Monday 5 December 2016

Our antennae for danger should help protect us against crime

Patricia Casey

Published 28/04/2015 | 02:30

We have an innate sense that danger is lurking. This is determined by factors deep in our phylogenetic ancestry. It is the means by which our survival is ensured.

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As well as having a sense that we are in a potentially dangerous environment, we have been equipped with certain anatomical structures to protect us from physical harm. Some animals can flee their predators at great speed, others emit noxious secretions, while humans have an ability to sense danger and plan against it.

Our sense that there is somebody behind us, our startle response when there is an unexpected noise or our habit of fleeing when we are pursued, all point to this innate wish to ensure our survival.

Our antennae for danger should help protect us against crime, a disturbing feature of life at present. Ireland is not unique in that but the startling revelations of horrific crimes close to home in recent weeks seem to make the problem more immediate and real.

Despite being designed to detect danger, we like to think that we live in a safe world and this is instilled in us from babyhood. If we are hurt or injured we turn to our mothers for safety.

Watch the baby who reflexively snuggles up to his mother when a stranger talks to him. He's turning to her for protection and he receives it.

We believe in a safe and just world unless you have been abused in childhood or, alternatively, have recently arrived from Syria or some of the areas under attack from totalitarian or ideologically driven groups.

We convince ourselves that victims of serious crime are others, not us. Some even believe that we have no responsibility in this and express resentment and anger when it is suggested we need to take reasonable measures to protect our safety.

We may have a "right" to safety but like all rights it cannot be guaranteed and never will be. The natural world is and always has been a harsh place yet we know that crimes against us should not happen - nobody deserves to be assaulted, mugged, raped or otherwise violated or trespassed.

But the human race consists of criminals and saints, thieves and philanthropists.

This is stark reality of the human condition and we should hold this in our memory at all times.

Sometimes, even with the greatest of caution, we still become victims of crime. But we can empower ourselves by accepting, firstly, that we do not live in Utopia and that we are not invincible.

The first rule is to avoid dangerous places. So going into parts of town that are known to have high rates of criminality or to places ordinarily associated with violence, like parks during the hours of darkness or certain pubs, is at best foolish.

People in public houses are there to drink alcohol - and it is probably the most likely violence-inducing substance. This is a potentially dangerous place, depending on the clientele it caters for.

Hitch-hiking alone is no longer the bohemian thing to do, while exploring country pathways unaccompanied at dusk is throwing caution to the wind.

The second principle is to avoid dangerous people. Don't give people the benefit of the doubt if you feel uncomfortable with them. Just because a man smiles is not reason to trust him if you feel he is standing too close for comfort.

Dangerous people sometimes behave like alpha males but counter-displays of bravado are best replaced by retreat.

Even if you have a black belt in karate, when asked to hand over your wallet, do so. Three other "friends" of his might appear from nowhere if you don't. If you spot your car being wrecked by some youths, don't try to hunt them away. Instead call the police.

Finally, there are the very basic rules of safety that should not need emphasising but are frequently ignored.

Keep bags closed, wallets should not be sticking out of the back pocket of your jeans, lock your car doors, don't have your expensive camera hanging visibly round your neck or put your handbag on the front seat of your car, even when the windows are closed - as I have done to my cost.

Trust your instincts and your common sense.

Realise that crime is frequently capricious, not planned. Better to be a coward and safe, than a hero in the grave.

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