Many attacks happen in fringe areas. Well, what exactly is a fringe area? Fringe areas are places adjacent to public areas such as parking lots, parking decks, alleyways, public restrooms, stairwells, laundry rooms, remote hallways, and just outside or inside entryways. If you think about it for a minute, it makes sense why bad guys like fringe areas so much. An assaliant can hide in a fringe area and observe public areas lokking for easy targets. They can look for people texting, walking with their heads down, listening to music on headphones or otherwise pre-occupied. Many times the criminal just has to wait for his victim to come into range for an attack. The victim haplessly walks right into the ambush. So, what can you do to protect youself?
Be aware of any areas that a person can hide easily that are next to heavy traffic areas. The bushes next to the stairwell, the corner of the building that is not well lighted, etc. Once you get into the habit of identifying these areas, give yourself some distance from the potential threat. Take corners wide, walk on the opposite side of the sidewalk from dark alleys and doorways, use your flash light (you do have one with you, right?) to illuminate dark areas as you approach. These simple techniques increase your ability to identify and respond (avoid) many threats to your safety. It also lets a bad guy know you are aware and probably are not an easy mark.
Let's take a look any why these simple techniques work. Assailants (muggers, rapists, robbers, etc.) need to get close to their victims for their attack to be successful. A few feet can make a huge difference in success or failure of their assault. Criminals want good odds of success before they act. By decreasing their odds of success, your risk goes down significantly.
Attacks happen a close range. Assailants will use other techniques to close the gap to their victims when they have no good hiding place. Bad guys will try to distract and deceive their potential victims to get close. You can counter these techniques by making eye contact and engaging a potential attacker verbally from a safe distance. For instance, you see a suspicious person approaching you in a fringe or even a semi-public area (gas station parking lot). Instead of ignoring and hoping they go away, ask "can I help you?" while they are 20 or more feet away. I call this "The Interrogation." If they ask for money or other help just tell them you cannot help them. If they continue to close the gap, ramp up your verbal response to a directive, "I can't help you, please stay back" or if they are closing the gap quickly "stay back, get away from me." Your voice needs to be strong and LOUD.
This does a few helpful things. One, it lets the potential criminal know you may not be the easy target they thought, Two, you are bringing attention of bystanders to the situation. Three, you are getting physically and mentally ready to resist. If the verbal warning does not stop the person, you need to move. Get an obstacle between you and the potential assailant. Jump into your car, lock the doors and drive away, get your car, wall, table, anything between you and the other person. If you have a defensive tool (pepper spray, stun gun, Taser, etc.) on you, now is the time to get it ready to use (if you have not already done so). If the assailant continues to close the gap and crosses your red line, run or use your defensive tool.
Your red line is the distance you have pre-determined under the circumstances to be the distance that the person becomes an imminent threat to your safety. It is a decision point. As soon as the situation starts to develop, have a mental picture of where your red line is. It will vary based on where you are. For example, at a gas station, after you have given a verbal warning, it may be 10-15 feet away. If you are in a large open area and a person is walking directly toward you with no apparant reason, it could be much farther away. It also depends on how far you need to move to get to safety.
Remember: Don't Be Scared, Be Prepared