Creating A Personal Protection Plan to Avoid Violence

Guest blog by Kristie Kilgore
Author of Eyes Wide Open: Bodyguard Strategies for Self-Protection

She was a martial artist and a business executive. She went into the office on a Sunday when no one was around to catch up on a pile of paperwork. Like most women, Sarah did not expect to encounter violence in the middle of the day: a common misconception. Few people realize that that time of day is not a determining factor for most violence. More than half the attacks on female victims occur during daylight hours.

Walking towards the front door of the office building, Sarah noticed two men standing approximately 20 feet away. Given their distance, she dismissed their presence as she inserted the key in the office door. This was her second error. Fact#2: An average person can close a 20-foot distance in under 2 seconds. How long does it take to unlock a door to a car, office or home? 

Unlocking the door, her attention was on the lock, not on her surroundings. The deadbolt clicked and the door began to open. Less than a second after the door began to open, Sarah was violently shoved from behind and into the empty building. Fact#3: Most attacks on women occur from the rear or flank. Ambushed by two men, Sarah was dragged inside and pinned against a wall. Two men began striking her, finally triggering her martial arts training. Thankfully she had training. Without training she would have been sexually assaulted, brutalized, and possibly killed. Although Sarah valiantly fought her way free to escape, her two attackers remain at large today.

A simple Personal Protection Plan (PPP) could have prevented Sarah's assault. A PPP is an agreement that you make with yourself to protect yourself, to avoid violence. Many martial artists could benefit from such as plan. Often martial artists are trained only in how to use force and never explore what could happen if they do fight back. Few explore reasons to avoid use of force completely.

Use of force should be the very last component in a PPP and should not be the only component. For Sarah, her lack of a plan nearly killed her. Use of force carries risk, both in terms of injury and liability. While Sarah was most certainly justified in her use of force, she could easily have been over-powered by two large male attackers, especially if they had been trained. Relying on her use of force training rather than focusing on protection nearly got the female martial artist killed.

A PPP should be awareness and avoidance-based, rather than reaction or use of force-based. Knowledge of how to survey surroundings for threat could have prevented Sarah's attack. While the young executive and martial artist was able to fight her way to freedom, she still carries the memory and scars of the encounter and will for a lifetime. Simple concepts taught in Eyes Wide Open: Bodyguard Strategies for Self-protection could have prevented her attack. 

Millions of attacks just like Sarah's happen every year in America. How many people start each day thinking about personal protection and planning the day with avoidance of violence in mind? Avoiding violence takes far less energy and resources than handling violence or mentally and physically recovering from violence. More than 2000 years ago in the Art of War, Chinese military strategist Sun Tsu taught that vulnerability should be in the enemy, invincibility is in oneself. Avoidance does not mean living in fear. Avoidance means understanding the enemy that you may face, and becoming invincible.

At a time when our nation has been called into a state of "vigilance" in response to terrorist attacks, each American should be educated in threat recognition, assessment and avoidance techniques. Each person would benefit from the concept of personal invincibility.

Random Versus Predictable Violence

It all starts with understanding violence: where, when, and how it really occurs. Misconception and myth about violence abounds. Eyes Wide Open is based on both statistical research and interviews conducted with victims of violence. Even I was surprised to discover the truth about violence.

Violence is one of two things: random or predictable. I define random violence as the victim had no reason to expect the event prior to its immediate on-set. For example the workers who entered the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 had no reason to expect that they would be victims of violence that day. The victims of the gunman who went on a shooting spree in Pennsylvania in the summer of 2000 had no reason when they got out of bed in the morning to expect that they would face a killer.

In contrast, predictable violence means that the victim had sufficient information to assess that violence could occur that day, given a specific location, activity, history of events, or type of persons who would be encountered. Sufficient information was available to passengers who flew on those ill-fated flights on September 11, 2001 for them to be at least generally aware that travel by air was a high-risk activity. Hi-jackings of commercial airlines began in the 1960s. Cockpits have been accessible on commercial airlines, even after the onset of the age of hi-jackings. Short-bladed knives considered lethal weapons, were allowed on commercial airliners for years (PHOTO___) and a high percentage of the population carries concealed short-bladed knives for personal protection (Photo __ ). A lethal weapon, just by its presence creates a high risk environment. You cannot predict the circumstances under which the lethal weapon might be pulled or used.

Steps to protect yourself from random violence are different than predictable violence. A partial list includes: learning to assess your environment, developing and taking mental note of escape routes for emergencies, identifying the last "safe place" you passed, identifying high risk places and avoiding those places or heightening awareness while in them, and developing reflexes for fleeing a scene or evading a last minute attack. 

Preparing for random violence may also include learning to recognize concealed weapons and understanding the effective range of common types of weapons: cutting/edged implements, impact tools, firearms and rifles. Do you think you will never face an automatic weapon? 

Doris was traveling to Switzerland several days after the September 11th attack. She had read portions of Eyes Wide Open and contacted me about the dangers of traveling in such high risk times. I shared very general concepts with her:

· pay attention to what is happening around you;
· listen to your gut;
· report suspicious activities;
· escape conflict if you can;
· if you cannot, then face a physical threat centerline of the body to centerline;
· if you cannot escape and are forced to fight, strike vital targets.

As fate should have it, two days later Doris was outside a building in Switzerland when a gunman opened fire inside that same building. Doris had stepped off a plane from America only two hours earlier. The man inside the building shot numerous victims who were complete strangers to him: random violence. Doris was about to go into that same building when she heard the first automatic gunfire erupt. 

Lucky for Doris, when others around her insisted that the noise was not gunfire, she listened to her instincts. If Doris had dismissed her gut feeling or abandoned her newly created PPP, she would have gone inside the building and been a victim too. 

Doris was among the first to assess what was happening inside the building. She was personally responsible for alerting police, who then entered the building and apprehended the shooter. How did she do it? First she was aware of her surroundings, she heard the gunfire and recognized the noise. Second she noticed a police officer passing by in a patrol car, and she laid on the horn of her vehicle to get his attention. With the windows rolled up the officer could not hear the gunfire and was oblivious to what was going on inside the building.

Doris courageously yelled to people who were walking towards the building, alerting them to the danger inside. This was seconds before bloodied victims dove out of windows to escape the shooter. Her simple response to random violence prevented others from becoming victims. 

Unlike Sarah, Doris is not a martial artist. Yet, she is living proof that one person equipped with basic PPP and a few easy-to-apply concepts can make a difference. Her PPP saved her life and the lives of others. Overshadowed by September 11, her story did not make it into US newspapers, still, Doris was a hero that day and I am proud of her!

Most violence is predictable, and therefore preventable. Something preceeds the violence. Predictable violence can be categorized by how it begins: verbal confrontation with an emotionally triggered person that escalates to assault, surprise frontal attack, rear assault/surprise attack, multiple attacker ambush for kidnapping or sexual assault, robbery of personal property under the threat of violence, acquaintance sexual assault, and road rage. Predictable violence includes traveling to, passing through and remaining in areas that in Eyes Wide Open I identify as high risk locations, such as fatal funnels (places with only one way in and out).

Preparing A Personal Protection Plan

Every young adult and adult should take the time to prepare a Personal Protection Plan. The first step in preparing your own PPP is to determine the type or types of violence that you may realistically encounter in your normal life. For example, if you are a middle to upper class business person who frequently travels to Mexico (one of many high risk countries for travelers), you have the potential to be kidnapped for ransom. If you do not travel internationally and have no financial assets, this type of violence is not likely to happen to you. If go into the office after hours, perhaps something like the first story in this article is a possibility for you? Do you work in upper level management and make decisions regarding firing personnel? Then the potential exists for a frontal confrontation with an emotionally triggered employee.

Next assess where you will travel to, through or remain in high risk locations, and times you will be isolated. If you frequent bars, reduce your awareness and response time with alcohol, and are easily triggered by words or actions of another, then you have a high probability of experiencing frontal confrontation that escalates to assault. If you visit ATMS and are unaware of your surroundings, withdraw money and wave that money around, then you have a high probability of being ambushed from the rear. If you go to the office after-hours alone and do not pay attention to what is in a 30-foot radius, then you run the risk of a rear ambush while you unlock a door.

Variables of Exposure to Violence

Human conflict is human conflict. Learn about the Variables of Exposure to Violence. I developed these variables based on interviews with bodyguards, victims of violence and extensive statistical research of violence. The Variables are: accessibility/vulnerability, predictability, visibility, high risk locations and activities, level of awareness, familiarity with the environment, and gender. This conceptual model applies to domestic violence, street violence or terrorism. Watch the movie Black Hawk Down and find them at work in the now-famous military action in Somalia.

Understanding the Variables can also prevent exploitation such as identify theft, and kidnapping. With the Variables in hand, you can begin to assess daily routines that are predictable, places and moments of assessability to attack, actions or manners that lead to visibility, how to assess an unfamiliar environment, choices that compromise awareness, and high risk locations and activities. Take the time to learn about the Variables that apply to human conflict in daily life - now! Think about violence before it happens. If you wait until you face violence, you have missed the opportunity to protect your well being, and you will be forced to defend your life. If you have had no training, then nothing is what you are likely to do when unprepared and surprised. In this sense, self-defense really IS it too little, too late.

Statements: Agreements to Thrive in Life

A PPP is built around statements that begin with, "I always___________." Start by assessing what you always do to stay safe and avoid violence right now. Then add in what you plan to do from this day on. I recommend a primary or general plan that is always followed and a daily plan that fits your planned activities for the day. People who travel frequently should also develop a Travel PPP. 

My primary plan consists of actions that I take no matter where I am. I always lock my door when I come home at the end of the day and survey my house (about 50% of violence against women occurs in a private home). I always keep the doors and windows to my house locked. I always keep the doors to my vehicle locked. I always tell someone my destination, route and itinerary when I am traveling alone. I always have a weapon within my sight. I always stay more than arm's length away from strangers. I always limit who has access to my home telephone number. I always travel with a charged cell phone in case of emergency. I always assess entrances and exits when I am in any room or building. I always limit the access of strangers to my home. Unless my environment is secure (I am in a locked room alone), I always pay attention to who is within a 30 foot radius. I always check my environment closely before I turn my back, and I recheck what is behind me frequently while my attention is focused to the front of me (for example, while unlocking a door). 

While these statements may seem like "small steps", taking these simple steps may save your life. Remember that awareness and quick response based on a PPP saved Doris and the lives of those she warned!

Other steps that I add to my daily plan depend on whether I will be in a high risk situation, location or activity that day. Considerations for the daily plan depend on details such as whether or not I will be commuting, in meetings with strangers, working unusual hours, or working in or visiting unfamiliar locations. Other actions may also depend on whether someone in my life is emotionally triggered or unstable. I create my daily plan just like I select my clothing for work; it is just what I do, every day that I leave my home. 

Simple Steps to Live Life Free from Violence

Simple steps and a basic PPP can and may save your life. Take a moment to prepare a general PPP and commit yourself to considering your safety every day. Learn the Variables of Exposure to Violence and assess these variables that are already at work in your life. Human conflict is a part of life and has been since Sun Tsu lived. How you handle each conflict may determine whether you will simply survive, escape the conflict, or avoid the situation to thrive and live life fully another day.