How to Spot Common Predator Characteristics

Posted Thursday, January 25th, 2018 by Victoria Bissell, Director of Training, Plan to Protect™. Adapted by Sterling Volunteers staff

How to Spot Common Predator Characteristics

Children usually are friendly and trusting of most people and therefore have a difficult time identifying predators. But, adults are not always able to “see” predators either. Predators can be anyone, including a family member, colleague, coach or friend. According to The Pragmatic Parent, “90% of the time a predator is someone with a relationship to the victim and the family. On the outside, they have a great looking life and are well-liked by others. They strategically target their victims, often installing themselves into a child’s life through family, school, church, sports, and activities.”

How to Identify Common Predator Characteristics

While researching her book, Identifying Child Molesters, Preventing Child Sexual Abuse by Recognizing the Patterns of the Offenders, Dr. Carla van Dam interviewed over 300 molesters who exhibited similar types of social behaviors. These behaviors provide a general predatory pattern to keep an eye out for. According to Sterling Volunteers’ partner Plan to Protect, an organization which provides abuse prevention education and protection to groups which service the vulnerable sector, “No predator will exhibit all of the signs common to molesters, simply because of human individuality. However, he (or she) will generally exhibit a subset of the signs.”

Dr. Carla van Dam lists some of the common predator characteristics. Note, however, that the warning signs need to be viewed within the context of an individual’s life. “For instance, if someone enjoys playing with children in the company of other adults, that’s normal. If someone is a particularly helpful person but doesn’t seek out the company of children, that’s a wonderful thing. However, if combinations of the above qualities are evident, there’s cause for concern and children need to be carefully watched around these people.”

Below are some child predator characteristics to look for:

  • Association with children: He/she may show a preference for association with children. The person in question maintains few friendships in his/her own age bracket.
  • Structured access to children: Teaching, bus driving, sports coaching, camp counseling and volunteering to help with children’s activities all offer opportunities to be alone with children with no parental supervision.
  • Entrapment through feelings: The predator encourages a child to develop feelings for them, entrapping the young victim in a situation where the child feels that the abuse is legitimized by his or her feelings for the abuser. This is a psychological process known as the “Stockholm Syndrome” where victims develop feelings of attachment to their captors.
  • Disconnected and disrespectful: Predators may appear disconnected from normal peers. They also may be disrespectful of social boundaries.
  • Very charming: They may have either a particularly charming personality or obvious ‘loner’ qualities, sometimes a combination of both. The charmers are socially appealing but often lack substance in their relationships. There’s no sense of genuine bonding at a heart level.
  • Too good to be true: Predators can appear to be “too good to be true.” They want to help as often as they can, take children for special outings or buy them gifts for no particular reason.
  • Emotional loneliness: Predators lack the capacity for intimacy, resulting in emotional loneliness. They are known to respond to concerns about denial and aggression.
  • Positive Imaging: Predators maintain an image of social acceptability, often taking leadership in children’s groups through which they can gain the trust of both the parents and children.

Protection Against Predatory Characteristics

The best way for parents to protect their children from predators is to have open communication and be a visible parent. Children should understand what is appropriate versus inappropriate behavior and be able to openly talk about it with their family. Parents should know and be involved in their children’s daily schedule and activities and set up clear boundaries for personal privacy and behavior for themselves and their children.

Caution First

Dr. van Dam mentions that people should be cautious about jumping to judgment about an individual too quickly. Accusing someone of being predatory is a serious accusation and can cause many lives to be ruined. Make sure you consult with legal counsel before making any claims of this type of behavior.

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*This blog originally appeared on Plan to Protect’s website. Permission has been granted to Verified Volunteer staff to adapt it for their audience and repost.