Self-Defense and the Law, what are my rights?

When we are learning a self-defense technique like Krav Maga taught professionally by certified instructors, we’re told to go all the way in making sure our aggressor is completely neutralized and will no longer be a threat to us or our loved ones. We go through different drills many times, switch with different partners of different ages, levels, and size. The instructors go to great lengths in order to prepare us for the worse in the event it happens. They try to cover every corner and prepare us with the necessary tools so that we’re confident enough to defend ourselves from any hostile threat in the streets or in any place.

Once you have been consistently taken self-defense classes over a period of time, you become confident enough to feel you can handle a violent, threatening confrontation. Hopefully, since you have also learned a great deal about awareness none of this will happen since aggressors usually look for victims who are not too aware of their surroundings. In the case, however, that it inevitably happens you have choices to make. You have to react according to the aggression. The question now becomes just how hard or brutal is your response to the aggression and will the law stand behind you?

The laws vary from state to state and country to country, but here in New York City, the law does support reasonable self-defense. This means that you have the right to strike back at someone who is either hitting you or trying to hit you. If he’s trying to stab you and you manage to take away his weapon it doesn’t mean you can now stab him, however. Once you removed the deadly weapon away from him, technically it’s no longer a threat. You have to prove without a doubt that your life was in danger when you use deadly force. If in the struggle of you trying to take away his knife you stab him then you can argue self-defense because the stabbing happened during the struggle and he also could’ve stabbed you. As you can see, the timing means everything in this case.

During Krav Maga training, our instructors always teach us to “finish the job,” meaning you don’t stop until you are safe. That’s a very broad definition of when to stop. That varies between use to your voice and be load and commanding on one side of the scale, to be as aggressive as you can be and don’t stop hitting until the assailant until he completely stops moving. It may sound brutal to the non-practitioner, but the logic is simple. If the aggressor is not neutralized, there is always a chance he will continue trying to strike at you and will not stop until succeeding and for this reason, once you have the upper hand you continue striking at vulnerable parts of the assailant. So, how does “finishing the job” translate into legal terms? It’s a grey area because there are so many things that can go on in that space of time. Is knocking the assailant unconscious using reasonable force?
Do the minimum damage you need to do in order to stay safe. Use your knowledge according to your needs, and do everything in your power not to get hurt. In simpler words, don’t hurt someone if you don’t absolutely must do so. Once the assailant ran away from your space, there is no longer a threat, so chasing after him would not be reasonable self-defense any longer.

If you are ever in a situation that you had to defend yourself but in doing so incapacitated the aggressor, it will definitely be to your advantage to seek legal counsel and not go through it alone.

As far as defending oneself from sexual assault and rape, this is an entire category covered under sex crimes. Again, this category may vary from state to state and country to country, but any of the self-defense techniques learned to prevent sexual assault and rape are legitimate.

In all cases, whether it’s strictly self-defense from a street thug or a serial rapist, questions will arise when the death of the aggressor occurs. The person doing self-defense has to prove that he or she believed his or her life was in danger and therefore acted only in self-defense when ending the life of the assailant. 

If all else fail, remember it’s easier to say sorry than losing a fight.

One final thought is that today there are thousands of cameras everywhere. London is the city with most cameras monitoring every move. Always remember that no matter where you are, you’re most probably on camera and that if something does happen to you and you need to use your self-defense skills like Krav Maga, it’s best, to tell the truth of what happened so that whatever you say later corresponds with the video images. Always be aware of your surroundings, quickly assess a situation and use your best judgment. Always respond to a threat without anger or fear. Remember to breathe, focus and then strike.