Pitch perfect

That self-defense “theory” about how high-pitched distress noises stimulate violence in third parties seems to be doing the rounds again. The version I heard most often derives from stories about dog attacks on small children. It’s 98% bullshit, and 2% incorrect reframing.

There are real stories of dog attacks on small children crying in distress – child falls off a bike and starts wailing, dog savages it in response, that kind of thing. The reasons these attacks make good stories is that they are rare and shocking. The reason they are rare and shocking is that dogs are not wired to respond with violence to the cries of distress of their pack members – and yeah, for a socialised dog, humans are part of the pack. Socialised, healthy, normal dogs usually respond to in-pack cries of distress either by running the hell away or by trying to provide assistance, depending on the situation and the personality of the dog. For a dog to attack a creature manifesting pain, that creature must stimulate the dog’s predatory instincts. Again, not something that would happen to a normal dog dealing with members of its pack.

Trying to extrapolate human behaviour from dogs’ is a bit… creative, I guess? It always seems to involve a lot of picking and choosing the behaviours in question. I mean, I know a lot of dogs, and most of them are infinitely more likely to eat faeces or roll in them than to attack small squeaky children. The available statistics supports my observations, but nobody seems to care about that, somehow. Anyway, even assuming that dogs and humans were wired to respond to the same stimuli in the same way, the same rules would apply; i.e., for a human to be triggered into attacking another human in distress, they would have to classify the distressed human as a prey. And that classification would have to come first: another human being doesn’t suddenly turn into a potential burger because they squeak.* Were that the case, the human species would have gone extinct at around generation two.

By all means, the self-defence community is at liberty to continue telling women and children that if they manifest their pain in the way that comes natural to them, some people may see that as an invitation to cause them further harm. But they should have the decency to tell them what that means: that those people never saw them as fellow humans in the first place. That they were predators seeking targets way before the incident took place. And, most importantly, that the crimes and abuse they perpetrate isn’t and never was something that their victims caused.

*There is an exception. Some people have extreme pain responses to high-pitched noises, and some people respond to pain with aggression. This isn’t personal: they would respond in the same way to a running drill as to a crying child. The noise is the issue, regardless of its origin and cause. This is unfortunate for all involved, to be sure, but it doesn’t transfer the blame for resulting incidents on the person making the noise. And you know what else it doesn’t do? It doesn’t excuse grown-ass adults telling people naturally more high-pitched than them that it’s their fault if people choose to hurt them.