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Adversarial Attraction: the Predator’s Optic

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Bad guys are relentless and patient, opportunistic and flexible — and they pay attention. What does this mean to us?

Protection professionals break down our society into two types of targets: Those who are aware that bad things happen to good people and are prepared to do something about it, (labeled hard targets) and those who are not, (labeled soft targets).

Regardless of your world view, a predator also divides our society into the very same categories of the hard and the soft. Bad guys tend to shy away from hard targets and are drawn to soft targets, as they are much easier to victimize. This viewpoint of adversarial attraction to easier prey is called the Predator’s Optic.

The following statement, an excerpt from the United States Department of Homeland Security US National Strategy for the Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructures and Key Assets (schools, sports arenas, malls, concert halls, high-rise residences, office buildings, places of worship, special events), describes the Predator’s Optic:

“[they] are relentless and patient…[they] are also opportunistic and flexible. They learn from experience and modify their tactics and targets to exploit perceived vulnerabilities and avoid observed strengths. As [protection] increases around more predictable targets, they shift their focus to less protected [targets]”

In plain speak—bad guys go after soft targets.

Predators look for the path of least resistance and continually monitor the playing field for signs from potential targets to guide them down this path. When you see a turn signal on the freeway, you can respond accordingly. Similarly a predator will look for “indicators” or signals from the playing field to indicate which is a more suitable or softer target.

In a classic study conducted by a prison psychologist where dozens of convicted felons were interviewed, the psychologist played videos or presented several snapshots of random crowds of people in shopping malls, subway stations, and busy city streets and asked each of the inmates to point out for him the softest target in the pictures–that is the individual that they would most likely attack if given the opportunity. All responses were recorded. The study concluded that nearly every inmate selected the same people in each segment for similar reasons—these reasons form the baseline definition of Soft Target Indicators.

Hands of the Asian prisoner behind the jail

Examples that help describe a Soft Target Indicator come from snippets of those recorded study responses, and include “looks sheepish,” “eyes were looking down,” ”obviously lost,” “an easy mark,” “looks out of place,” “not paying attention,” “distracted,”  and the most common—“unaware of their surroundings.” Soft Target Indicators can be anything along these lines that a predator might outwardly observe about you from his optic that sends him a clear message that you are easy prey.

As every case is unique according to its own specific set of circumstances, there are no hard and fast rules to unequivocally define a Soft Target Indicator other than any appearance or activity that screams out “Hey look over here, I’m an easy target, pick me!” to a predator. Similarly, your car, your home and even your online presence, may exhibit Soft target Indicators to the opportunity-seeking predator. In most cases two or three solid Soft Target Indicator are enough to capture the attention of a predator.

In a more recent psychological profiling study, participants were 47 male prisoners in a Canadian maximum security facility, many with multiple offenses. Researchers used the prisoners’ scores on Robert Hare’s scale of psychopathy — the Psychopathy Check List (PCL). Special attention was paid to the part of the PCL score (Factor 1) associated with interpersonal traits such as manipulativeness, superficial charm, and lack of empathy which can facilitate the exploitation of others.

The prisoners watched 12 videos. They rated each target’s vulnerability to being victimized on a 10-point rating scale. Victimization was defined as “assault with the intent to rob or steal from the victim.” Prisoners told how they identified those most vulnerable to being robbed. The answers were coded and distilled into categories. The cues used by prisoners were: gait, body posture (body movements not related to gait), age, gender, attractiveness, build, clothing, attention, fitness, environment (e.g., lack of lighting), and whether target was alone.

Woman Walking Along City Street With Menacing Figure In Sh

The top cues to vulnerability were: Walk/gait – walking with confidence versus walking like a soft target. Gender – females appear as softer targets than males. Body type – In good physical shape (could put up more of a fight) versus heavy set or slow (less physically challenging). Fitness level – Greater probability of fighting back versus unable to defend self. Attention to surroundings versus Not paying attention; Appears to be cautious versus appears to be clueless.

In distilling the above, there are three overarching Soft Target Indicators that command a predator’s attention at first glance. These are; if you appear to be:

  1. Weak – physically, mentally or otherwise
  2. Unaware – distracted (lack of situational awareness) clearly not paying attention to your immediate surroundings – including them watching you
  3. Alone – easily accessible, vulnerable, exposed, or some combination thereof

You can appear to be any one of these or even any two of these, but all three combined – weak, unaware and alone –well, that’s the predator’s jackpot – three sevens in Vegas!

Pred Op 4

A predator may look at many potential targets and in doing so may find two or three equally suitable candidates. As he further studies what may appear to be equally qualified targets, he makes his final decision based on their Soft Target Indicators.

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