Since reading my friend Dan’s travel blog of his exciting day in South Africa where he talked/sneaked himself out of two muggings in a day, I’ve given some thought to how I’d try to handle these kind of situations.
A few months ago, as I was cycling into town after work, I was stopped at the top of an isolated pedestrian bridge by 4 induviduals on bikes and was told in no uncertain terms that I was being mugged. As one of them tried to reach into one of my pockets contains a phone, I held onto it, which brought a few punches flying in the direction of my head. Deciding at this point, that I didn’t really fancy parting company with the contents of my pockets (phone and wallet), I pushed my bike towards them (step-through frames allow for easy dismounting!) and sprinted back in the direction I’d come. After hearing someone say “after him”, I decided that now might be a really good time to start loudly and choosing the most appropriate word I could think of, I started shouting “help” and by the time I reached the original end of the bridge, I was met by a member of the public who called the police.
Since then, I’ve spent at least 6 hours of my life giving statements and doing identifits etc. for an incident that, at most, lasted 30 seconds.
- I wasn’t seriously hurt (there were two minor and inconspicuous bruises)
- I wasn’t seriously missing anything (though I lost my glasses in the affray)
I think it’s fair to say that it went “about as well as an attempted mugging could go”. I didn’t lose anything to the robber and I wasn’t seriously hurt.
I’ve thought long about this. Could I have avoided any issues with them simply by dressing and acting differently? Could I have avoided any physical confrontation if I’d handed stuff over straight away? Could I have done things differently?
Ultimately, these questions will drive you crazy – the answer is “yes, probably”, but the fact is ‘shit happened’ and thankfully I came out of it pretty well this time, so that’s what I should focus on.
Immediately after the incident I was quite nervous, however, I’m very eager to avoid is demonising groups of people – young people growing up in the inner city are generally great people, and, in my opinion, more work needs to be done to help organisations like RECLAIM help empower young people in these areas.
The most interesting thing about the incident now, is actually observations of how people’s reactions to the incident subsequently affected me and the impact that had.
The most prominent reaction has been a statement or something like “hope you’re ok”, which whilst being the easiest, and probably least likely to upset, response, is quite passive.
Interestingly, for me, the worst thing that happened was being asked “What happened?”, and forcing me to recount the details of the incident in detail. It’s not that it was particularly traumatising, but reliving the incident each time I was asked doesn’t really help put the incident into the larger perspective, both for me and the person I was telling it to.
Perhaps one of the less helpful responses was suggestions that I could have been stabbed and being told that I should have just handed over my phone. Whilst there’s certainly truth in that, it’s a really unhelpful perspective to suggest to the victim at that point. Clearly there were worse possible outcomes, however, with the bigger picture, the given response resulted in about as good as one could hope, with an actual guarantee that the suggested response would result in am objectively worse outcome (with still no guarantee it wouldn’t involve stabbing) than what actually happened.
One possibly interesting reaction was being told that they know how I felt, and that anger that comes afterwards is worse than the event – probably an incredibly clear indicator of how clearly personal people’s reactions to events like this are – I suspect they did not know how I felt, as the anger wasn’t forthcoming…
One reaction was to simply label the perpetrators as “manchester dickheads” – possibly objectively true – but still unhelpful, rather pointless name-calling – “Ahah, you almost mugged me. You’re a dickhead! Oooh. I said a naughty word!”.
I’ve had people say that they hope this won’t change my approach to the world – and for me this was the most well-received response – mainly I suspect – because I’d already decided that this had to be the case, within 10 minutes of the incident.
In my opinion, perhaps, the most empathetic response is to ask how the victim is feeling, then be quiet and let them do the talking.
In many ways, however, I suspect that despite people meaning well, I might actually have been happier to not publicise it so much. This may be partly related to my distaste for verbally repeating anecdotes a number of times, but I suspect is also to do with coming to terms with things actually being quite a personal thing, and whilst other people’s perspectives are obviously helpful to themselves, I can find them, at best, hard to relate to, and at worst, somewhat unhelpful.
I was a bit shaken for a while (aka an evening) after the incident, and there’s still the odd flashback or moment where I feel irrationally unsafe, but I’d had enough of talking about it within hours of it happening.
I’m “over” the incident – shit’s gonna happen, in the past and the future, it’s not surprising really, and I’m happy it went as best it could this time.
I’d really like to look forward in life for a while now.