Devices As Safety Nets

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 12th Dec)

Devices As Safety Nets

We have already lost a lot of our survival skills, due to our modern lifestyles. We are no longer as aware or curious about our environments, as we once were, and we generally spend less and less time thinking about and considering our personal safety. Modernization has meant that our lives our generally safer than they have ever been – compare living in a city today, with a century ago, etc. Some of these changes are good i.e. the chances of being murdered and killed, are a lot less than they were a thousand years ago, and some of these changes aren’t so good, such as the adoption of bad personal safety habits e.g. walking whilst texting, being on the phone when we should be looking around, etc.

We have also become more than happy to pass off personal safety responsibilities, to technology. In the past year, I have seen more personal safety gadgets and applications, that promise “touch-of-a-button” solutions to situations, than ever before. These gadgets and apps, all promise one thing; that they will deal with a dangerous situation for you, and this is an extremely attractive message. The promise is that you will no longer have to make risk assessments, concerning the situations you put yourself in, and if it does appear that you may be in danger, the app/gadget will resolve the situation for you in a non-confrontational manner. Some of these gadgets seek to assure you that you will no longer need to learn how to set boundaries, learn to be assertive, or navigate socially awkward situations, as the app/gadget will make these skills redundant. However, technology in and of itself is not a solution, and to work it needs to be implemented in a realistic, natural and effective manner. The underlying message of these apps/gadgets is fundamentally flawed; they still rely on human behavior and action to make them work.

Many of these gadgets are aimed at women, and promise to reduce/eradicate rapes and sexual assaults, and yet don’t address the most common situations, where such attacks take place. Women, are statistically most likely to be raped by someone they know in their home or somebody else’s, and yet most of these gadgets, are marketed around the idea that women are most at risk from strangers in public spaces, such as bars and clubs. Often, these gadgets are disguised as pieces of jewelry with a hidden distress button, that when pressed alerts friends in a network, that a person is in danger, and informs them of their location via GPS. The idea is that a woman who is being harassed/pressured, or feels threatened, can discretely press a button on a bracelet, and her friends will rush to her assistance. This would work if her friends were a) in the vicinity, and b) took the alert seriously, however there is a rich supply of studies that show people have a tendency to deny and discount danger when they are alerted to it.

Imagine that a friend of yours phones you because they are walking on their own, late at night, and they feel nervous/scared. They haven’t identified anyone in their environment, or any actual threat, but it’s late, and they tell you that they would feel better talking to someone. Suddenly, you hear a scuffle, and the phone goes dead, what do you do? Do you give them 5 minutes to see if they phone you back? Do you try and call them back? And what do you do if you don’t get an answer? Do you call the police, risking the potential embarrassment of being wrong and “wasting” their time? Most people will discount the danger and deliberate for a period of time before doing anything – and most will do nothing, convincing themselves that the most likely explanation is that the person’s phone went dead, etc. If that person’s entire safety/survival strategy rested on somebody else’s actions, they are in trouble. If you receive an alert, and the GPS shows that the person is at home, and you’re either at work, or its late at night, are you going to assume the person is in danger, or that the alert is a “false” one? Or perhaps that somebody else in the network of friends will respond to it, so you don’t? What if your friend does phone the police, or the device contacts law enforcement directly? What are the response times for the area you’re in, and how much information do the police have on where to find you? The briefest sexual assault on record took place in under seven seconds, between two stops on a New York subway. The woman who was assaulted wasn’t able to react until it was over, due to the shock of the attack. An assault may be over before the police are able to locate and get to you. Any personal safety solution that relies on the actions of others is fundamentally flawed.

I have also heard about apps/gadgets – usually disguised as jewelry -that will send a “fake” text message, or phone call to your mobile, so that you can exit an awkward, inconvenient and/or dangerous interaction, by making an excuse that you have to take it. This non-confrontational approach to exiting a potentially dangerous situation, is very appealing, but has many potential flaws. If you are in your home (and will you be wearing your bracelet/jewelry in your house?), with somebody who is making you feel uneasy, and you press the alert button, which sends the call to your phone, what are you going to make up/tell them, that will be a believable reason for getting them to leave? If they ask questions or press you on it, is your story going to stand up? If they have harmful intent towards you, are they likely to respect what you are saying/asking them to do? If you are going to end up having to be assertive, to back up a made-up phone call, wouldn’t it have been better to be assertive in the first place, asking the person to leave – or explaining that you have to leave – because of a legitimate reason. When we write the script for predatory individuals and believe that they will always behave/respond in a certain way, we will find ourselves in trouble when they don’t. Several years ago, a woman was raped in the North End of Boston. She realized she was being followed, and pretended to be on her phone, believing that the man who followed her would respect the social convention, of not interrupting a person who was on the phone. He didn’t. Someone who didn’t have predatory, harmful intent towards her, may have respected that convention, however such individuals are not the people we need to protect ourselves against.   

The best way to see how these apps and gadgets may be used is to role-play with them in a variety of likely and realistic scenarios. Not testing them to see when/where they work, but testing them to fail e.g. have somebody become incensed that you take a call when talking to them, or refuse to leave when your friends turn up to assist you etc. Change the location from a bar/public space you your house or room. Have somebody question the legitimacy of your call. Understand as well, that at some point the “professional” predators will be aware of these gadgets and apps, and be ready to challenge them, as well as find ways to circumvent them. When it comes down to it, these apps and gadgets are not solutions, and certainly not a replacement for self-protection knowledge and understanding. Hoping that an individual will respond in the way that the app or gadgets believes they will, is no self-defense strategy.  

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Security For Elderly Relatives

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 5th Dec)

Security For Elderly Relatives

The elderly are a naturally vulnerable group; with age there comes a deterioration in physical abilities. Strength and movement start to decline, and because of this, the ability to physically defend yourself when attacked is reduced. It would be nice to think that through training we can delay these things – and to a certain extent we can – but for those of us with elderly parents and relatives, who have never trained, this isn’t an option (my parents are in their 80’s – and have never done any martial arts or self-defense training). There are those who would suggest firearms training, to help “level the playing field”, but this may not be appropriate, due to diminished mental faculties – a firearm in the home of somebody suffering from some degree of dementia may be more of a liability than an asset – and physical concerns, such as vision problems, tremors, etc, also come into play. Firearms ownership also isn’t legal in every country or locale. This means that in order to keep our elderly relatives safe, the focus (as it should be with all self-defense training), should be on prevention and target-hardening, to avoid victimization.

It is worth understanding some of the particular types of crime that target the elderly. Drug addicts, know that the bathroom cabinets of many elderly people, contain prescriptions for opioids – including Fentanyl - and other powerful pain killers. In many cases, there may be the remnants of courses of these drugs, that were over-prescribed, and never used. This makes the homes of the elderly an attractive target for criminals in pursuit of these drugs. It also makes the elderly vulnerable when they pick up/fill their prescription, and they should take the same precautions when in the pharmacy, as they would when getting cash from an ATM/cash machine i.e. being aware of who is around them, who seems interested in them, etc. If it is possible for them to use a delivery service for their prescriptions, this would be preferable to picking them up, in person. I would also advise that they not use ATM’s for cash withdrawals, but instead use the counter service at the bank, as there will be security cameras, and other people present (crime preventers), which are likely to deter most opportunistic predators.

As we get older, our memory does start to deteriorate – the degree to which it does will vary from person to person – and we will be more likely to forget to lock a door, or close a window, than we would have, when younger. One way to help mitigate this vulnerability, is not to rely on memory, but instead use checklists as reminders. If you have an elderly relative, you may want to help them create a checklist of windows and doors, etc. that they need to make certain are secured, before they go out, and/or when they return home. This list can be pinned to the front door, and it can also be used last thing at night, before they go to bed. The list can also include things such as checking that electrical items are turned off at the socket, etc. As long as the individual sticks to the list, and goes through it each time they leave the house (or go to bed), they will know that they will have limited these opportunities for criminals to exploit.

The elderly are often targeted as victims of fraudulent marketing campaigns, whether by phone or door-to-door. Unfortunately, many seniors, who would once have recognized a con with ease, are no longer so confident of their world as they once were, and may be susceptible to misinformation, especially if the consequences of not going along with the plan are presented in dire and extreme ways e.g. if you don’t switch over your electricity provider, you’ll be cut-off within 7 days, or if you don’t sign these forms, your pension will be frozen, and you’ll not be able to make a new claim for 30 days, etc. One role that you can play in the life of an elderly relative, is to be the person that they direct any cold-caller, or telemarketer to, with your role being presented as the final/actual decision maker. It is also worth reminding them that no legitimate organization is going to require an on the spot decision about anything, and that they will have the time to talk things over with yourself, and that you will be able to talk things over with whomever it is that has contacted them about services, etc. When a con-artist, has to involve another party, they are likely to back away, as there are unfortunately far easier victims to exploit.

 If you are able to, get a security chain fitted to your relative’s front door, so that they never have to fully open it to someone. If a criminal has targeted an elderly relative’s home, because they believe that there are valuables/drugs inside, but there are no accessible windows and doors that would facilitate a break-in, they may attempt a simple home-invasion, via a “push in” e.g. when the door is opened they barge in, knocking whoever opened it out of the way. For many doors and frames, it will be difficult to screw the security chain unit, deep enough, for it to have much integrity on its own, and so it is worth backing this system up with a rubber door stop, that can be pushed under the door as it is opened. The two together should be enough to stop the door being pushed in – if not, standing on the door stop can strengthen it further. A high-pitched alarm, with a pull string release, can be placed by the door, and set off if/when somebody tries to get past the chain and door-stop. This is likely to make a would-be intruder question the potential costs of trying to continue the break-in i.e. there are probably easier properties to target.

Security and personal safety are, at their core, largely about procedures and protocols, and as somebody gets older and their natural abilities start to diminish – so that they can’t see or hear as well as they once did, aren’t as strong/agile as they once were – these protocols become all the more important. Telling an elderly relative to simply be more aware, may be something that they forget to do, or are unable to do, etc. Having lists, that they follow to the letter, will hopefully ensure that from a basic personal safety perspective they are becoming a harder target than those around them. With unlimited funding and resourcing there are many things that can be done to make an elderly relative’s life/home more secure – such as installing surveillance cameras in their property, so that you can check if doors/windows have been left open etc. – however, this isn’t always possible or practical. Setting our elderly relatives up with simple manual processes and procedures requires little or no investment, and can in fact have a great effect on their overall safety.   

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