Sleeping With the Enemy?

               Not long ago, I was preparing a talk on personal safety and security and I came across an interesting statistic.  This tidbit of research stated that only 12% of violent crime occurred at the hands of strangers.  So according to that study, most victims of violent crime knew their attacker, knew the suspect, rather than being attacked by an unknown stranger.
               At first, this may strike you as unlikely.  After all, the news always seems to be full of the attacks on the innocent person walking to their car, or the abduction by stranger.  But as happens all too often, our risk antenna is focused on the wrong threat or in the wrong direction. 
               Throughout my time in law enforcement, the majority of assaults were between people who knew each other.  Of course, there was the usual bevy of bar fights between relative strangers, but most assaults and disturbances were related to domestic violence or between roommates, neighbors etc.
               The same is true of many other crimes, such as identity theft.  Often, those closest to us are the ones who have access to our credit cards, check books or other identifying information and are the ones who carry out some form of ID theft.  And, of course, it is those close relationships that can build up the kind of tension that can lead to violence in some people.
               So how does this affect your personal safety and security?  It means that to really protect yourself, you need to look beyond the usual crime tips and look at those closest to you.  Locking your doors or windows won’t help if the person you should fear already has the key. 
               Your personal security needs to start with a close risk assessment or look at the people around you, as well as the some of the external factors that could impact your safety.  I like to think of three areas to look at for your individual risk assessment, your IRA so to speak.  The first is about your lifestyle and that includes the people closest to you and those closest to them.  This also includes some of your ‘lifestyle’ choices or the things that you do.  The next is the environmental factors around you, your neighborhood crime rates, for example.  The last is work.  We spend a large part of our lives at work and cannot ignore the risk related to work, from the crime around our work locations as well as industry or job-related risks.
               The first area is lifestyle.  Start by looking at the potential for violent behavior of those around you, including relatives.  You’ve heard commercials for mutual funds or other financial products and the announcer always includes a statement to the effect that past performance does not guarantee future results.  However, with violent individuals that is not the case.  Past violent behavior is a very clear indicator that there will be future violent behavior.  It is very rare for someone to “just snap” and suddenly become violent without warning.  Police officers use this concept daily, when responding to calls or dealing with suspects.  If an individual or a location is known to police due to past violence, they will go into those scenarios at a higher state of alert and with cover officers.  Dispatchers use software to track previous calls to a location and radio previous disturbances to responding officers so they don’t walk into a violent situation unawares. 
The next factor to consider is substance abuse, either drugs or alcohol.  This is another leading dynamic that adds to the risk of violent behavior.  Mental health issues are yet another factor that increases the risk of violent behavior.  Within the healthcare industry, there is a higher risk of being a victim of an assault than many other professions and the risk increases dramatically when dealing with mental health patients.  ER staff faces the greatest risk due to the firsthand contact with intoxicated or high suspects, who, too often, end up in the ER because of their own violent behavior and the related injuries.
Your IRA should focus around the following questions.  We could score the answers and tally up a number to rate your risk, but that could be misleading as any one risk might be so severe or dangerous that a low score could be misleading.
1.      Within your household, including spouses, parents, siblings or even children, is there anyone who has a history of violent behavior?  What about substance abuse?
2.     Think of the visitors or neighbors or close friends who are routinely around your household.  Do you know of any violence by any of them, including violence against pets or animals?  And substance abuse?
3.     Expand your perimeter a bit and think about the friends of friends, especially the spouses or boyfriends and girlfriends of your closest friends.  Note any violence there or substance abuse.  Sometimes, it may not be obvious, but aside from visible injuries, warning signs could include changes in personality or increase in illnesses or absences from work.
4.     Aside from the people, the things we do can increase risk.  Review your own activities and lifestyle.  Do you travel to or through isolated areas alone or do things like go jogging alone, especially at night?  It sounds obvious, but too often people do ignore those risks and expose themselves to attackers, especially, in these cases, attacks by strangers.
This is a good start to a better understanding of personal security and safety and some of the danger signs right around us that are so easy to justify or ignore.  In a future post, we will look at the other two areas, environmental factors and work-related dynamics. 
The key to security is to increase your personal awareness to threats around you.  Conducting a review may get you thinking about people or circumstances that you’ve overlooked in the past or ignored.  Stay aware to stay safe.


  1. Excellent post. I would recommend the reading "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker if you haven't read it already. Also another great book: "The Sociopath Next Door" by Martha Stout. I took a risk assessment about 2 years ago and, although didn't score terribly realized there was room for improvement. Today's IRA is significantly lower. I think IRA is a great tool and one not to be taken lightly.

  2. "The Gift of Fear" is a great book and one I refer to a lot when assessing threats in the workplace. I really believe in listening to that inner voice, which he relates to fear (thus the title).