Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders (Anna C. Salter, Ph.D.)—[More Than a] Book Review

Anna Salter understands how sexual predators think and operate. She has spent over two decades studying, interviewing, and treating sexual offenders and their victims. Her book, Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders : Who They Are, How They Operate, and How We Can Protect Ourselves and Our Children, is an accessible, powerful work that strikes at the heart of our common misinformation and misunderstandings about sexual offenders, their behaviors, and dangers.

How Big Is the Problem?

Sexual predators. Who are they?

  • They are the man who relentlessly probes for weaknesses he can exploit to convince (or force) post-pubescent teenage girls into having sex with him. He will prey on those who are alone, have family issues, or otherwise make the mistake of trusting him. He volunteers extensively with the youth in his local church where most of his victims attend, and often sings there. Prohibitions against gossip, as well as naivete and shame, leave his crimes hidden for years. He marries, and the church staff presume incorrectly he is then “safe” from engaging in further predatory behavior.
  • They are the church worker who, when the church bus is nearly empty, fondles the vulva of a gradeschool-aged bus rider.
  • They are the homosexual man who has claimed there is nothing wrong with a sexual relationship between an adult male and a teenager. He is recommended by the church staff to direct a youth program at another church.
  • They are the adult-age brother who repeatedly fondles his preteen younger sister.
  • They are the employer who believes it is acceptable and understandable to have an extramarital affair with his older teenaged employees.
  • They are the man who consummates his marriage by, after being told by his bride that she is both exhausted and suffering from a terrible headache, declaring, “I’m getting what I deserve,” and forces her.
  • They are a respected, well-liked, family man who has been sexually abusing a neighbor for years. When the neighbor moves away, he finds a new victim—his granddaughter. In this rare case, the church he attended acted completely appropriately, working with law enforcement authorities to ensure the offender’s arrest, interviewing possible victims, and making the problem known to the congregation. (None of his offenses occurred in relation to any church activities or at the church itself.)
  • They are a man no one—not even his wife, houseguests, or closest friends—suspects of sexually abusing and raping at least one boy over many years. He chooses his victims carefully: Those already suffering from abuse at home are not likely to be acknowledged or believed, whereas those from stronger families, despite ease of access, would present too high a risk. Church work guarantees access to the former. None of those around him know he had long ago beaten one rap in California. During a later trial he will not testify, but does not realize the statements made to friends are damning when statement analysis techniques are applied.

I have not taken any of the descriptions above from Anna Salter’s excellent book; rather, I have personally known every single one of the offenders I have described. I know some—but far from all—of their victims. From my own interactions with the victims of sexual predators, I am all too aware of the destruction their abuse causes, and the years of pain the victims suffer. A few victims eventually find deliverance in one way or another. Some, rarely, will have loved ones who patiently work to rebuild what others have destroyed. Some victims seem irreparably harmed—especially those who are abused at a young age—suffering severe psychological damage that persists decades beyond the abuse.

I have intentionally omitted the many victim stories of which I am aware, and described only the predators I personally knew. I am not that old. Most of my social contacts occur within the two churches I have attended in the past 30 years. Nevertheless, I can quickly call to mind the identities of eight such abusers (and at least five more that I have known but have sparser details about). Either my life is particularly prone to intersect with sexual abusers, or the problem is far more prevalent than most people would admit. It would seem that the latter conclusion is the correct one. (Many sexual predators like to target Christians and churches, because claiming to be a fellow Christian quickly helps establish unmerited trust. However, just because most of the abusers I listed were known from a church context, one should not assume churches harbor a greater number of sexual predators than would be represented in the general population. One exception to this would be the Catholic priesthood, where the required absence of adult romantic interests; an immense amount of respect and trust in the position; easy access to children; and the Catholic Church’s consistent cover-up, rather than removal, of abusers all worked together to create an ideal environment for pedophiles.)

Sexual abuse is not new. Sexual predators are not new. Hundreds of years before Christ, God provided in the Mosaic Law legal protection for women against rape, clearly attesting to the fact that such offenses span centuries and cultures. Research as early as 1929 “documented rates of sexual abuse of female children ranging from 24 to 37 percent” (p. 11). “[R]ates of child sexual abuse are extraordinarily high.”

What’s even worse is that offenders, even repeat offenders of the most egregious type, keep getting away with it:

In treating victims since 1978, I have heard the stories over and over of offenders who were never caught. A young woman tells me that as a young teen, she and a friend were raped repeatedly by a friend of their parents. It went on for years. He would rape the girls in front of each other and threatened the lives of both of them if they told. They didn’t. They were both afraid of him and convinced they wouldn’t be believed anyway, given his high standing in the community and his friendship with their parents. There is a song she still hates, she tells me, because he used to sing it as he undressed them.

Her friend committed suicide as a young adult. My client has been plagued with low self-esteem, ongoing nightmares, and depression. She has always lived a walled-off existence, keeping others at emotional arms’ length.

And what happened to him, I ask? “Him?” she says, perplexed at the question. “Nothing. He’s still moderator of the town meetings.” There … was a predator who was bold enough to rape children in front of each other. He was implicated in the suicide of one, had damaged the life of another, and more than a decade later was standing up in front of his peers cracking jokes. And, no doubt, still singing his song. (p. 13)

Of the eight predators that I have personally known and described above, only three have faced criminal charges, and even that represents an uncharacteristically high percentage. “There are a lot of sexual offenses out there, and the people who commit them don’t get caught very often. When an offender is caught and has a thorough evaluation with a polygraph backup, he will reveal dozens, sometimes hundreds, of offenses for which he was never apprehended.” (pp. 12–13)

Dr. Salter’s book is not simplistic or light handed, and even avoids being alarmist. She approaches the subject with a rationality and thoroughness that is scarcely seen, and conveys a strong empathy toward the victims she describes. She also is not afraid to sacrifice psychology’s sacred cows in the course of defining the problem:

In the past one hundred years, psychology has twisted itself into pretzels developing theories to answer [the question of why people molest children]. Few of these theories have any research at all behind them, and many of them are little more than excuses and rationalizations for child molestation. I am not talking now about Freud’s failure to accept the victim accounts given by his patients and his turning them into “Oedipal fantasies” to avoid ostracism by his peers. That has been too well documented to deserved further comment. Nor am I talking about cases where memory of abuse was lost and then recovered, although there is considerable evidence that this can occur.

What is actually more perplexing in the history of psychology is the attitude toward cases in which it was known and acknowledged that the abuse took place. In the early part of the century, psychoanalytic writers maintained steadfastly that sexual abuse was the fault of the child, not the adult … (p. 51)

Dangerous Misinformation and Knowledge Gaps

There are two major knowledge gaps—or perhaps broad categories of misinformation—in the general population, and even in the criminal justice system population: How skilled sexual predators are in deception; and how harmful sexual abuse is toward those who are abused.

There are other knowledge problems as well. Some of these, such as the idea that pedophilia is not immoral, merely illegal, are perpetrated by those who actively work to legalize pedophilia. Others, such as the concept that all recovered memory is incorrect, seem to take on lives of their own in the popular media and culture.

Masters of Deception

One of the things that is so puzzling, given the vast number of child sexual abuse incidents per year, is why perpetrators continue to get away with it. Even worse, why are people so willing to “forgive and forget” the actions of known offenders, blissfully ignorant of the virtual guarantee of reoffense in the long term?

The biggest reason is simply that children who are sexually abused rarely tell anyone what has happened, even when the results of the abuse are devastating. Forty percent of children who are infected with sexually transmitted diseases will deny any sexual contact.

But not all children tell in the first place. For reasons as varied as fear of the offender, shame at their helplessness, love and protection of a parent, or even—if the offender is clever enough to stroke their genitals—shame of their own sexual arousal during the sex acts—they don’t tell.

Also, they often think their silence affects only them. (p. 14)

Unfortunately, often, even revealing the abuse does not protect a child from from further abuse or protect other children from abuse by the same perpetrator (Salter, p. 14).

Another reason is that social workers and psychologists are ignorant about what to look for. They will perform an “interactional assessment,” and will watch the victims interact with their abusers. If they do not observe any fear, especially on the part of a child, or do observe what they believe is appropriate behavior on the part of the accused abuser, they conclude that the person must be innocent. Dr. Salter explains, however:

Of course, there is no research and no good theory to support this approach. I stood in a conference once when someone was discussing this type of assessment and noted the lack of research to support it. I mentioned that sex offenders are notorious for bonding with a child and using that relationship to manipulate the child into having sex with them. I stated that, in addition, a child might be afraid of the man for entirely different reasons. Perhaps he beat her mother but never laid a hand on her. What justification did the presenters have for believing that one could tell from the interaction between child and alleged perpetrator whether the abuse had occurred or not? (p. 16)

Dr. Salter explores the various techniques of deception used by sexual predators, as well as people’s inability to accurately detect deception. Surprisingly, almost no-one is good at detecting deception. Not surprisingly, almost everyone thinks that he or she is better at detecting falsehood than reality, with disastrous results. Modern tools such as statement analysis and polygraphs (when performed by a skilled interviewer) are much more accurate.

Then there is simply the double-life. Predators keep up an appearance of kindness and likability. Most of the predators I listed at the top of the article were extremely amiable. Several were extremely popular in their social groups. All of them were able to successfully project an image of fine, upstanding citizens. All of them were (and most still are) trusted by those around them. Nearly all have been praised for their fine Christian testimony.

Likability is such a potent weapon that it protects predators for long periods of time and through almost incomprehensible numbers of victims. Mr. Saylor, an athletic director in an elementary school, operated undisturbed for almost twenty years. He tells me there is almost no limit to the number of molestations that one can get away with. (p. 26)

We expect child molesters to be monsters. It seems to be contrary to human nature to think that people who project “niceness” and normality could harbor such dark secrets. (This happens for other sexual offenders as well. One court-appointed evaluator concluded that an offender could not be a rapist, because he was polite and performed such normal acts of courtesy like holding the door for her.) “But it is a misconception that child molesters are somehow different from the rest of us, outside their proclivities to molest. They can be loyal friends, good employees, and responsible members of the community in other ways” (Salter, p. 47).

[T]hose who see child molesters as monsters seem the quickest—when their neighbor, friend, or family members is accused—to say that it is definitely a false report. After all, child molesters are perverts, creeps, and monsters, and their nice neighbor/minister/father/uncle/friend/priest is not a monster. Ergo, he is not a child molester.

Once this kind of denial locks in, no amount of evidence will change their minds. A cab driver said to a colleague of mine, “Child molestation! I know all about child molestation. My father was accused of child molestation, and the children lied—all twenty-six of them.” (p. 47)

Remember that a sexual offender nearly always has to lead a completely double life. The ability to be dishonest yet convincing is a daily requirement, and practice improves that ability. One of the most terrible lessons I have had to apply in my life is essentially impossible to observe: “Never mistake for truthfulness the ability to lie with impunity.” Sexual offenders have been so convincing that they are able to fool those with the most experience. Dr. Salter notes the case of one offender who earned the trust of a correctional officer and his family to the extent that they allowed him to live with them, even though they had a nine-year-old daughter. He began molesting the daughter, and was sent back to prison for it, but even then they continued to try to visit him in prison. “The only rule for deception in sex offenders I have ever found is this: If it is in the offender’s best interests to lie, and if he can do it and not get caught, he will lie” (Salter, p. 73).

The ability to deceive is underestimated by people who are generally truthful. We do not see what we do not want to see. I have personally seen extreme examples of this. One father (whose wife I knew for years) killed his infant in an alleged accident while giving the child a bath. The same thing happened a few years later. This time he was found guilty of murder and sent to prison. Nevertheless, the man’s wife refuses to believe, against evidence and common sense, that both deaths were not accidental.

There is no cure for sexually abusive behavior. Dr. Salter agrees with the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA): “Although many, if not most, sexual abusers are treatable, there is no known ‘cure.’ Management of sexually abusive behavior is a life-long task for some sexual abusers” (p. 59).

[S]ixty out of one hundred sex offenders would still reoffend after the most effective treatment available today, and that means we are a long way from “curing” pedophilia or rape. Note also these results were for the short run. No one really knows the impact of treatment in the long run.

Another common mistake is the belief that child molesters are always themselves victims. Not all victims are offenders, and most offenders are not victims. (Salter, pp. 72–73) There is a long history in psychology of not holding sex offenders responsible for their behavior.

The behavior was, it seems, the fault of their ‘frigid’ wives or ‘seductive’ child victims. It was a symptom of family dysfunction. We mute the realization of malevolence—which is too threatening to bear—by turning offenders into victims themselves and by describing their behavior as the result of forces beyond their control. (pp. 174–175)

Most sexual offenders, especially those who abuse children, engage in a process known as grooming. According to one offender:

When a person like myself wants to obtain access to a child, you don’t just go up and get the child and sexually molest the child. There’s a process of obtaining the child’s friendship and, in my case, also obtaining the family’s friendship and their trust. When you get their trust, that’s when the child becomes vulnerable and you can molest the child….

As far as the children goes, they’re kind of easy. You befriend them. You take them places. You buy them gifts…. Now in the process of grooming the child, you win his trust and I mean, the child has a look in his eyes—it’s hard to explain—you just have to kind of know the look. You know when you’ve got the kid. You know when that kid trusts you.

In the meantime you’re grooming the family. You portray yourself as a church leader or a music teacher or whatever, whatever it takes to make that family think you’re OK. You show the parents that you’re really interested in that kid. You just trick the family into believing you are the most trustworthy person in the world. Every one of my victims, their families just totally thought that there was nobody better to their kids than me, and they trusted me wholeheartedly with their children…. (p. 42)

“Like Being Bitten by a Rattlesnake”—The Harm of Child Sexual Abuse

Childhood sexual abuse has significant long-term consequences. Even children abused at ages younger than two years, when no real memories tend to persist, are affected by the abuse. The major sequelae of sexual abuse include (from http://www.annasalter.com, as well as other sources):

  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Dissociation
  • Sexual problems
  • Traumatic worldview
  • Re-victimization

Of these, the one that seems most counterintuitive is revictimization, yet it is a considerable problem. Why would someone who has been abused allow himself or herself to be abused again? There are many reasons for this, although the mechanism is not well understood. One factor that seems clear is discussed in The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse:

When children are abused, their capacity to say no and set limits is severely damaged. So even if the abuse continued into your adult years, you are still not to blame. There is no magic age where you suddenly become a responsble, cooperative partner in sexual abuse” (Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, pp. 117–118).

Other statistically significant long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse include:

  • Needing psychotropic medication
  • Attempting suicide
  • Being battered as adults
  • Drug addiction/abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Having sexual problems
  • Being afraid of men
  • Having fear of women
  • Reporting out of body experiences
  • Having nightmares
  • Isolation
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Dissociation
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Trouble with temper
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Prostitution

Studying the impact of child sexual abuse, Dr. Salter planned to read all the literature on the sequalae of child sexual abuse:

[B]ut that grandiose plan faded as I read for months on end without being able to tap into all the research. At the end of several months, however, I was convinced of one thing. Child sexual abuse was like getting bitten by a rattlesnake: Some kids recovered completely, and some didn’t, but it wasn’t good for anybody.

Sexual abuse will often haunt the victims for a lifetime. There is hope for those who choose to heal, but for many that choice may never be readily available. Healing can be extremely difficult and painful.

Many survivors inaccurately blame themselves for the abuse, or suffer enormous misplaced guilt in regard to the abuse. This may happen for many reasons. One is that guilt allows the survivor an illusion of power: If the survivor was at fault, he or she had the power to stop the abuse. (The same dynamics are observed in the survivors of violent assaults and other personal crimes.) The alternative is to admit that nothing the survivor could do would have stopped the abuse, and that helplessness seems like something we consciously or subconsciously avoid acknowledging.

In other cases, abusers or others—even caretakers—project their own guilt onto the survivor. Abusers often reinforce the idea that the child wanted the abuse to take place. This is especially true when the suvivor’s experiences automatic sexual arousal in response to the abuse. Others who should support the survivor often knowingly or unknowingly add to this guilt by refusing to acknowledge the abuse took place or failing to place the guilt solely on the abuser.

For some reasons, girls tend to channel their negative emotions inward, often engaging in a variety of self-destructive behaviors. The total impact is severe and frightening, and the lists above do not really do it justice.

“Trust No One”—Mitigating Risk for Our Children

Many child-safety programs focus on the danger of strangers. Although it is true that abduction and abuse by strangers does occur, most abuses are perpetrated by someone who is known to and trusted by the family of the child.

The best protection children can have is their own parents. In one sense, parents need to learn to be far less trusting than they are, and avoid situations and behavior that have no benefit. Would a child molester abuse a child when there were other children or people in the home? Yes. Some will be so bold as to abuse a child with a sleeping spouse in the same bed, and many with the spouse in the next room. Some will do it with the family watching, fondling children while in the process of wrestling with them, carrying them around, or throwing them up in the air. Learn to avoid high-risk situations. Like handling blood or body fluids that might be contaminated with HIV, our though process and actions need to reflect the possable danger in situations we formerly thought nothing about. We cannot guarantee we can protect our children from harm. There are times and places that we cannot control (such as a teacher or principal who takes kids out of the classroom and molests them at the school). “But in the majority of cases of child molestation, a parent has been conned into allowing the offender to spend time with the child. In those cases, we have considerably more of a chance to prevent it” (p. 226).

A friend called me recently. A young man has befriended the family of her son’s best friend. The young man seems particularly taken with the children in the family. In fact, he seems to adore them, and he is over at the house, mostly playing with the children, almost daily. He does not appear to have any adult love interests, male or female. He has never been married, and he does not date. My friend has met him. He seems delightful, a bit immature perhaps, but really a nice guy. Did I think there was any problem with her leaving her own son alone with this man? Would I be concerned?

You bet I would. Would I be rude to him or refuse to go out to dinner with the family if he’s along? Of course not. I have no proof that there is anything wrong with him. But would I quietly make sure my own children were never alone with him? Yes, because I know that he is in a high risk category. I would do it for the same reason that I don’t dive into pools that could hold hidden rocks. It only takes one.

I have since met this man. I like him. There is nothing about the way he talks or acts that suggests he is a child molester—which means nothing and changes nothing. I won’t leave my children alone with him. “Liking” isn’t enough for me to override what my head tells me. He is in a high-risk category, whether I like him or not. (pp. 227–228)

Dr. Salter illustrates the situations that can arise, and the social awkwardness that can arise as a result of being aware of such situations, with this experience from her own life:

I am standing at the gym at a children’s sock hop. The noise is deafening. Two hundred children are running, hopping, sliding, dancing, and whirling, all the while simultaneously shrieking at the top of their lungs. There is such a thing as a perpetual motion machine, and it is called childhood. The yelling children and the blaring rock music make me hunger for the quiet and the solace of my little fireplace and the book I left behind. Because neither of my children has given a backward glance since they headed into the fray, I began to wonder why I’m here. The mother of my daughter’s best friend had invited both of my children to come with her, but I had been reluctant to give them up. I work so much that time with my children is precious.

“This is spending time with your kids?” I think. I feel foolish and out of place. I don’t see anyone I know. I trudge grumpily over to check every twenty minutes or so just to keep track of my kids. It is a neurotic impulse, I think. What could happen in such a public place?

I find my daughter. At age six, she is dancing happily with her best friend and another girl and the other girl’s father, a man I don’t know. I wave and turn away.

Twenty minutes later I look for her again. She is still dancing with the same group. It crosses my mind that this is a little unusual. In a setting like this, her attention span is normally measured in nanoseconds, not in forty-minute blocks. Usually she has to see everybody, explore every corner of the gym. Why is she still there?

Twenty minutes later the same group is still dancing. I am uneasy now; this is simply not her pattern. I walk over and touch her arm and turn her to dance with me. Instantly the man grabs her arm and pulls her back, right out of my hands. I take her arm again, give him a look that would freeze blood, and yell, “I am her mother” over the blaring rock music. He backs off. My daughter and I and her best friend go off to dance together.

After that I keep an eye on her—and him. He ignores his own daughter, but when he thinks I am not looking, he finds mine and her best friend in a long line of kids waiting to go under a limbo pole. He looks around, then picks both of them up and throws them into the air, all the time smiling and laughing and focusing on them intently. I step up, and he slips off.

A few days later I call my daughter’s teacher. I was uncomfortable, I tell her. No other father in the room was hanging around other people’s children in that way. It was inappropriate, and if that man comes to school, I don’t want him alone with my daughter. “Funny you should say that,” she says. “He showed up for a field trip the other day. He spent so much time with another child that I thought he was that child’s parent and sent a note home to the wrong family.”

I go home and tell my nanny. Someone’s going to call, and it won’t be him. Likely it will be the child, perhaps the mom. They’re going to invite my daughter over to play. Just be ready because she isn’t going.

“What do I say?” my nanny asks, panicked. “I don’t know what to say.”

I stare at her incredulously. “Tell them she’s sick,” I say evenly. “Tell them she was abducted by aliens. Tell them she’s pulling the wings off flies or doing quadratic equations. I don’t care what you tell them. But she is never going.”

Within a week, the call comes.

I tell the parents of my daughter’s best friend because she was targeted too. Their daughter doesn’t go either—for a while. But time and social norms wear her parents down. “What could we say?” they ask me. “It was during the day. He wasn’t home. I don’t think he’d do anything during the day with the sitter there, do you?”

Maybe he won’t, I think. Maybe he isn’t even a child molester. Maybe I am wrong about this. But if he is, he will not hesitate to come home early from work, dismiss the sitter, and take a little girl’s trusting face in his hands and tell her he will teach her a new game.

I don’t know what to say to these parents. In their heart of hearts they believe what they want to believe. He is middle-class, wears a suit, goes to work every day, pays his bills, takes his family on vacation, and seems like a nice person. He is a “nice” man in their world, and niceness, they believe—they want badly to believe—is a character trait, not a decision. They are afraid of strangers. I am afraid of him. (pp. 79–80)

Should You Read Predators?

Be aware that the descriptions of sexual abuse in the book may (or perhaps should) evoke strong emotional or physiological responses. At times, the true evil exposed can be heart-wrenching or physically sickening. (I would caution those who have experienced severe sexual abuse.) It is, however, my strong recommendation that Predators be read by every parent, minister, grandparent, educator, church worker, social worker, criminal justice worker, police officer, or doctor.

Parents especially need to understand the scope of the problem, and be well informed about what risks they can easily avoid and what they should watch for in protecting their children. There is a misappropriation of effort in educating children to be aware of “stranger danger” (which is important, nevertheless), and the situational awareness parents must have to adequately perform their job of protecting their children.

For Further Reading

Although much more clinical, I have also found Dr. Salter’s Transforming Trauma: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse to be especially helpful in understanding the long-term affects of childhood sexual abuse.

I am also digesting a number of books on healing from sexual abuse. (See my 2005 book lists.) Healing is painful, but it can and does happen.

I have also enjoyed Dr. Salter’s works of crime fiction about forensic psychology: Shiny Water, Fault Lines, White Lies, and Prison Blues.

When I finish a few more books, I’ll BLOG them as a resource guide, or add them to this entry.

24 Replies to “Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders (Anna C. Salter, Ph.D.)—[More Than a] Book Review”

  1. New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) had a discussion today on its “Exchange” call-in program, hosted by Laura Knoy, on the pending legislation to require Tougher Sentencing for Sex Offenders.

    The discussion is worth listening to, and is provided in both Windows Media and MP3 format.

    One caller typified common misinformation. He said he knew three people who had been convicted sexual offenders, but that he believed they had overcome their problem, like an alcoholic might.

    Sex offenders have a 98% recidivism rate over the long-term (25 years). Under the best treatment available today, there is a 60% occurrence of reoffence within five years. The probability that at least one of the three offenders he knows will not reoffend—or, even, depending on the time frame involved, is not already reoffending—is extremely small (93.6%), even if they are all getting excellent treatment (probability = 1 — .6 ^ 3).

    He also put forth the idea that most sexual offenders were themselves abused as children. Although a very commonly held belief, this is simply not true. Some victims do go on to abuse; most do not. The key here is the study metholodgy use to derive the data. According to Salter:

    Being victimized as a child has become a ready excuse for perpetratoing child molestation. The offender who claims he himself was victimized gets seen as less of a “monster” than one who wasn’t a victim, and he gains much more empathy and support. It is hard to trust self-reports of sex offenders about abuse in their past when such reports are in their best interest.

    In a series of three studies, the offenders who claimed they were abused as a child were 67 percent, 65 percent, and 61 percent without the threat of a polygraph. With polygraph (and conditional immunity), the offenders who claimed they were abused as children were 29 percent, 32 percent, and 30 percent, respectively.

    Nonetheless, the notion that most offenders were victims has spread throughout the field of sexual abuse and is strangely comforting for most professionals. (Salter, pp. 73–74)

    The program also expressed the extremely important point that most sexual abuse (97% of the abuse against children under the age of 6; and 95% of abuse against children between ages 6 and 12) is perpetrated by family members or people who are well-known to the family.

    Also given was a hotline for survivors of sexual abuse (even adult survivors), toll free: 1-866-644-3574, operated by the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

  2. Sometimes, justice may be difficult to find. Here is a case where sexual abuse of a child was brought to trial, after obvious grooming behavior by the defendant, and severe inconsistency in recorded testimony, but the jury found the defendant not guilty:

    Jury clears elementary school teacher of molestation charges.

    Read the entire article. The grooming behavior is described thusly:

    The boy met Crowley, a former fourth-grade teacher in Gilford, through an after-school program when he was in fifth grade, and they grew increasingly friendly. The boy testified that Crowley took him to movies and to the playground. When the boy was in sixth grade, his mother asked Crowley to baby-sit while she went to North Carolina for a week.

    The incident took place Dec. 3, but the boy didn’t tell his mother until April 19 when he was supposed to have dinner with Crowley as a reward for making the honor roll.

    The contradictions are plain:

    He initially denied touching the boy, but by the end of his interview said he touched the boy while cleaning him.

    And the excuses are credible, at least enough to introduce doubt to the jury.

    What frightens me is that the entire process, from grooming, to betrayal, to the various levels of denial, then excuse, is exactly conforming to the behaviors Salter and other writers describe as typical of pedophiles.

    I do not at all believe justice was done in this case.

  3. Just read your blog. I am the wife of a sex offender. He was not molested when a child. He has not re-offended in 9 yrs. But I do watch his every move. I watch his actions closely. He does not hang around young females ( his chosen victim), he does go to church and completed counseling with 3 counselors. He, unlike the many other offenders I have met since this has happened, has realized what he has done to this young womans life and what he nearly lost. That is what keeps him from re-offending. He nearly lost us all by his actions.
    The biggest thing I noticed while attending sessions with other offenders and their significant others, was the lack of empathy. These guys were so self oriented that they just couldn’t see what damage they had done. Out of twelve couples in those counseling settings, only two couples are still together. And those two men are the only two that really wanted to make a change in their thinking and their behaviour. I would not hesitate to turn my husband in if I saw of knew of anything going on. I will never trust him completely again. He knows this. And if he even has a wayward thought, he tells either me or one of the pastors or his two closest friends, who do not have a problem. I have met a woman now from our church who is concerned about her husbands addictions and has come to me for advice. We are in constant contact with each other and she has asked her husband to counsel with one of the pastors. Do I think this will help her husband? I really don’t think so because this man is like the others in the past I’ve met. Lacking empathy. Anyway, I appreciate the honesty of your page here. Just thought I’d express my opinion.

  4. Cyndie has, at great personal cost, undertaken the only possible effective response to allowing her husband to lead a mostly normal postoffense life. It is particularly encouraging considering the role denial plays in the world of sexual offenders.

    Note that several of the requisite conditions must be maintained or initiated by her husband, but that she has a key role in them as well:

    • Unceasing vigilance/Unceasing distrust: “I do watch his every move. I watch his actions closely…. I will never trust him completely again.”
    • Offender’s true realization of the damage done to the victim[s] and his own loved ones: He … has realized what he has done to this young womans life…. He nearly lost us all by his actions.” (This empathy Cyndie speaks of goes far beyond what we normally think of as remorse or apology, as even most remorseful offenders will deny the true impact their abuse has on their victims.)
    • Strict avoidance of offense-related situations: “He does not hang around young females (his chosen victim).”
    • Ongoing counseling: “He does go to church and completed counseling with 3 counselors.”
    • Declared willingness to turn the offender in if he reoffends: “I would not hesitate to turn my husband in if I saw of knew of anything going on.”
    • Monitoring and accountability for every thought:* “And if he even has a wayward thought, he tells either me or one of the pastors or his two closest friends.”

    I am encouraged and blessed by Cyndie’s response. There is hope here, but it is not the misguided, wishful thinking of, “He’s already been caught and dealt with it. He wouldn’t do it again.” Instead, her hopes lives in a determined, educated plan that acknowledges every harsh reality of the life of an offender.


    *In addition to the works of Anna Salter, which explore thinking errors, see Inside the Criminal Mind, by Stanton E. Samenow, Ph.D., for an excellent, readable analysis of how incorrect thought processes are the precursors of reoffense.

  5. He states: “Within a proper ethical framework, mutually fulfilling intimate relationships between consenting adults and young people are possible.”

    Were he actually to follow this, he would have to reverse his views on pedophilia, as pedophilia is always harmful to the young people involved, regardless of the setting, circumstances, or any supposed consent.

    He also claims to have done nothing illegal. If this is true, then there really isn’t anything that can be done, assuming he is telling the truth and intends to keep himself legal.

    However, perusing this organization’s Web site is very frightening; their Ethos and Creed statements are excellent examples of cool-headed rationality combined with what can only be described as intentional ignorance of the real effects of child sexuality. The real danger is that the Web site is designed to make child sexual predators seem nonthreatening, and, like the claims of the False Memory Foundation, it would be easy to sway those unfamiliar with the issues.

  6. After involvement in the case of an old friend of Nichelle and I, I’ve had to add an eighth offender to my “predator’s I’ve known” list.

  7. I am sometimes angry on behalf of the sexual abuse survivors whom I know and care about. It seems like the innocent are the only ones who suffer. It troubles me that those who perpetrate abuse get away with it so often, and it does not seem fair that the survivors lives can be so harmed, while the abusers seem to prosper.

    Jeremiah 12:1–3 (NIV) describes exactly how I feel:

    1 You are always righteous, O LORD,
    when I bring a case before you.
    Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
    Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all the faithless live at ease?

    2 You have planted them, and they have taken root;
    they grow and bear fruit.
    You are always on their lips
    but far from their hearts.

    3 Yet you know me, O LORD;
    you see me and test my thoughts about you.
    Drag them off like sheep to be butchered!
    Set them apart for the day of slaughter!

    Psalm 73 is meaningful to me in this context as well, although I sometimes find it hard to claim, like Asaph, “I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge.” (I know my newfound understanding of God’s sovereignty is helpful; sometimes, albeit not often, I simply don’t feel comforted by this viewpoint.)


    Editor’s Note: I have updated the “Like Being Bitten by a Rattlesnake” section in the main post, above, in response to reading more about the process of healing from sexual abuse.

  8. I did some reading on the Christianity Today Web site:

    From I Was Sexually Abused: But I’m finally healing from the pain of my past, by Joy Michaels, an incest survivor:

    After unearthing some of those long-buried secrets and drying each other’s tears, my sister and I felt some relief, but also self-pity and anger. I wondered if my relationship woes were somehow tied to my loss of innocence in childhood. My sister figured her lack of interest in sex was because of the incest. Naively, we encouraged each other to forgive, forget, and get on with life. I tried, but didn’t get very far.

    There is one part of this article I strongly disagree with:

    Despite the far-reaching ravages of pornography and sexual abuse, I don’t blame my brother for the botched-up decisions I made in adulthood. (After all, I alone am responsible to God for my sinful actions.)

    After extensive research on child sexual abuse, it is clear there is a stunningly high incidence among sexual abuse survivors of self-destructive behaviors and revictimization in later years, including near-adulthood and adulthood. Based on the near universality of these problems, it is clear the responsibility for these behaviors falls squarely on the abusers.

    From How the Clergy Sexual Abuse Scandal Affects Evangelical Churches:

    “In evangelical circles, agreements tend to be ‘you go away quietly and it stays quiet.’ It is done under the guise of being better off for everyone but it is harmful.” Even when a leader’s sin becomes public, he says, there can be a rush to offer a second chance. “When people are just reinstated after a moral problem without consequences, it sends the wrong message to young people.”

    Swetland and others say just watching and listening isn’t enough. Churches must actively screen Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders, and other workers. Hammar, legal counsel for the Assemblies of God, says even laity must apply Ronald Reagan’s maxim during arms negotiations with the Soviet Union: “Trust, but verfiy.” “The widely held conception among church leaders that ‘the people will not tolerate screening’ is simply no longer true. To the contrary, people expect it and want it. What parent would rather attend a church where youth workers are not screened?”

    “We need to be on our knees praying for the church that the Evil One would not use this to compromise the body of Christ.”

  9. On the day that the men landed on the moon, my dad died, I was 8. Almost immediatly, my uncle started to molest me. Later I was raped by him. He was a pastor. I was given to my aunt and uncle when my mom couldn’t care for us. We traveled to different communities. We had to sing in the church and later he got his jollies on me.
    Today I don’t like churches. I look at anyone who wants to spend time with my kids as liars, especially from churches.
    I got death threats. I was called satan and was shoved around and they yelled at me saying “You are just trying to stop us from delivering gods work.”
    I nearly died from drinking. I took the long haul and sobered up. My philosiphy is: “No child will be a victim that is in my home or community if I can help it.” People have gone to great lengths to dispute me. At one time I went to a church gathering with my mom. My aunt and uncle were there. I told myself that I did nothing wrong and I’m not going to leave because of them. I stood there defiantly. They left early.

    Oriole

  10. I wanted to publish my idea on the Internet. I have depression, and over a year ago I ran out of Celexa SSRI anti depressant as I had to cancel my wife and my health insurance as I needed to cut out the $400 per month bill, and I did fine for a year, but then after going back to college the stress required my taking medication again. My wife had a few bottles of Paxil, which is another SSRI , so I have been taking 40 mg of Paxil daily, until we can get back on our health plan again. I have discovered that Paxil removes sexual libido pretty much entirely, and I had the idea that pedaphiles and rapists could be mandated by the courts to take Paxil, which theoretically would eliminate their libido, which theoretically would cut down on repeat offenses. If you read up on the side effects of Paxil, you will see that there are noted sexual side effects. This method of treating a pedaphile would certainly be less unconstitutional and extreme a measure, and much more humane, than castration, which I’ve heard some people advocate. I think a trial should be done to see if the idea works to reduce or turn off completely pedophiles’ libido.

  11. I’m not much of a student of law, but I don’t think you’ll find many cases of court-ordered medication.

    I can tell you that such a treatment would not be effective—nor would castration—because many sexual abusers, especially raptists and other perpetrators of violent sexual assault, are not motivated by sexual desire, but rather by anger or desire to control. John Douglas, the FBI special agent who pioneered criminal profiling, wrote the following in Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit:

    … [I]t doesn’t do any good to castrate repeat raptists—as satisfying and fulfilling as the idea may be to some of us. The problem is, it doesn’t stop them, either physically or emotionally. Rape is definitely a crime of anger. (Douglas & Olshaker, p. 336)

    There is no effective long-term treatment for sexual predators, although some programs do cut down on recidivism rates, only the best do so over 50% in the short term, and there is still a virtually certain long-term repeat offense rate.

    Dr. Samenow has had significant success with correcting criminals’ thinking errors that lead to reoffense at the onset, but even his program is not as successful as required for protection of the innocent.

    The best way to eliminate reoffense for rapists and sexual abusers is a lifetime in prison. When released, pedophile offenders can never be trusted around children, and those who interact with them must be aware of the offense and aware of the dynamics of such predators. The best protection a child has is a nonoffending parent—but that requires constant vigilance and better education than is typically found. This is why I recommend Dr. Salter’s Predators book to every parent or other person who works with children.

    For years, ignorance, misinformation, and secrecy have benefited sexual abusers of children. We can eliminate that advantage.

  12. It is easy to find sex offenders in your neighborhood with a free mapping and locating website like FamilyBeacon.com. Not only check for offenders in your neighborhoods, but also check your children’s schools, bus stops, school routes, etc.

    Knowledge Is Power

    http://www.familybeacon.com

    [Editor’s note: Scott Udy hails from FamilyBeacon.com, so this comment qualifies as lightweight advertising, although the service is free. Still, the service is a valuable one, especially if you are interested in a state that provides good public data. Also, one should be aware that typically only the worst (“Level 2” or “Level 3”) sex offenders are described in public registries.]

  13. [Editor’s note: I decided to make this it’s own post, rather than just a comment on this post.]

    Congressman Mark Foley is unquestionably a homosexual pedophile.

    I’ve just finished reading the transcript of one of Mark Foley’s instant messenger conversation with a former Congressional page. (There are a few more excerpts from a different conversation here on CNN.)

    While such communication has been repeatedly labeled “inappropriate,” in the media, reading the transcript makes it clear that it was way beyond inappropriate, and clearly typical of a predatory pedophile. What hasn’t happened yet (as far as we know) is Foley being caught having an active sexual relationship with a minor, but that doesn’t change the definition of pedophile. He is guilty (assuming these transcripts are genuine) of sexually exploiting/harassing teens for his own sexual gratification via his instant message communications.

    As detailed in the transcript linked above, Foley discusses with a minor various sexual acts, including masturbation and manual penile stimulation by another individual, talks about wanting to slip the minor’s shorts off him and “gram the one-eyed snake,” [sic; grab was mistyped as gram] then goes on to request that the minor remind him of the length the boy’s erect penis, which had been communicated to Foley before.

    We should not tolerate this evil, nor be afraid to name it for what it is.

  14. I FINALLY read your blog post, hopefully soon I can bring myself to read the book by Salter.

    My daughter’s offender is described in the above list. He is now serving 16–44 years in prison. BELIEVE YOUR CHILDREN!!! If you don’t expose your children to predator-like behavior, then how in the world can they make it up?

  15. I have a friend who is dating a man who had a relationship when he was 20 with a 15 year old girl, 20 years ago. I am concerned for this friend but her boyfriend swears he has never had thought of another underage girl. He received probation for the relatioship back than, and he has not been in touch with the girl, I am wondering how this might have damamged her. What should I say to my friend?

  16. This is a slightly atypical situation, more of an “edge case,” as we say in the software world.

    My primary recommendation would be to have your friend run a criminal background check. Harsh as it sounds, most predators will reveal only as much information as they have to. Finding out whether this was an event that occurred once, and as described, is important.

    That being said, this isn’t quite a classic case of sexual predation—at least, that’s what it seems given the information at hand. Generally five years’ difference is age is where experts draw the line between sexual abuse and “normal” sexuality, although it’s not a rule without exceptions. In most of the cases of olden teen sexual abuse with which I am familiar, the survivors were preyed upon by abusers who were 30 to 40 years of age. The existence or lack of coercive behavior makes a big difference as well.

    There’s an “in joke” among sexual abuse workers that recounts an abuser excusing his actions: “I know she was 5, but she looked 6.” These are the most heinous offenders, but the large number of older men preying on older teens is likewise horrible, and we ought not to minimize the harm they cause.

    If you are interested in the long-term effects of sexual abuse, I would recommend reading Salter’s Predators book, probably followed by The Sexual Healing Journey, by Wendy Maltz. (I need to put together a resource page soon.)

  17. Do you have any answers for these two items?

    1. I found it stunning how many people are not aware of the sexual abuse paradigm, and as a result misinterpret what’s obvious. For instance the grooming is the biggest dead giveaway. Very intelligent friends had a co-worker convicted of attempted interstate internet liason with 14 year old. Initially they thought the lack of sex with his wife had something to do with it, and a favorite theory was that he was a geeky guy and didn’t know how to socialize so he’d picked girls at the early dating stage that would be more comfortable and less scary. I pointed out a submissive words of his wife, and the anger/violence/power focus and they slowly got it. She allows him to be in her home with her pre-teen boys, because he picks girls. Why is this dynamic not known? As you are doing, a book like Predators is the best defense. Thankfully my sister a crime victim’s advocate (in her job) has taught my nieces their bodies are theirs and to say NO and to be comfortable with themselves…and she’s vigilant to boot.

    2. Why would so many adults who weren’t violated turn to child sexual abuse as a way to get power? Are humans that inherently sick, that a high percentage are this gross. (I just thought of a partial answer. While the number of victims is high, the number of perps may not be that high.)

    What brought me here today is a man who acts without empathy. He gives no appearence of being that way over several years of casual contact. He’s not a superfriendly likeable sort either. He believes himself to be very good…while being incapable of basic empathic human interaction. I got hit on one smaller point that i fought against (anti-semitic element even though he’s in a mixed racial marriage so theoretically he’s not bigoted), but the response has been revealing. Turns out he’s a non-violent wife abuser. I want to remain a part of the group activity, but this is gross. She’s in therapy with someone who is aware so on that level I’ve done what’s my responsiblity. I was never totally comfortable with him, but blamed myself. This will teach me. Any suggestions on how to interact? This is a soul stealer.

  18. [Editor’s note: This comment appears to refer to items published on Mark Sohmer’s BLOG; I am working with the author of this comment to obtain further clarification; we may address TC’s points in an upcoming separate post. I am temporarily commenting it out for that reason.]

  19. does not work, and execution. Are there MORE opnitos? I have a few ideas about how to stop a sexual predator in the prison system. I also believe they should never be allowed back into society without a undefeatable containment device similar to an invisible fence for dogs.If we allow our children to use MYSPACE then I suggest we all get on there and watch over them. Make all the pages private with security questions to prevent them from linking to any of the children. Several of the teens at church have myspace pages, so as adults, the teachers and parents and older family members get pages, link to them and we all watch over them together. We cannot withdraw from society, neither do we want to be unshepherded lambs at the slaughter of the wolf. But we can be wise as serpents! If Myspace is filled with the wrong kind of people then we have to either become the majority, guard over all access to it, or withdraw.

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