Don't Be a Victim of Crime

2011

There are a number of things you can do to avoid being a victim of crime. You can choose not to flash large wads of cash around or walk at night in dark and dangerous parts of cities. That much is common sense. But the scientific field of victimology is finding that people often give off clues to criminals without realizing it; clues that mark them as good targets.

This does not suggest that you are responsible for a crime happening if you become a victim. Not only are you not aware of these more-subtle signals that criminals pick up on, but even when you consciously choose to walk at night in a rough part of town you are may simply willing to take a risk in order to enjoy the evening. And should you be attacked, you are certainly not to blame.

Of course if you want to avoid being a victim as much as possible you will choose to engage in risky behavior only when it is worth it. But what if you don't know what you are doing to attract criminals? Then perhaps it is time to learn.

Criminologists tell us that criminals prey on those whom they judge to be vulnerable. Like mountain lions which can spot a weak deer (or a limping hiker), street criminals can judge who will be an easy target. They rarely choose their victims randomly. A mugger, just like a predator in the wild, does not want to get hurt in the process, so he might target older people and small women, and anyone else who seems vulnerable. Your posture, walking style, and even how you look at passing people (or don't look), are all potential clues to a seasoned criminal.

This goes beyond just street crime. According to an article in Psychology Today;

The cues add up to what David Buss terms "exploitability." An evolutionary psychologist at the University of Texas, Buss is examining a catalogue of traits that seem to invite some people to exploit others. There's cheatability (cues you can be duped in social exchange), sexual-exploitability (cues you can be sexually manipulated), as well as mugability, robability, killability, stalkability, and even sexual-assaultability.

The victim selection process is not as simple as you might think either. The article continues;

In a classic study, researchers Betty Grayson and Morris I. Stein asked convicted criminals to view a video of pedestrians walking down a busy New York City sidewalk, unaware they were being taped. The convicts had been to prison for violent offenses such as armed robbery, rape, and murder.

Within a few seconds, the convicts identified which pedestrians they would have been likely to target. What startled the researchers was that there was a clear consensus among the criminals about whom they would have picked as victims—and their choices were not based on gender, race, or age. Some petite, physically slight women were not selected as potential victims, while some large men were.

So what are the selection criteria, and what can you do to prevent becoming a victim of crime? To start with, let's look at some of the things criminals are looking at. These include posture, how fast you are walking, the length of your stride, general body language, and awareness of your environment. The way these are used is not even necessarily something the criminals themselves consciously understand. It is an intuitive process that develops with experience. For example, if you casually lay your coat or purse on a bench in a park and don't watch it, a thief might pick up on that and follow you, intuiting that you'll provide an opportunity for a theft.

In general, if you want to avoid being a victim of crime, try the following:

Act confidently. Criminologists note that even small women are less likely to be attacked if they walk confidently and act as though they have no fear.

Walk quickly. Don't walk so fast that you look nervous, but when choosing who to victimize criminals often go after those who are the slower people in a given setting. This may be in part because slow walkers are easier to follow, but it is also thought that a faster pace might indicate self-confidence. If you can't walk quickly, take other precautions, like traveling with friends when in riskier areas.

Avoid distractions. Talking on a cell phone or listening to an MP3 player signals criminals that you are more likely to provide an opportunity for an attack, because you are paying less attention to your surroundings.

Look at people. Don't stare or hold eye contact long enough to prompt anger, but do not look down when others look at you. Predators pick up on this as a sign of submissiveness and weakness.

Avoid getting drunk in public. This should be an obvious one, but you present yourself as a more likely target for crime if you are staggering down the street.

Leave false clues. When at home, leave clues suggesting that a "tough target" lives there. Stickers announcing alarm systems can help (even if there is no system), and one rapist who was interviewed even suggested that single women should leave an old pair of men's work boots outside the front door.

Researchers have also found that resentment is a motivating factor for many robbers. They feel that life has been unfair, and when they see people flaunting their wealth, they get angry. To avoid being a victim of crime, then, you might want to limit how often and where you show off fancy jewelry or electronics or other symbols of wealth. It has been found that even acting as though you are superior can trigger criminals to attack. According to criminologists, a criminal often has to "work himself up to it" by finding reasons why someone deserves to be a victim. Avoid giving them reasons.

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