April 2002

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Dear [[Name]],

Welcome to the April issue of the Back Off newsletter. Many of you are midway through your school holidays and, no-doubt, enjoying the time away from the old school routine. Having been flat out since mid January myself I'm only presenting three of four lectures over this period, so it's good to have a bit of down-time if for no other reason than to catch up with all the 'stuff' that accumulates in the office.

Over the past three months we put together a series of three articles looking into the area of sexual harassment and the feedback we have received from that format has been really positive. With this in mind I am presenting the first in a series of articles on the topic of group and gang confrontations. I will follow this article up over the next couple of months in an attempt to fully cover all aspects of this type of confrontation. I trust that you will enjoy the information we have put together for you this month and, as always, I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Take care, your friend

PS- Remember to visit our 'archive page' to browse through our previous Back Off issues.

'If you worry about yesterdays failures, then todays successes will be few.'

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The group or gang confrontation has specific dynamics that are not an issue when faced with the individual offender, therefore this situation needs to be addressed independently. The prospect of being confronted by one offender is daunting enough without having to consider the likelihood of there being two, three, four or more to deal with. However, as with the weapon confrontation, dealing effectively with the group or gang is well within the capabilities of most people if they understand basic gang psychology and are aware of the key factors required to de-escalate the situation and maintain control.

At a recent seminar in Sydney I was asked a question that I have been asked many times before. The following exchange highlights one of the biggest hurdles you have to overcome when addressing this type of confrontation: A young lady, who had been very positive in all other aspects of the course asked, "What's the point of fighting back in a situation when you are confronted by more than one offender?" I suggested that the point in fighting back was to consider what would happen to you if you didn't fight back. Having thought about this she said, "But I could never fight off four or five guys in a conflict situation", to which I replied, "Have you ever had to. Have you ever actually been in a situation where you were confronted by a group of guys and you had to fight back to save yourself?"

At this point the young lady shrugged her shoulders, shook her head and said, "No, of course not." Treading cautiously at this stage, not wanting to appear argumentative but also wanting to identify the real issue at stake, I asked, "If you've never actually been in this type of situation how do you know you don't have the ability to get out of it?" She responded the same way every person has whenever I have had this discussion. She said, "I just don't believe I could do it. I don't believe I could get out of this type of situation." I think this is the most common barrier people put up when considering themselves in a gang confrontation, they simply don't believe they have the ability to deal with it. The issue is not so much the group or gang, but rather the belief that you are going to fail no matter what. As discussed in chapter one, this type of mindset causes fear, which leads to panic and usually results in total submission.

I am not suggesting that the gang confrontation is an easy situation to deal with, no confrontation is, but to have any chance of success you must approach it with an open and positive mindset. If you focus solely on the gang plus the fact that you are out-powered and out-numbered, naturally you start to become a little negative. If however, as with all the strategies I teach, we focus on their weakness and your strength the situation becomes less daunting. In case you were wondering, the young lady I mentioned earlier went on to have total belief in her ability to deal with a gang confrontation after we had discussed the situation and examined effective strategies to deal with it.

The only thing that had changed was her attitude. Being confronted by a group of offenders is a frightening prospect, and no one strategy will guarantee success, but by breaking the conflict down into stages and identifying your options you stand a far better chance of success. Let's now look at the most common stages of group confrontations and which strategies are most likely to succeed. THE AVOIDABLE CONFRONTATION As with all things, the best place to start is at the beginning so let's begin by looking into the group confrontation where you have the option to avoid it, and build up from there. Although most would agree if you had the option of avoiding a potential gang confrontation you would.

In reality many avoidable situations are in fact escalated by those who take the wrong options. Picture yourself walking home alone. It's about 9.30pm as you walk along a relatively busy road and make a left-hand turn into a quieter side street. As you enter the side street you immediately become aware of a group of five or six young guys in their late teens congregating on the footpath approximately 30-40 metres ahead of you. You stop briefly to assess the situation at which time the group becomes aware of your presence. Their talking dies down as they look around and casually observe what you're going to do next. So here we have it, a potential group confrontation about to happen. What do you do? What are your options? Which option is best and which will make the situation worse? Is anything really likely to happen, or are you just over reacting? What are these guys thinking and how will they react to what you do next?

All these questions, and possibly many more, will be racing through your mind if you ever find yourself in this type of predicament. The trick is to already know the answers before being in the situation. As with all forms of conflict, the amount of knowledge you take into a situation is what determines your ability to get out of it. One thing to be mindful of is the common fear of over-reacting. Often when situations of this type are discussed I am asked, "But what if the group wasn't really going to do anything. What if you're just being paranoid?" The short answer to this question is that you will never be 100% certain exactly what the group may or may not do, but I would much rather be guilty of advising people to over-react rather than doing nothing and enduring the consequences. Remember to stay in touch with your instincts. If the little voice is telling you something is wrong- then there probably is.

Having accepted that a confrontation is about to happen you must now evaluate your options and decide which one to take. In my opinion this type of situation provides you with three options:

1. Stop, turn, and walk away from the group in the opposite direction.
2. Cross the street and continue walking in the same direction.
3. Stand tall, shoulders back, look confident and walk briskly towards the group.

Let's start with the least favourable and progress from there. Option (3), walking towards the group, is without doubt the worst option of the three, but surprisingly the one most likely to be selected. The most common reason given for selecting this option seems to be that if you turn and walk away the members of the group will come racing after you, therefore you are better off walking towards them and calling their bluff. There is certainly a time and a place for 'calling the bluff' of an offender as we have already discussed in previous chapters, however, when faced with the prospect of a gang confrontation this is not the option I would suggest.

My argument would be- if a group of people were likely to run after you having turned and walked away, what is this same group likely to do if you actually continue walking towards them and save them the effort of chasing you? I think the answer is fairly obvious. Secondly, by walking towards the group not only do you take yourself physically closer, but also, in their minds, you are now creating a confrontation, not them. The decision of 'whether to confront or not' is now with the group, not you. They are now faced with the option of stopping you, or letting you pass, therefore you are now challenging their authority and have lost a degree of control in the situation. Finally, any option that increases the likelihood of a confrontation should always be avoided. Your focus at this point is to de-escalate the situation as much as possible. If avoidance is an option- always take it.

The next option I would strike off the list is option (2), crossing the road and walking down the other side. Although this is a better option than walking towards the group I don't see it as being as safe or effective as turning and walking away. It's a little like having a dollar each way, it may not be the worst thing to do, but it certainly isn't the best. Without wanting to sound paranoid, if the situation is such that crossing the road is necessary then surely turning around and walking away from the group is a safer, more appropriate choice.

Obviously, in my opinion, option (1), stop, turn, and walk away, is the best and safest option to take. In all the years I have been working in this area I have never heard of anybody being chased having taken this option when 30-40 metres away from the group. Groups such as these are not interested in blindly chasing after every person that happens to enter the street they are occupying. Ironically, this type of situation is in fact far more likely to escalate if you walk towards the group rather than away from them. Remember, if you turn and walk away and the group does actually start to come after you wouldn't you rather discover that when you have 30-40 metres on them as opposed to when your standing amongst them?

The key here is to be mindful of how the group is likely to react, and seeing the situation from their perspective. Never underestimate how quickly a seemingly innocent situation such as walking towards a group of young guys can escalate and turn into an ugly confrontation. If it's avoidable- avoid it. In next months issue of Back Off we will look at dealing with the 'unavoidable situation' and what strategies are most effective.
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Q. Recently in the media we seem to be bombarded with news about gang rape and gang related crimes, specifically against young women. Is this type of crime really as common as the media would have us believe or is all this a bit of an over-reaction?

A. As serious and frightening as this type of crime is, gang rape is not (statistically) a very common form of sexual crime. With out doubt the most common form of sexual crime against young women is date rape. Although there is a small percentage of date rapes that involve more than one offender, gang rape is one of the least common forms of sexual crime. The media do tend to sensationalise this type of crime whenever it occurs and of course the effect of this is that it creates the mistaken perception that this is happening around every street corner, which is of course not the case.

Q. If more than one offender is involved in a rape does the sentence increase?

A. Yes. A rape involving more than one offender is classified as an 'Aggravated Sexual Assault' and carries a maximum imprisonment term far greater that the same offence committed by a single offender.

E-mail Brent at:

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Think If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don't;
If you'd like to win but you think you can't,
You can almost be certain you won't.
If you think that you'll lose, you are lost,
For out in the world you will find Success begins with a person's will;
It's all in the state of the mind.
If you think you're outclassed you are;
You've got to think high to rise.
You've just got to be sure of yourself
Before you can win the prize.
Life's battles don't always go To a stronger or faster one;
But sooner or later the person who wins
Is the person that THINKS they can.
- Anon-
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In line with our article this month on dealing with group and gang confrontations, Dan has a couple of wise words that you may wish to bear in mind:

'Be cautious of groups of guys in social environments as these two ingredients can sometimes lead to things getting a little out of hand. Be weary of leaving a girlfriend alone with a group of guys especially where alcohol is involved.'

'It's not that all groups of guys are a problem, but rather that problems seem to be more likely to occur where groups of guys are involved.'

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Dear Brent,

Last year you gave a seminar at my school, and I wanted to share with you an encounter I have had since then. Late one day after catching a train home from the beach, I found myself alone outside the station as my mum was late to pick me up. I wasn't particularly worried at the time because it wasn't that late in the day.

After about 15mins, I noticed a man, who appeared to be drunk sideling up a walkway near me. At first it appeared he was to involved with what he was doing to notice me, and then he started to yell things out at me like, "What you doing slut?" I moved down the street a little and ignored him. But i couldn't seem to divert his attention, he started to approach me, so I crossed to the other side of the road outside of a pub, and a car pulled up, a man asking me if i was ok, I stupidly said I was and he drove off. No sooner had the motorist drove off that I realised that the man was not really drunk as he sprinted across the road straight towards me. i found myself suddenly afraid to move, and then I remembered what you had said about running anywhere to get yourself out of danger, and drawing alot of attention to yourself.

I started yelling and ran for the pub door running inside to a room full of men playing pokies, I had only just outrun him and his was waiting a few metres from the doors outside. Eventually passing motorists must of scared him off and my mum finally arrived. Although I wouldn't ever want to be in a situation like that again, and I want to thank you for helping me to think clearly about my options in such a situation.


Dear Brent,

Hi, I am a student at a school where you held a seminar at the end of last year. I found what you told us very helpful and would like to thank you for your 'words of wisdom'. During the holidays an incident occurred, not unlike some of the ones you spoke about with us. Two of my friends (girls) and I were walking to a party in Wahroonga (Burns Rd) it was about 9:30pm, we were walking in single file b/c the pathway wasn't very wide, I was at the back about 2m behind Liz. I wasn't really concentrating, I didn't see the man (a really big build in his late 30's) coming towards us, he passed both of my friends then ran up to me, ripped down my top, started gabbing me then lifted me up.

Both my friends started screaming and I tried to get free of his grip. He dropped me, turned and realised the racket my friends were making and ran. I have never been more terrified in my life. When you spoke to us and explained examples, I never imagined I would ever be in the situation.

But I was and when it did happen the first thought that rushed through my head was DON'T SUBMIT and I think my friends remembered your tactics because I have never heard anyone scream so loud in my life.

So thank you very much for reinforcing that to us. But my main point of actually writing to you is because I want to find out if it is possible to go to the police and tell them to look out for this man, but without having to be interviewed and go through everything with them. I just want to let them know that if someone else reports it in the same area I have also seen him and can help identify him.

Thanks heaps,

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'There are two types of people; the can do and the can't. Which are you?' - George R. Cabera

'Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.' - Anon

'It is truly easier to say 'No' than to live with the consequences of saying 'yes'.' - Frank Wampler

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