If She Walks Like a Victim…

WHICH WAY TO THE ZOOThe best CI a crime writer could ever have, Officer X, sent me a fascinating video, where Dr. John Marsden asked four volunteers to prove how our body language might make us a target for violence. He used technology, which looks like small balls, normally used in cartoon animation, to see if hidden signals in the way someone moves identifies him/her for attackers. With one ball at each joint, one atop the head, six cameras recorded the position of their joints as they walked, allowing the computer to turn the different views into a 3D model.

The result was an animation video clip of each person’s movement, showing no physical details at all. Red dots glowed on a black screen, identifying the joint and head areas. Next, he showed the video clips to two veteran body guards, who are also experts in street fighting. One was Lee Morrison. Anyone who follows martial arts/self-defense will recognize his name.

As Lee and John, the other expert, studied the red dots outlining each figure, they determined who of the four was most at risk. If you’d like to check it out for yourself, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQYEaeQAyIM

The findings

Person #1:

Not overly confident. No strength of character, but not overly introverted, either. This person was miles away from the here and now. Not engaged with the environment.

Person #2

Spine alignment was military straight. There was a wiggle to hips, head tilted back. A swagger, the arms swung with huge movements. Whether this person consciously knew it or not, he/she was attracting attention. The swagger could make them a victim of a verbal or physical assault, especially if male.

Person #3

The spine bowed over, shoulders rolled forward. Bad posture. Very small movements of the hands. Short steps, slow stride. An inward victim profile. By looking at this person you knew he was walking in denial as though he had serious problems. Weighted. Subservient. An extremely negative way to portray yourself. His body language said, “I don’t want you to know I exist. If I close my eyes, maybe the world won’t notice me.” It also said, “I’m an easy mark. I won’t fight back.”

Person #4

Nothing outwardly obvious in the walk. No small movements. No large movements that drew attention, but they were aware of their surroundings. A gray man, middle of the road.

Obviously, person #3 was at the highest risk. Matter of fact, eighteen hours before the demonstration he was the victim of a vicious assault. Everything about his demeanor screamed, “I am a victim!”

What can we learn by this?

Our emotions play a big role in how we portray ourselves. A serious problem, bad experience, or self-loathing all affect how we move. By getting in the right mindset we can avoid confrontation. Our movements betray our vulnerabilities.

What’s the best way to avoid being targeted?

Head up. No chatting on the phone. No texting. No earphones. Stay alert and aware of your surroundings. Keep good posture. Walk at a brisk pace. Confident gait. Look around frequently. Be present in the here and now. No huge movements, but no small ones, either. If you are lost, do not ask a stranger on the street for directions. First, you’re telling them your destination. Secondly, you’re announcing you have no idea where you are. Thus, making you vulnerable. Instead, find a police officer or buy a map.

I read an interesting study about how a glide of the foot rather than a lift makes you less likely to become a victim. I’m assuming this is because plodding with heavy steps doesn’t give off a confident front.

[tweetthis twitter_handles=”@SueColetta1″]Criminals size you up. Walk with confidence.[/tweetthis]

Criminals size you up. It’s a fact. Like in the animal kingdom, the weak become victims. While watching this video I was reminded of how similar we are to animals. A cold stare into an unfamiliar dog’s eyes will bring about aggression. We’re no different. One trip to the local bar should tell us that.

How to lessen our chances of being victimized

Learn awareness. Recognize a threat. If someone throws you a hard stare, it’s a good indication they’re looking for a fight, or worse. Don’t stare back. Instead, put yourself in a position of being able to flee. Keep track of their movements. You don’t want to blindly disregard a credible threat. Plan your escape. At the same time, try to determine their next move. As I discussed in the first post of the Badass in Heels series, your car keys can become an instant weapon. If walking to your car at night, keep them in your hand.

Are you headed toward a desolate area? If you are, change course so you stay visible to others. Don’t make it easy for a predator to assault you. So what, if it takes you extra time to get where you’re going. At least you’ll make it there in one piece.

Above all, think. Common sense goes a long way in keeping you safe.

How does this relate to crime writing?

We could use this information for our antagonist. While trolling for prey he spots someone who walks like a victim. Describe the gait of the poor soul above, person #3. This will lend credibility to our story.

We could use the information for our character arc. Perhaps our protagonist starts out as someone who walks like a victim. By the third quartile her posture perks up, chin rises, back straightens, and she becomes more alert and aware of her surroundings. She has evolved into a warrior who’s now able to confront the antagonist force head-on.


[tweetthis twitter_handles=”@SueColetta1″]Our body language speaks volumes to predators.[/tweetthis]


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I’m off to read Larry Brooks’ new craft book, Story Fix: Transform Your Novel From Broken to Brilliant. This is the craft book he was born to write, so I’ve cleared my afternoon to savor every minute of it.

Have a great day, everyone!

About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thrillers and mysteries. OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive magazine published her flash fiction and her short stories are published in numerous anthologies and collections. InSinC Quarterly featured her forensic articles about Radiocarbon Dating and Skeletal Differences. In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue's also the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project. As a way to help fellow crime writers, Sue created a team of crime experts (detectives, coroners, police captains, etc.) and founded #ACrimeChat on Twitter. She's also a proud member of the Kill Zone, where she blogs every other Monday.


  1. Obviously key for any crime writer but also very useful information for anyone who is at risk by walking alone. I see runners in the dark with headphones on oblivious to their surroundings and also people on their phones or texting. It can be an urban jungle out there as evidenced by the number of late night assaults as people safe a few pounds by walking home after a night out.

    • So true, Sally. The younger generation especially should be more aware of their surroundings. Texting, chatting on cell phones, Ipods, all dangerous because they divert their attention away from possible attackers.

  2. What a great post! I enjoy studying body language in others, but I hadn’t stopped to consider how a particular style of walking can target one as a possible victim. Definitely something to remember when I’m out and about.

    And it’s so easy to forget to be conscious of our surroundings when we’re in a hurry!
    Mae Clair recently posted…Catching up on Challenges (and cheating along the way) by Mae ClairMy Profile

    • Especially when we’re in a hurry, you’re right. I was reminded of this while doing errands this morning. Suddenly, every car window became a checkpoint to ensure I had a confident, but not overly confident, stride. LOL

  3. Very nice! I was looking forward to watching the actual video and seeing for myself, but I confess I couldn’t really make heads or tails of it 😀
    Nicholas C. Rossis recently posted…Short Story Bonanza: Infinite Waters, Power of Six & Nonlocal SF MagazineMy Profile

  4. Hello Sue

    What a great video clip. Thanks for sharing. I thought it interesting it was not only the disengaged character but also the overtly confident character who stood out as possible victims.

    I’m off to look at myself in the mirror and study how I walk.:) Might practice some of those moves as well.

    • Hahaha! I know exactly what you mean, Gina. I need to run errands this morning, and now I’ll be checking out my reflection in car windows as I strut through the parking lot. 🙂

  5. Interesting article and video, Sue. The slouch and insecurity in #3’s gait stands right out in the red dots. Cool training technology! You sure come up with some excellent topics 🙂
    Garry Rodgers recently posted…HOW TO WRITE DEADLY CRIME FICTIONMy Profile

    • Wasn’t that interesting? I picked the most likely victim right out too. Not sure if you’re familiar with Lee (one of the body guards), but he has several educational videos on YouTube. Officer X turned me onto this. He reads so much crime fiction that he makes an ideal CI, one who knows not only what readers will like but what crime writers will like too. The credit goes to him on this subject. I only wrote the post. 😀 I see that paw sliding in his direction. Watch it, Mister. LOL

  6. Body language is so much fun to study. Let’s see if this comment goes through.
    Craig recently posted…Review: The Experimental Notebook of C.S. Boyack (Surprisingly by C.S. Boyack.)My Profile

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