A child predator is likely (but not always) a psychopath and not necessarily a stranger. Here are some points to consider when it comes to protecting your children.*
People who prey on children are likely to seek out roles that give them time for intimate contact. That includes coaches, club advisors, teachers, pastors, and so on. Background checks are only useful if the individual has been caught, and let’s face it, many are not. A clever psychopath who preys on children is likely to evade detection through charisma, deception, and a values-driven facade. This person may be the last you’d ever expect—the type who spends time with the family even when the children aren’t around.
Be watchful. Sit through practices and be aware at family reunions. Watch from the sidelines. Look for inappropriate contact, attention, and unexpected or unusual special treatment. The grooming process is likely to look like adoration. Just be aware, and be there.
Listen to your gut, but remember that a psychopath is pretty good at fooling even that instinct.
Have a Digital Presence, Too
The Crimes against Children Center at the University of New Hampshire did a study that showed 1 in 5 youth ages 10–17 who used the internet received a sexual solicitation in the last year. And this age group doesn’t even use chat rooms much, so that makes it even a bit scarier. Another point to consider is that these results are based on self-report and are therefore likely to be low because adolescents are more likely not to report because they don’t want to lose their internet privileges.
Psychopaths thrive on the internet.
Don’t Stop With Strangers
Most people tell their kids not to talk to strangers. And that’s good advice. But some statistics show that your child is more likely to be harmed, molested, or abused by a person he or she knows than by a stranger. Should we talk to our children about that, too?
Your children do not need to know all of the details of the possibilities of abuse. But what you can do is explain what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. There are lots of books along these lines for children, such as My Body Belongs to Me. You can be a safe haven for your child, creating a connection they can trust and rely on. An open avenue for communication.
You also need to be the one who watches and makes decisions. Takes responsibility. If a neighbor or classmate’s parent takes a strong interest in your child and seems to be grooming him or her, watch out for that. Protect your child. Don’t send him or her over for a weekend of camping. Be the one to make the decisions that your child doesn’t yet know how to make. They may object and get upset, but you’re the one responsible. The protector.
Don’t Expect Revealing Mistakes
Child predators who are clever sociopaths aren’t likely to mess up. They can intimidate a child with a glance no one else notices. They can slip through the cracks for decades as beloved members of our society. Don’t expect a criminal background check to take care of you and your children.
It’s up to you.
*I’ve pulled these ideas from Anna Salter’s Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders.