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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:12 pm 
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On one of my many journeys through the bus system, I sit on a bench, waiting for the bus. I've barely settled in, waiting and listening to a book on tape through my headphones, when two young men approach me. They're about my age, and one of them is carrying a bottle of vodka. Their pants sag to their knees in the much-ridiculed style that shows off one's boxers if one doesn't wear a long shirt.

Upon being given the universal signal for "remove your headphones" (made on the presumption that if I am wearing headphones I must be blasting my music so loudly that I can't hear them), I pull an earbud out and look at them. "Yeah?" I guess they want to ask what time it is, or if their bus has been by yet.

And then they throw me a curveball. One of the guys approaches me and asks for my headphones. Seriously--just comes up and asks for the headphones. His are broken, he explains, so he can't listen to his music.

I'm confused. There is no social protocol for this. But I figure, if he's so desperate to listen to his music that he'll ask a perfect stranger for headphones, I might as well hand them over; anyway, they're old and I need to get new ones soon. So I shrug and give him the headphones.

His friend isn't pleased. "Hey, you're scaring her," he protests, gesturing with the bottle of vodka. He's pretty close and he smells of alcohol.

"I don't know you," I reply, by way of explanation. I'm not actually scared, oddly enough. I'm just confused. In my experience there is no precedent for asking perfect strangers for personal possessions, and I can't figure out why one would need headphones so badly. But I have no clue how to explain that to them, so I just go with it. The guy who wanted my headphones introduces himself. I guess that means I know him now. I don't catch his name, though.

His friend still isn't having any of it. "You want a bus token?" he asks, handing me a bus token and not taking no for an answer. Reluctantly, I take it. Then he says, "I'm gonna give you a dollar," and proceeds to pull a large wad of bills from his pants pocket, rifling through them until he finds a single. "I'm gonna give you two dollars," he says, and hands over a couple of dollar bills. "You're God's gift to the world," he claims, and drapes one arm over my shoulders. I'm somewhat experienced with drunk people being overly affectionate, but I don't even know this guy, and that confuses me even more. "'Kay," I say. "Thanks." He backs off. I start breathing again. I don't like the smell of alcohol at all, and that was way too close.

As I sit staring at my feet, the two guys start arguing. I can't make out most of what they're saying. Apparently one guy pushed the other guy, and his excuse was that he was drunk at the time. This is a very simple issue, but somehow they manage to draw out the argument for the full twenty minutes I have to wait for the bus. I start worrying that they will start fighting, and I wonder whether I should call the police; but what exactly have they done (other than drinking in public) that the police would worry about? If they get too close, I'm totally getting them with my pepper spray, though.

As the fighting continues, more people start arriving; and apparently they all know each other. They're all the same age, twentyish or maybe late teens. They start taking sides or trying to negotiate. They add their voices to the chaos.

After a while, I forget about trying to hear what they are saying--I can't filter it out of their slangy accents anyway--and just listen to the cadence and pitch of their voices. The argument is rising and falling in a sort of rhythmic manner, a sinusoidal pattern of intensity. It reminds me of the time I spent living with housemates who had dogs--the dogs interacted in much the same way, not truly fighting but just sort of tussling for top dog, trying to feel each other out, snapping a bit but not biting down. The best I can figure, that's what these people are doing--feeling each other out, reinforcing their places in the hierarchy. The're like a pack of dogs; except (obviously) that they're human. It's quite odd. They even yell across the street to each other.

My bus comes and I get home without incident--but I'm pretty darn confused about the whole thing.

So... here are my questions.

Why would someone ask a perfect stranger for headphones?

Why did the second guy insist on paying me?

Do people really get into hierarchy spats like dogs do?--Non-serious fights in which they reinforce their position in a "pack"? Or was this something else altogether?

Was I ever in any danger--or am I just unsettled for no reason?

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:26 pm 
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callista wrote:
Why would someone ask a perfect stranger for headphones?


It is done all the time. It is called robbery.

callista wrote:
Why did the second guy insist on paying me?

He gave you a token and $2 so you could not say it was a robbery. He could say it was a sale.

callista wrote:
Do people really get into hierarchy spats like dogs do?--Non-serious fights in which they reinforce their position in a "pack"?

Absolutely. It happens all the time, everyday. It happens in offices, organizations and anything involving humans and any kind of organization.

callista wrote:
Or was this something else altogether?

Booze, dope and/or drugs was obviously involved. Fortunately it made them happy and not aggressive.

callista wrote:
Was I ever in any danger--or am I just unsettled for no reason?

Absolutely you were in danger. Fortunately they were not focused on you and since you gave them your headset that distracted them.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:30 pm 
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callista wrote:
Was I ever in any danger--or am I just unsettled for no reason?


Impossible to call after the fact, other than to state the obvious: that you made it out fine. But I have certainly see unreasonable drunks make what sounds like an innocuous request (for a cigarette, for example) and then become BATSHIT INSANE and violent when that request is refused. That might have happened here if you'd refused. On the other hand, I'm not a big fan of giving in to rude demands by strangers.

callista wrote:
I'm confused. There is no social protocol for this. But I figure, if he's so desperate to listen to his music that he'll ask a perfect stranger for headphones, I might as well hand them over; anyway, they're old and I need to get new ones soon. So I shrug and give him the headphones.


Actually there is a social protocol for this, or a couple, really. One is to reply to rudeness to rudeness (I think it's rude to demand something from someone who doesn't owe you anything), and say, "Piss up a rope." I think this would be fair but not necessarily wise.

The "playing it safe" answer is to assume that any person who approaches you or invades your personal space is a potential threat. Some drunk on a bus approaches you, what are the odds that you have any interest in what they have to say? Somewhere between 0 and negative a billion, right? So when they make the "universal headphone removal gesture," you repeat your rehearsed "leave me alone" phrase (I like, "Sorry, I can't help you") and then get up and move as far away from the person as possible. If they follow, you say in a very firm voice, "STOP. STAY BACK." And if they come closer, try to touch you, etc., you deploy the defensive option of your choice. (Thanks to Trebor for this procedure, it makes good sense.)

The risk of being rude is that you'll get punched in the face by an angry drunk. The risk of the "rehearsed disengage" is that you'll be rude to someone who just wanted to know what time it is. The risk of hearing the man out is, well, who knows? He might want to know the time, he might want your headphones, he might want to distract you while his friend with the rusty tire iron winds up behind you. But odds of this are very low. So you make the call.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:30 pm 
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This would have been one of those times I would have looked up and responded with, "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:39 pm 
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raptor wrote:
callista wrote:
Why would someone ask a perfect stranger for headphones?


It is done all the time. It is called robbery.

callista wrote:
Why did the second guy insist on paying me?

He gave you a token and $2 so you could not say it was a robbery. He could say it was a sale.

callista wrote:
Do people really get into hierarchy spats like dogs do?--Non-serious fights in which they reinforce their position in a "pack"?

Absolutely. It happens all the time, everyday. It happens in offices, organizations and anything involving humans and any kind of organization.

callista wrote:
Or was this something else altogether?

Booze, dope and/or drugs was obviously involved. Fortunately it made them happy and not aggressive.

callista wrote:
Was I ever in any danger--or am I just unsettled for no reason?

Absolutely you were in danger. Fortunately they were not focused on you and since you gave them your headset that distracted them.
I'd disagree. Although it *could* have potentially been a robbery, I don't think we have enough information from this post to gauge intent or whether or not it would have escalated. I'd rather not be viewed as a criminal just because I'm a bit schwasted out of my gourd and I really want to listen to some tunes, but don't have working earbuds. She wrote "asked". Callista, can you remember verbatim what was said, or the overall tone of the "request"?

Some folks like to pay for things they're borrowing or taking. Normally it's called "renting" or "buying". Again, drunks. Don't expect the brains to be working at high speed.

Hierarchy testing is a pretty common thing, especially among young/adolescent males.

I would say you were *potentially* in danger. Strangers behaving oddly could be harmless, or it could be quite harmful. You were justified in being unsettled, that was not a normal interaction.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:46 pm 
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Crazy Wolf wrote:
Some folks like to pay for things they're borrowing or taking. Normally it's called "renting" or "buying". Again, drunks. Don't expect the brains to be working at high speed.


The person who paid for it was not the one making the request.

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His friend still isn't having any of it. "You want a bus token?" he asks, handing me a bus token and not taking no for an answer. Reluctantly, I take it. Then he says, "I'm gonna give you a dollar," and proceeds to pull a large wad of bills from his pants pocket, rifling through them until he finds a single. "I'm gonna give you two dollars," he says, and hands over a couple of dollar bills.


BTW Being drunk in public is not a problem for me. I deal with drunk tourists frequently. I am judging them to be a "hostile" based upon the earphone demand. That and the fact that this clearly does not happen often in the area near callista and the fact that she was unnevered by it( I base this upon her questions)

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:49 pm 
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I can't remember the exact words, but the approach reminded me very much of a pushy salesman--the sort of guy who sticks his foot in the door if you try to close it.

I don't think this was some kind of attempt at robbery, because why wouldn't they have demanded the mp3 player, too? Granted, it's an old one and the headphones are actually worth more, but I had the thing in my pocket and it's not like they knew that.

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Last edited by callista on Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:54 pm 
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callista wrote:
I can't remember the exact words, but the approach reminded me very much of a pushy salesman--the sort of guy who sticks his foot in the door if you try to close it.


When someone has that attitude with me, it puts me very much not in the mood to not give them what they want. And to be prepared for them to get angry about that. And potentially violent. Especially if they're drunk. Then again, I'm 6'5, 270ish lbs, and am usually wearing combat boots and carrying pepper spray and a knife (they can't see it but it affects my attitude), so I don't generally get fucked with in the same way. If they want a buck or a pair of headphones, they'll ask someone smaller, and if they do ask me, they tend to take "no" for an answer. Depending on your size and appearance you might be perceived differently. Proceed accordingly.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:57 pm 
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5'4" female, and obviously awkward. I carry a knife and pepper spray too, but I much prefer to back off or even flat-out run--the pepper spray is for if I'm cornered and the knife is a tool, not a weapon.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 10:12 pm 
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From what I'm hearing...what happened to you started off as what's called an "interview". Meaning, the first guy was gauging your reactions to see what you'd allow, what he could get away with. This is generally done as a prelude to a robbery or worse. It sounds like they were both drunk or otherwise intoxicated, and the second guy (who was the one creeping you out most, if I'm reading that correctly) may have been more drunk. If I had to guess, I'd say they were at cross purposes, both trying to "interview" you, which may have been what sparked the fight.

A couple of specific behaviors flag warnings for me in this case. One, the obvious ignoring of social protocols by approaching you. This is pretty self-explanatory; a man (and certainly not two men together) does not approach a strange woman travelling alone on the bus, unless he is in some way invited to do so by her. This is clearly going to weird said woman out, and the fact that they did not see or chose to ignore this social protocol says nothing good about them or their intents.

Two, the "you're scaring her" comment. This is a behavior called "forced pairing"; that is, behavior and comments which indicate a level of familiarity which does not exist, attempting to create a bond between you. Sometimes, the easiest way to create rapport is by acting like you already have it, and many predators use this to their advantage.

Lastly, there's the frequent attempts to force (or persuade) you to do small things; give up the headphones, take the token, take the money, accept physical contact...see the escalation there? From doing a favor for them, to engaging in business with them, to personal interaction. That's an escalating interview, and it's an interview you don't want to pass.

It sounds like a botched interview to me; one or both of these guys was sizing you up for victimization (in some way, couldn't tell you what they intended) and they messed it up or got distracted, probably due to their intoxication.

My advice; give no ground. With predatory or manipulative behavior, there is no place for kindness or submissiveness. A stranger asks for something from you, anything, simply say "no", firmly but not aggressively. This serves a very important purpose. If they're a good (albeit strange or socially awkward) person, they'll back off. If they're not a good person and are attempting to manipulate or otherwise victimize you, this simple no-nonsense refusal will either shut them down (90% of the time) or force their hand, making them become more openly aggressive. When that happens, it's time for the pepper spray and/or screaming for help.

No, humans absolutely do not get into hierarchy spats like dogs in a pack, but we get into hierarchy spats like monkeys in a troop quite frequently. :) That's a closer metaphor, anyway. In short, if you look at the reasons animals engage in violence, and the reasons humans engage in violence...you might be surprised to learn that they're nearly identical.

If you're interested I can suggest a few good books on the subject.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 10:27 pm 
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Yeah, I'm utterly & completely unsure of what I would have done in your situation. I agree with TDW586 that they were absolutely pushing, and the rest of what he says makes sense too.

Even with pepper spray, I'd worry a lot about precipitating the more aggressive behavior unless I thought there was backup/escape very nearby (and I'm not sure what there was in this situation). Even an untrained guy is a LOT stronger than me.

I'd love to see the reading list, TDW.

Projection of force & being "grey" also seem different for women - but I don't know enough about it. It'd be great to get someone who does to start a thread on it. :D

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 10:49 pm 
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duodecima wrote:
Yeah, I'm utterly & completely unsure of what I would have done in your situation. I agree with TDW586 that they were absolutely pushing, and the rest of what he says makes sense too.

Even with pepper spray, I'd worry a lot about precipitating the more aggressive behavior unless I thought there was backup/escape very nearby (and I'm not sure what there was in this situation). Even an untrained guy is a LOT stronger than me.

I'd love to see the reading list, TDW.

Projection of force & being "grey" also seem different for women - but I don't know enough about it. It'd be great to get someone who does to start a thread on it. :D


Projection of force works surprisingly well for females, depending on the situation. Force doesn't just mean violence or physical strength; social factors also play into it. All of this is situation and environment dependent, but generally, people attempting predatory behavior (I'm using "predatory" as a catch-all term for all criminal, manipulative and generally skeevy behavior) are aware that such behavior is socially unacceptable and do not want to be caught doing it. They don't want to be called out. If you simply say "no" to a request like the one in this case, they will most often retreat. This may be accompanied by what the Dog Brothers (FMA self defense guys) call "woofing". Woofing is aggressive posturing while retreating, like a dog barking or growling while running away. It's done to save face, and may take the form of anything from a rude comment to a diatribe painting you as the bad guy.

In the cases where they do not retreat, the "no" is still your best bet. If you say "no" and they do not retreat, you've gained valuable information. Namely that they are trying to victimize you. No means no and the failure to understand or accept that is the clearest of all predatory behaviors. As soon as you give a person a clear no on a request and they fail to accept that, you should be viewing them as a threat.

I'll stop rambling and just list some books that explain these things better than I can.

The Little Black Book of Violence. This is a great introduction, and contains a huge amount of useful information on criminal behavior. In addition, it offers a wealth of further reading.

The Gift of Fear: Gavin de Becker's is one of the pioneers of this field, and his book is still one of the best. He has a strong anti-gun bias, which I disagree with, but his research and experience still provide great information.

Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence: This one focuses a little more on physical self-defense training, but still offers an excellent, real-world perspective on criminal behavior and violence.

The Art of the Con: Avoiding Offender Manipulation: This focuses almost entirely on non-violent manipulation. It's a little dry, and is mostly written for people who deal professionally with cons (cops, corrections, parole officers, therapists, etc). The information is mostly common sense, but common sense is not a common virtue, and everyone needs a reminder.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 10:58 pm 
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TDW said everything I was going to and a bit more

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 11:18 pm 
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Good thread, good info. Callista; glad you're just out a set of headphones... And up two bucks.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 11:26 pm 
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I just want to add to the many fine posts above: trust your empathy.

Human beings feel each other's intentions out in a variety of ways, many of them quite unconcious. If you felt threatened in this situation, then it is not unreasonable to think you were being threatened or cased at the very least.

Your antennae can and will lie to you about things-me personally, I get alarm signals from large groups of children that look too much alike, too much steven king I guess-but don't make a habit of second guessing your gut instinct.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2011 4:39 am 
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Well, TDW said everything I would have and worded it a lot better too :)
Can I recommend this thread or a topic based on the same information for a sticky? Also how do you give people those little star icons they covet so much...


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2011 4:43 am 
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I had something similar happen to me on a train - early in the morning, not many people on the train. I was sitting on my own in an area near the guard carriage (because it was so early I thought it was better to sit in a protected area).

Two guys (still drunk from the night before, I think) got on the train and stumbled towards me (I was the only person in the direction they were walking towards, maybe a mistake?). One guy started to say something (can't remember what). I looked at him and said, "NO!" He said, "Hey, I was just trying to chat..." I repeated the no again just as strongly. They shrugged, and wandered off to annoy someone else. So I can add from experience that the simple no does work.


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2011 6:36 am 
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Sharks and dogs circle, test the response and nudge before they bite and strike. I guarantee they were testing and they were ready to up the nudges. I furthermore guarantee the arguement was a dispute about who was going to take it to the next level or whether they were going to do it at all. If that is a regular bus trip for you I'd sit next to the driver.

As TDW and others have stated, give them nothing. What you've told them with out saying it is that they can take from you and invade your space without any repercussions. You let them take your things, even if they had no value to you, the headphones did to them. By 'paying' you for them, they set rules of the deal, very bad move. Never let a criminal set the rules. They were clearing their conscience for stealing from you. Next person they meet they may attack them and then say sorry as their actions. Criminals always do dry runs. By allowing them to 'comfort' you by putting his arm around you is their apology for invading your space. That's telling them it's okay what ever you do as long as you fell sorry for it, it's okay. I'm not saying that these guys are career criminals but bullies playing nice are still bullies.

As others have said, do not engage them on any level. If some strange asks you to do anything and you comply they know you will be compliant. Don't give them an inch. They are up to no good, this was a confidence building exercise. Everyone builds their confidence by rehersal, criminals are no different.

Don't act like you speak another language, just tell them in plain words no. Don't apologize, just say no. I'd also suggest not wearing headphones in public, it actually makes you a target. It shuts one of your senses down, it tells everyone that you have an electronic device that has value and gives them an excuse to get very close because they can act like you can hear them so they have to get close. I learned this the hard way when I rode the bus many years ago. I never will wear headphones in public again. Nothing happened other than I was the only singled out by a drunk.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2011 6:40 am 
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Don't take this the wrong way but your questions suggest you have a bit of limited life experience and are rather naive about drunks and what alcohol can do.
People here have given good advice but well you only learn street smarts yourself and through experience.

Glad you came through it ok.


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2011 7:11 am 
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Just another word on wearing headphones in public. I've personally seen people talking about taking someones CD player from them while sitting within ear shot but the person with the head phones could not hear them. Criminals, on their turf and in there stalking hours, will very boldly announce their intentions. Wearing headphones shuts down your hearing, unlike vision, hearing is a 360* sense and since we have 'binocular' hearing we can use it to approximate the distance, location, sex, general size, elevation, the additude and direction of travel of someone/thing all with our ears. You wouldn't wear blinders over your eyes, don't put blinders on your ears.

Practice using your ears. Listen, auditory cues give massive amounts of information.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2011 7:18 am 
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Callista that sounded a bit unnerving for you!

But here is my advice from the perspective of a 4'11" female.

First of all the two 'hoodies' approaching me directly & purposefully would have set off alarm bells with me, straight away!

My response would have been one of looking right at them, stonefaced & maintaining eye contact.
Now I realise for others that would get them into an increasingly aggressive situation but for me it is a well used & effective tactic as I'm a small, blonde female! I present no threat but still when I do that people usually think twice and back off.

If I'm outside of Northern Ireland I'll speak loudly in an exaggerated N.I. accent, it's daft but true that it still gives some people a moments pause.

I've been hassled by various people over the years thinking I'm a soft target but I always hold my ground & my body language says clearly "don't mess with me"

I studied Social Psychology at Uni and one thing we learned was about a study based on who is most vulnerable to attack/mugging etc. It clearly showed that how you walk, stand & look at others affects your chances of being victimised.

I worked in Sheltered Accommodation for 5 years with adults who had mental illnesses & criminal offences. We had to wear panic alarms and keep ourselves between them and a door at all times. I was only scared once and thankfully managed to bullshit my way out of that situation safely. I found then that not showing any fear worked well for me.

You were unharmed & have got good advice on this thread so next time you'll be better able to deal with any approaches. :)

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2011 7:33 am 
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TDW586 wrote:
I'll stop rambling and just list some books that explain these things better than I can.


Thanks for this.... I'd also add:

Dead or Alive - The Choice Is Yours
By Geoff Thompson

http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Alive-Defini ... 0873649141

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Does your BOB at least have: water, basic tools, fire, food, first-aid kit, and shelter?
"When planning, prepare for the most likely, and then the most catastrophic."
raptor wrote: Being a gun collector does not make you a prepper.
the_alias wrote: Murph has all the diplomacy of a North Korean warhead, but -he has- a valid point


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2011 7:50 am 
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Great post from TDW!

For the OP, glad you're safe. Consider this a practice run for what you might do differently next time. The first thing you need to do is practice situational awareness. Had you not been lost in your headphones, you would have seen these two coming and could have better prepared for the encounter.

In certain cultures, especially amongst those who have been incarcerated, kindness is perceived as weakness. There are many people in this world to whom you cannot, must not, give any leeway to. You met two of them that day.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2011 10:47 am 
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the_alias wrote:
Don't take this the wrong way but your questions suggest you have a bit of limited life experience and are rather naive about drunks and what alcohol can do.
People here have given good advice but well you only learn street smarts yourself and through experience.
Yep, I know this about myself. I'm autistic and it takes me a lot longer to catch on to social stuff than it does most people. I guess I'm about at the level of a twelve-year-old right now. Your reading me as naive and inexperienced probably has to do with that--and you're correct, I am quite naive. I'm doing my best to learn, but it's slow going and probably always will be. Statistically, autistics are underrepresented among criminals and overrepresented among victims of crimes. It's no wonder--we don't know how to send the "Don't mess with me" signals. Not that we can't learn; but it just doesn't come naturally.

Re. my wearing headphones--It's not really a choice for me in some situations. When it's noisy and confusing, my brain tends to shut down if I don't block out some of the noise. The headphones are actually a socially-appropriate version of earplugs for me. I have whatever I'm listening to at the lowest volume I can still hear, and I'm usually quite aware of what is going on around me. Oddly enough, hearing less noise helps me interpret the noise I hear more easily.

I was actually totally aware of the guys approaching me. I just couldn't read their body language well enough to know their intentions.

Do any of those recommended books talk specifically about the body language and the non-verbal messages involved?

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