Someone you know is attacking you. Could you respond appropriately?

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Those of us in the defensive training world usually talk about bad guys as though they’re complete strangers. The rapist on the jogging trail, the masked home invaders, and the carjacker at the gas station are all anonymous. We don’t know them, they really don’t know us, but fate causes our paths to intersect.

When we talk about “situational awareness” it’s always about spotting bad guys in the crowd. When we train defensive shooting, we assume our attacker is someone from the “other side of the tracks”.

What if none of that is universally true? What if you already know your attacker?

You’re likely to know your attacker

In reality, a surprisingly large percentage of violent crimes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows. Sexual assaults, for instance, are committed by strangers only 21% of the time. The rest are committed by someone the victim already knows; fully 27% of the time, the attacker is an intimate of the victim. The numbers for all categories of non-fatal violent crimes show the same pattern: strangers commit only 38% of violent attacks.* That means nearly two-thirds are committed by someone the victim knew beforehand.

How about homicides? Between 73% and 79% are committed by people known to the victims.**

The uncomfortable fact is that your attacker is likely to be someone you already know. It might be a lover, co-worker, friend, neighbor, the clerk at the store, the minister, your son’s friends, the bank teller, your gardener — or even a relative. It doesn’t matter which; there’s a good chance that you’ll know them and they’ll know you. This is important, because knowing your attacker before the attack is going to affect your mental preparation, your training, and ultimately your response.

Does your self defense training take that into account?

Training for the acquaintance attack

When we talk about mindset and mental preparation, a big hurdle for many people is getting past the thought that “this can’t be happening to me.” Much has been written about overcoming that attitude, along with the associated tendency to freeze when attacked. If the attacker is an acquaintance, though, another paralyzing thought emerges: “I can’t believe he’s violating our trust!” That someone we trust is taking advantage of our relationship is a devastating notion for many of us, and in the case of a violent attack may delay a successful response significantly.

The acquaintance attack can easily lead to ignoring or second-guessing small pre-attack indicators. We might tell ourselves “What an I thinking? She’d never do THAT” and brush off things that would set off mental alarms with a stranger.

Then there’s the issue of counter-attacking and possibly killing that person. The “Mark Of Cain Syndrome” so aptly chronicled by Massad Ayoob (and others) is real, but it may be worse when you know your attacker. Imagine having to shoot a relative and having to deal with the in-family repercussions. Imagine that you’ve killed a neighbor or, worse, a neighbor’s adult child. These are all plausible scenarios in a self defense incident, and they have to be considered ahead of time lest they destroy your life after the fact.

These are certainly unpleasant things to contemplate, but you need to.

Getting under your radar

From a training standpoint, the acquaintance crime lays waste to the idea that you’re always going to be in condition something-or-other and see the attack coming. The reason so many crimes are successfully committed by acquaintances is probably because they can pierce our wariness layer. We’re all suspicious of strangers, but what about someone we know and go to church with? They’re rarely on our radar, which means we’re less likely to be on guard for their attack.

This underscores the need for the counter-ambush training model: learning to deal with the attack when it happens rather than adopting training and techniques that only work when you know it’s coming. The attacker who’s known to you will be able to attack when you truly least expect it, which is the time when you really need to have skills based on recognition and response. You need to know how to defend yourself when you’re “off balance”.

Question assumptions in your training

Next time you go to a defensive shooting class or martial arts lesson, listen carefully to the assumptions and biases being presented. How many are based on attackers being strangers and how many address the unique issues of crimes perpetrated by people you know? The differences are both profound and subtle, but the statistics say they’re differences you need to take into account in your planning and preparation.

How would you handle an attack by someone you know?

– Grant Cunningham

* – https://www.rainn.org/statistics/perpetrators-sexual-violence

** – http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4557 (These numbers may be skewed slightly by the fact that self defense and police shooting fatalities are all homicides as well, but justified under the law. The essential point remains.)

Photo: Pixabay/public domain

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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