What should be and what is: Long Term and Short Term Self-Protection

Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

T.S. Eliot

In 1992 the prosecutor for the trial that saw former undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson convicted of the rape of beauty contestant Desiree Washington asked the assembled jurors a simple question: Did a man have the right to rape a woman who, upon their invitation, came to their hotel room at two o’clock in the morning?  Years later supporters of Tyson would continue to put a type of red herring logical fallacy argument across: What was Desiree Washington expecting to happen at 2am in Mike Tyson’s room if she didn’t want sex?  Washington denied wanting sex with Tyson at all, at least not that night, and claimed he invited her out to a party.  Whether or not she wanted sex that night is not really that relevant.  The question being asked is whether or not rape should be permitted.  Tyson’s defence and Tyson himself, of course, denied rape of any kind and claimed that Washington consented to have sex.  However, and this is typical of those who are more concerned in getting a victory for their side by any means than actual justice or truth, many seemed to be arguing that Tyson might not have realized he was raping Washington and she somehow wavered all her liberties when she agreed to accompany the man to his hotel room.  What we have here, broadly speaking, is a debate on moral rights versus the harsh realities of “life”.  I address it in this article as it is something that can often hinder common sense teaching in self-protection education.

Regardless of your views on the controversial Mike Tyson trial, most people in the developed world agree that a person has every right to refuse sexual intercourse at any stage of the encounter.  Furthermore, a woman has every right to dress how she wants without fear of being sexually molested. However, ask any regular night clubber what often happens to scantily clad girls on crowded dance floors every weekend.  Surveys have been conducted in places like South Africa where the overwhelming majority of people have said that a woman should expect to be raped if she were to get into a taxi-bus full of men.  I don’t have details on the particular survey that was quoted to me, but if it is legitimate my guess is that those responding were not necessarily justifying rape but explaining what is likely to happen.  This is the confusion between long term and short term ideas regarding self-defence or some might say between principles and common sense.  I am not here to argue the validity of one over the other, but rather to help define the difference.  Each has its place.

A free person is and should be allowed to walk across a public park alone at any time of the day or night without fear of intimidation, but we know that certain parks are “no go” areas at certain times or, sadly, at any time.  Likewise no one should feel threatened in their own street, but it happens all the time and there are those of us who make a point of standing up to the bullies.  These people are into long term self-defence and they should be applauded for what they are trying to do.  Unfortunately they often end up becoming martyrs to the cause.  This has more to do with the lack of support they receive from others who share their beliefs but not their courage.  It is a sad state of affairs, but as much as we feel angered by the “unfair” way a man was shot dead by a gang of local thugs when he stood up to their campaign of mindless terror, we know our anger is small consolation for the family he left behind.  Our legends tell us that all we need is courage and good will to overcome evil, so when such a story ends in tragedy and, worse still, when the evil escapes the retribution we feel they deserve it just doesn’t seem right.  We feel cheated.

In the short term we need immediate and accessible tactics.  Our priority is to be safe.  So, for example, we can work hard to promote drug addiction counselling and awareness of drug-related problems.  I have little doubt that good engagement and continued work in this sector can help rehabilitate some or prevent others from going down a violent path, and all of this will contribute towards making their local environment safer.  That’s a worthwhile long term cause.  However, when it is a case of you being sliced to ribbons by a junkie if you don’t do something very violent to subdue him then now is not the time to work on these programmes.  It seems like common sense, but confusion frequently occurs.  In his book “Dead or Alive” Geoff Thompson described how he ended up arguing with a woman on a radio show regarding the dangers of attracting attention in dangerous places.  The woman believed that only through women asserting their right to dress how they want and walk where they want that barriers could be broken down.  Geoff agreed that the principle was fine and well-meaning, but the execution was flawed.  If you dress a certain way, man or woman, and go into a certain area known for its bad attitude towards people who dress in this manner then you are taking a far higher and avoidable risk in getting unwanted and possibly dangerous attention.

The words “motiveless” and “nonsensical” regularly appear in our press when describing examples of recreational crimes.  An elderly person set on fire and then filmed to be shown on a video sharing website is labelled as being “motiveless”.  A youngster who is brutally beaten because of the football shirt he is wearing is considered a victim of a “nonsensical” assault.  The attacks actually do have a motive and do make sense to the perpetrators.  As abhorrent as it may seem our solutions for short term tactics and long term strategies in dealing with the rise in recreational crime may come from understanding how the enemy of today thinks.  We can work together with neighbourhood watch schemes, form strong community groups, lobby for more police on the streets and also work hard to tackle the causes of crime.  A strong local community is a good defence against crime.  These are all long term solutions, working for what should be.  However, they don’t mean anything when the actual crime is taking place.  This is where the short term has to come into play – this is where you deal with what actually is happening.  Often when hit by a seemingly motiveless or nonsensical crime, the victim is in a state of shock and the question arises “Why?”

This type of complete incomprehension of what has happened demonstrates just how important it is to have the right and informed attitude before you can be truly aware.  Being aware is no good if that awareness stops at your own perceptions of what should be.  The streetwise person understands what is going on and what is likely to happen in his environment.  He knows that although certain things are wrong that doesn’t stop them from happening.  He understands that although in the long term – in our peacetime if you like – we can work hard to break down barriers and to promote empathy, however, in the short term – the time of war – problems have to be dealt with swiftly and immediately with the sole objective placed on survival.

By separating the long term and short term we can work on a better microcosmic and macrocosmic approach to self-protection.  There is a simple way to stop any confusion and to allow both approaches to self-defence to co-exist.  In time management terms the long term stuff can be defined as quality time needed to better reduce the problems we may have to face in the short term.  However, short term will always push out long term, so when a crisis does occur our mind needs to be on addressing the matter at hand and not wondering why everything has gone wrong.  Deal with what is first, so you can live to work on what should be.

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