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How to Protect Yourself Against Crime

Experts give advice on ways to fend off criminals -- and avoid danger in the first place.

How to Defend Yourself

Taking steps to prevent crime can help lower chances of an attack, but there are no guarantees of complete safety. For this reason, it's a good idea to have several plans on how to defend yourself and your property.

"Think through what you will do," urges Robert McCrie, PhD, professor of security management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. "Will you willingly give up your wallet or your purse, and if you're willing to do that, isn't it a good idea to make a photocopy of all my ID and credit cards and keep it in a safe place? Or will you keep it? What will you do then?"

Some of the plans will depend upon a person's age, sex, and personal fitness, but McCrie reminds us that even highly-trained FBI agents can get caught off guard and have no qualms about escape as their primary plan.

Fight or Flee?

There is some debate over whether fleeing or fighting back will provide the least risk. Silber, however, says it's best to err on the conservative side, which is to run away if possible.

If escape is not an option, Farrenkopf suggests firm resistance, particularly in cases of rape or sexual assault. With people you know, he urges being clear about saying "No" to sex, and to avoid flirting or mixed messages. With both intimates and strangers, he says physically resisting and then escaping is the best option.

Submitting to an attack because of fear does not prevent it, says Farrenkopf. He says surveys and anecdotal evidence show the difference between rapists who have completed rape and those who have attempted it is their victims' reaction. "In the completed rape, the victim usually froze and submitted," he says. "In the attempted rape, the victim fought, resisted, and escaped."

Tips for Escaping or Fighting Back

How do you escape, fight, and survive? Experts offer the following tips:

  1. Have an escape plan. Wherever you are or wherever you are going, know the layout of the place and visualize an escape route. Thinking this way is not being paranoid, it's being cautious, says Nelson. If you're at home, knowing where your power switch is, and knowing your way in the dark, can give you an advantage over intruders. If you're outside, knowing the layout of the town -- where the sketchy areas are, where populated streets and venues are -- can help you to both prevent and escape an encounter with an attacker. If you're at work, knowing the structure of the building can give you an idea where to flee.

  2. Train your body. You don't have to have the physique of a football player to defend yourself, but it helps to be in relatively good shape. "How can you rely on yourself if you're not physically fit?" asks Nelson. "Could you run? Could you kick them? Could you last a little bit in a battle?" Remember, you don't have to win the fight against an attacker. You just need to be able to survive it. Nelson says people who fight back may have more chance of injury, but they have better chances of survival. "You might get a black eye or a broken arm, but if you don't get raped, the black eye and the broken arm is going to heal far quicker than the trauma of being raped," he says.

  3. React quickly to danger. Response time is critical. Since the offender is counting on a surprise ambush to carry out his crime, you need to use the same element of surprise to escape or counterattack. O'Neil says this could mean running toward lights and people, or it could mean screaming or making noise with whatever you have to get other people's attention. If you're grabbed by the wrist, Lee says to try to juggle your hand so that you can pull it away in the area where the attacker's fingers can open up. If escaping is not an option, Jordan says a quick and efficient self-defense is key. "If you're just flailing about, you may be ineffectively exerting energy, and that will cause you to question what you're doing," says Jordan. He recommends striking only at vital targets, which are areas of the body where you can inflict the most pain and damage. This will likely make it easier to disable the offender and get away. Some vital targets include the top center of the skull, eyes, temples, ears, windpipe, knees, insteps, base of skull, and spine.

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