By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved
Most people think of an attacker as a stranger who jumps out of a dark alley or mugs them while they walk down the street, but most violent crimes (forcible robbery, rape, aggravated assault, and murder) are committed by people known to the victim. It turns out that people's gender comes into play in predicting whether their attacker will most likely be a stranger or acquaintance. According to the US Dept. of Justice, women are attacked more often by acquaintances (In 1994 60% of reported attacks on women were committed by acquaintances, with 26% of all murdered females being killed by husbands or boyfriends) and men are attacked more often by strangers (In 1994 63% of attacks on men were committed by persons unknown to them).
All predators, both human and animal, exhibit the same nature and go after their prey in the same manner. For example, when a shark spots something that it thinks it might like to eat it doesn't go right over and attack. Instead the shark will test it’s prey by circling it a few times to see how it reacts, then it will go up and bump into it to see if it will turn and attack. If it doesn't attack the shark back then the shark will go up and take a small bite and then swim away quickly, the small bite is another way of testing to see if the animal will fight back and to see if it really is something the shark will enjoy. Only after it has done this will it begin to actively consume its prey (When people survive shark attacks it is usually at the "nibble stage" where the shark just takes a quick bite. Since humans are not the sharks normal food they usually just spit it out and swim away).
What you see here is that a shark continually tests its prey to make sure it is safe before it attacks and the same is true with human predators. The last thing that a criminal wants is to get in a fight and perhaps get hurt so, like other predators, criminals go after the sick, injured, and weak. Criminals prefer to attack people who are 1.) Alone, 2.) Distracted, and 3.) Display predictable behavior. Criminals like to attack people that are alone because there is less chance of someone coming to help them, and criminals like attacking people who are distracted because then they're not paying attention to their surroundings and can be easily taken by surprise.
Predictable behavior includes two things: 1.) exhibiting a predictable schedule, and 2.) exhibiting a predictable response. Exhibiting a predictable schedule means you always take the trash out at the same time of day, always leave for work at the same time and drive the same route, always eat lunch at the same place, etc. If a criminal targets you and learns that you have a predictable schedule, then all they have to do is go to where they know you'll be and wait for you. If someone knows that you always take the trash out at each night all they have to do is arrive at , hide behind your trash bin, and then jump out and attack you when you show up. This might sound implausible but there are literally thousands and thousands of cases where someone has run outside to take the trash out, check their mailbox, or do some other quick task and was never heard from again.
Exhibiting a predictable response leads us into the thing that I really want to touch on and that is that criminals will rarely attack people at random. Generally they carefully pick people that display desirable vulnerabilities and then they "test" them to see if they are "right". If a criminal thinks that you might be an easy target and they give you a test and you respond passively, then they test you a second time and you respond passively again, then they know that they can expect you to react passively when they attack you.
Criminals want the highest chances of success when they commit their crimes so they will generally pick a target and then test them to see if they are "right". Criminals test to see if you can be tricked, allow yourself to be put into a vulnerable position, allow yourself to be isolated from others, and above all if you will allow your personal space to be violated. Most criminals will approach you and continually try to push their way into your personal space just to see what you'll do. They may comment on your appearance to see if it flusters you, they might probe for personal information to see if you become defensive, and then they might take a few steps closer to see if you become defensive or aggressive. If they go through a "feeling you out" process and they still feel comfortable with you then they'll feel safe enough to commit their crime.
There are two main types of attacks: random and predictable. Random attacks have no warning signs and you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Predictable attacks have warning signs that you can pick up on and act on before things reach the stage of violence. Most violent crime is predictable and there are signs that you can pick up if you are paying attention, and the biggest sign is people testing you or the location you're at. If you see someone watching you then it may be a sign that they are testing you. If someone approaches you, how close you'll let them get is a test. If they touch you and you don't object, that's a test. If you do object but they're able to get you to back down then that's also a test. Often criminals observe you for a little while to gather information about you and to see if you spot them. If they start following you and you spot them and make eye contact, then they generally just go target someone else. However, if a criminal can follow you for 5 or 10 minutes without you noticing then that tells them that you're not paying attention and are probably easy prey.
Someone testing a location will stand around where they don't need to be or do something else suspicious to see if anyone says anything to them. They’ll check out security camera placements, security personal, entrances and exits, and may leave bags unattended and then wait and see if anyone does anything. They might talk to some employees and see if they can trick them in some small manner, get them to divulge personal information, or divulge sensitive information about the location. Basically, when someone tests an area they look for vulnerabilities in security and then do things that should draw attention to see if anyone says or does anything. They might hang outside the women’s bathroom and watch girls for an hour to see if anyone says anything, or they might hang around and take notes. The response, or lack thereof, to their suspicious activity tells them how safe the area is for them.
You have to be on the lookout for people testing you, and when you find it you need to become assertive, aggressive if necessary, and get out of there.
There are five things that you should be looking for that are probable indicators that a criminal is testing you. If you notice any of these things you should become assertive and leave the area.
1.) Someone trying to get personal information from you. If someone that you don't know on a personal level tries to find out things like whether you're married or have a boyfriend/girlfriend, your sexual habits, where you live, what kind of car you drive, where you hang out for fun and when you'll be there, info about your children, or other personal information you should become defensive with them. There is a good chance that they are testing you to see how much you'll tell them and trying to get information that they can use later. You might have a conversation with this person on an elevator one day and a week later they show up at your house.
If someone is trying to get this kind of information just look them in the eye and assertively tell them that you don't feel comfortable telling them this kind of information. If they protest or tell you that you're being paranoid or rude just respond by saying, "That's just how I feel, now let's drop it" and then walk away.
2.) Someone trying to isolate you. People want privacy when they commit their crimes so if someone is trying to get you to go with them to an isolated area it should raise a red flag. If you tell them "no" and they persist then it’s probably a test so you should leave the area immediately. There is no honorable reason for someone that you don’t know to want you to be in an isolated area.
If someone wants to get you into an isolated area you should always test them by telling them "no" just to see how they react. If they accept your refusal and don't bring it up again than it may be nothing to worry about. However, if you tell them "no" and they keep persisting, start to get nervous, upset, or angry then that is a huge sign that something is wrong. The harder someone is trying to get you to go someplace isolated with them the more potential danger there is for you.
3.) Someone trying to get you to dismiss your protective instincts. If you're with someone and something doesn't "feel right" and you say something about it and they tell you that you're being paranoid, silly, stupid, or that you just don't know what you're talking about then that should also be a red flag. If someone is trying to get you to dismiss your natural protective instincts then they may have a dark motive for it.
Getting you to dismiss your instincts is another test; if your gut is telling you that something is wrong and you say something and the person you're with is able to say something like, "Oh, you're just being silly" and you accept it despite your feelings then that tells them that they have control over you and can get you to do just about whatever they want. Always trust your gut and if someone actively tries to get you to ignore it then you should get away from them.
4.) Someone you're not close to giving you gifts or doing you favors. If someone that you don't know shows up one day with a present for you...don't take it! NEVER, ever, ever take gifts or accept favors from people that you're not close to unless it's a Christmas party or similar situation. If it’s a situation where EVERYONE is getting gifts from each other or giving gifts to the same person then its fine, but other than that it isn't. Often a predator will give you a gift as a way to get closer to you and to build a sense of entitlement. For example, someone might say that since they gave you that gift last week you're now obligated to go to dinner with them this week. Gifts and favors are a very slippery slope and should be avoided.
5.) Someone is standing or wandering around and they are nervous, sweating, distracted, or fidgety. If you notice someone that seems really nervous, perhaps even sweating, and cannot seem to stand still then there is a good chance that they are a criminal looking for a victim. Often criminals go to populated areas and then hang around and search for just the right person to attack. Deep down criminals know what they're doing is wrong and only the most asocial and sociopathic individuals don't feel nervous or fearful before their crimes and this gives them away.
If you see someone hanging around or walking around and they seem really nervous and fidgety then you should create distance between the two of you and alert the police or security. You can call up security or the police and say that there is an individual who is wandering around, really nervous, and might be on drugs and they should send someone to come and investigate.
6.) Someone trying to invade your space or touch you. Generally crimes can't happen unless someone can touch you, so a criminal will almost always need to get close. The general rule is that unless you're someplace where empty space is an issue, if you don't know someone well they should be greater than arm's length from you. Unless you're good friends or intimate with someone they should be at least 4 feet away from you, and if someone insists on getting closer you should become assertive, aggressive if necessary, because they're probably seeing how close they can get before you stop them.
If someone that you don't know is standing 4 or 5 feet away from you and they take a step closer and you don't say anything they'll think "Ah-hah...an easy target!” At that point they'll often test you a second time by taking another step forwards to see what you'll do. The closer you let them get to you the better and weaker victim you become in their minds. In addition to passiveness, criminals also watch for signs of fear. If you show any fear when they approach you they'll see that as a green light to make their move.
If you're being tested and you become passive, fearful, or just don't object then that communicates that you're going to be an easy target, but if you become assertive, aggressive, or just stand up for yourself then that communicates that you're probably going to be more trouble to the criminal then you're worth. Often if you are assertive they'll test you a little bit more to see if you'll be intimidated and back down, and if you then become aggressive with them then often (around 95% of the time) they will leave and go pick on someone else.
One last thing, remember that just because someone backs off now doesn’t mean that they won’t come back later. If someone exhibits one or more of these testing behaviors and you become assertive or aggressive with them, and then one of you walks away…that doesn’t always mean that it’s over. If someone has their mind set on you as a victim, they may back off at the moment but then wait for you in the parking lot or start stalking you.
Standing up to a predator when they test you and showing them that you can and will become assertive and aggressive will deter nearly all predators, but still, if someone just has their heart set on you for whatever reason then ultimately the only thing that will stop them is force. The ability to look someone in the eye and become assertive or aggressive with them is very important but ultimately it is your ability to physically put your hands on someone and defend yourself that will keep you safe.