Sunday, February 24, 2008

Risk: Not Just Another Board Game

Like many other Seattle residents, I've followed the news reports on the New Year's Eve murder of Shannon Harps and its aftermath. My thoughts and condolences go out to her family and friends; she seems to have made a great impact on those who knew and loved her, and her death has left a gaping wound that can never completely heal.

Shannon Harps' death also made an impression on many who never knew her. Local self-defense instructors have seen an increase in inquiries and class size. There's a new groundswell of concern for personal safety, especially in the Capital Hill neighborhood.
You are no more or less safe now than you were on December 30th. Really.

Risk and risk perception are different animals. Risk perception is what influences you to take action. The closer your risk perception to your actual risk, the better. Right?

Maybe. For most of us, real risk of a stranger assault is small. So small that when that murder out of the blue does happen, it has an emotional impact of a 9.9 earthquake. Most of us do not recognize the luxurious safety we really live in. You can walk down most streets here in Seattle chatting on your phone, or bopping to your music, or engrossed in conversation, and MOST of the time NOTHING BAD HAPPENS. Real risk seems about as real as a board game.
But then that rare bad thing happens. Many will consider taking a few more precautions when going out, for a few weeks. A few will envision the potential for ambush waiting in every doorway and alleyway, and let their fear overwhelm them. And fewer will take the event as a wake-up call for more long-term change, be they personal or political.

Life doesn't come with a guarantee. While we (at least some of us more privileged folk) assert the right to live free of violence, that will never mean violence won't reach out for us. It means we have social remedies, legal recourse, criminal prosecutions. After the fact. And if we are believed, if we are taken seriously, if we have the resources.

While I'm encouraged that more women have signed up for self-defense classes, I'm sorry that it takes the rare tragic event to trigger recognition of risk, no matter how remote.