Child Sexual Predators

Now I would like to write about a specific form of child abuse - that which occurs at the hands of child sexual predators. The statistics are alarming. In graduate school, I came across the numbers of 1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 5 boys will be sexually assaulted by the time they are 18. That was in the late '90's, and I remember thinking Well, maybe that includes a very loose definition of the word "assault." The numbers just seemed too big.

Then, I went to work as a psychotherapist for Family Service Center of Galveston County, where I worked with at-risk youth and their families. My clinical supervisor was the then director of the agency, Dr. Sandra Sullivan. Her specialty was cases of child sexual abuse, with an emphasis on juvenile sex offenders: children who sexually assault other children. Our agency ran one of only two programs in the state designed to rehabilitate juvenile offenders. Although adult sexual offenders are notoriously difficult to rehab, it turns out that children who offend, if given an opportunity to complete a high quality program like the one we had, have around a 90% chance of never behaving that way again.

Between the education I received from Dr. Sullivan and what I observed in my own practice, I now totally believe the numbers. The sexual abuse of children by adults is rampant! Predators roam around our children, often with impunity, partly because so many adults don't know what to look for and partly because of staggering denial among otherwise well-meaning adults. Let's face it - it is disturbing as heck to think someone who seems like a perfectly nice adult may be molesting children! It is far easier to tell yourself that you are misreading the situation or to make other excuses for the adult. However, if we are ever to stop the wolves from devouring our young, we have to get a grip!

One site I find very helpful on this topic is They pull no punches when they come right out and say any sexual contact between an adult and a child (somebody under 18 years old with the offender being at least 3 years older) is abuse. This is absolutely correct, with the abusive element lying in the power differential discussed in my other two blogs on abuse. Ironically, I have come across many, many people who have endured this type of abuse and don't even realize they are victims!!! A common scenario is a young girl, say 12-16, relating that she had been in a sexual "relationship" with a young man, maybe in his 20's. Their first reaction to the suggestion that they have been raped is often to exclaim something along the lines of, "Oh no! he was super nice to me! He just told me that I am mature for my age!" But, in actuality, they have been raped without even realizing it!

Another fact I learned from Dr. Sullivan was that when pedophiles are interviewed as to their preference between boys or girls, it's about half and half, with a small percentage who like either gender. Yet, among victims who come forward, nearly 90% are (at least at that time) female. This suggests that, as a society, we have a truckload of boys who have been sexually victimized who never come forward and thus, never received any help for their trauma. Although it is difficult to do research on victims who don't tell anybody, the belief is generally that boys are less likely to come forward because they perceive more social stigma will be attached to them, especially if the offender was a male (and over 90% are.)

So, here are some things to know: first off, any sexual contact between adults and minors is abuse, and therefore, WRONG!!!! This includes showing a minor porn or inappropriate sexual discussions with them.

Another good site on the topic is found at At the "Advice" section of his website, he has FAQ sheet called "Sexual Predator Warning Signs." I'm not going to list everything he says, but I would encourage every adult to go to this web page and familiarize themselves with the warning signs. However, I will hit on a few of his points.

Characteristically, sexual predators tend to be people who fail to take responsibility for their own actions and tend to blame others for their failures. Frequently, when caught, pedophiles will blame the child! For example, they will say things like "Well, she (a minor) is always prancing around here in her underwear!" or similar excuses. Dr. Phil also notes a pervasive sense of entitlement. This is true even beyond their thinking that it is their right to have sex with children. Often, across the board, these individuals will convey the belief that certain things are owed to them.

A lack of empathy is inevitably present in sexual offenders, although more intelligent ones sometimes learn how to "fake" empathy. So, smart predators may pretend to feel sorry for others, but if you press them on what exactly they are sorry about, generally their answers are vacuous. Along with this, they are often glib. So, for example, if you say to a predator, "Wow! I think what you said really hurt little Johnny's feelings!" the predator is likely to answer with something like "Oh, he'll get over it!" The ONE exception to this rule is that they often can feel very, very sorry for themselves. Also, many times they are arrogant people.

Another attribute Dr. Phil talks about is how pedophiles can be extraordinarily friendly and likable. I tell my students, pedophiles are the best liars in the world - because if they weren't, they would already be in jail! Like any con artist, the successful pedophile has learned how to make others like and trust him. They are often eager to help you, especially if by doing so they will gain access to your children! This ties in to their extraordinary skills at manipulating others, which they will use to seduce children. Oprah has spoken often and eloquently on this point in her discussions of her own childhood sexual abuse. On her show one day, she said something to the effect of If someone can convince a child that their sexual activity is good and pleasant, then they can rape whenever they want! Sooo true! One thing that is particularly confusing to child victims is when they have experienced pleasure at the hands of the abuser. Later, they may say things like It wasn't really rape because I enjoyed it! I wanted it! The truth is, though, they have simply fallen prey to the offender's superb skills at manipulation. suggests some other warning signs. These include things like adults who tend to have "special friends" that are children, and who may change their "favorite" from year to year. Also, they warn of adults who may draw attention to children's private body parts, often in a way that makes fun of the child. For example they may tease a boy about his "small package," or make inappropriate observations about a teenage girl's breast size. They may use sexualized language in dealing with children, calling girls "slut" or " w----" or referring to boys as "stud" or "sexy." They may ask their adult sexual partners to "dress up" like a child or teen to have sex.

When challenged by other adults, predators will sometimes blame alcohol or drugs. For example, they may agree with another adult that a challenged behavior was inappropriate (because they got caught!), but then shirk responsibility by saying something like But I was so drunk (or high) that I don't even remember doing that! Another rationalization I used to come across all the time was that the sexual behavior they had with a child was for the child's "education." So they would say, Well he or she is going to encounter that in the "real world," and I'm just teaching them how it is done. Or, they will blame the child, as in "He/she wanted it!" They will invariably try to minimize their behavior in some way. They may say, "It was just a kiss" or "I was only massaging him/her." They will often make comparisons to their own favor like "I just (fill-in-the-blank) - you should see what he/she does with (somebody else).

One rationalization that irritates me is the "old soul" one. As in, "I realize he/she is only 15, but he/she is an old soul. He/she is like a wise old man/woman." One trick the successful pedophile frequently employs is a kind of appeal to the child's ego. Children, often eager to grow up, are very vulnerable to people who tell them they are especially mature for their age. Imaginative and living in an era of wacky New Age thinking, youth may be susceptible to the idea of reincarnation that suggests they are "special," operating at an age from a past life that is older than their actual, chronological age in this world. Mary Jane Letourneau used that line of reasoning to justify her relationship with a 13 year old student. It is another aspect of manipulation, though.

Both Dr. Phil and stopitnow warn about adults who spend lots of time with children, particularly if they are men with no children of their own. While many of us volunteer our time to work with youth in some capacity, red flags should go up if these "super helpful adults" also tend to not have any or many close friends of their own age. While it is not unusual for a pedophile to be married, they often are socially immature to the degree that they have a hard time relating to and keeping same age friends.

The devastation child sexual predators leave in their wake is huge. Children who have been victimized are traumatized, whether they realize it or not!!!! Institutions and organizations who serve children have the absolute responsibility to vigilantly screen for predators; they are remiss and liable if they fail to take a proactive stance and, instead, adopt a "trusting" attitude towards adults who work or volunteer for them. This is, in part, because pedophiles will naturally be drawn to arenas that will provide them with a victim pool. The successful predator will often present as somebody extraordinarily helpful, willing to go that extra mile for the organization because that will enhance his/her chances of having access to the children. Being seen as "a star" has the additional benefit of increasing the predator's credibility if a child should try to report inappropriate behavior. Other adults are often reluctant to believe Mr/Ms X would do something wrong because they love kids!

Additionally, the pedophile may select victims with credibility problems. They may choose a child who is known to lie, or whom others find "unattractive," or who has the reputation of being a "bad kid." In that way, other adults may find it easier to reject a child's outcry, especially if the predator is seen as someone really good and likable. But, no matter what an adult may think about a child's outcry, the law in Texas is absolutely clear: ANY adult who even has the suspicion that another grown-up is behaving inappropriately with children, and certainly ANYTIME a child says something untoward has happened, you MUST - by law - report it to the Child Abuse Hotline (by phone or computer) within 24 hours!!!! You are not to be the judge; the state has trained investigators to do that. Furthermore, you are not to tell anybody else (not the parents, not your employers) that a report has been made until CPS or the police have a chance to interview the child. This is to help prevent the outcrier from being coerced into silence in any way. By law, a report will be investigated within 72 hours of its receipt.

I often have heard the excuse for the failure to report that other adults don't want to get the alleged offender in trouble. I would say, don't worry about that. CPS is well aware that false reports get made, purposely or not. They can be very discreet, given the opportunity. They would much prefer that you report a suspicion that turns out to be false, than that you fail to report, and even one more child gets hurt! To be honest, I find that it is usually more subtle, selfish reasons of not wanting to get involved that stop adults from following the law. Well, we need to get over that because children are at stake, here! If we want to end, or even simply decrease, the incidence of child predation, we each must become activists for the safety of our children. This is one time when, truly, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

When any school or other organization has the audacity to look the other way -or God Forbid!- to even protect a sexual predator, I hold them in utter contempt and would do anything in my power legally to expose and remove them from power. This I would do with a truckload of loving kindness in my heart, of course! Children have little power in this world; this is the responsibility of all adults!!! If you care about kids, it is a responsibility you should be glad to fulfill. Our children are worth it!!!