Gavin de Becker

If you heard there was a weapon proven to prevent most crimes before they happen, would you run out and buy it? World-renowned security expert Gavin de Becker says this weapon exists, but you already have it. He calls it "the gift of fear."

One chapter in Gavin's book, The Gift of Fear has stuck with Oprah since she first read it. The story of a woman named Kelly begins with a simple warning sign. A man offers to help carry her groceries into her apartment—and instantly, Kelly doesn't like the sound of his voice. Kelly goes against her gut and lets him help her—and in doing so, she lets a rapist into her home.

"We get a signal prior to violence," Gavin says. "There are preincident indicators. Things that happen before violence occurs."

Gavin says that unlike any other living creature, humans will sense danger, yet still walk right into it. "You're in a hallway waiting for an elevator late at night. Elevator door opens, and there's a guy inside, and he makes you afraid. You don't know why, you don't know what it is. Some memory of this building—whatever it may be. And many women will stand there and look at that guy and say, 'Oh, I don't want to think like that. I don't want to be the kind of person who lets the door close in his face. I've got to be nice. I don't want him to think I'm not nice.' And so human beings will get into a steel soundproof chamber with someone they're afraid of, and there's not another animal in nature that would even consider it."
Nicole's intuition told her something was wrong at home.

For weeks, Nicole had a funny feeling that something odd was going on in her apartment. "My gut started feeling like something just wasn't right," she says. "I would come home and there would be just weird lights on in my house—lights that I didn't even remember turning on in the first place."

Then one day, Nicole noticed a UPS delivery box where it shouldn't be. "I'm like, 'How did this brand of box get on my back balcony?'" Nicole began to feel uneasy—but continued to brush it off. "I would just come home, you know, and almost feel nauseous," she says. "I kept trying to justify it saying, 'Okay, it is in my head.'"

Nicole's funny feeling eventually escalated into full-fledged panic attacks, which Gavin says were her intuition's way of telling her that something was wrong. "And intuition records everything. So when she started getting panics attacks, her intuition is saying, basically, 'You're not going to listen? Okay, I'll ramp it up. I'll give you panic attacks. You want sleepless nights? I'll give you sleepless nights.'"

Nicole eventually did listen to her intuition, starting with a simple test. "I dropped a tank top behind the door as I was leaving for work, thinking that when I come home that night, I'm going to peek my head around the corner. If [the tank top] had been pushed to the side, it would have been obvious that the door was opened." When Nicole got home, she says the tank top had moved.
Nicole catches her intruder on hidden camera.

The next day, Nicole says she set up a hidden camera to try and find out what was going on in her apartment. Once she came home, Nicole says she plugged the camcorder into her laptop. "And the first thing I see is this man's head peeking around the corner into my house," she says. "What I felt at that point was just complete terror. I'm sitting there watching this video—this story—unfold, and this person comes in my house, is looking around, going through my things, looking through my laundry, holding up my lingerie."

As Nicole continues to watch in horror, the intruder undresses himself and puts her lingerie on. "So this person is in my clothes, proceeds to start pleasuring himself—just very, very graphic things happening right there in my house with my belongings. And he finishes up, takes off my clothes—and puts them exactly back as I had left them—puts his clothes back on, checks to make sure nobody's outside the door and leaves."

After watching the tape, Nicole says she ran around her apartment, screaming hysterically. She says she had never seen the man in the tape before. "Initially, I took my cell phone, called my boyfriend at the time, screaming hysterically. All I could say was, 'He's in my house. He's in my house.' Even picking up the phone, dialing, was difficult."

Two weeks later, police found the man—39-year-old Shawn Rogers, a computer consultant with a young son and a wife at the time. Police were unable to charge Rogers with anything more than trespassing...until he came back to Nicole's apartment to steal her camera. Police were able to charge Rogers with burglary and he was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Gavin de Becker, Nicole and Oprah

When Nicole found the UPS box on her balcony, Gavin says this was a warning sign. Gavin applauds Nicole for listening to her intuition and says that quieting her fear could have caused the situation to escalate. "He's already into behavior of wanting to get caught," he says. "You don't come back again and again and again and not want to get caught."

Gavin says like Nicole, the intruder's intuition was probably trying to tell him something, too. "Offenders as well can see what's happening in their lives. And talk about not listening to it—he's in someone's apartment doing something sexual with their clothes on—that's something to listen to."

Because the intruder had a job and a family, Gavin says his behavior was not only reckless, but dangerous as well. "When people do listen, they can stop what's almost fate," Gavin says. "There's a great line that Carl Jung said. He said, 'What we do not make conscious emerges later as fate.' If he made it conscious, if he could talk to someone about it, if he could tell someone, he could get better also. But he didn't and it does mean escalation. If she discovered him, that's dangerous. If he came in when she was there, that's dangerous."
Gavin de Becker

Doris, who says she endured years of sexual abuse at the hands of her husband, appeared on The Oprah Show after leaving her husband. Unfortunately, her battle didn't end there—two months after she left him, Doris's ex-husband abducted her at gunpoint and raped her.

After the show, Oprah spoke with Doris again to ask if her she had sensed any warning signs the night she was abducted. "As I was coming home from work, it was just a very eerie, strange feeling as I drove up," Doris says. "It was darker than normal in my driveway, and there was a trash can sitting where I normally park right in the middle.

"I thought, 'Hmm, this is strange.' Because my mother lives with me, and she'll turn on the lights when it gets dark. It did give me a little eerie feeling—the hairs on the back of your neck kind of stand up. But still, I didn't listen to my instincts."

Gavin says that "eerie feeling" is exactly what he wants women to pay attention to. "We're trying to analyze the warning signs," he says. "And what I really want to teach today and forever is the feeling is the warning sign. All the other stuff is our explanation for the feeling. Why it was this, why it was that. The feeling itself is the warning sign."
Dorothy's boyfriend was too charming.

Dorothy says her ex-boyfriend Kevan was a fun guy with a master's degree and a CPA. "He was charming, and it never let up," Dorothy says. "He was willing to do whatever I wanted to do." Eventually, Dorothy began to feel that something wasn't right. "He would buy me a present or buy me a beautiful bouquet of roses and have it sitting on the table—and that was very nice, but that night or the next day he wanted me to be with him all the time."

As Dorothy shares her story, Gavin points out some of the warning signs—starting with Kevan's charm. "A great thing is to think of charm as a verb. It's something you do. 'I will charm [Dorothy] now.' It's not a feature of [one's] personality," Gavin says.

What happened next stunned Dorothy. "I was out visiting my sister in California, and he was calling me, calling me, and he asked me to marry him over the cell phone," she says. "I thought, you're kidding. I've always said I would never get married again. And I said, 'That's the last time I'm going to talk about it.'"

After rejecting Kevan and coming home, Dorothy says he remained persistent. He showed Dorothy the picture of a diamond ring he wanted to buy and told her he wanted to buy a house. "And he had it all mapped out, how it was going to work for us," she says.
Gavin de Becker says the word 'no' can be good.

When Kevan refused to listen when Dorothy repeatedly told him no, Gavin says it should have raised serious red flags. "Anytime someone doesn't hear no, it means they're trying to control you," Gavin says. "When a man says no in this culture, it's the end of the discussion. When a woman says no, it's the beginning of a negotiation."

Gavin says the concept of "no" gets a bad reputation that stretches all the way back to our youth. "It disappointed us," he says. "A friend of mine said, 'God always answers your prayers. But the answer isn't always yes.' There's nothing wrong with no. People say, 'Oh, my prayers were answered, I got that car I wanted.' Your prayers were answered when you didn't get that car you wanted, too. The answer was no. No's not so bad."

"We need to start learning, as women, that when you're saying no to something, you're also saying yes," Oprah says. "And that the 'yes' is usually to yourself."
Dorothy didn't panic in a frightening situation.

After four and a half years and many red flags, Dorothy finally broke off her relationship with Kevan. But that wasn't the end. "He kept calling me, calling me with repeated questions. What am I doing now? 'What are you going to do tonight?'" Dorothy says. "And that's when I realized I am in trouble here."

On the urging of her son, Dorothy got a restraining order on Kevan, which she says gave her peace of mind. "And that was a huge mistake," she says.

One night, Dorothy was asleep in her bed when she woke up to the sound of her name being shouted. "I turned to my left shoulder, and I saw a knife about [10 inches long]. I could see the reflection of my TV in the blade. Then I saw that he had cut off surgical gloves, and that was scary," Dorothy says. "I put the covers right over my head and curled into a fetal position and started praying. He said to me, 'Are you scared?'"

Rather than panicking, Dorothy says she got out of bed, stood up and told Kevan she was leaving. As she walked calmly out the door, he followed her to the parking lot. "So I said, 'You're leaving now,'" she says. "He turned, went down the street, and I didn't see him again." Dorothy immediately called 911, and police later arrested Kevan. He was convicted and is serving a four-year prison sentence.

Gavin says when Dorothy stood up, spoke firmly to Kevan and walked out, she was accepting a gift of power by acting on her instincts. "Fetal position is not a position of power, but you came out of it with a great position of power. And the pure power to say to him, 'You're leaving now,' is fantastic," he says. "Of all the details in that story, the one that stayed with me the most is that you saw the reflection of your little television set on the bedside table in the knife. And what that told me was you are on—you are in the on position. ... You were seeing every single detail and acting on it."
Jaki installed hidden cameras to check on her father's caregiver.

Growing up, Jaki says she was always "daddy's little girl." She says her parents always gave her everything she could ever ask for. When her mother died and her 90-year-old father developed dementia and couldn't speak due to a series of minor strokes, Jaki arranged for full-time, in-home care and installed cameras to check on the caregivers. "At that time, I didn't trust anybody," she says. "I wanted to make sure that the people I hired took care of him and weren't stealing from us or anything like that."

After hiring a woman named Anastasia to help with her father, Jaki says she checked the recordings for about two weeks. After that, her close monitoring fell off because of her busy lifestyle and because she came to trust Anastasia. "Anastasia was the type of person that I actually liked and got along with in the house," Jaki says. "I mean, I treated her like family."

After several weeks of not watching the surveillance tapes, Jaki was in her basement, doing her father's laundry. Also in the basement was the recording equipment. She says she suddenly felt compelled to watch the tapes. "Even in the rush that I'm in, I turn around, and I go back over to this DVR. And I said, 'Okay, I'm going to watch and see what exactly happened this morning," she says.
Jaki saw elder abuse on the tapes.

What Jaki saw was truly horrifying. "[Anastasia] pretty much just snatches my dad's hand off the rail. And as my dad brings his arm back, she just starts taking her fist and just beating him in his chest and in his stomach. I think every place on his body that she could actually strike him, she did."

Though she was distraught, Jaki says she took time to pull herself together before leaving the basement. "I went upstairs, I whispered in my dad's ear that I loved him and that I knew what had taken place and that I wasn't going to ever let that happen to him again," she says.

When Jaki confronted her father's abusive caregiver, she asked for her identification. "Because she had filled out an employment application for me, but I had never gotten a photocopy of an I.D.," Jaki says. "I took that, went, made a copy, came back, and that's when I called the police."

When the police arrived, they watched the tapes and arrested Anastasia. She was charged on multiple counts of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and vulnerable adult abuse. After posting her $5,000 bail, Anastasia fled the country...just eight days before her trial.

Jaki says her father is now 90 years old and in the critical care unit of a nursing home. "He is stable, but not the man he was," she says. "He has a trach now and a feeding tube and not really able to communicate. But he smiles when he sees me, and that's all I need to see every day."
Gavin does not recommend nanny-cams.

Gavin says there's a right way and a wrong way to use hidden surveillance cameras. He says he likes that Jaki intended to use hidden surveillance cameras to make sure her orders were being followed and only later did they help prove elder abuse committed against her father. The key difference, Gavin says, is that Jaki actually checked the tapes, which he says few people ever do.

The way that many people use nanny-cams is to find out if their child is already being harmed, which he says is entirely different. "I get a phone call from someone who says, 'I'm worried about this nanny. We just don't trust her.' I say, 'Is there more to this story? Then fire the nanny.' They say, 'Well, shouldn't we put in cameras?' No, you should not put in cameras to experiment with your own infant," he says. "Your job as a mother is to protect the child."

Instead of relying on surveillance, Gavin says a better method of protection is through your hiring interview. When you hire a nanny or adultcare provider, it is your responsibility to ask all kinds of uncomfortable questions. "Like, 'Have you ever abused a child?' Everybody says, 'Why would you ask that question?' Well, because that's exactly what I want to know, and the way they answer will be helpful," he says. "Someone might say, 'What have you heard?' Or, 'Define abuse.' Or someone might say, 'No, I love kids.' ... Whatever they say, you get some intuitive information. If you never ask the question, you get no intuitive information."
Gavin says being nice can increase risk.

Just like ignoring your intuition, Gavin says the way women are conditioned to be nice all the time can lead them into dangerous situations. "The fact is that men, at core, are afraid that women will laugh at them. And women, at core, are afraid that men will kill them."

This conditioning and fear, Gavin says, lead many women to try to be nice to people whose very presence makes them fearful and uncomfortable. They often believe that being mean increases risk, he says, when in fact the opposite is true.

"It's when you're nice that you open up and give information, that you engage with someone you don't want to talk to," he says. "I have not heard of one case in my entire career where someone was raped or murdered because they weren't nice. In other words, that's not the thing that motivates rape and murder. But I've heard of many, many cases where someone was victimized because they were open to the continued conversation with someone they didn't feel good about talking to."
Gavin discusses restraining orders.

For women like Dorothy who are dealing with abuse, Gavin says restraining orders may not be the right course of action. First, a judge's mandate can actually create a false sense of security for the woman. Second, it can end up provoking the abuser.

In fact, the most dangerous time for an abused person is immediately after a restraining order has been issued, Gavin says. Abusers are people who don't deal well with rejection, and a restraining order is a court-issued rejection. "You've done something very provocative. Restraining orders are basically a strategy of war. They are not a strategy of peace."

The conundrum of a restraining order, Gavin says, is that it generally only works to stop someone who's reasonable enough to listen to it. To someone who's unreasonable—and therefore most dangerous—it's just a piece of paper that is easily ignored. "[Restraining orders] are issued at the rate of a 1,000 a day in the United States, and yet every year hundreds of women are found murdered with a restraining order in their purse or a restraining order on their bedside table," Gavin says. "They're always right for police officers—they get the woman out of the office. 'Go get a restraining order. Prove to me that you really don't want to see him again.' They're always right for prosecutors, too. They're not always right for the woman who gets them."

How can living with your intuition mean living with less fear and more faith?

Watch Watch more of the discussion with Gavin After the Show.
FROM: How the Gift of Fear Can Save Your Life
Published on January 29, 2008


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