MUGGING - CAN YOU AVOID BECOMING A VICTIM?
Inside Out enlists the help of Professor Beattie, to discover if body language can prevent you falling prey to muggers and discovers how Greater Manchester Police are waging war on street robbers.
In March 2002 street crime and so-called 'snatch-thefts' in Manchester reached alarming levels.
Whilst Greater Manchester Police launched a campaign to tackle the problem, victims of street crime were facing personal battles of their own.
Audrey O'Mara was mugged in a busy street seven years ago.
"I suddenly felt someone jump on my back and pull me over backwards
my bag was across my neck," explains Audrey.
"I was screaming 'help me, please help me', but nobody did, everybody just watched."
Audrey dislocated her knee and was left with cuts and bruises. But seven years on, it is the mental scars that have refused to heal.
Audrey became agoraphobic and couldn't leave her house for two years.
|"I was screaming 'help me, please help me,' but nobody did, everybody just watched."|
|Audrey O'Mara, a victim of street crime|
"I lost my faith in human nature for a long time after that," she says.
"I didn't feel safe in crowds."
Unable to leave her home, Audrey had to give up work and gained six stone in weight.
With the help of Victim Support and her friends and family, Audrey is now confident enough to leave the house with others, but is still unable to go out on her own.
Actions speak louder than words
Although anyone can become a target for muggers, some are more likely to become victims than others.
A study at Manchester University revealed that men between the ages of 19 and 25 are at a greater risk, as are students and businessmen who have had an after work drink.
Being singled out as a victim is also determined by the manner in which you behave in public.
Professor Geoff Beattie, a leading expert in body language at Manchester University, insists that street robbers are adept at analysing body language to identify potential weakness.
"They're looking for people who, in their words, 'look clueless', who will go along with their demands," he explains.
Professor Beattie analyses footage of Audrey in a public situation.
He quickly identifies the uneasy way Audrey is gripping her bag, and her high blink rate which also indicates anxiety.
|Professor Beattie interpreted the body language of housemates in Channel 4's Big Brother|
Altering her body language to send out a more powerful message, will not only give Audrey increased confidence, but may also prevent her becoming a victim again.
But altering subconscious actions is easier said than done.
"We say body language, but it's not like a verbal language, because verbal language is conscious, we know what the message is we want to send," Professor Beattie explains.
"With body language we are doing it unconsciously."
Professor Beattie makes suggestions to alter Audrey's body language so she visually communicates a more powerful image.
"The first thing you're going to do is not hold your bag quite so tightly.
"Step two is to set off at a slightly slower pace, because I think you are sending out this message that you are very nervous, very vulnerable.
"By all means have a look behind you before you start, but once you start try a few paces without looking at all behind you.
"Try relaxing your facial muscles. I want you to send out a slightly different message and you will get feedback back from other people, I think that's a big part of building your self confidence."
With instruction from Professor Beattie, Audrey feels confident enough to tackle the crowds at Manchester's busy Trafford Centre on her own.
"It gives you confidence," admits Audrey.
"It's a bit of moral support and it gives you a push."
With this first difficult step accomplished, Audrey insists she will continue to battle her fear of crowds.
Between March 2001 and March 2002, reported street crime in Manchester rose by 11%, whilst snatch-thefts increased by 50%.
|"In the last nine months we've already arrested and convicted 1,000 people for street robbery." |
|Superintendent Gerry Donnellan, Head of Operation Hawk|
To tackle the worrying increase in street crime, Greater Manchester Police launched Operation Hawk, a campaign committed to tackling robbery.
A mobile video unit is just one of the ways in which the police are waging war on muggers.
"We've got a large camera at the front that goes through the windscreen and other cameras installed in the van," explains PC Tom Willis.
"If we see someone and we're not quite sure what they're up to, it enables us to record them."
Many of the campaign's initiatives began in April 2002 and results indicate the scheme may be working.
Between April and December 2004 there has been a 28.2% reduction in robberies compared to the same period in 2001.
Superintendent Gerry Donnellan, Head of Operation Hawk, explains its success:
"Whilst the fear of crime is reducing, the fear of being charged and convicted with street robbery should be increasing.
"In the last nine months we've already arrested and convicted 1,000 people for street robbery."
Prevention is better than cure
As Audrey continues to battle her fear of crowds, Greater Manchester Police continue their own battle against street crime.
But personal safety is not just a matter for the police and simple precautions can help to limit the risks of becoming the next victim of mugging.
Read our Inside Out guide to staying safe on the streets.