With the increase of crime in our country, there has also been an increase in fear and concern among its citizens. Inevitably, several questions arise; one in particular has considerable relevance. Are there opportunities to keep ourselves safe, lessen our fear, and reduce the pressure on police?
Police were never meant to be the only community safeguard for the prevention and reduction of crime. There are innumerable ways to keep ourselves safe, individually and collectively. What are some historically proven ways to lower criminal victimization? Due to their occupation, knowledge, and consistent application, police officers have an unrivaled system for addressing individual crime. This system, known by several names, is termed the criminal triangle, or the crime prevention triangle, if you will. The triangle is based upon three requirements needed for the commission of a crime: desire, ability, and opportunity. Desire and ability are two essential factors in the causation of crime; that is, they are factors that the criminal needs to commit his/her crime. They are controlled (and adapted) exclusively by the criminal. If the potential victimizer is free and unrestrained, ability is typically based upon the skills and prowess that the potential criminal draws from and has access to. However, the third designation, opportunity, is controlled by you, the potential victim.
Opportunity gives everyone, all of us, some power over our situation and potential victimization. We can minimize the offenders’ opportunities to engage in criminal acts that target us. For many decades, the assumption was held that the elderly had the highest victimization rate, mainly due to their increased physical vulnerabilities. This is simply untrue. Except for computer and phone scams, the elderly have always enjoyed the lowest victimization rate in our country, as compared to other age groups. The reason behind this includes health and lifestyle choices made by older Americans. In general, the elderly have always stayed home during the highest probable rates of crime, which is typically in the evening. Additionally, they usually avoid high crime areas in major metropolitan cities, thus limiting criminal opportunities. Not only are these two factors critical for keeping our older generation safe, but they also provide a guideline for our younger generations. However, what can be done if it is not possible to stay home and avoid the evening hours, due to the requirements of work and/or recreation? Furthermore, how can we prevent crime when we find ourselves in an unknown, perilous, and crime-ridden area? The following are suggestions for preventing criminal victimization:
- Protect/guard your back end
- Avoid looking like an easy target
- Do not trust strangers
- Refrain from opening your door to strangers
- Avoid getting into a stranger’s car
- Travel/Walk with a friend in deserted areas
- Pull your shades at night
- Remove distractions (i.e., cellphone) in crowds
- Trust your instincts
Criminologists and victimologists label this target hardening –that is, making it harder for criminals to target victims.
Beginning from top to bottom: Protecting your back is absolutely critical when you are outside of your regular surroundings. When investigating prior sexual assaults and homicides, we have found that criminals will characteristically move behind the victim, using the element of surprise to gain the upper hand. If possible, when outside and in the company of strangers, make certain your head is on a swivel. Next, the suggestion to avoid looking like an easy target is directly from former criminals who have engaged in robbery. Robbers can tell you in less than 30 seconds which person would make an ideal victim. When out and about, carry yourself in a confident manner, meeting each look with a brief, but confident look of your own. The next two are rather self-explanatory. Do not trust people that you do not know well. Resist the urge to immediately comply with a criminal’s commands, namely, when it involves relocating you to an uninhabited area. Be aware that they are moving you to an abandoned area so they are able to fully control you away from others who would be able to rescue you. Pulling your shades is a precautionary measure; rapists and serial murderers have used visual reconnaissance as a technique to find victims who are unaccompanied by a male within the residence (e.g. Cary Stayner, Ted Bundy). Finally, trust your instincts: they will not deceive you. If possible, practice what you would do in the event of an attempt to harm you or your loved ones. It will be worth the effort.
Rebecca J. Siehr, Ph.D.