Is there such a thing as the perfect victim or are people picked at random? Is it just bad luck; a case of wrong place wrong time, or do offenders specifically target their victims? Does our body language give away signals to suggest that we are easy targets? Criminals seem to think so. In fact, there are certain ‘nonverbal cues’ criminals look for in potential victims.

Did you know that a criminal will take just 7 seconds to weigh up a potential victim? Just think about that for a moment. Seven seconds is all it takes to look you over and decide whether to rob, assault, rape, or kill you.

Does this short amount of time mean that it is easy to pick out a potential victim? Isn’t it important to choose the right person?

I mean, criminals want an easy target, don’t they? Someone who is not likely to fight back, to scream, or make a scene. They don’t want to get caught or to get hurt themselves. So, shouldn’t they consider a number of factors and take their time?

Well, apparently it doesn’t take time, and it is easy to spot those who are vulnerable. The other surprising thing is that the people you would think would be potential victims, i.e. old and female, are not necessarily at the top of the list. In fact, age and gender are not important factors when choosing a victim.

What Are the Nonverbal Cues Used by Criminals to Look for a Potential Victim?

Instead, your type of gait, how fast you are walking, where your hands are, and whether you make eye contact or not. These are all nonverbal cues criminals look for.

All these cues give criminals clues as to how likely you are to fight back or resist. So what exactly are they looking for in a potential victim?

Research suggests there are several things criminals pay particular attention to. One study showed a videotape of busy streets in New York to convicted criminals. They asked the offenders to pick out potential victims on a scale of 1 (an easy rip-off) to 10 (too risky). Then they asked why they would choose some people over others.

The results were surprising. In the videos, every inmate chose exactly the same people as potential victims.

Here are the 9 nonverbal cues revealed by the criminals:

  1. Short walking stride

Short steps are an indication of timidity or caution to a criminal. We take little steps when we have an injury because we are trying not to put pressure on the injured foot.

Smaller, dainty steps are also a sign of femininity. In ancient times, geisha girls would wrap their feet so that they would walk in tiny steps to appear more ladylike. So small steps are a sign of weakness.

  1. Abnormally long walking stride

On the other hand, you don’t want to exaggerate your walking stride to make it appear abnormally long. Why? Because this will make you look clumsy and ungainly. You will stand out from the crowd and paint a target on your back.

  1. Dragging your feet

Dragging your feet is another one of those nonverbal cues that criminals will pick up on. It suggests a number of things; you are tired and not concentrating on your surroundings, or, your feet are hurting and you can’t lift them properly. Either one indicates that you are a potential victim.

  1. Lifting your feet

Likewise, lifting up your feet as if you are marching is also an indicator that your feet are sore. Perhaps you are wearing new shoes or they are tight and you have a blister? Walking in this abnormal way suggests something isn’t quite right. It sticks out to criminals.

  1. Unsynchronised arm swing

An unnatural gait where your arms swing out of whack with your leg stride is a huge red flag to criminals. It makes you look clumsy and lumbering. You don’t look as if you are athletic. You don’t look as if you could get away easily if attacked. This type of gait sticks out and draws attention.

  1. Arms pressed to your body

It is natural to swing your arms from side to side to balance out leg strides. Walking with your arms pressed to the sides of your body conveys a very timid nature.

What this says to a criminal is that you are making yourself as small as possible. You don’t want to be seen. You are trying to be invisible. You want to blend into the background. When we are injured, we bring our limbs closer to our body to protect our vital organs.

  1. Walking really fast

You might think that a fast walk suggests confidence and authority. This person is busy; they have somewhere important to be and they are rushing to get there. But fast walking does not indicate this to a criminal.

Instead, criminals said that a very fast walk made them think the person was anxious or nervous. They also said that faster walkers did not pay attention to their surroundings and that they were preoccupied. This made them easy targets.

  1. Walking slowly

Animals that are injured in the wild move more slowly than the rest of the herd. This makes it easier for predators to spot and pick out. So it is the same in human society. Someone walking slowly might be tired, or depressed, or simply not paying attention.

  1. Slumped shoulders

Imagine you are a criminal and you have to choose to attack a person with slumped shoulders or someone who is standing straight up with their chest out. Who would you pick? It’s obvious when you think about it. Slumped shoulders indicate depression, low self-worth, easy pickings.

Whereas standing straight up with your chest out indicates confidence and assertiveness.

How to Use Nonverbal Cues to Make Yourself Less of a Target

nonverbal cues potential victim

Of course, now that we know what criminals are looking for in a potential victim, we can use this to our advantage. So how can we change our behaviour and beat the offenders at their own game?

Walk using a confident manner

When you are walking, take confident steps that are average in length. Use synchronised arm movements that are in step with your leg strides.

Head up, shoulders back

Keep your head up when you walk as if the top of your head has a piece of string attached to it. Pull your shoulders back and keep your back straight.

Eye contact, be attentive

Sometimes we think that if we make eye contact, we are asking for interaction, but this is not the case. Eye contact means ‘I’ve seen you, I am ready, don’t mess with me’. So make split-second eye contact and look around as you are walking.

Final Thoughts

It can be worrying to think that we are potential victims to certain types of people in our society. But by learning what nonverbal cues they are looking for, we can change our behaviour and keep ourselves safe.



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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Carol J Marshall

    Thank you for another great article, Carol

    1. Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)

      Thanks Carol. I hope it’s not becoming too obvious that my favourite topics are criminals and psychopaths 🙁

  2. Jeanett

    Excellent article. It’s difficult to find high-quality
    writing nowadays. I truly appreciate people like you!
    Take care!

    Appreciate it.

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