Avoiding Factual Muggings

by KenChen1 min read27th Apr 201141 comments

3

Personal Blog

When people talk about self-defense, they tend to concentrate on how to physically defend yourself. But the best way to avoid getting hurt is to avoid being attacked in the first place. Here are some suggestions:

  • Appear to be alert -- don't listen to music, don't use your phone, and keep moving. If you go so far as to run or jog to your destination, you will be a very unappealing target.
  • Stay in well-lit areas at night. In a place with low traffic, it may be better to walk in the middle of the road.
  • Appear to be armed. Concealed weapons don't help -- they are only useful once you have already been selected as a target. Visible and obvious weapons such as guns and knives are usually too much trouble to be worth it. Ordinary objects that can be used as weapons, such as baseball bats and hammers may be best, as they act a deterrent without the hassle that traditional weapons bring.

What are some other easy measures that people can take to make themselves less of a likely target?

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First, look up the actual crime rate in your area. In the likely event that it is low enough to not worry about it, you can go back to listening to music, staring at your phone and taking shortcuts through dark alleys, with positive expected value.

This doesn't seem like a relevant topic for this board, or at least belongs as a subthread under a Procedural Knowledge post like the linked one.

Users need to be careful to stay on topic and not divert this successful board into tangential issues like, "What's the best kind of staple" and such.

My Taekwondo teacher would ask the class:

Suppose I try to punch you. What do you do? ... Run away!

He would also say:

Suppose I break your nose. What do you do? ... Call your lawyer!

Long, long ago, I think at around age nine or something, I was taking a Tae Kwon Do class.

At one point the master said to me, "Attack me."

I gave him a skeptical look.

He said, "Attack me the way you would attack me in real life."

I raised my finger and thumb, pointed it at him, and said "Bang."

He laughed and called up the next student.

I raised my finger and thumb, pointed it at him, and said "Bang."

I think that might be a bad choice for close combat. I heard knifes are superior for short ranges...

ETA

(I guess that explains why he laughed at you...a lot to learn about close combat.)

I’m by no means an expert, but I’d expect the situation be quite lower from the attacking perspective. A gun might not be a very useful defense against a surprise knife attack, but for a surprise attack I think a gun would do quite well, even against someone holding a knife.

Note that in Eliezer’s story the question was how a 9 year old might attack a martial arts instructor, not how he would defend from him.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

It sounds like like you gave up a chance to learn something. You had some reason to attend that class, right? Instead of a gunfighting class, or a lawyering class, or a class on calling the police... You can refuse to lift weights in the gym because cranes are better than humans at lifting things, but that won't make you more fit.

[-][anonymous]10y 13

I don't mean to be rude, but have you or anyone else commenting gotten mugged? I've walked around college campuses and some (fairly) large cities late at night because I'm an insomniac at times, and I haven't been mugged yet.

I try to look alert and walk with a bit of a swagger if I think that it will make me look like less of an easy target, but I don't know if these are working because I haven't been mugged when not actively doing these things.

Basically, I'm asking if all of these amount to tiger-repellent rocks, or whether they are developed heuristics.

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Basically, I'm asking if all of these amount to tiger-repellent rocks, or whether they are developed heuristics.

I've got no idea what your tiger parable is but it doesn't take personal experience to read a study.

Tiger parable video and transcript (ctrl+f "tiger")

I can sell you a rock that will keep tigers away, for only $250 shipped. I'm carrying one right now, and I've never been attacked by a tiger.

Do you have other substantiation for its tiger repellance? In which tiger-dominated environments has it been tested?

The whole point of the tiger/rock parable is that the testing has all been done in environments devoid of tigers.

Similarly, the mugger-avoidance strategies I could offer to User:perturbation are all 100% effective since I've never been mugged... but I have no idea whether the opposite strategy would have been equally effective.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

I was mugged, twice, long ago. In both cases, I was in a lonely area far from foot or automobile traffic. In one case this was because it was 1 am. Earlier in the day there would have been people about. In the other case I was (apparently) followed by the muggers for some time, and then when I got to an area where I was far from anyone else, the muggers approached. Both instances of mugging involved two muggers. In one case, they both had guns. Had I avoided lonely areas, then I probably would never have been mugged. I've avoided lonely areas for about twenty years now, and haven't been mugged in that time. Also, in both instances the muggers were from Oakland California, though the mugging occurred in two surrounding communities. I know because in the first case my discarded wallet was discovered by a man in Oakland, and in the second case the muggers engaged me in conversation about how they needed money to get back to Oakland.

On clothing and caution in environment selection. (And on being generally awesome.)

Woman: Thank you! Thank you! That thing was gonna kill me!
Spike: Well, what do you expect? Out alone in this neighborhood: I got half a mind to kill you myself, you half wit.
Woman: What?
Spike: I mean, honestly, what kind of retard wears heels like that in a dark alley? Take two steps, break your bloody ankle.

Woman: I was just trying to get home!
Spike: Well, get a cab, you moron! And on the way, if a stranger offers you candy, don't get in the van!

Spike (from Angel).

There's the strategy of "avoid high-crime areas", perhaps too obvious to even mention, this is what most of the people i know do.

In addition to "appear to be alert", we could add "actually be alert". Although, i'm not particularly worldly and probably someone would need to elaborate on the tactical issue of what exactly one should do if one is aware of a potential threat.

Agree with Clippy, but as an exercise, my answers would be:

1) Stay in public. I repeat this, from personal experience in rough neighborhoods as a kid in Ukraine.

2) Looking like a badass may or may not help, depending on whether the potential perpetrator is after your money or your status.

3) Looking like a total nobody (or even like a bum) may not help, depending on the same thing.

4) Element of surprise helps, potential perpetrators are unlikely to think more than one step ahead. Run, scream, pretend to know the local mafia lord.

2) Looking like a badass may or may not help, depending on whether the potential perpetrator is after your money or your status.

This is an extremely important point. If you're in an area where the main threat is from muggers who just want money with minimal hassle and risk, projecting a convincing "don't mess with me" attitude is a powerful deterrent. However, if the main threat is from local hooligan gangs who beat up people for sports and to show off, it will have the opposite effect, since they'll see it as a provocation (if you're a man, at any rate).

From what I've noticed, in North America you're much more likely to encounter the former, and in Eastern Europe the latter type of threat. There are of course significant local exceptions, especially in EE: touristy places with a lot of clueless foreigners are likely to attract muggers, pickpockets, purse-snatchers, etc. rather than hooligans, whereas in lower-class neighborhoods the gangs of local ne'er do wells are often around looking for trouble.

Appear to be alert -- don't listen to music, use your phone, and keep moving. If you go so far as to run or jog to your destination, you will be a very unappealing target.

Sorry, the meaning here is a bit ambiguous, are you saying I should use my phone or that I shouldn't?

Appear to be armed. Concealed weapons don't help -- they are only useful once you have already been selected as a target. Visible and obvious weapons such as guns and knives are usually too much trouble to be worth it. Ordinary objects that can be used as weapons, such as baseball bats and hammers may be best, as they act a deterrent without the hassle that traditional weapons bring.

I'm also worried about this, do you have a good reason to believe this will help, my intuition tells me you may attract more unwanted attention than you deter by carrying a baseball bat through a high-crime area.

I suspect the idea is that if you're on the phone, someone offsite will be aware and may call the cops if you should suddenly cut off or make noises indicating that you're being mugged.

Edit: Aw, I failed at being confused by fiction.

Thanks, I was actually thinking it was the other way round, and that being on the phone 1) distracts you from your immediate surroundings and 2) makes you obviously worth mugging.

EDIT: Apparently it was the other way round. Oh well.

I meant to say don't use your phone. Edited.

An exercise I learned from a martial arts class was to walk around at night, pretending that you're an attacker. Stalk a few people, and try to get into the mindset of preparing for an attack by catching them unaware. Note down what types of people you are more likely to attack, and what types of people you are likely to skip.

Out of interest, what happened when someone noticed you were stalking them?

The thing is, when you pick your target, you're going to pick someone who is unaware of their surroundings. By the time you're stalking them, it's too late for them. They're not going to notice you because you've selected for that.

car keys draw no untoward attention, but can ruin someone's day.

They won't exactly deter attention either, so it very much depends on you actually being able to reliably ruin their day to such an extent that they stop attack rather than just becoming angry. Bearing in mind here that there's a good chance they have a knife or gun.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

I meant to say don't use your phone. Edited.

An exercise I learned from a martial arts class was to walk around at night, pretending that you're an attacker. Stalk a few people, and try to get into the mindset of preparing for an attack by catching them unaware. Note down what types of people you are more likely to attack, and what types of people you are likely to skip.

Disclaimer: I've never been mugged, and only noticed a few possible attempted muggings. All this comes from a few years of martial arts training roughly halfway between RBSD and TMA.

If you can't avoid walking past someone who makes you feel uncomfortable, walk quickly and over-emphasize the motion of walking: Swinging your arms shoulder-high automatically defends against many attacks.

The "interview" phase of an attack takes different forms. Between young males in a bar, it'll be an escalation through verbal, postural, and physical aggression. In a profit-driven crime, it will be subtler:

If someone's on an intercept course for you, move perpendicular to their path and see if they track you. If they're getting within 20 feet, direct them to one side or the other by pointing, or put up a hand in the "stop" gesture. Depending on the circumstances, either tracking or ignoring your "stay away" gesture, alone, provides a strong enough likelihood ratio to justify fighting or fleeing. Don't turn your body away or close your eyes; that may turn away the wrath of an alpha, but it'll get you eaten by a predator.

another edit:

Anytime anybody has a Monday or Wednesday evening free in Tampa Bay, get in touch. My instructor's a kinesthetic genius and loves working defense in the liminal space between the intention to attack and the first punch.

In the case of finding yourself within a few paces and under threat of a predator:

I have one personal experience with a man with malicious sexual intentions following, talking, making body contact, shying away, being told to fuck off, and continuing to follow me while unbuckling his belt (I am a male).

The solution (while I could have ran, I was not content with the chance of being caught off balance or seeing where I live or anything like that) came in holding my ground, raising a clenched fist and very present-mindedly yet firmly agressive, stating "I will fucking hurt you".

It seems likely that making that kind of explicit statement triggers a cost-benefit analysis in a predatory mind who is looking for pleasure (maybe both sexual and sadistic) without physically engaging them: verbally letting them know that you are ready, capable, and that any attempt will involve YOU hurting THEM.

What are some other easy measures that people can take to make themselves less of a likely target?

Posture. Somewhat overlaps with 'alertness'. Roughly speaking appearing to be high status within the subculture makes all the difference. (Where the subculture on the street does not mean looking like an upperclass rich person. Appearing like a high status uperclass rich folk is what you need to deter high status equivalents of muggings. Social games, backstabbing and aggressive business moves.)

It's not just posture, it's quality of movement.

From memory: there was a study a while ago where people convicted of mugging were asked to evaluate movies of people walking for who were the best potential victims and who weren't. Then the choices made by the convicts were evaluated by movement experts (included dance teachers, I think) for commonalities.

Size, age, and gender mattered much less than coordination.

The only specific detail I remember is that people who moved the arm on the same side as the leg they were stepping with (rather than the arm on the other side) looked like victims.

The only specific detail I remember is that people who moved the arm on the same side as the leg they were stepping with (rather than the arm on the other side) looked like victims.

They sound like they are going to fall over and injure themselves without any help from a mugger.

Grayson, B. and Stein, M.I. (1981) Attracting Assault: Victims' Nonverbal Cues. Journal of Communication 31 (1): 68-75.

This is probably the article I'm referring to. Unfortunately, even though it hit the popular press back in the 80s (that's how I heard of it), I can't find anything but the abstract online.

However, there's a more recent study which didn't use actual muggers, but which found somewhat similar results:

Consistent prototypes of easy and difficult to attack walkers could be identified from each experiment. The prototypical hard to attack walker was characterized by a longer stride length, swinging foot movement, a larger range of arm swing, higher energy, lower constraint, a faster walk, and a relatively heavier body weight than easy to attack walkers. They also moved posturally, with a three-dimensional weight shift, whereas easy to attack walkers moved gesturally, and with a predominantly lateral or forward/ back weight shift. The prototypes identified in our studies are similar to those identified by Grayson and Stein (1981) but were developed using a rigorous methodology that isolated the contribution of kinematic information to perceptions of vulnerability. The characteristics associated with low vulnerability suggest faster escape from potential attack (longer stride length, faster walk, higher energy) or greater ability to defend oneself (heavier body weight; higher energy).

Definition from the article: (postural motion activating the whole body or gestural motion activating only a part of the body)

Depending on what is meant by "swinging foot movement," that could actually be either quite counterintuitive, or specific to muggers not attuned to signs of martial training. If I see someone crescent-stepping, which I would characterize as a non-swinging foot movement, that would lead me to raise my estimate of the probability that the person has studied karate or a similar art. The link didn't work for me, so I couldn't check if I was misunderstanding the term. The rest of the signs make sense.

For those not familiar with crescent-stepping (as I was not, my own martial art being taekwondo rather than karate), the videos in http://dandjurdjevic.blogspot.com/2010/12/crescent-stepping.html seem to be representative.

(On a side note, academic prose is terrible at describing bodily movements. I've read it twice or thrice now and still have no idea what movements exactly the abstract is talking about besides 'longer stride length, faster walk'.)

The url needed to be corrected. It works now, and my apologies for the inconvenience.

"Swinging foot movement" isn't defined in the article. I'm guessing it means that the leg is allowed to move as a relatively free pendulum.

I feel like I should have more advice on this, since I worked for four years in a rather bad neighborhood and often found myself waiting at dark bus stops for significant amounts of time. The only thing I can really suggest is that you make a point of looking like you're not worth bothering with, though - by which I mean mostly clothes-based and body-language-based signaling that you aren't wealthy and aren't trying to hide anything (e.g. cash). (Note that I'm not saying not to carry cash - that kind of advice never made much sense to me - just don't let your body language change when you do.)

The frequency of instances where one is approached by panhandlers requesting money may be a useful measure of how much one is attracting the kind of attention that would lead one to be mugged.

In re appearing to be armed: A cane seems like the most reasonable choice, and even that has some social costs.

I know someone who has intermittent hip problems, and is intermittently hassled by random strangers because she doesn't always look as though she needs it.

Sigh, I got sort of mugged yesterday (only one thing got taken, got to keep my phone/wallet). I guess another thing is don't be a skinny young man ;)

While I'm not sure this is really the sort of post we want on LW, one thing I suggest (that worked for me):

  • When asked by a suspicious young man for 17 cents, he plans to grab it and run. I would suggest carrying on walking quickly and confidently, but YMMV; I felt fairly confident that I could have fought the guy off had he decided on a more high-risk approach.

When asked by a suspicious young man for 17 cents

I'm not sure this is that likely a situation for anyone else to encounter.