When I get sent videos or articles about women being attacked, I have a moment of shock and disbelief. How could a human being do that to another human being?! And since 1 in 4 women experience severe intimate partner physical violence, the shock of being attacked by someone they knew is even more chilling.
Why is it so shocking? Because MOST of society adheres to social norms. What are social norms? According to Your Dictionary…
“Social norms, or mores, are the unwritten rules of behavior that are considered acceptable in a group or society. Norms function to provide order and predictability in society.”
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
People follow social norms to get along. They want to feel like they belong and are a part of a group. You’ve probably heard the term “Tribe” before. We all want to find our tribe. It’s a social group where we feel accepted for who we are, and that people “get” us. We want to believe that most people are good and kind…and most people are! When we read stories of complete strangers helping others in a time of need, we are reminded that good people still exist and our faith in humanity is restored.
When an attacker breaks that trust, we are stunned. We ask ourselves, “how could someone do that to someone!?!” and going back to the bleak statistic above, we ask “how could someone do that to someone they know and supposedly care about!?!”
It’s because of one simple truth.
Monsters are real and they look like people.
The Criminal Mindset
The criminal mind does NOT play by society’s rules. They do not adhere to social norms. In fact, they take advantage of the knowledge that most people expect others to play by the rules. Criminals know most women are caregivers and want to help others. Serial killer Ted Bundy pretended to have an injured arm and asked women to help him put something in his car. Not only did he look like an everyday guy (I can’t stomach calling him handsome), he knew how to manipulate a woman’s kindness and willingness to help, to get what he wanted. Even though Ted Bundy targeted strangers (which is not the statistical norm), his manipulation techniques are a great example of exploiting social norms to target his victims.
Steve Kardian, a career law enforcement officer and author who specializes in crime prevention and risk reduction for women’s safety, shared an experiment he did on a college campus. In his book, The New Superpower for Women, Steve talks about a test he did in partnership with the tv show, Inside Edition, “Are college women too trusting?”. He placed himself on the side of a large, college campus parking lot, wearing a baseball cap, backpack and knee-length shorts. Many people did spot him as out of place and decades too old for being on campus, but just as many didn’t give him a second glance. He selected 8 women to “test” simply because they were distracted. They hadn’t noticed him even though they were walking closely past him and were startled when he approached them. Out of the 8 women he selected, all 8 let him get into their car by him simply saying, “Hey there, could you drop me off at the security gates so I could get some help here?” And motioning vaguely, as if towards a stalled vehicle.
Scary? Unbelievably so. We all like to think we would NEVER let a complete stranger get into our car. But when we are distracted and not paying attention to our surroundings, if someone is suddenly asking for help, will you have time to ask yourself, “who is this person and why are they asking for my help?”, or will you simply respond, “sure”.
Situational awareness is the foundation of taking responsibility for your personal safety. Never let the “hope” that all people are playing by the same set of society’s rules, lead you to ignore what your intuition is telling you.
“When we’re distracted, situations that startle us can cause an unconscious response instead of an informed, conscious action.”