He looks in their eyes. He looks for shyness, a lack of confidence. Sadness, loneliness. Anger at mom and dad. Needs unfulfilled. When he sees any of this, he knows his chances are good. When he sees trust, he knows he’s hit the jackpot.
Trust is the key. It allows a predator to establish (and continue) his relationship with a child. Whatever a little girl or boy is not getting at home–attention, kindness, validation, love–that’s what the sexual abuser will give them. The problem is that this “gift” comes at tremendous cost to the child, who can spend the rest of their life paying for it.
Who is this guy?? As I’ve alluded, the child sex offender is most often male. He can be virtually any age, from 7 to 75 and beyond. Look around; you and he probably know each other. I’m not implying that you hang around with criminals and low-lifes. I’m saying that he’s someone you might not expect: a married neighbor… a co-worker… your friend who comes over on weekends to help with a project… the guy at church who’s a “grandpa” to all the kids… maybe Uncle Joe who’s not really an uncle but a close family friend.
One thing I’ve found in the years I’ve been teaching Child Safety and Self-Defense is that the catchy phrase, “Stranger Danger” frustrates the heck out of me. It’s cute because it rhymes, and lets parents believe they’re protecting their children by steering them away from people they don’t know. But it’s dangerous because it’s misleading. Certainly, there are still cases of children being abused by the stereotypical stranger hiding in the bushes, waiting to grab them. But in over 90% of cases, day-to-day child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child already knows. Over 90% by someone the child knows.
How does he seduce a child? With the things that children love. “Mommy’s too busy to play with you? You can come to my house and we’ll play; I have lots of toys!”
“You’re not allowed to watch that show at home? Well, you just come over here, and we’ll watch it together!”
Maybe he has a scooter in front of his house, or a child’s bike. Or maybe there’s a bench or a picnic table because he enjoys chatting with the kids–it “keeps him young,” he says. In the parlance of criminal psychology, these items and their placement by the predator are anything but innocent. They’re called set-ups. He uses them to lure children into his lair.
If you’re in a social setting–maybe at a party, or at a park–with children and adults, is there an adult who seems to prefer being with the kids? Someone who spends more time playing with them than seeking adult company? This is a red flag. Teachers, pediatricians, childcare workers, etc. love children, which is why they choose the careers they do. But, put them in a gathering with families and, after smiling and encouraging the kids, they’ll turn their attention to the adults for stimulating conversation. The predator finds stimulation among the children.
I offer these danger signs to be aware of, so you can continue to protect your children as much as possible. None of us likes the idea of living near a possible sex offender. And certainly, nobody wants to march down the street and start hurling accusations at a neighbor. Even if you did, a predator will lie to protect himself. But, like my grandmother used to say, “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…” that may be one bird you want to keep a close watch on.