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BY VICTORIA MORTON -- SCRIPPS HOWARD FOUNDATION WIRE, WASHINGTON, D.C.

"THE BEST DEFENSE TO AN ATTACK IS TO AVOID BEING ATTACKED IN THE FIRST PLACE," SAYS CERTIFIED PROTECTION PROFESSIONAL CRAIG LAWRENCE.

BUT HOW DO YOU AVOID AN ATTACK? WHAT TYPES OF PEOPLE DO CRIMINALS PREY ON? ARE YOU ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE?

EXPERTS SAY THAT AWARENESS AND PREVENTION ARE THE BEST KEYS TO SELF-PROTECTION. CRIMINALS LOOK FOR A VULNERABLE OR EASY TARGET, SAYS LAWRENCE, WHO IS ALSO A PRIVATE DETECTIVE AT A RISK MANAGEMENT FIRM BASED IN ILLINOIS. "THEY LOOK FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE PREOCCUPIED, BUSY DOING OTHER THINGS, AND ARE UNAWARE OF WHAT IS GOING ON AROUND THEM."

"MOST CRIMES ARE CRIMES OF OPPORTUNITY," SAYS NEAL RAWLS, AUTHOR AND SECURITY CONSULTANT FROM WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. "CRIMINALS LOOK FOR TARGETS WHO ARE UNWITTINGLY PROVIDING THEM WITH OPENINGS, OR OPPORTUNITIES TO COMMIT THEIR CRIMES," HE ADDS.

ACCORDING TO RAWLS, LEAVING YOUR HOME'S DOORS AND WINDOWS UNLOCKED, NOT LOCKING YOUR CAR, WALKING ALONE AT NIGHT IN ISOLATED PLACES, PARKING YOUR CAR IN DARK AREAS AND WALKING DOWN THE STREET WITH YOUR HEAD DOWN ARE ALL THINGS THAT PROVIDE CRIMINALS WITH THE OPPORTUNITY THEY SEEK.

DAVID LAKHANI, FORMER LAW ENFORCEMENT TRAINER AND OFFICER, HAS SURVIVED MORE THAN 100 ATTACKS AND VIOLENT ENCOUNTERS AS AN UNDERCOVER POLICE OFFICER. LAKHANI BELIEVES THAT TRUE DEFENSE STARTS LONG BEFORE YOU LEARN HOW TO KICK, PUNCH, OR GRAPPLE WITH AN ATTACKER.

IN FACT, MOST OF LAKHANI'S BOOK, "A FIGHTING CHANCE- PERSONAL DEFENSE STRATEGIES FOR WOMEN," DEALS WITH ATTACKER DRIVES AND MINDSET. "THE BETTER YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR IN A TARGET, THE BETTER YOU CAN DEFEND YOURSELF BY PREPARING YOURSELF TO NOT LOOK OR ACT LIKE A VICTIM AND TO BETTER RECOGNIZE ATTACKERS FOR WHAT THEY ARE," LAKHANI SAYS.

CRIMINALS UNDERSTAND HOW TO SIZE UP A VICTIM BY THEIR APPEARANCE, APPROACH, DEMEANOR AND ATTITUDE AND BASED ON THAT ALONE, BEGIN A VERY SYSTEMATIC PROCESS OF TESTING THAT ALLOWS THEM TO KNOW IF IN FACT THIS PERSON IS A GOOD CANDIDATE FOR ATTACK.

FIRST THE ATTACKER MAKES A DECISION TO COMMIT AN ACT; THEY SEE THE VICTIM AND GET A GUT FEELING IF THE PERSON WOULD BE A GOOD CHOICE. NEXT THE CRIMINAL PHYSICALLY TESTS THE PERSON OR THEIR HOME ENVIRONMENT. THEY LOOK TO SEE IF THE HOME HAS AN ALARM, MAYBE A DOG, AND SECURITY LIGHTING. THEN THE ATTACKER INTERNALLY DETERMINES IF THERE IS A REASONABLE CHANCE FOR SUCCESS, AND BASED ON THIS, HE ATTACKS OR RETREATS.

SO HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF FROM ATTACKER? EXPERTS SAY THAT IF YOU TAKE SOME SIMPLE STEPS TO MAKE THINGS DIFFICULT FOR CRIMINALS, YOU MAKE THEM WORK HARDER.

CRIMINALS ARE LAZY AND DON'T WANT TO WORK VERY HARD, EVEN IN THEIR CHOSEN FIELD OF CRIME, SAYS RAWLS. "IF YOU PUT OBSTACLES IN THEIR WAY, THEY'LL LEAVE YOU ALONE AND GO OFF TO FIND SOMEONE WHO ISN'T AS PREPARED AS YOU ARE."

LOCKING YOUR HOME AND CAR IS AN OBSTACLE, SO THEY'LL FIND A HOUSE OR VEHICLE THAT'S UNLOCKED - IT'S EASIER. WALKING WITH YOUR HEAD UP HIGH AND A LOOK OF CONFIDENCE, LOOKING OTHERS IN THE EYE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT YOU SEE THEM - THIS MEANS YOU'RE ALERT AND UNAFRAID, WHICH TO A CROOK MEANS YOU'LL PROBABLY PUT UP A HECK OF A FIGHT IF HE TRIES ANYTHING. REMEMBER, HE WANTS SOMEONE WHO'S WEAK SO HE DOESN'T HAVE TO WORK SO HARD, SAYS RAWLS.

DO A SECURITY AUDIT OF YOU HOME, SAYS LAKHANI. BE SURE YOU HAVE SECURITY LIGHTING (MOTION SENSITIVE) AROUND YOUR HOME, DEADBOLTS IN ALL OF YOUR DOORS, DOWELS IN SLIDING DOORS.

IF YOU LIVE IN A HIGH CRIME AREA, CONSIDER AN ALARM SYSTEM OR A LARGE DOG THAT WILL BARK IF PEOPLE COME NEAR. ALARM SYSTEMS ARE GREAT IF THEY ARE MONITORED BECAUSE SOMEONE ACTUALLY COMES TO YOUR HOUSE IN MOST CASES. HAVE ANY MEDICAL SUPPLIES YOU NEED ON A REGULAR BASIS HANDY. KEEP A FIRST AID KIT IN THE CAR AND HOUSE.

WALK AND TALK WITH AUTHORITY AND CONVICTION. DO NOT ENGAGE IN ANGRY EXCHANGES WITH PEOPLE WHO ATTEMPT TO PROVOKE YOU. THERE IS NOTHING LOST IN WALKING AWAY. BRUISED EGOS HEAL, SOMETIMES ATTACKS DO NOT. BE ASSERTIVE IN YOUR INTERACTION WITH STRANGERS.WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF ATTACKED?

"RUN," SAYS LAWRENCE, "IT TAKES TWO TO FIGHT. IT IS HARD TO FIGHT SOMEONE WHEN THEY ARE RUNNING AWAY. GET YOURSELF INTO A WELL-LIT, POPULATED AREA. IF YOU HAVE NO OTHER OPTION BUT TO FIGHT, GO FOR THE EYES. IF YOU SHUT DOWN THE ATTACKER'S VISION, YOU WILL AT BEST CEASE THE ATTACK, AND AT WORST GIVE YOURSELF A MOMENTARY OPPORTUNITY TO ESCAPE."
YOU DON'T HAVE TO GO THROUGH LIFE REMEMBERING NOT TO ACT LIKE A VICTIM, BUT TAKING STEPS TO AVOID BEING A VICTIM IS SMART AND COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE.

LAWRENCE SAYS, "BEING OBSERVANT, PAYING ATTENTION TO WHAT IS GOING ON AROUND YOU, AND LEARNING TO RECOGNIZE THE DANGER SIGNS WHEN THEY APPEAR CAN GO A LONG WAY TO KEEP YOU AND YOUR FAMILY FROM BECOMING VICTIMS."