In the news story which features the video of the woman being attacked in Brooklyn, a person identified as the self-defense expert at the end of the story continues to promulgate the theory that yelling ‘fire’ is more effective than yelling ‘help’.
This theory holds that you are more likely to attract people’s attention by yelling ‘fire’ with the corollary being people are also more likely to respond since a fire effects them as well vs. yelling ‘help’ which dissuades people from intervening because they don’t want to get involved. I’ve always been skeptical of this idea. It sounds good from an intellectual angle and enough experts have said it that is sounds reasonable so you think: That’s what I’ll do, I’ll yell ‘fire’ if I’m ever attacked.
But, the problem is that under stress you resort to emotional responses, not intellectual responses. You can tell yourself all day long that you’ll yell ‘fire’, but when you are attacked that all goes out the window. Notice in this story the woman yells, “Help me! Please someone help me!” and “Get off of me!” We’ve found that in full-contact role playing for women’s self-defense, this is typical for defenders. Many even respond from a more fear-based level with exclamations like “Get the f*ck away from me!”
I maintain that you will naturally vocalize what is happening to you at the time. It’s a bit like telling yourself that you’re going to yell ‘peanut butter!’ the next time you have a near collision in traffic. The two don’t fit.
Plus in this particular attack, the witnesses in the area said her screams were the very thing that alerted them to trouble. One guy even goes as far as saying that she saved herself with her screams. If there are people within earshot, it’s not a problem attracting attention and alerting people to your problem by yelling for ‘help’ vs. ‘fire’. It might be another story whether or not they choose to help. Let’s say people initially respond because they heard your calls for ‘fire’. But then find out that there really is no fire, instead you’re being raped on the sidewalk. What makes you think they will decide to get involved if they would not have responded to your calls for help?
Face it, people are either going to help you or not. Help may be in the form of a call to the police instead of direct intervention. I’d like to think people will help. Maybe I’m an optimist.
But the point is to attract attention so you have the opportunity to be helped and to make your attacker believe that someone might be on their way to help you.