Through offender interviews, The Oxford Handbook of Offender Decision Making explains that women are often seen as relatively easy crime targets for three reasons: they are more easily intimidated, they are physically weaker, and they often tend to display more "favourable" personality characteristics described as “caring, affectionate and extraverted victims willing to smile.”
So next time, don't allow a stranger in the street to guilt you into smiling. And don't let your ingrained female politeness and accommodating nature get you in trouble. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, show them that you're onto them with fierce body language and no time for nonsense.
If you're on Facebook and Whatsapp, you have probably seen the list titled "Through a Rapist’s Eyes" or "The Ponytail" that began circulating around 2000-2001 and continues to do so today. It indicates that the information was gathered from several rapists that were interviewed.
The thread continues with a list of "facts" about what makes women easy targets for crime, and what to do if you find yourself in such a situation.
But although some of the tips may seem plausible, there is no backing of the supposed study with a date, name of the study or its location. Yet many women latch onto these kinds of tips from unknown sources because of their fear of being attacked or assaulted.
The tips have been replicated onto many sites and shows how technology can increase fear through misinformation about violence against women.
Rather than relying on an internet-based thread, we should rely on empirical research to inform others about victimisation, so we've sourced credible evidence to support the list's validity.
The list claims that your hairstyle plays a significant factor in a perpetrator selecting his victim, and that men are most likely to go after a woman with a hairstyle that can be easily grabbed, such as a ponytail.
Although this claim is widespread on the internet and one that is frequently believed, there is no reliable evidence to suggest that a woman’s hairstyle can affect the likelihood of her being a target. If a predator wants to attack, the length of your hair won’t be an obstacle. In fact, he can grab onto and immobilise your limbs as quickly as he can snatch your ponytail.
If someone attacks you from behind, it is best to know how to defend yourself in a matter of a few seconds. Darren Selley, a self-defence instructor told The Telegraph that it is possible for even a petite woman to defend herself against a big attacker. The first step is to attack his eyes followed by kicking him in the groin.
Your walking style
If you believe that you are more likely to be victimised if you appear meek, you are right. According to a study from the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, some criminals are good at sensing weakness based on the way you walk. More than that, criminals look for targets that look straight ahead or down to avoid making eye contact. Portraying confidence will cause the person to assume that you will put up a fight if attacked and will likely make them go the other way.
But note that this article by Health24 advises that if you have already been attacked, you shouldn’t look the attacker in the face as it would worry them if you could identify them when reporting the incident. This might therefore make them want to eliminate their only witness.
The third point listed is that men also look for "women using their cellphone, searching through their purse or doing other activities while walking because they are off guard and can be easily overpowered". This is a key point in the victim selection process. The offender in this study said that if a woman is "not watching what's happening all around her," she becomes easy prey.
Read more: Why I'm thinking of getting a gun
Never concentrate on something else so hard that you make it apparent you’re unaware of your surroundings. Be alert and situationally aware of your surroundings.
According to Through a Rapist's Eyes, perpetrators will look for women whose clothing can be easily removed. It also adds that these perpetrators carry scissors around to cut clothing.
This point also lacks credible support. And even if this were true, there isn’t a very realistic alternative to donning attire that will support this tip. Whether you're wearing a burqa, a pair of jeans or a mini skirt, it is really opportunity that attackers seek, and it is NEVER okay to blame a woman's clothing.
A woman's dress code is not an incitement for sexual assault and it is quite shameful that the clothing they were wearing during the assault is still questioned by cops, judges, politicians and society as a whole.
On the other hand, you might think that particular attire, such as heels, could impede your running or fighting ability but you can really use it to your advantage.
Most common times of attack
The fourth tip on the list adds that "The time of day men are most likely to attack and rape a woman is in the early morning, between 5 a.m. and 8:30 a.m," but rape and sexual assault occurs at any time of the day, and the CSVR (Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation) reports that at least half of rapes involve men known to the victim and take place in the victim's home and not by a stranger in the streets, as is commonly believed.
Putting up a fight
If you put up any kind of a fight at all, the list indicates that the perpetrator will get discouraged and realise that going after you isn't worth it because it will be time consuming.
This is true. Survival odds favour you fighting back rather than giving in. Attackers look for an easy target and someone that won’t draw too much attention. The data in this study revealed that if a sexual offender perceived that any female will not resist his attack, he is likely to attack her.
There is also research to prove that physical and verbal resistance tactics like biting, hitting, fighting back, screaming, forcefully fleeing or using other physical self-defence strategies are effective in discouraging attacks against women. However, to say that resistance is a must is dangerous and distorting.
It is important to note that while putting up a fight can possibly cause attackers to quickly give up and flee, in many circumstances resistance might be a risky strategy, such as when the perpetrator holds a gun to your head.
An article by The Washington Post also reveals that many rape victims don't fight back while they are being assaulted because they "freeze up". The article further explains that freezing is a brain-based response to detecting danger, especially when someone attacks. The victim's body becomes primed for fight or flight, but neither can actually happen.
Yelling that you have a self-defence tool
According to the list, if you carry pepper spray and make it apparent by yelling to the attacker, he will likely be deterred and move along. Like the point above, the same study suggests that yelling does discourage perpetrators and having a defence mechanism like pepper spray will be an even bigger deterrent.
However, Claudia Alexander from Damsel in Defence told Forbes she encourages women to carry more than one option of a self-defence tool since one tool isn't always appropriate for every situation (such as pepper spray that could harm and disable you if used in windy conditions).
With these in mind, it is important to note that most women who have never been victims of crime think that if they ever found themselves in the horrid situation, their survival instincts will kick in and that they would fight back. This is not always possible, as was proven with many sexual assault victims.
Also, while resistance and defence can sometimes work successfully, some suggested solutions can also be too simplistic and cause more harm than good in particular situations. Victims should never feel responsible for the crime or for being submissive and giving in to the perpetrator, and, more importantly, victims should never be held responsible for their misfortune. Blaming victims for a predator's decision to attack is not acceptable nor appropriate under any condition.
And placing complete emphasis on tips that suggests women must take precautions to prevent being assaulted or attacked is problematic. This overlooks the fact that most victims suffer at the hands of someone whom they know and trust, and not by a stranger. In fact, this article by IOL last year revealed that South Africa has the highest number of women who are killed by their partners, proving that these kinds of safety tips become largely irrelevant for so many women.