Surviving a Mugging: Here’s What to Do

One of the classic scenarios adherents of self-defense train for is the mugging: Some criminal scumbag, or gang of scumbags, threatening your life if you don’t give up your valuables.

stealing camera from backpack

Sometimes they won’t even ask, setting upon a hapless victim with violence and intent on picking the corpse or unconscious body clean of loot.

Everyone understands the necessity, but few understand the stakes. You are likely not dealing with some hapless, desperate criminal that is just as scared as you are.

You are probably going to be dealing with a hardened con, a real predator that is going to be much, much better and more comfortable inflicting violence on people than you are!

You must be prepared to protect yourself and your family from these dangerous parasites that cling to the flanks of society like ticks.

In this article we are bringing you tried and true advice gleaned from real-world experience in dangerous places around the country.

Understanding the Mugger Mindset

Before you can defend yourself, you need to understand the mugger’s mindset.

Why do muggers, well, mug people? Not a joke question. We must understand their motivations to properly contextualize their behavior.

What are they hoping to gain from this encounter? Why are they targeting you specifically?

Your typical mugger, like any armed or unarmed robber, is looking for valuables or cash outright, something that can supply him with resources and get him a little farther down the road.

Although robbery might occur as an accessory or follow on crime to some other felony, much of the time it is done professionally, meaning as a direct source of income for the person committing it.

But robbery entails a certain likelihood of resistance on the part of the victim, so robbers must be cautious and smart when selecting victims.

The ideal victim will provide maximum gain in loot for the minimum amount of resistance. In most cases, the mugger is looking for an easy target; someone who doesn’t look like they’re going to put up a fight.

They want your wallet, your phone, and whatever else they can get their hands on as quickly and easily as possible so that they can move on to their next victim.

It is important that you understand that just because your average mugger is an extremely violent criminal misanthrope.

They will hurt you at the drop of a hat. However, they’re not looking for a fight; in fact, most muggers would rather avoid one if possible.

If you give them what they want without any fuss or resistance, they’ll might well leave you alone and move on. But then again, they might not.

This uncertainty coupled with the explicit promise of grave injury or death is what makes a mugging so terrifying.

But don’t worry, now that we understand the basic thought process that informs the behavior of muggers we may work to counter them.

We will do this by several means. Making ourselves look like anything but a good target, understanding and avoiding where muggings are likely to happen and learning how to handle ourselves should we be mugged directly.

Mugging Near San Francisco's Dolores Park Caught On Camera

Don’t Look Like a Good Target!

One of the most important things you can do to stay safe when confronted by a mugger is to not look like an easy target. What does an easy target for a mugger look like? There are several criteria that make up the perfect target.

The perfect target for a mugger is someone who is physically weak or infirm.

If you are small, old, skinny or obviously sick or injured you’re going to start climbing the priority list for a mugger. Muggers also greatly prefer people who appear nervous, ill at ease or meek.

Confidence, so long as it appears genuine, gives muggers pause because it leaves room for doubt that the victim might know how to handle themselves in a fight.

Muggers also love people who are distracted, staring into space or otherwise not paying attention one way or another.

If you are busy loading groceries into your car, carrying packages when coming out of a store or staring at blithely into your phone with your earbuds in you fit the description.

And as you might expect muggers also love people who obviously display wealth. High-end personal electronics, jewelry, designer clothing, bulging wallets and the like. The more vulnerable it is to direct attack the better.

To avoid looking like a good victim, simply don’t look like a good victim! Even if you are scared to death or nervous do your best with the following:

Move with a purpose: wherever you are going and whatever you are doing, move and conduct yourself at a smooth, even pace. Don’t drag your feet, but don’t walk quickly like you are already scared that someone will notice you.

Have a good posture: when you stand up straight with your shoulders back and keep your head level it is a message to everyone that you are generally confident and self-possessed.

This is a basic indicator that a person is probably not a good victim for a mugger.

Make eye contact appropriately: don’t avoid making eye contact with the people around you but don’t stare them down either. A second or two of eye contact is all that is required to let people know that you see them.

Especially when someone is staring you down, a mugger for instance, you want to make eye contact with them briefly so they know that you know they are there.

Avoid Tunnel Vision: This means being aware of your surroundings and knowing where the exits are, keeping your head up when looking at your phone and regularly taking stock of your surroundings when you are engaged in an activity requiring your full attention.

Avoid Conspicuous Displays of Wealth: Dressing in a way that doesn’t make you stand out. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry or clothing, and try to keep your wallet slim and in a front pocket rather than in your back pocket.

If you’re carrying a purse, make sure it’s tightly closed and keep it tucked under your arm instead of hanging off your shoulder.

Now that you know what a good mugging victim looks like, and how not to look like one, we need to understand where a mugger is likely to strike from, and why.


Typical Areas Where Muggings Happen

Continuing our analogy of comparing your typical mugger to any other predatory creature, you’ll notice a pattern in their hunting behavior.

Where predators, be they snakes, lions, birds of prey or anything else, strike at prey near watering holes, the edge of the Savannah ,or near the burrows of the things they hunt the mugger will similarly patrol certain territory looking for food, as it were.

An hour modern urban or suburban landscape, the mugger’s hunting grounds could be areas where people go to shop, particularly near affluent areas, near AMTs, and so forth.

Also in any place where people are known to carry cash like business districts or in a crime ridden parts of town where their activity is likely to go unnoticed or unreported.

It is an easy thing to say that one should simply avoid these areas, but what if you don’t have any choice due to your living arrangements, your job, business, or from some other necessary interaction requirement?

As is often said, much of the time real life gets in the way of best procedure.

The most important thing you can do when you are in any area where mugging activity is known to be high or is likely to occur is to stay properly and truly alert. And particularly to stay alert for any signs or cues of pre-mugging activity.

We will go over these signs likely to be exhibited by muggers in the next section.

Pre-Mugging Detection is Paramount

The single best thing you can do in order to avoid being mugged at all is to stay alert for signs and cues that a mugger is in the area and about to act. If they are about to select a victim, you want to make sure it isn’t you!

And just like all predators, muggers exhibit what are known as “pre-attack indicators.” These are subtle or overt tip-offs that someone has ill-intent.

Learning to spot these indicators can help you avoid being targeted in the first place, and can also give you a heads-up if you’re already being targeted.

These are what I like to call the personal space invader and the fake do me a favor.

Both entail letting a person get entirely too close to you, a tactic commonly employed by muggers to initiate a direct attack upon you when it is too late for you to get away.

The Personal Space Invader

The personal space invader is exactly what it sounds like. Someone that is way too close to you, inside your personal space.

They might approach acting entirely too chummy, mentally ill or deranged, drunk and disorderly or some other way. Anyone acting this way must be prioritized as a potential threat and treated accordingly.

But, the fact of the matter is that in everyday civilian life there will always be people who are way too close to you as you go about your day.

This could be someone that is also waiting in line to get some Goods or use a service, other patrons at a crowded venue or any other innocuous circumstance.

The trick is to qualify why people are allowed inside your personal space. If someone does not have a damn good reason, they don’t get to approach, the end.

The Fake “Do Me A Favor”

Sadly, the next common approach method that muggers will use is the fake do me a favor.

Someone will approach you, perhaps even politely, asking for a small favor or boon. They’ll ask you for a light, ask you the time, ask for directions, for a handout, for help or anything else.

When you divert your attention, even for a moment, to fulfill the request they pounce.

Sad, but that’s the state of the world. Just because someone is asking you for a favor doesn’t mean they plan to mug you, but once again you must consider the circumstances and the approach in context.

Other Indicators

With those two major pre-mugging indicators out of the way, let us look at some of the other most common pre-attack indicators include:

Patting, Shifting, Touching : anybody who is regularly touching or fidgeting with a certain part of their body might be checking on a weapon that is placed there.

The weapon might be shifting, or they might be subconsciously verifying that it has not moved and is still ready for use.

Hands Concealed: this is a big pre-attack indicator in the right context. Anyone who has a hand or both hands hidden might already be accessing or gripping a weapon that you cannot see.

This is particularly noteworthy if their hand is hidden in a regular way, such as hell behind their back or oddly inside a bag or other container.

Shaking or Trembling: fear and anxiety can often produce subtle or major tremors and shaking in people due to adrenaline and other sympathetic nervous system effects.

This is particularly likely to occur with young or green criminals, but might not occur at all with a hardened con or veteran mugger.

Sweating: people sweat for all kinds of reasons, including innocent nervousness or high temperatures. That being said, if someone appears to be sweating for no reason or particularly is sweating in conjunction with other indicators on this list, be wary.

Large, unusual arm movements: large, dramatic and jerky movements of the arms particularly when in a lubing or circular motion or a sort of mental rehearsal for a punch or other strike, and are typically exhibited by people who are psyching themselves up to attack someone else.

If someone is already acting angry and you see these come out, prepare yourself for violence.

Touching or rubbing head and neck: a stereotypically male tic that often appears immediately prior to violence. Also exhibited by people who are feeling acute stress.

Rubbing, stroking, grasping, pinching and other grooming or soothing touches on the head, face or neck should be considered warning signs.

Dodgy, shifting glance; looking about: if you notice anyone peculiarly looking around themselves in an odd way, they might be looking for victims, witnesses or their accomplices who are even now positioning themselves around you.

Also take note of anyone who is looking at you and seems to snap their gaze away when you make eye contact with them, especially more than once.

Nervous, furtive manner or attitude: probably the most stereotypical and a classic pre-attack indicator.

People who are looking around with a furtive, fidgety and darting glance are usually indicating they have something to hide or they are nervous that people will figure out what they are doing.

Maybe they are just nervous, but maybe not. Keep an eye on such people particularly when they are exhibiting other signs and symptoms on this list.

Now, we know what a good victim looks like and how not to look like one. We know where muggings typically take place and how to conduct ourselves when in these places.

We also know how muggers look and behave immediately prior to launching their attacks.

Now it’s time to learn what to do when all of those things fail, and you wind up squarely in the sights of a mugger.

Ambush! What if You Don’t see it Coming?

Now, me or anyone else telling you to “be aware” is all well and good, but sometimes you just don’t see it coming in real life. We all get distracted and we all have things to do day to day.

The bad guys know what they are doing, usually and have a way of pouncing precisely when we are distracted or preoccupied!

Most worryingly, the attack might actually begin with you being shot, stabbed, struck or grappled in order to overwhelm and control you. Speed, surprise and violence of action works for the bad guys, too!

It is extraordinarily difficult to truly prepare yourself for the violence of such an attack, but prepare you must.

You might have an opportunity to run if you are aware enough, you might be forced to fight back in order to defend yourself or, maybe, if you comply with the muggers demands they will leave you alone, alive and unharmed.

You might even have calls to employ all three of these strategies in the same encounter if you want to survive!

As you might expect, this is a thinking person’s game and you’ll have precious little room for making mistakes or committing any other errors if you want to get out with life and limb intact.

Survive a Mugging – Run, Fight, or Comply?

In the event that you are unlucky enough to be targeted by a mugger, what should you do? You are standing there with a steely or wild-eyed miscreant sticking a gun in your face or holding a knife to your ribs.

Perhaps they are a crazed junkie suffering from withdrawal and desperate to get their next fix. Maybe you’re dealing with a professional predator who robs to eat.

Whatever the case and whatever their reasons, you have to deal with it and make a decision. The million dollar question is: Should you run, fight, or try to comply with their demands?

Now, your decision must be predicated on the precise situation you are in.

If you were not immediately harmed with lethal force from the outset, you must assess the mugging as a type of interaction where there is an expectation of the correct response.

Meaning, the mugger wants something from you or else. You don’t want to experience the or else. Compliance might still be the correct response.

On the other hand, if you have been targeted by lethal force from the outset, you have only the option of running for your life, if you are able, or fighting back and stopping the attack.

Understand this: there is no 100% correct method or response. You will have to use your head on the worst day of your life to inform your choices, choices which will have consequences one way or the other.

Whatever you decide, act quickly and implement it decisively and remember that you might have to switch gears during any or all of them during the encounter.


If you see an opportunity to run, take it. Muggers prefer easy targets, and if you can get away from them they’re likely to give up and move on to someone else. Just make sure you’re not running towards danger

If the mugger is armed, for example, or if there are other threats in the area you might blunder into them in your mad dash to escape and wind up worse off then you were before.

Also, consider this: though everyone with a brain will tell you to run away, run away the moment you perceive you are being mugged – well, that might not be possible.

Particularly when you are surprised and didn’t see the attack coming, you’re going to be starting off surprised, flat-footed and potentially cornered.

The mugger or muggers will be statistically younger, faster and in better shape than you are. Even if you run as fast as you can, will you be able to get away from them and reach safety?

Though it is true they might decide to simply give up if you are able to get enough distance quickly enough since they don’t want to attract attention, they might not and if you attempt escape only to be caught again there is likely to be severe reprisals.

Consider two that someone who is injured, infirm or just in severely bad shape probably cannot attempt a meaningful escape at all unless the mugger decides to let them go!

Furthermore, though running away and getting away cleanly is certainly the best possible outcome you might have to “purchase” the opportunity during the attack.

You might attempt to flee after fighting back against your attacker and wounding or stunning them.

Maybe you can attempt escape through a little bit of trickery and misdirection in the form of throwing down your wallet or some other valuable that will keep the muggers focus.

If you live in an area that is high crime or prone to this type of criminal activity you might decide to craft and carry what is commonly known as a decoy wallet for the purpose.

Take an old wallet, fill it up with a fake id, useless trial credit cards, gift cards and about $20 in singles and carry it in a dedicated place on your body just in case you are ever held up.

If you can keep your wits about you, you can pull out this decoy wallet, fumblingly drop it while babbling hysterically and then hit the afterburners as soon as the mugger’s attention is diverted.

To reiterate, running away and actually getting away is always your best option if you can pull it off, but attempting to run away when you can’t pull it off could get you hurt or killed.


Fighting back is definitely a viable strategy, but it can also make things worse if you fail to neutralize your attacker.

However, if you absolutely have to fight, then try to do so effectively and efficiently. Neutralizing your attackers one way or the other is the goal.

They must be so overwhelmed and injured at the end that the thought of pursuing you to say nothing of continuing their attack is out of the question.

But keep this in mind. Despite the assertions of some self-defense fanatics and apparently bloodthirsty instructors, you don’t always want to fight back just because you get mocked.

It will be a fight, after all, and that means the bad guy or bad guys get a vote. You are likely to be injured, potentially even mortally.

Also, as mentioned above, the bad guys themselves are probably much better at doling out violence than you are and have significantly more experience.

A one-on-one encounter with a violent mugger is bad enough, but multiple attackers, particularly if one or more are armed, is a level of difficulty and risk that most people simply will not be able to decisively deal with.

That being said, if you are already being assaulted or you suspect that you’ll be killed outright even if you comply, fighting back is your only option.

It is helpful to consider your red line moment well before the fateful day actually arrives. Put another way, what are you willing to put up with and what won’t you put up with under the circumstances?

You might be content to let your wallet, watch and other valuables go but what if the muggers threaten your spouse or attempt to abduct you?

What if the mugging turns into a sexual assault? You don’t want to be dealing with the shock of the situation without an answer to it already on hand.

Whatever the case, when the time comes to fight back against your muggers you must fight like the devil himself.

Inflicting uttermost violence at the highest possible speed against your attacker or attackers is the only objective. Any weapons you have should be employed, be it a gun, knife or something else.

If you don’t make the bad guy regret every decision he ever made from the moment he woke up that day you aren’t fighting back hard enough.

One more thing: keep in mind that muggings occur at very close range, quite literally bad breath distance.

Any weapon that you have and attempt to access could potentially be fouled or grabbed by the muggers and used against you or just stuffed. If that happens, you are likely to be severely injured or killed outright.

As always, you will need an opening to effectively access and employ a weapon in your defense.


If fighting or running away isn’t an option, then try to comply with the mugger’s demands. This may buy you some time and give you a chance to escape or summon help or enact another strategy above.

As much as it chafes some people to consider, sometimes the best and safest course of action is to give the bad guy what they want.

Just remember that compliance doesn’t guarantee your safety, so be prepared to fight or run if the opportunity arises.

Also remember that you might comply with the demands of the mugger falsely, meaning you will fake compliance only to the second that you can attempt escape or a counter attack.

This is usually the best possible course of action when you are caught by ambush or otherwise taken flat-footed.

Complying with the demands of the attacker can buy you just a couple of precious seconds to further assess the situation, what is around you and your other options.

This might be done to assuage the mugger while surreptitiously accessing your own weapon, be it a knife, gun or something else.

Feigning compliance can let you get ahead of the muggers expectations of your behavior only to surprise him utterly when he thinks he has won.

But it must be stated again that just because the mugger has an expectation of your behavior, and ostensibly a reward for obeying, there might not be a happy ending for you. Violent criminals will hurt you for any reason, including no reason at all.

You might think you are a potential witness that he can ill afford, or he might do it to prove his brutality and Worth to his compatriots. He might simply do it to start building a grim and fearsome reputation.

Compliance is always fraught with risk, but then again so are the other strategies we have detailed here. You are in a bad situation, no doubt, but the fact of the matter is that compliance with a robber’s demands can keep you alive.

Counter-Criminal Strategy

To sum everything up, we have placed the most important steps, strategies and mugging avoidance concepts into this list below.

Read the article, digest it and then re-read these steps, mentally and if necessary physically rehearsing them until you cannot get them wrong, even under stress.

Be Wary of Mugging Grounds: always be alert, and if possible try to avoid, areas where muggings are likely to occur, including shopping districts, high crime areas, ATMs and any place where people are known to carry lots of cash.

Don’t Look Like a Victim: keep your head up, pay attention, move with a purpose and don’t look like a weak worm of the Earth. Confident people who move briskly and are aware of the world around them are rarely a mugger’s first choice of Target.

Know How to Manage Unknown Contacts: anyone who is getting too close to your personal space must be assessed and if necessary dealt with to prevent you being put in a bad situation.

No person who does not have an explicit reason to be that close to you must be kept at a distance, manners be damned.

Look for Pre-Attack Cues: people who are planning to mug other people often betray their intentions through subtle or obvious movements and behavioral cues.

Learn to spot and recognize these cues, particularly when you are already in an area where the risk of mugging is high.

Maintain Situational Awareness: it never fails that the attack that gets you is the one you didn’t see coming. Learn and practice reducing any gaps or flaws in your overall awareness of the environment and who is around you. Staying alert is the best way to prevent yourself becoming a victim.

Always Have a Plan: never allow yourself to become complacent by thinking it can’t happen to me. Despite your best efforts you might become a victim of a mugging.

Should that occur, have a plan and be prepared to adapt your plan to the situation. You can run, you can fight or you can comply with the mugger’s demands.

Stay Alert, Stay Alive

No one wants to be the victim of a mugging, but unfortunately these crimes do happen. The good news is that there are things you can do to avoid being targeted and steps you can take if you find yourself in a dangerous situation.

By being aware of your surroundings, staying alert, and knowing how to respond, you can greatly increase your chances of safely making it through a mugging.

So stay safe, everyone, and remember – don’t be a victim, be a survivor!

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