Research shows it only takes seven seconds for criminals to select their next victim. And it doesn’t matter how tall, short, heavy, thin, strong, or weak you are. (Although it can’t hurt to take note of the scary signs you’re an easy target to a predator.) According to one expert, your safety could depend on your style of walking.
Key body language can signal whether or not you’ll make a good target for criminals, says Steve Kardian, a self-defense expert and founder of the organization Defend University. Out of all of them, the way you walk matters the most. While the victim is never to blame, there are some precautionary steps (pun intended) that we all can take to avoid finding ourselves in a scary situation.
When you walk, “take forceful, dynamic steps that convey assertiveness and confidence,” Kardian told NBC News. Your stride should be about a medium length compared to your body type, and your feet and arms should swing naturally with every step.
Posture and speed matter, too. Keep your chin up, spine straight, and shoulders back as you walk; hunching forward could indicate weakness or fear. Meanwhile, your speed should match that of other pedestrians around you, which allows you to blend in. It’s also acceptable to walk at a slightly faster pace, which gives the impression that you are energetic and athletic—not a good combination for a potential target.
Most importantly, look around and take note of your surroundings. Doing so sends the signal that you are aware of who is around you. More than likely, your predator will take the hint and move on.
On the flip side, avoid strides that are too long or too short in length. While the former makes you appear clumsy or ungainly, the latter could indicate weakness and vulnerability. Walking with a hunched posture or your head down suggests a lack of awareness, indicating that you’re less likely to fight back. Any of these behaviors could make you inviting target to a nearby assailant.
Science proves it, too. A famous study in 1981 asked inmates to rate pedestrians on a scale of one to ten based on the likeliness of becoming a target. Every inmate chose the same people, and the potential victims all exhibited one or more of the characteristics described above.
Word to the (street)wise: watch your walk. Adopt this simple rule—as well as these tricks to outsmart the criminals—and you’ll be walking the streets with a bit more confidence from here on out.