Sunday, November 27, 2011

Campus Safety

Prior to Thanksgiving Break, I received a pamphlet in my mailbox concerning campus safety. There have been a string of attacks near campus lately, attacking lone walkers for money, computers, wallets, etc. The pamphlet outlined a few pieces of advice: try to walk in groups, be aware of your surroundings particularly in the evening, and use the escort service any time after 6pm by calling the campus hotline.

Further down, it recommended a series of self-defense videos. Finally, it concluded with the warning to women in particular: if you must walk alone late at night, grip your keys between your fingers so that you can swipe at any potential attacker and apparently do enough harm to incapacitate the person while you run away.

This final piece of advice made me laugh out loud.

Has anyone done this? Does anyone think that if you are attacked, getting the person in the face with your keys will be enough to knock the person down and allow you to escape? I'm not talking about the advice about being aware or walking in groups -- sound advice, that -- but encouraging that someone fight back with a half-cocked "weapon" of keys seems really irresponsible. Especially if the current spree is non-violent and property-based (wouldn't attacking turn it into a violence situation?).

(And why address only women in particular? Wouldn't men need to be aware as well? The publicized attacks have, after all, targeted men.)

Whether you are a man or a woman, please tell me: do you walk alone at night? If you don't, is this because of your gender? If you do, do you curl your keys into your fingers and prepare to strike another person? Have you ever been attacked and successfully fended off the criminal with quarters rolled up in your hand?

Is this just one of those urban myths that we tell each other that has no grounding in real life?


  1. I rarely walk alone at night on campus because my campus has inadequate lighting and I tend to trip over stairs (it's that dark). I don't fear for my safety, however, because I have a huge set of plastic keys I bought at ToysRUs and will rattle the hell out of anyone who comes near me.

  2. I thought this is what pepper spray was actually for.

    Me, I do the key thing when going into a parking garage alone, feeling totally ridiculous.

  3. Having keys in hand when walking alone at night is a good idea. If you are being followed or watched, you can quickly get into your car without fumbling around looking for keys in your pocket or purse.

    I am surprised that security encouraged you to fight back, even when attacked. Often, they encourage you to run or just give up your money to avoid a conflict.

    Gripping the handle of a knife in your fingers might do a better job if you decide to fight back.

  4. I never used walk with keys in hand until recently. At my university, we've also had a very much publicized wave of attacks recently (mostly on men, and most weren't violent but one was). I realize walking with keys may not do much damage unless I am able to get close enough to a potential attacker to stab him (or her) in the eye with the keys, it gives me some consolation that having a little something is better than nothing. As a female, I do feel more vulnerable than I think I would as a male. Regardless, the increase in attacks has prompted me to leave the department before dark unless I have someone to walk with me.

  5. I found this pretty illuminating:

    To summarize: when placed in a threatening situation, your intent isn't to injure or incapacitate anyone, but just to get away from the threat ASAP. It's when you try to be a big man (woman?) and take out your attackers that people (you) get hurt.

    Don't agree with everything there, but I've never agreed with the I-have-pepper-spray/I-know-karate/I-have-fashioned-my-keys-into-a-makeshift-shiv mentality.

  6. When I was a postdoc I lived in a neighbourhood where as soon as I got off the bus it was a default action to ball up my fist with my key chain inside, with the largest key protruding between my index and middle fingers. I then walked the 4 blocks to my apartment with my arm at my side or barely inside my pocket (not thrust deep into the pocket - if 2 muggers work in a team one grabs your arms and traps them in your pockets) ; my intent was not to beat the crap out of a possible mugger, but to give one big quick thrust to an eye socket or the gut followed by running like hell.

    The unintended side effect of assuming a battlefield mentality was that I had such a grim look on my face that nobody messed with me, and on occasion I noticed other lone walkers walking towards me cross the street to the other sidewalk...

  7. I'm sure I'm not alone when I assert that *that* is probably one of the best graphics ever to accompany a post. ell-ow-ell.

  8. My graduate university was (well, is; it's still there) in a relatively poor, high-crime city. Our security department gave the same sort of advice about waling in groups, using the shuttle service, and other commonsense precautions like that.

    When it came to an actual confrontation, they always advised us to just give up the wallet/cellphone/computer. One good reason for this was that most of the incidents in the area around campus involved the use of handguns, and a fistful of keys isn't going to do you much good against a guy pointing a pistol at your chest.

    I was lucky enough, in my time there, never to be mugged, but I knew quite a few people who were, and I was first on the scene after a couple of other incidents, each of which happened right outside my residence. The whole thing made me cautious, but at the same time you can't let yourself become obsessed by it, or you would cower indoors in fear for your whole life. That's no way to live.

    Where I live now is, by comparison, very safe, and I barely even think about these issues anymore. Places that are sometimes considered "dangerous" around here wouldn't even pass for "a bit sketchy" in my grad school town.

    P.S. I agree with Dr. Cranky: outstanding graphic.

  9. I've never been attacked or even threatened, so I count myself lucky....I remember once being on a community college campus for an event and coming out into utter darkness because the light timers had been shut off (power outage during the day - I think) and all I could think was that it was the perfect set up to run around dressed like Klaus Maria Brandauer in "Mephisto."

  10. I'm not crazy about the graphic----why such a dramatic rendition of a black attacker and a white victim? Such a graphic would never fly where I work....

    Anyway, when I went to grad school, I lived in a high crime area, and I always walked around with a big ole can of mace in my hands, grim faced, watching everyone around me with a crazy look, ready to use it. The only time I ever sprayed it was when I wanted to test if it still worked. I sprayed it, and then thought I'd just walk through the mist to see if anything happened.

    Baaaaaad idea. Anyway, it worked!

  11. (um...looked like a hooded figure to me...and I liked it.)

  12. The "attacker" is wearing a ski mask in the graphic. The hands and face are white.

    I do the key thing when I'm jogging alone. It's supposed to be in case you're grabbed suddenly, and the assumption is that this would more likely happen to women as targets of rape. You're to aim for the attacker's eyes with one big jab and then run like hell. Thus, it's not a technique you would use on a mugger with a gun.

  13. The image is definitely not supposed to indicate race, and I apologize for the confusion: it was supposed to look like a hooded figure jacking the forefinger.

    Oh well.

    Ben, I wholly disagree, as those who wield knives are far more likely to cut themselves than their intended victim (there is a study about this, but a quick good isn't showing it and I have to go to work... maybe later tonight?)

    I feel like my impression of the keys-as-weapon is indeed more of a psychological comfort than a realistic help, although I can also see the handiness of getting a potential rapist in the eyes -- not that rape is usually a stranger-on-stranger deal (a woman is far more likely to be raped by acquaintance than stranger).

    The whole pamphlet looks as though it has been put together by a person working in myths and yahoo answers.

    (glad to see so many people have *not* been victims of crime; the way the media talks sometimes I thought maybe a few stories would come out.)

  14. Okay---I see my mistake. How could I miss the white hands? My bad on the graphic, and apologies all around---but I still don't think they'd like it at my college.

  15. I've been a victim of crime, just not the "stranger jumps out at you" kind of crime. Is there a graphic for "frat boy gets you drunk and then abuses your body while you are passed out?"

    I loved the graphic, BTW.

  16. I was mugged just off campus during grad school. The guy walked me to an ATM at gunpoint and demanded $300. You know what I did next? I withdrew and gave him $300.

    I've walked with my keys in my fist, too, but even if they were in my fist that night, I would have dropped them back in my pocket and given the $300 again. I'm still alive and unharmed.

    (And they caught the guy a week later, which is awesome.)

  17. I think I'd be better off learning how to run really fast and carry an air horn to startle anyone who has the guts to scare me.

  18. encouraging that someone fight back with a half-cocked "weapon" of keys seems really irresponsible.

    I disagree. Encouraging people to fight back empty-handed, while it may be more "responsible," is probably less effective. The goal is to cause immediate pain and discomfort to the attacker so that he or she focusses on his own situation instead of on assaulting you. Suggesting that it's easy to cause harm to an assailant - who is probably bigger, stronger, and more aggressive than his or her target - while empty-handed is just a fantasy. If if was that easy, no one would ever be victimized by violent criminals. And encouraging people to just give up and accept violence inflicted upon them is completely irresponsible. Keys are something we all carry and they are a legitimate self-defense tactic. If you must fight for your life, keys are better than nothing. Give it a try - take a key and stab it into your throat or some other soft, vulnerable part (not bone). It hurts, and you don't need to know any special tactics to do it. Well, perhaps you can just use your imagination on that one rather than actually stabbing yourself. However it's stupid to fight for your wallet or your property - I wouldn't want to bleed or die for my property. The only time I'd advocate self-defense tactics is when you are in imminent danger of harm and cannot run away. Running away's always best, but self-defense begins where the running away option ends. Another time when you should fight is if someone attempts to kidnap you and take you to a secondary crime location. Statistically, your chances of surviving a secondary crime location are extremely low. Allowing yourself to be kidnapped and taken to a secondary location probably means torture, rape, or murder, or perhaps all three. So, if you must fight for your life, do it at the initial crime location and not at a secondary one of the assailant's choosing. I know this is counter-intuitive; if someone sticks a gun in your ribs and says "let's go," most people will go. This is an understandable reaction, but statistically, chances of surviving a secondary secluded crime scene of the assailant's choosing are so low that you'd be better off fighting for your life at the initial crime location.

    It's also not a good idea to walk around looking fearful or grim-faced or aggressive with a weapon at the ready. The best deterrent to criminals is to look confident, even if you have to fake it. Note that rapists may spend as long as 30 minutes picking out their intended victim.

    If you carry a knife, be sure you are comfortable using it. Any struggle involving a knife means one or both parties will be cut. If you must carry one, practicing drawing, stabbing, thrusting, and slashing. Accept that you draw a knife for self-defense, then you must use it, not to destroy the assailant, but to make him or her lose motivation. It's kind of like drawing a gun - never do it unless you actually intend to use it. The minute you draw a gun or a knife, you become dangerous and it's far more likely that you will be hurt by those who want to stop you from using your weapon.

    If you're not comfortable with knife practice, then just carry an ordinary pocket knife, which can be useful in other contexts anyway.

    I have spend many years and thousands of hours learning self-defense. If it's truly a concern, go get some training. Otherwise, keys are not a bad suggestion.

  19. Ok, Bella, I'll bite: why wouldn't "they" at your college like the graphic? What is objectionable about it?

  20. I usually curse in Russian [I don't think I really need to curse though - just speak Russian out loud, say, one of Pushkin's poems will do] so nobody would want to deal with russian mafia. You know, like in that idiotic DirectTV ad.

    Frankly, I was several times in situations similar to those described by AM and never thought I could use keys. I usually ran as fast as I could [if I was alone] and kicked as hard as I could [if l couldn't run].

  21. Patty, we are not talking about either attack a person empty-handed or attack a person with a flimsy weapon.

    (neither of which is AT ALL a good idea).

    We are discussing the pros of turning a pretend weapon on someone that is probably already more prepared than you to take you for what you've got.

    And I'm sorry, but your post made me laugh the same amount as the initial pamphlet. It's like there are people looking to make women be all afraid of the tiniest mouse in the corner. And women who ARE THAT AFRAID subsequently piss me off for being so fucking gullible.

    Christ. Attack a stranger with your keys. Even a harmless person will think you are crazy.

    In defense of Bella, she might be at an institution that is racially charged and tries to mitigate potential issues, such as having a dark hoodie that might, as in this case, be interpreted as a slight against a demographic of people.

    But I hope she'll return to tell us!

  22. @Surly: we have graphics people-----for flyers, posters, anything we put up. It all has to be approved first. Doesn't everyone? The graphic incorrectly struck me as being a black on white crime. I realize that's not what it is----but I think the very dark perp and the very light victim give that impression at a quick glance. Maybe I am just sensitive to that kind of thing. Anyway, I admit I got it all wrong, and will take whatever abuse. Just wanted you to know we do actually have a real "they" here who police things like this.

    @PP: You are right----my grim faced routine was ridiculous. I was at most a danger to myself or some innocent bystander. I remember one time I scared off two guys coming out of the apartment building next to mine----they took one look at me and went right back inside. I am sure they were afraid of the crazy girl with the mace LOL!

  23. It's good to see that the RGM is keeping up with topical Amazon ads. (Did anyone else appreciate the Self-defense Keychain and the book on evolution?)

  24. We are discussing the pros of turning a pretend weapon on someone that is probably already more prepared than you to take you for what you've got.

    If you would prefer to accept violence inflicted upon you, that's your choice, Academic Monkey, but to suggest that everyone must do the same is a bit arrogant. Other people may wish to preserve their lives and keys offer an advantage over empty-handed defense. If you're more comfortable fighting for your life empty-handed, by all means, proceed in that fashion, but to insist that everyone else should do so, or that everyone else should accept violence inflicted upon them, is irresponsible.

    This is self-defense, not "attacking a stranger." When you are assaulted, cannot run away, and there's no one to help you out, you don't have much choice - you can accept the harm inflicted upon you, or fight to survive. I have been assaulted several times and I survived because I didn't just accept it - I fought for my life. Other people may choose to do nothing - we are all free to decide how badly we want to stay alive. But to insist that empty-handed defense against assault is more effective than an improvised weapon is ridiculous. And to insist that no one else should fight to survive merely because you would choose to suffer grievous harm or death rather than defend yourself is just plain arrogant.

    Whatever you do, don't walk around looking frightened or grim-faced or aggressive, even if you feel that way, you must recognize a true threat versus your own anxiety. Just walk calmly and confidently until you reach your destination. We all hear about these horror stories in the news, but they never cover the greater percentage of assault victims who escape unharmed. The odds are in your favor if you prefer to survive. If not, that's your choice, of course.

  25. Patty,

    My god, I just realized: you have no idea how to fight. You've never been in a fight before, have you.

    Guess what: if you attack somebody, they will kick your fucking ass. You can pretend its "defense" but that doesn't change the fact that poking some person with your keys -- and barely scratching them -- will only enrage them and probably lead to your DEATH IN THE STREETS.

    You will be attacking someone who expects your attack and who probably has more experience in defending themselves than you do. They will be able to counter your attack.

    Go ahead and attack someone with your stupid keys-in-fist weapon. It won't do jack shit but make the person trying to steal your purse more angry and you will probably end up in a lot of pain.

    Better plan: be aware of your surroundings, travel in groups, and give them your purse if they want it.

    If you plan to attack someone in defense, take some lessons and practice. Take it from someone who has had to fight her way out of situations before, you don't want to be carrying a flimsy excuse for a pretend weapon. And your adrenaline will not be enough to fight properly. You will be nervous. You will half-ass your throw. You will fail. And they will be angry.

    Don't be an idiot. Go to a class today and learn just how hard it is to be a successful person when you fight back.

  26. Eh, I don't really care about the opinions of armchair warriors. Self-defense has nothing to do with the Internet. I have thousands of hours of self-defense training, as I mentioned previously, and I train for many hours a week and have been doing so for many years. As I mentioned previously. Nor would I ever defend property, as I mentioned previously. I am not interested in attacking anyone, as I mentioned previously. If you are, then you're far too violent to engage in an Internet discussion.

  27. That's your answer? Suspicions confirmed. But that means you aren't hanging around parking lots looking to attack people with half-cocked key-weapons, so that's a relief. I thought you were serious at first.

  28. Just read in the local paper about a woman surprised in the entryway to her apartment by two masked men, at least one carrying a gun. They asked her to go into her apartment with them. She screamed and struggled. They ran off. Nobody hurt. So, in my incredibly scientific n=1 study of how to react to when both outnumbered and out-gunned, the recommendation is to resist.


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