Here’s How to Survive a Mugging

In the self-defense realm, preventing yourself and your loved ones from getting mugged is a recurring theme, and you’ll come across no shortage of self-defense experts who have seemingly unearthed the secrets of foiling a mugging with 100% certainty.

thief stealing a camera from a backpack

It is a nice idea, but far from reality.

It’s a myth that there is a single surefire tactic or move that will get you out of a mugging unscathed every single time.

If you want to avoid, much less survive, a mugging you’ll need to implement comprehensive countermeasures and situational awareness.

You’ll need to be sharp, stay calm, and act fast.

Muggings are a reality of life in big cities and anywhere, really. They can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere.

If you’re unlucky enough to be the victim of a mugging, the experience can be terrifying.

In this article, we will teach you how to avoid being mugged and what to do if you are unfortunate enough to be targeted by a mugger.

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What is Mugging?

A mugging is a type of robbery where the perpetrator demands money or other valuables from the victim with the use of force or intimidation.

Typically occurring in a public place, muggers often target victims who appear to be vulnerable and are not paying attention to their surroundings.

Mugging, as a subset of robbery, has been going on pretty much forever. When people have something that other people want, and those people are willing to use violence in order to get it and avoid working for it, you’ll have to contend with muggings.

Muggers often work in pairs or groups and will use various tactics to try and intimidate or coerce their victim into giving them what they want. Some common tactics used by muggers include:

  • Displaying a weapon
  • Pushing, grabbing, or shoving the victim
  • Demanding that the victim hand over their belongings
  • Telling the victim that they will be hurt if they don’t cooperate
  • In some instances, muggers may immediately attack the victim to terrorize, incapacitate or kill them outright before robbing them

For our purposes, muggings are yet another violent attack perpetrated by criminals upon innocent victims.

The difference between a mugging and a truly murderous, predatory attack is that a mugging is a crime conducted with an expectation of compliance on the part of the victim.

Nominally, if the victim cooperates and hands over the goods, they won’t be harmed, or at least allowed to get away with their lives.

Whether this does or does not happen depends on many factors, factors we will discuss in detail throughout the rest of this article.

Before we get to the nuts and bolts, let’s go over a few ground rule tips for surviving a mugging should you find yourself accosted.

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Mugging Survival Quick Tips

The following summary will help you keep in mind the most important concepts for keep you from becoming a mugging victim and help you survive if you do:

Never let yourself look like a good victim. If you are distracted, moving slowly or uncertainly, or look frightened you’ll start going up the list of probables that a mugger is looking for when choosing a victim.

Exercise great caution in areas where muggers operate. Bad parts of town, prosperous shopping and other commercial areas, parking lots, transitional points, choke points for foot traffic and ATMs are all danger zones.

Stay situationally aware. Don’t let yourself get so distracted or so focused on any task, whatever it is, that this would allow someone to get in your personal space without you noticing their approach.

Keep an eye out for pre-attack tells. Anyone who is giving you a hard stare down, appearing nervous, glancing around for witnesses or keeping their hands hidden for seemingly no reason might well be a mugger preparing to attack.

Don’t take chances with people who invade your space. Someone who approaches you with a question or asking for help or a favor might be entirely innocent, but then again they might not. It could be a cover to misdirect your attention and then attack you.

Have a plan for surviving. If you find yourself being mugged, you must think quickly and clearly and then execute your plan.

You might comply with the mugger, fight them or try to run away from them, but whatever it is it had better work.

Keep all of these foundational elements in mind as you read the rest of this article. Time to get into the real nuts and bolts of surviving a mugging.

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What Do Muggers Look for in a Victim?

The most fundamental element you need to know concerning mugging is that it is a crime done with a purpose and that purpose is monetary gain in one form or another.

Paper currency, electronic funds or valuable loot, it all scores the same for most muggers.

Now, since our muggers are not out working a 9-to-5 like the rest of us they must get their games, ill-gotten as they are, from a victim.

The ideal victim is a person who has the things they want and is not only less capable of putting up meaningful resistance but is also highly unlikely to.

Muggers that are successful often have a highly refined process for choosing a victim. The sizing up of the would-be victim is known as the “interview”.

It is an assessment from a distance and then as the distance closes and the victim is finalized might involve other interactions with the victim to fix them in place and then initiate the assault.

We, very obviously, do not want to be chosen as a victim. If we can act like the opposite of the perfect victim it is highly unlikely that a mugger will choose us to begin with.

Therefore, the first part of understanding how to do that is learning what a good victim looks like.

Muggers will often target victims who they believe are likely to be unarmed and not able to put up a fight.

Muggers Reveal How They Target Their Victims

Victims who appear to be vulnerable or preoccupied are also more likely to be targeted.

The elderly, the infirm and the physically meek are always high yield, easy targets that will allow a mugger to do their despicable work and then get away cleanly without much risk of the victim raising a ruckus, summoning the cavalry or meaningfully fighting back.

Some of the things that muggers look for in a victim include:

  • People who are walking alone
  • People who are distracted by tasks, their phones or other electronic devices
  • People who seem lost, unsure, nervous or frightened
  • People who are wearing expensive jewelry or clothing
  • Elderly people or injured people

There is a reason why so many victims of mugging say the same things when interviewed about the event.

Invariably, they say the guy swept up on them out of nowhere, appeared out of thin air, and generally caught them completely unawares or by surprise.

That tells you everything you need to know about their own personal situational awareness!

It was either highly lacking or absent entirely, and the mugger knew that and is why they selected them as a victim.

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How to Avoid Looking Like the Ideal Mugging Victim

Anything you do that improves the common mugger’s perception of your weakness will improve your chances of being targeted.

Similarly, anything you can do to diminish this notion will lower your chances of being chosen, all things considered.

What can you do to make yourself seem like the least ideal target for a mugging?

For starters, begin with the simplest stuff: Stand up straight, pull your shoulders back, and appear calm, confident and vigilant.

Move at a reasonable speed, not rushing to go through or away from a location but not dragging feet to get there either.

Extend this confidence to your awareness: Take note of the people around you but don’t glare at them or look away too quickly upon making eye-contact.

That might lead to problems on its own. However, when you notice someone definitely looking at you, sizing you up even, gaze into their eyes as an acknowledgment.

Looking down or furtively glancing there and back again only signals fear and uncertainty- a green flag for muggers!

Now, the trick is that you might have reason to be scared or be nervous.

Maybe that is just your basic personality, or maybe you really are in a dangerous place, on the wrong side of town or some other area where your chances of victimization climb precipitously.

In this case, you had better fake it and you had better fake it well.

The first and only lesson when it comes to avoiding victimization by mugging is to avoid looking like a good victim at all costs.

But, just because you feel confident or fake being confident with high fidelity does not mean that you won’t be chosen as a victim.

Maybe the muggers are particularly bold, or maybe you are the only person in an area where they feel they have the home field advantage and will mug you regardless.

Whatever the case, you don’t want to get taken unawares. You’ll need to spot these criminals, and spot them early.

Whether you are targeted or not, if you see them coming you’ll have a far better chance of avoiding the mugging entirely or preparing a worthwhile defense if you can’t avoid them.

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You could be Assaulted with No Mercy!

There will always be times when your attention is elsewhere, no matter what the self-defense cognoscenti tell you.

For example? How about during the things you went out to accomplish as part of your daily errands!

There will always be a span of time where a competent criminal could take advantage of distraction to ambush you.

They might not display any of the indicators listed below, or otherwise give themselves away; they’re just that cold and calculated.

However, the most awful part is that the mugging may begin with you being directly attacked. I’m talking wounded outright – shot, stabbed, beaten, slammed, strangled.

Some muggers could be perfectly happy to maim or kill you and then take your stolen goods from your incapacitated body.

A deadly ambush. The problem is that a plan does not work at all in these instances where you get dropped from the get-go.

It is difficult to conceive of such a thing while you are a normal and decent person, but this is the sort of violence you must be ready for!

In the following part, we’ll show you various ways muggers might indicate their intention so you can have the best chance of spotting them early.

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The Best Defense is Avoidance: How to Spot Muggers

Most people are not totally proficient at hiding their emotions and intentions.

This is especially true during a high-stress or high-stakes endeavor! You had better believe this applies to muggers, too.

What you should know is that, prior to the initiation, there is a specific set of very broad tells exhibited by persons who are ready to commit violence and execute crimes.

The term “pre-attack indicators” is used to refer to these aspects in connection with any sort of man-on-man violence, muggings included.

It will often begin with someone invading your personal space for one of the most prevalent forms of crime, the “simple favor” or “broken bird” robbery.

A person approaches you asking for the time, a light, directions, or some other innocuous request.

Alternately it might appear as if a person needs help very desperately as they rush up to you.

The common factor is that they must close in! After all, they can’t rob you from across the street or the car park!

The lesson you must learn now is that anyone entering your personal space without any explanation is something that must be guarded against at all times.

And it had better be a legitimate reason for their presence!

No matter where you are, no matter the situation, be alert for the following pre-attack indicators.

Note that some people might display any of these, or at least most of them, for completely innocent or explainable reasons.

But also be alert that someone displaying multiple pre-attack indicators is likely in a high stress and anxiety state of mind, and might be ready to launch an attack:

Rubbing or touching of the face, scalp, neck or hands. This is what is known as “grooming” or self-soothing behavior, and is likely to appear in people who are psyching themselves up to commit a crime or do violence.

Looking fidgety, nervous or displaying other furtive behavior. Someone with a guilty conscience or clouded thoughts will often fidget or engage in other small physical tics.

People who look guilty and nervous are often guilty of a crime they are about to commit, if you catch my drift.

Furtive glances or looking around. Anyone who makes eye contact with you repeatedly only to break it just as quickly might be plotting against you.

Anyone who is looking around themselves too much and too intently might be looking for witnesses, escape routes, accomplices etc.

Sweatiness. This can be a tricky one, as some people are just naturally sweatier than others and environmental factors along with physical exertion are always to be considered.

That being said, someone who is sweating abundantly with seemingly no reason for it might be extremely anxious about something that they are about to do.

Large, above the waist motions of the arms. People, particularly men, who gesticulate with large swinging or looping motions of the arms, are sort of a subconscious rehearsal of striking or might be used as a distraction when they are close to someone prior to launching an attack.

Tapping or patting a specific part of the body. If you notice a particular and repeated touch or interaction with a certain part of the body, in a pocket, near a waistline, etc, someone might be concealing a weapon there and are checking to make sure that it is still present or has not shifted.

Hands kept hidden. A major pre attack indicator if there is no cover or other reason why someone might have their hands concealed.

A hand conspicuously held behind the waist, inside a pocket, beneath a shirt at the waistline or oddly kept inside a bag or other piece of luggage is a telltale sign that they are concealing a weapon and are ready for immediate use.

Shaking. If anyone is displaying a tremor or outright trembling they’re in a greatly agitated emotional state of mind. This is particularly common with nervous or first-time criminals.

Keep all these pre attack indicators in mind whenever you are out in public, and particularly when you are in a place or engaged in an activity where the chances of being mugged are heightened.

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Surviving a Mugging in Progress

So it happens. Despite your best efforts, you’ve got a hateful-looking pair of ruffians in your face threatening you.

One has a fist shoved menacingly into his pocket, suggesting a weapon. Okay, time to go. What do you do first?

The first thing to bear in mind is that mugging, at this point, is still an encounter where any of your actions may influence the consequences on the part of the muggers. Also, your omission of action may have repercussions of its own.

You have but three options: You can comply, fight or run.

1. Compliance will get you out of the situation unharmed much of the time, but it may not be the best route to take if your life is threatened.

Ultimately you will be relying upon the mugger’s desire for an easy score with no complications. Make no mistake, these people cannot be trusted.

However, compliance is still a valid strategy, one that is often discarded or scoffed at by bellicose and honor bound defenders.

That being said, it still represents the best option, much of the time, whenever you are caught completely flat-footed and the muggers have their weapons pointed at you or have hands on you already.

If you think you’ll be able to get your own weapons in gear without consequence, let me assure you that you are just not that fast, most likely.

Now, something else to consider is that you might not genuinely comply but only fake your compliance until the mugger is distracted or you have some other opportunity to employ another defense, be it fight or flight.

This is where your own bit of misdirection might come into play.

You might drop your valuables in order to buy space and time to run away or you might slowly reach for your wallet and return with a gun or other weapon.

2. Fighting is the typical response of red-blooded types who won’t put up with such treatment.

It is a valid response and might be the best one ethically but offers the potential for injury or death. It also offers the possibility of keeping your possessions.

Although it is easy for spectators to say you should never risk your life for possessions, this is ultimately up for the individual to decide.

However, if you decide to fight the mugger the only way they will discontinue the attack is if you disable them or they decide to give up and run.

Something that’s not always a given in these types of situations.

Keep in mind that you are likely to be facing more than one attacker, attackers that will likely be armed, and are also likely to be far better acquainted with violence than you are.

Ask yourself, sincerely, if you are good enough, fast enough and strong enough to incapacitate or kill them in time to save your own life before you are gravely wounded or killed in turn?

You must also be cautious of the notion that they could have weapons ready for near immediate use, but you just might not see him.

Many skilled teams of muggers are likewise using their own overwatch or cover elements who aren’t at near distance with the victim.

One of the worst possible things you can do is fight back and fail to win.

The punitive measures that your attackers will employ in such a case will be quite severe, and may end with your death.

That being said, you must know what your red line moment is. This is something that you simply will not tolerate under any conditions.

It might be a kidnapping, a sexual assault or something of that nature.

The most important thing you can know considering fighting back to protect yourself is that when the time comes to fight, you must fight like the devil himself.

Ultraviolet, maximum speed and not stopping until your attacker is utterly incapacitated or you are.

This is the time to utilize your own weapons if you can get them into gear without a risk of the attacker stuffing your attack or taking your weapon away.

If you are able to get your weapon into the fight quickly enough you have a good chance of shutting down the attack entirely, whether or not you have to use it.

3. Running is, not so obviously, fraught with danger and should only be undertaken if you are certain of success.

You’ll have to weigh the odds and figure out what’s best for you. If escape seems impossible or very risky, compliance may be your best bet.

I get it, you might be incredulous. So many people recommend that you just run away from trouble as soon as it appears that it seems completely contrarian to recommend anything else.

I’ll explain, but first I want to clarify that if you are able to successfully run away, properly escape from danger, then you should because that will be the best outcome all the way around.

However, the assumption that you can just run away, whenever you want to is not grounded in reality.

If you have been paying attention during this article you probably have noticed that you are highly likely to begin in the situation caught or cornered by the muggers.

To clarify, they might literally have a grip on you from the beginning. You could be surrounded by multiple attackers.

You’re almost certainly going to be facing younger men in their prime.

The obvious question is, then, can you actually outrun them? There is no guarantee that you will not be chased and caught.

What if you are someone who is dealing with an injury, is just badly out of shape or is physically infirm?

These people aren’t going to let you just run away at a snail’s pace and say, aw shucks.

You might be able to run away if you notice the muggers closing in before they get too close, or you might be able to run away after distracting them or otherwise buying an opportunity, perhaps by retaliating.

In short, once the mugging is underway you must have a window in which to run in order to extricate yourself from the event fully.

Trying to break and run otherwise is likely to end with you being injured or killed.

The following techniques assume that running away is not an option.

How to Distract Your Muggers and Get Away Safely

One way to buy yourself some time is to act like you’re going along with the mugger’s demands.

Do what they tell you to do, but as soon as they let their guard down or look away, make a run for it as fast as you can!

A great option if you are in an area prone to muggings or believe your profile to be raised accordingly is to carry a decoy wallet.

A decoy wallet is a simple, expendable wallet that you fill up with a few small bills, old or expired gift cards, fake credit cards, a worthless or a fake ID and other accrue treatment to make it look like the genuine article.

When a mugger demands your valuables, if you have the presence of mind to reach for your decoy wallet you can hand it over, only to let it drop, or toss it down off to one side.

Ideally, the mugger will be enticed by the valuables, eyes on the prize after all, and as soon as they turn away to retrieve it you either counter-attack or run away as appropriate.

Another technique is to feign illness or injury. This one takes a bit of acting chops, but if done well can buy you enough time to make your escape.

Cry, moan and hold your stomach – anything to convince the muggers that you’re not a threat.

Sob, gape, bawl like a baby, but whatever the case you must keep your wits about you and wait for the distraction to afford you an opening.

Once you have the opening, counter attack or run away as described above.

It might sound strange, but this technique has been used with success before by would-be victims.

But now, as always, remember that time spent thinking clearly is never wasted, but under the circumstances you’ll have to think quickly as well as clearly if you want to survive.

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Survive Mugging!

Mugging is a vicious, sudden violent crime, one that can occur anywhere at seemingly any time.

Avoiding and surviving a mugging is a matter of lowering your victim status profile, remaining sharply aware of pre attack indicators and maintaining excellent situational awareness anytime you’re in a place where the risk of mugging is heightened.

Use the information in this guide to your advantage so you won’t become a victim!

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