My near-attack on Monday night is still ruminating in my head. The after effects are slowly becoming apparent. By now the adrenaline from the night has left my body and I am finding my muscles sore from having been so tightly tensed during the encounter. My backache has also returned, a place where I know I carry tension. I have been taking extra care to treat myself well by doing yoga and meditating. This is helping to re-calibrate my body chemistry by lowering stress hormones and helping me get back to a peaceful. healthy state. While I would never want to be in that situation again, there is a plus side (besides overcoming writer’s block!). From a social scientific perspective, I now have enough evidence on attacks to conclude what is the most effective preventative behaviour. Again, I hope this information will help you.
I have lived not only in London, but central London, for the last 14 years. Millions of people from all over the world live here, move here, holiday here. And, considering the large amounts of people I live next to, walk the streets with, travel with, and encounter in my daily life, I don’t think anyone would find my 4 incidences (approx once every 3 ½ years) that much of a surprise. After successfully escaping all 4 encounters unharmed, I now feel I have a big enough sample size to recognize some patterns. Most importantly, I can clearly see that the best way of preventing an attack is by being assertive. And, therefore dispelling the myth, that it’s best not to provoke or antagonize your attacker.
Let’s compare this to a game of tennis (unfortunately, without the champagne and strawberries). Your opponent decides that he wants a game of tennis and serves the ball. Because you have not signed up to play, you are taken by surprise when the serve comes to you. However, at this point in the game, is it even possible to provoke your opponent to serve? No. This has already been done. The game is in motion and at this point, you have two choices. 1) Do nothing. Let the ball drop. This is what he is expecting, because he is a crap player anyway, which is why he never asked you if you wanted to play in the first place. You do nothing, he wins. 2) Hit the ball back. The odds are now in your favour because he is not expecting you to hit it back. You catch him off guard and win the point. He decides he doesn’t want to play with you anymore. You’re too good for him. He finds someone who doesn’t mind letting him win.
Here are my four encounters, used as evidence to support why being assertive works. In chronological order:
1) Covent Garden, 11pm: I was standing outside a pub at closing time with a group of friends. Two suspicious looking guys were standing near our group (I say suspicious because they were both wearing aviator sunglasses and it was night-time!) After a few minutes I felt for my purse, to make sure everything was safe. I discovered that it was unzipped, and the sunglasses laden pickpocket was mid-way through trying to rob me. After a quick feel in my purse, I noticed my phone was missing. I turned to him and shouted, ‘You just took my phone. Give me back my phone…now!’ He turned to his friend, who took my phone out of his pocket and then handed it to me. Then, they had the audacity to saunter away. This part, I am not suggesting you do. I started following behind them, yelling and pointing, ‘Thieves! These two, right here. Watch your belongings.” They had enough sense to break into a slow trot, while I tried to kick them in the ass. NB: Guess who everyone thought
was exhibiting the antisocial behaviour? Hint: It wasn’t the thieves. The weirdest part of the story was peoples’ reactions when I told them what happened.
Them: “I can’t believe you did that?”
Me: ‘Why not?”
Them: “Well, they could have pulled a knife or something.” Or “How could you be absolutely sure they had done it? You could have been falsely accusing someone.”
Ah, the English and their unwavering dedication to the ‘don’t make a fuss’ rule.
2) Marble Arch, 7pm: I was walking down a near-empty street and I hea
rd a bunch of footsteps coming up behind me. I instinctively grabbed my purse and looked behind me. A group of 4 teenagers ran up behind me, with one making a half-attempt at grabbing my purse. I started shouting at them, ‘You little brats! How dare you attempt to rob me.’ Again, this next part isn’t really necessary, but it made me feel good. They started running away and I yelled at them, ‘Yeah, you better run. I am calling the cops now and they are going to find you!’
3) Great Portland Street station, 10:30pm: I exited the station and a man was sitting on a bench. He smiled at me and, not wanting to be rude, I gave him an awkward,
alf-smile, half-wince back. Women, WHY DO WE DO THIS? I, for one, am going to stop worrying about appearing rude to strange men. He took this as a sign of encouragement and I could feel him get off the bench and start following me. I wasn’t too alarmed because there were still a few people about and I am a really fast walker. But, a few blocks later, he was still in pursuit. I turned around and saw he was about a block away. I shouted as loud as I could, ‘Stop following me! Go Away!” He said, ‘I just want to
talk.” I said, ‘Don’t you ever follow a woman on her own at night. Get away!’ He left. I hate to say it, but I think he might have actually just been very bad at flirting, but I certainly wasn’t going to get up close and personal to give him some much needed lesson.
4) Regent’s Park Tube Station, 10:15pm
My story here
Apologies if you think this is self-indulgent. That is not my intention. As well as being cathartic for me to write about, I want to show
you, based on my experience in 4 different situations, that you must shout, be assertive, and ‘make a fuss’ if you want to prevent an attack. As for being targeted in the first place, I don’t know how much you can do. I am always aware of my surroundings and don’t put myself in stupid situations. I am 5’ 10” and not what you could consider slight. Due to constant nagging from my mom in early youth, I stand very tall, and I have been targeted a few times now. I think it’s down to random ‘luck’. What is most is important to consider is that this isn’t about being brave, it’s about NOT being nice. Don’t smile at the stranger, yell as loudly as you can, don’t be polite. And, once the game is already in play, you must hit the ball back. The stakes for losing are too high.