Crime can too easily make victims of us these days. It did not make a victim of Noreen Roudon. When the young Auckland woman realised a man was following her one night last week, she did not do what we are normally advised to do. She took him on.
Her account of the incident starts with an experience many women will recognise. She was on an early evening westbound train. At Sunnyvale, Henderson, she got off and as she walked away from the station she heard someone behind her. Her path went into a secluded area where she walked briskly but he was still behind her.
She stopped and bent to tie her shoe but he did not walk past. When she turned around, she said, he grabbed her. "I am not usually a confrontational person," she told our reporter, "but at that moment I knew I was fighting for my life."
She fought for all she was worth, punching, scratching, kicking and screaming. The man, as she described him, "looked shocked. He just punched me in the face and took off, back the way we had come".
She had the courage also to speak out, giving a public description of the assailant to this newspaper and to television this week. Within 32 hours police had made an arrest.
Courage is dangerous but so is compliance. Any man who would attack a woman is not equipped with much courage himself. He is counting on his victim to cower and put up no resistance. Fighting back might deter these weaklings from trying to terrorise somebody else.
This of course is a distinctly old fashioned view. Safety trumps all other considerations these days. Avoidance of risk in everything from children's play to adult's investments has created a world in which children no longer go far beyond their homes unsupervised and property is the only security personal investors can trust.
We need to re-examine the idea that living requires the elimination of risk. Avoidance of risks brings its own risks. The overprotected child who does not learn to evaluate risk may become the adolescent who indulges in binge drinking, boy racing, drug taking, unprotected sex and other risks, according to our foremost paediatrician, Sir Peter Gluckman.
In the business world the so called financial securities that poisoned international banking and led to the global financial crisis were devices to parcel up bad debts with good and hedge all default risk. When the system was at risk of collapse, governments and central banks bailed out the lenders, leaving the "moral hazard" that unwise practices may be safely repeated.
Those who recommend safety at all costs will say that for every Noreen Roudon who fights back, there could be an Austin Hemmings, the 44-year-old family man who went to the aid of a woman being attacked in a lane behind an office block in Auckland in 2008. He was stabbed and killed, leaving a wife and three teenage children.
The following year Lenny Holmwood stood up to his friend Jan Molenaar when Molenaar turned a gun on policemen at his Napier house. Holmwood suffered a bullet wound as his bravery almost certainly saved two lives.
People do not stop to weigh up the risks when they fight back or go to someone's rescue. They act from instincts of self defence or altruism that should never be discouraged.
The Waitakere Detective Sergeant who praised Noreen Roudon's "gutsy display" might not have been giving the approved police view of self defence in these circumstances but in their hearts probably all his superiors, all fellow officers and most other people would agree with him. Safety is not the highest calling of the human spirit. Self respect and dignity can demand we stand up and fight.