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The Lion and the Gazelle:

Criminal Behavior & You

By Martin Henson

Editor’s Note: While the information in this article is based on circumstances found in the United Kingdom, many of the observations hold true for other areas, such as the United States and Canada. In the U.S. however, the use of handguns by criminals is much more prevalent than in the UK and other European nations.

“When the sun comes up, the Gazelle knows it must run faster than the quickest Lion, in order to survive.

When the sun comes up, the Lion knows it must run faster than the slowest Gazelle, in order to survive.

When the sun comes up, whoever you are, you’d better be running.”

BBC TV Advertisement

This advertisement reflects life in today’s society.

Just as the story of survival is played out on the plains of Africa, it is also played out on the streets of our own towns and cities.

From the moment we wake and leave the imagined comfortable security of our homes, we are being stalked.

In the following article I hope to explore and reveal the tactics and rituals of attackers (Lions) and how they select and exploit their victims (Gazelles), thus equipping the reader with an insight to the real aspects of street crime.

My hope is that this will educate people enough and add strings to their Martial Arts bows, so that they know what it is they are training for if they wish to defend themselves effectively.

I have focused on the method of victim selection as well as method of attack, rather than the actual mechanics of the attack.

Who are the Lions?

According to Home Office statistical reports (England), the majority of offenders are male and between the ages of 16 and 25 years old. The evidence reveals that attacks by offenders over this age are quite rare. Rarer still are attacks by women, either alone or as part of a group of either sex, and they tend to be younger than their male counterparts.

Offenders usually work in groups of two or more, although the statistics show that 59% of women were attacked by a single offender. My own research indicates towards the notion that even these lone offenders were working with a friend, even if they were not directly involved. This may be due to dilution of responsibility. One offender said, “…it’s selfish, but you feel better thinking, “Well if I get caught, at least I’m not the only one…”. This view also appears evident from the increase in “gang” attacks (more than five offenders), especially in offenders under 21 years old.

These figures are with respect to personal robbery, but a Metropolitan Police study showed that offences of violence against the person tended to increase with age.

Although statistics have been taken for the ethnicity of offenders, it would be improper to publish them here, as the figures would have to be taken on an individual basis and compared directly to the local population.

Who are the Gazelles?

I will examine victim selection presently, however Home Office research has shown that males between the ages of 16 and 25 are targeted most. It is interesting to note that female victims are usually slightly older, usually between 21 and 30 years of age. Unfortunately, the study shows that elderly women are targeted more readily than elderly men.

It was also noted that victims under the age of 20 were school children or students, against the majority of adults being employed at the time of the attack.

The majority tend to be employed people who appear wealthy by their dress, or display an amount of personal wealth, such as expensive jewelry or mobile phones. For reasons that will become apparent, those under the influence of alcohol also rate quite highly as targets, not only for assault but robbery.

Where and When?

Most people believe that robberies and assaults occur in darkened alleyways away from prying eyes. While this may be the case for a few incidents, robberies typically occur in, or in the vicinity of, open public spaces, primarily a street, but also alleyways, parks, commercial buildings or even the victim’s own means of transport. This is of course dependant on the area. If an area is a highly commercial area with a number of pubs and clubs, then these will be the hunting grounds, rather than the street. For those traveling on public transport, the majority of attacks occur on the transport itself, rather than in stations or platforms.

The interesting psychology of this is simple. In public areas the criminal is able to blend in. The arena is known to them, as is any escape route. It has also been found that the majority of people will not intervene if they see a crime being committed. Whether this out of shock that they are seeing such a thing, or a reluctance to get involved out of fear or other notion, is unknown.

The time of day as well as the day of the week is also important. The majority of attacks occur on the weekend and at night, usually between 1800hrs and 0200hrs (6:00 pm and 2:00 am), with one-third occurring between 2200hrs and 0200hrs (10:00 pm and 2:00 am).

A possible explanation for this trend is that it tends to be people with money who go out at night. They tend to wear their best, so to impress potential partners as well as their peers. Most are out to have fun, thus are too involved to identify a potential attack.

Although the actual attack may occur in an open space, there are generally fewer people actually out on the street to intervene. In addition, the darkness of evening covers the escape, not the attack. Studies have shown that well lit areas have little impact, probably because the public are not likely to intervene.

(It is important to note that additional lighting in addition to other items, such as CCTV, is highly effective.)

How and Why?

What is the hunger that drives the Lion to hunt?

It is of note that a high percentage of prisoners have (or have had) substance abuse issues or mental health problems. One should look to the economics of the situation too, however. A burglary, either commercial or domestic, will tend to produce a higher reward than a personal robbery. This is also true for robberies of small shops and garages.

More interesting, though, studies have shown that these are not the most prevalent reasons for carrying out these attacks. Elizabeth Burney (1990) found that the primary reason for robbery was not to feed a drug habit, but to feed a style habit.

It was found that most robberies were “motivated by a desire in young people to attain all the trappings of a ‘style’ so expensive as to be unattainable through legal employment, but vital if they wished to conform to group norms. ‘Style’ may represent status to those who have few opportunities for acquiring it legally.”

The ‘buzz’ of committing the attack also plays a factor. Some, if not most, criminals enjoy their work.

Although not necessarily a motivation for the professional attacker, drugs and alcohol contribute highly to the occurrence of attacks. This is mostly combined with ego, both for offender and victim, to produce quite a volatile brew.

One of the biggest reasons these attacks occur is the “absence of an appropriate guardian”. This for most is the visible presence of law enforcement, either Police Officers, Security Personnel, Door Supervisors (doorman), CCTV etc. This simply provides an arena, however, where the attacker is less likely to be stopped or caught.

The Frustration-Aggression Theory

Frustration, theorists believe, is caused when we are unable to achieve our goals. Aggression can be described in general terms as the act of initiating hostilities, verbal or physical, with intent to hurt another. This emotional response can be greatly increased if the barrier to our goals
appears unexpectedly or is perceived as unfair or unjust in some way. (Aronson, 1984; Berkowitz, 1989)

We become wrapped up in the notion of what should be, which fuels our frustration further. Some theorists believe that anger is a natural response to frustration, perhaps due to hormonal imbalance.

Whenever we become stressed, the body releases adrenaline. This is the hormone responsible for the Fight or Flight syndrome. The problem is if we don’t express this emotion, adrenaline remains unused within the body tissues, essentially prolonging the syndrome. So from a minute of perceived stress, days or even weeks of stress can occur.

We all get frustrated and angry from time to time, usually venting or dealing with it in a socially acceptable manner, thus using up the adrenaline. Some, however, are unable to or don’t recognize that they are stressed. This can lead to displacement. This is where anger and thus
aggression is directed at some one or some thing unrelated to the focus of our frustration.

This theory leads us to our first attacker.

The Spontaneous Attacker

This type of attacker is your everyday Joe (or Joanne). These attackers are stressed and probably have been for a while. This could be a reflection of the figures outlined above.

Attacks from these people are triggered by normal, every day events, which cause them additional stress. For this reason, victims are very rarely chosen; they are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Triggered is a good word to describe their actions, but detonated would be more apt.

The spontaneous attacker explodes at the new focus. This can be as simplistic as smashing inanimate objects, to physically attacking people. The consequences for the victim range from bruising to death.

The Ritual Of Attack

The attack ritual of this person is usually obvious. Lots of large, aggressive gestures and language is usually the order of the day. If you respond with your own aggression, you are only fuelling his and the attack will occur quickly. The physical effects of adrenaline will be quite evident.

Weapons: Although not used typically, the instability of this person will not preclude them from using one if it is at hand.

Note to Professionals: It is important to mention the effect of fear at this point. Many professionals are familiar with the term “Positional Asphyxia” or “Medical Distress”. The person that you are dealing with may become extremely scared; this is usually because he believes his life is at extreme risk. This may be in actuality due to medical reasons, or perceived, due to overwhelming odds and the likelihood of getting hurt. This produces a surge of adrenaline, and with it a surge of particularly violent behavior.

The Random Attacker

Displacement is also a common factor with this attacker. One offender said, "When I get problems, I just hit the bottle. Then I'm chucking bottles and glasses around, looking for a fight." The more dangerous part is that this attacker usually enjoys fighting. He gets a buzz from it. This buzz may be caused by an increased hormonal level, not just adrenaline but various forms of endorphins which, along with raised serotonin levels, cause the natural high some athletes experience due to their highly stressed muscles.

They tend to be your “Saturday night after the pub” or “Sunday after the ‘footy” attackers, fired up and encouraged with alcohol. They just enjoy fighting.

The selection can be quite random. Any person who meets the challenge is generally selected. The challenges are usually issued with lingering stares or direct insults. Any aggressive response is viewed as reason to fight. There are no rules of engagement either, especially if the attacker is expecting a fight.

The Ritual Of Attack: The attack ritual here again is quite obvious and is usually, at least for the random victim, initiated with verbal threats or challenges, much like the spontaneous attacker. The effects of adrenaline will less obvious, as the attacker is more practiced. If the victim is not randomly selected, the ritual is far more discreet. The use of disarming dialogue and behavior cannot be under estimated.

Weapons: There are no rules of engagement. The idea is to win. Thus the use of weapons is common. They will either be carried, like knives or bars, or come across, like the pint glass or brick.

The Criminal Attacker

Here I shall explore non-sexual offenders, as the motivations and methods of victim selection vary a great deal from those of sexual offenders.

As has been stated before, offenders tend to target wealth, but this is not the only factor. From interviews with offenders, the perceived wealth of the victim or the presence of visible wealth are key factors. It is of note however that some victims were targeted differently, as it was assumed that everyone has money on them. This quote highlights this:

“The victim and his friend were approached by a group of six males. One of these Males demanded that the victim hand over his money and his mobile phone. The Victim replied: ”How do you know I’ve got a mobile phone?” ”Everyone’s got a Mobile phone” replied the suspect.”

More importantly they look for what they regard as weak targets, such as those who are small in build, young, drunk or just not a fighter. When pressed to explain further, offenders tended to point out other individuals as examples, and were unable to identify what characteristics generally identify easy targets. The individuals they pointed out tended not to carry themselves or speak confidently or aggressively, irrespective of their build. In addition, they appeared to be concentrating on their own affairs far more than others. They were in Code White.

Victim selection is done in two ways, either opportunist or planned. The opportunist attacker will prowl until a potential victim presents itself; the planned attacker has already picked his target and puts into action a preconceived attack method. In both cases the target is usually stalked
until an appropriate area is entered or to gauge the target’s “situational awareness”. This level of awareness is key, and attacks can be preceded by a number of explorative passes.

There are a number of different attack methods. Each one relies on surprise and control of the victim to be successful and utilize different methods.

Type of approach

The Blitz: Violence is used to overwhelm, stun or control the victim prior to the removal of any property or prior to any demands to hand over property. Violence is the first point of contact between the victim and the suspect. There is no prior verbal exchange between victim and offender, though threats and abuse may follow the initial assault.

The Confrontation: A demand for property or possessions is the initial point of contact between the victim and offender, e.g. ”Give me your money and your mobile phone.” This may be followed through with threats and on occasion with force.

The Con: The suspect ”cons” the victim into some form of interaction. This typically takes the form of a spurious conversation, e.g. ”Have you got a light/the time mate?” This is the initial approach to the victim regardless of how the robbery subsequently develops.

The Snatch: Property is grabbed from the victim without prior demand, threats or physical force. This is the initial contact between the victim and the suspect. Physical force is used to snatch property from the victim, which is nearly always on display, e.g. handbag. There is no physical search of the victim by the suspect.

Victim initiated: The victim initiates contact with the suspect and becomes the victim of a robbery, e.g. a drug deal, procuring sex etc.

The majority of approaches by offenders is from behind or blind side. This is particular in the Blitz and Snatch robberies where the attack comes at speed.

It is interesting to see how the age and sex of the victim affected the type of attack used.

The Blitz was used evenly between men and women, but was used mostly on older victims. The older the victim, the more likely this method was employed.

The Confrontation was used mostly against younger males (under 21); the effects seemed to lessen with age.

The Con was used mostly for male, young victims, but also evenly for older victims.

The Snatch was used primarily for women The older the victim, the more likely this method was to be used.


Weapons are common in street violence (about 33%), the most popular being the knife. Weapons are produced to obtain the cooperation of the victims with little effort, not to injure them. It is rare that the victim was directly threatened with the weapon (e.g. held at the body) and rarer still for the weapon to be used to inflict injury.

Weapons tended to be used mostly against men.


From the research I have read and from the conversations with offenders, it would appear that the threat from violence is a little misunderstood.

Street robbers are more interested in your property than you. It’s not a personal attack. This fact, however, in no way diminishes the terrifying experience that this sort of attack can have, or belittle the very real risk of injury.

It would appear that the most deadly form of street violence is to be found in and around the local bar/pub/club.

The majority of murderers I have encountered relate their cases as being “an accident”, following a drunken altercation that got out of hand and resulted in death.

Others relate emotional events that caused them to “lose the plot” and kill.


By far the best advice I can give, based on my research into this subject, is:

- Develop your Situational Awareness and Self Confidence.

- Be aware of what is happening around you. You will be surprised at what you begin to see when you pay attention. Being confident and assertive in your day-to-day life goes hand in hand with awareness.

- We all make mistakes. It happens. Learn from them and grow stronger.


Dead or Alive by Geoff Thompson - Summersdale
The Art of Fighting Without Fighting by Geoff Thompson - Summersdale

The Nature of Personal Robbery by Jonathan Smith - Home Office
The Prevention of Street Robbery by Mary Barker et al. - Home Office

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About The Author:

Martin Henson is a Shotokan Karate stylist, who also trains in Tae Kwon Do. In his professional experience was in security before moving to a position within a high security correctional facility, the HM Prison Service, as a tutor in the Offending Behavior Programme teaching “Enhanced Thinking Skills”. Henson became interested in self-defense following an altercation in which he was involved at his facility. Convinced that there is a need for better understanding of basic concepts of criminal cognitive behavior, he began to ask questions of other security personal and do research in the field. Some of his findings are presented in this article for

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

criminal behavior, attacks, self-defense, criminal psychology, street attacks, stalking, personal protection,offenders, street attacks

Read more articles by Martin Henson

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