8 Common Myths About Travel & Personal Security

Myth #1:  It can’t happen to me.

This is perhaps less a myth and more a mindset.  Crime victims, even those living in violent places with friends and relatives that have been victims of crime still sometimes hold on to the mindset that it can’t happen to them.  Not only does this usually mean the person has taken little or no proactive measures to protect themselves but it also significantly contributes to a delayed reaction time because the person is in a state of denial and when events begin to unfold they can’t process what is happening and respond quickly enough.

Myth #2:  If it does happen it was destined to happen or it was fate and there is nothing I can do about it.

This is the fatalistic attitude mentioned earlier.  There is a phrase for it in Arabic:  “Insh’Allah” — if God wills it.  While it’s true that you can do everything right and still become a victim due to uncontrollable circumstances more often than not you can take significant measures to avoid or deter a problem or at a minimum recognize it more rapidly and take appropriate responsive action.

Myth #3:  Victims are selected at random and most crime is spontaneous.

Victims are almost always selected and there is almost always some element of planning involved in any crime.  Its true the victim selection and planning may occur very rapidly but it still occurs.  The only really exception to this is situations involving civil unrest, rioting and other types of violence that occurs on a larger scale where particular victims may truly be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Myth #4:  Armed security or carrying weapons is always better than unarmed security.

This comes down to training whether it’s the individual arming themselves or employing an armed security detail in a high threat environment or in response to a specific threat.  Armed security definitely has its place and is appropriate under certain conditions.  A person arming themselves but not getting training in how and when to employ their weapon in a tactical manner and under stress may actually increase their risk rather than reduce it.  Likewise employing armed personnel who are not well trained and don’t handle their weapons safely (as is often the case in the developing world) may also increase risk.

Myth #5:  You should always comply with an attacker’s demands.

While this is overwhelmingly true in the case of property crimes it is much more ambiguous and situational when it comes to any personal crime.  If your assailant just wants your wallet or watch you should surrender it.  If the assailant becomes physically abusive, tries to restrain you or tries to move you from the area then there are a number of factors that must be considered very rapidly and an individual decision must be made.

Myth #6:  You should never let the attacker move you from the first crime scene.

This is also overwhelmingly true in the US and most of the developed world.  The theory – which is fundamentally sound – is that if the crime is an economic crime the attacker will be satisfied with your property and will leave.  If the attacker wants to move you to a place where he can control you – also known as crime scene two – then he likely intends to subject you to some type of torture or sadistic treatment and you are far better off resisting at crime scene one.  In many developing countries where kidnap for ransom and express kidnapping are a regular occurrence it is not necessarily true.  In those situations it may well be an economically motivated crime and you may have a better chance complying with the kidnappers and very likely being released upon the payment of a ransom or upon taking money out of an ATM machine in the case of an express kidnapping.  There is no right answer for every situation and for every person.  You need to look at crime trends in the environment you are in and make decisions based on the situation you find yourself in.

Myth #7:  Local inhabitants know the security situation best and can give good guidance.

While local contacts are very valuable when gathering information about the security situation in the location where you are or will be traveling they should not be the sole source of this information and their input should not be accepted as gospel.  Frequently locals do not know the security situation that well at all unless they are in a capacity where they deal with security issues or incidents regularly and often the information they have is anecdotal or based on gossip and urban myth.  It’s also important to consider that locals may have a very different threshold of what is normal or acceptable in terms of levels of crime, violence or terrorist threat.  They may be accustomed to a level of violence, unrest or uncertainty in their society that is totally different from what you are used to.  Also for cultural reasons or in some cases personal reasons (in particular when there is a business connection to the local contact) they may intentionally understate or misrepresent the threat level.  Use local contacts and sources to gather information but view their input with a critical eye and in the context of information derived from other sources.

Myth #8:  Most personal security is just common sense.

While it’s fair to say that many personal security measures may appear obvious – common sense means different things to different people and arguably common sense is not all that common.  There is also a lot to be studied and learned in terms of criminal practices and methods that will enhance your security and goes beyond what is “common sense”.

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2 Responses to 8 Common Myths About Travel & Personal Security

  1. DejahThoris says:

    A lot of this advice reminds me of that, given me as a soldier stationed in Germany. It is relatively easy to stay low-key in western countries. Do you have any thoughts about changing mode of dress and personal accessories, which would allow you to blend in with the local nationals? I’ve always thought that I would immediately purchase inexpensive clothing/accessories that would reduce any first impressions that I was alien to the locale. Obviously, this only works if I don’t have to interact with anyone, or there is a noticeable difference in skin color, but I figure it might help prevent the opportunistic types from targeting me.

    • That’s a good point. I think that in Western Europe and maybe some parts of Latin America I can might pass a very cursory look without being picked immediately as a foreigner – in Sub-Saharan Africa I can’t pull that off. Even in places where we might blend in more easily there are often subtle things like body language and mannerisms that people will notice and recognize that we are not locals.

      That said I think there are good reasons to not be too conspicuous. All the things they told us in the military about not wearing the baseball caps, cowboy hats, sports jerseys or stereotypical Hawaiian shirts — things people amazingly really do — is good advice. No reason to draw unnecessary attention to ourselves. I’ll post on this later. Thanks.

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