Violence in America

Violent Crime - Violence in AmericaScholars, pundits, and activists have been more and more frequently mentioning the decreasing homicide rate in our society while the media paints a very different picture. We are at the low point of a near twenty-year decline in violent crime in America. Despite this quantifiable decrease, American perception stubbornly holds on to the idea that America has become a more violent and dangerous place. While in some major cities we can see evidence that trend is potentially reversing, the bottom line is America in much safer then it was twenty years ago.

Much of that perception is based on the frequency of reporting of violent crime by our media. The statistics are well documented and present a grossly inflated view of crime as a percentage of other events. As we look at media over time, we can see a steadily increasing diet of violence, crime and social unrest fed to the American public via movies, TV shows, gaming and the news. Unfortunately, the reporting percentages have no correlation with the incident rates and are purely providing programming based on what American viewers choose to watch.

The American Psychological Association has published study after study finding that violence viewed on TV and in person, is associated with increased aggressive behavior. The classic example of these types of experiments is the Bobo doll experiments conducted by Albert Bandura in the early sixty’s. In two subsequent experimental iterations, Bandura deliberately exposed children, ranging from two and a half to six years old, to adult acts of aggression directed against a Bobo doll. The first exposure was in person and the second iteration was exposure on television, but the results were the same. Exposure to violence results in increased violent actions.

Age of OffendersFrom the results of these studies and many more like it, many Americans make the claim that we are raising an ever more violent generation of young American. This reasoning fits with our predisposed notion that society is becoming more violent despite evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, our perception often has little to do with reality. The average age of violent offenders has actually increased, and not decreased over the past thirty years. Sixteen to twenty-four year-olds have always accounted for the lion’s share of violent crime. As the boomer generation ages, we are at the end of a historically rare reduction in the youth bulge in America. Despite that fact, the demographic shift alone is insufficient to account
for the decrease in the violent crime rate.

Two factors are easy to quantify and simple to explain. First is the massive expansion of our judicial system. We have increased spending by nearly 171% over the past 30 years. That spending has increased the number of police on the streets, the number of judges and the number of jails. As a proportion of GDP, which has remained pretty flat over same period, we have massively increased the percentage of resources dedicated to security services. Continue Reading…

Author : Patrick Henry


Resilience – Why it Matters!

ResilienceResilience ~

: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress

: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

When we look at business, psychology, or sociology the concept of ‘recoverability’ is a key component in measuring the health and effectiveness of an organization, an individual, or a society. In dealing with unpredictable or unexpected events, the most successful organizations, people, and societies are those able to adapt and create novel solutions to novel circumstances. Elements of the successful actors are creativity, commitment, confidence, experience, and talent but in the case of shocking events the most common term for this collection is resilience.

When we look at business, psychology, or sociology the concept of ‘recoverability’ is a key component in measuring the health and effectiveness of an organization, an individual, or a society. In dealing with unpredictable or unexpected events, the most successful organizations, people, and societies are those able to adapt and create novel solutions to novel circumstances. Elements of the successful actors are creativity, commitment, confidence, experience, and talent but in the case of shocking events the most common term for this collection is resilience.

The black swan is the typical example of a completely novel event. European explorers had never seen a black swan as that genetic mutation did not exist in Europe. In 1697, when Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh discovered black swans in Australia, it was something
never before considered. This term has come to be used to describe unpredicted events ranging from natural disasters to terrorist attacks and is used extensively in the risk management field. Detection and deterrence in personal security, and prediction and risk mitigation to businesses are very different from the ability to react effectively to novel inputs.

Resilience - Japan EarthquakeThis phenomena of extraordinary shocks to business systems is studied extensively in risk management with supply chains being the primary target, and easiest to quantify metric, of redundancy and alternate capabilities. When an 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan in March of 2011, Honda, Toyota and Nissan were all forced to shut plants in the affected region. While Honda and Toyota were massively impacted well into the fall, Nissan had recovered its production capability largely by April, and completely by July. They had invested in redundant production capability and created a globally dispersed, redundant product sourcing and assembly capacity. Ultimately, Nissan gained a long-term increase in total market share. It is largely considered the model for effective supply chain resilience.

At an individual level, it is usually studied by psychologists looking at the impact of traumatic events after the fact; most frequently in the study of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. More recently, organizational psychologists are starting to attempt to develop quantifiable programs to develop resilience in a variety of aspects including management and leadership. Military training has been attempting to build resilience into tactical leaders since the dawn of armies. From a general security perspective, we are not at great risk from what we can predict, we are at great risk from what we cannot predict. The only mechanism we have to defeat black swan events is resilience. From an individual security perspective, what we should be concerned with is how we can create resilience in individuals.

As we look at the ability to forecast or predict events from an individual perspective, the concept of detection and deterrence can become even more challenging. Organizations have the ability to hire professionals to evaluate supply chains, identify critical risks and develop plans and take action to mitigate those risks in an academic setting. Most private citizens do not have a full time security detail conducting the equivalent of those skills for them, and further, the consequences are personal. It makes us even less likely to account for the potential black swans in our personal lives then in our professional.

Worse, we tend to overestimate our abilities in the personal security arena where we are rarely measured. While the risk of being fired is substantially stressful, it is not the same as the risk of being injured or killed. That fear often translates in to denial. Despite the fact that most citizens have little to no experience or training that enables them to be more effective then “average” in avoiding or deterring threats, when polled, most consider themselves “above average”. We see this common belief in a variety of skills and most drastically in that 85 – 90 % of Americans believe they are an “above average” drivers… Worse, our misconceptions are reinforced that we are superior in our ability to avoid violence due to the relatively infrequent occurrence of violent attacks (or car accidents) that would provide us evidence contrary. 2/3’rds of our society will never have their assumption challenged, but more then 32% will…

If we consider the skills required to deal with expected scenarios, they are quite different then when dealing with novel scenarios. It is the difference between being taught what to think as opposed to being taught how to think. Expected scenarios are studied, quantified, and measured. The inputs and outputs can then be evaluated and placed on a scale of positive vs. negative consequences and those inputs prioritized accordingly to maximize positive outcomes and minimize negative outcomes. We can then teach people what to do when they see relevant inputs; in other words, what to think and do.

In dealing with completely novel scenarios, by definition, we will not recognize the inputs, and will have no idea what the most likely outcomes to our actions will be. Time and time again, in studying responses to novel events, we find that people, organizations, or societies that have a broader scale or wider range of abilities and skills to call on, perform better. The simplest example is the supply chain as discussed with Nissan. They had more diversity in production, and were able to leverage that to recover quicker, ultimately achieving a long term advantage over their competitors.

On the individual level, psychologists have proposed that developing strengths are a more useful endeavor in determining the long-term success of individuals. The thought is that individuals will gravitate towards fields in which they are competent, and be judged as successful based largely on their ability to apply that core competency. In dealing with predictable environments like employment, developing strengths is a more productive allocation of time than attempting to improve on irrelevant shortcomings. The problem arises when confronted by novelty. Those with a broader range of experiences have proven to be clearly superior in finding solutions to novel challenges then those with more specific skill sets.

Personal securityAs we look at threats to organizations or individuals, we see a list of potential inputs, appropriate responses all with the goal of mitigating the risks we know about. Those are not the risks that tend to cause truly negative outcomes. It’s the ones we didn’t see coming that consistently take the largest toll. Developing resilience requires a commitment to the development of individuals in skills and experiences that may not directly impact their day-to-day activities. For an organization to justify that type of investment is rare, and individuals are equally unlikely to decide to improve skills they have yet to need and see no short-term benefit to developing.

The reality is that as we look across existential threats to organizations or individuals, resilience is the key determinant of survival when these novel events occur. Next month, we’ll take a look at exactly how critical resilience is to personal security. Further, why it so difficult for us to predict negative outcomes in our personal lives; and we’ll take a look at how we can build resilience into individuals, leadership teams, and organizations as whole. Resilience is a key component to the safer communities we all desire to live in!

Author – Patrick Henry


An Alarming Trend – Women Are Shooting

Women Shooting Alarming TrendA couple of years ago, a news reporter at a Detroit television station announced that people using guns to defend themselves from marauders may be the beginning of “an alarming trend.” Brace yourself, as the state of the Union may have further deteriorated since. In a related conversation, one of my training industry colleagues asked me if I had also noticed a similar trend – an increase of women in participation of more-than-cursory firearms training.

The answer is a resounding “yes!” The professional firearms instruction community is indeed witnessing more and more women of all demographics arming themselves in America. As a personal security educator, whose job it is to transform his clients into hard targets, this brings a tear of joy and inspired me to dig deeper. Inquiring of other professional educators plus a little snooping around the net for more detail, this turned out to be quite the hot topic. Although many reasons were suggested, the three most common out there seem to be: the need to independently defend oneself (self-reliance), current events, and the fact that it has never been easier to get involved.

Edged Weapons Defense at Aegis Academy by Steve TaraniBut why now? It makes sense that more women seek to be individually armed as they become increasingly independent, but the number of female shooters has skyrocketed in just the past decade. The “Changing Gender of Permit Holders Data” for seven states shows a general upwards trend in the percentage of permit holders who are women. Florida: the percentage of permit holders who are women rose from 18% in May 2012 to 23.1% in June 2015. Indiana: from 18.0% in June 2012 to 22.7% in March 2015. Louisiana: from 18.3% in 2009 to 24.8% in 2014. North Dakota: from 11.2% in 2010 to 24.9% in 2014. Tennessee: from 23.3% in 2008 to 29.3% in 2014. Texas: from 17.26 in 2004 to 26.7% in 2014. Washington State: between 2005 and 2014 with the growth rate for women getting new permits is twice as fast as that of men. Assuming that these changes in the shares of permits held by men and women for these seven states is similar, the number of permits since 2007 has increased by 270% for women and by 156% for men. (Source: Crime Prevention Resource Center )

Most of us are familiar with the 19th century quote “God made men, but Sam Colt made [them] equal.” Firearms are the great equalizer. The average woman is not as physically strong as the average man. In a violent hand-to-hand physical struggle against one or more male attackers, even if she goes to the gym five days a week, pumps iron and runs marathons, the woman is probably going to lose – unless she has a gun – and knows how to use it. According to Jason Hanson, a former CIA Officer and the author of “The Covert Guide to Concealed Carry,” the bottom line is, “a gun is without a doubt the best way for a woman to defend herself in a worst-case scenario.”

Women ShootingArmed and well-trained women are a predator’s worst nightmare. As such, it may be no coincidence that between 2007 and 2014, murder rates have fallen from 5.6 to 4.2 (preliminary estimates) per 100,000. This represents a 25% drop in the murder rate at the same time that the percentage of the adult population with permits soared by 156%. Overall violent crime also fell by 25 percent over that period of time. (Source: Crime Prevention Resource Center )

It’s important to approach this topic from the bottom line: in a life-or-death defensive situation, a firearm operated by a qualified user is the most effective hand-held protection tool available to immediately stop a physical attack – bar none. This same premise explains why the majority of my clients – male and female military, law enforcement, and armed federal agents, are required to carry firearms and why they are also required to qualify with them regularly.

Shotgun Course Firearms TrainingEven for those who don’t carry a weapon for a living, owning a gun satisfies only one aspect of personal protection with a firearm. Quoting another of my colleagues (USMC Colonel and competitive shooter) “The belief that owning a gun makes you safe is as absurd as believing that purchasing a scalpel makes you a qualified surgeon.” In both cases, the blind act of owning these tools alone without professional firearms and defensive mindset training, and preparation for their use, actually makes you less safe. The two other critical requirements for personal protection with a firearm include professional training and weapons maintenance as you are responsible for safe handling, accurate round placement and appropriate storage.

It seems that this “alarming trend,” as gleaned from interviews with female graduates of defensive firearms training from all over the country, provides a means of leveling the playing field, ensuring personal safety, and a sense of being in control. That sense of control is empowering, and is something firearms-trained women often seek in other aspects of their life. The personal confidence and self-assurance that is a by-product of firearms training, lends itself to a more positive self-image. An image that when observed by a predator hunting for his next victim, may cause him to realize that he may be the one in harm’s way.

Author- Steve Tarani


What Cyber Attacks Say About Our Values

Two weeks ago we saw United Airlines grind to a halt for well over an hour due to technical challenges with the booking system, so severe that at one point they were forced to issue tickets by hand. New York Stock ExchangeThis ultimately led to many being people having travels delayed, missing flights, and having to be rescheduled. Later that same day, trading was halted on the NYSE due to a “technical glitch”. The nations pundits started screaming “We’re under Cyber Attack!”

Last week it was the Office of Personnel Management. They are a government agency that investigates people’s backgrounds for eligibility for security clearances. My personal data and literally everyone who has ever held a clearance since 2000 was compromised – most likely by China. This week it seems to be that Ashley Madison (the online dating site for people looking to cheat on their spouse) is the latest victim of an attack.  An anonymous hacker conducted this one as he has an axe to grind about the company making false claims about the security of the data its customers enter.

From national entities, to private companies, and professional services to interpersonal relationships, we have become seemingly dependent on IT infrastructure. I can’t remember the last time I actually walked into a bank, and I’m fairly certain Ashley Madison has streamlined the process considerably for those too busy to search the physical world for a fellow adulterer. Hand written airline tickets? My guess is they are still trying to figure out who was really on what plane. The impacts of disabling the NYSE for even a few hours are severe. Yet, we managed to build all of these systems without that technology in place.

A “cyber attack” is a disruption to the convenience-based technology on which we have become dependent. HackerIn most cases, it is that and nothing more. We used to dispatch everything from police to ICBM’s without computer systems. Certainly it was not as efficient as it is today, but we managed to get things done. Slower and less efficient, but still functional. I am confident that the Nuclear Command Structure has the ability to work around “Cyber Attacks” and cell phone outages, as do most police and emergency services. I am equally confident that most Americans would be incapable of functioning without those conveniences for an extended period of time. (Culture of Dependence?)

Regardless of how inconvenient it becomes, the shutdown of the entire electronic system on which we survive causes zero casualties. It is the civil unrest, looting, and rioting that is generally associated with prolonged power and convenience outages that get people hurt or killed. Over longer periods, it is the inability to get food and clean water. Rest assured that FEMA and state agencies have a plan to deal with this potential as well… We need only look to Katrina to see how effective we can expect that plan to be.

I am not trying to minimize the real impact of a long-term network shut down. We would expect that there would be many casualties from the ensuing civil unrest. Corporations spend billions on cyber security. Their profit margins (the reason they exist and can provide jobs) depend on it. When we compare that to the expenditures to prevent workplace violence, physical security threats, and threats to the people they employ, those expenditures are minimal.

Consulting Services

Strangely, in the pre-computer based economy, people were the source of mission critical functions and transactions, and pencils, paper, and smoke signals were simply commodities used to pass that information. In the automated world of today, the system operator and maintainer is the commodity, it is the ability to transfer relevant information that has become the mission critical link.

Cyber Security is the mission critical function and what we as a society place value on because of the impacts on our economic engine. When it comes to your personal safety and security, you are now and really always have been on your own. At least I haven’t seen the app that will take care of that for you. Yet…

Author – Howard Hall

Patrick received his operational training and experience from the U. S. Government, 22 years of which were spent in the Marine Corps where he served in the Reconnaissance, Infantry, and Intelligence fields. Patrick has worked as a contractor and as the Director of Operations at a private paramilitary firm specializing in training military special operations forces and providing protective services to select private clients. His education consists of an MBA from the University of Southern California (USC), and a BS from San Diego State University in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology and a minor in Psychology.

He holds an extensive list of security and training related certifications. He is an active member of Infraguard and the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS). He has been a guest speaker at ASIS, the San Diego Industrial Security Awareness Council, The Counter Terrorism Symposium hosted by New York’s Mobile Trauma Unit, and other private organizations on physical security, travel security, and competitive intelligence collection counter-measures.


Shotshells in Revolvers

Shotshells in RevolversIn this article, I’ll answer a reader’s question regarding shooting Shotshells in Revolvers for personal defense. Specifically, I’ll discuss the difference between revolver shotshells meant for pest control and shotshells designed for personal defense.

“I’ve been reading the Ballistics Series and your articles on personal defense with great interest. Good stuff! Where I live, there are many other people living in my home and there are other homes very close to mine. So, I’m very concerned about using ammo that would either over-penetrate an attacker’s body or go through walls if I miss. I’ve got a Smith and Wesson 686 4″ revolver in .38/.357. I practice a lot with the lighter .38 special rounds, but keep the gun on my nightstand loaded with .357 magnum hollow-points. I’m worried that using that much power may endanger my neighbors. Many personal defense articles highlight the benefits of using a shotgun for personal defense. I don’t have a shotgun, but I’ve come across a shotshell designed for revolvers. I think that I can get the best of both worlds by loading my .357 magnum with these shotshells that will do the job without worrying about shooting through walls. I’d appreciate your thoughts on this.” – Anthony

Anthony, thank you for the question. You bring up a lot of good points worth highlighting here and I’m glad you’re going the extra mile by reading-up on personal defense and asking questions. In the following paragraphs, I’ll address the different aspects of this issue one topic at a time.

Personal Defense Solutions

First, you’ve highlighted an important issue… firearm/ammunition selection. There are many different opinions on this topic available through blog articles, books, and classes. However, there is no single “ideal” solution that will fit every individual and every situation. Every person has a different level of body strength, visual acuity, and training. Every person also has a different home layout, both inside and outside. And everyone lives in a different area with varying levels of criminal activity and concern.

Firearm Safety Training

In the most general terms, rifles are terrific stand-off weapons that can deliver powerful projectiles with a high degree of accuracy at a number of distances. This high power may be counterproductive in an enclosed environment. Handguns, on the other hand, are easy to operate and to conceal (throughout the house or on your person), but the shorter barrels produce less velocity and accuracy. Shotguns with a regular stock or pistol grip are a bit more unwieldy in an enclosed environment, but they offer significant power, a wider variety of projectiles or shot choices, and are easier to aim and achieve the accuracy required for the situation.

Ryan Finn – The Truth About Guns
Ryan Finn – The Truth About Guns.

In the photo to the right, you can see the results of a number of different results from ammunition that was fired through four layers of sheet rock. If you click the photo for a larger view, you can also see that only the #4 birdshot did not fully penetrate the 4 layers. Although the test does not describe how much energy each projectile maintained as it passed-through the fourth layer, it is clear that there was the potential for some degree of injury to an innocent bystander struck by a projectile that continued to travel through the walls. To read Mr. Finn’s article click here.

The bottom line is that there is an ideal firearm/ammunition solution available to meet the requirements of each individual to address threats in their environment. Since you own a .357 Magnum revolver, but are worried about over-penetration, you are making the right considerations for your individual situation.

Shotshells for the .357 Magnum

In this instance, you are both right and wrong. You are right in the fact that there are .357 Magnum cartridges that contain birdshot instead of a solid projectile. CCI/Blazer produces such a cartridge. It is the Blazer Shotshell #3738, which contains a total of 100 grains (about 150 pellets) of #9 birdshot in a small plastic capsule. CCI lists the muzzle velocity at 1,000 feet per second.

At first glance, it seems like shooting an assailant with this cartridge would create a nasty wound. Hell, 100 grains of shot traveling at 1,000 feet per second also sounds like it would produce the result desired. Quick math tells us that this produces 222 ft/lbs of energy… if it was a solid projectile! However, it is not a solid projectile, but a group of small projectiles that weigh about 0.67 grains each and would only produce any degree of damage if they remained clustered close together. Continue Reading »

About Author
Howard Hall

Howard has served for more than 20 years in the Marine Corps. He has served as a Platoon Commander, Company Commander, Battalion Executive Officer, Regimental Operations Officer, and Battalion Commander. He has multiple combat tours to include serving as a military transition team member in Fallujah. He is an NRA Certified handgun instructor and holds numerous Marine Corps training credentials. An active competitor in action pistol (United States Practical Shooting Association), long range rifle (NRA F-Class), and shotgun (Amateur Trapshooting Association, National Skeet Shooting Association), howard has earned numerous accolades and medaled during DoD competitions with the 1911 platform in bulls-eye shooting.

A Semester Abroad: Arrogance, Apathy, and Ignorance, Part 3

The arrogance that accompanied by 21st year of life led me to ignore most safety considerations for the entire six months of my study abroad program in Moscow, Russia. In fact, despite enduring and surviving a rather scary piano-bar attack, towards the end of my stay in Moscow I was more confident than ever in my “guaranteed” security; and more prone to apathetically going about my final days in the city I had grown so fond of.

A Semester Abroad: Arrogance, Apathy, and IgnoranceIn my previous article of the series, “Arrogance, Apathy, and Ignorance: What a Student Traveling Abroad Ought to Know“, I told the detailed story of the attack I encountered at a piano-bar on one of my first nights out on the town in Moscow. After having time to process the occurrence, and truly evaluate the role I played in increasing the potential for security threats to become a reality, I determined that an arrogant attitude coupled with ignorance of cultural cues led to an empty wallet and a night that most students cannot imagine happening on their study abroad adventure. I would like to say that after the night at the piano bar I “wised up” and began to take responsibility for my own safety; but, this could not be further from the truth. In this article, A Semester Abroad: Arrogance, Apathy, and Ignorance, Part 3, I will describe how apathy began to seep into my daily lifestyle as a student studying abroad. Ultimately, with just one month left in my stay, I was once again the victim of a criminal attack — only this time much worse.

Getting Too Comfortable

Many study abroad programs last for well over a month; in my case, six months. In the course of a six month stay, it is only natural to begin to feel at ‘home’, more familiar with the environment, and more comfortable with your surroundings. A student may begin to learn the unique social ques of the culture, the euphemisms behind much of the language used on the street, or perhaps the style of dress begins to become more attractive. By my third month in Moscow I had secured a part-time job as an English teacher, learned how to navigate the Moscow metro, and even made several local friends. I would certainly describe myself as being comfortable in my new-found environment, so much so that I began to dismiss (even more so than before) the common safety concerns that many international students spoke of in the dormitory. For example, the crowd of “hooligans” (as they were called by local Russians) that congregated around the corner market and the metro stop nearest my dormitory became common place; I seemed to never notice them, and was indifferent to their calls, choosing to tune them out.

It is quite normal to grow accustomed to one’s environment and if we as humans did not adapt appropriately we would have bigger issues. Never-the-less, too much comfort in a rather unfamiliar environment (three to six months can still constitute unfamiliarity!) can result in apathy; I simply did not care about these so-called ‘threats’ because as far as I was concerned I had for the most part disproved them with my comfortable stay in Moscow.

The problem with choosing not to care is you are choosing to not be aware. Situation awareness is defined as “the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening to the team with regards to the mission.” More simply, it’s knowing what is going on around you; and no, it does not only apply to law enforcement officers or armed services members. Any student studying abroad must learn to exercise situational awareness habits on a regular basis. Growing too comfortable, too apathetic to the ebbs and flows of hooliganism, for example, can be dangerous. Sure, tuning out some guys that make incessant cat-calls your way is one thing; but, tuning out the whole picture all together is a risky mistake. Now, let me briefly introduce how my apathy, comfort, and lack of respect for situational awareness divulged into another security threat.

When You Least Expect It

Many of the international students that lived in the dormitory with myself and other Americans were scheduled to leave Moscow soon, and we all decided to gather at one of our favorite ex-pat restaurants for dinner and drinks. I had been to this place, “Papa’s” as we called it, countless times during my stay. At times I had even traveled by metro or taxi to and from the restaurant with absolutely no issues. “Papa’s” had become a safe haven for international students studying in Moscow, and the last place I expected to be scoped out for a dangerous kidnapping scheme.

Tourist taxi study abroadI enjoyed my night with friend, reminiscing about all the adventures we had while studying in Russia. As the night went out I grew tired and decided I should head home. I asked if anyone wanted to accompany me, but did not think twice to wait when no one wanted to go home quite yet. I payed my bill and walked out front where the familiar sight of a row of un-marked taxis waited to take the restaurant patrons home. I negotiated my fare with an average looking fellow, hopped in the front seat (something I had done countless times, yet turned out to be a costly mistake) and told the taxi driver where I would like to be dropped off. Shortly after, I knew something was not right.

As we drove farther and farther away from the center of the city, where my dorm was located, I grew more and more anxious — demanding to know where he was taking me. I began to frantically think of a plan, and curse my own stupidity…my own apathetic, too-comfortable attitude the dangerous realities of the big city. Unfortunately, ‘thinking of a plan’ when you are already in the middle of a dangerous scheme is quite literally too little too late. In the next few moments I suddenly realized that I had skipped over all opportunities for prediction and prevention when it comes to avoiding potential security threats; I now in the middle of my very own nightmare, and the only choice I had was to respond to the threat unfolding in front of my eyes.

Aegis Academy - Travel Security - Duty of Care

I demanded one last time to know where we were going, speaking Russian with some powerful colloquialisms mixed in a futile attempt at talking tough hoping that it would intimidate this man! As soon as I the words were out of my mouth, the real dangerous part of the attack began. While driving down the road, he leaned over and began to hit me while trying to remove my phone and purse from my person. Too little, too late…I was living out the worst possible study abroad adventure I could have ever imagined.


A recent report released by the U.S. State Department in 2015 revealed that choosing to travel or study abroad in Russia requires extra precautions to ensure one’s own safety and security. Criminal activity such as petty crime, physical attacks, and corrupt law enforcement is on the rise in the Russian Federation: “The social and political unrest in Ukraine has led to increasing political tensions between the Russian Federation and the U.S. and other Western nations. As a result, anti-American and anti-Western sentiment appears to be increasing, especially in certain media outlets.” Studying abroad now, even more so than when I studied in Moscow in 2013, carries new security threats. Do not let this deter you to the point of staying home (remember: You will face potential security threats in every country you travel to), rather choose to be prepared, well-equipped, and alert.

The facts are clear, and the warnings are there to benefit travelers…if we choose to listen to them.

In the next article, the last of the series, I will provide a detailed account of the ending to my taxi-cab ordeal. Though the violence escalated, I was able to escape (hence me living to tell about it!). Stay tuned for the end of the story and some final thoughts on how you can be in control of your own safety while studying abroad!

Stay Safe!

Author – Anna Johnson

First Posted on Aegis Academy

A Semester Abroad: Arrogance, Apathy, and Ignorance, Part 2

Traveling abroad is an opportunity for endless enrichment experiences. Traveling to unfamiliar territory also inevitably invites the opportunity for security threats. In the last article of this series, “Arrogance, Apathy, and Ignorance: What a Student Traveling Abroad Ought to Know“, I provided an introduction to my own travel experiences in Moscow, Russia as a student in a direct exchange program. I briefly shared about how my arrogant attitude towards my own status as an American citizen not only revealed my naivety about foreign cultures, but may have also resulted in the piano bar attack I described.

Travel Experiences in Moscow, Russia as a StudentIn “A Semester Abroad: Arrogance, Apathy, and Ignorance, Part 2″ I would like to elaborate on the piano bar attack using a lens more analytical than theoretical. In doing so I will outline some of the mistakes that I made — be they false assumptions, improper preparation, or just plain old stupidity — which ultimately resulted in potential threats becoming a scary reality. With recent reports showing that each year near 300,000 American students study abroad, roughly 65% of these students are females, more discussion needs to be had on issues of travel security; because ultimately if you find yourself facing an attack situation then you have already made mistakes that led you to this point. Knowing how to prevent safety and security issues when traveling abroad is the best self-defense mechanism you could ever teach yourself.

Lesson One: ‘Prepare for the Worst’ is Not for the Weak!

Traveling to Moscow, Russia I would have never predicted that I would be the victim of a violent attack, let alone the victim of two violent attacks. Growing up in America where statistically two-thirds of Americans will never be the victim of a violent attack, I had grown comfortable with the assumption that my safety was practically guaranteed. My first presumptuous mistake was made long before my plane ever touched down in Moscow — I decided to dismiss the warnings of my friends and family as propaganda-motivated paranoia. I was not even remotely invested in any form of risk analysis — a process which considers any catastrophic events that could occur — but, I should have been. For students who are planning to travel or study abroad for any amount of time, particularly in an Eastern European nation, there are certain warnings which deserve your attention. You should give your attention to these warnings not only to alert your awareness to the possibility of such events, but in order to break down any false or arrogant assumptions you may have about the potential for such security issues. Here is a brief list of the warnings given to me by parents, friends, university officials, and experienced travelers of Russia which I, for the most part, dismissed:

  • Do not be out on the streets of Moscow after dark.
  • Do not go anywhere alone — day or night.
  • Avoid hailing taxis from the street. Instead, call a registered taxi company.
  • Do not drink (for too long) with a Russian. They can tolerate more alcohol than you. (Not a stereotype…a reality.)
  • Pick-pockets are slick. Take extra precautions to avoid being the victim of theft.
  • Do not carry too much cash on you. And never pull out your I-Phone (or smart phone) in an unfamiliar environment.

‘Prepare for the Worst’ is Not for the Weak‘Prepare for the Worst’ is Not for the WeakI failed to acknowledge, at one point or another throughout my stay in Moscow, nearly all of the above listed warnings. The series of events that led up to me being the victim of an attack at the piano bar, however, were the direct result of me assuming I need not pay attention to four of the above warnings. Talk about arrogant! Being prepared, cautious, and alert is not a sign of weakness. To the contrary, it demonstrates wisdom and a respect for the realities of the world that we live in.

Lesson Two: ‘Playing it By Ear’ Does Not Result in a Good Night Out

I could say that the best way to avoid being the victim of any sort of piano bar attack would be to avoid leaving your Moscow dorm room, unless traveling to class, the grocery store, or your nearest Visa office. The reality is, however, that most twenty-somethings traveling to Moscow, or any country for that matter, will choose to experience the culture in one way or another in daytime and at night. Entirely avoiding a threat may be improbable, but threat avoidance to some degree is certainly still possible with proper planning and situational awareness.

I certainly did not plan ahead to any degree on the night of the piano bar attack. A fellow American student knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to join him as we “went exploring”. Without a second thought, I grabbed my purse, all of my cash, and set out for a busier part of the city. Mistake: not giving it a ‘thought’ is typically not a good idea when traveling in unfamiliar, unforgiving environments.

We popped into a restaurant and ordered some traditional Russian dishes. After a while, we overheard two men sitting next to us speaking with British accents. We decided to be friendly and assumed these men were friendly Westerners. Before long we were sharing stories over drinks and eating up every word that these ‘friendly Westerners’ were telling us. Not once did we think to ‘red flag’ these men, despite the discrepancies in their conversation: misplaced accents with un-matching stories of origin, unusual advice which was contrary to all the warnings we had received elsewhere, and vague information about their own professional endeavors in Moscow. We simply went along with the coincidence of the night — we had found two friendly tour guides and it was time to play the rest of the night by ear. Mistake: assuming friendly strangers, no matter how much you may have in common with them, genuinely want to show you a good time.

Lesson Three: If It Seems Dangerous, it Probably Is

Threat avoidanceThreat avoidance is a period within the progression of any given attack cycle that only lasts so long. Eventually, a threat shifts from being potential to imminent. At such a point, there is no more avoiding a threat, only mitigating such threats.

As the first restaurant closed, we hopped in a street taxi (See above warnings) with our new British comrades and headed for Chinatown — a notoriously criminal part of Moscow. It would have behooved my friend and I if we had chosen to call it a night before heading to Chinatown, but again we assumed there was no need to worry. We arrived on a busy street and one of our British friends led us to his “favorite little pub” – a piano bar located undergrounds. The night carried on; I was consumed in conversation with our British friends, while my American friend struck up conversations with Russian patrons who, quite frankly, had had way too much to drink. All five of us (two Americans, two British, and a Russian) moved, on the request of the Brits to a small table secluded in the back corner of the restaurant — on the side without the piano. (Just a note: my hope is that at this point in the story you, my reader, are picking up on the numerous naïve, dangerous, and careless decisions that we made that night.) An older Russian gentleman had been pestering me all night, but my new-found British friend assured me that he was a regular here, and to pay him no mind.
Then, all of a sudden, one of the British men proclaimed he had received a text stating his mother had had a heart attack and that they must leave immediately. We offered our shocked condolences and encouraged him to be on his way. We, being filled with joviality at the nights festivities, decided to stay to talk to more Russians. Mistake: do not stay late, in a dark corner of an underground bar, with no one but locals around. Two are easily outnumbered.

We had stayed maybe twenty minutes after our British friends left when my friend excused himself to the bathroom. I told him we ought to leave when he returned. I was all alone in the corner when the older Russian man that had been a slight annoyance all night suddenly turned aggressive. And thus, the potential threats that had been there since the before we had ever left our dormitory were realized in actuality. I had not avoided them, I had not mitigated them, and now I was left to defend myself against these actual threats.

Physical ViolenceThe man pushed me into the corner of the table, while I yelled for help to anyone in the bar, while another Russian (the one that we had befriended throughout the night) stole my money and phone. Not a single bar patron looked our way — they were locals and knew better. My friend came out of the restroom only to be greeted by another Russian man in cohorts with this criminal scheme wielding a knife. He warned my friend not to interfere and that we would be able to leave soon. Sure enough, just as I thought that the physical violence was going to escalate to a point of serious injury, the older man stepped off of me and they fled the piano bar.

I tell this story not to dramatize the stupidity of the decisions I made that night, nor to fulfill any stereotypes about criminal activity on the streets of Moscow. I am telling this to encourage readers, especially those who may find themselves studying or traveling abroad in the near future, to take the time to think about your daily or nightly excursions. Listen to the warnings of those that care about you. Have a plan and stick to it. And most of all, do not walk into a trap — if it seems dangerous (underground bar in a criminal part of town) it most likely is.

Stay tuned for the next part in this article series, “ Arrogance, Apathy, and Ignorance: What a Student Traveling Abroad Ought to Know“, where I will introduce a different attack experience I encountered towards the end of my stay in Moscow. Along with this introduction, I will conceptualize apathy in terms of personal safety and security.

Stay Safe!

Author – Anna Johnson

Originaly posted at Aegis Academy