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Whether at home or abroad, we are all used to moving around in cities and towns and everyone understands there can be dangers. Even so, everyday there are muggings, violent crimes, sexual assaults, mindless violence and there is always the risk of terrorism and being caught up in a violent protest or riot. Even though most people know these dangers are real, people still fall victim to them. We are not talking about isolated events. Violent crimes occur every few seconds in major cities, as do aggravated assaults, burglary, car thefts and murder. Forcible rape and robbery occurs every few minutes. Drunkenness and narcotics are often the reason for mugging or robbery. Every person risks being bullied, mugged or beaten up at least once in his/her lifetime. People whose jobs bring them into frequent contact with the general public are in a higher risk group, especially taxi drivers, social workers, traffic wardens, shop staff and public transport workers. Even the police get assaulted and although they are trained to deal with it, they also can become victims of street violence.
Avoiding trouble is smart not cowardly. Some basic common sense goes a long way. Know the area you live in and do not go to places where the local bad elements of society hang out. Every town and city has certain streets that are more dangerous than other streets. All streets are more dangerous at night, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when people have been out drinking. Streets around and leading to football grounds are risky when matches are played. Some housing estates are terrorised by gangs of youths into drug-related crime. Do not pass through these areas if you can at all avoid it. Large parks are often the hunting ground for muggers both at night and during the daytime, as are car parks, public urinals and areas in the proximity of cash dispensers.
Muggers in cities often work in teams; they surround their victim and demand money with the threat of violence. They are often high on drugs or alcohol, think nothing of using violence and once they have what they want can vanish quickly into the crowd. Only resist such attacks if you are confident you can look after yourself, bystanders are unlikely to help you and these street thugs know this. The golden rule is to act fast and take out the gang leader first. A drug addict or drunk is less of a match for someone who is fit, quick and able to defend themselves, but a gang of well-practised muggers is another matter.
Try not to make it obvious if you are a stranger in a city, study the route you intend to follow before you set off and look as though you know where you are heading. Do not look like an easy victim. If you are staying in a hotel, ask the Porter or Concierge which streets and places should be avoided, especially at night.
Most muggings and other violent crimes are usually ambush attacks. These attackers know their terrain and use it to their advantage. For example, a sharp curve in a road, an area with undergrowth or hedges and corners they can hide around, are favourite habitats of these sorts of criminals. Pay attention to this and if you are walking along a lonely street, position yourself so you have an advantage and can react. If there is a curve in the road, cross to the side where you are on the outside of the curve and if there is undergrowth on one side of the road, cross over to the other side. If there is undergrowth on both sides and it is safe to do so, walk on the road so no one can spring out and grab you or knock you down. If you are approaching a corner, cross over so you have the best possible field of view.
Underpasses are also favourite haunts of muggers and people up to no good so always avoid them if you are alone, even if they look deserted. Never use an underpass at night if you can at all avoid it. An underpass can easily be sealed off at both ends leaving you trapped. In most cities, like in the photo above in London, UK, taking a short cut through such an underpass is an unnecessary risk. Once in such a tunnel no one on the street above can hear cries for help, and they are unlikely to get involved even if they do hear you.
Always walk facing oncoming traffic in rural areas where there is no pavement so no one can drive up behind you, swing in front of you, and trap you by leaping out of the car directly in front of you. If you are carrying a bag, keep it on the side away from the road so it cannot be snatched by thieves on a bike or motorbike (or roller blades or scooter, for that matter). Get it on your backbone as you travel around that you do not place yourself in a position where you can be ambushed or trapped. Don't get paranoid but learn to read your surroundings and anticipate danger.
Drunks and violence
There appears to be a growing consensus among the police, doctors, psychologists and emergency workers that alcohol consumption is related to violent behaviour and aggression. Studies of the relationship between alcohol consumption and aggressive behaviour show, predictably, that it is only people with a tendency towards anger, suppressed anger, and those capable of violence that react this way when drunk. In layman's terms, alcohol can cause some people to lose their inhibitions and all their pent up feelings find a violent outlet with the target being anyone apparently physically weaker who happens to be in the way.
It is not only men that behave this way, women, especially women in the age range 15 to 35, also can become aggressive, abusive or violent when drunk. Socially, the problem is compounded when groups of people go binge drinking. Girls egg on boys, men show off to women and to their mates; their sense of what is reasonable is dramatically altered in their alcohol-befuddled brains. These individuals or groups quite often pick on innocent victims. Another dimension of this type of violence is the pack instinct. If one of the pack starts trouble, the others join in; there is no voice of reason here. Crime may be a factor. More often than not, a victim is beaten up just because these mindless, drunken morons (sorry to put it like that but let's face the issue) are triggered in some way by the victim. When dealing with a violent drunk you are not dealing with a normal, rational human being; you are dealing with someone who is temporarily, criminally insane.
What triggers a drunk's violent action?
It can be a disapproving look, a comment, just getting in their path, being better dressed, ethnic difference — the problem is that this type of individual can be triggered off by their own low self-esteem, by their social biases, by their bigoted views of life or by outright hatred that is normally kept overall in check. Other factors range from overactive hormones to psychological personality disorders. In short, it's hard to tell if an innocent person is going to trigger a reaction just by being in the wrong place.
How best to deal with aggressive drunks?
Avoidance is the best defence. Do not rise to drunken taunts. Keep out of the path of a drunk (or gang of drunks). Pay them no attention (do not look at them; avoid eye contact because this may be interpreted as aggression on your side). If they confront you, be firm but polite; try to show that you are not afraid of them. I heard a guy diffuse a potentially confrontational situation once when approached by a group of drunken youths in Birmingham in the UK; he said, 'You guys seem to be having a good time. Hey, which pub serves the best beer round here?' Their belligerence faded and a quick exchange of views ended with them advising him to try the "Black Swan." He thanked them and they went off, their attention now turned to ripping down a shop awning. His quick thinking saved him a potential kicking because he distracted them from their befuddled aggression with talk of something they held dear — beer.
The best way to distract anyone set on violence is to play on their emotions, bring them down to earth. Unless they have a total disregard for authority and law and order (a different class of criminal altogether) not wanting to tangle with the police can work. Tell them you have already called the police and they will arrive at any minute, so they had better scarper. Do not use phrases like, "Look, I don't want any trouble…" because, frankly, this is exactly what they want and they will see you as weak and an easy victim.
A drunken person, pumped up on an adrenaline high, will tire very fast once their adrenaline levels begin to drop. Create a distance. You can do this by talking to them (not an argument) and also physically by keeping a least two arms' lengths away. If they move closer, move a pace back. Once they begin to tire and their aggression begins to drop, start to back off, still talking to them, saying you've had enough and you're going. Do not turn and run. Once you are a good distance from them, turn and walk briskly away. A drunk has a short attention span; at the very least, distracting them can give you time to get the first blow in and it is usually the first punch that settles the matter. The bottom line is that knowing self-defence is valuable and may just save you if all else fails. Go and learn how to protect yourself whatever age you are.
Different tribes, different rules
We all grow up in a certain culture, one unique to our nation. Most of our social interactions are instinctive and many are taught from childhood so they are deeply engrained. There are norms of behaviour and if anyone breaks these norms we instinctively become alert to this. The classic difference is demonstrated by personal space. I'm a Scot., and I like to keep a minimum of a metre (3 feet) away from the people around me. If someone is talking to me and moves up close, it makes me uncomfortable and I (perhaps instinctively) move back a little from them. I would never stand next to anyone in a public urinal if there were a choice. On public transport I look for a place where there is at least one empty seat between the next passenger and myself. I hate crowds that shove and jostle and I avoid openly staring at people around me because that is just plain rude in my culture. I was brought up to respect women and the elderly. If a foreigner tries to ask me directions, I patiently try to understand them being helpful as possible because I want them to feel comfortable as guests in my country. When I walk along a busy street in the UK, I move instinctively and pass by people, as they pass by me, without ever bumping into them — we just know how this is done.
I have lived in America, France, Brazil, Mozambique and Denmark. In each country, I have had to adjust to suit the cultural norms just to move around in the everyday. I don't adopt these different norms - I just blend with them. For example, in Denmark people walk on the right not the left. They stand much closer to each other. They openly and mindlessly stare at each other (very weird to a Brit.) and they do not consider each other in the everyday (walk through a door and let it slam in your face, do not move out of the way as you attempt to pass each other in the street, for example). You cannot strike up a casual conversation with a Dane as you would with a fellow Brit., because they are less self-assured and quickly suspicious of your motives, making them appear unfriendly to foreigners.
In Mozambique, people stand much closer and it is acceptable to touch the arm of a stranger you are talking to or even pat them on the shoulder. None of these social behaviours is wrong, they are just different but misunderstandings can easily occur. If you are in a foreign country, you should learn something about the way the people interact with each other and find out what is socially acceptable or not. Religious customs complicate interaction between peoples further. A lot of conflict arises just because we do not make the effort to understand each other.
In all countries there are bullies, both men and women, who are looking to promote a conflict situation. These over-aggressive types are easily triggered. Often it starts with something that would not concern a normal person. Perhaps you inadvertently bump into someone and even if you say, 'Sorry,' this doesn't appease the person; they try to escalate the situation. The game of staring out a potential opponent is also a common start to violence; the aggressor's eyes lock onto yours and the aggressor feels superior if (in his/her opinion) the weaker person quickly looks down — intimidated. If you are not obviously intimidated (and thereby refuse to accept they are a superior human being) you will be met with, 'Who are you staring at?' or, 'What are you looking at?' Back down. Say, 'Sorry, I thought you were someone else.' A smile is often disarming in this case. If they continue to be aggressive you should be firm but polite, keep your voice level and calm, 'Listen, I said I was sorry if I offended you. I mistook you for someone else!' Again, a smile helps.
Many people feel they have to always have the last word or hold a lecture rather than behaving normally. It is always smarter to back down and not provoke verbal or physical violence. If you are this type, think again. One day you will provoke a violent response. If someone bumps into you and your natural response is to say, 'Look where you're going, stupid!' You have called the person "stupid" and attributed all the blame to them. Soon there is a slanging match and possibly blows are exchanged. Win or lose the ensuing fight, you are left feeling shaken up and angry. Think about it — is it really worth all the unnecessary upset? False pride comes before a fall. It doesn't make you a coward if you back down - just smarter than the average bear!
Many people feel at home and completely safe in their cars, but security in the car is just as important as security anywhere else. People are robbed in their cars and in some countries these robberies are particularly ruthless and violent crimes. You must always follow some basic rules to reduce the risk to yourself and to your passengers.