How to avoid becoming a victim and Victim Targeting Networks

Dr. Maurice Godwin© 2012


Victim Targeting Networks (VTN)

          The situational context in which the serial killer targets his victims is critical to understanding the hunting patterns of a predator. However, police eschew victim target networks (VTN). Rather, their attention is overwhelmingly concerned with the offender’s characteristics. As an alternative to traditional police investigations, I suggest that by directing attention to victim target networks, inferences about the decision-making process underlying the selection of crime locations, victims, and locating serial killers’ home bases can be made.

          My decision-making model demonstrates how a serial predator uses local landscapes to scope out potential victims and shows how proactive policing in victim target areas can deter the killer. I argue that by directing investigative attention to victim social networks, police can first identify a set of prospective victims targeted by a serial killer. The use of victim social networks can also be used to link serial murder victims.

The victimological approach to serial murder begins with the assumption that serial killers carry geographical templates in their mind. They have a certain kind of place in mind where experience has taught them where suitable victims can be found. Each subsequent trip to these crime locations forms something of an analogy with previous successes, modified by experience and perhaps intelligence gained from previous murders. The killer’s perception will be shaped by both actual characteristics and those inferred from factors such as where a victim hangs out and with whom.

Routine activities enable the killer to make contact with targeted victims and to shape expectation for interaction. The situational context within which network interactions occur is critical to understanding the hunting patterns of a predator. For example, if the killer targets victims in a location at which contact is likely to be witnessed, the chance of detection will increase. An analysis of the ecology of possible victim-offender contact settings can help to narrow the focus of an investigation to promising areas for locating witnesses, including surviving victims, and the general home base area where the killer lives.


          Figure 1 below shows the decision-making process that a serial killer may use while hunting for a suitable target area and victim. This process would also apply to rapists. The predator’s immediate question is, are there available victims to grab where the risk is low for being noticed? After the predator has made this decision, he scans the potential target area for easy and accessible victims.


Figure 1




          Once the predator has made his decision to target at a specific location, he then uses the argument by contradiction decision-making process to determine the level of risk involved in the attack. For example, he may ask, are there surveillance cues to contradict that someone will witness me? This is a major concern for the serial killer. For example, in one study on 28 US serial killers carried out by former investigator Earl James found that 61 percent of the cases were solved due to eye witnesses compared to a direct result of police investigative work (James, 1991).

The predator may also look for the presence of police in the area. If the predator has no cues to contradict that the abduction may be witnessed and that he will be notice by the police, then he is likely to abort the crime completely and return later, or displace to another location. In the event, however, the predator has cues to contradict that the abduction will not be witnessed and that he will not be seen by police, he then scans the area for principal escape routes. If there are easy escape routes, then the predator will most likely target and abduct his victim. If there are no easy escape routes he will likely abort his plan of attack or displace to another area. My decision-making process shows that police presence in strategically victim target network areas can affect the predator’s decision to attack or not.


Victim Social Networks

As is often the case in serial murder investigations, determining if victims are linked is difficult. This is also important information that women should be aware of to protect themselves. It’s important to know the high risk areas, and the environmental networks that tie potential victims together. This is done by looking at victim social networks.


Areas of Highest Risk for Victimization from Serial Killers

Ø    Urban Subcultures (heterosexual and homosexual bars, night clubs, and red light areas)

Ø    Isolated Landscapes (parking lots, jogging paths, and rest areas)

Ø    Areas with high concentration of elderly and poor individuals

Ø    Skid Row (derelict areas of a city)

Ø    University Campuses



Victim social networks provide the predator with opportunities to prey on transient persons; for example, lost or run away children, mental patients, and prostitutes. Victim social networks are also important for determining where a predator resides and works. The locations above are the geographical areas in the USA where the highest risks for victimization from serial killers and rapists exist. These landscape layouts provide the predator with ease of access and escape routes to avoid detection. For example, from the five high risk victim targeting areas the university campus appears to be a safe place. However, university campuses, at least in the USA, have certain landscape features which make them ideal for hunting and abducting victims. Isolated parking lots provide ample opportunities for serial killers and rapists to abduct victims. While lighting on university campuses has improved safety, the predator is still willing to take their chances in open areas. Ted Bundy, a contemporary serial killer, provides a classic example of an offender who targeted many of his victims on college campuses.

Victim social networks also relate to the incidence and location of streetwalking. Different landscape features are used by prostitutes to manipulate the environment for their own purposes, and potential victims of crime often seek out these types of locations for their solicitations. One research study pointed out that streetwalkers tend to stand near bus and taxi stops, and research on victims of serial killers has confirmed that these two social networks are important features in the selection of victims. The serial killer Bobby Joe Long (Tampa, Florida) provides a classic example of an predator who targeted prostitutes in red light districts.

Another feature that sets the five victim social networks apart from less valuable areas is, locations where individuals have little or no bond to the neighborhood. These include transient people who lack a strong network of friends, acquaintances, and family ties. Because of society’s lack of regard for these victims it is not unusual for a person not to be seen for days or weeks in these types of areas. Therefore, police are likely to regard their disappearance as trivial. Police investigators should make contact with the victim’s family members including any significant others who may have information regarding any recent change in lifestyles or personality. This information can provide police with the victim availability and their susceptibility.


How to Avoid Being A Victim

          A serial killer can pick out a vulnerable victim a mile away. Once a predator has his hands on you half the battle has been lost. I suggest that you can reduce your chances of becoming a victim by not making exceptions to the ‘common sense’ rules. For example, walking two blocks home at night doesn’t seem all that risky; however, remember it only takes one time to be abducted and murdered. Your mind is saying the two-block walk is no big deal but in your gut you have apprehensions – follow your instincts –make no exceptions to the ‘common sense rule’ of walking home at night. Make the effort to find alternative transportation - phone a friend or family member to come and pick you up.

          Many times serial killers and sexual predators target selected victims who are at home. In some cases the predator will enter the victim’s home and wait for her to arrive. If you suspect a burglary, don’t go inside the house. Go to your neighbor’s house and call the police.

          It’s also important to be aware of external factors that can help you stay safe such as garage door openers. A predator can purchase a universal remote control garage door opener from any number of stores and in less than five minutes stand outside your home and simply figure out the code to open the garage door. Once he’s in the garage you are his. I would suggest that you change the ‘code’ to your garage door opener every month.

          There are several other simple steps one can take to ensure their safety. If you’re going to be gone for longer than one day it is a good idea to turn the ringer down on your telephone, so a burglar cannot hear the phone continually to ring, which automatically indicates that no one is home.

          On the personal side of safety, I would suggest that females not use their full names on mailboxes but rather last names only or first initials and then the last name. It’s more difficult for a predator to determine if K. Long is Kenneth Long or Kim Long. The offender will not spend the time investigating but rather move on to the next easy victim.


Never make an exception to the common sense rules.



If there is ever a chance you have to make an exception to the common sense rule, call several people and let them know where you’re at and the particular situation (nothing has to be suspicious or anything to take this precaution). Stay on the phone until you’re comfortable that all is clear and safe both on the walk from your vehicle and inside your house. These precautions should also be taken while you’re out shopping or doing whatever.

Never believe that someone at the door is who they say they are – never. This includes a female too! Eleven percent of the serial killers that I researched were team killers where a female was involved in luring another female to her death.

          Stay in lighted areas when you’re outside. My study on 107 American serial killers found that often college students who were victims of serial killers walked alone across the campus at night. Females should avoid doing laundry alone in a communal laundry room like apartment complexes. Usually these types of laundry faculties are located in the basement and this places you in a vulnerable position; it also affords the predator anonymity from being witnessed.

          I would suggest that all individuals, especially college age persons, own a cellular phone which has the ‘Global Positioning Satellite’ (GPS) tracking device feature, which can pinpoint a user's location to within 300 feet, anywhere on the planet.

          A predator doesn’t have come to your house to attack or murder you. The use of the Internet as a ‘lure tool’ has been successfully used by cyber-stalkers and pedophiles to target child and adult victims. One of the first warnings one must look for is inconsistencies in conversations. For example, if the individual claims to be a young male but writes statements that hints at adult activity, then you can be sure that this person is not who they say they are.

          If you’re concerned about your identity being found out don’t create or participate in on-line discussion such as Face Book, threaded discussions or even own a web-based E-mail account. Cyber-stalkers are often computer savvy and they find it a challenge and thrill to fine your information.


Remember, when in doubt always rely on your “common sense rules” and what I have pointed out in this article.

Futher reading (Articles in PDF format)

Victim Target Networks by Dr. Godwin

Encounter and Death: The Spatial Behavior of American Serial Killers by Dr. Godwin and David Canter


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COPYRIGHT: (2012) All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from Dr. Maurice Godwin.