Today’s blog post was suggested by a reader. I wrote a piece a while back about the dangers of intervening in an active incident, and he asked if I could extend my comments to intervention in a chronic incident: one which has been going on for some time. Such situations do exist, and they can be very dangerous to both the victim and the person who intervenes.
When someone is being stalked
Stalking and domestic violence are crimes that are, unfortunately, very common. (While it’s not unheard of for men to be victims of stalking and abuse, the majority of the victims are women and so that’s what I’ll address in this article.) Victims of these crimes frequently seek shelter with friends and family in the hope that their attackers will be deterred by the presence of other people. If you live a prepared lifestyle and someone you know is the victim of stalking or violence, they may be more likely come to you for help and protection.
While I would never presume to make your decision for you, there are some things that you should take into account before you agree to become a protector.
Your family will face her threat
A stalking victim seeking shelter with you (and your family, if applicable) will very likely put you and those around you in danger. Ex-spouses or ex-boyfriends are unpredictable, and can be quite violent — often not caring who stands between them and the object of their wrath. If you’re in the middle, you might become a victim yourself.
Doesn’t happen very often, you say? You’d be wrong. In one case, a woman with an abusive ex-boyfriend asked three of her girlfriends to stay with her for protection. The ex-boyfriend ended up killing the woman and her 2-year-old child, and critically wounding her three friends.
In reality, assuming any responsibility for the protection of another person is a highly specialized task. You’ve become a bodyguard or, in technical terms, an executive protection specialist. The people who do that job are trained how to look for and how to deal with a threat directed at other people; do you have that training and knowledge? If not, are you really doing her any favors by agreeing to do a job you’re not qualified to do?
What happens if the problem escalates?
Understand that your mere presence won’t be enough to ward off a determined attacker. I know how validating the feeling of being trusted is, and how easy it is to believe that nothing will happen to the person under your care simply because you’re around to “protect” her. Your presence may not be enough; in fact, you may enrage a stalker or abuser who feels that you are inappropriately involving yourself in “his” business and their fight becomes yours. You might find yourself in the unenviable situation of having to justify your presence at a fight the prosecutor thinks wasn’t yours in the first place.
Let’s assume that you can deal with the threat and it actually happens; you’re put into a situation where you must use lethal force against the attacker. If you talk to any police officer who has experience with domestic violence calls you’ll learn that the victim, upon seeing her attacker hurt or killed, often turns on the people who saved her. In some cases she may use a great deal of emotionally-driven violence against her former protector, to include stabbing or shooting them! What would you do if that happened to you in your home?
Again, I’m not saying that you should or shouldn’t assume the role of protector; that’s your decision alone. I am saying that you should make that decision only after a thorough assessment of your own training and abilities, and that you factor in the threat from both the attacker and his victim to you and the innocent people who share your life.
This is not an easy decision, and it’s not one to be made until you’ve thoroughly considered all of the issues involved.
There are other ways to help that might actually be better for her
Now you’re probably thinking that it would be cruel and heartless to send someone away because you’re scared of getting hurt. That guilt may even drive you to make a decision you otherwise wouldn’t. Honestly, I’d probably feel the same way if someone came to me with this problem. That needn’t be the case, however. There are two specific things you can do to help her stay safe while at the same time maintaining your own safety — which is, after all, your primary responsibility.
First, in any community of size there are domestic violence shelters that are accustomed to dealing with these issues and provide sanctuary to women who are at risk. They are usually unmarked, intentionally not well known, and your friend will not be able to tell anyone where she’s staying — for her own protection.
Your local police department and social service organizations can point her in the right direction, but sadly many women don’t take advantage of those resources. They fear an imagined stigma or are untrustworthy of strangers. You can play a valuable role by helping her transition into a shelter and by providing financial and emotional support for what is no doubt a traumatic decision. By getting her into a safe place, one where she can sleep soundly knowing that her attacker can’t get to her, you may be doing the greatest favor of all.
Second, once she’s made that transition you can serve as a catalyst for her to adopt a prepared lifestyle of her own. The reality is that her attacker may stay active for years, and she won’t be able to stay in a shelter (or your home) forever. Teaching her how to protect herself and any children she may have will give her the means she needs to live the independent life she was meant to live.
Again, though, unless you’re an experienced instructor with appropriate training and/or knowledge, this is not something you should do yourself. No matter how long you’ve been carrying a gun or how well you shot qualifications when you were in the Army, dealing with a surprise (ambush) attack in the private sector is a very specialized area. Teaching those skills is even more specialized. Luckily there are a lot of resources for solid training, and you can likely find some in your area that are appropriate. For those victims who feel understandably skittish around strange men there are female instructors who can take her under their wing and give her the training she needs. If she doesn’t have the resources for the firearm or the training, that’s something you can help with — and feel good about doing.
Support doesn’t mean taking a bullet
Your most important protective role may be that of facilitator and, where necessary, financier for her transition and education. These are ways in which you can make a positive difference in her life without exposing yourself and your family to a threat you might not be prepared to face.
When considering any kind of intervention to help others, think through the ramifications very carefully. The life you save may be your own.
– Grant Cunningham