I am freaking out about safety. Please help.
August 4, 2011 7:55 AM   Subscribe

I am freaking out about safety. Please help.

I have moved to Brazil with my British husband not so long ago (I'm Brazilian). We are living in a really nice part of a large city and I couldn't be happier.

However, I can't seem to get rid of the impression that he is a target to any criminals. He doesn't wear anything fancy, but he is clearly a foreigner to most people. And we have several take-away joints around us which employ a lot of couriers that seem a bit dodgy, but again that may be just my impression.

We try to keep things low-key, and have a a reassonably safe house, with fencing around the windows and doors, etc.

I also keep on reading the news about the several deaths in this city, family men that have tried to defend their kids, or people that were just shot in the head for not being able to find their car keys.

What can I do to get rid of this feeling? i know that if something horrible had to happen, it would happen in any part of the world, whether it is safe or not - but here there is a bigger chance of it happening.

We are very happy here and I know I cannot possibly live in fear, but I am really scared of anything happening to my husband and his safety, even more than my own. I wouldn't be able to cope if anything happened to him.

Any suggestions on how to cope with this? Experiences from people who live, or lived in "dangerous cities" would also be much appreciated. Thanks!
posted by heartofglass to Human Relations (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The thing that helps me feel safer is to become more familiar with the people and places around me. Having a sense that you have allies, etc.

It might also help to take some kind of safety course - the kind where you talk about taking sensible precautions and what to do when X happens. In the US these are usually geared toward women, but I suspect if you ask at the British embassy they'll know of something like that for expats.
posted by SMPA at 8:17 AM on August 4, 2011

Did you convince your husband to move or was he all for it? You write "I couldn't be happier" not "we". I think you are feeling that if anything happens to him it will be your fault and you are having regrets about that. I think you need to talk with your husband and have him reassure you that he is there because he wants to be and that you are not responsible if anything happens.
posted by AugustWest at 8:29 AM on August 4, 2011

Best answer: For me, I get comfort from asking myself the following questions: What are the odds, and how do they compare to more mundane occurrences?

I basically assume that there always *could* be a piano or safe dangling above my head, but the above techniques really prevent me from worrying about it. There are certain exceptions for which it doesn't work, like while standing near a fence or precipice at European soccer matches.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:29 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Stop consuming the news and its skewed, inaccurate presentation of everyday life as pervaded by violence. It skews your sense of reality because it is massively weighted to report the negative. "Business man returns home unmolested yet again" is THOUSANDS of times more likely than "business man murdered" but you will never see the former in the news but always see the latter.

Try to cut off imagining bad things. I've had a big problem with this, it's better now but I still have to fight it. I can go so quickly in my imagination to terrible possibilities. What I tell myself always is "that isn't happening. You can't deal with what isn't real so stop trying." A lot of times after years of working on training myself to resist these thoughts I just say "No", inwardly, but firmly and decisively. There is always something I need to be dealing with or thinking about, and it is never ever the worst horrors my brain is capable of cooking up.

Get to know your neighbors, your neighborhood. Get involved in what is going on around you.
posted by nanojath at 8:42 AM on August 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

If you're really more frightened by being on your own than by violence, then working on the fear of being on your own may be more successful than working on the fear of violence.

You may be able to increase your level of self-confidence or self-sufficiency to the point where you can imagine managing on your own if you had to. Then you may find that the fear dissipates to levels you are more comfortable with.

I mean this idea only as a way to reduce the fear; I don't mean to suggest it as a way to deal with the actual risk of violence!
posted by emilyw at 8:44 AM on August 4, 2011

Oh, I can so relate to you. I just returned two weeks ago from a city where I met two people who had not been mugged over an extended period of living there, and many had been mugged at gun or knifepoint multiple times. My dad came to visit me for a month and a half, and I was so much more nervous that something would happen to him while he was out alone than I was about my own safety.

I feel much better now that I live in a way safer city, but it sounds like that's not an option for you. Unfortunately I don't really have a solution for you, but yeah, you can't live your entire life in fear or let it stop you from doing much. Does he follow basic safety precautions-- like not wear anything flashy to call attention to himself, stay out of dangerous parts of the city, etc? Knowing that he is following all that might help.

Sorry, not very helpful I know, just wanted to let you know that I can relate, and have felt the same way about a family member!
posted by queens86 at 8:53 AM on August 4, 2011

I agree with the first comment, your best bet is to get as familiar as possible with the people and places where you live and get involved with the community. Similar to the way metafilter works, safety in cities is built on informal social contracts and norms and values. If people in the community know you and you know them then this social contract becomes stronger and both parties are more likely to look after each other. You want to be in places with 'eyes on the street', that is where there are people around to uphold the basics of these social contracts. Chances are almost everywhere you go have 'eyes on the street' and you are therefore never in any danger. This is discussed at length in Jane Jacob's seminal book 'The death and life of Great American Cities'.

Traditional methods of security such as gated communities, fences, guns etc will paradoxically make you more fearful as they reinforce safety behaviours that whilst initially making you feel better will in the long run make it more difficult to feel safe and calm in these situations. You need to expose yourself to the things you are afraid of in order to see that there is nothing really to fear.
posted by blaisedell at 8:56 AM on August 4, 2011

Best answer: While I'm normally with Clyde on this sort of thing, I'm also a realist and depending on where you live in Brazil, expatriate businessmen being targets can be a legitimate concern. Kidnappings are routine enough in some areas to not make this easily dismissed crazy paranoia.

If you really are freaking out, then I think you need advice and data on how real the risk is in whatever city you're living in. Then you can take reasonable steps to reduce whatever risk actually is present. I don't know what your options are, financially and in terms of availability, for appropriate security. Can you install alarms? Panic buttons? Can your husband wear a GPS watch with tracking? Can you get a threat assessment? Does your security advisor suggest that varying exit and entry times and routes to work would cut risk?

Educate yourself, take reasonable steps to minimise risk, and work from there. I think that's all you can do.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:04 AM on August 4, 2011

Traditional methods of security such as gated communities, fences, guns etc will paradoxically make you more fearful as they reinforce safety behaviours that whilst initially making you feel better will in the long run make it more difficult to feel safe and calm in these situations. You need to expose yourself to the things you are afraid of in order to see that there is nothing really to fear.

I have got to say that, as someone who has lived in high crime areas (and been assaulted in them), exposing yourself to risk is NOT advice I would render. That doesn't mean the OP should worry unnecessarily, but it's not like violence is like poison in The Princess Bride and subject to self-immunization.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:06 AM on August 4, 2011

Best answer: I'm not sure this will be helpful to you, but I thought I'd say it just in case:

I'm American, and when I was visiting Brazil, I was also CLEARLY a Foreign Target. I got lots of unwanted attention. I took some precautions: I spoke ONLY Portuguese when out and about - not a word of English. At the beginning this meant shutting up a lot. I got rid of any clothing that looked "American" and bought some Brazilian items. When I was walking around I was very alert and would duck in to a nice-looking shop if it appeared that somebody was following me or taking too much interest. I never went anywhere alone at night, ever.

Honestly, the two biggest things that helped were speaking better Portuguese (i.e. without the strong American accent) and getting a tan. Everybody knows tanning isn't healthy, but I got many fewer stares when I stopped being so damn white.
posted by Cygnet at 9:15 AM on August 4, 2011

Best answer: My SO and I lived for many years in a high crime part of Dallas, and I can relate. It never bothered me until we had a child-then suddenly EVERYTHING looked evil and to-be-feared.
I agree with so many people above-Cygnet's clothinbg idea is brilliant. Here are some small things we did as well:
- walk with a purpose, like you are expected somewhere (and hence will be missed if you don't show up) and keep your expression closed
-re couriers: make sure the view into your home when you open the door does not showcase all the wonderfully expensive things your house has to offer to stealing. Rearange the room if you have to, but let your basic view into the house be humble
-I used an obviously older cell phone in public and I would (soemtimes fake, sometimes have a live person on the other end) have a conversation saying what building I'm passing, that there is a sale in X window I just passed, etc. Again, so anybody following knows someone ELSE knows where I am right now
-older shoes for walking around the city. New shoes=money. Stay humble
-when we HAD to carry $ my SO kept a normal amount in his wallett, but the bulk of it elsewhere on his person. When he was mugged he was able to give over his wallet, the mugger was satisfied b/c he got some $ and didn't look to him for anything, and we were not out an entire paycheck.

I also agree that you should turn off the news. Our general overall happiness and faith in humanity started to re-grow after we stopped watching that nightly horror story.

Best of luck to you both!
posted by Frosted Cactus at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2011

To clarify, I didn't mean expose yourself directly to violence, more to just spend time in the city, preferably as part of a community of some sort, and to become accustomed to how the city functions and how you are almost always protected by eyes on the street.
posted by blaisedell at 10:24 AM on August 4, 2011

Don't be naive. If your husband is working for a foreign company, or self-employed, your family are candidates for kidnap, ransom and extortion cover. The vehicle your husband uses for business may deserve armor. If you employ domestic help, or use babysitters for your children, they should be regularly vetted.

Whistling past the graveyard when you live in a high crime area, and you are an economic or potential political target, is foolish. You can't wait to arrange defense, until after you or your family members are attacked. Get some local professional advice, at a minimum.
posted by paulsc at 3:41 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have got to say that, as someone who has lived in high crime areas (and been assaulted in them), exposing yourself to risk is NOT advice I would render.

This, 100 times over.

I've lived in 2 cities over the past 4 years that are orders of magnitude more dangerous than most places on the planet, including Brazil, namely Johannesburg and (now, for almost 3 years) Nairobi.

Some of the best advice here has been offered to you already above by:

Cygnet: learn the local language (a must)
Frosted Cactus: practical tips on not standing out / being prepared to be targeted
paulsc: arranging professional prevention measures

I absolutely know, for a fact, that I have been a victim of less crime than other white expats who have taken lower security precautions than myself. I don't walk outside at night, when driving I watch who's following me. I have high walls around my compound with electric fences, guards who don't sleep at night, and a panic button for the security company.

That said, I also know that I am exposed to a greater level of crime risk than some other white expats due to the fact that I've not taken a completely sterile approach to living in foreign place. There are many who will simply not leave their compound at night, even to go to a friend's place for dinner or out for a movie. They have staff do their shopping in the local market. They have trained dogs and armed guards. They are much, much safer than I am, but they also don't learn the local language and have a life I wouldn't want. My wife is able to work with local orphans, I'm able to meet people on the street and help kids find ways to go to school, etc..

My advice to you is to decide on the level of risk you are willing to accept and to learn to live comfortably with it, but this also means taking some pro-active steps towards safety, both in preparation as well as in daily life.

Also, pick up a copy of The Gift of Fear - you should both read it. Memail me if you'd like me to go into further detail, I could probably start my own book on this topic.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:06 AM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I moved from NYC to North Dominican Republic many people gave me the scary stories, which I in turn gave back being from Queens and seeing lots in my years. Lots.

So i didn't have that fear but many neighbors had fencing with a guard etc. My apt had bars on the windows and a iron outer door, similar to what I had in Queens in South Jamaica. Nothing fancy, just to keep someone out.

Many thieves sawed through bars in the hours they knew you werent home. But I had no issues in my 3 yrs there. So many guns around that people didn;t just "barge in" to your apt unless they were SURE you didn't carry , and one could never be sure.
posted by Lastword at 9:02 AM on August 8, 2011

« Older What bug/insect is this?   |   Help stop static bars on my tv Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.