The Mugging Advice That is Totally Misguided

There’s a piece of personal safety advice which is extremely pervasive and makes a lot of sense (at first glance), but will put you in extreme danger, should you act on it.Most of us have heard the well-meant, but dangerous advice of throwing your wallet on the floor away from you, should a mugger demand it from you.

At first glance, this seems good advice; the mugger wants something from you, you throw that thing away, and when they go to retrieve it you can run away.

Unfortunately, this piece of advice neglects two important things:

  • the situational components that exist in most mugging scenarios
  • the profile/character of most muggers.

This piece of advice is founded on another self-defense/personal safety myth, that most muggings occur in deserted dark alleyways.

mugging advice indoors
It's very easy to get task-focused/orientated and concentrate on what we are doing, rather than staying aware of what is happening around us

The first thing that a mugger will do as part of their criminal process is to choose a location in which to work. Muggers may also take advantage of opportunities when they aren’t actively looking for victims. By and large, they will consciously choose the locations where they commit their crimes.

In any location they choose, there are three important factors that influence their choice.

The first is attractiveness i.e. there have to be things which attract them to a location. The number one attractor for a mugger is an abundance of prey/victims. Just as predators in the animal kingdom hunt in areas where there is a good supply of prey, so do human predators.

Deserted alleyways, by definition, are deserted; there is nobody, or very few people from which to select a potential victim. Not everybody will match the profile of a victim, and so a mugger needs to have a good supply of people, in order to find somebody who matches their criteria.

This is why busy/crowded places, such as parking lots, and transit stops are preferred locations for this type of crime. In an “attractive” location, there are also things which both prevent and promote crimes.

mugging advice photo 2
If after handing over your wallet, an attacker makes a secondary demand, such as telling you to move to the back of your car, they are no longer following the "mugger's script", which should see them exit the environment, and in such a cases, your best survival option is to deal with them physically - if they need to move you to another location, it means they're unable to do what they want to do to you where you are.

One influential promoter in a crime is the number of potential escape routes; the more the better.

An alleyway only has one, or possibly two escape routes, not making it a great location in which to commit a crime. On the other hand, a transit stop, which is a transport interchange, having multiple stations, platforms and stops, is like a rabbit warren, and there are many, many escape routes a criminal can take after committing their crime.

There are, of course, those things which can help prevent muggings and other crimes, such as security guards, security cameras, and even vigilant street vendors, etc. When we look at the locations where muggers operate, we can see that they are relatively busy places, with consistent foot traffic, and a good number of pedestrians.

So the question remains, how can they commit a crime in such a place without being spotted?

It is relatively easy for a mugger to slip in close behind a victim who is standing on a crowded escalator, and stick a knife in their back, whilst demanding their wallet, without their weapon being seen or their demand being heard.

Even if somebody on the escalator did recognize what was happening, it is unlikely that they would intervene, for fear of having to deal with an armed assailant, themselves. Once the mugger has the wallet, he can start walking up the escalator, using the people around him to disguise his exit. In such a situation, where would you throw the wallet?

mugging advice
If a mugger demands your wallet, there are two possible outcomes they are considering: walking away with your wallet without cutting you, walking away with your wallet, having cut you. In their mind, they are leaving with your wallet. The variable is whether you get cut in the process

The same question could be asked if you were to be mugged in a busy shopping mall.

To those around you, it would appear that two people were just having a conversation; the mugger will have angled both of your bodies to hide/disguise the fact that they have a knife to your stomach.

If you were to throw the wallet away from you, you would probably be throwing it under somebody’s feet, alerting everyone in the environment to what was going on – before the mugger starts running, he’d in all likelihood stab you, in his now angered/emotional state.

Throwing the wallet away from you may seem like a good idea, however when we look at mugging scenarios, the majority don’t facilitate this; the locations are just too busy and crowded for this to be practical.

To make this piece of advice work, we have to create improbable and unlikely scenarios, and this is simply unrealistic and ultimately dangerous. Let’s say that we find ourselves in one of these unlikely (or possibly opportunistic) scenarios, where there is just us and the mugger, and no one else witnessing the crime.

Because when we look at how we should respond to criminal violence, we need to take into account the profile and motivations of the criminal.

In any violent crime, whether it is a mugging or a sexual assault, etc., there are three secondary motivators that drive the crime: power, anger and control.

Mugging is an extremely low-level crime, committed by individuals who are not tapped into or recognized by a larger criminal fraternity, and need an instant reward from their crimes; they need the cash now – either to support a drug habit, buy food, etc.

Unlike a burglar who can afford to wait awhile until he sells the stolen goods, and receives the cash for them, a mugger needs the cash immediately.

Mugging is a desperate crime, committed by individuals who have little or no control or power over their lives, and they usually have a degree of anger and resentment around this.

When they commit a mugging, it is one of the few times they get to feel in control of a situation and exert power over somebody, as well as dispense some of their anger. If you throw the wallet away from you, when they demand it, you’ve not recognized their power and control; you have taken it away from them by throwing your wallet on the floor, rather than complying with their demand, and handing it to them.

You have given them a further reason to be angry, escalating a situation that could have been de-escalated by acquiescing to their demand. It is likely that they will now use their weapon against you, before going to pick up the wallet.

mugging advice photo
One simple strategy for dealing with muggers is to carry a decoy wallet, containing expired credit cards, and around $20 in cash; enough for them to buy their next fix - most muggings are carried out to support a drug habit. Keep your driver's license and credit cards, wrapped in the cash you carry, and held together by an elastic band - this is so slim fitting that even if a mugger pats you down, it is unlikely it will be discovered

In most cases, after taking your wallet the mugger will leave of their own accord.

After a mugger has your wallet, they have little reason to stay and harm you, and in a busy place, this would only draw attention to them and their crime. Your best survival option is to do what they say, rather than follow a piece of well-meant but ill-founded advice, that has no basis in reality, such as throwing your wallet on the ground.

When the mugger doesn’t leave i.e. they don’t follow a mugger’s “script”, that’s the time to start enacting a physical solution, but until that happens, compliance – and to the letter – is your best survival option.

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