A Child Predator

Parenting is arguably one of the trickiest jobs there is. One of our biggest responsibilities is to maintain a safe environment for our children at home and to ensure their safety wherever we go. But, unfortunately, we simply can’t monitor our children every minute of every day. During those times that we’re separated from them, it’s critical that we can rely on what we’ve taught them about safety.

While some of the issues that involve child welfare feel too scary to discuss, sticking our head in the sand and denying the reality is absolutely not an option. Far too many parents hide behind the proverbial, ‘it’ll never happen to me’ attitude. This is a blatant form of denial with the potential for devastating consequences. If you’re not convinced, just ask a parent of a child who has been abducted or who has been a victim of sexual assault or rape. Ask them about the importance of instilling safe thinking in their household.

Although a trite comparison, every family buys insurance for protection against some highly unlikely event, but when it comes to their children’s safety, there is an unjustified belief that security exists. Why? Denial.

There are those out there, waiting for the opportunity to insinuate themselves into you and your child’s life. This offender is the child predator; a man, woman or even another child, who observes, stalks, entraps and then uses a child to meet their perverse power and sexual needs. Their actions can plunge a family into turmoil and risk damaging a child for life.

Child Predators – A Critical Problem

Studies that have been done on incarcerated offenders provide a perspective on the magnitude of the problem.

Dr. Gene Abel, a Professor of Psychiatry at Emory School of Medicine and a researcher on deviant sexual behavior, estimates that between 1% and 5% of our population molest children. 1

Child molestation is one of the most underreported crimes: only 1- 10% are ever disclosed. 2
67% of all prisoners convicted of rape or sexual assault had committed their crime against a child. 3
About 5% of adults who sexually molest minors are women, says David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center. 4
There are almost 600,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. Remember, only 1 -10% of incidents are ever reported!

We observe possible predators around our kids every day. We just don’t see them. It is as if they are hiding in plain sight. The clues are there, but we don’t recognize the warning signs. We need to understand these clues better so that we can recognize the predator in his natural element and thereby offer better protection for our children.

Child Predators – A Mental Health Perspective

Mental health professionals use the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV Edition-Text Revision, American Psychiatric Association, 2000) as a reference for terms to describe psychiatric behaviors and derive a diagnosis. The DSM-IV-TR uses a multi-axial diagnostic of classification. Axis I disorders describe the psychiatric disorder that is the focus of the current treatment.

For our purposes, we need only to consider Axis I disorders which relate to the paraphilias, which are defined as: “Repeated, intense sexual arousal to unconventional (socially deviant) stimuli. These are defined specifically as “intense, recurring sexual fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors that involve… suffering or humiliation… towards others (including children).” (DSM-IV-TR, 2000)

Child sexual predators demonstrate several paraphilic behaviors. Each individual may be diagnosed as having one or more of the following – depending on their history.

Frotteurism: Rubbing against a non-consenting child; occurs in public places.
Hebephilia: Erotic interest in children, who have reached puberty.
Infantophilia: Pedophilia with a focus on children five years old or younger
Pedophilia: Erotic interest in prepubescent children ages 6 to puberty.
Pictophilia: Pornography or erotic art, particularly pictures of children.
Voyeurism: Watching a child while they are naked.

In addition to describing their behaviors, we need to understand what drives a child predator and what their core personalities are. For these we refer to the Axis II diagnostic category in the DSM-IV-TR, which is defined as: Any personality disorder or developmental disorder that may pre-dispose the client to the Axis I problem (DSM-IV-TR, 2000).

The main Axis II classifications relating to child predators, along with their DSM-IV-TR definitions include:

Antisocial Personality Disorder: “…a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.”
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: “excessive preoccupation with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity.”
Avoidant personality disorder: “characterized by a pervasive pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, extreme sensitivity to negative evaluation, and avoidance of social interaction.” (DSM-IV-TR, 2000)

It is within this framework of the DSM-IV-TR Axis I and II descriptors that we can begin to develop a clinical picture of what makes a child predator tick. This will help us develop a picture of what behaviors to look for.

Child Predators – Understanding Their Psychology

The child predator is a challenge to identify. It would be so much easier if they were crazy-acting monsters whose behaviors were so bizarre that they would be obvious to us all. Unfortunately, they blend in. Although most are adult Caucasian males, they are not limited to that group. The predator can be male or female, an adult or even another child. More often than not, they are average people we see around our children every day. He or she could be a family member, neighbor, trusted teacher or coach, a doctor, coach, member of the clergy or even a law enforcement officer. They go after our children at schools, in parks, at places of worship or in our neighborhoods. That is precisely the problem.

The child predator could be anyone, anywhere.

We need to learn to look for more subtle clues and behaviors to identify these criminals. These clues will help alert us that a predator may be lurking in our midst. The following are behavioral patterns exhibited by predatory adults.

Child predators are usually afraid of adult intimacy. They have poor interpersonal relationships with other adults. They are superficially pleasant and charming. But we don’t get a feeling of a sincere adult-to-adult level relationship with them. Their ulterior motive is to use us to get closer to our children.

A Child predator often refuses to take responsibilities for his actions. If he has an antisocial personality, he will blame others for his shortcomings and failures. He gets upset easily. It is common during post-arrest interviews for them to blame the child by saying, “She was being seductive towards me,” or “He acted like he wanted me to touch him.”

A child predator generally needs to control others. Many display strong narcissistic features and manipulate adults and children in order to gain power over them. When you’re around them you may feel the constant need to justify yourself, including justifying decisions you make regarding your child.

Child predators typically have low self-esteem. Many have avoidant personalities and thus feel woefully inadequate and avoid adult social interactions. Being around children makes them feel needed and superior. They will want to spend time away from you, and with your child.

Child predators are extremely manipulative. They may even feign having a mental illness, such as depression, in a bid to get the child, who wants to please adults, to help them. Be aware if your child begins a care-taking role with another adult.

Child predators seek out children who are vulnerable. They seek out lonely children who are looking for adult caring. The predator works in stages to get the child to feel dependent on them. They mold the child into becoming a willing victim to the predator’s paraphilic behaviors.

Why Our Children Fall Victim

Children don’t think like adults do. They generally want to please adults and other authority figures. Even the most loved and cared-for child has times when he or she feels vulnerable, awkward or unsure of themselves. Child predators are on the lookout for these typical childhood behaviors. They exploit these behaviors as weaknesses for their own gain.

Parents have to establish boundaries so children will learn what is expected of them. This includes setting limits on sexually related behaviors and discussions, prohibiting sexually related images and discouraging the use of alcohol and drugs. However, children are curious about these and other forbidden topics. The predator uses your child’s innate curiosity about these prohibited subjects to his or her advantage.

Adolescents test limits by pushing parental boundaries. The predator presents his or herself as a cool new friend. He or she acts like a buddy the child can hang out with and explore forbidden pleasures. They drink alcohol and watch porn movies together. The predator starts with touching and then progresses to overt sexual acts. He then may take pictures of these activities. These pictures will be used to blackmail the child with threats of showing the pictures to his or her parents. In addition, the predator makes threats to harm the child or his family if their “secret” gets out. This abuse, intimidation and threats can go on for years.

Take These Actions to Protect Your Child

Child predators hunt our children for their own perverted psychological needs. They need a steady supply of victims to make it from one day to the next. They continue hunting until they are stopped and locked up. The following are practical suggestions to help you keep your children safe from these predators. While it’s important not to instill fear in a child and make them believe that everyone in the world is out to hurt them, it’s vital that children be aware of some of the realities of world they live in.

  • Talk with your children about child predators. It’s common for parents to want to keep children shielded from these topics, but children need to know how to be safe at all costs.
  • Know the adults in your child’s life. Be aware of your child’s demeanor before and after spending time with a specific person.
  • Instruct your children never to give out personal information and never give pictures of themselves to others without permission.
  • Never leave your child unsupervised in a public place.
  • Don’t leave your child alone at places that are havens for children, such as public parks, video arcades and shopping malls.
  • Have age-appropriate discussions with your child about his or her body and safe and unsafe touching.
  • Set limits on your child’s use of the internet and monitor their use. Sexual predators use the internet as a tool to develop relationships with children. Many predators ‘chat’ with children online pretending to be someone their own age – encouraging them to share digital pictures and even getting together.
  • Listen carefully to any concerns your child brings to you about another adult. Don’t be afraid to take action and call law enforcement if needed.

Learn to trust your own intuition if you’re around another adult who makes you feel unsure, unsettling or intimidated. Mental health professionals learn to honor this reaction as a clinical sign that they are being played, or that there is a potential for aggression or violence. In polite society we are taught to give other adults the benefit of the doubt. We make excuses when they don’t behave quite right. We look the other way or justify it by saying, “He didn’t really mean anything by that.”

One of the best books on this subject is without a doubt, The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. I would strongly urge everyone with children to read it.

We cannot take these risks when it comes to our children’s safety. We must not look the other way. We must continually be on the lookout for potential predators. They are real and they are living in your city. Knowledge is the key. Awareness of the threat is necessary. But, more importantly, awareness of your power to do something about it will help you keep your child safe.

Awareness is the Key to Safety

Abel, G. (2001) Specials Transcript #454-Thieves of Childhood, Cable News Network, Atlanta, GA.
Law Enforcement Bulletin, (2009), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, D.C.
U. S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (2000), Washington, D.C.
Crimes Against Children Research Center (2002), Univ. of New Hampshire Press, Durham, NH.

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