An excerpt from Vistelar Consultant, Jill Weisensel, M.S., in her book, Confidence In Conflict for Campus Life
Amanda kept a close eye on the two unknown individuals that had now been following her for several blocks. She noticed that they were closing in on her, and that one of them kept holding his hand on the belt line of his pants, as if he was trying to hide something or hold something. She felt her heart start to race and her palms get sweaty, so she quickened her pace and turned left at the next block. “Jordan!” she screamed, as she ran towards her and hugged her.
Jordan was with several people she didn’t recognize, but she couldn’t be happier. “Dude, Amanda, you don’t even like me. What’s your deal?” said Jordan. As she looked up, she noticed the two creepy looking individuals who had been following Amanda. They had stopped, turned around, and started walking away. “Oh,” she said. “That could’ve gone bad. Let’s get you to where you were headed. Stick with us.” Amanda may not have been friends with Jordan, but boy, was she thankful to run into her.
Up to this point, you have learned a lot of new information about how to manage your space and how to keep yourself safer within that space. You have learned:
- How to be a when-then thinker
- How to identify red flag risk indicators
- 360 Degree Proxemic Management and the 10/5/2 rule
Now, we are going to further discuss what to look for in various situations you will encounter on campus. First, we need to understand the difference between threat assessment and risk assessment.
At it’s most basic level, “risk assessment” can be understood as a systematic process of evaluating what risks you are vulnerable to. For example, if you went sky diving, you are vulnerable to serious injury because your parachute could fail. If you had a leg injury, you would now be more vulnerable to having someone steal your wallet and run away with it because you would be less able to catch them. After you have identified vulnerabilities, you can take measures to reduce them. Next, you should conduct a threat assessment, which involves identifying any threats to those vulnerabilities. If your parachute had a broken string–that’s a huge threat! If you saw someone tailing you on the street, that person could pose a theft threat. Both of these skills are important. You need to be able to identify your vulnerabilities accurately so you know what risks you might face, and you need to be aware of the elements in your environment that pose threats to those vulnerabilities.
Threat assessment in a given situation, or of a specific person, is a continuous process. It isn’t something you do “just one time,” and then you automatically assume since something was safe a few minutes ago, that it is safe now. For example, let’s say you needed to cross a busy street. There is the risk that you could get hit by a car. So to prevent yourself from getting hit by the car, you seek out a cross walk, and wait for a red light, which helps you minimize the risk of getting hit by a car. Then you look both ways before stepping into the road. By looking both ways before you cross the street, you made a threat assessment of the situation and decided either to cross the street, or wait for cars to pass. But let’s say last week you had to cross the same intersection, and you looked both ways and it was safe to cross, so you did. That doesn’t mean that this week you’d just blindly walk up to the intersection and step into the road. You would look both ways again to determine if it was safe, and even as you continued to cross the road you would continue to look both ways to make sure a speeding car doesn’t run a red light and hit you. In a nutshell, this is how you should approach the ongoing assessment process in every situation.
Conducting a Threat Assessment
So now that you know what threat assessment is, I’m going to go into more detail about how to do it. One of the first things you need to think about is how vulnerable you are in a particular situation. If you needed to get home late at night after studying, you’d be less vulnerable to robbery or assault if you were in a car rather than walking. If you needed to walk, you’d be less vulnerable to robbery or assault if you were practicing good 360 Degree Proxemic management, had your valuables hidden, and were wearing practical footwear, rather than walking alone, intoxicated, texting on your smartphone, and wearing flip flops. All of those little things contribute to your overall vulnerability in a situation. To assess vulnerability, you also need to consider, “What is the source of the threat I am vulnerable to, and why?” If you can answer those questions ,you will be well equipped to protect yourself against it.
There are many threat assessment opportunities for you to consider. Again, if you walk into a situation and something or someone just doesn’t feel right, listen to it. Your gut instinct is telling you to go from Condition Yellow to Condition Orange, and whatever it was that set off your radar deserves your attention. Some of the things you should consider when conducting a threat assessment of a person include:
- The time of day, your location;, and if you are around other people, sound, and light.
- The relative age, size strength, and skill level of the potential threat(s).
- If they are “enjoying their space,” or focused on you or another person.
- If they have rapid breathing and seem anxious or nervous (fidgety).
- If they make an unexpected movement or change direction and head directly toward you.
- If they start to increase their level of movement or start to exaggerate their movements.
- If they appear to go from calm to angry, and showing excessive signs of emotional distress.
In the example above, Amanda started to take notice of several o f these things. She noticed that it was late at night (dark), she was alone (outnumbered), the subjects pointed at her (were more focused on her than what they were doing), and started heading directly towards her (unexpected change in direction). Do you remember what else Amanda noticed? That’s right. One of the subjects grabbed the waistband of his pants as if he was holding something up. Could it have been a handgun? It very possibly could have!
People who are about to attack you will also give away other clues. You should be able to notice a change in their body posture–they will assume a more “athletic” stance, also known as a “boxer” stance, and you may even be able to see them start clenching their fists and shifting their shoulders in an effort to get into a more powerful position to attack you. These are all indications that you should be managing your space, and doing everything you can to create more distance between you and that individual.