I’ve written before about the differences between social violence and criminal violence, and if you haven’t read that article, I suggest you do so before you finish this one. The quick summary is that social violence is a competition, usually involving fighting over dominance, status, territory or social standing. Bar brawls over a perceived slight, fights over women, gang beatdowns, playground bullying and the like fit into this category. Criminal violence, also called predatory violence, is about someone taking something they want or being violent because they enjoy violence. Robberies, murders, rapes, carjacking and the like fit into this category.
This article is going to primarily deal with social violence, which as women we are considerably less likely to participate in than men are. The danger of social violence for women generally comes from being in the wrong place at the wrong time and getting caught in the middle of, and sometimes hurt by, social violence between other people or groups. That said, much of this information has application in criminal violence as well, particularly when dealing with a resource predator or a domestic abuser.
Self-defense expert and author Peyton Quinn has developed a set of rules for avoiding and de-escalating violent situations. This information is especially helpful for professionals who deal with violent people regularly—law enforcement officials, bouncers, etc. But it certainly can help you de-escalate and survive a personal violent encounter as well.
Don’t Insult Him
When someone has a knife drawn on you and is demanding your wallet, the last thing you want is to make him angry. Don’t call him names. Don’t curse at him. Don’t insult his entire family lineage and disparage his mother’s name.
This is the difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Command voice—firmly demanding “Don’t come any closer!” when you’re drawing your gun on an approaching suspicious character—is assertive. Screaming “Get away from me, you piece of $*!%” when he’s already grabbed your arm and pointed a knife at your back is aggressive. You’ve just called him a name and insulted him and/or wounded his pride. “You couldn’t get a woman like me in a million years” said to a creeper at a bar is an insult. Insulting a violent person (and remember, you don’t always know who is violent and who isn’t) is asking for a fight.
I am not telling you to be some demure sweet flower and let people walk all over you. But I am telling you that your mouth can get you in trouble in certain situations with violent individuals, so keep it in check.
Don’t Challenge Him
In social violence among men who are about to kick off into a fight, this sounds like “Bring it on, %#@$&” or “You don’t have the guts.” In women, it sounds like “What are you going to do, shoot me?” or “You wouldn’t dare hit me.” Don’t ever challenge an unstable, violent person in this way, especially if he already has a weapon out and you can’t get to yours. I know, reading it right now, it sounds insane that someone would ever say that. But it happens more than you think, especially when the woman knows her attacker (as in the case of domestic violence). Challenging a violent person is like triple-dog-daring him to carry out his threat. And no one wants to back down from a triple-dog-dare.
Don’t Threaten Him
This, like some other rules on this list, depends on the situation—how close the violent person is, how many people are around, whether or not you can safely get to your concealed carry firearm, etc. But in general, if it’s close quarters and someone is threatening violence, “I have a gun, I’ll shoot you” or “Touch me and I’ll call the cops” will be perceived as a threat if you cannot clearly back it up (i.e., if you don’t have your gun already drawn).
Again, this kind of threat feels like a triple-dog-dare to an unstable person. If you’re threatening to shoot him or call the cops on him, in his twisted mind, he’d be better off to incapacitate you so you’re not able to carry out your threat. Don’t give him a reason to kick off the violence he’s contemplating!
Don’t Deny It’s Happening
For most of us, mercifully, violence is a very rare thing. We might go our entire lives without being threatened with violence or criminal activity. It’s so rare, in fact, that our brains sometimes don’t recognize it immediately when it happens. We want to explain it away, tell ourselves something else is happening, or deny that anything is going wrong. This denial is very common, but the faster you can snap out of it, the faster you can get to dealing with the situation at hand.
This has a lot to do with situational awareness and condition yellow/orange. If a group of people at the bar seem to be getting agitated and aggressively louder as if they’re gearing up for something, there’s a very good chance a fight is about to break out. Don’t tell yourself “they’re just having a little too much fun.” While that might be true, it also might be denial. Get out. If a sketchy-looking stranger is rapidly approaching you in a parking lot with his hand in his pocket and trouble in his eyes, don’t try to think of reasons why this might be a normal situation. It isn’t. There’s a fair chance he’s about to assault you, so snap out of your denial and get ready.
Give Him a Face-Saving Exit
This rule especially applies to men facing social violence, because fights can be avoided if the more aggressive party is allowed to walk away looking like he won without throwing a punch—keeping his pride intact means a lot to him.
For women, if you’re arguing with a man who is known to be violent (whether that’s your loser ex-boyfriend, a sketchy rando at the club, or a mugger who just took your wallet) and he turns to walk away, it’s done. Leave it alone. He is leaving on his terms without physically harming you.
Do not give in to a sudden attack of bravado or insist on getting the last word in and scream an insult at him as he’s walking or running away. You’ve already won because you survived without physical harm, so your parting shots will only poke at his pride, giving him (in his unstable, violence-prone mind) a reason to turn back around and “teach you a lesson.”
There you have it—a simple set of rules to help you avoid and de-escalate violent situations. Obviously, every scenario is different, and no rule works in every situation. You’ll have to use your judgement, your intuition and context clues to determine the best course of action in any given encounter. But in general, if you don’t insult him, don’t challenge him, don’t threaten him, don’t deny that it’s happening, and let him leave with his pride intact, you stand a much better chance of surviving condition red unharmed.