In the second article written by Andy Neal of our Personal Safety series, we look at how you can keep safe when harassed on the street. Sign up below to receive all 5 of our Personal Safety articles in your inbox.

From experience, a business person will spend less time on the streets of a city, than, say, a tourist. There may have been a time when our ‘typical’ business person visited a city first, that they did the tourist ‘bit’ and saw the sights.

Now, someone on business will jet in, conduct their business, either in the hotel, the company’s offices, or at other locations, and travel by his company’s or another company’s vehicles.

The average street criminal is attracted to the tourist market because they know they will be carrying cash, expensive phones, cameras, videos and more, plus, and perhaps more importantly, they will be generally ‘switched off’, relaxed and not on their guard. This presents an opportunity for street crime, but whether on business or not, there’s always a risk.

The Opportunity for Street Crime

Remember, most street crime is opportunistic and for this to happen two factors must be in place.

First, you must be chosen as a target. People who look wealthy or display that wealth openly, such as a gold watch are a target economically.

Secondly, the selection is down to you and how you appear. Look switched off and you have put the pieces of the picture in place for you to be a victim, you are now also a target ‘opportunistically’. Street criminals have a process of target selection.

It is simple and based on two factors and two alone – commercial potential and opportunity.

Taking them in order, if you were to walk everywhere in a bathing costume you are unlikely to be mugged as you patently present no commercial potential.

Opportunity has more facets to it, such as a lack of witnesses, escape availability and finally, the element of surprise. It is this latter aspect that we, in fact, create the opportunity for someone else to take advantage of.

When you have been selected, what you choose to do next is important

What is the Contact Approach Method?

The Contact Approach method is used by criminals to instigate a street robbery. It is often a set of verbal or behavioural calls followed by an approach. Spotting these cues will help you to make sure your response is quick and that you do not compromise your safety.

Look for these as signs of the Contact Approach method. They may be used in conjunction or separately or may be conducted over a lengthy period.

  • Someone approaching and closing the distance gap between the two of you
  • General conversation stops between two people
  • Verbal calling or comments out of the blue
  • A very close walk-by and reverse by another person
  • Being followed or flanked
  • A seemingly innocuous request (such as asking for the time)
  • A personal space violation – Do they close into your space (approximately two arm lengths minimum)?
  • More than one person approaching

Your immediate response determines whether they discontinue, or the approach progresses to physical contact.

Street harassment in action

What should your immediate response be?

Your immediate response can help to scare off would-be attackers but should always seek to keep you safe. The following tips can help to do this. Of course, one should look more closely at these tips and seek professional advice about how to implement them.

  • Give a necessary sound off and a directive. If you have not seen the incident develop with enough time to alter course and seek safety. Your first weapon is your voice.
  • Be specific when yelling for help – What is happening? How can people help?
  • Increase the distance between yourself and any attackers. Run towards other members of the public
  • Try to forget your doubts
  • Try to forget the embarrassment factor

How to react to physical contact

  • Listen to what they want if they tell you
  • Immediately place your hands into the centre of your body – protect your vital organs
  • Don’t turn theft into a violent assault
  • Give up whatever item they ask for
  • With compliance/cooperation options, there are positives and negatives. They may still inflict violence gratuitously or they may take the items and leave
  • If it’s simply theft, then comply quickly

Good observations and proactive risk assessments are key to your safety

Using the dynamic risk assessment that we learned about in the previous article you can learn to conduct risk assessments to help improve your personal safety. In the situation we’re analysing here, we move ahead to assessing the risk during a such a robbery or theft.

If it goes further than theft, consider the following:

  • Do they have a weapon?
  • What are your impressions of their physical capabilities?
  • Is anyone around to help?
  • Are they looking to change location?
  • Are they hurting you?

Now it all becomes a question of priorities.

Man runs following assessment of personal safety

General reaction guidelines

Generally speaking, here are four general reaction guidelines if the robbery has got very serious. But look to professional for additional guidance and seek further training if travelling to high-risk areas.

  1. Don’t let them transport you elsewhere
  2. The sooner you notice the approach the more options you have
  3. Consider temporary cooperation that may assist in reassessment and better positioning – in other words, it can buy you some time
  4. If you are able to break and run, do so

Remember, you are more vulnerable when you are isolated (there is safety in numbers), in darkness or near areas of concealment (hiding places).

Are you a business traveller, or are you responsible for people who travel frequently for work? Our travel safety guide Passport to Protection is full of advice on how to stay safe on your travels. For more information click here.

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