Excerpt from “Survive the Predator” by Leon Myburgh
I want you to imagine the following scene with me.
It is 17h00 on a hot summer afternoon in Africa. The worst heat of the day is over. Herds of animals are flocking at a waterhole to quench their thirst after spending most of the day hiding from the harsh African sun. The bush is alive with sounds and dust is visibly hanging in the air as a result of the hundreds of animal hooves walking towards the water. Being summertime, most of the antelope have young offspring. The young are excited about life and playfully run around the herds. Occasionally you see one jumping high into the air.
A herd of Impala antelope are approaching the same waterhole. Their backsides bearing the distinctive dark brown marking in the shape of the letter “M”. Game Rangers often jokingly refer to Impala as “McDonalds” as the markings resemble the logo of the famous fast-food chain. A fit and healthy-looking male Impala in his prime is leading the heard. There are some younger male and female impala in the herd as well. Some of the younger males playfully lock horns and test each other’s strength. They start drinking at the water hole, enjoying the thirst-quenching cool water. The adults are tense and alert as they are often ambushed at waterholes by predators like crocodiles.
About 100 meters from the herd, concealed in the tall grass, is a huge male lion. Male lions notoriously do not hunt much, leaving most of the hunting work to the female lions in the pride and then forcefully taking their share of meat from the females. This male is alone. After he was forced out of his pride by another male lion, he is dependent upon himself to hunt for food. He is huge and muscular with an impressive dark mane. His tawny coat blends perfectly with the tall grass offering him excellent camouflage. He stays downwind to make sure that they do not smell him before he is close enough. Lions and other predators never know where their next meal will come from and more often than not, they are not successful with a hunt. They have to conserve as much energy as possible and use stealth to improve their chances of surprising their prey.
When the male lion is about 30 meters from the Impala, the dominant male impala becomes aware of the stalking lion and snorts loudly to warn the herd of the approaching danger. They all start running away in the same direction. The lion pursues them at full speed. The dominant male Impala leads the herd and runs strong at the front. The younger impala cannot keep up and way at the back, a little impala lamb falls behind at least 5 meters. The lion is rapidly closing in and with a massive swipe of his right front paw, manages to sweep the baby impala completely of its legs. The baby impala makes helpless bleating noises and attempts to get back onto its legs but the massive jaws of the lion has already locked onto the lamb’s throat…
Back to human life. What does this have to do with personal protection? Well you see, criminals are also predators. Just like lions, cheetahs and leopards they actively seek opportunity to hunt. Their entire life revolves around looking for their next prey. Just like male lions, they do not want to work hard to achieve their goals. The easiest opportunity is what they are actively seeking. They target the physically weaker ones, the unprepared ones, the ones they can easily overpower. If they cannot overpower them alone, they “hunt” in groups or they use weapons to intimidate victims into submission.
So, what are examples of baby impala in human terms? It is important to realize that, like lions, criminals always need the element of surprise on their side to succeed with their attack. They always control the time, place and the method of the attack. This makes it extremely hard to defend against predators because everything is stacked in their favour. Note that I said extremely hard, not impossible. Sometimes baby impala, buffalo, warthogs etc. escape from a predator attack, even after they have been caught. The same is possible for humans. It is obviously easier to avoid the predator before the attack than it is to try and escape when the jaws already clamped around your neck.
When hunting for the human version of Baby Impalas, criminals look for easy opportunities when selecting their victims. The four main things they look for in their next victim:
1. Physical Appearance
When looking at physical appearance, the attacker evaluates his chances of success. The attacker wants to be sure that the victim will not be able to put up physical resistance or if the victim does resist, that the attacker will be able to overpower the victim. Are you a woman, guess what, most women will not be able to fight off a determined criminal with muscle power alone. Children are an easy opportunity because they cannot sufficiently injure an adult attacker with simple kicks and punches, it does not matter whether little Johnny has a karate black belt at age 9 and won 2 gold medals at the last national karate championships, he will not have the physical capability to bring an adult attacker down using conventional kicks and strikes.
Older people and people with physical disabilities are equally at risk. Overweight people, severely underweight people, people wearing glasses – all may signal to the predator that you may be an easy opportunity. So, what does wearing glasses have to do with the victim selection process? Well, most people subconsciously believe that people wearing glasses are academically inclined and/or that they cannot see properly without their glasses. In the mind of a criminal, those stereotypes will most likely not put up much of a fight. You see where I am going with this? A lot of people may feel offended at this point. “How dare you say that women are physically weaker or that people with disabilities are an easy opportunity? This is blatant discrimination and sexist!” Here is the harsh reality – criminals do not care about your feelings. They do not care about being politically correct or gender-sensitive. All they care about is opportunity and whether they are likely to succeed with their attack or not. The sooner one accepts this reality and make peace with it, the sooner you can prepare and train yourself to offer meaningful resistance and surprise that next bad guy who underestimates you.
In 1984 Betty Grayson and Morris Stein conducted an experiment in New York in the United States. They set up a video camera and filmed people walking along a street. Nobody was aware that they were being filmed. They then took the footage and showed it individually to prisoners who had been convicted for violent crimes such as aggravated assault, rape and murder. They then asked the convicts to look at the video footage and identify who they would select as a victim. What they found was astonishing. 87% Of the prisoners selected the same people from the videos as victims. What is even more remarkable is that most prisoners selected their victims in less than 5 seconds!
From this study, 3 things were identified that triggered the prisoners to select the people they chose as victims:
Identifier number 1: Walking with the head down, and the eyes pointed at the ground. This signals a variety of things to would-be attackers. Firstly, that you are not aware of your surroundings and will most likely not see them coming. Secondly that you may not have a lot of self-confidence so you will probably be easily intimidated and will most likely not fight back.
Identifier number 2: A stride length that was too short or too long, relative to their height. It may create an impression of lack of self- worth or even “nerdiness”. If you stride with too long strides and try to appear super confident, it may give off signals that you are insecure and try to make yourself appear taller and bigger.
Identifier number 3: A disconnect between the way a person’s upper and lower body moves. Normally when you walk, your opposite arm should swing as you step with the opposite leg and for most people, there is a distinct rhythm. In the study, it was shown that those who were identified as victims by the convicts, moved in a less coordinated fashion with an unusual rhythm.
It is important to realize that this is not an exact science and not all criminals think alike. What may attract one attacker may deter another. We are dealing with human beings and every human being is unique. Whether the predator attacks or not will also depend on various other factors which the predator will evaluate before striking. But what is true is that predators want easy opportunity, the least amount of work for the maximum reward and to identify easy opportunity, they classify and stereotype their victims.
2. Distracted Persons
Remember the Impala at the waterhole analogy? When at the waterhole you will always see that animals are super nervous. They know that their lives are at risk every time they approach that waterhole. They know predators wait for them at waterholes.
Human predators also ambush their victims at certain places and when they are doing certain things. Most car hijackings happen when drivers are forced to stop i.e. at parking lots, stop signs, traffic lights, motorized gates busy opening etc. I encourage you to do a little experiment next time you are at one of these places. Watch what drivers are doing. Most use the opportunity to check their mobile phones. All their attention is focused on their social media profiles or the call they are making or taking. The last thing on their mind is criminal attacks. Unfortunately for them, criminals know this and to criminals, it is as if every day is Christmas. All they have to do is to look for victims on their phones. The victim will not see them coming at all.
Think I am exaggerating? Do another little experiment. Gather a group of family or friends and tell them to get their phones out and quickly type a text message to each other. While they are busy doing it, hold your right hand into the air. Hold three fingers up. Then stand on one leg. Then tell them to stop texting and look at you. Ask them which hand you held in the air while they were texting. I can almost guarantee that nobody will be able to tell (guessing does not count!) Then ask them how many fingers you held in the air. You will get that confused look from them. Then ask them on which leg did you stand. You will be met with silence or laughter when they realize they saw nothing. As a full-time C.O.B.R.A. Self-Defense Instructor I get to train thousands of people from all walks of life every year. I work with a variety of clients ranging from blue-chip corporates to 5-year old children. Every time I run this experiment, I get the same result. Cell phones are the greatest distractor of the modern age. If you walk around or drive around or stand in public while talking or texting, you have a huge red target on your forehead, the back of your head, chest and back. You are the ultimate prey for the criminal predator.
Distraction can also take on other forms. The other day while travelling in peak traffic in Johannesburg, I saw a lady reading a book while driving! Applying make-up at traffic lights, talking to passengers, fiddling in the glove compartment, accepting help from a stranger at an ATM, are all examples of being distracted. Criminals love distracted people because criminals rely on the element of surprise when striking.
3. Relaxed Persons
What is the first thing you do when you get home from work? The first thing most South Africans do is to switch off their burglar alarm system and outdoor beams. Some people then pour a drink, others start preparing dinner, some watch their favourite soapy on TV. The last thing on most people’s mind is criminals. All they are focused on is relaxing after a hard day’s work. Criminal predators know this. That is one of the reasons why most armed house robberies happen between 19h00 and 23h00 in the evenings. They know the alarms are off, doors are left unlocked, gates are left open, the vicious dogs are fed etc.
Have you noticed how many people get robbed the very first night they arrive at their holiday home by the ocean? Or how many people are robbed when they are taking a walk next to the ocean or while they are out for a jog or mountain biking? Why is that? The answer is simple. They are relaxed and they are not focusing on potential threats. Their focus is on pleasure. Christmas time for criminals!
4. Uninhibited Persons
Consuming alcohol and taking drugs affects people’s inhibitions, physical ability and cognitive reasoning skills. It causes people to relax. As we learned earlier, predators love relaxed people. When consuming intoxicating substances, people become less stressed and more open to things they will normally avoid or shy away from. People make poor judgements when intoxicated. Some become really brave and ignorant. Some become aggressive and challenging. Intoxicated people (that includes slightly intoxicated people as well) allow and do things they normally will not, like talking to complete strangers or going home with a person they just met…
When the situation takes a turn for the worse and they have to physically fight to escape, guess what, more often than not their coordination is negatively influenced. They cannot fight back effectively. They just became the next statistic.
By this time, you should have realized that many attacks can be avoided by practising simple common-sense strategies. Pay attention to your surroundings and look confident, stay off your phone in public, do not relax your security when at home or on holiday, do not become intoxicated or use drugs in public places. More often than not, this is all that is required to become a less desirable target for a criminal predator. Remember that they want easy opportunity, the least amount of work for the maximum gain. If they have too work to hard or if the risk becomes too high that they will not succeed with their attack, the greater the chance that they will move on to the next target.
The weird thing about victim selection and conflict avoidance is that you do not always know how many times you managed to make a criminal predator think twice. He might have spotted you and decided that you are going to be his next victim only to be deterred by something you said or did or the fact that you looked at him and took away his element of surprise as he was approaching you.
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