Become a Hard Target: Discourage Criminal Predation through Body Language

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The Late Dr. William Aprill, a psychologist and noted self-defense trainer, taught that violent criminal actors make split-second decisions when evaluating potential victims, and he called this a “go versus no-go decision.” Essentially, the criminal assesses an individual and decides to act out his plan or select a different target based on the vibe they get from the current individual of interest. Dr. Aprill taught that the prepared citizen should try to “fail” that interview and be a “no-go decision,” Thus, no force is necessary if we avoid the violent encounter in the first place.

Criminals are quite similar to predators on the Serengeti Plain; does a hyena go after a weak-looking Gazelle or a lion? So, with criminal predators, they make decisions based on their interpretation of a victim’s potential to fight back. If you appear as a hard target who will put up a fight, then you are less appealing as a victim. If you look like an easy victim with no ability or penchant to fight back, you are far more likely to be selected as a “go” decision. Therefore, how can the citizen harden their appearance to be less likely for criminal selection?

What Do Criminals Seek?

When making the go or no-go decision, criminals seek a victim who will comply and not resist. That simple. A “resource” predator will look for a victim who will hand over material things, like the cash in your pocket, without resistance. A “process” predator will seek victims that can be abused, abducted, raped, etc…, with little or no resistance. Therefore, any potential victim that appears to be the sort of individual who would put up a fight is far less appealing. In turn, understanding what appearances factor into this decision is in order.

To do this, we can pull from several studies that have been conducted in which violent, imprisoned felons were shown videos of multiple people walking on the street and were asked to “select” the best victims. The findings were startling in the uniformity of response from a multitude of violent criminal actors, as the same individuals were chosen over and over again. Likewise, the same individuals were considered a no-go among the majority of felons. What are the characteristics that lead to either decision?

Alertness

One characteristic of preferable victims versus no-go decisions is that of alertness to the environment. Criminals prefer people who are oblivious to what surrounds them. Alertness alone can not only help you detect danger before it is too late, but by being alert, you appear less desirable for victimization. Being alert when in transitional spaces, such as parking lots, on the streets, etc…, makes you a much harder target simply by letting the predator know that you are aware of their presence and likely ready for it. If you spot a person in an environment that gives you a bad vibe, look at them and acknowledge their presence. Don’t stare long and hard so as to incite a confrontation, but let the threatening individual know you are fully aware of their presence.

Gait

It seems odd, but the single greatest factor in criminal selection is gait, the way an individual walks and carries themselves. The studies that have been done on violent felons show that people with abnormal gaits are preferred victims. A physical impairment can contribute to this, but more specifically, the betrayal of confidence, or lack thereof, is present in an individual’s stride. Violent offenders hone in on people who walk unusually slowly or even unusually quickly, and they are more likely to select a person who seems to meander through the environment rather than one who looks as though they are going somewhere with purpose.

A good example that I use to help describe the behaviors and walk of a perfect victim is this: think of the girl we all knew in high school or even early college years who was shy, not confident, and walked down the hallway clutching her books, looking at the ground, intentionally avoiding eye contact. That is a perfect victim: she lacks self-confidence and is unlikely to put up a fight. Therefore, the personality portrayed by gait is far more important than the physical capacity.

How Can We Harden Our Appearance?

There is no denying that the way someone walks and the amount of confidence someone exudes has much to do with genetic makeup. It is hardly a conscious and deliberate decision to be very confident or not. Likewise, some people are large and imposing, and some are small. Still, we come back to the fact that the studies show confidence and alertness have far more to do with the selection process than size or appearance of strength. This being the case, the individual can, with work, harden their appearance. How can this be done?

First, if you are extremely introverted, force yourself to get more comfortable with interacting with people. Join Toastmasters. I know that sounds difficult and scary to people who do not like to speak publicly, but this will get you over your fear of interacting with people you don’t know. Getting more comfortable with interaction will lead to more confident body language.

Second, practice your situational awareness. Criminals prefer oblivious victims. If you are aware of, and look at, to acknowledge the presence of, a criminal actor, that immediately starts moving you into the “no-go” decision.

Third, and most importantly, get training. Learn to fight, and learn to use weaponry, and carry defensive tools. If you are skilled and armed, a sense of confidence will set in that is undeniable. You will stop seeing yourself as weak and vulnerable if you are, indeed, nothing of the kind. Trained and dangerous people exude confidence, and this is clear in the body language. Thus, consistently, it seems that the people most capable of protecting themselves are the least likely to be put to the test because they appear to be a hard target, and that image comes naturally due to the training.

Simply not being selected for victimization is better than needing to defend yourself, and hardening your appearance through responsible means is part of it.

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