Target Hardening (Part 1) - How Predators Select Victims

First of all just to be clear, this post is talking about how predators select their victims and how to harden yourself as a target; with regard to asocial violence. That is the type of violence where the perpetrator does not want an audience (witnesses), such as a mugger, rapist, serial killer. This is as opposed to the bar room or class room bully who does want an audience to show of that they are the alpha male/female. For the sake of this post, we’ll primarily focus on the mugger as that is the most common type of asocial violence. For more information on the differences between social and asocial violence, please follow this link.

When the subject of street predators comes up in my classes I often ask, “how do lions hunt”?
The kids sometimes come up with some entertaining answers, but sooner or later we get there. They look for easy targets. They look for the very young, the old, the lame, the injured or sick. They don’t look for the biggest meatiest bull in the herd and say, he looks tasty, he’s got a lot of meat on him; lets go and show him who’s king of the jungle.

Basically, the lions want an easy kill. They don’t want a fight, they specifically choose (if they can) a victim that with a limited fighting capability. Lions often take down prey that are much bigger than themselves, like buffalo, zebra, wildebeest and when these animals fight back they can be very dangerous. A lion that gets seriously injured can’t hunt for a while! They go hungry and become a burden on the rest of the pride. They may even starve to death depending on the severity of their injuries.

The same basic psychology is true of human predators, after an attack they still want to be able to continue hunting! Consider for example a junkie who has to rob people regularly in order to feed his habit. Whereas the lion only has to consider whether or not its fit and strong enough, the junkie also has to consider social aspects such as a police hunt, being recognised, being identified in a lineup, leaving evidence (forensics) at the scene and so on. Being arrested, or having to take extra precautions to avoid arrest, can stop him from hunting and getting his next fix will feel (to him) like a matter of life or death.

There was an experiment conducted with convicts in prison showing them a film of shoppers in a busy shopping mall and asking them who they would select as a victim and why. Quite independently, most of them picked out the same people. Obviously physical characteristics come into it. It’s unlikely that anybody would select somebody like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime as a mugging target! But over and above big strong men, the people selected tended to be distracted and not fully aware of their surroundings. People who you could sneak up on and easily surprise. People who did not look like they would have the confidence to even put up a fight.

Outside of our diet and/or weight training, we are not able to do much about how big we are and certainly they won’t produce very quick results. But one thing that we can do very quickly and easily to lower our chances of being selected for a mugging is simply to be aware of our surroundings. If you want to send a text message for example; stop, put your back to a wall, look around, then do your text. Don’t be engrossed in anything that takes your attention of your surroundings. Looking down is a signal to the criminals that you are unaware. Wearing headphones at the same time is another signal.

In London, moped gangs robing people has been a growing issue over the last few years. In the video below, a reporter does an interview with on of them (though he hides his identity). Please have a look at it before continuing reading:-

For me, the most poignant part of the video is where they are watching people looking down at their phones and the reporter says, “But it’s so normal”.
The moped thief reacts straight away. “It’s not normal. How are you crossing the road? I saw a woman just now crossing the road with her phone, looking down. That’s not normal, you’re crossing the road you should have all eyes on the road”.

How obvious is that? If nothing else, we should be watching for traffic as we cross the road, but this is how conditioned so many people have become these days to focus on their phone to the detriment of their surroundings. Now imagine that it was a more dangerous predator, not someone who just wants to snatch and ride off!

You might also of noticed in the video that not all the victims were women or small men. There were several average to large sized men being robbed too as they simply were not aware that anything was about to happen until too late.

Also on the subject of looking down, it’s not only when we’re on our phone. It could be that we’ve had a bad day at work, a row with our partner, financial problems, whatever and we have our head down as mull all these problems over in our mind! It’s a standard thing that we do when we’re stressed or upset. But it’s like a big flashing beacon to the experienced mugger that we’re distracted and unaware of our surroundings.

Another way to lower our chances of being selected as a target is simply to carry ourselves with an air of confidence. Even a petite woman who does not have much chance of fighting of a large male attacker can lower her chances of being selected by just projecting the idea that she’ll stand up for herself and fight. Even if she can’t win, if she shouts and screams and attracts attention then you have potential for people to step in and help or simply just be a witness. Remember the predator wants to hunt again and again. If he’s had a good description of himself given to the police, if he’s got identifying marks such as a scratches on the face from where his victim fought back; if there’s a chance that a witness took his vehicle registration number as he tried to escape, or worse still (for him) if somebody tackled him and pinned him down; all of these things make it more difficult for him to hunt for the next few weeks or maybe even months as police pursue their enquiries. Or possibly years if he’s actually caught and imprisoned!

And of course, don’t (if you can possibly avoid it) go into dark lonely places on your own. It’s not always possible but try to avoid dark lonely alleys, unlit streets, empty car parks, anywhere that you’ll be on your own with nobody to help or even be a witness. It’s basic, but so many people want to be strong and independent and consider such precautions as a sign of weakness and fear! It’s not weakness, it’s not fear. It’s a common sense precaution and anybody interested in real self-protection should be looking beyond just physical fighting skills. I regularly walk my dog down a local cycle path. In the winter it starts getting dark here from 4pm. I don’t walk him down that path after dark. I figure I can handle myself in most situations, but if I do end up in an altercation because I went somewhere that I didn’t need to go, then there is a serious failure of my approach to self-protection.

It has to be said though that nothing is guaranteed, there are far too many variables. All the advise above is about lowering the odds and that’s the best we can hope for when it comes to asocial violence. The main defence is simply awareness of your surrounding and taking common sense precautions.




Multiply your effectiveness with more impact for less effort and where to hit for best effect.
Bonus: Historical look at Bassai Dai, one of Karate’s most pivotal katas




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