The Prey Mindset

By MJ Ali

I grew up around strong women. The youngest of four girls, I was free, like my sisters, to explore wherever my imagination took me. My idea of playing with dolls was to conduct experiments with one of the hyper-feminized toys we’d been given by relatives and see if she could survive in extreme conditions with those permanently arched feet (adjustable ankles weren’t introduced until 2015). These experiments were repeated with the same results: Barbie either got voted off the island or met a horrible fate.

As an adult, I became fast friends with a colleague while working with homeless teens in Albany, New York. A towering woman over 6 feet tall, she oversaw a lot of the programs in the Capitol at the time. She was always dressed impeccably in NYC business, and always with pencil-thin stilettos mirroring her equally thin, twenty-foot-long legs. I always saw her as powerful, despite her choice in everyday shoes.

One winter afternoon, we stepped outside to walk to a nearby restaurant for lunch. I was about to ask her how she could navigate the snow and ice with those shoes when she stabbed her way across an icy patch on the sidewalk with the precision of an expert mountain climber. She looked back at me as if to wordlessly answer my unasked question. During lunch, she explained that she had worn stilettos for so long that it altered her musculature and she couldn’t wear anything else comfortably any more.

She also shared how she used those heels as a weapon to fend off an attacker. She pondered that, ironically, she may have been targeted in the first place because she was wearing high heels and the assailant assumed she was easy prey.

This is a false assumption predicated on the mistaken belief that women actually do something to incite violent behavior, as though it’s just the nature of the beast and can’t be helped.

That’s our default mindset. We assume it’s something we did, something we wore, or a behavior we could have changed to avoid being assaulted. This is an age-old myth that has served only to keep women in “prey” mode, which is far more crippling than a pair of 6-inch stilettos. It’s also what keeps so many women from reporting an assault. Every time friends and family ask “what were you wearing?” or “what were you doing in that area that late?” it lowers those statistics even more.

It took multiple incidents at different times in my life before I finally reported an assault, despite having been raised around strong women. Reporting a crime against your own body and mind is not an easy thing to do, and often still not something well supported by the judicial system itself. It takes courage, strength, and the support of friends, family and advocates.

Support is vital, but the way I started to move forward came from within. It was a change in energy when a stranger decided to harass me the first time I gathered enough courage to go out in public with evidence of assault still visible. I was alone and terrified, but I experienced a breaking point that brought something out in me that was always there. I fought back energetically, verbally, attitudinally. It was like a superhero-like wave that literally repelled my would-be attacker backwards as though I’d physically pushed him. In a very real sense, I switched from prey mindset to predator mindset. This allowed me to take my first step forward in my own healing process.

In the moment, it is ultimately up to each and every one of us to protect ourselves with our own bodies, minds and spirits. Luckily, I know that each and every one of us has that ability inside. I’ve had friends who were wheelchair users who found the same mindset when confronted with those who sought to take advantage. Their energetic switch from prey to predator mindset turned their would-be attacker into a runner.

What do you do when you see someone being harassed? It’s a terrifying thing to go through, and when people stand by and do nothing, it amplifies that fear. When we do nothing, it’s almost worse than the person doing the harassing. It’s actually not a good idea to confront the person who is harassing, but it is a good idea to connect with the person being harassed. Want to know how? Click here.


Trauma Survivors Network

NCADV Resources

Own Your Moment with Sharon Muse (woman-centered self-protection mindset)

ESD Global (Empowerment Self-Defense – holistic, feminist, inclusive approach)

Fuzzy Slippers: How to Do Self-Care as a Trauma Survivor

Recovering from Rape and Sexual Trauma

Overcoming Fear (“Fierce Medicine” by Ana T. Forrest)

The Healing Journey

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