How to Survive a Personal Assault

Even in “normal” times, there are those people out there who are prone to violence and theft, including home invasion, armed robbery or assault. The problem is that these people exist and wreak havoc even when they know that police and other authorities are available to pursue them.

Following a natural disaster or SHTF, these criminals know that police and other authorities will be less available and basically much slower to respond to calls for help and in fact, emergency systems may not even be functioning. This means the number of assaults, and robberies will most likely increase during a post-SHTF scenario.

neck knife over t-shirt visible and under unbuttoned shirt
neck knife over t-shirt visible and under unbuttoned shirt

Unfortunately, there is no way that you can predict when or where a personal assault will occur. There are however, some things that you can do to defend your turf against invasion, and defend yourself against a personal assault both pre and post-SHTF

Doing so begins with an understanding of how predators select their victims.

Victim Selection

Whether you know it or not, your potential assailant is “interviewing” you to see if you are suitable to his purposes, i.e. an easy mark. Barring you are being pursued and assaulted by someone who knows you and has developed irrational hatred of you, you do get some vote in the matter.

The majority of scumbags we are worried about are classic predators, meaning they do not want to court failure or risk injury or incarceration for little to no payoff. If the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, they’ll look elsewhere. That’s a win for you.

Assailants are sizing you up according to three major criteria: potential level of resistance, or force, your bearing and the location of the attack.

When assessing the level of force you could potentially bring to bear against them, the bad guys will look at things like your age, fitness level and if you have any obvious injuries that will hamper you.

If you are male, younger, strapping and fit, you are less likely to be targeted than an old, feeble man. Women in general are often targeted because your average woman is less of a threat physically.

Your bearing includes things like your attitude, the way you carry yourself and how confident and otherwise in-tune with your surroundings you are.

If you seem alert, calmly confident and aware of the people and environment around you, you are less likely to “pass” your victim interview. If you are skittish, nervous and distracted by groceries/keys/phone/whatever, you are more likely to be targeted.

The location is the one thing the attacker always has the say over. Wherever he decides to launch his attack is where it will happen. You only get a choice in avoiding, or trying to avoid, ground that is most favorable to him.

Areas with few witnesses and tight, short sightlines that also prevent you from maneuvering to escape or signal help are preferred with cause. Think entrances and exits to buildings, stairwells, elevators, and the classic dark alley.

In the next sections, we’ll break down each of these factors into their component elements so you can better tailor your defensive procedures.

Environmental Awareness

The first step to preventing a personal assault is to mind your environment. You won’t always have intimate knowledge of your environment (ever travel?) but the more you know about the areas you travel to and from, the better can avoid dangerous areas.

In addition, knowing the area will help you to escape quickly via an alternate route if you become aware of someone following you or about to attack you. This means that when you enter a building you make a note of where the stairs and exits are located.

The key takeaway for environmental awareness is to make staying conscious of “dangerous ground” and ambush points second nature.

Some favorite spots for predators to launch their attacks include transitional spaces- doorways in and out of buildings, stairwells, elevators, parking lots,- and any place that has a built in distraction- gas pumps, checkout lines, loading or unloading things from your car, ATMs, etc.

If you get attacked, it won’t always be in one of these spaces, but odds are it will be and you should be extra cautious and alert when in them.

You should also know the layout of streets and alleys around your home and place of work and know exactly how to get to a police station or other safe place (in a WROL scenario) from your home or work no matter where you are. If you are out in public, take note of where security guards or police are posted in case you need their aide quickly.

Above all, trust your gut! Our hindbrains are wired to alert us to danger from uncertain or risky places, and that squelch of fear you feel when walking down a dimly lit street, or when turning your back to fiddle with the gas pump are not products of paranoia or an overactive imagination!

That’s your finely tuned and primordial survival mechanisms trying to alert you to a dangerous situation. And for all those who would naysay or shame you for that, and chide you that “nothing bad ever happens” remember that god luck covers bad tactics, until it doesn’t.

Situational Awareness

The first thing to know about preventing personal assault following a post-SHTF event or even in “normal” times is to be alert and aware of your surroundings. Easy right? Right! Except it is 100% impossible to be completely situationally aware all of the time.

At least, it is if you want to live a normal life! From fielding phone calls to driving your car to pumping gas and paying for groceries, you’ll do a thousand things every day where your attention is on the task at hand and not on what is going on around you.

Sure, you’ll hear the peanut gallery pop off with, “Oh, well you’d better! I always know who is around me and what they are doing! I never let anyone get a position of advantage on me!” Really, strawman?

How about that ex-con behind you in line at the fast food joint when you are waiting on your burger? What’s that, you didn’t know he was a con? How could you know?

The moral of the story is that you will never, ever, ever have 100% all the information you need to make informed decisions, and ergo you cannot ever have total situational awareness. That’s where the old saying “we die in the gaps,” comes from.

But that is getting a bit too on the nose; we can stay aware enough when we are in vulnerable positions to pick up on the most obvious cues that we are being selected for victimization.

At any time we are awake, we should be in a state of relaxed alertness, paying attention to who is around us, potential trouble, and verifying that trouble is not coming down the pipeline.

It is often said the best defense against a personal assault is to avoid confrontation and run away. This is undoubtedly true, but unfortunately, most victims are caught off-guard by their attacker because they were distracted or not paying attention to their surroundings.

The brief window of time, between the point an attacker targets you and their initial attack, is your best chance to escape unharmed. Furthermore, running away, while fine in theory is only an option if you have enough warning to reverse out of an impending situation and then hit the jets. What if you are out of shape, injured, infirm or just slow? Then frankly running away is not an option.

Many self-defense articles talk about tips and tricks to help you remain aware of your situation.

It can a simple habit such as getting your keys out of your purse while still inside a building, walking from your home or work to your car with your car keys in hand and ready to use as a weapon if you are attacked, and checking under your car as you approach and in the back seat before you unlock the door and get inside.

To practice being situationally aware, you need to pay attention to changes in the weather, notice a strange car parked across from your building several nights in a row, or the change in the pattern or pitch of the neighbor’s barking dog.

Listen to changes in voice patterns of the people in the crowd behind you, notice if someone is walking slower or faster than the rest of the crowd, or if the same person keeps showing up throughout your day. These little warning signs will give you the extra time you need to make your escape before an attacker can overwhelm you.

Carry Weapons

Every adult individual should be prepared to defend themselves in the event that a confrontation cannot be avoided or you come under surprise attack. For many people, this means guns.

If you choose to carry a gun, make sure you take the time to learn how to use it and to select the right gun for your needs. We have great articles on guns for concealed carry and home defense and how to employ them effectively.

Other options include knives, non-lethal methods of self-defense such as pepper spray, and improvised handheld weapons such as tactical pens, flashlights, and electrical weapons.

For any weapon to be effective and help you survive a personal assault, there are three prerequisites: First, you have to have it on you, second, you must be able to access it in time, and third you must know how to use it.

If you leave your defensive tool at home or in the car, it might as well be on the moon if you need it right now to save your bacon. Carry your tools, no exceptions! And if you are going to carry it, you must know how to use it or it will do little good.

It’s true that in the case of guns merely getting it into gear and discharging it will usually end the attack (don’t think I’m advocating for wild, un-aimed fire here!) but to do even that much you must know how to both properly grip the gun and deactivate any safeties, if present.

It is the second factor, access, that will be the doom of many people. Almost everyone I know and talk to about self-defense is under the idea that they’ll see the attack coming in time, plenty of time, and then they’ll haul out their gun, draw their knife or pull their pepper spray and get to work, or just run the bad guy off. This is a dangerous fallacy.

Most people learn they are being attacked when the attack begins. Why else would the refrains of “He came out of nowhere!”and “I never saw him coming,” be so common otherwise?

It is far, far more difficult to access and pull your weapon, whatever it is, when you are being whaled on, shot or stabbed than you could imagine. The fact is you’ll have to earn an opportunity to access your weapon safely in such an instance, lest it be taken away and used against you. Happens more than you might think.

Practicing hand-to-hand skills like striking and grappling is an essential component to self-defense, as is working out tricks like misdirection and distraction if you are less than physically able.

It’s also a good idea to learn how and where to use everyday items such as keys, pens, letter openers, frying pans, umbrellas, etc. to defend yourself if necessary.

Found and “innocent” objects can give you an edge in an attack when you don’t have your weapons of choice or simply cannot get to them, and give you that extra chance to escape from an attacker.

If you know where to strike and can strike hard enough, many very ordinary items can become effective weapons of self-defense.

Stay Physically Fit

This is the 800lb. gorilla in the room. Every prepper wants to talk gear, tactics, and what-ifs and no one wants to talk about cutting fat, getting strong and developing physical capability.

That’s because you can’t avoid it. Getting physically fit takes an awful lot of work, but there is little you can do that provides a bigger return on investment when it comes to making yourself hard to kill.

Plenty of people have lofty ideas about how a fight will go down. A move here, a technique there, and boom, bad guy gets dumped on his head and you trot off like a conqueror.

Yeah, okay, right… Fights are messy, and require tons of energy to prosecute. Triple it if it turns into a nasty affair that goes to ground.

When was the last time you had to go hand to hand with a younger, strapping male in much better shape than you? You’ll lose all the gas you ever thought you had within 30 seconds.

Heck, even with a relatively clean stand-up fistfight, akin to a boxing match, most people cannot even hold their hands up after a few rounds.

There is no two ways about it: you will have much better chances of survival if you are physically fit and strong. And should you get the time and opportunity to run away, you had better have the aerobic capacity and raw speed to get away clean or get to help. The last thing you want is to have to stop to catch your breath and have your attacker catch up to you.

Treat fitness like any other essential skill set: approach it with a goal and a plan to get there, then work your plan like a summer job.

If you went to the range when you felt like it, shot whatever felt good or fun, but skipped some days, and changed guns, and then sometimes went with your training partner to work on what he wants to work on and other times no, and then at the end of a training cycle found out you had made little improvement in your shooting skills, would you be surprised?

If the answer is no, don’t treat your workouts like that theoretical shooter’s example. Get training, get a plan, stick to it. That’s it.

Fortify Your Home

We’ve already said the best way to survive a personal assault is to avoid becoming a target. One way to do that when you are at home, as opposed to out and about, is to make sure that your home is fortified against any unwanted intruders.

Make use of fencing, exterior lighting, and professionally installed alarm systems so that you can deter intruders from targeting your home to begin with. A house does not have to be a fortress to deter thieves if they think that making an attempt on your home will result in their capture.

Beyond the essentials, you can and should reinforce windows with proper locks, doors with anti-kick devices, and sliding glass doors with rods and stops that will force intruders to at least break the glass if they want to get in instead of lifting it right off the track.

Replace hollow wooden doors and frames with steel or solid core wooden ones. Reinforce deadbolts and hinges with upgraded hardware including extra-long mounting screws of high grade to add support to your anti-kick frame. Even on their own, simple hardware enhancements like this go a long way to making your door harder to kick or ram open.

You can even change the very landscape of your property to better protect against assaults. Spiny plants under windows, clear sightlines to the edge of the property and strategically placed, or eliminated foliage and decorative elements can keep lurking attackers out of blind spots or funnel them into strategically defensible positions if they are committed.

Surviving Home Assaults

No matter how much you plan and fortify your home, there’s always the chance that someone will be able to get inside anyhow. It could be you forgot to lock the back door, neglected to close your bedroom window before you left work, or left the garage door unlocked.

Whatever the circumstance, from a kicked door in broad daylight to a surreptitious midnight entry, you could be surprised by an attacker who has already gained entry to your home.

As soon as you realize there is an intruder inside your home, your primary goal is securing your home and the people inside against harm. If it is just you and yourself living there, escape is an option.

Nothing inside your home is worth your life; that’s why you have home owner insurance. Do not confront an intruder if it can be avoided. If it can’t, or if you have family members in the home, you must prepare to fight, or as I like to call it, repel boarders.

If you are fortunate enough to have the entire family on one end of the house, you should move to block or cover access to that part of the house at a logical chokepoint.

If not, you’ll need to move out into the house, locating and neutralizing or running off the intruders as quickly as you can. You cannot afford to barricade yourself on one end of the home if you have kids or family at the other end.

Prepare a code word or phrase that you can shout to family members that will tell them what’s happening and what they should do. You might employ a word for “stay!” and a word for “come to the master bedroom”. Do whatever makes sense for your family and most importantly practice using it!

Dan’s Note: Also, don’t want to use your safe room unless you really have to. Unless you are 100% certain that the cavalry is on the way, bunkering up in an inescapable safe room may as well be sealing yourselves in a tomb if the baddies decide to wait you out or set fire to the house.

Additionally, it is always easier to defend from the outside in, you need a certain amount of room and time to react to developments; you cannot do that from within a safe room, even if it has cameras.

One grim eventuality of home invasions is that an increasing number of them evolve into the invaders restraining the occupants with tape, zip ties or cordage.

If you are unable to escape or repel the invaders, and you end up being tied up or handcuffed inside your home, you must know how to escape from restraints. Your chances of a good outcome plummet drastically if you are restrained and defenseless!

Picking when and where you’ll try to escape your restraints is important. Don’t let your attacker see that you are trying to get out of your restraints. Once you’re out, your goal again is to get out of the house undetected if possible and run for safety or turn the tables on your captors. If you have other family members restrained with you, work together if you are able to help each other get free.

After all this, sometimes your best bet may in fact be compliance. Sometimes you might be confronted with a seemingly no-win situation, one that ends in Morton’s Fork: two distinctly bad outcomes that are distinctly different. In that case, you might need to comply to buy time or simply not get a bullet put in you or your throat cut on the spot.

No matter what happens, keep the bad guy(s) talking if you can, and don’t antagonize or insult them. All but the most heinous and depraved crimes still have a “social” element to them: if I do this, you do this.

In this case the bad guys dictate the flow, and you had better live up to those expectations or else get an educational beatdown or just killed on the spot for your theatrics.

Dan’s Note: If you can, talk to them as loudly as possible. Neighbors might hear you and he might bail at that point. Even if they can’t, he doesn’t know that. Also, never comply with him when he tells you to find a knife or rope. Make it as hard as possible for him to harm you.

Final Word

There is no way to predict when a personal assault will take place, so your only defense is to take steps now to be as prepared as you can be to protect yourself and your family.

Make the time to execute drills with your family. Practice self-defense techniques so that when danger presents itself, you will be more likely to act quickly and instinctively.

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