People who later become sexual predators have their own distinct characteristics and life experiences that shape their behavior. However, there are a handful of general traits that sexual predators seem to share.
What is a “sexual predator”?
Simply put, a sexual predator is someone whose primary objective is to engage in sexual activity with someone they have identified as their target. The most common targets are children, but there are predators who also pursue adults. Alarmingly, more than 90% of child sexual predators are men, and victims report that their abuser is almost always someone they know.
Their behavior takes the form of inappropriate, frequently ongoing contact with their victim, whether in person or through online stalking. These days, it generally involves both.
Gaslighting and controlling behavior
Early in the relationship, the predator may be successful in earning the victim’s trust and even dependence through bonding, favors, presents and showering them with attention. The predator may also become overly active on the victim’s social media accounts.
The victim may grow to regard their predator as someone who truly cares for them, perhaps even the only person who truly cares for them. These activities are sometimes referred to as “grooming.”
Other times, the predator might constantly insult the physical traits, clothing, social circle, interests and hobbies of their target. If the victim objects to this abuse, the predator will respond by framing themselves as the victim. They will act as though they only say these things out of “love” until they can coerce an apology from their victim.
With this behavior normalized, predators may start exhibiting jealousy of friends and family then try to box them out of the victim’s life.
Unwelcome physical contact
Many times, this behavior starts with unremarkable touching and casual violations of physical boundaries. A predator might use the excuse of crowded situations (e.g., concerts, events, buses) or playfulness to justify the contact. One or two brushes with private areas may be an honest mistake, but repeated contact is a problem.
With children, this behavior can manifest itself through hugging, cuddling, “helping” with activities like changing clothes or frequent contact with private areas.
Overly interested in children
Some sexual predators are not subtle. They may seek out close friendships with children while having few, if any, adult friends. This often accompanies excessive affection with children, including hugging, kissing and tickling.
Be aware that the signs listed above don’t always mean that someone is a sexual predator. A person could simply appear unsettling or awkward without being a full-blown predator. Also, not all sexual predators have a criminal record. A simple search of law enforcement logs may not reveal anything.
That said, if someone exhibits one or more of these behaviors, use caution and explore your suspicions further before leveling accusations. If handled poorly, you may only succeed in alienating the victim and pushing them closer to their predator.