Over and over throughout
the book, de Becker stresses that, by paying attention to verbal and behavioral clues an individual gives off, you can predict
whether or not a person or situation will turn violent. He uses examples from his own personal life, from the studies his
protective services company has conducted, and from nationwide studies. Time and again, he demonstrated that the guy who "kept
to himself, no one could predict" was clearly a simmering time bomb waiting to go off, usually with weeks of predictors for
violent behavior preceding whatever horrific tragedy this quiet loner enacted.
He also provides a list
of predictors, kind of the basic tools for survival, like a history of violence in childhood (as the victim), violent incidents
leading up to the crime, verbal or written threats and statements of intention ("I'm going to kill you"-- not uncommon as
a threat), and a fascination with weapons. De Becker points out that no crime happens without someone thinking to themselves
that they want to do it, and that they can do it. The thought is there. Then the words
come-- the threat of violence is a sure predictor, and the one we are most likely to ignore. Finding a means in the weapon,
or simply taking advantage of the weapon of opportunity. Finally, there are usually violent incidents leading up to the big
crime-- practice, in a way-- the murderer is testing his own limits.
This isn't just for serial
killers-- de Becker points out that these predictors are common in spousal abuse cases (where ignoring the threat or even
actual violence is often a sure road to death), child abuse, school and workplace shootings, fatal robberies, rapes, and public
In addition to predicting
a violent incident by observing the perpetrator before it happens, de Becker gives the all-important cues to listen for when
you are actually in the situation, including:
A nagging or suspicious feeling--
most of the time, women in particular will have an intuitive sense that something is wrong. Listen
to this instinct!!! It will save your life.
Anxiety, particularly unexplained
anxiety. The woman who sits on a bus next to a killer who strikes up a conversation, and who is suddenly anxious that the
bus is going to crash is being alerted by her body to get away from the killer.
Humor, particularly dark humor, is
an interesting one, because we often use humor to defuse a volatile situation, but people also often laugh at inappropriate
moments because our laugh reflex kicks in when we don't know what else to do.
De Becker has an entire
list of these, but they boil down to the same message. When your mind and body genuinely
tell you to fear, you should listen to them.
Identifying Bad Boyfriends
If I could recommend one
part of this book to anyone, it would be Chapter 10: Intimate Enemies, and I would recommend it to any woman who has ever
feared her boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. It's all about domestic violence. The 9 chapters leading up to it would be good
reading, too, because in every chapter, de Becker mentions the thousands of women who die every day because they ignored the
fact that their partners were killing them.
"Intimate Enemies" delves
into the predictors for violent partners, but you can learn those in the previous chapters. A wife or girlfriend has the best
vantage for seeing predictive behaviors-- she sees the rages, hears the words "I'm going to kill you" and knows the state
of constant fear. She is in a permanent state of fight-or-flight, and usually overrides both instincts for emotional reasons
of her own.
This chapter has not only
led to thousands of women saving their own lives and the lives of their children, it's also led to men getting help. Because
domestic violence isn't pathological in the sense of being unstoppable. An abuser can get help, can get into therapy and save
the lives of his family (whether he kills them or not, violence at home destroys their lives).
Chapters 8 and 11 would
be my second recommendation, and it goes out to all the girls who have ever found themselves picking up the phone to say "I
told you not to call me!" This persistent stalking behavior is one of the predictors of violence,
and how you interact with it can shape how the bad boyfriend (or even bad date) will behave towards you. Ignoring him is the
best option-- it's when we continually engage, even to say "go away," that the stalker gets mixed messages and persists in
Violence in Children
There's a whole chapter
dedicated to children, protecting them from violence as well as dealing with violent kids. For me, as a non-parent, the chapter
was an academic exercise. For a parent, though, I imagine it would be a powerful and perhaps chilling lesson to read.
Understanding the Media
The rest of the book is
useful for learning how the media amplifies and encourages violence. The amount of celebrity a killer can get from killing
a blonde 10 year old girl is, frankly, obscene. Heck, the amount of celebrity a person can get just for confessing to killing
a blonde 10 year old, even if he didn't do it, is also obscene.
The media circus surrounding
celebrities, public figures, and the people who assault them is part of why these crimes continue to happen and why they are
so prevalent. It's also why child kidnappings come in groups. Partly, the media picks up on additional stories when one is
on the radar. But again, thought and possibility have to occur to the perpetrator before the action occurs. When a would-be
child killer sees on the news that a little blonde girl's disappearance is all the media can talk about, the idea enters his
head-- I could do that.
I was already a pretty
jaded viewer of these sensationalist stories. I detest them-- I would rather see the nightly news turn off ten minutes early
or even show ten minutes more of commercials (and you know I hate commercials!) than have them run more stories about cute
kids getting kidnapped.
From my own non-clinical
observations, the Amber Alert system does not do an adequate job of protecting children, because it turns kidnappers into
instant celebrities, and encourages more violence through vigilanteism. And I'm not afraid to point out racial bias-- we all
know that little black children go missing, too, but if you live in the inner city, I guess your disappearance doesn't warrant
a statewide manhunt.