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Pre-emptive defensive action

Can I hit someone first in self-defence?

This is a question that many are uncertain about.

In practical terms, action beats reaction; pre-emptive action increases our options and chances to get out of dangerous situations safely.

In legal terms, the short answer is yes, pre-emptive strikes are covered under the law on self-defence. If you can justify it and articulate why you thought that was a necessary action under the circumstances, you may be able to claim self-defence.

When you claim self-defence, you are admitting that you did do something that is normally against the law, but arguing that you had a good reason to do so.

But what if I misread the situation?

This is a concern that can hold us back from taking decisive action, sometimes when it would be legitimate and our best bet. The nature of self-defence means that we may have to take decisive action based on limited information, in very little time.

But also consider that: you can take medium pre-emptive steps. It doesn’t have to go from zero to taking the person’s head off:

  • You can pre-emptively leave, pre-emptively scream, pre-emptively create space, or get into a position that protects you a bit more.

  • You don’t have to wait for the other person to move through their progression before you take action. Don’t play their game. Change the rules.

In the context of self-protection, and in life, you don’t have to wait for things to get really bad before you take action. Taking action earlier often allows us to deal with a less difficult or less dangerous situation.

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