Over the course of many years teaching survival-based strategies and tactics the above-exchange has taken place more than a few times. The “but what if…” question is usually posed by well-meaning individuals who haven’t quite grasped the seriousness of physical violence. These are people whose own humanity, whose sense of civility is so strong that they are caught vacillating between fight or flight decisions. It is a shame that these good qualities can sometimes stand in the way of grasping the essential facts of just how dire the threat can be.
The “but what if…” is usually followed by any number of justifications or pie-in-the-sky hopeful mitigations. These “but what if…” objections are based on unfounded trust and an incorrect grasp of probability. The first objection, unfounded trust, is usually based on the following scenario.
Predator: Do what I say and I won’t hurt you.
Or, some other such promise to the victim.
Now, these sorts of promises are probably nice to hear in the midst of your assault but let me ask you, what makes you think that you can trust this person? They have already stepped outside the confines of civilized society and have decided to commit a crime of violence or deprive you of your property which are dishonest acts in and of themselves. If the predator is already behaving in a fundamentally dishonest manner backed by the threat of violence what makes you think they will suddenly turn over a new leaf of integrity simply by saying “Do what I say, and I won’t hurt you”?
What the predator is doing with these promises is utilizing a mimicry strategy that we see in other predator species. Many venomous reptiles blend in with their surroundings, a tiger’s stripes are meant to mimic its jungle environment making stalking easier, a human predator promising safety is mimicking civilized behavior to make victim acquisition easier. Nothing more, nothing less. Never trust any statement from an individual that has so fundamentally violated trust.
The second error that usually follows the “but what if…” objection, the improper grasp of probabilities, is akin to gamblers with faulty grasps of house-odds for casinos or, inveterate lottery players who greatly over-estimate their odds of winning. The victim who makes this sort of probabilistic error is engaging in a sort of false precognition in which they calculate that “perhaps it won’t get any worse.”
This thinking leads people to hope that perhaps a car-jacking won’t lead to abduction and murder, that an armed robbery is only about money and there will be no violence once the property has been attained. Yes, there are a great many examples of crimes of property stopping once the property has been acquired but there are also many, many, many examples of crimes of property progressing to violent stages. I fail to see why you should gamble that you have been confronted with a “kind” criminal as opposed to a bona fide violent predator. To gamble on kindness and choose inaction gets you hurt or killed if the situation escalates, while on the other hand, gambling that all who have stepped outside the dictates of civilized conduct intend to do you bodily harm keeps you primed, prepared, and is most likely the correct guess.
I must offer a brief digression on resistance when it comes to rape. I have actually come across more than a few purported women’s self-defense programs that advocate not fighting back during a rape. The strategy is a form of the above two thinking errors, but it is also, in my mind, grossly reprehensible and criminally irresponsible advice.
Telling a woman to submit to a rape is a hateful strategy. I have seen it originate, more often than not, from male-led programs with very little protest from the female audience--this dumbfounds me. I wonder if the vast majority of rape victims were men instead of women; men who were being brutally sodomized and forced to orally pleasure their attackers, I wonder if this same advice would be offered? I wonder if the all-male audience would be so accepting? I seriously doubt it.
This heinous, complacent strategy would be dismissed vociferously, as it should be. Women should dismiss it with even more disdain. It seems to be offered from the “Well, you’re women and you can’t fight off a man” perspective. That is unadulterated, insulting, demeaning bullshit.
Fight back. Always.
Are you worried about making your assault worse? Well, how much worse can rape, or murder be? But for those who still aren’t convinced and have a few more “but what ifs…” loaded and ready to go, I call your attention to a 1985 Department of Justice study that examined the crime of rape in tremendous detail. The portion of the study pertinent to the topic at hand concerns injuries for women who did fight back compared with those who did not fight back. The sample breaks nicely for statistical purposes as the study shows that approximately 51% of the women in the study fought back while 49% complied.
Over 96% of the injuries for both groups of rape victims (those who fought back and those who did not) were of the contusions, lacerations, abrasions variety; in other words, non-life-threatening injuries. These injury rates held true even if the rapist was armed. Under 4% of women received injuries serious enough to warrant hospital stays. (Of course, we are not speaking of the psychological trauma here, we are merely comparing physical injury rates). Here’s the crux of the study, the injury rate for women who fought back was a mere 2% increase in injury level. Notice that’s level not rate.
So, what are we talking about here? 2% increase in injury level when we are talking about a crime that is usually one of contusions, abrasions, and lacerations. I don’t mean to be cold-hearted here, but we are talking about, perhaps, a couple more bruises, another scrape, maybe one more stitch on a cut to fight off an attacker and not be raped. The data seems to back the stance of fight back, no matter what.
Similar DOJ studies for other crimes show us corresponding information--those who fight back see no significant statistical rise in the severity of assault. Those who fight back automatically increase the odds of halting the assault in its tracks; this is a claim that cannot be made by those who choose not to fight back. It is with good information in hand, and not some mere primal rah-rah that I implore you to fight back.
The odds are on the sides of those who do.
[The above is an extract from our book No Second Chance. For more information on our Street Survival Program see here.]