How to Spot a Child Predator


I absolutely hate that I have to write this article. In a perfect world, parents wouldn’t have to worry about sexual predators and all children would be safe from harm. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. As parents, the most important thing you can do for our children is arm ourselves with knowledge that will protect them from these predatory monsters.

Spotting a child predator would be so much easier if all of them looked a certain way. However, predators aren’t always creepy looking men with missing teeth and dirty hair. In fact, predators aren’t even always a men! They could be a well-groomed woman or a respected man in your community. Despite what a lot of people might think, child predators typically don’t lurk outside of parks waiting for a child to wander off on their own. Unfortunately, a majority of sexual abuse cases are actually perpetrated by a trusted friend or relative.

According to Darkness to Light (a non-profit organization committed to ending child abuse), 90% of child sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator. This means that a child predator could be your child’s ballet instructor or science teacher. It could be a family member, a friend ,or someone who goes to your church – they could even be a child themselves! A lot of times, predators will work in fields or participate in events where they can access and gain the trust of children. This doesn’t mean that everyone who works with children will try to harm them but it does mean that you should remain vigilant about with whom your child is spending his or her time.

Now, my intention isn’t to scare you – it’s to make you aware of the dangers facing our children so we can keep an open dialogue about a topic that not many people feel comfortable talking about. Keep reading to find out how to spot a predator and to learn ways to keep your children safe from sexual abuse!


They have access to children.

This means they work or volunteer with children. It could be a family member or family friend that volunteers to watch your children or hang out with them after school. It could be a teacher, coach, or youth minister. Just because someone goes to church doesn’t mean they hold the same values as you. They are the wolf in sheep’s clothing. They may talk a good game but have ulterior motives. 

A lot of perpetrators gravitate towards fields where they have access to children. Many parents think that a person is safe because he or she has a clean criminal record. Unfortunately, this means that they haven’t gotten caught or were never punished for their crimes. This could even be the first time they were bold enough to try something with a child so don’t rely solely on a background check. 


They are charming.

Child predators are often super charming. They have a dazzling smile and a fun personality. They appear to want to help out as often as they can. They build up your trust so you feel comfortable leaving your child in their care. They may even have an excellent reputation in the community. This may make you feel a little crazy if you start to suspect they are being inappropriate with your child and you might brush off your initial gut feeling.

They engage in grooming behaviors

A child predator will engage your child in something called grooming, which is a process that helps a perpetrator draw your child into his or her web. They may give your child extra one-on-one attention and will make your child feel special. They shower your child with attention and gifts. This causes your child to feel a connection with this person and gains trust. Grooming also allows the predator to test the waters and see if your child will make a good victim. 


They want time alone with your child

They will do whatever they can to get your child alone. A predator might offer to watch your child for you or may give your child special lessons if they are a coach or some sort of instructor. They learn a lot about you and your child and know what kind of activities will allow them to get your child alone. They may prey on single parent families and will exploit the fact that these families may need more support. They look for parents that are non-protective or inattentive; however, this is not always the case. Even the most protective parents may have a child that is being abused. Having a child that has been abused does not mean you are a bad parent!

They want your child to develop feelings for them

Often times, predators will try and get your child to develop feelings towards them so they don’t tell. They may go weeks or months between instances of abuse so your child’s experience with them isn’t always centered around a negative experience. This confuses the child and may make your child feel like they are safe again before the predator abuses them again. This also give the perpetrator a chance to rebuild your child’s trust in between instances of abuse.


They look for vulnerable children

Predators will prey on children that are more soft-spoken or isolated from their peers. They will try and find children who have troubled home lives or broken families. They want children with parents who are disconnected either physically or emotionally. They look for children who are quiet or have a history of not telling when they are wronged. Predators also look for children who already have boundary issues (i.e. children who will hug strangers or will sit in the lap of an acquaintance) so be sure to teach your children about body safety at an early age!

They test the waters and start small

A predator might touch your child when you are in the same room in order to make your child think you are okay with the touching. They may start by “accidentally” touching your child’s butt to see how your child reacts or will “accidentally” walk in on your child when they are using the bathroom. If your child tells on them for the smaller offense, the predator will be able to rationalize this as an accident and then knows that your child will not make a good victim. If your child ignores this, the predator will get even more bold and will go even further the next time. 


They use threats to keep your child from telling

A predator will threaten your child to keep them from telling what is going on. Often times predators will tell your child that they will kill them or their family if they tell. They may tell a child that no one is going to believe them. If a predator knows the child has developed feelings for them they may tell the child that something horrible will happen to them (the perpetrator) if they tell. Sometimes perpetrators even trick the child into feeling guilty for the abuse and will convince the child that they will also get in trouble if they tell. This causes extreme distress and may keep your child from disclosing for years, if at all.

What to do if you suspect your child is being abused

Don’t be afraid to have a difficult conversation if you suspect your child is being abused. If you don’t know how to approach the subject then contact a professional for support. You are your child’s protector and could save him or her from ongoing abuse by broaching the subject and taking action. If your child discloses abuse, be sure to take action right away – don’t simply remove your child from the situation without reporting the crime. You might keep your child safe from harm by doing this but you are putting other children at risk. A sexual predator will perpetrate again if they are not caught.


If you are a parent of a victim and would like help with trauma-informed parenting, check out Parent Coaching Services with Leanne Pilgrim. Click here to schedule your FREE consultation today!