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Self Defense for Seniors

January 22, 2020

Older adults are often perceived as easy targets for criminals. They move more slowly and can appear weak and less nimble – all of which is a sign to criminals that they can be overpowered. In fact, a U.S. Department of Justice report noted that between 2003 and 2013, 93 percent of all crimes against people over age 65 were property crimes such as burglary and theft. Fortunately, there are things that older adults can do to not only avoid being attacked but also to counter an attack. If you know or work with seniors, provide them with these tips:
  • Stay alert and aware of what’s going on around you. It’s good to develop the habit of scanning the area around you for potential threats so you can avoid them.
  • Try to stand straight and keep your chin up and your shoulders back. Looking down at the ground is like a green light to criminals.
  • Walk as fluidly as you can to exhibit confidence.
  • Be sure to make brief eye contact with the people around you to demonstrate that you are aware of them (but don't stare or act aggressively).
  • Avoid talking on the phone or looking at a map as it appears to others that you’re not paying attention to what's going on around you.
  • Stay in well-lit and populated areas at night. It's also a good idea to keep a mini flashlight and whistle on your key ring and keep the keys in your hand (with one key sticking out between your fingers) while you're walking.
  • Don't draw attention to yourself. Keep valuables out of sight, and don't wear expensive clothes or flashy jewelry. If you use a purse, carry it close to you and don't let it dangle too far from your body.
If a senior is confronted by someone wanting to harm, these tactics are useful:
  • The best approach is to avoid physical confrontations. Using de-escalation techniques can turn a bad event around. For instance, using commanding words and speaking loudly can be enough to have the attacker leave the scene. Most criminals want an easy target that is meek and won’t confront them or make a racket.
  • Make a noise like shouting, blowing a whistle or activating a personal alarm. Emergency whistles or alarms that fit in your pocket or attach to your keychain can be effective ways of scaring off attackers who are seeking easy pickings, and alert others that you need help.
  • If your warning or de-escalation approaches don’t work, you will need to fight back. Eyes are very vulnerable, so use your fingers to jab at the attacker's eyes quickly and repeatedly. The throat and the groin (for men) are also good targets but poking them in the eyes may work long enough for you to getaway.
  • If you can’t reach the eyes, or your hands are being held, stomp hard on their foot. This may cause the attacker to release your hands and allow you to go for the eyes.
  • Use a weapon such as keys, a cane, an umbrella, a pen, a cane, and even canned food from your shopping bag. Aim at the eyes again, or the nose.
  • If the criminal wants your purse or wallet, let them take it. Throw the purse away from them and then leave as fast as possible. While you may lose some money and need to stop some credit cards, at least you will be alive.
  • Take self-defense classes for seniors. Call your police station and see if they offer self-defense classes at a YMCA or a senior center. Many municipalities host classes as a public service, and local martial arts facilities often have self-defense for seniors’ class. Also, there are a variety of videos and DVDs that teach self-defense as well.