By Chuck Hustmyre, Jay Dixit, published on January 1, 2009 - last reviewed on January 29, 2013
Street criminals are selective about their victims. Unfortunately, many of us unwittingly give off signals that mark us as easy targets.
Midnight in New Orleans. Lisa Z. was walking home from the French Quarter hotel where she works when three men stepped around a corner and stopped in front of her. When she tried to cross the street to get away, the men charged after her. "One guy clotheslined me," she recalls, "then choked me, threw me on the sidewalk, and jammed a chrome, snub-nosed .38 revolver against my cheekbone." Lisa was kicked, robbed, and then told not to move or she'd be shot in the face.
The men who robbed her likely chose Lisa because she unknowingly sent out signals that marked her as a "soft" target. Alone and encumbered by a backpack, she appeared to be a vulnerable person who could be easily controlled. "Some of these guys concentrate on people who are easy to overcome," says Volkan Topalli, a psychologist and criminologist at Georgia State University. "They'll target females, they'll target older people, but they're also looking for cues of weakness or fear."
Criminals, like their victims, come in all varieties, but researchers have found that they don't choose their victims randomly. There's a reason FBI agents begin crime investigations by creating profiles of victims. It's because the identity of victims—particularly if there are several victims with differing characteristics—helps investigators determine whether a criminal is targeting a specific kind of person or choosing victims opportunistically.