If one of the world’s most well-recognized celebrities, who is constantly under the watchful eye of body guards, security cameras, police officers, and her family, can fall victim to a traumatic attack, then the rest of us less-guarded folks out there need to know what it takes to keep ourselves safe. Kim Kardashian West was robbed at gunpoint in her Parisian hotel on Sunday while in the city for Paris Fashion Week. An estimated $10 million worth of jewelry was stolen from her room, but the star was left unharmed.
What did she do right? Likely, she simply did not resist. Former FBI lead negotiator Chris Voss, who has negotiated more than 150 kidnapping cases worldwide and recently penned Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It says that “during any sort of an attack, the bad guy is looking to establish control quickly. If you resist physically, that’s what they anticipate and have planned to counter with their own violence. When they get control, violence diminishes.”
Voss recommends that you first say to the attacker, “You’re in control,” to abate any previous notions they had to use violence to establish dominance. “It doesn’t seem like it because they are in a predatory state, but attackers are always fear-driven,” he says. “They fear not being able to control you — so the more passive you are, the less afraid they are and the less violence they will use.” In one case Voss worked on, a fellow FBI negotiator was being assaulted. Because she could recognize her attackers motivations and triggers, she simply said to him, “You don’t have to be afraid.” That one sentence caught the attacker so off guard that it stopped the assault.
Attackers also become less harmful if you can make them realize that what they are doing could harm a person. “No matter who you are, the more they come to know you as a human being, the less likely they are to hurt you,” Voss says. “Even Kim Kardashian — who is well-known — is a two-dimensional thing that criminals have depersonalized in order to detach their conscience.” So the more you allow an attacker to depersonalize you, the more willing they are to hurt you. Voss suggests using your own name as much as possible, and trying to get them to use your name as well. “In Kim’s case, she could’ve said, ‘I’m Kim, I’m just Kim,’ ” he suggests. “That automatically makes any attack more personal for the criminal.” It’s been reported that Kim expressed worry for her two kids and told her attackers about her son and daughter during the robbery, which was a wise appeal to make during the attack.
During one case, a fellow FBI agent working with Voss was held at gunpoint. She sensed that the attacker was considering a sexual assault, and before he could act, she said to him, “I just want to make sure you aren’t going to harm the baby,” insinuating that she was pregnant (even though she wasn’t). Voss says that his colleague sensed an immediate change in the criminal’s demeanor and was able to walk away from the attack unharmed.
These situations — such as a kidnapping, hostage situation, or in-home robbery — where an attacker has been able to isolate and seclude a person they are attempting to harm require calculated and passive responses from the victims and starkly differ from the course of action one would take if attacked in public. “If you can run, you should run,” Voss says. If there is any possible exit in a situation, take it. “Some people fear that attackers will shoot them in the back or chase them down — but that is hardly ever the case,” he explains. “It is never a bad idea to run if you can, because it removes violence from the situation and removes you from the violent situation.”
Regardless of if attacks happen in isolation or in public, the aftermath of an assault is always the same: difficult. “The psychology of an attack after the occurrence is very similar to the grieving process,” Voss says. Even if you felt in control of relinquishing your control, there is always a reaction to a loss — in this case, losing your control. “You can take back your control by pressing charges on your attacker and by talking through it afterwards. But the most important thing to remember is that you have to recover at your own rate for the loss.”
Voss suggests allowing yourself to talk about the situation thoroughly, from beginning to end, so you can identify and gain control of your fears by learning to articulate them. If you’re horrified and you say, “I’m horrified,” that expression diminishes the psychological effects on your brain. “Verbalization dissipates negative feelings,” Voss explains.
As for those closest to victims of attacks and assaults, Voss explains that allowing a person to talk through their experience is the most important thing you can do to support them. “People around the victim want the victim to be better ASAP, which adds a layer of stress to a person,” he says. “It’s easy to tell them that they don’t have to talk about it or think about it each time they cry or seem distressed, but you have to let them talk each time, beginning to end. Otherwise, it’s like trying to cross a river and stopping in the middle.”