The Three Stages of An Attack And How To Defend (Or Prevent) Each of Them
Updated: May 20
In our self defense courses, we start with the following concepts that must be understood about an attack. The three stages of an attack tell us the process that an abductor takes to carry out an attack. The three preventative steps are what we can do to lower our chances of being targeted, and the three defensive steps tell us how we should respond during an attack. Understanding these concepts is critical to learning self defense.
The first concept we must understand is Intervention Probability.
Intervention Probability (IP)
IP is the probability that a bystander will witness or intervene in the attack. This is the most important component for the attacker in deciding when, where, and who to attack. Every second longer that an attack takes, the IP skyrockets, which increases the attackers fear that they will get caught. Once the IP gets too high, the abduction becomes too risky to carry out, and the attacker is forced to give up and flee the scene. Attackers have a very narrow window of time that they are willing to take to complete an attack in order to keep the IP low. The goal of the victim in any attack is not to defeat the attacker, but to raise the Intervention Probability so high that the attacker is forced to give up before they can isolate the victim. Essentially, we want to tell the attacker through our actions that this is going to take way longer and be way harder than they anticipated, so they better escape before someone inevitably comes to help.
Think of the IP as a score. A busy street in mid day, with plenty of people around to help the victim, get a description of the attacker, and call 911, has a IP score of 100. However a dark street at night, when most people are sleeping and there are few cars driving by, has a low IP score of 10. A secondary location, where the abductor takes the victim (his basement or isolated location) has an extremely low IP score of 1.
Our goal is to train ourselves to recognize situations that have a low IP score, so that we can raise our awareness, take safety measures, and be better prepared for a crisis.
The Three Stages of an Abduction
The three stage process that an abductor takes before committing an attack.
Step 1: Identify the Target
The attacker needs to find a target to carry out an attack. Being unaware and distracted, and being perceived as unconfident and vulnerable are proven to increase the chances of a person being targeted by an attacker. For our breakdown on how a persons walk effects their likelihood of being targeted, read our article here.
Step 2: Identify the Opportunity
The attacker needs a good opportunity to carry out an attack. They need a place and time where they are unlikely to be caught or witnessed (low IP). Low lighting, isolated areas (parking garage), and areas where there are few people around, are all attractive settings to the abductor. 75% of child abductions happen within 2 km of the victims home because the abductor knows the childs regular route, and waits for an opportune moment (no one around, night time, distracted). Most attacks of women happen at night time where there are very few people near by.
Step 3: Attack and Isolate the Target
The attacker approaches the target and attempts to isolate them from the public area. It is most common for abductors to pull the victim into a car, but it could also be a house, or simply a more isolated area nearby that is unlikely for anyone to hear or see. Once taken to this secondary location, the IP drops to almost zero, and the chances of escape are almost impossible. This is why kidnapping experts advise us to never get taken to a secondary location, no matter what the risk.
The Three Preventative Steps
What we should do to prevent being targeted by a predator.
Step 1: Good Awareness
Poor awareness increases the odds of a person being targeted. An attacker sees a distracted target and predicts that an abduction will be easy. What we want to do is train ourselves to recognize low IP (high risk- where there is little chance of other people being able to help you in a crisis) environments, and make sure to demonstrate high awareness in them. You can significantly improve your awareness by keeping your phone in your pocket, taking out headphones, and by looking up and around you. To learn more about situational awareness and street safety tips check out our GirlSafe Manual.
Step 2: Wise Positioning
Remember that an attacker needs a good opportunity to carry out an attack. Get in the habit of positioning yourself where people can see you, in areas with service, in well lit areas, in high traffic areas, and where you have an unobstructed route to an exit. Avoid short cuts and alleyways where possible. Of course there will be times that we have to walk down dark streets in dangerous areas, we can't avoid that completely. What we can do is develop our recognition of high risk (low IP) environments and make safe and smart adjustments during those times.
Step 3: Show Confidence
Several in depth studies show that the number one thing that a predator looks for in a victim is lack of confidence and vulnerability, and the main indication of confidence is the target's walk. Predators make the assumption that a person who lacks confidence is less likely to stand up for themselves, cause a scene, and fight back vigorously. Our goal is to present ourselves in such a way that predators immediately count us out because they judge that we will put up too much of a fight and the IP will be too high. We can do this by walking tall with our shoulders back and head up, by taking wide strides when walking and with a slightly faster pace than others around us, and by letting our arms swing naturally at our sides instead of covering our body or tucked in pockets. Walk like you have a place to be, like you are in charge, and that anyone who gets in your way will pay a very high price.
The Three Defensive Steps
How to respond once a predator has attacked.
Step 1: Delay the Attack
Our first priority is to prolong the attack as much as possible. This starts with using a strong base and counter weight (think tug of war) to resist the attacker's pull or push. Remember, each second longer that it takes to isolate the target significantly increases the IP and the chances that they will give up.
Our students practicing the combat base and wrist grab escape.
Step 2: Draw Attention
Our second priority is to bring as much attention to us as possible. Yell (instead of scream) things that will clearly communicate what is happening and alert people to call 911 or come to help. Yelling increases the chances of someone helping you, but also increases the attackers fear that they will get caught, increasing the IP.
Step 3: Fight Back as Hard as You Can
Once we have defended the initial pull or push and stopped their momentum and we are calling attention to ourselves, it is time to do whatever we can to fight back. Our program teaches you the most effective moves for all common attacks, but if you don't know any self defense, do everything you are able to. Try to attack their face with as much aggression as possible, hit and kick, elbow and knee, and as a last resort throw yourself to the ground to make it harder for them to pull you away to a secondary location.
Our most recent women's self defense seminar in Toronto!
*Note: always prioritize delaying the attack (using a strong base and counter weight to make it as hard as possible for an attacker to pull you away), over fighting the attacker (punch, kick, etc). This is because we cannot do both at the same time. As we start to hit or kick, we will compromise our base, allowing them to pull us further. Secondly, with the increased adrenaline, and with any drugs or alcohol in the attackers system, it is not certain that punches and kicks will do enough damage to make them let go. That is why we prioritize delaying with a strong base and as much weight resistance as possible, and use fighting back as a secondary measure if delaying becomes ineffective and we need to do more to fend off the attacker.
Thank you for reading!
To learn about expert street safety tips like emergency responses, car escapes, and more, check out our GirlSafe Manual!
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Author: Gemma Sheehan, Founder of Girls Who Fight Inc.
Gemma is an ex-MMA fighter who started Girls Who Fight to teach girls and women self defense, martial arts, and help them build confidence.