Thursday, September 10, 2015

Warning Signs In Potential Abusers

A potential abuser is someone who either may be abusing a child, or may be at risk for abusing a child, but you do not yet know one way or the other. I got the inspiration for this post from Stop It Now, so, of course, I am borrowing some of their information and questions. As always, I come up with my own answers based on their ideas. This is a list of things to watch for in any adults who work with children, based on my own experience with abuse. This list is in no particular order, and any one of these things can mean nothing. 

The List

  1. Evidences cognitive distortions
    1.  A cognitive distortion is essentially a belief or thought process that does not add up. These are typically thoughts, but can be evidenced by something someone says or does. This feeds more into gut feeling: That someone says or does things that just seem off. One example might be someone who makes arguments that are worded unusually or have conclusions that are at odds with the overall argument. Things that they say or do just do not follow.
  2.  Ignoring Boundaries
    1. This may seem self-explanatory, but sometimes people are just unable to respect someone else’s wishes. They may violate social boundaries, like doing things that are socially unacceptable. They may violate emotional boundaries, like saying things to hurt other people and not seeming to care that they are causing emotional pain. They may violate physical boundaries, like touching, slapping, or poking when someone is telling them not to.
  3. Ignoring A Child’s Wishes
    1. Like the first behavior, but for children. The person may hug, tickle, kiss, roughhouse, hold, or touch a child when the child says they do not want to. Disrespecting a child’s wishes can be a way of testing the child’s boundaries to desensitize the child to other boundary-crossing behaviors or sexual behaviors.
  4. Refusing To Let Children Set Or Keep Boundaries
    1. Similar to ignoring a child’s wishes, but this can be done in a way that seems innocent (Joe, you will hurt my feelings if you don’t give me a hug and kiss) or in ways that are teasing, belittling, or bullying a child when the child tries to assert their boundaries.
  5. Using A Child For Emotional Support
    1. Children are not capable of handling adult concerns, and an adult who tries to sooth their frustrations or concerns by sharing them with a child may be having difficulty with something that is going on in their life. Normally, these concerns are issues that would ordinarily be shared with adults like personal, financial, confidential, or other kinds of activities and concerns that seem odd to share with a child.
  6. Using A Child For Physical Comfort
    1. This may be as seemingly innocent as requiring hugs from children to “get through a rough spot”, or snuggling with a child. It could also be something more upsetting, like having the child give massages, demanding kisses, or other odd behavior.
  7. Situational Obliviousness
    1. Sometimes, the person may say or do things that do not fit the situation (and not for comedy’s sake). They may say something that is insulting to others and not realize it, or ignores the social cues in a situation. A common thought might be, “They’re just not getting it.”
  8. Using Sexual Language Around Children
    1. This can take many forms, like telling a dirty joke when children are around, saying something that would be considered flirting if it were an adult being spoken to, or sharing a personal sexual issue with a child. This can also be pointing out sexual images to children.
  9. Secrets And Secretive Behavior
    1. This can also take many forms. Some examples might be sharing a game, sexual material, drugs, or alcohol with a child and asking them not to tell anyone about it. This can also be someone who texts, calls, emails, chats, or spends an excessive amount of one-on-one time with a child. Red flag words might be “Hush, that’s our little secret,” or “That’s our private time, no one needs to know about that.”
  10. Making Excuses For No Apparent Reason
    1. This usually comes with your reaction of, “Dude, you don’t have to justify yourself to me, I get it.” Or, something like, “Yeah, you did it, you know you did it, just apologize already.” Someone who justifies their behavior constantly, or defends choices that are clearly harmful to other people, or outright denies that something was harmful at all would fall under this category.
  11. Insisting On Alone Time With A Child
    1. Seeking time alone with a child may be natural, healthy thing within a family, but if someone inside or outside the family insists on being alone with a particular child, this can be cause for concern. Unusual amounts of time alone, unusual interest in a particular child, or that the time alone is uninterrupted or uninterruptible are also causes for concern. Another aspect of this is spending lots of time with children rather than adults.
  12. Drug Or Alcohol Abuse
    1. Many people do inappropriate things under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and while they are responsible for their behavior regardless, drug or alcohol use can be a sign that someone is unable to cope with the stresses of daily life. This is a warning behavior that may need an intervention at the direction of a professional trained in chemical dependency.
  13. Being Interested In A Child’s Sexuality
    1. This goes beyond simple concern that one might have for a child’s well-being, like inquiring about who a child likes or directing them to resources if they are struggling with particular issues. Concerning behaviors might be someone who interrupts a child’s dates with the child’s peer, interfering when the child dates others, or talking about the child’s body and how attractive they look. Behavior would look like jealousy from an adult interested in another adult, but is directed towards a child.
  14. Disrespecting Others’ Privacy
    1. This could be obvious, such as walking in on children or others when they are using the bathroom, but may be less obvious like peeking when no one appears to be watching or insisting on helping a child bathe or clothe themselves.
  15. Frequently Ignoring A Child’s Inappropriate Behaviors
    1. The person might turn a blind eye to a child’s behaviors when those behaviors are clearly problematic, or they might even encourage these behaviors. Allowing a child to violate other children’s boundaries, encouraging a child to be sexual with other children, or allowing a child to view pornography are also examples of ignoring inappropriate behaviors.
  16. Appearing To Be An Ideal Role Model
    1. Some behaviors might be giving gifts to children, babysitting for free, giving children money, going on special alone trips with children, and overall appearing to be “too good to be true”.

Notice how most of these connect in some way to your gut reactions. Most of the time, we see something that is off and justify it. In fact, when we are driving, we are taught to do this: Oh, they must be late for work. But if you are noticing things that do not seem right, write them down. Make a list. 

You are not writing this list and looking at these warning signs so you can catch a child molester red-handed. That is the job of the police, teachers, and social workers. You are looking at this list because you are concerned, and you want to make sure everything is alright. 

How can you talk with someone you know and trust about the possibility that they are sexually attracted to children, or that they may be abusing children? Where do you start? Stop It Now has advice on that too. I also have my own suggestions for starting a conversation, and why. Stop It Now also has a hotline you can call (1-888-773-8368, M-F, 9-6 EST). 

How To Talk About It

You must start the conversation by voicing what you are seeing, and that you are concerned about them. Above anything else, they need to know that you care and you want the best for them. They need to hear that they are not alone, and that you want to help them. Minimize any aspect about child safety and emphasize that the conversation is about protecting them, period, end of sentence. Not protecting them from abuse. Not protecting them from themselves. Not protecting their favorite child. All of that may be true, but what they need is that you are there for them. If they hear that you are concerned about them hurting a child, it will end the conversation and they will not talk to you. It will immediately make you an unsafe person to talk to.

If they are dealing with attractions to children, they may, as I did, tell themselves that no one can understand them and no one will care if they knew the truth. They need that belief challenged, and you can do that by telling them, repeatedly if necessary, that you care about them. They need support, not suspicion and judgment.


If I were to write to someone I think might be dealing with attractions to children, I would write the following:

I need to talk with you. I have seen some things that I am not sure I understand, and I want to ask you about. I care about you, and I want you to know that will not change no matter what. It feels like something might be bothering you, and I want you to know I am here to help you with whatever that might be, if anything. It does not matter what the subject is, I promise to listen and hear you out.


  1. I am sure that it took a lot of courage to develop this blog and I thank you for all the work you put into this--very well done!

  2. It is extremely IMPORTANT also to realize that not all sexual predators are adults. Also, there are not always from a "bad family"
    My own daughter in preschool public child care at a very reputable place (YMCA) was touched in a private area by a boy in her class under the table. Sexual abusers do not fit a certain profile. They could look like "good kids" a "rich family" whatever, they have so specific profile. There was an article in the Star Tribune a while ago that also had research that there are kids that are abused in a private daycares by day care provider's boyfriend, or sons, or daughters,ANYBODY. Do not be fooled by appearances, or backgrounds, they do not all come from "bad families" I learned the hard way.

  3. Following one's "gut instinct" is sometimes NOT the best idea in the world- at the risk of mislabeling people, which has serious ramifications in our society at all levels of things. Rather, one should use inductive and deductive OBJECTIVE reasoning, rather than one's subjective beliefs, when confronting this sort of an issue.

    1. Perhaps you need to read through this again. The point is NOT to label people and slander them, but identify people who may be at-risk and start conversations with them so that they can seek help if they feel they need it. Most would see interventions for at-risk populations a good thing, not a label.


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