SEPS Co-Founder Gershon Ben Keren's Personal Safety Google Talk

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.

Self-Defense Books

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

Interviews & Media

NPR/WBUR Interview With Gershon Ben Keren

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.

SEPS Personal Safety on Fox News

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.

Module 3 - Thefts, Robberies & Muggings

Preventing Thefts, Robberies & Muggings on Campus

Living on Campus - Halls of Residence

If you are staying in Halls of Residence on campus, and possibly sharing a room with others, it is worth remembering that your room, and the building, you are living in is not the same as your parent's house. At your parent's house, you could leave items unattended, and didn't have to think about people stealing your possessions. Now that you are living away from home, you need to change your mindset somewhat. It is natural to think that everybody, starting their first year of university, is just like you, however unfortunately this is not the case, and it is likely that you will cross paths with people who will not think twice about taking your laptop if it is left unattended, and/or even stealing your school/text books.

Textbooks are one of the most regularly stolen items on college campuses. Many students find them a high expense item, and so if they see a book left unattended they may be tempted to take it. Many students will not mark the books with their names as this reduces their value if they choose to sell them back to the college or university bookshop at the end of the year or semester, however this obviously makes them an easier item to steal. Buying or renting electronic copies is one way of reducing the risk of having your books stolen.

From the moment you step on campus, you should get into the habit of not leaving your possessions unattended. This includes when you and/or your parents are unpacking your things. It may be inconvenient to keep locking the car, and not leaving doors propped open as you transfer your belongings from the car to your room, however criminals who live in or near to university towns, know this routine, and are often present and looking for unsuspecting targets, when new students move in.

You should also avoid leaving your property unattended when you are in common areas around the university. It may seem a hassle to pack up your books and computer when you will only be gone a few minutes, such as to get a coffee, or go to the bathroom, however this is as long as it takes for somebody to take off with your belongings. At first glance, it may seem that asking somebody to keep an eye on your things whilst you are gone is a sensible option. However, most people try and avoid confrontation and can't be relied upon to say something or intervene if they see somebody take your goods. More than likely, they would leave themselves so they didn't have to explain to you what had happened.

Many break-ins/burglaries on campus properties, such as halls of residence, don't involve forced entry, but happen because somebody has left an external door unlocked and/or propped open. Once again, it may be convenient to do so, however from a personal safety and security perspective it is a huge risk, and creates the perfect opportunity for any criminal elements who may be in the vicinity. The same goes for your dorm room, when you're not there - even if it's just a short time, such as going to the shower or the bathroom - keep your door locked, and never leave it propped open. A door that is propped open allows people to look inside and check if the room is occupied or not, and gives them easy access to your belongings.

The start of a new academic year also means that the campus police are not yet able to recognize who is a student and who is not - you'd be surprised that by just a few weeks in, most campus police are able to recognize most of the students on campus, and are therefore able to identify those individuals who may not have a reason to be there. This means that your first few days and weeks on campus are the ones where criminals have the greatest chance of moving around unnoticed.

Just as the campus police make it their duty to be able to recognize who is, and who isn't a student, you should try and do the same with those individuals who live in your halls of residence: you should know who lives there and who does not, and have an awareness about individuals you haven't seen around before. It may be that the individual wandering aimlessly along a corridor, is somebody's boyfriend/partner who has just left their room, or it could be someone who is checking doors to see which rooms have been left unlocked.

Living Off Campus – Houses & Apartments

Due to the financial constraints that many colleges and universities now face, you may find yourself living off campus, in a house or apartment. Sharing a house with others poses it's own potential security and safety risks.

One, is that your bedroom door may not have a lock on it, which means that anyone in the house can access your things relatively easily when you are out (it is likely that those who share the house with you, will soon get to know your schedule fairly well). This means that you shouldn't leave money in your room when you're not there. As friendly, and as likeable as those in your house are, in the early days of your relationship with them, you should recognize that you don't really know anything about them, and so whilst it is unlikely that they would steal something such as your laptop or similar, they may feel that you might not notice if relatively small amounts of money were to go missing.

There are products on the market, which allow you to bar/secure your door when you are in your room, such as doorstops, temporary locks, and security bars. If you would feel safer and more secure at night, knowing that you can make it difficult for somebody to get into your room when you are in it, you may want to think about investing in one of these devices.

If the house you are in is made up of women, be careful how you present this information to the rest of the world e.g. if you all have your full names on the mailbox, it will be obvious to anyone who passes by that this is a house made up entirely of women - something that may attract the attention of people you'd rather not have know this. Instead use your first initial, and your last name, so that your mailbox is gender neutral. If you want to promote the illusion of male occupancy, an old pair of workmen's boot on the front porch, can do this.

Find out who is responsible for maintaining the property, and if there isn't motion sensored lighting around the doors and entrance ways, see if it is possible to get it installed. At the same time, if there are any plants, trees, and bushes that a person could use to hide their presence, see if the person responsible for the property could have these cut back. One of the best deterrents to any criminal is "natural surveillance" i.e. people being able to observe them, and if a burglar could easily be seen if they were to try and break in, it is likely they will choose another property.

In some houses/multi-apartments, you may find yourself sharing space with another property, such as a basement where there may be a common washer/dryer. It may be that your property accesses this area directly, whilst those living in the other apartments access the space through an external door. The issue you have in such situations is that those using the external door may either leave it open or fail to lock it for convenience. This means that a criminal can get easy access into this space and from it can attempt to access your apartment, which may only have a flimsy internal door, between the first floor and the basement. Even if your internal door is quite solid, they can take their time to break-in, as nobody's eyes will be on them. If you don't think your basement door or similar is substantial enough, talk to whoever manages the property about this.

Most burglaries take place during the day, when everybody is out. Burglars are not interested in running into people, and recognize that it may take them some time to go through a property and get everything they want. The biggest deterrents to burglars are:

  • 1. Signs of Occupancy
  • 2. A dog
  • 3. An alarm

All of these things can be faked. If you are in a largish house or apartment with other studios, the chances are that your schedules are not the same - which is a good thing, as it means that it is more likely that at any one time, somebody will be in the house – and as stated, occupancy is the best deterrent for avoiding burglary. When you are not home, leave a radios tuned to different stations, in different parts of the house, as this creates the illusion of occupancy. A dog bowl on the front porch, and a sticker on a front window stating that the property is alarmed, may well be enough for a burglar to select another property, rather than yours.


Burglars and Muggers are two very different types of criminal. Burglars are not looking to interact with people, in fact they put a lot of effort into doing the reverse. They are also able to delay gratification in their crimes, in a way that muggers aren't. If a burglar breaks into your home and steals a laptop, unless he is going to use it himself, he will have to find someone to sell it to e.g. either a fence, a pawn shop or an individual who he believes wants a laptop. All of this can take time. On the other hand, a mugger who demands your purse at knifepoint has whatever money is in it, immediately. They don't have to wait, or be tapped into a network that turns stolen goods into cash, in order to enjoy the spoils of their crime. The main reason that muggers engage in this form of robbery is because it gives them cash instantly, and they usually need this cash in order to support a drug habit.

If you happen to be mugged, your best survival option is to acquiesce to your mugger’s demands for your goods. If somebody sticks a knife/gun to your stomach and asks you to hand over your purse, there are basically two outcomes that the mugger envisages: one is where you handover your purse and they walk away, the other is where they cut/stab/shoot you, take your purse and walk away. In either situation, they leave with your purse. This is why it is simpler and safer to give them what they want - because the alternative involves you getting hurt, and then giving them what they want.

Below is a story that somebody who worked in corrections told me, and it tells/shows us some interesting things about muggers and mugging scenarios:

The criminal and his friend were out driving close to a college campus when they spotted somebody they assumed to be a student, walking in their direction, with headphones on, looking at his phone – (if the victim had been looking ahead, he might have seen the driver and the passenger show interest in him, and could have possibly attempted to move from that location, before anything happened). The criminal passed by and turned the car round, synchronizing his movement with that of the victim. He passed him, and pulled over in front of him. Both the criminal and his friend, got out of the car and approached the student - the criminal pulled a knife. He then demanded that the student hand over the phone. The student refused, so the criminal stabbed him, repeating the demand. Still the student refused, and as a result was stabbed again. Once again the demand for the phone was made. This process was repeated until the student collapsed from blood loss, and the criminal and his friend simply took the phone. When he’d finished telling the story to the Corrections Officer he concluded by saying, “all I wanted was the phone.”

It might seem that we should commend the student for not giving in to these muggers and refusing to give up his possessions, however in practical terms, he ended up losing the phone, and suffered multiple stab wounds. The mugger’s closing statement of, “all I wanted was the phone”, tells us where his focus was. It wasn’t on the student, it was on the phone, and goes to show that he wasn’t planning on hurting the student if he had handed it over at the first request. The greatest percentage of muggings see the victim/target go unharmed if they give up whatever is demanded of them.

Although we will discuss how to avoid being the victim of a mugging, there are certain things you can do to lessen the “sting” of having to hand over your purse or belongings. Firstly, don’t carry a lot of cash on you, and if you have to do so, split it up, so that some is in your purse/wallet and some in different pockets. There are situations when a mugger, or a group of criminals may pat you down to make sure they get everything you have, however these types of incidents are rare. You could also think about using/carrying a false wallet, which has a few expired credit cards and a limited amount of cash. If you are mugged you can hand this over instead of your real wallet, which has your driving license and credit cards in. Another option is to carry your driving license and a credit card separately. This means that if you are forced to hand your wallet over, the mugger will get what is in it, however you will be left with an active credit or debit card (you can cancel the others), and your driving license which can be a pain to replace. Still, at the end of the day, you should be prepared to hand over and lose, whatever is demanded of you, and this should be part of your survival strategy.

You should also see the decision to hand over your wallet as yours, rather than the mugger’s. If you look on handing over the wallet or other possessions as your choice, as part of a survival strategy, then you are taking control of the situation. This means you are less likely to feel guilty or ashamed at having done this, after the incident is over.

Many people worry about handing over their wallet if it contains personal information, such as their home address on their driving license, worrying that the mugger might use this information against them, perhaps by coming to their home to burgle it, or to sexually assault them. Firstly, this is worrying about something in the future, rather than being concerned what is happening in the present; and you should be aware by now that an armed mugger will not hesitate to use their weapon against you. If your driving license is in your wallet, your mugger will have it when they take your wallet; and they will take it - whether they stab, cut or shoot you in the process. In most cases, after taking the cash out of the wallet, the mugger will discard it, along with the credit cards and any other personal information in it. They first and foremost want your cash, they generally aren’t tapped into a criminal network which they could use to sell your credit cards and driving license. Being a mugger also doesn’t by default make them a burglar or a rapist, so knowing where you live isn’t really important to them. In fact, holding on to credit cards and driving licenses really only means that they are holding on to evidence that could incriminate them; this is why most muggers throw the wallet and its contents away, after committing the crime.

The Five Step Predator Process

Because we should hand over our possessions if they are demanded of us, it would be in our best interest to understand how these individuals (and other predators) operate. Muggers – and others – follow a five step process, which if we understand and learn how it operates, we can use it to predict, prevent, identify, and avoid being mugged, along with avoiding being the victim of other crimes and assaults. The process is simple and is as follows:

  • 1. Choose a location
  • 2. Select a victim
  • 3. Carry out surveillance on victim
  • 4. Synchronize movement with victim
  • 5. Interview victim

The Importance of Location in Muggings (& Other Crimes/Acts of Violence)

Many people believe that muggings happen in dark, deserted places, such as alleyways, etc. This however comes from us imagining where muggers frequent; it is not based in reality. Most muggers actually choose relatively busy places, such as transit stops, parking lots, and highly trafficked areas. The reason is that they want a plentiful supply of potential victims, to rob. Deserted alleyways are by definition deserted, and so have no victims to rob. You are much more likely to be mugged on a fairly busy street, than a dark alleyway (and why would you be in a dark alleyway in the first place?). The other issue that alleyways have is that they usually have only one or possibly two entrances/exits. One of the things that muggers consider when choosing a location is the number of potential escape routes. If a police officer or security guard comes by when they’re committing their crime they will want to make a speedy exit. If their only escape route is an alley with one entrance, they’ll easily be caught.

There is a big difference between having people around when a mugger is interacting with victims, and those people being able to see the crime being committed. If you are in a big crowd that is walking to a platform in a transit stop, and someone comes up beside you, puts a knife to your side and demands your wallet, few people, if anyone, would be aware of what was going on. Most people would either be lost in their own thoughts, or be weaving their way through the crowd – they wouldn’t notice or pay any attention to you, or the mugger. It is unlikely, in such a tightly packed space, that anyone would notice the knife that is pointed at you, especially as muggers are skilled at positioning their body in relation to yours so that their weapon is blocked and can’t be seen. After mugging you, they will be able to slip off into the crowd unnoticed.

One of the great ironies of crowds is that although we feel safer in them, our actual individual awareness levels go down. If we are walking on our own, late at night, we are normally fairly aware (unless we make the mistake of being on our mobile phone, walking with headphones on, etc.), and think about our personal safety and potential threats and dangers we might face. As the only set of eyes and ears in the environment, we know that there is nobody else who can look out for danger, other than ourselves. In a crowd, we naturally rely on other people to spot danger for us, and because they are relying on us in the same way, the group’s general awareness levels go down.

When we understand that muggings tend to take place in locations where there are other people, some of the pieces of safety advice regarding what to do when dealing with a mugger, although well meant, actually put us at risk. A common strategy that people often give, is to throw your wallet on the floor away from you, so that your mugger moves away from you. At first glance, this may seem like a good idea, however if you are mugged in a busy transit station, how are you going to throw your wallet on the floor so that your mugger can get it? This is impractical advice and is based off of the idea that muggings happen in deserted places where you have empty space in which to throw the wallet away from you. Even if you did have the room to do this, it is not advisable. Although a mugger’s primary motive is financial, tied up in their crime are a variety of secondary motives including: power, anger, and control. If we consider that most muggers are drug addicts, on the lowest rung of the criminal ladder, then we can get the idea that they are individuals who lack power and control in their lives, and probably have a degree of resentment and anger concerning this. When they mug somebody, for that moment they have power and control over them, and can displace some of their anger. If you throw your wallet away from you and them, when they demand it, you are challenging this power and control and they may choose to use their weapon to harm you, in order to demonstrate and return control of the situation to them. They can go and pick up your wallet as easily, after hurting you.

The Victim Selection Process

In 1984 Betty Grayson and Morris Stein conducted a now famous experiment in New York. They set up a video camera, and filmed people walking along a street (nobody was aware that they were being filmed). They then took the footage and showed it individually, to prisoners who’d been incarcerated for violent crimes including GBH (Gross Bodily Harm), rape, and murder. They then asked them to identify who from the footage they would select as a victim. After interviewing all of the prisoners, they found that there was an 87% agreement amongst them as to who they would select as a victim, and the process took no longer than 5 seconds to complete. When asked why they choose who they did, none of the prisoners could explain the reasons. To try and gain a better understanding, Grayson and Stein took the footage to two analysts, who worked independently, who studied Labananalysis, which is a way of studying movement, in order to find out what it was that separated the chosen victims from the non-victims.

The analysts came up with three things that marked people out as potential victims. These were:

  • 1. Walking with the head down, and the eyes pointed at the ground
  • 2. A stride length that was too short or too long, relative to their height
  • 3. A disconnect between the way a person’s body’s top half and bottom half moved

If you are walking with your eyes pointing at the ground, you are not going to see what is going on around you. It also is clear that you are lost in your own thoughts – this is something that happens to many students, as they think about deadlines for course work, what they have just heard in a lecture, or preparing for exams, etc. If you are walking with your head down in a crowd, you may think being around people makes you safe, however we have looked at why this isn’t the case. The other thing which walking with your head, and your eyes towards the ground communicates, is depression and a lack of self-worth. If somebody is depressed or doesn’t feel good about themselves, then they are less likely to fight back, or refuse an assailant what they want.

If you shuffle – your stride length is too short for your height – you are going to give off further signals of depression and lack of self-worth. If you strut about, taking long steps (something people do to make themselves look taller/bigger) you may give off the impression of arrogance, or that you’re not to be challenged. If this is the case, you may well meet the mugger who wants to take you down a peg or two, and show you who the real power player in the environment is. If we understand that in incidents of mugging, anger, power and control are at play, we can understand how overly bold and confident people may attract the attention of such criminals. Muggers will admit that they have targeted people in expensive suits and wearing expensive jewelry and watches, etc., because they wanted to show them that they weren’t as big or as important as they thought they were, rather than for any actual financial gain (most high income people use credit cards rather than cash – and most muggers want cash).

Normally when you walk, your opposite arm should swing, as you step with the opposite leg, and it should move in time with this movement. In the study, it was shown that those individuals who had been classed as “victims”, moved in a less coordinated fashion, with their arms moving out of time and without relation to their legs.

This study is a great help in explaining how we can avoid appearing on a mugger or other predator’s radar. If we can walk with our heads up, with a natural stride length, in a coordinated manner, it is likely that we won’t attract the attention of those who mean us harm. To do this, we need to spend some time cultivating and checking this manner of walking. If we can manage to do this, it doesn’t matter so much if we fail to identify those in our environment who mean us harm, because it is likely that they won’t identify us as victims. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be vigilant, rather that we should look to develop defense in depth.


Once a predator has selected a victim, they will want to make sure that they have identified the right individual. In Grayson & Stein’s study, the prisoners took no longer than 5 seconds to identify who moved like a “victim”. It is my belief that they identified who they would target almost immediately, but then possibly took a few seconds to watch these individuals, to make sure that they had selected the right person.

Be aware of who has taken an interest in you, and who is watching you. Without wishing to make anybody paranoid – that is certainly not the point of this website – people watch and look at you more times than you may realize; it can be brief, or it can be prolonged. If you catch somebody who seems to be watching you, take a mental note of their face, and what they look like (if you want to be thorough about it, also take a note of their shoes – it’s a good way to confirm if it’s the same person at a later date, as people change the shoes they wear much less frequently than their clothes), if you see them again in a relatively short period of time, it may be worth altering or mixing up your routine, so that you are not in the same places at the same time, on certain days. This can be as simple as taking a slightly longer route to a lecture, rather than the one you regularly take.

When you walk, walk on the side of the road that allows you to see oncoming traffic. If your head is up, you should be able to note cars that slow down as they approach you, and then note if you see this car again. If this is the case make make your way immediately a place of safety, which usually means heading to crowded and busy places. This is a good piece of advice to follow at all times, however it is especially relevant if you are walking home late at night (regardless of whether you are walking with a friend). Walking on this side of the street will also prevent anyone from pulling up behind you. Many predators will prowl the streets, both on foot and in cars, when the bars close, looking for potential victims, either to mug, pick pockets or sexually assault. A face or car that you keep seeing, should be taken as a warning sign.

Synchronization of Movement

If someone intends to mug or assault you, they must first get close enough to you, to be able to do this. When people talk about being situationally aware, they may not actually understand what this involves from a practical standpoint i.e. what is it that you need to be aware of? What are the things you should be looking out for? Part of Situational Awareness (SA), involves understanding what is natural and unnatural in your environment e.g. is a person’s clothing appropriate for the location (is everybody except one person wearing formal business attire)? Is a person’s clothing appropriate for the weather, why is someone wearing a long coat on a warm day? In short though, from a purely practical point of view, what you are really interested in being able to identify, are the movement patterns of people, in relation to you. If somebody wants to cause you harm, they need to move towards you in some form, and if you can identify this, you can exit your location and get to safety and/or put some barrier between you, such as a parked car or similar.

There are four basic types of synchronization of movement. These are:

  • 1. Following
  • 2. Approaching
  • 3. Intercepting
  • 4. Waiting

Most of us at some point have had the experience of being followed i.e. we’ve felt the presence of somebody who is walking/moving behind us. One way we can test whether this is someone who is deliberately tracking us, is to change our direction and see if this person matches/synchronizes theirs to it e.g. we can cross the street, speed up, etc. If they don’t follow, we shouldn’t immediately consider ourselves safe, as they may well have realized that they’ve been noticed, and choose another part of our journey to once again synchronize their movement to ours.

If you see someone walking directly towards you i.e. approaching you, it is fairly obvious that they have some interest in you. However if you are winding your way through a crowd, and they mirror your movements, as they come towards you from the opposite direction, it might not be so obvious.

A predatory individual may not tie their movement directly to yours, they may instead choose to cross your path, or intercept you, at some point. Many muggers will choose to do this at natural choke points and stopping points. A choke point is somewhere that you naturally have to slow your movement down, such as at the top and bottom of escalators (groups of pickpockets will often choose these points, to block your forward movement, whilst one of their gang comes up behind you to relieve you of your possessions). Escalators are also locations which facilitate muggings, as somebody can stand behind you with a weapon in your back, demand your wallet or similar and then make off up the escalators. A natural stopping point could be a pedestrian crossing with walk/don’t walk signals, where somebody can time their arrival to coincide with yours. Be aware of whose movement is going to coincide with yours – you can always vary your speed if you think somebody is mirroring yours, as a means of checking whether they are synchronized to you or not.

If somebody knows where you’re going to be at a particular time, they can wait for you. Avoid speaking loudly on your mobile phone when you arrange to meet people, as anyone listening can work out what route you’re going to take, and can make sure they are ahead of you, on your route. If you have a routine that sees you leave the library late at the same time on a particular day, vary the time. Routine, although time efficient leads to predictability, and predictability is the predator’s best friend, whether they are a mugger, a burglar or a sexual assailant.

The Interview Process

A mugger may engage you with dialogue once they have synchronized their movement to you, and gotten close enough to assault you, rather than immediately stick a weapon to you and demand your wallet. It may be that they want to get you to lower your guard, need an excuse to get a little bit closer, or found that things in the environment have changed somewhat, such as a police car driving by, etc. It is rare these days for people to need to know the time, due to the fact that most people have a mobile phone, so be wary of someone asking for the time off you. In your early days around campus, people asking directions may be common, but later on in the semester, much more rare. If somebody looks like they have synchronized their movement in order to make such a request, keep your distance. It is better to appear rude and/or ignorant, and say that you don’t know, than let such individuals get close to you.

If a mugger has managed to get close enough to you to demand your wallet, hand it over - they’re going to leave with it, anyway. Many people have in their heads the idea that if they will hand the wallet over, if they have maybe $40 in it, but if they have any more they’ll refuse. If this is your way of thinking, take a moment to think how the amount of money you are having to hand over relates to your ability to deal with a mugger with a knife or gun, because the two are not connected or related in any way e.g. having $500 in your wallet, as opposed to $40, doesn’t mean you are any more proficient at dealing with an armed assailant. We have discussed strategies for reducing your losses earlier on in this module and it would be a better strategy to adopt these, than refuse your assailant.


At the end of the day, there is nothing worth more than you, and challenging individuals who are better equipped and more experienced than you in these situations, is not a good idea. If you can get a good understanding of the 5 step predator process and how muggers act and operate, you will go a long way to avoiding being the victim of a mugging or street robbery.

A few simple precautions, such as not leaving exterior doors open in your halls of residence or your room will prevent the majority of burglaries. If you can store all of your coursework in the cloud rather than on your laptop or similar; this means if it does get stolen all of your work will not be lost. You may also want to consider e-books rather than traditional textbooks, they’re lighter and can’t be stolen – even if your device is stolen, you will have them in the cloud (you can also rent many e-books now rather than having to buy them). As a final note on safety in your halls of residence, don’t hold locked/security doors open for people you don’t know.

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