FAKE IT SO YOU MAKE IT
We watch the news. We hear that the world is a scary place. Day in and day out – reports of bad people doing bad things.
Our reactions often fit one of two categories:
(1) Ignore it. It won’t happen to me. Bad stuff happens to other people, in other neighborhoods. I’ll continue to move through my days without giving any thought or attention to whether the bad guy is around the next corner.
(2) Panic. I’m doomed. Bad guys are everywhere so I need to walk through life in fear of when and where they will get me and/or my loved ones.
We warn against apathy and inattention, so you are safer taking the second approach, right? Not really. More than 90% of sexual assaults are preventable. Falling into this preventable category depends not only upon situational awareness (being attuned to your surroundings and potential dangers), but also upon being a “bad target”. Think about these scenarios:
Woman #1 leaves the mall. She walks directly to her car, paying no attention to others around her.
Woman #2 leaves the mall. She puts her keys in her hand as she approaches the parking lot and makes a nervous beeline for her car, throwing occasional frantic glances from side to side.
Woman #3 leaves the mall. She surveys the lot before heading out, prepares her keys, secures any loose packages, and calmly walks to her car, keeping tabs on and making eye contact with others in the area.
What is the difference? One operates out of calm oblivion, one out of fear, and the other out of purpose and confidence. Which do you think predators – who are not characteristically brave people – would see as the “perfect victim”?
Yes, Woman #1 is certainly a likely target; she would be easy to approach undetected, and proximity is key to attack. So she is on the list.
But wait, here comes Woman #2. Fear! Perfect. She’s not really paying attention to me; her nervous glances are conveying her lack of preparation. She will crumble.
Woman #3? No way. She’s sees me, has the nerve to KEEP seeing me, and her confidence scares me. She must know something that I don’t – I’m not brave enough to find out what. Too much risk.
Clearly, we want to be Woman #3. So how do we get from fear to confidence? Maybe we don’t, but here’s why it doesn’t matter: The key to being a bad victim is COMMUNICATING confidence. While feeling confident certainly makes that easier and more convincing, it is not necessary; as long as the bad guy thinks you are a bad target, you are. Accordingly, feeling confident about your ability to avoid or escape attack isn’t sufficient to put you in the “bad target” category. An internal sense of empowerment doesn’t help if you don’t communicate that confidence – possibly the downfall of Woman #1.
I like to highlight the unique role that awareness and consequent behavior play in victim selection by comparing it to one of my fears: Flying on a plane. I hate to fly. It makes me nervous. (Yes, I know it’s safer than driving, blah, blah, blah, but fear is fear.) This fear, and any behaviors attached to it – attempts at distraction, nervous fidgeting, a couple Bloody Marys, you get the idea – have no effect on whether or not the plane crashes. The focus of my fear is not in anyway determined by my behavior.
Contrastingly, my behavior has a huge impact on whether or not my fear of becoming a victim is realized. This is encouraging. If done correctly and consistently, the first phase of the self-protection process, scan and plan, will typically be the last as well. If we make a point to survey our environment and move with purpose and alert intention, we likely will be deemed too risky and the attacker will move on to a less challenging target.
The takeaway is that we have the ability to control many, but not all, of the variables that determine whether we become victims of sexual assault simply by the way we carry ourselves in day-to-day activities. Taking our heads out of the sand, recognizing that it can happen to us, and deciding to do something about it – that’s how we become safer.