Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Child Sexual Abusers: Pedophiles, Opportunists, Molesters, and Predators How Understanding Their Behavior Can Prevent Abuse from Occurring

This is a report I wrote this week for a communications class I am taking. I learned a lot of good information while writing it and thought that it was worth sharing. It's long...but worth the read, I hope!

Child Sexual Abusers: Pedophiles, Opportunists, Molesters, and Predators

How Understanding Their Behavior Can Prevent Abuse from Occurring


Child sexual abusers are a prevalent part of our society. In order to protect our children and prevent their victimization, it is necessary for us to understand potential abusers: who they are, how they behave, where they are located and why they molest and assault children. Through the course of research, I have outlined the basic profile of a child sexual abuser, including their characteristics, patterns of offense, and treatment. Finally, I have outlined how this information can aid us in preventing future victimization from occurring.


Before delving into the criminal mind of a child abuser, it is necessary to understand what child sexual abuse is and its prevalence in our society.


There is not a single definition of what constitutes sexual abuse of a child. Legal experts define it as “any act that violates penal code.” Psychologists define it as “any act in which an adult takes advantage of a child for sexual gratification” (Sax 25; Schwartz-Kenny, McCauley, and Epstein 245). Child sexual abuse can take on several forms. The first form is what is termed sexual assault. This includes any physical act performed on a child or that a child is forced to perform: rape, sodomy, fondling, oral sex, etc. The second, sexual molestation, which includes other inappropriate sexual behavior: watching a child undress, exposing oneself to a child, explicit talk, etc. The third form is sexual exploitation: exposing children to or using them in the creation of pornography, selling children into prostitution rings, using them for some kind of personal advancement and financial profit, etc. (Sax 26-27).

In order for something to be deemed sexual abuse, both of the following criteria must be met: first, that the offender is an adult, or significantly older than the victim, or in a position of trust; second, that the offender uses the child in any way for sexual stimulation or gratification (Sax 25).


The occurrence of child abuse across all realms (physical, verbal, neglectful, sexual) is vastly underreported. Of all types of abuse, however, sexual abuse is the most underreported, both in victim disclosure and in collecting reliable data from the offenders themselves (Sax 23-24). The bulk of the statistics we currently have come from criminal cases. Over one million cases of serious child abuse are reported every year (Mead and Westgate B-3). According to one study done by psychiatrist Gene Abel in the 1980s, pedophiles have only a three percent chance of getting caught. Bearing this in mind, it is easy to see how unreliable current statistics may be.

There are other causes for unreliability in reported numbers. Each state has different laws pertaining to child sexual abuse. Under these laws, variation in acts and behaviors considered criminal cause a discrepancy in reporting. Something that may be classified as aggravated assault in the state of Utah may be classified as something else in Nevada. As such, complete numbers may not make it to a statistical information bank. Prior to 2000, when the Department of Justice began collecting statistical data on a national level, numbers were collected by local police departments. There was no uniform standard on keeping statistics, and only a few specific acts were identified and reported, most notably forcible rape, forcible sodomy, forcible fondling, and sexual assault with an object.

Offenders, once caught, are unreliable with their information. Victims are reluctant to disclose the full truth of what occurred, or cannot, due to memory lapses or blockages. Many victims never report the abuse, for several reasons, usually fear of the abuser and his/her threats, guilt, shame, fear of not being believed, fear of breaking up their family, among others.

Reports that come from false allegations also play a role on the reliability of these statistics.

From a 2007 report from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (Sax 24-25), the following can be said of child sexual abuse in the United States:

  • · 1 in 5 girls will be molested prior to their 18th birthday
  • · 1 in 6 boys will be molested prior to their 18th birthday
  • · 1 in 7 reported victims are children under the age of six
  • · 40% of offenders who molested children under the age of six where under the age of 18
  • · 2 out of every 3 abuse cases involve victims who are teenagers or young children
  • · An estimated 20% of all children in the US receive unwanted sexual messages—75% of these never tell
  • · There are 400,000 new victims of sexual assault each year
  • · Currently, there are 550,000 registered sex offenders in the US. Each year more than 100,000 of them fail to register
  • · 76% of serial rapists claim they were molested as children
  • · 40% of male juvenile delinquents report being molested as children
  • · Nearly 90% of all sexual abuse perpetrators are family members, friends or neighbors, people the child knows and trusts.

Other statistics from various studies show that 80-98% of all prison inmates were either physically or sexually abused in their childhood. 60 to 80% of people being treated for alcohol and drug problems were abused or molested as children (Mead and Westgate B-3). Many studies estimate that the numbers of children who are molested is higher than the FBI’s report with rates being closer to 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 4 boys molested prior to their 18th birthdays.


The ultimate goal is to keep sexual abuse from happening. Realistically this is not likely, perhaps not even possible. What is realistic, however, is that by educating ourselves and our children, we can lessen its prevalence and make perpetrating the crime more difficult for the offender. How are we to prevent abuse occurring if we do not understand why it occurs, where it occurs, how it occurs, and who is committing the crime? If we understand the criminal, if we can predict his behaviors, it becomes easier to stop his crime.


I have used several sources in researching this topic. First, several print sources, most written by educated experts in the field of child sexual abuse: psychiatrists, district attorneys, police investigators, etc. I have also used several government websites for statistical data. In addition to these sources, I have used my own empirical knowledge, as I have been involved in anti-child abuse campaigns for several years. I am personally a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and as such, have a unique view on this topic. I have been able to draw upon my own experiences in court proceedings, therapy, the process of abuse and my personal relationship to my abuser and his tendencies.

I began by drawing upon my own experience, asking myself, what about my own situation can be applied to most sexual abuse cases? As a survivor, what do I feel is important to teach others about potential threats to themselves and their children? After brainstorming my thoughts and feelings, I created a basic outline and moved forward with researching outside information.

My first step in research was searching the local library system. I was pleased to find so many applicable print sources available for my use. I read several of them cover to cover, taking notes on relevant information. The others I skimmed and used the index to cross-reference pertinent facts. I made use of internet searches to verify statistical information from print sources and find articles published by many of the experts referenced, continuing to take notes.

After completing my preliminary research, I read through my notes several times, tying similar topics together and planning the basis of my report and the order in which I will present information.

While attempting to be as objective as possible, I recognize that I have some bias when it comes to this topic. As a childhood victim, dealing with the harsh realities of having been sexually abused by a close family member, I have beliefs, feelings, and experiences that sway my opinion of perpetrators. The stage at which I find myself in the healing process does, however, lend itself toward objectivity and the ability to look at the facts rather than at my emotional response to them.


Types of Child Sexual Abuse Perpetrators

When speaking of a person who sexually abuses children, most people use the term “pedophile.” Not all people who sexually abuse children, however, are pedophiles.

The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (better known as the DSM-IV), categorizes pedophilia as a paraphilia, which is characterized by recurrent and intense sexual urges and fantasies under deviant circumstances. While an ephebophile is attracted to pubescent and early adolescent children, pedophiles are attracted to prepubescent children (Rowan 3). The DSM-IV defines the criteria for pedophilia as follows:

1. The person, over a period of at least 6 months, has a recurrence of intense, sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behavior involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 years or younger).

2. The person acts on these urges, or they create distress or difficulty in his life.

3. The person is at least age 16 years and at least 5 years older than the child or children in Criterion A (Sax 28).

A pedophile is typically not deemed as such until he has been caught and convicted. These people can have either a permanent or temporary (for at least longer than six months) desire to have sex with children. There are several types of pedophiles.

First, the fixated pedophile. These people begin acting out at approximately age 13. At this point, the abuse is typically not thought of as criminal, but if it is caught, it provides the best chance for identification, testing, and treatment. Most fixated pedophiles think of children as their friends. They don’t see their actions as abuse, but rather a way of providing “special favors” and playing games. Most do not have adult sexual relationships, typically because of a fear of rejection. This person uses careful planning, victimizes more than one child, and purposefully places himself in a position where he has access to a lot of children.

Second, the regressed pedophile. Generally, these people live normal lives and develop at a normal rate. A year prior to the onset of pedophilia, they encounter something upsetting: a divorce, a job loss, death, etc. Typically their relationships are poor, they have no prior record and are well-thought of in the community. They like children and often have their own. They begin spending more time with children looking for comfort. They use their authority and power to threaten their victims. They are possessive, jealous, restrictive, and because of their intense fear of exposure, reinforces threats on a frequent basis. Regressed pedophiles begin with one victim but quickly expand.

Third, the undifferentiated pedophile. This type of pedophile cares only about their own sexual gratification, not who gives it to them. Typically they kidnap and hold hostage their victims. They have no gender or age preferences. The undifferentiated pedophile is sexually confused and a sexual misfit. Often their abuse includes torture and ends in the death of their victim (Mead and F-5).

In addition to the pedophile there is the opportunist. An opportunist is not necessarily a pedophile. They sexually abuse children, but also maintain interest in sex with partners of their own age. Generally there is not a fixation for children, and usually this type of abuser is an incest offender, abusing their own children. Often the abuse occurs only once (Sax 29-30).

Child Molesters are abusers who touch their victims sexually (usually fondling) but do not use penetration. This can occur over or under clothing. Flashing, showing a child pornography, or lewd dialogue are all types of molestation (Sax 30).

A stressed molester has no prior history of abuse and no clinical indication of re-offense. They abuse a victim once or twice in a short period of time. This abuse is based on extremes of stress rather than a real attraction to sex with a child (Mead and Westgate F-6).

The term predator is often applied to perpetrators. This is a term of numbers, not necessarily of behaviors. An offender is deemed a predator if they have offended multiple times with either one victim or with multiple victims (Sax 31).

Female Sex Offenders rarely act on their own. Most offended with a dominant male partner who instigated the abuse. Usually they suffered from significant emotional or intellectual impairment (Rowan 14). Of those who do abuse on their own, many use their own children in a non-threatening lover role for comfort, as a means of exploring their own naïve sexual curiosity, or prostituting their children for monetary gain (Mead and Westgate F-9-11).

Predisposition to Pedophilia or Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse occurs across all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. There are no consistent physical or psychological traits among perpetrators. The only difference, it seems, is how each ethnic group responds to the abuse—not in its occurrence.

Generally speaking, most abusers have common personality traits. Many come from rigid religious backgrounds, suffer from depression, are isolated as children, have an inability to relate to adults, and may lack common social skills. They also have a history of inappropriate social behavior and believe themselves to be entitled to certain privileges. It is believed that most were abused themselves as children, physically, verbally, or sexually. Many also have poor impulse control, unusual arousal patterns, and an obsessive need for control. In some cases drugs and alcohol play a role (Sax 40, 45; Mead and Westgate F-5).

Many perpetrators appear to be the opposite of what we believe dangerous predators should look like. Because they are often friends, family members and neighbors, they are regular-looking people, probably well-liked and charismatic. They look and act nice, so we don’t suspect that they aren’t. In reality, this is a façade and a trap to attract children (Cooper and King 87).

Biologically, there are a few theorized traits: lower than expected intelligence, a tendency to be left-handed, increased prolactin levels within the brain, and an association with a temporal lobe disorder. There has not been enough research, however, to provide a definitive estimation. This would require neuroimaging studies of large populations (Rowan 82).

In one study done on homosexual men, it is suggested that birth order may play a role statistically in sexual preferences. There have been some analogical comparisons with sexual deviancy (pedophilia) based on the results of this study. In a phenomena called maternal immunoreactivity, maternal antibodies disrupt neurohormonal development crucial for sexual differentiation within the brain of a male fetus. If a woman has had multiple male children, the antibodies build up and increase with each pregnancy. It is said that if gender preference in sexual activity can be disrupted, why not age preference? Some other unrelated studies show that there is a preponderance of convicted male pedophiles with older brothers (Rowan 82).

Another association made has been the occurrence of reported head injuries prior to the age of thirteen. It is unknown if subtle brain damage as a result of these injuries may increase the risk of pedophilia (Rowan 83). Some believe there is a genetic or neurophysiologic predisposition, although this has not been proven (Rowan 5).

Characteristics of an Abuser

The vast majority of child sexual abusers target victims they know. Some reports say only 4-7% of abusers target strangers (Rowan 22). They not only have a preexisting relationship with the child, they also have access to them, authority over them and the trust of both the parent and the child. They tend to spend an unusual amount of time with children, even seeking jobs where they will be around them frequently. Often they will give suspicious presents or do favors for their targeted victims. Perpetrators can live anywhere, and there may even be one in your own family.

In a study performed at the University of New Hampshire in the 1980s, Drs. Araji and Finkelhor created a model to explain the dynamics of child sexual abuse. They came up with four elements that must be present for abuse to occur (Rowan 6).

One, sexual arousal. Sigmund Freud came up with the expression polymorphous perverse to describe the sexual urges we all have. These urges become associated with what is happening around us. In classic behavioral conditioning, events we experience paired with our urges can be interpreted as “turn-ons.” Given the right circumstances, anyone can be aroused by anyone or anything. Potentially, we all have “deviant arousal patterns,” but choose not to act on them (Rowan 3). Studies that monitor sexual arousal show that many adolescents and adults respond sexually to images of children as well as adults. The potential for sexual arousal when looking at a child is greater than we might imagine, but is only a problem when it leads to involvement with an unwilling participant. The primary interest of pedophiles is children. They do not respond to a broad range of stimuli like most “deviant” adults (whether they act upon the stimuli or not). To the pedophile, his arousal to children feels natural and they wonder how people can be aroused in any other way. They recognize that others do not approve but it does not influence their urges.

Two, emotional congruence. Most adults who are sexually attracted to children try to relate to them as equals. It is comforting and satisfying to them to act like a child. There are several explanations for this, including developmental delays, immaturity, chronic low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence. It is easier for them to relate to children than to adults.

Three, blockage. The lack of a committed relationship with another adult, or one without a sexual relationship, is common with most pedophiles. Failure to establish a positive adult relationship may lead to seeking one with a child. Some abusers maintain sexual relationships with other adults for show while continuing to see sexual gratification from children.

Four, disinhibition. Basically, this means that the abuser’s desire to have sex with children is not controlled. There can be several reasons for this: cultural or family rules that do not prohibit such contact, lack of bonding with an infant (absent parent, step-parent, etc.), poor impulse control, mental illness, drug or alcohol intoxication, or acute stress situations (Rowan 7-8).

Patterns of Abuse

“Incest” is a term used to describe sexual abuse that occurs between family members. Dr. Edward Rowan, author of Understanding Child Sexual Abuse, prefers the term “intrafamilial sexual abuse.” He believes that the authority and trust that come with family relationships are more important factors than the biological relationship between victim and abuser (Rowan 12). The dynamics of sexual abuse within a family is just as varied as outside of a family setting. One important factor is the lack of a nurturing or protective bond. It is often the result of a controlling, dominating father figure who feels entitled. The sexual abuse of a child is often part of a larger cycle of abuse, physical, verbal, and sexual abuse of the mother and other siblings. Sometimes the child takes the place of a mother who is emotionally or physically unavailable to the father. Abusers often blame the child, pledge them to secrecy and use threats to enforce it (Rowan 12-13).

Most cases of incest begin between the ages of four and nine. Children at this age are more compliant and believe what is happening to them is a show of affection. They are more susceptible to threats or bribes. The abuser exploits their loyalty, their need for affection, their desire to please and their trust. It usually consists of fondling, oral sex, or anal penetration, as vaginal penetration is difficult prior to age 12. Incest abuse usually ends at age 14-15, when more force is required to maintain the victim’s compliance (Rowan 23).

Abuse occurring outside a family setting follows a typical pattern. The perpetrator places himself in a role where he can be close to the child: a coach, a club leader, a teacher, a member of a church. They typically choose a potential victim who is vulnerable or needy. They lull the child into a sense of ease, gaining their trust and the trust of the victim’s parent. This process is called “grooming.” With the parent’s trust, and in choosing a child that may be more prone to lying, they effectively set the stage for a child who reports the abuse to be disbelieved. They use everyday behavior to test the child’s likelihood of telling: a lingering touch on the arm, an “accidental” fondling, a kiss on the lips rather than the cheek. Based on the child’s reaction, the abuse will progress to more serious actions (Sax 40; Rowan 26; Briggs 67).

The abuse itself generally takes place somewhere the abuser has access—the opportunity to be with a child. It is also a private place, where there is a low chance of witnesses or discovery, often cars, homes, or locked rooms (Sax 42). Most serial predators are very careful and organized in the earlier years of their pedophilia. Later, they tend to lose patience and fail to plan. They become overconfident in their ability to “get away” with the crime, and their perversions become too powerful to control (Cooper and King 87).

As far as how many victims a perpetrator may have, statistical profiles are extremely unreliable. The number of convictions is not a good measure, as most go undetected and some are plea-bargained to a lesser, non-sexual crime. According to a study done in 1990 at the New Hampshire State Prison, the average number of victims incarcerated there for both incest and outside child sexual abuse perpetrators is twenty. Three percent had more than one hundred. One unique study performed by Dr. Gene Abel in 1985 of New York City men anonymously collected data about their crimes. While the truth of these claims is uncertain, the information indicated that heterosexual pedophiles (not incest perpetrators) averaged 120 “average or attempted molestations” while homosexual pedophiles averaged 205 victims (Rowan 27-28).

Treatment Provided

In 1985, Abel created a treatment plan at Columbia University designed for sex offenders. He provided five steps: correct cognitive distortions, provide sex education, promote social skills, decrease deviant arousal, and increase non-deviant arousal. While all treatment plans currently include these steps, they are not always in the same order and do not always have the same emphasis placed upon them (Rowan 57).

Offenders often see the world with different eyes and have distorted views. As a group, they avoid sexual encounters with adults because they are or for fear of appearing inadequate. They lack social skills and cannot deal with strong emotions like anger or the need for comfort appropriately. In treatment, their deviant arousal patterns are identified: stimuli, emotions, and circumstances that are associated with episodes of abuse. Here, steps are taken to extinguish it. These steps can potentially be punitive. The most difficult step of the process is to increase non-deviant arousal. Many pedophiles cannot change this, but can learn not to act on it (Rowan 57)

After being convicted, the majority of sex offenders are sentenced to time in a correctional facility. They are often on the lowest ring of prison hierarchy. Being in this position means that they are frequently abused themselves by other inmates. Participation in treatment is an incentive for early release, and is appealing (Rowan 59).

These treatment programs are long-term (at least several months) and occur in group settings, where they are most effective. Peer pressure and group interaction influences change. Most programs are selective. Requirements include a commitment to long-term treatment, adjustment within the institution, the absence of psychopathology, and an open admission that they recognize the severity of their problem and the truthfulness of the victim’s claims (Rowan 59).

Once admitted to the program, the patient signs a treatment contract, in which he agrees to abide by the rules and commits to changing his behavior. Failure to progress or infractions result in termination from the program. The patient completes a psychological history and testing. There are also two other types of tests performed.

The first is the polygraph test, often referred to as a “lie detector.” This test does not actually measure truth or lies, but rather the level of internal response under stress. In this case, it measures the response to the denial or admission of guilt and assessing the overall validity of the perpetrator’s history of offenses. The second test is called the penile plethysmograph, or the “phallometer.” This test measures penile tumescence through a strain gauge. The test measures the response to a range of visual and auditory stimuli, including slides of male, female, old, and young subjects. It also includes slides containing images of varying degrees of sexual force and seduction as well as images of consenting adults. Mixed into these slides are neutral controls, usually images of landscapes. While the results of this test can confirm or deny true objects of arousal, and serial testing can monitor progress, the results are not valid enough to use in a court proceeding (Rowan 60).

The first phase of treatment involves a group process. Here, the individual is brought to an awareness of why the offense occurred. They learn about the effects of their abuse, which is illustrated through videos, discussions, and confrontations from adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Sometimes other issues are addressed for offenders who were abused themselves, need help with their social skills, or require Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or Sex Addicts Anonymous. They also use books and workbooks. Depression and mood disturbances are addressed through various pharmaceuticals. Individual therapy occurs between a single patient and a therapist.

The second phase is a continuation of the first with the addition of specific group therapies: anger management, self-esteem development, stress management, and sex education. Individual work is done on arousal patterns. Patients often keep a “fantasy diary,” in which they monitor their thoughts. They learn behavior techniques to extinguish deviant fantasies. These include:

  • · Covert sensitization: the patient mentally pairs the deviant fantasy with an image of arrest or humiliation
  • · Aversive conditioning: the subject of the fantasy is paired with actual noxious stimulus. Rotten meat, ammonia, or electric shock are often used.
  • · Masturbation satiation: the patient is asked to masturbate quickly to completion. They are then asked to continue masturbating to the fantasy for 20 or 30 minutes. Due to the refractory period following an orgasm, masturbation with unresponsive genitalia is frustrating and extinguishes the power of the fantasy. This method is especially controversial, as in some cases it can backfire and reinforce the fantasy. Another method is asking the patient to replace the deviant fantasy with an appropriate one prior to masturbation. This is difficult to control because the patient may or may not choose to actually do so.

Family therapy is introduced during this phase. Families and spouses attend therapy to understand the offender’s dynamics, learn how to protect their children, and provide support during treatment.

During the third phase, treatment continues and patients take on more responsibility. They mentor new arrivals, lead self-help groups and place emphasis on healthy relationships and relapse prevention in individual therapy. At the conclusion of the program, the abuser should accept responsibility for their actions, be able to recite the cycle of feelings, thoughts and behaviors that precede offenses, control their urges and recognize the need for ongoing treatment (Rowan 60-64).

Potential Re-Offense

Is there a “cure” for pedophilia or a tendency to sexually abuse children? Most therapists say no (Sax 166). Treatment has a theoretical basis, and probably doesn’t work. The rate of re-offense is the same for those who are treated as it is for those who are not. 1 out of every 5 convicted sex offender re-offends. Some say that treatment may actually increase the risk, because it releases the offender into society sooner (Rowan 65). Recidivism is most associated with abusers who target male victims, younger children, have multiple and/or extrafamilial victims, use sadistic behavior, have pro-offending attitudes, and a lack of intimate relationships (Rowan 64). Sex offenders have a higher rate of recidivism than those convicted of any other offense. One extensive study done by the Department of Justice in 1994 showed that “compared to non-sex offenders released from State prisons, released sex offenders were four times more likely to be rearrested for a sex crime” (Sax 37).


How do we apply this information in our families and communities? Several years ago, I came across an organization called “Darkness to Light.” This organization is dedicated to educating adults on the dangers of child sexual abuse and how to help prevent it. Their website contains a printable pamphlet and programs that can be used in our communities. I have shared this information with many people and have found it to be valuable and well-written. All of the information I have learned regarding the characteristics of pedophiles and child sexual abusers apply to this program. The steps are as follows:

1. Learn the Facts. Based on the statistics provided in the Introduction section of this report, it is highly likely that you know a child who is being or has been abused. Realities, not trust, should influence the decisions you make regarding your children. As my research has shown, the vast majority of potential threats come close from someone close to you: a clergy member, a scout leader, a swim coach, the next door neighbor, or the babysitter—even a cousin, sibling, parent, a spouse/significant other or your own child. Do not deny a potential threat, no matter how much you want to trust them.

In addition to learning the facts, research convicted sex offenders in your neighborhood. In 1994, seven-year-old Megan Nicole Kanka was lured into her neighbor’s home where she was sexually abused and murdered. Their neighbor had been convicted twice of child sexual assault. Following this incident, a law called “Megan’s Law” was passed in which every state is required to maintain a list of convicted sex offenders. It is intended to track offenders and keep the public informed. In spite of some controversy surrounding this registration, it has been determined in several court cases that the protection of children and prevention of future victims is more important than minor infringements upon an individual’s rights (Sax 37; Rowan 73). Frequently checking this registration and being aware of the very real threat can prevent abuse from occurring. Educate your family and neighbors of the threat, and print out the photo of the offender so he can be recognized easily.

2. Minimize Opportunity. Predators look for privacy and isolation. By eliminating situations in which one adult is alone with one child, you will be minimizing the opportunity for a potential abuse situation. This includes access older youth have to younger children. Group settings are always best. One-on-one time with a trusted adult can be positive and help build a child’s self-esteem. There are things we can do to keep these interactions positive and safe. Request that the activity take place in a setting where others can witness it. Get the specific plans for the outing from the adult, and discuss what happened with your child when they come home. Find a way to be direct with the adult and let them know that both you and your child are educated when it comes to sexual abuse.

3. Talk About It. Children often keep abuse a secret out of fear, guilt, and confusion. Predators threaten them, coerce them, and make them feel that they will be in trouble if they report the abuse. By breaking down communication barriers with your child, you will increase the likelihood that they will approach you. Teach your children about their bodies and how to protect it. Talk to them about potential threats in an age-appropriate way. Start early and continue discussing the subject with them. Be proactive. If something seems wrong, talk to your child about it. Cultivating an atmosphere in which your children can approach you to discuss any subject without fear of punishment provides better opportunity for disclosure of abuse. One survey showed that only 30% of parents talk to their kids about sexual abuse, and even then most failed to mention that a potential abuser may be a friend or family member. Talk to other adults about child sexual abuse. In doing this, you are raising awareness in your community and putting potential abusers on alert.

4. Stay Alert. Don’t expect obvious signs that abuse is occurring. Often signs are there, but they are difficult to identify. Physical signs are not common, while behavioral changes are. Some children do not exhibit signs. Contacting a local children’s advocacy center can help you identify indications that abuse has occurred.

5. Make A Plan. If abuse does occur, learn where to go and how to act. Don’t overreact, and stay calm. Offer support to the child and never tell them that you don’t believe them. Always act on the assumption that the child is telling the truth. There are two agencies you can contact: local law enforcement or Child Protective Services. (In some states, including Utah, it is the Division of Child and Family Services).

6. Act on Suspicions. By acting on suspicions of abuse, you are not only helping that child but possibly protecting countless others. Trust your instincts and don’t allow fear to stop you. If you don’t know where to go, contact a child abuse hotline, children’s advocacy center, local rape crisis center or other local community agencies.

7. Get Involved. Be active in promoting awareness and prevention in your community. Education is the key to preventing abuse. Being aware that a potential threat can come from anyone, when are where it is likely to occur and to whom, you are in a position of power. Teaching others these facts will benefit our community. Support anti-child abuse legislature. Get involved by donating to or volunteering at local crisis centers and advocacy groups.


Sex offenders are a very real, very dangerous threat. They are a part of every class of people, ethnic and cultural group, and organization. Understanding the psychology and behavioral patterns of child sexual predators provides us with a basis of knowledge that can aid in preventing further incidents of abuse.

Abusers are usually depicted as scary people but often appear as the opposite. These men and women are charming, personable, and know how to gain your trust and access to your children. By being aware of who is around you child, where they are and teaching them how to respond in these situations, it is possible to eliminate potential threatening situations. Since all potential situations for abuse cannot be avoided, understanding the threats perpetrators use can help you speak to your child and take appropriate actions if abuse has occurred.

Works Cited

Abel, Gene, et. al. “Self-Reported Sex Crimes of Nonincarcerated Paraphiliacs.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Sage Publications, 1987. Web. 28 June 2011.

Abel, Gene, et. al. “The Nature and Extent of Sexual Assault.” APA PsycNet. American Psychological Association, 1990. Web. 28 June 2011.

Administration for Children and Families. “Perpetrators by Relationship to Victims and Selected Types of Maltreatment.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004. Web. 28 June 2011.

Briggs, Steven. Criminology for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2009. Print.

Child Welfare Information Gateway. “Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008. Web. 28 June 2011.

Cooper, Gregory M. and Michael R. King. Predators: Who They Are and How to Stop Them. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007. Print.

Darkness to Light. “7 Steps to Protecting Our Children.” Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse. Darkness to Light, N.d. Web. 28 June 2011.

Gerdes, Louise, ed. Child Abuse: Opposing Viewpoints. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2003. Print.

Hammel-Zabin, Amy. Conversations With a Pedophile: In the Interest of Our Children. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books, Inc., 2003. Print.

Mead, James J. and David L. Westgate. Investigating Child Abuse. Fullerton, CA: R.C. Law & Co., 1992. Print.

Rowan, Edward L. Understanding Child Sexual Abuse. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2006. Print.

Salter, Anna C. Predators, Pedophiles, Rapists and Other Sex Offenders: Who They Are, How They Operate, and How We Can Protect Ourselves and Our Children. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2003. Print.

Schwartz-Kenny, Beth, Michelle McCauley, and Michelle A. Epstein, eds. Child Abuse: A Global View. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001. Print.

Sax, Robin. Predators and Child Molesters: What Every Parent Needs to Know to Keep Kids Safe. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2009. Print.


Amber Alert Registry

Registering your child with the Amber Alert Registry can assist law enforcement in the event that your child goes missing.

Childhelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline

Childhelp USA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to meeting the needs of abused children. Its services include this hotline, where children and parents can call with anonymity and confidentiality.

1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

Darkness To Light

Website dedicated to educating communities about preventing child sexual abuse.

National Children’s Alliance

Call the Children’s Advocacy Center nearest you for a referral to a local support group or therapist specializing in child sexual abuse. All calls are confidential and callers can remain anonymous.


National Domestic Violence/Abuse Hotline

This is a 24-hours-a-day confidential hotline staffed by trained volunteers who connect victims to local emergency help and provide information and referrals for nonemergency serves including counseling and assistance in reporting abuse.

1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233)

Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN)

RAINN has an automated service that links callers to the nearest rape crisis center. All calls are confidential and callers can remain anonymous.