Children think of bad guys as these sinister, scary-looking villains that do battle against Spider-Man or kidnap princesses. We adults, of course, know better. In light of stories like Jerry Sandusky -- a once nationally respected college football coach who had been sexually abusing boys for decades -- we know monsters can take on many forms. Still, it's not always easy to spot who these predators truly are, so The Stir wants to help parents identify possible pedophiles.
For this potentially child-saving guide, we turned to renowned psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman, who has provided expert testimony in many high-profile cases, and Dr. Julie Cederbaum, an associate professor at the University of Southern California's School of Social Work specializing in children, families, and sexual health.
Don't expect to see obvious signs, like child pornography or sexual behavior toward children in public. In fact, they are likely charming, loving, seemingly good people. You see, predators are well practiced at hiding their proclivities. It's more important to be attuned to the behavioral cues below:
- Predators are typically unmarried loners who enjoy the company of children more than adults.
- Predators have a radar that directs them to children who are least likely to create a fuss or least likely to tell. These victims will usually have low self-esteem and are desperate for adult attention because they don't get enough from their parents.
- One frightening fact every parent needs to remember: "Approximately 80 to 90 percent of children know their offender and almost 50 percent of offenders are family members," says Dr. Cederbaum.
- Many pedophiles groom their victims by becoming a part of the child's life and gaining their trust and that of the family. Then they may initiate more touching or games of a sexual nature.
- Some look to marry women with children so that they have "ready-made prey," warns Dr. Lieberman.
- Concerned dating moms should ask themselves: Is that new boyfriend too touch-feely or does he make overtly sexual comments around my kids? Are they afraid to be alone with him?
- There are also impulsive predators who strike whenever the opportunity presents itself. "For example, a mom's new boyfriend who offers to babysit or a neighbor driving a child home from school," explains Dr. Lieberman.
- A predator may encourage your child to keep secrets from you.
- When you mention plans to visit this friend or relative, your child gets upset but won't tell you why.
- Child molesters are most often men, but not exclusively. Women are more likely to go after a "relationship" with teen boys, according to Dr. Lieberman.
- The most critical question to ask yourself: How well do I really know this person? "Knowing where your child is and who they are being supervised by is important," cautions Dr. Cederbaum. "Having relationships with teachers, after school leaders, coaches, parents of friends, and others in your community helps you to better engage your child in dialogue about their experiences and share when you are less comfortable with whom they are engaging."
If a little voice inside your head is saying something is not right, don't ignore it. The most helpful tool a parent has is their intuition. Though it's important to keep in mind that there is no one size fits all description for a sexual abuser. It may be a combination of various characteristics or perhaps just one or two. If you suspect something, don't confront this person yourself. Report your suspicions to the police or to Child Protective Services. They will know how to look for signs of guilt and lessen the risk of the predator becoming violent.
Have you ever suspected someone of having an inappropriate relationship with a child?