Saturday, August 9, 2014

How to Protect Yourself by Pepper O'Neal

Since my new book, Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Men Don’t the second book in the Black Ops Chronicles series, which came out on June 28th, is about kidnapping and human trafficking, it seemed appropriate to blog about some of the techniques I learned from my ex-CIA friends on how to keep yourself from becoming a victim of violent crime. Unfortunately, in today’s world, this is something that everyone needs to know, regardless if you’re male or female, young or old, attractive or plain. Violent crime—from robbery, rape, and carjacking to abduction, human trafficking, and murder—seems to be increasing at a horrific rate. So what can you do to protect yourself? I’ve listed several things below that should give you at least some ideas. These are things that should work for everyone, regardless of your situation. And you can also use these to make your characters more interesting when you’re writing.

1. Pay attention. By this I mean be observant and aware of your surroundings at all times. Criminals look for easy prey, and some people are just begging to become victims. Whenever you are outside of a safe and secure environment, it’s your responsibility to be aware of what is going on around you. You need to pay attention to who’s behind, on either side of you, as well as who’s in front of you, and even above you. And you need to use all your senses, not just your eyes.

If you want to jog or go shopping, leave your music and earphones at home, and keep both your eyes and ears open to possible threats. If you can’t exercise without your music, get a treadmill and stay at home while jogging. To stick earphones in your ears and block off your ability to hear someone running up behind you is just asking for trouble. So is texting someone while walking down the street. I won’t even discuss texting while driving, as that’s just dumb and everyone knows it. But texting while walking is something I’ve see a lot of people do. The fact is that when you are out of the safe and secure environment I mentioned above, anything you do that detracts from your ability to sense what is going on around you, and what other people in your vicinity are doing or intend to do, makes you vulnerable to attack. If you can see and hear trouble coming, you are much more likely to be able to head it off. And even when you can’t head it off, at least it won’t catch you off guard and give your attacker the advantage of surprise. And this is especially true if you’re outside at night.

I have a jogger friend who, while out running, has many times spun around to confront another innocent jogger coming up behind her. Yes, she’s embarrassed for a few minutes, but if it had been an attacker, she wouldn’t have been taken by surprise. And, as I told her when she mentioned this to me, she’ll never know if one or more of those “innocent” joggers might not have been so innocent if she hadn’t heard them coming and spun around to face them. Many criminals are cowards and only attack if the victim isn’t aware of them until it’s too late.

2. Lock your doors. When you’re home, whether by yourself or with others, keep the doors locked, especially if you live in the city or urban areas. Although this is still good advice even if you live in rural areas. Yes, it’s inconvenient, but I would rather be inconvenienced than a victim. And if you’re driving or riding in a vehicle, lock the doors. Statistics have proven that 99% of carjackers will move on to another car if the one they first pick has locked doors. They aren’t going to wave a gun at you and try to convince you to unlock the doors as they don’t want to draw attention to themselves and what they are trying to do. If they run up to your car while you’re stopped at a light and your doors are locked, they’ll most likely move on to an easier victim. And while a locked door won’t stop every criminal, it will delay them and may give you a few moments to react in ways to protect yourself, such as calling 911. So those few minutes could save your life.

3. Don’t make it easy. In addition to paying attention to your surroundings and locking your doors, there are some simple things that you can do to make yourself less of a target.

For women, when you’re shopping or out anywhere where you need to carry money, credit cards, and/or identification, use a money belt or a money pouch that goes under your clothes. If you do use a purse, use one with a long strap and hang it across your body from one shoulder to the opposite hip. Don’t just hang the strap on your shoulder. It’s too easy for someone to grab and pull it off your shoulder if you do. And before you figure out what happened, the thief and your purse have disappeared into the crowd. If you hang the strap across your chest, it can’t be pulled off without breaking the strap, which requires much more force and gives you time to react. If your purse has compartments that close with zippers or snaps, keep the zippers zipped and the snaps snapped. Many pickpockets are skilled enough to stick a hand in your open purse and remove your wallet without you feeling a thing. If the compartments are closed and they have to unzip or unsnap something to get to your valuables, it’s much more difficult.

For men, don’t put your wallet in the obvious place such as inside your jacket pocket, or the back pocket of your jeans. Pickpockets know exactly where most men keep their wallets and can remove them without the victim even knowing they’ve been robbed. By the time the man reaches for his wallet and discovers it’s gone, his credit and debit cards have already been used, his identity compromised. If at all possible, use a money belt, or put your wallet in a pocket with a button or zipper, and keep the button buttoned or the zipper zipped. And don’t carry more cash or more credit cards than you are going to need for whatever activity you’re going to be doing that day. A lot of men today are resorting to fanny packs (not sure why they’re called fanny packs when most men wear them in front) and put their wallets in the zippered pouch. It might not look as cool as you’d like, but at least your money, credit cards, and identity are better protected.

4. Don’t forget about weapons. Now, ignoring all the hype about guns and gun control these days, not everyone is comfortable carrying or using a gun. And if you’re anything like me, you’re more likely to shoot yourself in the foot than to hit whomever else you might be aiming at. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be defenseless. As Levi’s (the hero of my new book, Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Men Don’t) real-life counterpart once told me, “Anything can be a weapon if you use it right.” And he’s correct. In an emergency situation, a set of keys can do considerable damage, enough to let you get away. A heavy purse has saved more than one woman’s life when swung at an attacker. Hands, elbows, feet, and heads can all be used as weapons to defend yourself from an attacker. Most criminals want meek and submissive victims. They are very leery, and rightly so, of a victim who fights back. While it doesn’t always work, I have heard of many, many cases where a victim fought back, rather than surrender, and the criminal backed off before any real injury was done. Remember, like any predator, most criminals attack the weaker, unobservant, or submissive of the available targets. Why? Because if they get injured, they run the risk of not being able to hunt again anytime soon. For an animal predator, this means they won’t eat. For a criminal, it means they could get caught, or they could run out of money or things to fence. Either way, self-preservation demands that they pick victims who can’t or won’t fight back. Once you start to defend yourself, they may move on to easier prey.

5. Listen to your instincts. Everyone has gut instincts that tell us when something’s not right. That little voice in your head that warns of danger. The problem is that few of us listen because we only believe in what we can see, hear, feel, smell, and touch. The human brain is amazing. While your conscious mind might miss warning signs that signal danger, your subconscious misses very little. Scientific research has proven that the subconscious mind can gather and process information at an incredible rate. And if there is danger, that part of our brain will warn us. So learn to listen. If your gut instincts warn you about a new acquaintance, or even someone you think you know, pay attention. Your brain is processing body language, nuances in voice and expressions, the dilation of pupils, the other person’s heart rate, and a multitude of other things that your conscious mind is not even aware of. Remember that any number of serial killers and psychopaths throughout history have been charismatic and charming. So when your instincts tell you to take a step back, do it. Get a lot more information about the person or activity you’re being warned about before you decide to overrule your instincts. We have instincts for a very good reason and it’s more than a little foolish to ignore them.

Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Men Don’t

A strange man has come to save her...but is he friend or foe?

Anderson Merritt’s been kidnapped, but when a stranger comes to rescue her, she isn’t sure he is who he says he is. He claims to work for her father’s boss. But someone close to Andi set her up, and now she doesn’t know who to trust. Every man she’s ever known has seen her only as a tool to get to her father or his money, so why should this one be any different? As the sparks between them ignite, and the danger escalates, Andi has to choose—go off on her own, or trust that some men really are what they seem.

He doesn’t want to hurt her…but he may have to if she doesn’t come willingly.

Ex-CIA black ops specialist Levi Komakov doesn’t believe in hurting women, but when the place is set to blow and Andi won’t cooperate, he has no choice but to toss her over his shoulder and carry her out of danger, determined to keep her safe in spite of herself. But the beautiful little spitfire doesn’t make it easy for him. With her abductors seemingly always one step ahead of him, Levi suspects there’s a rat in the woodpile, but who? Could it be someone close to Andi’s father, someone in the FBI, or someone in the family Levi works for? When a new threat appears, and even the CIA can’t help him keep Andi safe, Levi puts everything on the line—but will it be enough?

Award-winning author, Pepper O’Neal is a researcher, a writer, and an adrenalin junkie. She has a doctorate in education and spent several years in Mexico and the Caribbean working as researcher for an educational resource firm based out of Mexico City. During that time, she met and befriended many adventurers like herself, including former CIA officers and members of organized crime. Her fiction is heavily influenced by the stories they shared with her, as well her own experiences abroad.

O’Neal attributes both her love of adventure and her compulsion to write fiction to her Irish and Cherokee ancestors. When she’s not at her computer, O’Neal spends her time taking long walks in the forests near her home or playing with her three cats. And of course, planning the next adventure.


Jim Jackson said...

Pepper - thanks for joining Writers Who Kill today. You've provided good information to remind ourselves that we need to take responsibility for our safety. Thanks.

~ Jim

Warren Bull said...

Excellent advice.Thank you!

Gloria Alden said...

Thanks for the advice, Pepper. I live in a rural area and tend not to worry much about my safety. I don't have a gun, nor want one. I do keep my doors locked at night and in the day when the weather is cold, however the doors and windows are open in the summer. My car doors are locked when I'm driving - they automatically lock. I always carry my purse like you suggest. My niece is married to a policeman, and he told me a dog, even a gentle one like my collie, is one of the best deterrents in keeping intruders out. Not totally foolproof, of course, but better than my cats or canary.

E. B. Davis said...

Thanks, Pepper, for all the information. Like Gloria, I feel safer in a more rural environment. Unfortunately, I don't live there--but I hope to. Hatteras has some B & E and drug violations, but few violent crimes. The few murders we've had are vacationers who come here to kill each other off.

KM Rockwood said...

Helpful comments on personal safety that we should all practice. And be aware of in our writing.

That said, we lost our front door keys a while ago and should probably think about getting the locks replaced. Or something.

Your book sounds intriguing.