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Posted by on December 11, 2018


With our Krav Maga school located in Toronto (the largest city in Canada), we often talk with people about safety in busy public areas.  Many of them travel via public transit(subway, bus), visit malls and stores, and enjoy outdoor venues (e.g. Dundas Square).  For some big city residents and visitors there is a feeling of safety in crowds.  There are, however, a significant number of assaults in busy public spaces.  Here are some examples in Toronto over the past year. 

  • April 2018, a man is charged with three separate counts of sexually assaulting women on the Toronto subway
  • May 2018, a stabbing in the pedestrian tunnel at Spadina station around 4pm
  • August 2018, a man is fatally shot near Yonge-Dundas Square.

These incidents all occurred in busy public places at busy times.  How can we better protect ourselves in these circumstances?  Here are some practical tips. 

Be Aware of Body Language. Is someone displaying signs of aggression (e.g. making a fist, gritting his teeth)?  Do you notice an individual or small group clearly avoiding eye contact with authorities?  There is a growing number of studies devoted to understanding non-verbal communication.  Feel free to contact us for recommended readings.    

Where are Their Hands? In the case of weapon assaults, assailants often conceal a weapon in a pocket (or elsewhere) for easy access. They might reach for it just before the assault or simply keep their hand (s) in their pocket.  Be aware of where people place their hands.  

Listen.  Voices can warn us of aggression or other danger signals. A raised voice, for example, can indicate aggression.  Loud, aggressive footsteps, or something being thrown or moved quickly (a thrown glass, or a tipped chair) might indicate escalating violence. 

Gauge the Reactions of Others.  You see people backing away from an irate person or changing their seat on a subway.  In loud and crowded places, you might see such movements before you see the direct cause. 

Minimize Your Distractions. We tend to fixate on our screens, scanning texts and emails, watching videos or playing Candy Crush.  We hinder our senses that help us detect and identify danger.  (P.S. We hope you are not reading this while you are walking on a busy street.  We would be flattered but prefer you to be safe!)

Travel Light (as much as possible).  Weighing yourself down in crowded areas withvarious, backpacks, gym bags, shopping bags seriously hinders your mobility.  If possible, travel light.   

Disengage if Possible. Crowds can be irritating.  There I said it!  People push you on the subway, walk as if they are strolling on an empty sidewalk….  People can be stressed and easy to anger.  In the event you are the target of their aggression, disengage and move on. Engaging in an argument can escalate to physical violence. 

Identify Exits and How to Get to Them.  Avoidance and escape are the preferred options so develop the habit of knowing where your exit points are.  Even better, consider them in order of easiest to access to the most difficult. Always better to have backup plans!

 These are some general guidelines.   In future blogs we will take a closer look at how body language can warn us of potential violence.   As always, feel free to contact us with comments or suggestions for further topics. 

Stay safe 

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