November 9, 2011

Disobey and Escape

In college I put off most of my PE requirements until my final semester, so I had a very active final semester: racquetball, aerobics, and women's self-defense. The women's self-defense instructor was good, but grim. A girl from my dorm floor had been taken while out running. She was in excellent physical condition, had several years of martial arts experience, was in a public park, and had mace in her hand, but that didn't stop anything from happening. Our instructor taught us how to slam someone in the nose, and taught us to go for the eyes, and taught us that a strike to the knee is better than a strike to the head---but she also spent a lot of time emphasizing that the important thing was to avoid being in the situation to begin with, because your chances against a prepared and unexpected opponent are...grim.

She also told us about a million times the thing about DON'T LET THEM TAKE YOU TO THE SECOND LOCATION. That is, if someone comes up to you as you're getting into your car, puts a gun to your back, and instructs you to drive, your odds of survival plummet to nearly zero if you obey. Most attackers won't shoot you if you run or scream, even though they say they will: instead, they'll consider the whole thing a failed attempt and go find a new victim. And if they do shoot you when you run or scream, your odds of survival are still exponentially higher (and your odds of suffering/torture are still exponentially lower) in that parking lot than they would have been if you'd gone with them to the place they'd prepared for you.

I consider this a tip on par with "stop, drop, and roll" or "Don't swerve to miss an animal" or "If you're trapped in the trunk of a car, kick out the headlights": it's something I rehearse again and again, in the hope that in the actual situation I'd remember it. As Sam Harris says in his recent article (the first thing you'll see when you click it is a gun pointed right at your face), the overwhelming instinct is to freeze and then comply, assuming that if you just obey everything the attacker is saying, the attacker will go away and you'll be fine. Spoiler: you won't be fine. The promises of being fine are only manipulation to ensure your compliance, and nothing more.

The problem is that it feels as if you have two choices: obey and be fine, or disobey and die. That's the choice the attacker is in fact specifically telling you that you have. But your actual choices are "obey and almost certainly suffer and then die" or "try to escape and maybe not suffer and then die (but probably still suffer and die)."

Here is the part that made me immediately take a sleeping pill when I read it yesterday evening, because I knew I had some lying-awake torment ahead of me: this is true even if you have children with you. If you obey, thinking it will save the children, you are wrong: the attacker is using the children to control you, and the children's odds for survival are exponentially improved if you ABANDON THEM WITH THE ATTACKER AND RUN FOR HELP.

Would you like a sleeping pill? My temptation after reading this was to just take the whole bottle and get it over with. On the other hand, the reason I'm sharing this horror with you is that when I thought it over I found it helped to RELIEVE some of my lying-awake frets. Because it gives me a plan and a perspective, in a situation that I fret over because there is no plan: how can I save a household or carfull of children? I likely can't. And it does it in math terms: the child's odds of survival with you also in the power of the attacker are slimmer than the child's odds of survival with you running away getting help. And as Sam Harris says, if the attacker was going to kill the child, he was going to do it whether you were there or not, and probably he was going to "take his time" (sleeping pill words) and quite likely he would kill you first, leaving the child alone with him anyway but with no help on the way. Whereas if you run, you're still leaving the child alone, but the attacker knows he doesn't have time and has lost the power the child gave him over you, and he's better off considering this a failed attempt and running the other direction leaving the child unharmed. It goes against every single instinct, which is why you have to be told it in advance. (Don't swerve to avoid hitting an animal. Roll around on the flames. Put on your own oxygen mask first.)

One point Sam Harris makes that is so horrifying and yet so educational, is that if someone breaks into your house while you're there, they are there to kill you: plain old burglars make sure the house is empty first. This was enlightening: I'd been thinking that if people broke in, what I would need to do is cooperate so that they would take the valuables and leave. I would have done exactly what Sam Harris says is so exasperating to police officers: I would have believed and obeyed the attacker, thinking it was improving my odds. Never believe and obey the attacker, is the point here. The only goal is to get away and get help.

So as I was lying awake, here are the things I was rehearsing:

1. If the attacker was going to kill someone, he was going to do it either way: it's not a matter of obeying him to save anyone's life. No one's life will be saved by obeying. Someone's life might be saved by immediate disobeying.

2. Leave the child. It exponentially improves the child's chance of survival. Leave the child. Leave the child. (Don't swerve to avoid hitting the cat. Don't swerve to avoid hitting the cat.)

3. If someone breaks into the house, their carefully-thought-out goal is to kill you. Once you know that's the goal, it changes YOUR goal.

4. The only goal is escape. The only goal is escape. The only goal is escape.


This naturally led me to the thought "What if I can't leave the child? What if I CAN'T?" Even that was reassuring: I thought, "Well, then we will be like almost everyone else in that situation, and we will be terrified and suffer horribly, but then we will be dead and it will be over, and the world will go on about the same except there will be a couple of fundraisers and yearbook pages in our memories."

I don't know if this will be as reassuring to everyone as it was to me. (I also found it reassuring to think "And if my attempt didn't work, and the child was killed and I was still alive, I could just kill myself.") I think it's because before, I was thinking that my success/failure lay in manipulating the situation successfully, so I needed to lie awake and practice how I'd do that. Now I'm thinking of it as any other of the other horrifying things that can happen to human beings: car crashes, deadly flu strains, tsunamis, wild animal attacks, leukemia, earthquakes, fluke accidents that shouldn't have happened but did. There are some things you can do to prevent and/or avoid them; there are some things that improve your odds of survival if you find yourself in them anyway; but basically, it's something that happens to some of us, and it's horrifying and tragic but it fits in with the other horrifying and tragic things that mostly can't be avoided or escaped from, and it's worth taking your slim chance. WHICH IS TO DISOBEY AND ESCAPE.

(You can read the whole article here, and I do suggest it. It's hard to do, but his tone is sensible and direct and calm, and it left me feeling the relief of "called the doctor about that lump" rather than the fear that comes from "not wanting to think about the lump, so I won't do anything about it.") (Also, how much do home security systems cost?)

81 comments:

Alice said...

there are SO MANY fascinating parts of this. (i say "fascinating" with a bit of a "terrifying" sentiment, here.)

like this quote: "Failing to prepare is, generally speaking, preparing very well to do the wrong thing." it's so calm, and RIGHT, and then sort of terrifying when i think about it too hard in the well-crap-what-does-that-mean-for-me sense.

that article is SO GREAT.

Alicia said...

i was just about to ask a stupid question, which is whether the article was written by THE sam harris. but then i saw it was on his website. ha.

this is good and terrifying. i haven't yet read the full article, but i will. and then yes, ambien.

Jen said...

The part about leave your child? OMFG it brought tears to my eyes. Instantly. LEAVE MY CHILD? I mean I get the logic but holy hell.

Things I've also learned from my husband (who was almost a police officer)? Run in an arc or other not straight line. Unlike in TV shows, it's almost impossible for someone not extremely well trained to shoot you if you are not running in a straight line. And this one was for dogs but seems like it would work for humans too. Shove your fist as far down their throat as you can. Doesn't seem logical (particularly with a biting dog) but apparently works.

What if I don't have sleeping pills? I need them now. But in all seriousness thank you.

Jessica said...

I find the statement "it's something that [just] happens to some of us" absolutely terrifying. However, I am relieved to know what I should do is run, because - like you said - if I ever thought about a situation like this, I was worried I wouldn't be able to fight my urge to run and would get shot when I did. Now I know: fight the urge to obey, not the urge to run.

Hotch Potchery said...

I ALWAYS walk to my car with my car key poking out of my fingers to use to jab someone in the throat. I pay super attention. I know the second location thing too---especially when they have a knife--run, doctors are good! A girl was taken from the library here---she should have known these things.

I just wouldn't want my child to think I deserted them---

Alicia said...

okay i just read the whole article and realized when i was almost done that i'd been tensing up the entire time.

i like the idea of thinking of these things like natural disasters. there is no way to make sense of them, so the best you can do is learn what to do and (hopefully) do it, if you have to.

sara m said...

When we were in the fourth/fifth/sixth grade range, my best friend's mother made us watch a lot of after-school special type shows about abduction and rape. She would then quiz us about what to do if we got abducted (leave a trail of personal stuff) and raped (pretend like you don't care, don't react). I felt ridiculously well-prepared at the time, but now thinking back on it I'm horrified. Do fourth graders know what rape is? Did she explain it? I have no idea if I told my mother about any of this, but at this point in my life I would be pissed if anyone took the liberty of doing this with my kids (who are still babies, so moot point right now) (wait, did I use moot point right?).

Agg, this comment is quickly getting away from my original point which is, I think about this stuff all the time, with oddly elaborate scenarios in my head. I thought I was crazy, so I find it liberating that someone else thinks about these things too. Ha, that'll show my husband :)

Nowheymama said...

Holy crap. I will be thinking about this article for DAYS.

Elsha said...

I've read stuff like this before (actually, I've read The Gift of Fear, the first of his "recommended reading" list) and it still seems so crazy that disobey and escape is the best thing to do. I'm like you, I need to rehearse it in the hopes that in a real situation I'll remember.

Buster said...

I found the part about self-defense classes lining you up and teaching you to spar to be most interesting. When I was in college I took a self defense class and I remember thinking it wasn't very useful, because I KNEW that someone was going to grab my arm my ponytail. In the actual situation, with surprise and terror, I don't know that my reactions would be there. Scary.

Saly said...

This is more like a sleeping pill with a whiskey chaser type of situation.

Tess said...

What I would like to hear about is someone who successfully LEFT THE CHILD.

I see a few problems with that advice, which is good advice but also has MAN MAN MAN written all over it:

1) The biological impossibility of the whole thing. Seems like telling a woman not to push during labor. You GET why, and yet.

2) If you DON'T follow the advice, as you said, no one blames you. If you DO follow the advice and it doesn't work out, well, then you're the asshole, to put it mildly.

Well, this sounds more crabby than it is. I do agree with the article and hope I would have the clarity to follow the advice, including (CRINGE) "leave the child".

(SAYS THE MAN).

(AHEM).

Hilarity in Shoes said...

OMG did you see my OCD live-tweeting of Oprah's Gift of Fear episode last week?? I practically memorized that thing, and didn't sleep for a month after I read it. And yet, I recommend it to people all the time.

I feel like reading that book and articles like the one you linked are similar to being unpleasantly inoculated--it's a really, really painful experience to go through, and SUPER anxiety-inducing, but then when it's over, I'm left with a helpful mantra to tamp down the crazy. NEVER LET THEM TAKE YOU TO A SECOND LOCATION. I periodically post this on Facebook, just because.

Erica said...

WOW do I not recommend thinking too much about this while awash with postpartum hormones.

Swistle said...

Hotch Potchery- I was thinking it might be something to talk about with children ahead of time, during conversations about not going with strangers.

Swistle said...

Buster- Our teacher had one exercise where we paired off, and one of us closed our eyes and the other one attacked randomly so we couldn't be completely prepared (though of course we were still STANDING THERE WAITING TO BE ATTACKED, which is not realistic). I got paired off with the teacher. When she grabbed me, I forgot EVERYTHING I'D PRACTICED, and instead flailed around and hit her ineffectually in the face. The upside is that it showed me that I shouldn't feel comfortable just because I know a trick or two. (And it may have shown my teacher that it wasn't such a great exercise. What if I'd USED my "slam the nose up into the forehead" maneuver in my panic?)

Annie said...

I have been feeling completely overwhelmed these days by the vulnerability of loving my children; it's the topic of my upcoming blog post.
This was useful, and I'll add it to the (growing) list of things that overwhelm me. :)

Swistle said...

Tess- I had the same reaction. EVEN IF I WERE SUCCESSFUL, I'm still the mother who abandoned her child with a murderer to get help. Doesn't play sympathetically, does it? And if I failed---IF I FAILED. Imagine THOSE articles.

And also, that's why I found it reassuring to think, "Well, if I couldn't leave the child, at least I'd just be like everyone else in that situation. Dead, but relatable."

Swistle said...

Hilarity in Shoes- That's exactly how I feel about it. Today I feel sick and horrible about the whole world, as the shot takes effect. Later I'll have the material, and I'm already glad to have it, even while experiencing the side effects.

missris said...

OH god this article is making me feel squinky and SO SCARED. I took a self defense class in college and they said that if you have to use the keys-poking-out-of-fingers method, the attacker is too close already and will overpower you. I have pepper spray with red dye but other than that am pretty unprepared. Time to sign up for another self defense class!

Jessica said...

Ok, now I've read the article and am even more terrified.

My biggest problem with the leave the child thing IS the "if he kills the child, he was going to do it anyway." If he's going to do it anyway I want to BE THERE. I don't want my child to die alone with a sociopath. Even if he was going to kill me first, my BODY will likely still be there. Plus, if I left and the child was killed, I wouldn't WANT to still be alive. I'd rather have died right there with the child. I understand the odds are the child won't be killed if I run, so I should, but I don't think I could do it.

Ugh. Now you have me wishing I'd never had kids.

Laura said...

Two nights ago, I was in the house alone with the children when I heard a door slowly creak open and then close. It was 3 am and I didn't know if I had heard the front door or the back door. My body was absolutely frozen with fear and my mind was racing. I could hear my blood whooshing in my ears. I grabbed the phone, carefully crept out of bed, considered my options; had just dialed 9 and was searching on the phone for the 1 button when the master bathroom door slowly swung open and I heard out of the darkness... "Mommy, I went potty! Wipe me!" After I fell over,died and revived, I realized just how unprepared I am for this very situation. Middle of the night break-in, children in multiple bedrooms, lights out, etc. WHO DO I SAVE? A good friend of mine suggested I tuck a can of wasp spray under the bed at night in case I ever need to disable an attacker. Now, I just have to worry about one of the children finding the spray and shooting ME in the face in the middle of the night. I may never sleep again.

Swistle said...

Jessica- I know, me too. It's why it helps me to think that if the plan didn't work, I could still kill MYSELF. It also helped me a little to think about how little I'd want my child to see me being murdered and then see the murderer turn toward him/her afterward. But actually that just made me want to have a bottle of gin.

Maggie said...

Man between this and hearing way too much about the situation at Penn State, I feel like I'm going to have to visit my doctor and get a prescription for Valium to get to sleep.

I had the same though as Tess's point #2 - although it seems logical the way it is explained, living with myself afterwards might not be possible, so I guess I come back to your rationale about doing myself in. Jeez.

Thoughts like this are part of the reason why when our dog died, we got another large dog quite soon. I missed my old dog and loved her very much and my new dog is also wonderful blah blah, but the tipping point for me was that I sleep better knowing the dog hears things I can't hear and barks threateningly any time someone comes near our house. I figure it might give any potential psychos pause enough to go elsewhere. And if that's not true, I don't want to know ;-)

Carmen said...

I haven't read the article yet - I'll wait until I'm at home tonight - but I already have a serious case of nervous tummy. This is terrifying. I did not know that bit about a second location. ACK. Now how do I go about teaching this to my children? I've just starting going over code words & never go with a stranger stuff with my kindergartener and that's hard enough. I don't want to make him scared of his own shadow. Oh man. My brain wants to just slither away from this topic and bury it deep inside where it can't keep me awake at night.

Nicole said...

Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god. I need a drink.

Swistle said...

Laura- Our cats often make crashing noises in the night, and then I lie awake thinking, "What if that were an intruder? I'd never know! I'd just be lying her when I could have been calling 911!"

Swistle said...

Nicole- Come on over! I have gin, and funnels!

Jenny Grace said...

When I was a little kid there was a spate of local kidnapping/murdering type events in my area (for awhile in the 70 SC was the mass murderer capital of the...US? Of the world? It was grim).
Anyhow there was this case where this lady got hijacked and then drove to the woods with a gun to her head and in the woods was chained to a tree, raped, tortured in horrible ways, and left to die (which she did). My mom's take away lesson was that the woman SHOULD have either gotten out of the car, or rammed the car right into the car in front of her as hard as she could. And she started telling us that that's the sort of thing we should do when we were QUITE young, and I THINK it's ingrained. I hope to never test that theory, however.

Heather R said...

Oh Man. I'm glad you wrote this. It doesn't make me any more anxious than I already am about home invasions, etc. I really didn't know that I should leave the children....I had NO IDEA! I am glad to know, but wonder if I could actually do it. I had always rehearsed trying to overpower the attacker...like I would get a crazy adrenaline rush and KILL HIM WITH A LAMP! I was going to take a sign language class, but I think maybe I should take a self defense class first!

Lisa said...

Yes, Ambien, please...

I am mildly obsessed with real-life crime scenarios and all that morbid stuff, so this article is right up my alley. My husband makes fun of my seemingly bizarre interest in stuff like this, but I see it as preparing myself for the worst case scenario type-stuff. I'm glad to see I am not the only one! I'm emailing this article to him now.

Also, if you really want to freak yourself right the hell out, watch "I Survived..." on the BIO channel. Holy hell, I need Ambien AND a couple of drinks after that show.

Valerie said...

As the wife of a fireman I sleep alone every third night. I have come to terms with this only because I have prepared myself for the worst. #1 I have an alarm system (a MUST in my opinion, can’t sleep without it on and when I wake up in the middle of the night and hear something I look to see if the red, ‘armed’ light is showing) #2 I have a dog who barks at everything and #3 I have a door in my bedroom that leads outside and a set of hidden spare keys to my car that I can get to if I need to leave without going through my house. I also keep a pair shoes by the door in case I need to run but I would go barefoot if need be and lastly #4 I have a loaded gun by my bed that I know how to use. I hope I never have to but damn it – I am prepared. I don’t know how I will feel when/if kids are added to this equation. I may just make them sleep with me and the dog. I am the daughter of a paranoid (in a good, way) father who made me learn to shoot a gun for self defense and to always be on the lookout for what could be out there. I don’t play around getting to my car in a mall parking lot or dilly-dally around without recognizing my surrounds. I am not naive – all of this preparing and something can still go wrong, but I am as prepared as possible and put the rest in God’s hands…I believe in that, but I also believe in myself.

Cayt said...

The only thing I have to add is to be careful who you let in to your life. I was attacked once by the boyfriend of an acquaintance - I cut the acquaintance from my life, because she obviously spent time with and surrounded herself with people who were willing to attack unarmed young women. Likewise, I know some people who give me a vibe that I can only describe as creepy - boundary crossers, people who I feel instinctively uncomfortable with. I make a point of not letting these people into my life. People are much more likely to be attacked by people they know than by strangers, so be careful with who you know. People who knowingly cross small/minor boundaries will be more likely to cross more important ones. I'm not saying all inappropriate huggers are sex offenders, but if you say no to a hug and the person hugs you anyway, it doesn't say anything good or confidence-inspiring about them.

-R- said...

When I worked for a judge, I had to go through a training about what to do if someone with a gun came into the court and what to do if a crazy person tried to kidnap you. Good times! Really, the only things I remember are (1) the judge's bench is bullet proof, so get behind it, and (2) do not go with the kidnapper. It is better to be shot in the parking lot than to be taken somewhere where you will still be shot but never be found. Yay.

The thing about the kids makes sense, but I honestly don't know if I could leave them.

Mairzy said...

This is an incredibly disturbing post, and I've spent all morning imagining myself leaving my four kids with an aggressor so I can go get help. I'm glad you didn't write this when I was sick a few weeks ago. I think I would have died.

But I'm glad you wrote it. I lay awake imagining terrible things and how to cope; now I have real information to work with. Except it makes me feel all trembly and sick again.

el-e-e said...

Makes me glad my 7-year-old is in jiu jitsu (where they only refer to them as "bullies" which seems, in comparison to this, so tame), and makes me think I'd better sign up for the adult version.

Really, though, thank you for posting this. A lot of people (ME) have no clue about this stuff and try to AVOID thinking about it. But I really NEED to. Sadly.

Karen L said...

Holy crap. haven't read the comments or articles yet but I need to know:

Can I get sleeping pills over the counter?

Jody said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lindsey said...

1 thing i remember from college self-defense class: if someone points a gun in your face, start talking gibberish or about a random story having nothing to do with anything. The person may think you are crazy and not worth dealing with and attack someone else. We had to memorize and practice the "crazy" story that we would tell potential gun-attacker. Mine was about how pretty my cat was. I thought that was clever since I could imagine the gun-attacker rolling his eyes and thinking: "omg. not a crazy cat lady." But, it could also back-fire.
Anyway, i can't click the link to the article because your blog post alone has made me feel all squirmy and i don't think i can handle the real article on this. It makes perfect sens to leave the child. But. i have a 12 month old who can barely say "duck" and no. i don't think i could make myself leave. i like to think i could and that would be the right thing to do and would save him/us. but, really...no. i can't even imagine it. although, maybe that is the first step: imagining it and planning for it. I will have to work on just getting to that step. sigh.

Lawyerish said...

Well, I don't know about you, but I am going to spend the rest of my day hiding under my desk and whimpering. I actually started to CRY while reading the part about LEAVING YOUR CHILD. I mean, intellectually it makes some sense, but STILL. OMFG. OMFG.

THIS is why I cannot sleep when I am in a house, especially one that is not armed with a security system. THESE are the things I lie awake thinking about -- how I would get out in case of emergency, how I could save my child, whether I could shimmy out a window while holding her, etc. Somehow, I feel safer in an apartment. BUT STILL.

Thank you, though, for posting this.

MoMMY said...

I took self defense in college also and our instructor did not have us do any of those drills others have mentioned. He basically told us to #1 RUN AWAY and (throw purse at them and run if that is what they want) #2 if they manage to get a hold of you to either bite their nose OFF - yes off - or dig their eyes out. No one can come back from that. If you try to kick them it will just piss them off.

However, I did not know about the leaving of your children. Not sure if I could do it. I hope I could though. In my case though, the boys are older and three of the 4 of them are taller than me. I'm not sure we'd be seen as worth attack unless the plan was to kill us all.

MoMMY said...

Oh totally forgot about the crazy thing Lindsey mentioned. We were also taught to act insane. Just start screaming and flailing and completely crazy.

Clarabella said...

Why...why? I thought we were friends. Anyhow, I have always imagined I would fight like hell if anyone ever decided to take/invade/attack me. Also, I have fantasized (not in a good way) about how I would fight a rapist to the death, because I think I would honestly rather be dead than brutally raped. That may be uncouth of me to say, but that's how I feel.
As a previous poster said, when I read that part about LEAVE THE CHILD(REN), tears welled up in my eyes automatically. I really don't know if I could. I have similar "if my child died, I would want to be dead" feelings, but I don't think I can think about that too much today, as I'm already feeling sensitive. I will get to the full article another day when I am not feeling so weepy.

Clarabella said...

Also, thinking about this stuff makes me very thankful for my two big "scary" dogs whose barks sound like hellhounds. AND that the people who lived in my house before me put in storm windows and dead bolts on EVERY outside door (there are quite a few in this house).

Jenn Mc said...

Honestly I don't think I could leave my 4yr old. I would rather pick him up or drag him. But I do live in a violent county (3rd poorest in US) so this info is good to know.

Karen L said...

"For the purposes of this article, I ignore the subject of domestic violence."

That's a serious problem right there. So take those cases, where your advice may totally be out the window, out of those TERRIFYING STATS, OR GIVE US SOME ADVISE FOR THOSE SITUATIONS, TOO, OKAY?

And dear God, I think hearing everyone else's fears only increased the dose of sleeping pills I will need tonight. The child would die anyway but I wouldn't want the child to die ALONE! WAAAAAAAH! I had to hold my hand over my mouth to keep from barfing. YAK YAK YAK.

Kristen said...

Every once in awhile, my husband quizzes me on how to get away from a potential attacker. It's creepy to think about, but I sooo need to get my mind around it. Otherwise, every sane thought would fly out the window in that situation. I can tell I'm not the only one.

One thing he always tells me is if someone is hijacked, they should never drive where the hijacker directs them - drive somewhere around people and businesses or whatever...and then crash into something. I would imagine this would work quite well if your seatbelt is on and the hijacker's is not. Those actions wouldn't be instinctual to me, but it does make a lot of sense. I practice it in my mind.

d e v a n said...

I think my heart stopped about 12 times while I was reading this.
Leave the child... I just... omg. Leave. I want a bottle of sleeping pills too because the horrific things that can happen in this world just makes me want to sack it in right now.
NOTHING CAN HAPPEN TO THEM.

Ellen said...

Yes, please, to your kind offer of a sleeping pill.

I'm glad you posted this because it's important to think about, even if it is terrifying and horrifying. I can get behind everything except for LEAVING MY CHILD. It logically makes sense, but HOW? It seems like an impossible thing to do.

Cherie Beyond said...

What I'm obsessing about now is how I will explain to my husband why I left the children.

"Well, see, Swistle told me..."
"Who's Swistle?"
"This blogger. So, anyway, Swistle said..."
"You left the children with a gunman because a blogger told you to?"
"Well, when you put it like that, sure. But Swistle generally gives very good advice..."

CARRIE said...

Well I'm gonna have to change my entire medication management REGIMEN after reading this, thank you very much, Swistle. ;)

Swistle said...

Cherie Beyond- No, no---tell your husband it was SAM HARRIS who said so!

Suburban Correspondent said...

Gah. That was cheerful. Don't forget, if the attacker has you at your car, LEAN ON THE HORN. I've read numerous instances in our area where the women who resist get away fairly easily. Still, this whole subject is terribly frightening.

Josefina said...

I am laughing at Cherie Beyond's comment...how often do I imagine those types of conversations?

This is a thought-provoking post. I'm looking forward to reading the article more carefully, and I'll definitely be going over all the information that isn't TOO horrifying with my children.

Also, I think Cayt's point was excellent.

Kathy said...

Josefina, I will be doing the same thing!

I will also be making my husband read this so he can join me in being terrified/horrified. I do not wish to feel that way alone.

Swistle said...

Kathy- Plus, in an emergency, I want us to both be on the same plan! I told him last night (through SOBS) that if there's an attacker, if he can get away he shouldn't try to defend us, he should GO GET HELP.

Sarah said...

For me, sometimes knowledge is power and then other times knowledge is overwhelming paranoia... Like the time our local news ran a segment on spiders with the quote, "there's probably not a house in town that isn't crawling with brown recluses..." I wasn't worried about it, until you made me worried about it! :)

I loved Laura's story! Laughed out loud. It reminded me of being woken up in the middle of the night by my husband saying, in a very hushed but urgent tone, "DID YOU HEAR THAT??" I said nothing and laid there FOREVER, paralyzed with fear, trying to decipher who was out there in my living room waiting to kill me and my family. After an eternity passed, I whispered to my husband, "what did you hear?" His groggy reply, "What? HUH? I think I was dreaming..." Asshole.

Jenn Mc said...

In my town, an "older" woman was held up at her car (with door open) in broad daylight in Walmart parking lot. She pretended to faint (fell on ground) and he left.

meanliving said...

I wish I had been in on these comments (here and on Twitter) from the beginning. But I don't *think* anyone else has already addressed this: Sometimes, attackers/robbers are stupid. What if a robber THOUGHT you weren't home, but made a mistake? And then you show up and WHOOPS!

And there are different sorts of attackers. Some want to kill you from the get-go but others might not see that as a necessary part of their power trip. There ARE serial rapists, after all.

There was an article several years ago about how doing this kind of thinking is a uniquely female thing and that even the most sensitive man doesn't understand what it's like to have to think this way constantly. Every time you go to your car in the dark. Every time you sleep alone. Every time you want to sell something on craigslist. It was interesting to make my husband read it because he really had never thought about it.

meanliving said...

P.S. DO NOT read The True Story of Hansel and Gretel. It's historical fiction set in WWII Poland and is FULL of these horrific situations in which parents (and everyone) must make awful calculated decisions about how to hurt their children the least. Remember to put "the least hurt" in the context of Nazi-occupied Poland and you'll be able to imagine the bleakness.

Lara said...

I don't even have kids and the part about leaving the kids made me stop breathing.

I read the article (and am going to re-read it, so it sinks in), but part of the thing is - you know how he says something like "if you see someone breaking into your car, ignore it?" That is SO LOGICAL. SO LOGICAL. So smart and what I absolutely positively think I would do in that situation. Yes.

But. A few years ago I was home sick from work and someone tried to break into my apartment. I peeked through the peephole and saw him there: a guy. A guy trying to force my door open. I took a few steps back and then ran, full force and KICKED the door as hard as I could (to scare him? I think?), flung the door open and demanded to know what the hell he thought he was doing. He, of course, took off running.

I am the world's biggest chicken shit. I am modest and I am not daring and not an adventure seeker.I am a huge wimp. I chased this guy down the hall, out of my building and onto a crowded street - in bare feet, my underwear and a see through t-shirt.

When I realized I'd lost him, I kind of "came to". WHAT THE HELL was I thinking? My point here (and I do have one) is that you can plan all you want for what you'd do in an unusual situation and then you know what? Your brain shuts off.

I swear on my life I am more of a "run and hide" type than a "chase a bad guy down the street type" and yet. That's what I did.

To add to this already way too long comment, I have heard the do not go to a second location thing. Do not do not do not. Yell, scream, throw yourself out of a moving car, whatever it takes. I would like to think I would try this but I'd probably just wet my pants.

Mouse said...

This reminds me of the Oprah episode in the 90's when the guys stood up and pointed at the audience while he said, "you never let them take you to a second location". I've never forgotten that, but this is a good reminder with some important details.

I've never considered installing a home alarm system. Does everyone but us have one of those? I can see I-35, the biggest narc artery in the country from my front door. Perhaps we need to reconsider this.

Finally, my family even teases us that if someone broke into our house while we were home, we would try to feed them and ask to "discuss their real needs and motivations". Ok, no more of that nonsense. We're OUT. Thanks, Swistle.

Beth said...

Cherie Beyond's comment made me laugh til I cried. Thank you for the comic relief.

This is so useful and also so well written. Who but Swistle can write about such a horrifying topic and still make it a bit funny. Thank you to you and Sam Harris for making us think about these things.

Someone else already made this point, but can you imagine how you would be VILIFIED by the press if you left a child with an attacker and you ended up surviving?

I agree with the comment above that some (many?) thieves are stupid. Our house was robbed at gunpoint while we were all there - a party was in progress...no one died or was injured (they were after goods; they lined everyone up and collected jewellery and watches...I was only 4 and barely remember it. This was not in North America, though, so the the context is different. Funny aside: my 6 year old sister was very concerned that the thieves would make her surrender the pretty clip in her hair!).

When my husband was single, his house was robbed one night while he and his room mates were at home. Some thieves are just after easy money and are not out to harm anyone. If there is any kind of confrontation, they run. Obviously, the trick is to somehow figure out - in those split seconds, in the middle of the night, while you are petrified - what kind of burglar you are dealing with.

This post might have to go in your reference section, Swistle...so well done.

Matti said...

"Granted, it is almost impossible to imagine leaving one’s child in such a circumstance—but if you can’t leave, you must grab a weapon and press your own attack. Complying in the hope that a sociopath will keep his promise to you is always the wrong move."
Yes. Yes. Yes.
This is the first statement that made me feel better. Mainly because I got to mentally beat the sociopath to death with a chair. A lamp. An 8 pound hand weight. The tea pot.

Elle said...

Just to make it seem not quite as hopeless: When I was around 8 years old, a man pried open the window above my bed (the second story window, mind you). I awoke when I felt his weight on my feet, and I tried to scream. I was so terrified, that my voice didn't work! I have a vivid memory of my mouth being open, and no sound coming out.

I ran out of the room, and he did not try to stop me. I went to my parents' room, and by the time my dad went to my room to check (he thought that maybe I was just having a bad dream), the man was gone. The window was still open, and our lawn furniture was piled up outside.

My point is, these things CAN turn out alright. I actually don't believe that the intruder's intention was to kill me. He didn't hurt me, or attempt to restrain me when I tried to leave the room. I think that he broke in with the intention of robbing us, and fled when he realized that he'd gotten himself into a more complicated situation than he was expecting.

So, yeah. If you happen to find a robber in your house, don't think that you're fate is certain death. ;) But definitely fight back, and RUN!

Elle said...

Oh, and I now have a home alarm system. It's actually not as expensive as you might think, and it's totally worth it to me for the piece of mind. It even came with a key chain sized "panic button" which I keep next to my bed.

After the break in (see my last post, above), the police told my family that robbers almost always skip houses that have an alarm system. It's just not worth the risk.

MegglesP said...

Ugh I cannot physically relax my muscles now because I am so tense. I second what someone above said, watch "I survived" and HOLY SHIT they scare the crap out of you. According to that show, playing dead can get you out of a bad situation (if you're shot or something) and also the thing I take away from that show? PEOPLE ARE CRAZY. Things about real life crazy people scare me way worse than ghosts/bogeymen/rising from the dead. I need to mentally prepare myself to read that article now. And get my sleeping pill ready..

Lippy said...

Can't stop crying. Or wanting to throw up. I was with you on the disobey and escape, until the children. Must find a valium.

Margie said...

Okay, I can't read the article tonight because it's bedtime, but I'd like to suggest a little remedy for this difficult mental space this stuff puts us in. Know all of this advice, teach your loved ones about it, then remember that we're terrible risk assessors and what we really need to be planning for is keeping safe around swimming pools and cars, right? I don't know our current list of top killers and injurers, but I'm pretty sure those are right up there. Try not to be so scared that you forget to live your life fully. Thanks for the valuable info and the link I'll read tomorrow in daylight, Swistle!

Phancy said...

Well, this was difficult enough to read this morning, and I probably should have known better than to revisit it right before bedtime. Oops.
Also, I like what Cayt said.

I llike how matter of fact this article is. It reminds me (or makes me feel like) violence is not so random and unpredictable, and there are things that I can do to both prepare for and attempt to change the situation. I do wish he'd said up front that domestic violence was not considered, because I kept wondering about that piece.

The Gift of Fear is a terrific book, if also a little scary. To me, instead of simply saying, oh just listen to your gut and go with that, it says that we have instincts for a reason and we've been so socialized out of them that we are actually out of touch with our gut feelings. Oh dear, that was an ugly sentence. But I found the Gift of Fear to be fascinating, and helpful, in addition to a little scary.

dreadybetty said...

I wonder if the presence of one scary-looking yet gentle pit bull and one tiny but loud-as-heck yapping dog would count as an alarm system, because that's what we have.

I mean, I would skip to an easier house...

vanessa said...

I'm wondering if some of our Collective Panic could be relieved with statistics. For example, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that every year "115 children were the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping. (These crimes involve someone the child does not know or someone of slight acquaintance, who holds the child overnight, transports the child 50 miles or more, kills the child, demands ransom, or intends to keep the child permanently.)" And according to a snopes board that is examining these stats, "It looks like about 33% of the missing children are family or friends abductions. The 2000 US census population for children is 71,623,390. So your chance of having family or friends abduct you child in any given year is about .36% or 36 children abducted per 10,000.

.014% of missing children are the “stereotypical” kidnapping that we are the most concerned about. Using the 2000 US census again, this comes to .00016% or 1.6 children per 1,000,000."
For both children and adults, the risk seems to be much, much greater from people you know--most children who are abducted are abducted by family members, the kids who are the highest risk are those in the middle of a custody battle, etc, and kids are far more likely to be molested by someone they know then a stranger in a van. Just like women are more likely to be abused by someone they know.


This....is not helping me that much. I am going to go re0read the Gift of Fear now.

Nik-Nak said...

So I was reading thinking this was going to be a story about your dorm mate and then you hit the children part and the article (which I refuse to read) and I just had to stop.
I am one of those people, much like you I think, that mulls over things way WAY too much. I cannot even let all that enter my brain.
I just hope that is something ever happened while my kids were around that my supreme kick ass mother instict would, maybe, HOPEFULLY at least be able to save the children.

AnnetteK said...

I might have to go rock in a corner now. LEAVE my kid? I think I need to teach him how to run away too. Anyone got a sleeping pill I can borrow??

Christy said...

This post is timely, as I just had a conversation with my kids about their "lockdown drill" at school - and, how sad is it that we have to have lockdown drills in the event of an intruder at school? Anyway, the conversation progressed to "what do we do if we have a lockdown at home?" I didn't really have a good answer for them, because how do you protect three kids if someone breaks in? We discussed escape, hiding, calling 911...but, I never even considered abandoning the children to save them. I'm really not sure I could do that. Yikes.
Another save the children worry I have is regarding getting out the car in the event of a water landing. We are surrounded by lakes and rivers, and it seems every winter we hear about someone going off an icy road into the water. This terrifies me again - how do you save yourself and three children? Lifevests for everyone in the car?

Magpie said...

i probably shouldn't have read this while eating lunch, because now? nauseated.

but thank you. it's thought-provoking.

St said...

The thing about a burglar breaking in while you're home has not been true in my experience. But it may be different based on where you live, I think. In my current neighborhood, I'm fairly certain there won't be a crime of opportunity here so chances are, if someone breaks in while we're home, they will likely be looking to leave no witnesses. When I was the victim of a burglary, it was a crime of opportunity in a bad neighborhood. I don't know if he would have killed us had my dog not stepped in but I doubt it. He was a crackhead who just wanted cash and only had an old, dull steak knife on him.
Anyway, I've been through this scenario in my mind a few times and decided that I would run into my kids' room, lock the door and get out through the window with the kids before the assailant gets through the door. Our houses are pretty close together so we'd get the neighbors. See??? SAFE AND SOUND. Right?

Phancy said...

I was thinking about this, and realized what it reminded me of. That movie, Ransom, with Mel Gibson. WIth the kidnapped son, where he changed the rules....

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Lalalalalalala.

So. You wrote this awhile ago and I'm just now getting to comment because I had to read it (and Sam Harris' article) through my fingers and then I took a two day nap courtesy of Lunesta and now I'm ready to comment.

Ahem.

I took a full contact self defense class in my twenties after being robbed at gunpoint. I was not surprised to learn that when I had a gun in my face and was being frisked by three teenagers, that I would freeze. And in that case, it was the right thing to do. They wanted money and nothing else and they let me go.

But.

If they had wanted to take me somewhere I am pretty darn sure I would have gone. I was frozen and terrified and couldn't think of anything. They were in control.

So in the self defense class, the hugely padded man would come at us in all different ways and we would have to fight him off. The worst was when we wrote down our worst fear scenarios and HE ACTED THEM OUT. He used the words you worried would paralyze you. It was so terrifying (especially for the rape survivors in our class) but SO EMPOWERING to face your worst fears and STRIKE BACK.

So now I just need to go back to a self defense class like that one and have the padded man say he's going to hurt my children unless I comply.

OMFG.

Bird said...

I first read this a few days and haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. I was nearly kidnapped at age 10 and escaped soley because I had the presence of mind to run. How I knew to do that I do not know but I am sure that it is what saved me.

Now that I have kids I can't imagine leaving them but nor can I imagine letting someone take them. Its hard after reading something like this not to want strap them to me at all times and never leave the house. So frightening.

Thank you for posting this.

Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

I read this when you first posted it and it KILLED me. When I recovered from that, I read the Sam Harris article. When I recovered from THAT, I spent a lot of time reading snippets of The Gift of Fear on Amazon, and then ordered it to read in full.

I like being mentally prepared. Like you, there's comfort in acknowledging the potential horrors and the potential consequences and the potential scenarios. But it certainly doesn't make me feel empowered or less afraid. Just more... teeth-gritted determination that I have some techniques to try.

What I found most terrifying about this post and about the bit I read in The Gift of Fear is that we have strong instincts that are either wrong or right. The instinct to obey? Wrong in many situations, such as being taken to a second location. The instinct to stay with the child? Wrong - except on a human level of not-wanting-the-child-to-be-alone. The instinct to put your keys through your fingers and be hyper-vigilant in a parking garage? Wrong (according to The Gift of Fear), because your senses are then too encumbered to sense REAL danger.

But then again, you are supposed to trust that niggling worry that the kind, helpful guy at the airport is really a rapist. Or to trust that gut feeling that something is wrong even when you have no real proof. Or to ignore the feeling that you are overreacting when the guy at the mall follows you into the elevator.

That's so frustrating! What I want to know is how to hone the good instincts and dull the bad ones. But is that even possible? (Maybe that is what The Gift of Fear will teach.)