survival on the street
Survival Expert: Articles on survival by James Mandeville

Survival on the Streets

(What to expect and how to survive)

how to survive on the street

Whether at home or abroad, we are all used to moving around in cities and towns and everyone understands there can be dangers. Even so, everyday there are muggings, violent crimes, sexual assaults, mindless violence and there is always the risk of terrorism and being caught up in a violent protest or riot. Even though most people know these dangers are real, people still fall victim to them. We are not talking about isolated events. Violent crimes occur every few seconds in major cities, as do aggravated assaults, burglary, car thefts and murder. Forcible rape and robbery occurs every few minutes. Drunkenness and narcotics are often the reason for mugging or robbery. Every person risks being bullied, mugged or beaten up at least once in his/her lifetime. People whose jobs bring them into frequent contact with the general public are in a higher risk group, especially taxi drivers, social workers, traffic wardens, shop staff and public transport workers. Even the police get assaulted and although they are trained to deal with it, they also can become victims of street violence.

Being "streetwise"

Avoiding trouble is smart not cowardly. Some basic common sense goes a long way. Know the area you live in and do not go to places where the local bad elements of society hang out. Every town and city has certain streets that are more dangerous than other streets. All streets are more dangerous at night, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when people have been out drinking. Streets around and leading to football grounds are risky when matches are played. Some housing estates are terrorised by gangs of youths into drug–related crime. Do not pass through these areas if you can at all avoid it. Large parks are often the hunting ground for muggers both at night and during the daytime, as are car parks, public urinals and areas in the proximity of cash dispensers.

Muggers in cities often work in teams; they surround their victim and demand money with the threat of violence. They are often high on drugs or alcohol, think nothing of using violence and once they have what they want can vanish quickly into the crowd. Only resist such attacks if you are confident you can look after yourself, bystanders are unlikely to help you and these street thugs know this. The golden rule is to act fast and take out the gang leader first. A drug addict or drunk is less of a match for someone who is fit, quick and able to defend themselves, but a gang of well–practised muggers is another matter.

Try not to make it obvious if you are a stranger in a city, study the route you intend to follow before you set off and look as though you know where you are heading. Do not look like an easy victim. If you are staying in a hotel, ask the Porter or Concierge which streets and places should be avoided, especially at night.

Most muggings and other violent crimes are usually ambush attacks. These attackers know their terrain and use it to their advantage. For example, a sharp curve in a road, an area with undergrowth or hedges and corners they can hide around, are favourite habitats of these sorts of criminals. Pay attention to this and if you are walking along a lonely street, position yourself so you have an advantage and can react. If there is a curve in the road, cross to the side where you are on the outside of the curve and if there is undergrowth on one side of the road, cross over to the other side. If there is undergrowth on both sides and it is safe to do so, walk on the road so no one can spring out and grab you or knock you down. If you are approaching a corner, cross over so you have the best possible field of view.

Underpasses are also favourite haunts of muggers and people up to no good so always avoid them if you are alone, even if they look deserted. Never use an underpass at night if you can at all avoid it. An underpass can easily be sealed off at both ends leaving you trapped. In most cities, like in the photo above in London, UK, taking a short cut through such an underpass is an unnecessary risk. Once in such a tunnel no one on the street above can hear cries for help, and they are unlikely to get involved even if they do hear you.

Always walk facing oncoming traffic in rural areas where there is no pavement so no one can drive up behind you, swing in front of you, and trap you by leaping out of the car directly in front of you. If you are carrying a bag, keep it on the side away from the road so it cannot be snatched by thieves on a bike or motorbike (or roller blades or scooter, for that matter). Get it on your backbone as you travel around that you do not place yourself in a position where you can be ambushed or trapped. Don't get paranoid but learn to read your surroundings and anticipate danger.

Drunks and violence
There appears to be a growing consensus among the police, doctors, psychologists and emergency workers that alcohol consumption is related to violent behaviour and aggression. Studies of the relationship between alcohol consumption and aggressive behaviour show, predictably, that it is only people with a tendency towards anger, suppressed anger, and those capable of violence that react this way when drunk. In layman's terms, alcohol can cause some people to lose their inhibitions and all their pent up feelings find a violent outlet with the target being anyone apparently physically weaker who happens to be in the way.

It is not only men that behave this way, women, especially women in the age range 15 to 35, also can become aggressive, abusive or violent when drunk. Socially, the problem is compounded when groups of people go binge drinking. Girls egg on boys, men show off to women and to their mates; their sense of what is reasonable is dramatically altered in their alcohol–befuddled brains. These individuals or groups quite often pick on innocent victims. Another dimension of this type of violence is the pack instinct. If one of the pack starts trouble, the others join in; there is no voice of reason here. Crime may be a factor. More often than not, a victim is beaten up just because these mindless, drunken morons (sorry to put it like that but let's face the issue) are triggered in some way by the victim. When dealing with a violent drunk you are not dealing with a normal, rational human being; you are dealing with someone who is temporarily, criminally insane.

What triggers a drunk's violent action?
It can be a disapproving look, a comment, just getting in their path, being better dressed, ethnic difference — the problem is that this type of individual can be triggered off by their own low self–esteem, by their social biases, by their bigoted views of life or by outright hatred that is normally kept overall in check. Other factors range from overactive hormones to psychological personality disorders. In short, it's hard to tell if an innocent person is going to trigger a reaction just by being in the wrong place.

How best to deal with aggressive drunks?
drunksAvoidance is the best defence. Do not rise to drunken taunts. Keep out of the path of a drunk (or gang of drunks). Pay them no attention (do not look at them; avoid eye contact because this may be interpreted as aggression on your side). If they confront you, be firm but polite; try to show that you are not afraid of them. I heard a guy diffuse a potentially confrontational situation once when approached by a group of drunken youths in Birmingham in the UK; he said, 'You guys seem to be having a good time. Hey, which pub serves the best beer round here?' Their belligerence faded and a quick exchange of views ended with them advising him to try the "Black Swan." He thanked them and they went off, their attention now turned to ripping down a shop awning. His quick thinking saved him a potential kicking because he distracted them from their befuddled aggression with talk of something they held dear — beer.

The best way to distract anyone set on violence is to play on their emotions, bring them down to earth. Unless they have a total disregard for authority and law and order (a different class of criminal altogether) not wanting to tangle with the police can work. Tell them you have already called the police and they will arrive at any minute, so they had better scarper. Do not use phrases like, "Look, I don't want any trouble…" because, frankly, this is exactly what they want and they will see you as weak and an easy victim.

A drunken person, pumped up on an adrenaline high, will tire very fast once their adrenaline levels begin to drop. Create a distance. You can do this by talking to them (not an argument) and also physically by keeping a least two arms' lengths away. If they move closer, move a pace back. Once they begin to tire and their aggression begins to drop, start to back off, still talking to them, saying you've had enough and you're going. Do not turn and run. Once you are a good distance from them, turn and walk briskly away. A drunk has a short attention span; at the very least, distracting them can give you time to get the first blow in and it is usually the first punch that settles the matter. The bottom line is that knowing self–defence is valuable and may just save you if all else fails. Go and learn how to protect yourself whatever age you are.

Different tribes, different rules
We all grow up in a certain culture, one unique to our nation. Most of our social interactions are instinctive and many are taught from childhood so they are deeply engrained. There are norms of behaviour and if anyone breaks these norms we instinctively become alert to this. The classic difference is demonstrated by personal space. I'm a Scot., and I like to keep a minimum of a metre (3 feet) away from the people around me. If someone is talking to me and moves up close, it makes me uncomfortable and I (perhaps instinctively) move back a little from them. I would never stand next to anyone in a public urinal if there were a choice. On public transport I look for a place where there is at least one empty seat between the next passenger and myself. I hate crowds that shove and jostle and I avoid openly staring at people around me because that is just plain rude in my culture. I was brought up to respect women and the elderly. If a foreigner tries to ask me directions, I patiently try to understand them being helpful as possible because I want them to feel comfortable as guests in my country. When I walk along a busy street in the UK, I move instinctively and pass by people, as they pass by me, without ever bumping into them — we just know how this is done.

riots Copenhagen
I have lived in America, France, Brazil, Mozambique and Denmark. In each country, I have had to adjust to suit the cultural norms just to move around in the everyday. I don't adopt these different norms - I just blend with them. For example, in Denmark people walk on the right not the left. They stand much closer to each other. They openly and mindlessly stare at each other (very weird to a Brit.) and they do not consider each other in the everyday (walk through a door and let it slam in your face, do not move out of the way as you attempt to pass each other in the street, for example). You cannot strike up a casual conversation with a Dane as you would with a fellow Brit., because they are less self–assured and quickly suspicious of your motives, making them appear unfriendly to foreigners.

In Mozambique, people stand much closer and it is acceptable to touch the arm of a stranger you are talking to or even pat them on the shoulder. None of these social behaviours is wrong, they are just different but misunderstandings can easily occur. If you are in a foreign country, you should learn something about the way the people interact with each other and find out what is socially acceptable or not. Religious customs complicate interaction between peoples further. A lot of conflict arises just because we do not make the effort to understand each other.

In all countries there are bullies, both men and women, who are looking to promote a conflict situation. These over–aggressive types are easily triggered. Often it starts with something that would not concern a normal person. Perhaps you inadvertently bump into someone and even if you say, 'Sorry,' this doesn't appease the person; they try to escalate the situation. The game of staring out a potential opponent is also a common start to violence; the aggressor's eyes lock onto yours and the aggressor feels superior if (in his/her opinion) the weaker person quickly looks down — intimidated. If you are not obviously intimidated (and thereby refuse to accept they are a superior human being) you will be met with, 'Who are you staring at?' or, 'What are you looking at?' Back down. Say, 'Sorry, I thought you were someone else.' A smile is often disarming in this case. If they continue to be aggressive you should be firm but polite, keep your voice level and calm, 'Listen, I said I was sorry if I offended you. I mistook you for someone else!' Again, a smile helps.

Many people feel they have to always have the last word or hold a lecture rather than behaving normally. It is always smarter to back down and not provoke verbal or physical violence.  If you are this type, think again. One day you will provoke a violent response. If someone bumps into you and your natural response is to say, 'Look where you're going, stupid!' You have called the person "stupid" and attributed all the blame to them. Soon there is a slanging match and possibly blows are exchanged. Win or lose the ensuing fight, you are left feeling shaken up and angry. Think about it — is it really worth all the unnecessary upset? False pride comes before a fall. It doesn't make you a coward if you back down - just smarter than the average bear!

Defensive driving
Many people feel at home and completely safe in their cars, but security in the car is just as important as security anywhere else. People are robbed in their cars and in some countries these robberies are particularly ruthless and violent crimes. You must always follow some basic rules to reduce the risk to yourself and to your passengers.
  • For a start, make sure your car is correctly serviced and check you have enough fuel to complete your journey — especially if travelling at night. If you are on a tight budget and can't always afford a full tank, allow for delays that could cost you further fuel consumption. If you run out of fuel, you cannot get away from a potentially dangerous situation, your parked vehicle becomes a danger to others and you can become a victim of crime.

  • If you don't have a phone in the car carry a cell phone so you can get help without having to leave your vehicle.

  • Always keep all the car doors locked and all valuables out of sight. When the car is stopped at junctions and lights you are vulnerable to robbery. These thieves work fast and will even smash a window to grab a case or valuables. If they walk up to your car and can see nothing of interest, they will quickly move on. Stay particularly alert at lights and junctions and keep an eye on anyone approaching your car. If suspicious, flash your lights and sound your horn to attract attention; this is a good deterrent to a smash and grab thief.

  • Do not stop too close to the car in front of you because you can easily be boxed in from behind. In rural areas, thieves use this method to trap you and rob you. Always make sure you can drive off if you are suspicious. Thieves may deliberately "back end" your car by driving into it. They intend to rob you or even take your car. If someone drives into the back of your car and you think it is not a genuine accident do not leave your car. Make sure all your windows are locked and immediately phone the police or drive off and report the accident to the police as soon as possible and make sure they understand why you left the scene of the accident (which is an offence under normal conditions).

  • The golden rule of defensive driving is to position your car (stopped or on the move) so you can always drive off if you are suspicious. Think about how another vehicle can box you in and make sure you always have an escape route. If someone flashes you to pull over and you think your car is handling all right, continue on to a safe place before stopping to check things out. Muggers use this ploy and there have even been instances of them imitating police officers.

  • If a police officer signals you to pull over, you must stop. A police officer will stop behind you (never pull in front blocking you unless they think you are criminal intent on escape) and walk to your car. You are quite within your rights to keep your engine running and talk to the officer through a closed window — ask to see Id before complying with the officer's orders. Ask why you have been stopped. The police are also aware of how criminals operate and will be sympathetic especially to a woman travelling alone. If you are still suspicious, inform the "officer" that you are not satisfied he/she is genuine and ask the officer to follow you as you drive on to the next populated area where you will stop and cooperate. A police officer will agree to this in most countries — they also do not want to be seen as harassing a member of the public who is nervous of them.

  • A staged accident or a breakdown is a common ploy used the world over by muggers and car thieves. If someone flags you down, slow down, assess the situation and if you are in anyway suspicious drive on and contact the police. If you decide to stop and talk to the person flagging you down, follow the golden rule of keeping the engine running and talking through closed windows. The person talking may be distracting you while someone approaches your car from the rear. Keep an all–round look out. At the first sniff something isn't right — drive off immediately.

  • Do not get swept up in, or become a victim of, road rage. If someone wants to pass, let him or her go. If someone blows their horn at you or gives you rude gestures, let it go. The people that deliberately cause trouble on the road are morons who are using a ton of motorcar to intimidate those around them — don't let them rile you and never rise to the bait of racing with them. If you are in the fast lane of a motorway and someone races up behind you flashing their lights and blowing their horn, do not be panicked into immediately pulling over. Check it is safe to change lanes and then get out of their way. Remember, they are morons and you are not a moron. If you are particularly upset by their actions or consider them a serious danger to yourself and other road users, make a mental note of their registration number, the make and model of car, your location and the time. Give all these details to the police. The police are just as sick of these mindless idiots as everyone else is and will welcome the chance to spot and arrest this bully.

    road rageIf a driver is overly aggressive to you and drives too close to the rear of your car, sounding his horn and flashing his headlights (women can be "road ragers" too), ignore him. Never make eye contact with a "rager," never shout, swear or make rude gestures at him as this will inflame the situation further. Never speed off and potentially end up in a deadly race. Whatever you do, don't get out of your vehicle and potentially get into a fight. What you should do is carry on driving normally. Don't get angry. Stay calm and look for a means of escape. If the rager pursues you, the classic advice by the police is to keep on driving round in circles, making four right turns. Hopefully, the rager will lose interest and drive off. If the rager is persistent, drive onroadrage until you spot a police officer or drive into a police station. Do not hesitate to report the incident because road ragers should not be allowed on the road and soon someone else will become a victim. Whilst looking for a way of shaking off the rager, be careful not to trap yourself by driving into a cul–de–sac or any other place where your means of escape is cut off.

  • Keep a close eye on motorbikes, especially on fast roads if they are weaving in and out of traffic at speed. A biker is statistically nine times more likely to have an accident than a car driver; when they fall off, they always cause mayhem for other road users.


Crowds, demonstrations and riots

riots Basle
Basically, the advice given here is all about surviving in a crowd of people when law and order begins to break down and things escalate into violent confrontation. The first rule of survival is to read the signs around you. If you hear people shouting, glass breaking, police sirens, see smoke from burning cars, the obvious thing to do is to take cover or get as far away as possible. However, at home or abroad, it is possible to get caught up in a civil disturbance and the advice given below is largely common sense but it makes you think about what you would do in such a situation. In escalating street violence, when people are behaving mindlessly and the authorities are trying to stamp on the trouble before it gets out of hand, events move fast and it is not so easy to calmly think through what to do. People who are in the wrong place at the wrong time do get hurt in these street conflict situations.

Protests and demonstrations are rarely spontaneous and if they are, they usually only involve a limited number of people who are of like mind. Most protests and demonstrations are carefully organised and there is fair warning that, on a certain day, at a certain time, in a certain place, the protesters plan to rally. The organisers of these events do not want conflict, they just want their voices heard and they want as many people as possible to join their cause. Things go wrong because anti–social elements see these protests and demonstrations as an opportunity to move matters to the next level so they infiltrate the demonstration and incite violence. Violence can also flare up because emotions run high among the protesters and the target of this anger is often the police who are trying to control the situation. Property is also a target for this burst of anger and frustration and it is usually when a small number of people start damaging property that the police take affair and trouble escalates. If any of the protesters attack the police (throw stones, punch a police officer, etc.) the police response is to use tougher measures in return in an effort to isolate and arrest the key troublemakers. The police are not too forgiving in these situations and innocent people do get arrested or injured by mistake.

Riots are relatively rare in most countries. A riot is a number of determined people making a decided attempt to overthrow an unpopular regime, in effect an armed conflict and the prelude to civil war. Authorities respond with the appropriate degree of force. They use the military and riot police to get the situation rapidly under control and extreme force is used, often with little warning, in a determined effort to eliminate the ringleaders and to panic and disperse the rioters. If a riot becomes protracted you end up with civil war.

riots russia
Anyone taking part in a protest or demonstration runs the risk of being arrested or being seriously injured. This is a risk they are prepared to accept. For this reason, stay away. Curiosity is the main magnet that draws innocent people to the scene of a protest. Innocent people run the same risk of arrest or injury as the people involved. An angry mob is dangerous and unpredictable so if you are not directly involved you have two great dangers, the mob and those trying to control the affray. If you are caught up in such a situation, do not get involved. This may mean taking control of your own indignation, for example, if you see riot police being (in your opinion) brutal with a prisoner, do not start your own protest. They will arrest you simply because they don't have the time to debate matters with you. Do not confront or argue with the protesters, as they will see you as "the enemy." Do not take photos; the mob and the authorities will both react negatively to this. Stay on the sidelines and look for a means of escape.

If you are caught in the crowd

crowd survival
Moving in a densely packed street crowd is like trying to swim through a strong ocean current. You have to move with the crowd do not try to move against it. The greatest danger in any crowd is being knocked down and getting trampled, especially if the crowd is fast–moving (trying to escape a police charge, tear gas, etc.). Go with the flow and carefully edge your way to the perimeter and look for a building you can enter (hotel, etc.) or a side street that takes you away from the centre of trouble. Do not enter subways — they can get packed and become very dangerous places. If you are a family, trying to stay together is not always possible, so arrange a meeting place in case you get separated. Do not let children walk, always pick them up and carry them. Carry a child to one side of you so you can see where you are going and you can better protect the child. If you are in a stadium, experience shows it is better not to flee for the exits; many people are trampled to death in this sort of panic. It is better to stay where you are or get onto the stadium ground and wait until the police or security people tell you what to do.

If you fall down, curl up into a ball. Protect your face, ears and internal organs. In this position, you are a smaller object that can be avoided. You will receive less damage if you are stepped on. Watch for the opportunity to get back on your feet as quickly as you can.

Things you should avoid doing
In the crowd, do not panic and try to force people out of your way in your desperation to escape. Even jostling others can be interpreted as aggression in this emotionally inflamed situation. You may also cause someone to fall and be trampled.

riots in Basle
Do not approach police lines thinking they will rescue you. Riot and crowd control police use a strategy designed to drive the crowd like cattle to an area where they can disperse them or arrest them. If you approach police lines, they may assume you are going to attack them and you run the risk of being hit by a rubber bullet, being smacked down with a baton or being shot dead. Driving towards police lines can be misinterpreted. Police are trained and prepared to protect themselves against deadly threats meaning that you may be shot at if they think you are going to run them down.

Do not use public transport (if it running) as all public transport vehicles can become targets of the mob.

If you are driving, do not stop. Drive slowly and use your horn to get people to move. If your car is attacked, get out of it and get away. Better to lose your car than your life. Don't speed up and risk knocking protesters over; experience has shown the mob will instinctively turn on anyone who does this.


Learn to defend yourself

It takes just five seconds to win a fight. These five moves are guaranteed to put down any opponent. (If the animation doesn't start in a couple of seconds, click on the animation to start it from move one. Sorry, doesn't work on all mobile phones.)

five self-defence moves
Although called "five moves that will defeat anyone" you should practice the whole sequence so it flows like one move. If someone throws a punch with his or her right hand, block it with your left and practice also blocking with your right in case you meet a left–handed assailant. If you learn nothing else, this technique will stand you in good stead if confronted. Of course, it is best to join a club and learn self–defence but find one that teaches specific defence skills appropriate to dealing with casual violence, rather than learning Eastern martial arts (unless that grabs you). If you can find an instructor who taught close–quarter combat in the Army, so much the better.

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