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?)
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