ARTICLE | PROTECTING YOURSELF LEGALLY | by Orjan Pettersen
Striking an aggressor preemptively is legally permissible* in many jurisdictions across the world, in order to protect yourself, third parties or property.
The principles of having genuine belief that you need to defend yourself or having a fear for your safety is central to a self defence claim if your have to hit first, before the aggressor has initiated any physical action.
To protect yourself legally, it is paramount that you can demonstrate four key principles in order to have a legitimate claim of self defence.
We’ve previously referenced these as the IMOP acronym.
The INTENT to hurt you must be shown by the aggressor, for example through their verbal statements, body language or physical movement or manoeuvring. You must explain how you saw this intent and why it was fearful to you.
The MEANS to hurt you must be in place. If an angry old lady threatens to beat you up, the angry intent may be present but the means are not legitimate for you to hit back. The greater the means, for example through size, skills or weapons, the more elevated your response can be.
The OPPORTUNITY to hurt you must be present. If someone has the intent and means to attack you, but are ‘only’ verbally abusing you from across the room or road, they don’t have the opportunity to hurt you. You proceeding to close the distance to enable this opportunity can seriously damage any later claim to self defence.
The PRECLUSION to violence, or the ability for you to prevent something from happening, should be fulfilled. If staying put in a dangerous or volatile situation and not extracting yourself from it, claiming self defence from fear for your personal safety if it turns physical will become more difficult or questionable later.
Always remember the IMOP principles. Before preemptively striking, you should actively try to make sure - to witnesses if possible - that the four components are covered.
Saying ‘Stay back, go back, don’t hurt me” (loudly, clearly, more than once and avoiding ‘back off’ as it can be easily misconstrued as ‘f*** off’) whilst moving away to a position where the aggressor must change direction to reach you will reveal that you consider the intent, means and opportunity to be such that you fear for your personal safety. It covers all three elements.
If you have no way of removing yourself from the situation (maybe because the exits are not available or you are with third parties that you are protecting), you are now set to strike preemptively, maintaining an explainable legal argument as to why.
The person striking first has the clear advantage as action beats reaction. To put yourself in that position, always make sure you are legally covered to do so.
*Always check local self defence law where you live, travel, study and work.