The Pre-attack phase consists of three stages: target selection, observation, and attack planning/training. This phase is color coded yellow. During this phase your actions will dictate whether you are chosen as a target and subsequently attacked or passed over. We will discuss how to lessen your chances of being selected as a target in the coming posts (here and here), but first, we need to understand what each stage consists of. It is important to note that this phase can range from months to a few seconds. This will depend on the type of target and goal of the attack.
Target selection – The conditions of being selected will depend on the type of attacker and type of violence. For example, the conditions for social violence, such as the monkey dance, are basically two males trying to prove who is tougher. An in shape male in his twenties fits that target pretty well. If the violence is asocial, such as a resource predator, the target could be an elderly woman in a parking lot leaving her vehicle.[1-2]She is a good target for a snatch and grab. Although the type of violence will dictate the criteria for the selection process, a good rule of thumb is that attackers pick easy targets. This is especially true for predators.
Observation – Observation can happen simultaneously with target selection or after the target has been established. This stage can last for several months or it can happen in seconds. There are many factors that determine the amount of time needed. For example, type of violence, how soft or hard the target is, time of day, experience of the attacker just to name a few. During this stage, the attacker will be “taking notes” of the target’s actions, habits, etc. Simply put, the attacker is trying to figure out how to make the attack more successful.
Planning/training – Once a target is selected and enough relevant information is gathered, the attacker will formulate a plan. Depending on how complicated the plan is, training may be done to give the attacker a higher chance of being successful. Training can be anything from a walk through of the plan and area using Google maps, to a full dry run. Again, this stage can happen very quickly or be quite prolonged. The attackers experience will come into play. For example, social violence is learned through behaviors and taught by others while asocial violence is learned through trial and error.[1-2]
Now that we have a good idea of what goes on in the first phase, let’s look at a few examples.
You are home on a Saturday morning and get a knock at your door. Your dog is barking so you put him in another room. When you answer the door, you see a young man wearing a cleaners outfit holding a pamphlet. The man explains that he works for a carpet cleaning business and that they are giving a free cleaning for one room. At first, you are quite hesitant. The man mentions that he also has a puppy. He asks what kind of puppy you have and makes small talk about it. He explains that if it would be better for you, he can take a quick look at your carpet and come back another day. You agree. The man is only there for a short amount of time. As he leaves, he asks what days you will be home so he can schedule someone to come by. You tell him you are available next week, Fri-Sun all day. Your house is broken into on Monday.
First, this can be interchanged with rape, murder, kidnapping, or any number of horrible attacks. Being robbed when you aren’t there is the lesser of the evils. Let’s break this down. The target is a house without security equipment in a neighborhood with a low-moderate amount of traffic through it. He uses a guise of a cleaner giving something away (free cleaning for a room) to gain access. When that doesn’t immediately work, he uses the puppy conversation to get your “trust”. This is all in the target selection phase. If you have a big dog, security equipment, or any other factor that will make you a harder target, he will simply move to an easier house. Once he gets access inside, he is still in his selection stage, but he is also in observation. He is making mental notes of the items in your house, if you have any factors to make you too much work to rob, etc. Once he gets the relevant information, he asks you when you will be home to schedule the cleaning. Now he has all the information he needs. He leaves and moves into the planning stage in the safety of his home.
You are walking home from the bar after a few drinks with friends. You only live a few blocks from the bar. You are continuing the conversation from the bar through text, as you walk. The next thing you know, you have been knocked to the ground from behind. Your purse and phone have been taken. As you go to scream, you are kicked in the face. You are woken up on the side walk by a stranger, and you have no idea what is going on.
Again, this can be interchanged with any number of attacks. Your attacker completed all three stages of the pre-attack phase in just a few seconds. You were selected for several reasons; female alone at night, not paying attention. He observed that you just left a bar. He could follow you to a more secluded location, because you were too busy looking at your phone. Chances are he has done something like this before (training).
To recap, the pre-attack phase will be largely determined by you. The stages in this phase can happen in a few seconds and at the same time. During this phase, you have the ability to stop the attack prior to it starting. By becoming a harder target or making yourself seem like too much work for the attacker to get what he wants, this will usually force the would-be attacker to move on to look for a new target.
1-2 Rory Miller Facing Violence ( Wolfeboro, N.H.: YMAA Pub 2011), 25-36