Safety in Transitional Spaces

This video has circled through social media recently, so let’s talk about it. How many of you go about pumping your gas while in your own little world, not paying attention to your surroundings? Let’s talk about some lessons we can learn from this incident.

Surveillance footage of a woman assaulted at a gas station.

The victim in this video had an opportunity to notice the subject as soon as she pulled into the parking lot. She likely dismissed him as another pedestrian or even a vagrant/panhandler. People loitering aimlessly in a place where most others have a specific purpose (to pump gas, to buy snacks, etc) is an indicator of someone performing victim selection. Pay closer attention. As soon as the victim exits her car and walks toward the store, his vector changes to put him on an intercept path with her. The sudden change from “aimless wandering” to moving toward you with specific purpose is another indicator…he’s selected his victim.

“Transitional spaces” are uncontrolled spaces we must pass through on our way to somewhere else. Parking lots, bus stations, elevators, *gas stations*, are all transitional spaces, and most random attacks like this happen in transitional spaces. Our victim is obviously distracted, lost in her own thoughts, walking straight ahead and not really seeing her environment. She has no idea this guy is approaching HER specifically until he grabs her. Eliminate distractions in transitional spaces. Put your phone away, take off the headphones, pay attention to your surroundings.

Managing Unknown Contacts, or MUC, is a concept taught by Craig Douglas aka Southnarc. Craig is a former SWAT and undercover narcotics law enforcement officer and now a prominent personal defense trainer who teaches police and citizens alike. Simply put, MUC is a defense-focused system of interacting with strangers who may or may not be a threat. While I won’t go into the detail that Craig provides, I will say that verbally acknowledging someone you see approaching you like this can go a long way toward learning their intent toward you. Without being rude or antagonizing, a simple “can you please not come any closer to me?” or “I would be happy to talk if you just stay over there” will cause most benign people to grant your request for distance. If the person continues moving toward you, it does not always mean an attack is about to happen (mental health issues and intoxication are just a couple reasons your request might be ignored), but it is an indicator that you may need to err on the side of caution. You might now respond by moving sideways away from the person (someone rushing toward you to attack you will carry the most momentum moving in a straight line), speaking while gesturing with your hands (which gets them up into a space where you can use them to defend yourself if necessary), or issuing a more firm verbal challenge (“I said STOP”). A louder verbal interaction may also draw attention from witnesses and bystanders, but you should never rely on someone else to assist you. 

Sometimes all else will fail and you will find yourself in a situation where an attack is imminent or has already begun. In that moment, you should fully expect to self-rescue; as already stated, you can’t count on anyone else to save the day. While there are several fad or novelty self defense products that should be avoided, OC/pepperspray can be an excellent tool to use in a variety of circumstances where a force multiplier is needed (perhaps due to a size/strength difference, a lack of entangled fighting skills, or simply the undesirability of getting up close with certain folks). If, however, your attacker presents a threat of severe injury, rape, or death, and you do not have the option to safely escape, then hopefully you are equipped with a firearm and are prepared and willing to use it. Be familiar with your state’s laws on the use of deadly force, and understand that your gun is a last-resort tool to prevent you from becoming a victim of serious violence. However if the day comes where you must use it, be prepared to follow through with your whole heart and do what it takes to survive. If you are forced to use a firearm in self-defense, the aftermath looks like this: ensure the threat is over, get to a nearby place of safety, and immediately contact law enforcement. Do not be holding your firearm when they arrive, and be prepared to comply with their commands until they have a chance to sort out the situation.

Stay vigilant, and stay safe.

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