away unharmed after handing over your wallet, is that afterwards you will experience a mix of emotions and anxieties, that may last anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months. If you experience these things for more than a couple of weeks, you should seriously consider attending some form of counselling to talk and work these feelings through.
Predatory individuals are skilled social players who know how to twist your view of them around, so that you see them as someone you can trust and rely on, and not somebody who wants to harm you. One of the ways they do this is by testing your boundaries, and finding ways round them, or identifying gaps in them. They will often try to get you to change your mind, cave in to a request, or see how you respond when they put you under pressure. If you have ever had a conversation with somebody where you felt like they were chip, chipping away, at every objection you had to a request, you are dealing with somebody who is testing your boundaries.
As you work through the modules in this short course, learning how different predators think and act, start to think about how you could set boundaries that wouldn’t allow somebody to socially take advantage of you - and that is what these individuals will have you do, before they make a physical assault. From reading this foundational module, you should have a good idea as to the complexities of violent situations, and the things which may compromise your personal safety e.g. friends you socialize and mix with, who have no consideration for their own safety. You should also have come away with a good understanding of how to predict, prevent, identify and avoid violence, before it occurs.