Monday, January 29, 2007

The Crooked Need the Gullible

A recent article in Sunday's Seattle Times (1/21/07) reminded me once again that there's no shortage of potential victims even in this age of instant information. The author, Prof. Jack Guttentag of the Wharton School, begins thus: "I seldom publish long letters in their entirety, but I'm making an exception. The letter below is so wonderfully descriptive of the gullible mindset of a victim waiting to be plucked and the modus operandi of a predator poised to do the plucking that it is worth the space." He goes on to list the three major characteristics of predatory lenders: a) they appeal to their targets' hopes that there's an easy fix, b) they appeal to their targets' hopes that they are that easy fix, and c) they work fast. See the entire article: Crooked Lenders Need Gullible Borrowers

This article resonates with personal safety, not only financial security. The tactics may be different, but the strategies are the same. Most perpetrators a) test potential targets for compliancy, and b) threaten them with consequences of non-compliance. Many c) work fast so before you realize it you've become another statistic. However, many also d) work over time to groom you for assault. This is most pronounced in cases of domestic violence, and assault on children where the perpetrator cultivated relationships with the parents to gain access to the children.

For parents, one big red flag you can look for is this: is this recent friend habitually offering to babysit so you two can get some "quality time" together? Or, if you're a single parent, so you can have some personal time? Let me rephase this. Is this friend constantly offering you something that overworked (who isn't these days?), borderline overwhelmed parents would so dearly love?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

P-I Report on Homicides in Seattle

Yesterday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an article entitled "Homicides on Rise in Seattle."

Murder is horrible. Murder is also rare.

As a personal safety instructor/consultant, I field questions on assault risks. Invariably the likelihood of homicide arises. I emphasize the infrequent incidence rate and low risk factors of the vast majority of my clients. We identify and practice de-escalation skills and last-resort tactics in some settings. But I also discuss the role of the media. Stories in which there's a clear and often sympathetic victim and a tragic or sinister perpetrator form a critical part of our national mythology. We buy them, often uncritically. And we focus on them, to the detriment of other important issues. I encourage my clients to look a little deeper into the story to discern the "truth," not about the reported incident but about media patterns and cultural motifs, and how their acceptance influences their own safety choices.

Accurate information is key to accurate risk assessment. Calling something a "trend" is labeling the type of information. I find it difficult to call the increased number of killings from last year to this a "trend" yet. While the number of homicides increased, there are other factors. For example, how does it relate to Seattle's increased population? Or how do you count the Capitol Hill shooting in March where seven people died yet there was one gunman?

Imagine how the story would read if the headline was "Despite Slight Increase in Number, Homicide Rate in Seattle Remains Low."