In one of my favorite books about personal safety, The Gift of Fear, author Gavin de Becker dedicates an entire chapter to the “survival signals” that can help people recognize the actions indicative of someone with sinister and violent intent. As de Becker describes how predators use a variety of tactics to gain control over their intended victim, he provides a number of indicators that can help people get left of bang by recognizing how people might try to get a person to lower their guard. When you identify a person who could become violent towards you, how quickly and decisively you take action can have a significant impact on your personal safety. What you do in that moment will determine how well you are able to protect yourself from the danger you have identified.
While the decision you make about whether to confront the person, attempt to de-escalate the tension or remove yourself from the area will be based on your perception of the situation and how much danger you are in, for people looking to take control of their personal safety, letting others know that you need help is one of the most impactful ways to begin to take the power away from the person who is threatening you. By letting other people know that you need help, the power dynamic begins to change and the odds of you being able to ensure your own safety go up. Take a moment to visualize a situation where you might need to do this, though. How will you actually let people know that you need help? This is a question worth considering as it is critical to have both a plan and a method by which you can alert people when you are in danger.
The Default (and Ineffective) Method
For most people, the way that they would alert other people that they are in danger is by calling them on their cell phone. But take a moment to think about all of the steps and the actual logistics that go into doing that. While you are dealing with and face-to-face with the person who has made you feel threatened, you would need to take your phone out of your pocket or your purse, unlock it (often by typing in a passcode), open the phone app, find the person you want to call in your contacts or recently call list, call them, wait for them to pick up, and then explain to them what is going on, where you are, why you need help and what you need them to do.
All of those steps, while simple under the stress-free conditions of everyday life, become incredibly time-consuming when you are facing a potential attacker or concerned about your safety. In addition to this process forcing you to take your eyes off of the person that has made you uncomfortable so you can dial the phone (taking your eyes off the person is the last thing that you want to do), you may not know exactly where you are or even make it clear to the threatening person that you are calling for help. Add in the fact that the call itself might confuse the person you are talking to and that our 911 systems can’t always track locations from cell