Northwest College

Victimology and Safety Tips

Are some people seemingly easier targets as potential victims than others? What might make someone seem like an easier target?

Victim-Blaming

The following information examines how to reduce one’s risk of an assault by looking at victimology and offering basic safety tips. However, it is important to reinforce that if an assault happens, the victim is never responsible for it happening.

The responsibility belongs to the perpetrator, not the victim.

Though people may attempt to reduce their risk of victimization, the violence may still happen. 

Victimology

Victimology is the study of how victims’ behaviors may lead them to being viewed as an easier target of a crime.  

According to Psychology Today’s article “Marked for Mayhem,” one of the central concepts in the field of victimology is a “risk continuum,” meaning there are degrees of risk for a type of crime based on a person’s career, lifestyle, relationships, movements, and personality.

Flashing wads of cash, wearing expensive jewelry, and walking alone on back streets are some obvious factors that could increase a person’s potential for victimization. Other factors, however, are more subtle, such as a person’s posture, walking style, and ability to read facial expressions (Marked for Mayhem).

In a classic 1981 study by Betty Grayson and Morris I. Stein called “Attracting Assault: Victim’s Nonverbal Cues,” the researchers asked convicted criminals to view a video of pedestrians walking down a busy New York sidewalk. Within seconds, the convicts identified which pedestrians they would have been likely to target.

There was a clear consensus among the criminals about whom they would have picked as victims. Their choices were not based on gender, race, or age.

Rather, the criminals selected potential would-be victims based on several nonverbal signals, such as posture, body language, pace of walking, length of stride, and awareness of their environment (Marked for Mayhem).

What aspects of demeanor mark potential victims as good targets?

“Marked for Mayhem” by Psychology Today offers several indicators that may make a person more vulnerable to victimization.

Walking Style:

Criminals view people who have a walking style that lacks organized movement and flowing motion as being less self-confident. This way of walking suggests they are less athletic and fit, thus much more exploitable. People who drag their feet, shuffle along, or show other unusual gaits are targeted more often than people who walk quickly and fluidly.

Lack of Awareness/Distracted:

A person who is not paying attention, who is distracted by talking on the phone or listening to music, or who looks confused and lost are more vulnerable to being victims.

Poor Skills in Interpreting Nonverbal Facial Cues:

Women who are victims of rape tend to be less able than average to interpret nonverbal facial cues. Poor interpretation skills may render them oblivious to the warning signs of hostile intent; they may be more likely to enter or stay in a dangerous situation.

Personality:

Though our society engages in rape myths that indicate that women who dress provocatively draw attention and put themselves at risk of sexual assault, studies reveal different information. Women with passive, submissive personalities are more likely to be raped, and they tend to wear body-concealing clothing: high necklines, long pants, long shirts, and multiple layers. Predatory men can accurately identify submissive women by their style of dress and other aspects of their appearance.

Drinking and Drug Use:

Drunken people appear more vulnerable and are more likely to place themselves in a dangerous situation. Alcohol decreases peoples’ ability to evaluate the consequences of their actions. It also distorts their ability to predict how others perceive them (Marked for Mayhem).

Once again, a look at victimology does not imply that people who stand out as easy targets are to blame for becoming victims. Perpetrators are solely responsible for the crimes they commit.

Safety Tips

Sexual violence can happen to anyone. Although there is no infallible method to prevent sexual assault, taking precautions may help reduce your risk of victimization. Consider the following safety tips:

Awareness:

Stay alert and attuned with your surroundings. Do you walk with headphones and music? Do you walk with your head down as you are texting?

Confidence:

Send the message that you’re calm, confident, and know where you’re going. Look people in the eye. Let them know you see them. Keep your head up and keep good posture.

Intuition:

Trust your intuition. If someone or something makes you feel uneasy, avoid that person or leave the situation.

Alcohol:

Alcohol plays a role in many sexual assaults on college campuses. When drinking, do not accept drinks from anyone if you did not see them prepared. Don’t leave your drink unattended. Don’t drink from punch bowls or open containers.

Date Rape Drugs:

Certain drugs are sometimes used to facilitate a sexual assault. Drugs, such as rohypnol, GHB, and ketamine, can be slipped into a person's drink. These drugs often have no color, taste, or smell, so they can be difficult to detect. They can weaken and confuse a person, as well as affect memory. For full details on date rape drugs, visit the Office on Women's Health Date Rape Drugs Fact Sheet

Buddy System:

When at parties, bars, or out late at night, arrange a buddy system with a friend and watch out for each other. Make a plan with your friend or friends before you go out.

Material Objects:

If you are threatened and the assailant is after your purse, necklace, or car, give it to him. No material object is worth risking your life over.

Isolation:

If you are in a public place and a predator attempts to abduct you with a weapon, do not go. If he is willing to kill you in public, then he is certainly willing to kill you in isolation.

If you are isolated against your will, though, feign compliance until a clear escape opportunity presents itself. Once you see that moment of opportunity, make your move and escape.

Further Resources:

For more information on intuition and violence, read Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear.

To learn more about personal safety, consider taking a self-defense class.

If you choose to drink, learn ways to make it safer from RAINN's Alcohol Safety page

If you have been victimized and need help, consider the following resources: