Warning Signs and Risk Factors for Abuse
You can’t drive yourself crazy being suspicious of every adult that comes into contact with your child, but since abuse often follows the same pattern, there are some warning signs you should be familiar with.
Know what to look for. No one wants to be suspicious of their own friends and family members. But you don’t have to be if you’re familiar with the most common red flags of a pedophile:
- Prefers spending most of his or her time with children over peers
- Allows children to do things that their parents don’t allow
- Makes fun of children’s body parts or describes children with sexual words such as “stud” or “sexy”
- Seems obsessed with the sexual activities of teens and kids
- Asks adult partners to dress or act like a child or teen during sexual activity
- Looks frequently at child pornography
- Masturbates so often that it gets in the way of important day-to-day activities
- Has put themselves in a position of dealing with children (coach, teacher, counselor, etc.), in addition to other troubling signs
Be suspicious if your child is singled out as “special.” It’s always flattering when a teacher, coach, or counselor recognizes all the wonderful qualities your child possesses and seems to favor him or her over other kids. But this can be a major warning sign. “Perpetrators groom kids by singling them out and making them feel special,” says Rivette. True professionals are not so transparent about preferences.
Be extremely wary of one-on-one time. Once a pedophile has singled out a particular child, the next step is getting that child alone. The perpetrator may suggest private tutoring time, one-on-one tennis lessons, or even sleepovers or camping trips. As flattering as it may seem or as excited as your child may be, don’t allow this private time.
Don’t ignore family history. “Abuse tends to be intergenerational,” says Rivette. “If you have a history of sexual abuse in your family, your child may be more likely to be a victim.”
Choose your child’s own male role models. Many child sex abusers prey on the kids of single mothers, who may be more anxious for a male figure in their lives (and 95 percent of all perpetrators are male). These men also take advantage of the fact that a single mother likely has less time and less help, and may welcome someone who offers to babysit or help out.
Don’t take sleepovers lightly. As parents, we’re used to making sleepover plans with our kids’ friends’ families on the fly. But Rivette warns that we shouldn’t be so casual when it comes to where our children spend the night. “Don’t allow a sleepover unless you know the family well and have been to their home many times. Ask exactly who will be there and what they will be doing. If anything strikes you as odd, trust your instinct.”