Big Picture Violence

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 27th Mar)

When we think of aggressive and violent situations, we normally think of them occurring in unfamiliar places and involving people we don’t know – places and people we can exit from and avoid in the future. Real life incidents however may be more complex and involved; aggressive acts can occur in the workplace, either with customers or colleagues, or with roommates in a house that you share, or with neighbors on the street where you live etc. These are situations where you may end up finding yourself living with/next door to your aggressor, or working alongside a colleague who harbors harmful intent towards you. How you handle yourself in such situations – even if you act and behave legally and are simply exercising your rights – may create consequences that are difficult to deal with, or future situations that put you at greater risk. 

One of the issues we often have when trying to settle disputes or disagreements, and/or enforce boundaries, is that we make the mistake of believing that we are dealing with reasonable people, when in fact we could be dealing with individuals who suffer from certain pathological conditions, such as an anti-social personality disorder, or are simply psychologically and emotionally immature, and are unable to control the way they act and behave. Where you might believe a conflict should end, they see it as the event that gives them the right to initiate a campaign of harassment against you. What you see as reasonable request to a neighbor, such as them turning down their music at 2 AM in the morning, they will see as an infringement on their right to act and behave as they want to (even though such a right doesn’t exist and society places rules on our behavior and the ways in which we can conduct ourselves). Your reasonableness will be seen as both a challenge and a weakness. What to you may have been a minor event – asking them to turn their music down – may have become a life-defining event for them, and one that they are unable to get over and move on from. Such individuals will often replay and reinvent the interactions they have with you until they have created a story and script for themselves, which becomes their reality.

Such individuals, rarely think about the consequences of their actions and behaviors, and so the normal social conventions that we assume everybody will adhere to, don’t apply. Most individuals who are the target of workplace bullying, find it difficult to believe that an adult would spread rumors and gossip, and engage in name calling etc. Things that most of us gave up on in childhood. However, the truth of it is, that such individuals do exist, and are looking for individuals to “challenge” them and engage with. It is worth noting that trying to reason with these people is fruitless. If they are suffering from a pathological condition, they will be unable to change the way they behave, act, and interact with the world; they are basically hardwired this way. When you formulate a strategy for dealing with them, the approach of “we are all adults here”, may not be an appropriate one. You may feel that the injustice being committed against you is so obvious and great, that your story must be told, however you should be very aware that telling your story, may prompt them to further action, rather than cause them to stop. There is often a big difference between doing what is right, and being effective.

So how do you deal with such individuals? The hardest temptation is not to go in all guns blazing. The trouble of trying to show a strong hand early on, is that you often reveal the limit and extent of what you are able to do – and it normally isn’t enough to deter someone who is committed to their cause. People who take out restraining orders against someone who is harassing and/or stalking them etc. are often clearly demonstrating the extent of what they are able to do to their harasser/stalker (restraining orders have their place, but they should be used wisely). After the police/sheriff has served the order, the individual in question, starts to understand that nothing in their life has actually changed e.g. they haven’t been arrested, they’re not in prison etc. What was obviously the greatest card you could play, really hasn’t had much of an effect. Most “reasonable” people would be ashamed that somebody has had to go to such a length, to stop them acting and behaving in a certain way, however not everybody is reasonable, and if they were they would have come to the realization themselves that the campaign they were engaged on was not right.

Set boundaries you know you can enforce, and don’t engage in further confrontations or interactions which your antagonist may be able to interpret as them “winning”. This is something I learnt very early on in my career working as a doorman. I once barred somebody from a club I worked at, after he’d been kicked out for being physically inappropriate with some of the female bar staff. I used to work at the club on Thursdays and Saturdays. Once many months later, I ended up covering a shift on a Wednesday night, and discovered he’d been coming back to the club every Wednesday since I barred him – something he took as a great victory. He had enough history as a non-troublesome customer by then, that it would have been petty to try and force the issue that he should be barred; and after such a period of time I wasn’t convinced that the management of the club would be behind me. For the next 6-8 months I worked at the club, I had to put up with his grinning face, every time I saw him. The boundaries you set can be small ones, but they should be ones you have the power to enforce.

Keep track of all interactions you have, whether they are friendly, cold or indifferent. It is often impossible to know what is going through somebody’s mind, or what they are planning to do – in many cases such individuals don’t know themselves what they plan to do, and so keep doing things until a plan starts to form itself. Keeping a record allows you the ability to see patterns, possible escalations, and gives you a body of evidence should you ever have the need to go legal. It also allows you to see the direction where things are heading; it is hard to make a prediction, if you don’t know what you are actually predicting, and letting your imagination run riot isn’t healthy – neither of which is denying what is happening to you, something a diary of events will prevent you from doing.

Many people look at situations from a very immediate perspective, without considering the bigger picture; how you deal with somebody may have consequences, some of which may be totally unexpected and unanticipated. You can never guarantee how people will respond to simple and justified requests, and if those people are customers or neighbors, you may find yourself having dealing with the long term consequences of your interaction/conflict e.g. a customer who you bar, may initiate a campaign of harassment against you, and your company may side with them on their “dispute” rather than with you etc. Understanding these things, will help you find ways in which to enforce your actions, without finding yourself having to deal with too many significant consequences. Hard as it is to stay quiet on certain injustices, silence can be a powerful tool in taking the fuel away from a person’s perceived injustices.  

Share on Facebook

Personal Safety & Social Media

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 20th Mar)

I was conducting a training session for a corporate client last week, where the subject of social media was raised, along with ways in which your online presence could be leveraged against you to compromise your personal safety. Many people when they think of protecting themselves online look at ways to protect themselves from somebody hacking their account etc. and don’t look at ways in which a predator could use the information you have out there to commit other crimes against you and your family. It’s worth noting that most social media apps (including Facebook) have privacy settings that restrict what people can see about you, however you should be aware that the privacy settings of friends and people you are connected to may compromise these.

Though this blog article is not really concerned with protecting yourself from hackers, it is probably worth you taking a quick look as to whether the answers to your security questions for online banking, your mobile phone account etc. are actually out there online e.g. common security questions for these services may ask for, the name of your first pet, the high school you went to, your mother’s maiden name, the city where you were born etc. If you have completed a Facebook profile fully, you will have provided the answers for these questions and this information will be out there in the public domain.

Many predatory individuals use familiarity as a means to disarm us; something that works especially well against children, who may not categorize or see someone as a stranger, if it seems that they know their name and some things about them. This is one good reason, not to put your child’s name on their school backpack, as it gives any predatory individual, an “in” with your child, as they can feign that they know who they are, and construct a story about how you have asked them to pick them up from school, soccer practice etc. If you have a lot of photos of your child, along with information about the activities they engage in, you are giving out information that a sexual predator could use to disarm and lure your child. Whilst child abductions by strangers are not common, they do happen, and it is often the simple fact that the predator knows the child’s name, which disarms them. Whilst social media is a great tool for sharing events and photos with relatives and family members, it is worth looking at what information you might not want to include in a post etc.

Whilst you may want to have a certain degree of visibility on social media, you may not want to put yourself in a position where you are easily searchable by everyone. One simple way, is to not have your Facebook or Twitter accounts, use your actual last name. One of the incidents that was brought up during the training session, involved a woman who received a friend request on Facebook from a client, whilst she was talking to them on the phone – in the context of their work relationship this was inappropriate behavior on the part of the client. The fact that the client could find her so quickly, was because she had used her real, full name, as her profile name, and a quick search of this by the client brought up her Facebook page; if she’d changed her last name to something different (such as her middle name, or something more common like, Smith or Brown) he wouldn’t have been able to find her so quickly/easily. She now found herself in the awkward position of having to either accept his request, thus giving him access to more information about herself, or refusing the request and possibly appearing rude and stand-offish etc.

Another thing that is worth knowing about photos that you publish online, is that they might contain geocode data. If you take a photo on a smart phone, without disabling the geocode option, the location where the photo was taken will be stored as part of the digital data. This then allows predators and criminals to possibly work out, where you live, where you work, where you spend leisure time etc. If you are somebody who takes and posts a lot of photos, you may be mapping out your lifestyle in a way that could be used against you, and your family members e.g. if you take your child to a particular park to play every Saturday at 3 pm and take photos of these events, and post them online with the geocode and timestamp in the data, you are detailing exactly where you and your child will be at a particular time. From a personal safety perspective, predictability is a vulnerability.

One of the things on Facebook that never fails to amaze me is when people check-in at airports, informing the world that they will be away for a period of time. If this information is coupled with a geocoded photo taken in your living room, displaying a 58 Inch plasma TV screen in the background, somebody may well decide to pay your home a visit whilst you are away. Sometimes it is a good idea to not let people know your real time movements e.g. post photographs of your holiday/vacation when you get back, not whilst you’re away etc.

All of this may seem a bit over the top to some people, or even paranoid, however we have to realize that when we publish information about our personal lives online, there are people who may try and use that to gain an advantage over us; that may be a social advantage rather than a criminal one, however any advantage a person has over us puts us at a disadvantage when interacting/dealing with them. Information about you, your family and your lifestyle is valuable to criminals and predators and we should look on it as an “asset” that needs to be protected.

Share on Facebook

Workplace Violence (Trespass)

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 13th Mar)

When I used to do bar and door security, I used to have to remind myself that this was my workplace, and I shouldn’t expect to be assaulted in it. This may seem strange to some people i.e. you are performing a job that potentially involves confronting aggressive and violent individuals, however I used to adopt this mindset, because it allowed me to properly identify what was acceptable and unacceptable behavior. There is a great danger in accepting violence in any area of your life as an inevitability. I have trained many people in the health and psych industry, who are resigned to the fact that patients will assault them, and that this is simply part of the job – I would argue quite strongly that it is not. Are you at a higher risk of assault working in these industries? Absolutely, just as you are when you have to deal with drunks, however such aggression and violence, shouldn’t be accepted, as something that is part of the job. One of the dangers that comes from this mindset, is that certain individuals start to believe that they can act and behave with impunity; that they somehow are entitled to act in socially unacceptable ways because they believe the people they are dealing with can’t or won’t go to the police, press charges or allow them to suffer the consequences of their actions/behaviors. Aggression and violence in the workplace, is never acceptable and should never be tolerated.   

This week I conducted a training session/seminar on workplace violence, for a social service provider – 70-74% of violent workplace incidents occur in the healthcare and social service sector. I have found in my time delivering such training that many people are confused about their rights to defend themselves, as well as when to – having a right doesn’t always mean it’s the most effective option to choose. I have also found a lot of confusion around “trespass”, and what to do when someone is acting in a threatening manner, in a workplace, and needs to be removed (something I often had to do when working bar/door security). This confusion doesn’t just exist in the workplace, many individuals in everyday settings don’t understand when they have the right/should defend themselves and how to handle someone who is on their property and refuses to leave e.g. a drunk house guest, who has over stayed their welcome, and has been asked to leave etc.

Trespass occurs when an individual has been asked to leave either a workplace or a house, and refuses to do so, either by explicitly stating that they’re not going to leave, or by implicitly refusing the request by remaining on the property. The simplest solution is to call the police, however you may find that the police are reluctant to get involved and/or “enforce” your request for the person to leave, if you are in a house or similar dwelling. The reason for this is that they may be unsure if the person you are trying to have removed is actually a legal occupant of the property, and to forcibly remove them may violate that individual’s rights etc. In a workplace setting things are much clearer, as a customer or client, obviously doesn’t reside on the property. In some states physical force is allowed to remove somebody from a property (in others it is only permissible if the person is committing an assault) if you believe that they are committing a criminal trespass – an important fact to bear in mind, if things go legal, is that you must prove that the person committing the trespass was not justified to be on the property (they do not have to prove that they were justified to be there, you have to prove they weren’t). In most workplace settings, trespass is normally accompanied by an assault – especially if a person refuses to leave after a request has been made. If you ask someone to leave your property and they become aggressive with you, or continue to behave aggressively, it is reasonable to have a fear for your safety – if you fear for your safety and the person you are dealing with is at a distance where they could engage with you physically, then they are guilty of assault as well as trespass e.g. if you have a customer who becomes aggressive in your place of work, such as a shop, and you ask them to leave, and they refuse, continuing to act aggressively towards you, which makes you fear for your safety, and they could grab, push, hit you – are at a distance where they could cause you physical harm – you are being assaulted.

The next thing to understand is the level of force you are allowed to use. This is both a moral and legal question. This is a subject that the law is relatively quiet on – what most states and countries agree on, is that deadly force is not permitted when trying to deal with a trespasser. When I worked door security, mine and my colleagues goal, was to get individuals who were engaged in anti-social activities out of the building; it wasn’t to “punish” them or teach them a lesson, it was simply to remove the problem outside of the premises. To this end, physical force, usually started with a guiding hand, to direct a person out who had refused a verbal request; if resistance to this was met, this would perhaps become more forceful and the individual would possibly be put in a control hold, if they’d started to throw punches or it was believed that they would. What is important to note, is that all of this would be preceded by verbal requests for the person to leave – only when it was obvious that they wouldn’t, would physical enforcement be applied.

I will caveat everything I have written by stating that I am not an attorney, but someone who works in the security industry and has tried to make myself aware of what society both legally and morally judges to be acceptable. Different states and different countries will have slightly different definitions of what constitutes criminal trespass, and how such incidents should be handled. Where things become much clearer is when an assault occurs with trespass – if somebody refuses to leave your property and engages in threatening behavior at a proximity where they could physically harm you – as here the law is clear on your rights to defend yourself.

Share on Facebook

Women's Self Defense

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 6th Mar)

For those of you who are not aware, we run a free women's self-defense program, at my studio, every Saturday morning. One question I get asked a lot, is why we run it for free – I sometimes get asked why we don't run a free men's self-defense class. In this blog article, I'd like to explain why we run a free women's self-defense program, and at the same time don't offer a free men's program.

Women, and young women especially, probably represent the largest minority that is directly targeted with violence and aggression. If you don't believe me on this, you don't need to do any google search for statistics, you just need to ask any woman you know if she has ever had to deal with an aggressive, unreasonable man, and in all likelihood she'll nod her head and say yes – and tell you that this has happened to her on more than one occasion. Violence is not spread equally amongst the genders; yes, young men do get assaulted, however in many cases it is their ego and confrontational manner, which escalates a situation to the point where one party feels justified to use physical force. In most of these cases, this is not predatory and premeditated, in the same way that violence against women is generally committed.

Unfortunately, many women have come to accept, that aggressive men are just part of life, and should simply be put up with. This is especially true if they are involved in the dating scene e.g. online and public harassment, not taking no for an answer, physical abuse, etc. Many men don't understand that if you block a woman's way, preventing her from leaving, although you may not have made physical contact with her, you are being physically abusive, and are guilty of assault etc. In fact, if you give any person a reason to feel afraid and fear for their safety you may find yourself on the wrong side of the legal system – this is worth thinking about next time you feel the urge to raise your voice to someone, and act in an emotional and insistent manner; something I've seen a lot of men do in bars (when working security), when their advances were turned down, and the woman they were wanting to keep talking to, wanted to disengage. As someone who was bullied as a kid, I recognize this way of acting and behaving as bullying. I know there are many men who will laugh it off, saying that women who are offended by the way they behave are too sensitive, can't take a joke, should lighten up etc. however, these were the types of arguments, that the kids who bullied me, used to make, in order to justify their actions to themselves – I think deep down everybody knew what was actually going on; simple, offensive power games – the games that women have to endure far more commonly than you may think. Whilst we may think of women’s self-defense as being about dealing with rape and sexual assaults etc. It needs to also cover these more common situations as well.

Many men (not all) don't see the situations they create as being dangerous for the women that are involved, as they know that they're not going to become physically violent, that their veiled comments and insinuations aren't actual threats that they'll fulfill etc. After all, what's the danger in creating a bit of discomfort and unease, for the person who has told them that they're not interested, and would rather not talk to them; it's only fair that the dent to their ego should be balanced out by a level of distress for the person who wanted to walk away and not engage with them. This is what women deal with all too frequently – not overt physical violence, but unstable and unpredictable male aggression, that at times creates an atmosphere of fear in their lives which is completely unwarranted. In many of these situations it can be extremely disempowering for the woman, as it is hard to know if any law has actually been broken, or if the presence of law enforcement is justified. It is good to know how to act and behave in these grey areas, and know what to do if they start to become more defined.

This is why I run a free women's self-defense program once a week, and it's why I don't feel obligated to offer the same free service to men (I don't see them as being at risk in the same way). Our program, does look at physical self-defense techniques and how to be able to defend yourself when attacked, but it largely exists with the goal of educating women about different types of violence, and how they can learn to predict, identify and avoid danger before it happens, and by having this knowledge and skills, being able to live a life where fear and uncertainty are not experienced in the same way. 

Share on Facebook