How I Survived A Mugging

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Image: kahala

Almost a year ago, I was mugged for the first and (I hope) only time in my life.

At the time, I was living in Boston, across the street from Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory.  It’s a very nice neighborhood, home to students and musicians.

I had recently joined a gym, and joining included two complimentary training sessions.  When the trainer told me that she couldn’t book me until 7:30 at night, later than I wanted to go, I agreed nonetheless.

By the time I left the gym that night, it was about 10:00 PM.  I decided to walk home while zoning out on my post-workout high, listening to Maxwell and Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder on my iPhone.

Image: Werner Kunz

Twenty minutes later, I turned from Boylston onto my street, Charlesgate East.  I was listening to music, iPhone in hand, and had my purse inside the big Whole Foods reusable bag I was using as a gym bag.

All of a sudden, someone grabbed me from behind.

For a fraction of a second, I thought it was one of my friends playing a joke.  Then I realized that I was being attacked by a guy in a hoodie.

I started screaming.  He tried to grab my iPhone.  I held onto it tightly.

He wrestled me to the ground.  I continued to clench the iPhone.  “Give it to me,” he hissed.  I kept screaming.

The irony?

I had been listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing.”

“FIRE!” I screamed.  By this point, I was on my knees with my head on the pavement, him on top of me.  “FIRE!”  I started biting him, his blood filling my mouth.  He started biting me back.

Eventually, he wrestled the iPhone out of my hand and ran down the street and around the corner.  A few people ran to me, asking me if I was okay.

“Get him!” I yelled.  Three guys ran in that direction.  One girl administered first aid to me and another called the police.  The guys didn’t find him.

Long story short: I was fine, but I could have been worse.

After talking to the police and heading inside to clean up, I decided to go to the hospital.  I turned out to have a scratched cornea, and I was pretty scraped up on my hands.

Due to the bites, however, I decided to go on HIV antivirals for a month.  While there was a very small chance that this guy was infected and a minuscule chance that he could have infected me, I had a canker sore and a lot of his blood was in my mouth.  That’s a method of transmission.  I felt that this drastic step was worth the potential reward.

It paid off — though the drugs made me dizzy, nauseated and exhausted for a month, I came through treatment with flying colors.  I’ve been perfectly healthy since.

Image: Werner Kunz

There are a few points that I want to make with this story.

Bad things can happen anywhere. You can go to Colombia or Syria and be perfectly safe.  And you can stay home and get mugged in front of your apartment, or get hit by a car on your own street.  Staying home because you’re afraid to travel doesn’t automatically exclude you from danger.

Getting complacent can be dangerous. I assumed that my neighborhood was safe enough to walk around at night with headphones on.  It’s usually very safe, and there are usually around half a dozen people outside smoking.  The street happened to be deserted that night.

From that point on, I’ve never listened to music at night.  When walking alone at night, in any neighborhood in Boston, now I always look around and behind me every few steps.

NEVER fight back against an attacker. Fighting back was a dumb, dumb mistake.  Always give attackers what they want.  You don’t know what weapons they have.  They could kill you, disfigure you, paralyze you.

Replacing the iPhone was a pain, and I had to get a new phone number through my mom in order to avoid paying another $600 to replace it, but material items can always be replaced.  And the guy at the Apple Store told me I was the most badass chick he knew.

Take time to recover from a traumatic incident.  After I got home from the hospital, I thought I would be fine.  Then, every afternoon at work, I found myself worrying constantly about how I would get home safely.  A coworker very thoughtfully arranged for me to take cabs home for two weeks on the company’s dime, which helped a lot.

Don’t yell “help.”  Always yell “fire.” Learn it in the local language wherever you go.  The girl who gave me first aid told me that she came running because she was curious about the fire.  People hear “help” and don’t want to get involved.  People hear “fire” and are curious.  That curiosity could save your life.

As awful as this incident was, I’m glad that it happened.  It taught me not to take my safety for granted. I hope it helps you, too.

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30 thoughts on “How I Survived A Mugging”

  1. Wow… you ARE a badass chick! If that had happened to me I’m sure I would have fallen to the ground in the fetal position and wet myself.

    I really like the tips you give at the bottom–especially about yelling fire instead of help. It’s sad, but true–people don’t want to get involved, but the do want to go watch something burning down.

  2. Oh my God! That’s an horrible story. I’m so glad you are okay, all in all. These are very good tips to know, wether you are in Prague, Colombo or Johannesburg, or even Montreal.

    Nothing is more important than your life. Material is always replaceable, and if you own someting that is not, make sure to put it somewhere safe. For digital stuff, do pay for an online backup.

    Never underestimate anyone, either physically or verbally. You just never know who you’re talking to.

  3. Kate,

    Great safety tips. I’d like to add one more: When walking on a city street, especially at night, stay in the middle of the street instead of walking along doorways, storefronts, large parked vehicles or other places where someone could be waiting to grab you. The more distance between you and a potential assailant, the more likely you’ll remain safe.


  4. What a f*cking @sshole!!!!! Ahhhhh, I want to kick him so hard. I’m SO sorry you had to go through that. Thank goodness you were okay in the end. Big hugs!

  5. I agree wholeheartedly that it’s never a good idea to walk around at night with your headphones in since that situation deprives you of one of your senses. I’m sorry you got mugged but glad you’re safe.

    P.S. I can’t believe you bit that mofo!

  6. Aah you poor thing, happy to see you’ve recovered though. Forgive me for gatecrashing your female only blog, blame my friend who sent me your post a while back about the chocolate Michael Jackson statue in Hungary 🙂 I’ve been reading your blog ever since. You’re absoutely right, my cousin went travelling around Central America and was fine, only to be mugged in London when she returned.

    Good points at the end there to bare in mind.

  7. Yikes! This would definitely freak me out. So glad that you got away (relatively) unscathed!

    And the tips you included at the end are great — especially the one about yelling “fire.” Amazing that you remembered it, even under such pressure. But you’re right: fighting back was unwise. You’re just lucky he wasn’t armed!

    So glad you’re able to look back on such a traumatic experience and turn it into something informative to share with others.

  8. Great advice, although I’m sorry you had to learn it the hard way yourself. I always tell people not to listen to their mp3 players when they’re out and about, even in the daytime, because setting aside the potential to be mugged, you could get run over because you didn’t hear a car coming. And you’re right, you should never fight back like that….but I probably would’ve done the same thing. I think it’s because there’s a sense of outrage that someone would try to take something from you like that (that probably stems from fights with my older brother when I was a kid!). And how fricking sad is it that people won’t come to your aid if you yell for help, but will come to rubberneck if you yell “fire”? We live in a sad world….

  9. Such great tips! I think everyone forgets to yell “fire” and also forgets that safety can’t be guaranteed, which is part of life. Look at you go girl, fighting back may not be recommended, but good on ya for doing it anyway.

  10. Oh Kate, I am so sorry to hear that this happened to you, but you give some great advice and tips to keep in mind, especially on the road – a wise reminder. When I am out at night (anywhere in the world) and walking back alone I make it a point to put my iPhone in my bra and my debit card, that way if I’m mugged they’ll probably just take my purse! Props on fighting back, but probably wisest to hand it over for sure.

  11. What a scary experience! But it is so true that it’s easy to get complacent close to home, when you feel the most “safe.”

    This wasn’t nearly as bad as your experience, but I had my blackberry and wallet stolen last spring from my workplace – I left my purse unattended for no more than a minute or two, came back and they had been lifted right out of it. At the time, I just kept thinking how crazy it was that I had traveled all over the world and never been robbed, but then something like that could happen in my own workplace!

  12. You really do deserve a Badass Chick membership card or leather jacket or something. It would be so hard for me to let go of something like that – especially knowing you had been taken advantage of.

    I’m stubborn though. This won’t end well. <3

  13. Great piece Kate – and I’ll echo everyone else and say that it’s awful you had to experience that and thank goodness you’re okay.

    The only thing I would add is that if it’s not apparent what the attacker wants (i.e. your purse, your phone, etc.) that you should consider fighting back rather than letting him take you to a second location. In the heat of a violent situation it can be hard to tell what someone is after and there is evidence to support that women who don’t fight back and get forced to a more private location may even be putting themselves at greater risk. Anyhow, this article is interesting:

    I’ve been in a few violent situations and I haven’t always reacted the same way or even the right way. But we’ve got instincts for a reason – I think it’s important to try and listen to them.

  14. Awhile back I wrote about getting mugged in Belgium, and it’s amazing how familiar reading your story is. I slept for about 16 hours after the attack simply because the shock of what happened was so taxing on my body and my mental state. Like you, I fought back and it didn’t work out well, and afterward I realized what an idiot I was for doing so. My own story is here:

  15. Good advice! I especially like your point about bad stuff being able to happen to us wherever we are. I try to remind myself of that every time I get nervous or freaked out about being in a foreign country on my own and start wondering why I didn’t just stay home safely on my couch. Bad stuff could have happened to me while I was hanging out on my couch; might as well be in danger in an exotic location!
    P.S. You are bad ass! I’m having you watch my back when you come to Chiang Mai!

  16. This is a really great article. I’m so sorry it happened to you but I agree, I think it really prepared you for future danger. I am a girl who has lived alone in less than safe neighborhoods but even so, it’s hard to stay vigilant. It’s so easy to think “oh nothing ever happens” and get too complacent.

    The tip about yelling “fire” is also really great. It’s so sad but true- curiosity overcomes compassion.

  17. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you’ve been mugged. How scary! Knowing that you just bought a new iPhone and seeing how you fought to keep it, I can see that you’re very attached 🙂 But in all seriousness, I’m glad everything turned out okay!

  18. Wow! You are so brave Kate! As a solo female traveller, I am so glad I read this post. I’m really impressed with your tips at the bottom. And as awful as this experience was, it really goes to show that bad experiences can happen everywhere, even at home! Thanks for sharing!

  19. I like your idea of screaming “fire”. It reminds me of a time I was passing out from heat exhaustion in a restaurant and my girlfriend at the time ran to the restaurant workers and said I was having food allergy issues. It got their attention a lot faster than “My boyfriend is feeling ill” and there was an ambulance there in a few minutes. Now, the embarrassment of being carried out on a stretcher from the best restaurant in town was not so great and I never went back to eat there.

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