Good Guy Bad Guy: To Close for Comfort?

Children as Preferred Sexual Objects

Identifying Pedophiles
Sexual exploitation is used to describe the sexual victimization of children, involving child pornography, child sex rings, and child prostitution. While offenders utilizing the services of a child prostitute may be either Situational or Preferential Child Molesters, those involved in child pornography and child sex rings are pre-dominantly Preferential Child Molesters. And, although a variety of individuals sexually abuse children, Preferential Child Molesters, or pedophiles, are the primary sexual exploiters of children. A Preferential Child Molester might molest ten, fifty, hundreds, or even a thousand children in a lifetime, depending on the offender and how broadly or narrowly you define child molestation. In his study of 561 sex offenders, Dr. Gene Abel found pedophiles who targeted young boys outside the home committed the greatest number of crimes with an average of 281.7 acts with an average of 150.2 partners. Molesters who targeted girls within the family committed an average of 81.3 acts with an average of 1.8 partners. He also found that 23.3 percent of the 561 subjects offended against both family and non-family targets. Although pedophiles vary greatly, their sexual behavior is repetitive and highly predictable.

The Preferential Child Molester (Pedophile)
The four major characteristics of the Preferential Child Molester (pedophile) are:

  1. long-term and persistent pattern of behavior,
  2. children as preferred sexual objects,
  3. well developed techniques in obtaining victims, and
  4. sexual fantasies focusing on children…

Long-Term and Persistent Pattern of Behavior
Sexual abuse in background ~ Although most victims of child sexual abuse do not become offenders, research indicates that most offenders are former victims…

Limited social contact as teenagers ~ The pedophile's sexual preference for children usually begins in early adolescence. Therefore, during his teenage years he may have exhibited little sexual interest in people his own age. But, as with several of these indicators, that fact alone means little.

Premature separation from military ~ If an individual was dishonorably discharged for molesting children, there is not much doubt about the case. It is far more common though, that the individual was prematurely separated from the military and no specific reason was given or is available.

Frequent and unexpected moves ~ When they are identified, pedophiles are frequently "asked" to leave town by someone in authority, by the parent of one of the victims or by an employer. This was, and still is, a common way to deal with the problem. The result is that pedophiles frequently show a pattern of living in one place for several years with a good job and then suddenly and for no apparent reason moving and changing jobs…The pedophile will usually have an explanation for the move, but it probably will not reflect the true circumstances. This moving pattern can sometimes be determined from examination of drivers license records.

Prior arrests ~ In some cases, pedophiles have previously been arrested for child molestation or sexual abuse. Certainly, such an arrest record is a major indicator, particularly if the arrest goes back many years or is repeated. Investigators must also be alert to the fact that pedophiles may have arrest records for actions that do not appear to involve sexual abuse. These might include impersonating a police officer, writing bad checks, violating child labor laws, or other violations that may indicate a need to check further. Any arrest of an adult in the company of a child not his own should be evaluated with suspicion.

Multiple victims ~ If investigation reveals that an individual molested many different victims, that is a very strong indicator that the offender is a pedophile…For instance, if a teacher who is a suspected pedophile molests one child in his class, the chances are high that he has molested or attempted to molest other children in the class as well as children in all the other classes he has taught. This is also true of incest offenders suspected of being Preferential Child Molesters.

Planned, repeated, or high-risk attempts ~ Bold and repeated attempts to obtain children that have been carried out in a cunning and skillful manner is a strong indication that the offender is a pedophile.

Over 25, single, never married ~ By itself, this indicator means nothing. It has significance only when combined with several other indicators. Because they have a sexual preference for children, pedophiles usually have some degree of difficulty in performing sexually with adults. Therefore, they typically do not marry…

Lives alone or with parents ~ This indicator is closely related to the above. Again, by itself, it has little meaning. The fact that a man lives alone does not mean he is a pedophile. The fact that an individual who possesses many of the other traits discussed here and also lives alone might be significant.

Limited dating relationships if not married ~ A man who lives alone, has never been married, and who does not date should arouse suspicion if he possesses other characteristics discussed here.

If married, "special" relationship with spouse ~ When they do marry, pedophiles often marry either a strong, domineering woman or a weak, passive woman-child. In any case, they will marry a woman who does not have high sexual expectations or needs. A woman married to a pedophile may not realize that her husband is a pedophile, but she does know he has a "problem" –a sexual performance problem. Because she may blame herself for this problem and because of the private nature of people's sex lives, most wives will usually not reveal this information to an investigator…Pedophiles sometimes marry for convenience or cover.

Excessive interest in children ~ How much interest is excessive? This is a difficult question. The old adage "If it sounds too good to be true, maybe it is" may apply here. If someone's interest in children seems too good to be true, maybe it is. This is not proof that someone is a pedophile, but it is a reason to be suspicious. It becomes more significant when this excessive interest is combined with other indicators.

Associates and circle of friends are young ~ In addition to sexual activity, pedophiles frequently socialize with children. They may hang around schoolyards, arcades, shopping centers– any place that children frequent. Their "friends" may be male, female, or both sexes, very young or teenagers, all depending on the age and gender preferences of the pedophile. Limited peer relationships ~ Because they cannot share the most important part of their life (their sexual interest in children) with most adults, pedophiles may have a limited number of those adult friends. Only other pedophiles will validate their sexual behavior…

Age and gender preference ~ Most pedophiles prefer children of a certain sex in a certain age range. The older the age preference of the pedophile, the more exclusive the gender preference. Pedophiles attracted to toddlers are more likely to molest boys and girls indiscriminately. A pedophile attracted to teenagers is more likely to prefer either boys or girls exclusively. The preference age bracket for the child can also vary. One pedophile might prefer boys eight to 10, while another might prefer boys six to 12. A pedophile's age preference might not even correspond exactly with the legal definitions of a child or minor. For example, a pedophile might prefer sexual partners 13 to 19. How old a child looks and acts is more important than actual chronological age. A 13-year-old child who looks and acts like a 10-year-old child could be a victim target for a molester preferring eight to 10 years olds. For the introverted Preferential Child Molester, how old the child looks is more important than how old the child acts. Puberty seems to be an important dividing line for many pedophiles. This is only an age and gender preference, not an exclusive limitation. Any individual expressing a strong desire to care for or adopt only a child of a very specific sex and age (other than an infant) should be viewed with some suspicion.

Refers to children as "clean," "pure," "innocent," "impish," etc., or as objects ~ Pedophiles sometimes have an idealistic view of children that is expressed in their language and writing. Others sometimes refer to children as if they were objects, projects, or possessions. "This kid has low mileage" and "I've been working on this project for six months" are typical comments.

Well-Developed Techniques in Obtaining Victims
Skilled at identifying vulnerable victims ~ Some pedophiles can watch a group of children for a brief period of time and then select a potential target. More often than not, the selected child turns out to be from a broken home or the victim of emotional or physical neglect. This skill is developed through practice and experience.

Identifies with children (better than with adults) ~ Pedophiles have the ability to identify with children better than they do with adults–a trait that makes most pedophiles master seducers of children. They especially know how to listen to children. Many pedophiles are described as "pied pipers" who attract children.

Access to children ~ This is one of the most important indicators of a pedophile. The pedophile will surely have a a method of gaining access to children. Other than simply hanging around places children congregate, pedophiles sometimes marry women simply to gain access to children. Pedophiles are frequently the "nice guys" in the neighborhood who like to entertain the children after school or take them on day or weekend trips. Also, a pedophile may seek employment where he will be in contact with children (teacher, camp counselor, babysitter, school bus driver) or where he can eventually specialize in dealing with children (physician, dentist, minister, photographer, social worker, police officer). The pedophile may also become a scout leader, Big Brother, foster parent, little league coach, and so on. The pedophile may operate a business that hires adolescents. In one case known to the author, a pedophile married, had a daughter, and he molested her. He was the "nice guy" in the neighborhood who had the neighborhood girls over to his house for parties, and he molested them. He was a coach for a girl?s softball team, and he molested them. He was a dentist who specialized in child patients, and he molested them.

Activities with children, often excluding other adults ~ The pedophile is always trying to get children in situations where there are no other adults present. On a boy scout hike he might suggest the fathers go into town for a beer. He will "sacrifice" and stay behind with the boys.

Seduces with attention, affection, and gifts ~ This is the most common technique used by pedophiles. They literally seduce the children by befriending them, talking to them, listening to them, paying attention to them, spending time with them, and buying gifts for them. If you understand the courtship process, it should not be difficult to understand why some child victims develop positive feelings for the offender. Many people can understand why an incest victim might not report his or her father, but they cannot understand why a victim not related to the offender does not immediately report molestation. There are many reasons for a victim not immediately reporting molestation (fear, blackmail, embarrassment, confusion), but the results of the seduction process are often ignored or not understood at all.

Skilled at manipulating children ~ In order to operate a child sex ring involving simultaneous sexual relations with multiple victims, a pedophile must know how to manipulate children. The pedophile uses seduction techniques, competition, peer pressure, child and group psychology, motivation techniques, threats, and blackmail. The pedophile must continuously recruit children into and move children out of the ring without his activity being disclosed. Part of the manipulation process is lowering the inhibitions of the seduction techniques, competition, peer pressure, child and group psychology, motivation techniques, threats, and blackmail. The pedophile must continuously recruit children into and move children out of the ring without his activity being disclosed. Part of the manipulation process is lowering the inhibitions of the children. A skilled pedophile who can get children into a situation where they must change clothing or stay with him overnight will almost always succeed in seducing them. Not all pedophiles possess these skills…

Has hobbies and interests appealing to children ~ This is another indicator that must be considered for evaluation only in connection with other indicators. Pedophiles might collect toys or dolls, build model planes or boats, or perform as clowns or magicians to attract children. A pedophile interested in older children might have a "hobby" involving alcohol, drugs, or pornography.

Shows sexually explicit material to children ~ Any adult who shows sexually explicit material to children of any age should be viewed with suspicion. This is generally part of the seduction process in order to lower inhibitions. A pedophile might also encourage or allow children to call a dial-a-porn service or send them sexually explicit material via a computer as part of this process.

Sexual Fantasies Focusing on Children
Youth-oriented decorations in house or room ~ Pedophiles attracted to teenage boys might have their homes decorated the way a teenage boy would. This might include toys, games, stereos, rock posters, and so on. The homes of some pedophiles have been described as shrines to children or as miniature amusement parks.

Photographing of children ~ This includes photographing children fully dressed. One pedophile bragged that he went to rock concerts with thirty or forty rolls of film in order to photograph young boys. After developing the pictures, he fantasized about having sex with them. Such a pedophile might frequent playgrounds, youth swimming meets, child beauty pageants, or child exercise classes with his camera.

Collecting child pornography or child erotica ~ This is one of the most significant characteristics of pedophiles.


This material is reprinted from "Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis" © 1986 by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Arlington, Virginia, USA, and reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.