What makes a person a victim? Human predators select their prey based on signals given off by their potential victims. They have learned to sense who is or is not a suitable target.
What human predators seek
Like a wild animal, the human predator wants an easy conquest and will seek out those perceived as weak, submissive, and unlikely to fight back. Predators do not want resistance and certainly do not want to be injured. A sign of strength or defiance, whether blatant or implied, is often sufficient to cause a predator to abandon the predatory process and look for a more "cooperative" victim.
Predators do not select people who they think will confront and challenge them. Rapists, muggers, abusers, and bullies look for someone they can dominate and control. However, what may dissuade one assailant may infuriate another. A defiant response may create a situation where the assailant feels obligated to carry out his or her threat or "lose face."
How victims are selected
In 1984, Betty Grayson and Morris Stein conducted a study to determine the criteria used by predators to select their victims. They videotaped pedestrians on a busy New York City sidewalk and showed the tape to convicts who were incarcerated for violent offenses (rape, murder, robbery, etc.)
They had the convicts identify people on the tape who would make desirable victims. Within seven seconds, the convicts made their selections. There was significant consistency of the people that were selected as victims although the criteria were not readily apparent.
Some small, slightly built women were passed over, while some large men were selected. The selection was not dependent on race, age, size, or gender. Even the convicts did not know exactly why they selected as they did. It appears that much of the predator/prey selection process is unconscious from the perspective of both predator and the potential victim.
An analysis of the movement and body language of the people on the videotape had the following results:
- Stride. People selected as victims had an exaggerated stride: either abnormally short or long. They dragged, shuffled, or lifted their feet unnaturally as they walked. Non-victims, on the other hand, tended to have a smooth, natural, heel-to-toe stride.
- Rate. Victims tend to walk at a different rate than non-victims. Usually, they walk slower than the flow of pedestrian traffic. Their movement lacks a sense of deliberateness or purpose. However, an unnaturally rapid pace can project nervousness or fear.
- Fluidity. Victims had an awkward body movement. Jerkiness, raising and lowering one's center of gravity, or wavering from side to side. This was contrasted with a smoother, more coordinated movement of the non-victims.
- Wholeness. Victims lacked "wholeness" in their body movement. They swung their arms as if they were detached and independent from the rest of their body. Non-victims moved their body from their "center" as a coordinated whole implying strength, balance, and confidence
- Posture and gaze. A slumped posture is indicative of weakness or submissiveness. A downward gaze implies preoccupation and being unaware of one's surroundings. Also, someone reluctant to establish eye contact can be perceived as submissive.
These traits reflect a person's perceived vigilance and potential to fight. The researchers concluded that, when people understand how to move confidently, they can reduce their risk of assault.
Martial arts study and training develop the qualities of movement that discourage victim selection and help people project a "don't mess with me" demeanor. You cannot simply "pretend" or "fake" confidence and expect to ward off predatory selection. However, each of these qualities may be developed through the study of martial arts and may dramatically reduce the risk of assault.
Benefits of martial arts training
Much of the predator/prey selection process is subconscious. It is unlikely that you can consciously and consistently control non-verbal signals that you project. However, you can learn skills that will change your non-verbal signals. Some benefits gained from martial arts training include:
- Awareness. Predators seek victims who are unaware, preoccupied, and easy to ambush. By becoming more aware of your surroundings, you not only increase the odds of detecting a potential predator, but you project an image of vigilance.
- Fitness. Your level of fitness impacts your ability to defend yourself:
- If you are attacked, your ability to successfully escape or fight off the attacker is dramatically impacted by your physical condition.
- A strong, well-toned body will manifest the quality of movement of a non-victim.
- Fitness positively impacts your personality. The increased self-esteem, confidence, and emotional resilience that result from being in good physical condition are non-victim qualities that predators want to avoid.
- Reduced chance of attack. Martial arts training reduces the likelihood of having to defend yourself. It teaches you about confrontational situations and helps you develop tools to deal with them.
- Knowledge. Knowledge reduces fear and builds confidence. Confidence is a non-victim quality. Read books and articles about martial arts and self-defense. Do what you can to clarify your "mental maps" of how confrontations happen, how to avoid them, and how to respond if you cannot avoid them.