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Staying Safe while Studying and Living Abroad

Vivien was enjoying herself living and studying abroad. She and two other Singaporean girls rented a second floor apartment in a town that was close to a shipyard where foreign power’s warships docked to refuel and restock supplies. It was a nice town and by and large, the locals welcomed the foreign sailors and soldiers who visited their town. Vivien had seen these sailors, and generally found them well behaved and pleasant…….until one night which became her worst nightmare.

That eventful night, as her friends were standing by their apartment’s windows, four of these foreign sailors noticed them from the road and started to make catcalls to the girls. They were obviously drunk and were in a boisterous mood. Vivien’s friends decided to step away from the windows to avoid creating a scene. Then the four sailors did the unthinkable; they started to scramble up to their apartment windows using the drain pipes for assistance. Shocked and sensing trouble, Vivien and one of her girlfriends ran into a bedroom and locked themselves in. Unfortunately, the third girl was indecisive on where to run to and ended up being caught by the four sailors in the living room.

Through the bedroom door, Vivien and her friend could hear her friend begging for mercy from the four sailors not to cause her any harm. She was crying and pleading but in stark contrast, the four sailors were laughing and joking amongst themselves. They took turns raping her as Vivien and her friend listened in disbelief that this was happening. They were too terrified for themselves and could not muster the courage to save their friend. All they could do was to stay in the room cowering in one corner as their friend’s pleadings and begging could be heard through the door. Eventually, the four sailors left and the two girls came out to comfort their friend as best as they could. No police report was made and the poor victim quit her studies abruptly to go home to Singapore.

This is a true story that was related by Vivien when she was undergoing an intensive self defense programme with Kapap Academy. Even as Vivien related this story to me, I could see she was visibly shaken as she relived her memories.

Violence and the Predator

There are in essence, two types of violence, social and predatory. With the former, violence is resorted to as part of a ritualistic combat between males to safely establish dominance, status or territorial rights. There is seldom any conscious attempt to impart crippling injury or death. Social violence however is relatively easy to de-escalate simply by yielding, and being willing to ‘lose’ face and turn the other cheek.

Predatory violence is much more dangerous as its only possible to de-escalate predatory violence by appearing to be too dangerous to attack. If you're alert, aware, prepared, in decent physical condition, and capable of setting a verbal boundary, then you are less likely to be worth attacking by a predator.

Predatory violence is also very different from social disputes as it is often done to take something from his victim by force (resource predators), or committed for the sake of the violent act itself (process predators). The former often refers to muggers, robbers, carjackers or kidnappers. Such aggressors are often armed but are less likely to lead to kill if they get what they are after. The second group, process predators, is extremely dangerous as violence is perpetuated for its own sake. The only way they will not carry out or abort their attacks is because they perceived it is too costly or risky for them to do so. Rapists and serial killers are examples of this second type of predators.

In general, human predators usually prefer to be solitary given their anti-social personality. They are generally not able to get along with people (even with other predators) for any length of time. Predators do not see their victims as people, but as resources to be used and discarded.

To stay safe, students and executives can adopt a few safety measures:

  • Female students should generally not be walking alone through university grounds late at night by themselves. It would be wiser to plan your study trips to the library with a fellow student, and your travel routes so that both can reach safely home. Similarly, executives should not wander around unfamiliar neighbor hoods that are not safe on their own.

  • As tempting, as it is sometimes to take short cuts through quieter and even more desolated parts of the university grounds, or parks at night avoid taking such risks. Stay within well lite footpaths even if it is a longer route.

  • Carry an improvised weapon such as a tactical pen, a car key, or even a retractable baton (if its legal where you are studying). A tactical pen is an excellent impact tool that is great for students or corporate executives as it will blend very well with the users. An improvised weapon or weapon is only good if it is there when you need it. It is therefore important to train in the use of an improvised weapon or weapon that is likely to be with you on a daily basis. Most students and corporate executives thankfully do carry a pen on a daily basis. Kapap Academy Singapore runs a series of Tactical Pen Self Defense Seminars that is extremely popular with both scholars and corporate executives. The series deals with Stand up Defense with the Tactical Pen; Ground Engagement, and Knife defense with a Tactical Pen.

lady using a tactical pen to fend off an attacker on the ground

  • To complement your improvised weapon, carry a personal safety alarm that is easily accessible to you in an emergency, such as hanging from a key chain, haversack or sling bag. The alarm serves to draw attention to you when activated and hopefully scare your attacker away. However, personal alarm has limited benefits when used on its own, as it does not help to keep the victim safe until help comes, if it comes. Such devices are best used in complement with more direct self-defense tactics and devices like actual self-defense skills or the use of improvised weapons.

  • Let a colleague, friend, roommate or hostel mate know your routines with the benefit of smartphone technology and mobile software applications. A number of smartphones today possess a geo-social ‘check in’ location service that allows the user to share their location with friends. There are also commercially available applications that allow one to download the software to install in your phones. These applications often serve as a personal alarm, to attract attention with a simple tap on an alert button or the shake of the phone; as well as a device to send out a distress email message and SMS text message to a pre-set list of emergency contacts. The phone’s GPS will also reflect your approximate location in your distress messages. However, again it needs to be reminded that help may come only hours after activation of such technological devices, and the individual should only use them as secondary self-defense means. There is no substitute for actual self-defense skills during a physical assault.

One of Kapap Academy Singapore’s specialties is in preparing both Executives and students for a life abroad. Realistic personal protection skills are not about physical engagement but about understanding how to avoid worst-case scenarios in the streets. For more information of our real world personal protection programmes, please visit our website for more information.

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