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Signs of a Sexual Predator

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 20, 2020

What is a Sexual Predator?

A sexual predator is a person who seeks out sexual contact with another person in a predatory or abusive manner. People who are sexual predators may or may not have committed sex crimes — like sexual harassment, assault, rape, and pedophilia — but all sexual predators have sought out inappropriate contact in one way or another. 

Those who exploit others in a sexual manner may not be just seeking sex. Rather, they see sex as a form of dominance and control. 

While some sexual predators attempt to exploit adult victims, many are child sexual predators. These abusers have a distinct sexual preference for children. They look for minors, typically pre-pubescent (before puberty), and will build trust with their victim as a form of grooming. 

Approximately 96% of child sexual abuse perpetrators are male. About 90% of children who are sexually abused report that their perpetrator was somebody they already knew and trusted. 

Signs of a Sexual Predator

Knowing how to identify the signs of sexual abuse and predatory behavior can help stop the abuse as soon as possible — or before any more harm can be done. Not all of these warning signs indicate sexual abuse. However, they can act as a red flag for abusive, and possibly sexually predatory, behavior. 

1. Associating with Children 

A sexual predator with a particular interest in children may show a preference for associating with grade school, middle school, or high school-aged children. They may have few friendships of their own age or have unusually close friendships with children. 

In addition to spending a lot of time around children, they might also engage in inappropriate behaviors. For example, they may show an unusual interest in physical play with a child, like wrestling, tickling, kissing, or hugging. 

2. Creating Dependency 

A sexual predator may begin manipulating their chosen victim to create dependency and intimacy. In the beginning, they may be very attentive, showering the individual with gifts, praise, phone calls, and texts. 

This creates a feeling in the victim that the perpetrator has a special bond with them. The victim may feel that the perpetrator can provide something nobody else can — and they are the only person who truly understands, respects, and cares for the victim. This builds loyalty and vulnerability, which the sexual predator can then use to their advantage. 

3. Using Manipulative Language 

You may notice a potential sexual predator using manipulative language. They may insult or mock the victim on their behavior, appearance, clothes, friends, or other parts of their personal life. When challenged on this behavior, they may lie and twist the information, making the victim feel as though they are at fault. They may repeatedly focus on their own feelings in order to make the victim feel guilty for hurting them. 

Some predators may also engage in gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where the perpetrator makes a person question their thoughts, memories, and events they have experienced. The goal of gaslighting is to force the victim to question their own memory, or even their sanity, in favor of the abuser’s version of events. 

4. Pushing Physical and Sexual Boundaries 

Sexual predators may push past healthy boundaries. This behavior may begin with seemingly innocent touches on the back, hand, or leg. But it may escalate to inappropriate touching on the thigh, near the genitals, on breasts, or even fondling without the person’s consent. 

If the predator is already in a relationship with the victim, they may cross pre-established boundaries or fail to ask for consent. They may use manipulation to push the person to carry out tasks they are not comfortable with. 

For children, this can look like rubbing the child’s leg, drying them off with a towel, changing their clothes, hugging, or cuddling. This may then escalate to more sexual behavior.

Before doing so, the predator may introduce and normalize ideas of sex to the child. By talking to the child about sex, making suggestive jokes, showing them pornography, or encouraging them to be naked together, they may be able to introduce sexual activity by telling the child it’s a “game". 

5. Expressing Jealousy and Controlling Behavior

In many cases, the sexual predator may be jealous and controlling around friends, family members, or other romantic interests. They may monitor the victim’s social media activity, personal life, and day-to-day activities. 

This can be taken a step further, to the point where the predator becomes controlling. They may seek to limit the victim’s contact with others, especially those of the opposite sex. 

Dealing with Sexual Predators

In some cases, these warning signs can be innocent. Others may be signs of emotional or physical abuse, but not sexual abuse. 

However, if you strongly suspect someone you know may be a sexual predator—or may be a victim of a sexual predator — you should report it immediately to the police and/or the department of child services in your state. Other organizations, like the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, can help direct you towards immediate assistance, as well as resources and support for survivors. 

Once a sexual predator has been investigated and found to be guilty of sexual offenses, they may enter treatment to discourage the behavior. Treatment for sexual predators has been a source of debate for decades, but offenders can lead productive and offense-free lives after treatment. 

One study found that sex offenders were less likely to go back to prison for the same offense than others in the general criminal population.

Types of treatment can include: 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Hormonal medication
  • Therapeutic communities
  • Psychotherapy and counseling
  • Medical castration
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services: "Know the Signs: Sexual Abuse."

Crimes Against Children Research Center: "Characteristics of Crimes Against Juveniles."

Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault: “Behaviors of Sexual Predators: Grooming”

National Domestic Violence Hotline: "What is Gaslighting."

National Sex Offender Public Website: "How to Identify."

National Sexual Violence Resource Center: "Statistics About Sexual Violence."

New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives: "Research Bulletin: Sex Offender Populations, Recidivism and Actuarial Assessment."

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