A Profile of the Child Molester
by Ken Wooden
During my two decades of work as an investigative reporter, I interviewed hundreds of convicted child molesters in prisons across America. My objective was to uncover how they had lured children and teens into abuse and worse. My intention was also to generate a criminal profile that could be shared with parents and law enforcement. Instead, I found child molesters and abductors to be a diverse group that possesses no tidy criminal profile.
So who are these sexual predators?
In short, pedophilia, or adult sexual attraction to children, does not discriminate by race, gender, class, or age.
One child pornography sting operation by the U.S. Justice Department and Customs Postal Inspectors resulted in well over two hundred arrests. The occupations of those arrested was a virtual rainbow of American life, representing 44% of all occupations listed by the U.S. Department of Labor.
How many child molesters live in the United States?
Approximately 400,000 convicted pedophiles currently reside in the United States, according to Department of Justice estimates.*
Are there really female child molesters?
Yes. A 2000 statistical report by the US Department of Justice* found that female offenders victimized:
How many victims does a child molester average?
Interviews guaranteeing complete confidentiality and immunity from prosecution, conducted by Emory University psychiatrist Dr. Gene Abel*, uncovered that:
How do child molesters get into situations where they can exploit children?
Due to the nature of their sexual addiction, few pedophiles are able to resist their powerful urges to initiate contact with children and will go to great lengths to do so. Common strategies include:
What is the most common method used by child molesters?
The Affection Lure. (See Think First & Stay Safe Parent Guide) Most victims of abuse are “groomed” over a period of weeks, months, or years. The Affection Lure is used both offline and online to seduce unsuspecting youngsters in need of love and attention. Child molesters have repeatedly told me: When there’s a physically or emotionally absent parent in the picture, it makes the child more vulnerable than ever.
Which age group is most often targeted by child molesters?
In the interviews I conducted, the majority of molesters cited a preference for children on the brink of puberty. This is the age of sexual awakening, making it easy for molesters to prey on the sexual curiosity and ignorance of youngsters. To quote one of the predators I interviewed, “Give me a kid who knows nothing about sex, and you’ve given me my next victim.”
While we as parents are inclined to give pre-teen children more freedom and less supervision, this age group is actually the most vulnerable to abuse and abduction. We must talk frankly and often to our children about “the birds and the bees” and not allow child molesters to educate our children for us.
Wouldn’t a vigilant parent be able to detect a child molester, just by their actions?
Not necessarily. Always remember:
Do kids and teens ever sexually abuse other children?
Sadly, yes – and many of these juvenile offenders are victims of sexual abuse themselves. A U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics report* found that:
What types of assaults were these?
Juvenile offenders under the age of 12 were responsible for:
Juvenile offenders ages 12 – 18 were responsible for:
When and where did these assaults usually happen?
The peak time for juvenile assaults was 3 pm, after school. Other spikes in the number of incidents were at the traditional meal times of 8 am, noon and 6 pm. Most of these assaults happened in the home of the victim, the home of the offender, or another residence.*
How many of these assaults were by family members?
Are there groups of organized pedophiles that prey on children?
Yes. Small groups of militant and highly organized child molesters operate worldwide through pedophile organizations, whose members claim genuine concern for the welfare of children. The actual number of members in these organizations is unknown, though their power is evident. One pedophile organization’s newsletter correctly identified ten sting operations in five different states. Another exposed and compromised four federal sting operations. Clearly, these organizations have connections.
What are their beliefs and goals?
In general, these groups believe that sex with children is harmless; some even claim that sexual relations are healthy for children. Their goals include decriminalizing child molestation and lowering the age of consent.
Where do they meet?
In addition to attending pedophile conferences and conventions, members now meet primarily via the Internet where they may swap methods, success stories, even names, descriptions, and images of children. Since the early 1980’s, they have exploited the Internet to communicate with one another, spreading their propaganda to anyone who will listen.
Aren’t their activities illegal?
Most pedophile groups and members are careful to keep their public activities within the realm of protected civil liberties.
In 2006, a new political party (PNVD) was established in the Netherlands. Commonly referred to as “the Pedophile Party,” it seeks to lower the age of consent from 16 to 12. Opponents had asked The Hague District Court to bar the party from registering for national elections, but Judge H. Hofhuis ruled: “Freedom of expression, freedom … of association, including the freedom to set up a political party, can be seen as the basis for a democratic society.”
Are these pedophile groups a real threat?
While the average child molester does not belong to a pedophile organization, we would be foolish not to take seriously any group whose members are committed to sexual activity with children.
While there are sexual predators who are organized and whose activities cause public ire, it is the millions of individual sexual predators worldwide whose day-to-day actions and steadfast determination are a far greater threat to the safety of our children. Knowing this – and knowing that we cannot be with our children every moment of every day – it is essential that we teach them how to recognize and evade the lures used for generations by sexual predators of every kind. As I told President Bush during the 2002 White House Conference on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children, “If predators are using the lures, shouldn’t we be teaching our children these lures?”
Parents would do well to heed the steady increase in juvenile perpetrators, as well as the 3 pm peak for child sexual assaults. This speaks greatly to the need for after school facilities and activities for latch-key children who are at greater risk of victimization, even in their own homes.
It is also important to remember that 2/3rds of all crimes are never reported. When it comes to juvenile sexual assaults, the percentage of unreported crimes is undoubtedly higher, given the nature of the crimes and the tender age of victims.
*Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics, by Howard N. Snyder, Ph.D.; National Center for Juvenile Justice, July 2000, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs
Behavioral Indicators of Men or Women Who Have Molested Children
CAUTION: Some people who have molested or plan to molest a child exhibit no observable behavior pattern that would be a clue to their future actions.
Persons who molest children:
Are aware, in many cases, of their preference for children before they reach age 18. Most offenders are adult males, but some women also molest children.
Are usually married. A small number never marry and maintain a lifelong sexual and emotional interest in children.
May relate better to children than adults and may feel more comfortable with children and their interests.
May have few close adult friends.
Usually prefer children in a specific age group.
Usually prefer one gender over the other, however, some are bisexual in their preference.
May seek employment or volunteer opportunities with programs involving children in the preferred victim age group for this type of offender.
Pursue children for sexual purposes and may feel emotionally attached to the extent that emotional needs are met by engaging in relationships with children. Example: An adult man spends time with neighbor children or relatives and talks at length about his feelings for them or his own feelings of loneliness or loss in order to get the child’s sympathy.
Often photographs or collects photographs of their victims, dressed, nude, or involved in sexual acts.
May collect child erotica and child-adult pornography which may be used in the following ways:
a. To lower the inhibitions the victims.
b. To fantasize when no potential victim is available.
c. To relive past sexual activities.
d. To justify their inappropriate sexual activities.
e. To blackmail victims to keep them from telling.
May possess alcohol or narcotics and furnish them to their victims to lower inhibitions or gain fear.
Talk with children in ways that equalize their relationship.
May talk about children in the same manner as one would talk about an adult lover or partner.
May seek out organizations and publications that support his sexual beliefs and practices.
May offer to baby-sit or take children on trips in order to manipulate situations to sleep with or near children or bathe or dress them.
May be seen at parks, playgrounds or places frequented by children or teenager.
INCEST OFFENDERS – Sexually abuse their own children but can also abuse other relatives and neighbors. They can be sexually attracted to children or offend because they are seeking intimate contact with another person regardless of relationship, age or vulnerability. Some don’t understand and others don’t care that they are hurting the child.
Most have multiple victims both inside and outside of their immediate family.
Some abuse both boys and girls in various age groups.
Most appear normal and demonstrate no noticeable pathology.
Few have criminal records.
Most report that they were repeatedly able to talk family and friends out of reporting them and continued to offend.
Many are likely to re-offend without treatment
PEDOPHILES – Are adults who are sexually attracted to children and have a primary or strong interest in children. They offend children because they desire sexual contact with children.
Most hold responsible jobs and frequently align themselves with reputable organizations, sports leagues and churches.
They may work or volunteer with children.
They are likely to be single or live with their parents or have a dysfunctional marriage.
Some appear socially inhibited while others can be extremely charming.
Many target pre-pubescent boys.
Most do not have a criminal record.
Most have molested many children before they are effectively reported to law enforcement.
The majority are likely to re-offend.
SEXUALLY VIOLENT OFFENDERS – Includes the group of offenders who kidnap, rape and even murder some children. This group constitutes the smallest, but most dangerous group of child molesters.
They frequently assault their victims physically.
In addition to abusing children, many have committed adult rapes, assaulted spouses, engaged in burglaries, been chronic drug users, are frequently unemployed and have led a parasitic lifestyle.
Criminal record checks usually reveal a lengthy record of versatile criminality, incarcerations, probation violations and failed attempts at treatment.
They have high re-offense rates for both sexual and generic criminal behavior.
METHODS OFFENDERS USE TO GAIN ACCESS TO CHILDREN
As noted above, offenders can be categorized by the way in which they gain access to victims. The majority of molesters abuse children they are related to or have regular access to by virtue of their position as a parent, step-parent, mother’s boyfriend, uncle, grandfather, neighbor, babysitter and so on. They frequently molest children both in and outside of the home and can abuse girls as well as boys. Because of family ties, close friendships and long-term relationships, people sometimes have a hard time believing these people are guilty and fail to report them to the police. It is always hard to turn a loved one in but it is something even the offender needs to have happen.
Another common group of offenders includes the molesters who work or volunteer in settings where they can purposefully obtain regular access to children. This group includes coaches, teachers, Boy Scout leaders, ministers/priests, school bus drivers, day care providers and other people whose professions or community service puts them in contact with children. Like the first group, these people molest boys and girls and usually offend many children before they get caught. Their profession or the appearance of altruism makes it harder for people to believe they are capable of these crimes. They can be some of the slickest and most charming people we know and, because of this, people fail to believe they are guilty and, again fail to report them to police. When people finally discover that they have molested dozens of children, they are shocked. There are also adult offenders who may not fit in the above groups but still abuse children. This group includes exhibitionists who expose to children, “computer travelers” who contact and solicit children over the Internet and child pornographers. Some of these people exploit and abuse children in a variety of ways. They are our neighbors, friends and relatives. Some are loners, while others look just like the above groups. Females account for ten to twenty percent (10-20%) of child molesters.
Why Do Adults Molest Children?
Most child molesters abuse children for a number of reasons. The two most common reasons are: a) a sexual interest/preference for children and b), a belief system that encourages, allows and supports sexual contact with children. In other words, child molesters are sexually aroused to children and do not understand or care that sexual contact between adults and children is harmful to the child. Some molesters mistakenly believe that they are showing love and affection to the child. Nonetheless, the vast majority know that what they are doing is wrong and illegal and do their best to keep their offenses a secret. Secrecy enables them to continue abusing children and to avoid rejection, prosecution and incarceration.
Many offenders become expert liars, even to the point of convincing well-meaning adults that the child was “mistaken” or “confused” about what happened. Even worse, some molesters convince other adults that the child made it up or lied. When the number of separate sexual crimes committed by the average child molester is compared to the low rate of reporting among child victims, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that children rarely mis-perceive, make up or lie about being sexually abused. If a child says he or she has been molested, the probability is high that it really happened and was probably more frequent and invasive than the child reported. Also, the odds are high that we all know at least one or two child molesters and don.t even know it.
Why do Molesters Abuse Certain Children?
Molesters abuse children they are sexually and emotionally attracted to, children they feel are vulnerable and needy, and children they feel that they can control and manipulate into keeping the abuse a secret.
How Do Molesters Keep Children From Telling?
Most child molesters are in a position of trust and are usually able to molest children in a manner that undermines the child’s ability to accurately perceive the behavior as abusive or report them. Most molesters are also able to convince other adults that “it never happened” or that “the child misunderstood”. When they are successful, they obstruct children and adults from reporting them to law enforcement and are able to continue molesting children even longer. So, it’s very important to understand how they manipulate both children and adults.
After the offender has selected a child to molest, the offender begins to develop a close relationship with the child and his/her family. If the offender is a parent or someone the child depends on, it’s very easy to manipulate the situation and repeatedly molest the child without getting caught. If the offender is in a position of trust or authority, (as is the case with teachers, coaches and priests who molest) the offender may pay special attention to the child, take them places, buy them gifts or give them extra support and encouragement. They also might threaten the child to keep them quiet.
After the offender starts to develop the relationships, he/she may begin to isolate the child from his/her family and friends. This may include fueling conflicts within the family, alienating the child from friends or family or simply being available to “help out” with babysitting, special outings, rides home, etc. Molesters also test and desensitize children by telling dirty jokes, talking about sexual things and engaging in non-sexual physical contact like back-rubs, wrestling, hugging and horseplay. This behavior generally starts long before the sexual touching starts and serves to normalize contact and trust. The increased physical relationship and intimate talk between the child and offender makes it easier for the offender to introduce sexual behavior into the relationship. If the child’s parent has been present when some of the close physical contact or joking has occurred, it also makes the child think it must be ok.
Another thing that interferes with children’s ability to tell is that many children don’t even know that the contact has changed and is becoming increasingly intimate and sexual. Some offenders try to make it feel good to the child because they know if they hurt or scare the child, they are more likely to tell. Also, children become fearful that they will get into trouble for not telling sooner and become increasing guilt ridden about what is happening. Offenders know these things and caution children that they “will get in trouble too” if they tell.
Some offenders are so good at developing dependent relationships that their victims feel obligated and may even feel protective of the offender. This phenomenon is especially pronounced when the offender is a parent, relative, admired family friend, teacher, coach or priest. Some offenders choose careers or volunteer with youth organizations because they like children and these settings provide increased access and control over children. It is extremely important to remember that offenders spend time and energy manipulating children into cooperating with the abuse and keeping it a secret. Some of them spend hours and hours thinking about what they will say if a child ever tells on them. Because they have been engaged in a covert behavior, sometimes for many years at a time, they have usually become very skilled at lying and manipulating people and situations.
Do Offenders Manipulate Adults Too?
Many molesters work just as hard to seduce and manipulate adults as they do to trick children. Some tell people they think child molesters should be shot, while others work very hard to present themselves as a concerned citizen and “pillar of the community”. Some of their “good works” are performed out of guilt, while others are intended to throw off suspicion if a child ever tells on them.
Most molesters spend time thinking of ways to talk people out of reporting them to law enforcement and are able to come up with very creative excuses or rationalizations about what happened. In addition to telling people “it was an accident” or that the child must have “misinterpreted” the situation, some make sure that people know the child has lied about things in the past, been “in trouble” or sexually promiscuous. Most professional forensic experts can’t tell when people are lying, so regular people shouldn’t expect to do any better. The best thing all of us can do if a child says they have been abused is to call the police and report the situation. The worse thing we can do is to accept the explanation of an adult. If the adult is lying and talks you out of reporting, he/she will probably go on to molest more children. Different offenders use different tactics. This paper only covers some of those tactics.
Protecting Your Children From Sexual Abuse
No one wants to have to tell their children about sexual abuse. On the other hand, do you want your child to learn about it from a molester?
TALKING TO YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT SEXUAL ABUSE:
Talk openly with your children about sexual development, behavior and abuse.
Use proper or semi proper names for body parts (penis and vagina), and phrases like; private parts are “private and special”.
Tell your children that, if anyone touches or tries to see their private parts, tries to get them to touch or look at another person’s private parts, shows them pictures of or tries to take pictures of their private parts, talks to them about sex, walks in on them in the bathroom or does anything that makes them feel uncomfortable to tell you or a support person as soon as they can or the next time they see you.
Tell your children that some children and adults have “touching problems”. These people can make “secret touching” look accidental and they should still tell you even if they think it might have been an accident.
Tell your children that touching problems are kind of like stealing or lying and that the people who have those kinds of problems need special help so they don’t continue to have problems or get into trouble.
Tell your children that some people try to trick kids into keeping the touching a secret.
Give your children examples of things that someone might use to try to get them to keep it a secret; candy, money, special privileges, threats, subtle fear of loss, separation or punishment etc.
Tell your children that touching other people’s private parts is not ok for children to do or for adults to do with children. Tell them that you do not want them to do “secret touching” with other people but that you will not be mad at them if they do come and tell you it has happened. Even if it has been happening a lot.
Make sure they have support people they can talk to at home, at school, in their neighborhood or church.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CHILD GETS ABUSED
If your child tells you that he or she has been touched inappropriately, stay calm. Your reaction may make your child feel more guilty or afraid and they might have a harder time talking about what happened.
Tell your child you are glad they told you about it. Telling was a good way to take care of themselves and also, the person who touched them. That person needs help with their “touching problem”. Tell your child that you will take care of things. Tell your child that you will need to talk to someone to figure out what to do next. Be careful to not make promises you can’t keep.
Seek support and comfort for yourself where the child can’t see or hear what you say. In order to avoid confusion, anxiety or guilt, children should not overhear conversations about their disclosure. Too much information/discussion can also interfere with the police investigation or prosecution.
Call your local child abuse hotline or local police department and report the abuse. Failing to report the abuse as soon as possible may mean that other children might get abused too. Don’t try to handle the situation yourself.
The prognosis for healing after being molested is better for children who are supported and believed when they disclose.
Don’t allow any further contact between your child and the alleged offender. Don’t confront the offender yourself.
SAFETY TIPS FOR SUPERVISION OF CHILDREN
Trust your instincts. “Perception and not worry is what serves safety” (de Becker, 1999).
Don’t let young male children go into a men’s public restroom by themselves.
Be cautious about who you allow to baby-sit or spend time alone with your children. Get references. Try to bathe and dress your own children. Routinely quiz your children about what happens while you are gone. Ask questions like “What did you do that was fun?” or “Was there anything that happened while I was gone that worried you or that I should know about?” Don’t always tell your children to mind the babysitter.
Get to know the people and homes where your children play.
Periodically check on your children, especially when they are playing with other kids in your home. If you know that one of your children’s friends has been sexually abused, be more attentive to their playtime.
Don’t let your children walk or ride their bike to school or to a friend’s home alone. Children should travel in groups or with an adult.
Know your neighbors.
Supervise all Internet activities closely. Consider subscribing to an ISP that screens for obscenity and pornography. Make a “family agreement” about conversations before allowing your children to go into chat rooms. Children should never give out their phone number, address or school name to anyone they meet over the Internet. Warn them about what lurks on the Internet.
Develop the kind of relationship that would allow your child to come to you for help or support for any kind of problem they might need help with, for themselves or a friend.
SEXUAL DEVELOPMENT AND BEHAVIOR BETWEEN CHILDREN
Many forms of sexual play or experimentation are normal and developmentally appropriate. However, when one child is three or more years older, significantly larger, more powerful (physically or emotionally), more sexually sophisticated or uses bribes, threats or intimidation to be sexual with another child, sexual contact falls under a legal definition of abuse. If oral sex, simulated or actual intercourse, French kissing or penetration are involved, the situation warrants immediate investigation. Parents should not attempt to resolve these issues alone and should seek outside, professional guidance.
If your child engages in any type of sexually inappropriate behavior, get professional help right away. Try not to become overly defensive of your child or reject the notion that your child could have done something sexually inappropriate. If your child does have a problem that goes untreated, it may become worse and create many more problems for your child, family, school and community. This includes date rape or sexual assault between preteens and teenagers. Boys who sexually assault girls frequently grow up to molest their own children or engage in domestic violence.
If another child engages your child in sexually inappropriate behavior or talk, tell their parents what happened so that they can get help before it’s too late. If you do not think that the family is seeking professional help, contact your local child abuse hotline.
Buy or borrow books like “Where Did I Come From,” “It’s My Body” and “What’s Happening to My Body” or “A Very Touching Book” for your family to read together. Do it before your children become embarrassed about sexuality or they start developing. Talk to your children about appropriate sexuality. Emphasize consent, birth control and STDs.
Demonstrate loving, respectful intimate relationships in your home. Children should not observe direct sexual contact or any type of pornography.
FACTORS THAT PLACE CHILDREN AT A HIGHER RISK FOR ABUSE
Age, friendliness, shyness, good manners, naivety, curiosity, or isolation.
Living in a single parent home.
Drug or alcohol abuse by parents.
Parental illness or emotional unavailability.
Severe marital conflict or domestic violence in the home.
Living in a home with a stepfather or a mother’s boyfriend.
Having an unemployed father or parents that work different shifts.
Parents who are sexually preoccupied, use pornography or have pornography in the home.
Inadequate parental supervision of children.
Adults who seem preoccupied with children.
Single adults who work or volunteer with children’s clubs/activities.
Adults who work with children and also frequently spend their free time doing “special” things with kids.
Adults who spend time volunteering with youth groups who do not have children in those groups.
Adults who seem to engage in frequent contact with children, i.e., casual touching, caressing, wrestling, tickling, combing hair or having children sit on their lap.
Adults who act like children with children or who allow children to do questionable or inappropriate things.
Adults who want to take your children on special outings too frequently or plan activities that would include being alone with your child.
Adults who do not have children and seem to know too much about the current fads or music popular with children.
Adults that your children seem to like for reasons you don’t understand.
Adults who seem able to infiltrate family/social functions or are “always available” to watch your kids.
Please note, not all offenders will demonstrate the above characteristics.
Resources and Bibliography
1. “Identifying Child Molesters: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse by Recognizing the Patterns of the Offenders”. Written by Carla van Dam, Ph.D. Available through Haworth Press, Inc. 1-800-895-429-6784. The first book of its kind, this book provides readers with a detailed understanding of the history and impact of child sexual abuse. Dr. van Dam provides a glimpse into our failure to confront child abuse in an effective manner and does an excellent job of helping lay people understand the “grooming” tactics that offenders use on children and adults. It offers practical strategies to identify and confront child molesters.
2. “A Very Touching Book, For Little People and Big People”. Written by Jan Hindman. Available through Alexandria and Associates. Most parents haven’t got the foggiest idea about how to start talking to their children about private parts or sexual abuse. For those of us who get purple faces when our kids say penis in the grocery store, this book is the ticket. Great artwork and an entertaining approach to prevention education for children. Most appropriate for families with children ages 4-10.
3. “Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us”. Written by Robert D. Hare, Ph.D. Available through The Guilford Press. This book focuses on predators, psychopaths and criminals. Although fairly clinical and a bit academic, it is the first, and most straightforward book about this highly dangerous population. Disturbing yet relevant to all of us. Fascinating and well written.
4. “Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists and Other Sex Offenders – Who They Are, How They Operate and How We Can Protect Our Children”. It’s by Anna Salter and can be obtained through Basic Books. Every parent, volunteer coordinator, human resources director and church and community member should read this book! The book explains how predators trick and manipulate normal people and why we aren’t able to spot them. Dr. Salter offers tips on prevention for parents, lay people and organizations that focus on delivering services to children and the public. This book will help all of us do a better job of protecting our children and communities.
By the time you finish reading this, 15 children will have been abused; In the next five minutes, 30 more; Within the next hour, 360 more; And by tonight, close to 8,000+ children will have suffered from abuse, 5 of which will die. Child abuse has increased 134% since 1980 and is now considered a worldwide epidemic. The high jump in child abuse deaths and the shocking increase in statistics highlights the frightening lack of public knowledge.
Educate Yourself--Learn the Facts--It may Just Save a Child's Life!!