Home > Health, Parenting, Safety > Portrait of a Pedophile

Portrait of a Pedophile

Note: I do not mean to incite a witch hunt, nor any kind of hunt whatsoever. What inspires me to share this is not the desire to identify any particular perpetrator–for, indeed, many truly gentle men may fit the broad portrait below–but to enable readers to see, as I do, what can lie concealed behind certain carefully crafted kindnesses.

He is tall and thin, his demeanor studiously unobtrusive.

His attire is stereotypically professorial–almost comically so. He lives by tweed.

He is vocal about his vegetarianism. He does not, he tells you, want to take part in harming living creatures.

This gentle giant is great with your kids. He is so great with them, he wants to give you a little time off from watching them. He will take them to shows and parks, and show them funny movies while you, a single parent, get a chance to breathe.

He is a trusted family friend.

He builds trust slowly, careful not to do anything that might alert you to his ulterior motives. As he builds your trust, he starts showing a different side of himself to your kids.

He tells them they are beautiful-more beautiful, even, than you.

He tells them it would wound you deeply to know this, and makes it their secret.

When he is sure he had laid a solid foundation for silence, he touches them.

He tells them he will kill you if they tell.

I testified against him.

He sat across from me with wounded expression, his shoulders ever so slightly hunched, his face set in a plausible cast of mixed defeat and bemusement.

Compared to him, the district attorney told me, I was unsympathetic.

In retrospect, this is hardly surprising.

I was but a decade old.

He’d had decades to perfect deceit, a skill reflected in the hung jury that–as with his previous molestation case in the U.S. South–enabled him to walk free and clear, with no restrictions whatsoever on his being around children.

Decades have passed. I have forgiven him, and no longer envision revenge scenarios. But occasionally, I google him.

And I am horrified, because his work grants him access to kids. He could be taking pictures of yours today.

He has a knack for photographing ballerinas.

I cannot tell you his name, but I can tell you about him so you know men like him exist in your community.

Men like him are around your children.

It’s a terrifying thought, but I do not share it to instill needless fear.

I share it so you remember to look. So you remember predators are not distinguished by pointy horns or overtly menacing behavior, but prey effectively by concealing their ill purposes behind kindly exteriors. That is the key to their success: that you would never believe them capable of harm.

Gavin de Becker’s book Protecting the Gift is an essential resource for child custodians. de Becker writes about protecting children–humankind’s most hopeful and magnificent gift–from predators and other safety hazards. He offers not academic reflections but clear guidance he has developed over decades as a safety expert. His chilling examples are offered not merely to chill parents’ hearts, but to inform and instruct.

I daren’t boil his exceptional book down to a few bullets, but I want to share a few points borne of my own experience.

  • Trust your instincts. They are the aggregate response to data so complex you cannot process it all at a conscious level. You are giving yourself and your loved ones a gift by giving yourself the benefit of the doubt. The potential cost of not doing so, of instead acting on guilt for mistrusting the seemingly trustworthy though your instincts demand otherwise, is inexpressibly enormous and sorrowful.
  • Know that there are predators among us. Believing otherwise does not change fact, but does increase susceptibility.
  • Ask questions. Ask so many questions, especially open ended ones, that you feel a little uncomfortable. Listen to the stories told, the evasive or incomplete answers, the silences around the words spoken. Listen hard, and then listen to your instincts before leaving your kids with even the softest spoken of acquaintances.
  • Most of all, listen to your kids, and tell them you trust them. Tell them and let your actions show that there is nothing anyone could do or say or threaten that could ever change that. The earlier your kids know this, the less effective predatorial ploys will be. The more confident all will be.

What is done cannot be undone, but what is undone can be avoided.

It is the thought of what could be avoided that compels me to write on this terrible subject.

My mom grieved for years, convicting herself guilty of crimes at least as grievous as the pedophile’s. I wish I could change the past and undo both the crimes and suffering transpired there, but I can’t. While I can influence the future, I cannot change the past. This is part of why revenge no longer interests me.

Knowledge does. Knowledge is power, and how we can change the future.

Our children are gifts that need our love and protection.

We cannot ensure their safety. Life happens. Accidents happen.

But by our diligent efforts as their parents and guardians, we can avert some tragedies.

If my words can help avert even one, the agony of revisiting these memories will have been worth it.

See also:

Protecting the GiftGavin de Becker
The Gift of Fear – Gavin de Becker
“How are you raising him?!”

  1. November 30, 2013 at 4:28 am

    I love you so much for this gift of your past, your forgiveness, your heart and your unstinting love. You are my hero.

  2. David
    November 30, 2013 at 7:05 am

    My mum was the pedophile.

  3. Anon
    November 30, 2013 at 7:29 am

    I never disclosed but you are correct. People would never have guessed. Which is why I am crazy protective of my own children now. My abuser never saw the inside of a jail cell, however, 2 years ago he saw the inside of the barrel of a gun right before he pulled the trigger, ending his own life. At least the guilt for not disclosing is gone because he can never hurt another child. xoxo

    • November 30, 2013 at 7:38 am

      First off, I am so sorry. It pains me so greatly that perpetrators themselves end up feeling–from the outside–guilt so small by comparison to those they hurt.

      When I considered my son getting older and the kinds of predators out there, I got so anxious about the thought of protecting him from the abusers I know are out there. Despite my instincts having guided me well for many years, the stakes felt–and are–so much higher with little ones in the picture. It was such a joy to find Protecting the Gift and have such instincts affirmed as not only useful but important to abide.

      Peace and love to you and your children. ♥

  4. November 30, 2013 at 8:21 am

    You amaze me. Always. xo

  5. Andrew
    November 30, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Great post. It’s good to see someone not stirring up the pot and calling for a witchhunt (in fact, saying explcitly that they aren’t trying to!). We should be cautious, but not let that slip into paranoia. As a man, I find myself uncomfortable around kids in public. Not because I WOULD do anything bad to them, but because of the perception that I would because of the paranoia about stranger danger and people kidnapping kids. Not that it doesn’t happen of course, but as you pointed out, more often than not abusers are known to the family or are related. It’s about knowing the risks, being realistic (even if it isn’t comfortable), and taking proper steps to protect yourself and your family. It isn’t about being paranoid to the point that you (not ‘you in particular!) can’t function.

    • December 3, 2013 at 7:16 pm

      We should be cautious, but not let that slip into paranoia.
      Amen! If I could boil everything down into a sentence, it would be this. Caution will eliminate most sources of harm, whereas paranoia decreases quality of life by eliminating much of the good as well as the harmful.

      The examples de Becker uses are startling. One of my biggest takeaways from reading his books was seeing how much knowing the risks and acting in accord with that knowledge diminish the likelihood of falling prey to those risks. And yet, despite that, people adopt an ostrich approach to predators: “If I can’t see them, they can’t hurt me.” It’s almost as if no one believes that the horror stories could happen to them, when they can in fact happen to anyone. I believe that my family’s poverty and powerlessness created ideal circumstances for victimization, but I know that even people with money and power aren’t free and clear of predators, who exist in all social strata. (Take Michael Reagan, for example.)

      I really wish everyone, everywhere would read de Becker’s books. Before reading them, it’s easy to say “what will happen, will.” After reading them, it’s heartening to see just how much can be averted by really, truly listening.

      As always, I am grateful for your thoughtful commentary!

  6. November 30, 2013 at 9:23 am

    You make feel a little bit ashamed at spending so much time venting about crazy travellers. You use your connection with the world to show how brave, wonderful and gifted you truly are. Well done, young lady.
    I’m truly sorry you’ve had to endure such horror, but at least you have emerged stronger for the experience.

    • December 7, 2013 at 2:44 am

      There’s no shame in any of it! Your words bring folks mirth, and that is a wonderful medicine in this tiring modern world full of the . . . erm, colorful . . . people whose encounters you share. 🙂

      I appreciate your kind words. Always.

      • December 7, 2013 at 9:47 am

        You deserve them. As always.

  7. November 30, 2013 at 10:25 am

    This is powerful, Deb. Thank you for your consciousness raising. Your eloquence about this “dirty little secret” is admirable.

    • December 7, 2013 at 2:47 am

      Thank you. I can go long stretches without thinking much about it, and then I’ll read an article that gets it all rolling around my brainpan again. Taking that and turning it into a linear narrative is so soothing. Now if only I could give copies of Protecting the Gift and get them into every single house! Reading about experiences like this and the ones he describes–with the purpose of empowering parents, of course–is unsettling, but it’s also important for averting future ones.

  8. November 30, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Trust your instincts and trust (and believe) your children are the keys for me here. As is, don’t bury it. What he/she did is shameful – you are not.
    Thank you. Moved and grateful for this post.

    • December 7, 2013 at 3:03 am

      Re: trusting your instincts, I really did used to feel guilty if I had a niggling “something’s not right here” feeling about someone. Over the last couple of years, it’s been easier to recognize that feeling corresponds to people who, over time, show colors different than those of others around me. Reading The Gift of Fear gave me the great gift of not only going “yeah, I put stock in my instincts, but begrudgingly” but finally “thank goodness for that niggling sensation something’s not right.” I put great stock in that now, and am surprised to see how many warning signals are ignored as erroneous, not useful, or otherwise, not just in big situations but in the day to day. I now sometimes come off as brusque, because I immediately respond to boundary disrespecting and other warning signals instead of waiting for them to escalate and finding them much, much harder to address. “Brusque and safe” works just fine for me, of course.

      Trusting and believing kids . . . tears well up in my eyes when I think about how many are not believed. My mom was instantaneous and fiercely protective in her reaction, which I assumed was how every parent was. But, no. In the years since I started talking about this with people, I have found so heartbreakingly many abuse situations to which parents’ and others have responded with disbelief and even scorn. The thought of this additional brutality added to that of abuse breaks my heart. Even decades later, my conversation partners still cry at the bygone responses of their family and friends.

      I couldn’t help but think of this when reading Gavin de Becker’s thoughts on parental belief. Those whose loved ones disbelieved them suffered greatly, whereas those whose parents advocated on their behalf found themselves empowered. I would love to see a future where more people are empowered by this outspoken belief and support from their loved ones.

  9. November 30, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    I agree with Elephant’s child above. Believe your children. And teach them that especially when they are told that someone they love will be hurt, that they should tell tell tell.

    • December 7, 2013 at 3:19 am

      I hadn’t thought about it in exactly this way, which hit the nail on the head. I used your words (“especially when they are told that someone they love will be hurt, that they should tell tell tell”) to inspire another mini-conversation with my son. Thank you.

  10. Koa
    November 30, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Very powerful, and told so well. I’m thinking about the ways I try to teach these lessons to my son. It’s time that I focus on those lessons.

    • December 7, 2013 at 3:23 am

      I wish I’d anticipated posting this! (I wrote it before I drove, but tried not to give it too much thought till I made it back home to discuss with my sibs.) If I had anticipated, I’d’ve brought my copy of PtG with me to Eugene to hand off. It’s got great suggestions about how to handle certain topics with kids.

      It seems so daunting as an adult! We’ve read and seen so much about the complexities of various hard situations. But then, whenever I do mentioned something to my little guy, I’m surprised just how much he understands . . . and how quickly he moves along, without having been jarred nearly as much as I anticipated.

  11. Nicole
    November 30, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Thank you for sharing. As a fellow survivor I know the constant tug of war inside always questioning if now is the right time to dredge up the sludge we wish would stay buried. I have learned that everytime I am brave enough to cast off the chains of doubt I am healed again in some tiny way. Another small stitch is placed into the hole ripped in my soul. Thank you for reminding me that sharing isn’t something to be afraid of. Sharing is the thread that holds us all together. Love your soul! It matches mine!!!

    • December 24, 2013 at 6:49 am

      I have learned that everytime I am brave enough to cast off the chains of doubt I am healed again in some tiny way.

      So beautifully put! Whenever someone questions the importance of talking about these terrible things, I think, “I am glad you have to ask that question, because it means one less person who’s struggling.”

      Much, much love to you, as well as wishes for ever increasing healing and peace!

  12. December 1, 2013 at 12:36 am
  13. December 1, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    Very well written on a topic that is all too often pushed out of view and avoided. Abusers become so well-versed in the subtle manipulations required to do their harm that it helps to be able to know there are some signs or symptoms and that even a child can detect them and ask for a trusted adult’s help in stopping them. One of the first is the necessity of isolation and secrecy and our kids can know from an early age that those two concerns must not be allowed to occur in a way that could be used as a foundation for abuse.

    • December 24, 2013 at 7:11 am

      Exactly! Without prior experience, I think it can seem like there’s no way to tell. But once you’ve had the experience, or met that person whose mouth smiles while their eyes remain empty, it’s hard not to see the warning. What I’d love to be able to do better is communicate to folks how to see that, so they don’t have to learn from terrible experience.

      Like you’ve said, isolation and requests for secrecy are huge warning signs. It’s imperative kids know them. They don’t need to understand the specifics of why, but understanding that they are bad signs will serve them well. My son surprised me by responding to a cautionary note with a serious nod and explaining why he’d do [x] instead of [y]. Sometimes I wonder how much he’s really taking in . . . and then I remember: They absorb it all, whether or not they say it back just the way you hope they will.

  14. Tiffany
    December 1, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    Might I add….trust those around you if their instinct tells them something is amiss. 2 children who are dear to my heart could have been saved from a pedophile and my family wouldn’t have been pushed to the brink of dissolving if someone would have listened to me. From the first day I saw him with those kids, my gut told me something was very, very wrong. I cannot explain exactly how I knew but I knew in my bones and heart they were not safe around him. 2years and many warnings later, I was regretfully proven right in a horrible way. When the “overprotective aunt” insists and persists…. please please listen.

  15. December 2, 2013 at 6:47 am

    My friends think I’m crazy for checking sex offender registries and asking for background information on coaches. And though I’m diligent, crazy can still get to my kids if they want to badly enough. One of the terrifying facts of life.

    I’m glad you’re in a better place now. And I’m glad you shared your story.

  16. December 2, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    This is beautifully written. Thank you for speaking up and adding your voice.

  17. December 3, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Powerful, evocative and moving. I applaud you for sharing your story so that others may be more vigilent. I have skirted around this danger in talks with my kids, so as not to scare them at such a young age, but this makes me rethink that position. Thank you for being so brave.

  18. December 3, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    This is something that everyone says could never happen to them. Thank you for this post, and for such concrete ways to be vigilant. I’m totally sharing this.

  19. Momma Bear
    December 3, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    I am wondering why you do not mention his name and warn the world about such a monster? If you are aware that this monster is around children, I think it would be the responsible and honorable thing to let anyone near him know who he is. My heart goes out to you and I commend you for speaking out- you are a true hero and survivor and I hope more people read this post~

    • December 3, 2013 at 6:59 pm

      Thank you. It’s exhausting to write about, but it’s healing, too. I’m heartened by the thought of less stories like this needing be written.

      Your question is a good one. I debated answering it within the original post, but the more I write about, the more diffuse the message becomes.

      There are two key reasons I don’t name him. The first involves how guilt and innocence are treated within the U.S. justice system. If someone is convicted of a crime, they’re guilty in the eyes of the law. There’s no problem naming the convicted perpetrator because he’s guilty not only in fact but also in the eyes of the law. When someone is not convicted, the converse is that naming them can be called defamation or slander. The factual truth of that someone’s crimes is not legally recognized, which means victims risk a second excruciating round in court just by speaking the factual truth with a name correlated. Almost anyone who’s been through the disheartening, terrible experience of being (re)victimized by the justice system would tell you there’s little that would make them go through that again unless it was absolutely necessary.

      The question of necessity leads to the second key reason I don’t name him. If this were my lone childhood encounter with a sexual predator, I might feel differently, but the fact is that members of my family fell prey to no fewer than four such predators in my childhood. Four. One was a stranger with clear mental issues. Two were charming family friends. One was family who appeared charming to those outside the family.

      Naming each or all of them does much less in the long run than letting people know that there are ways to steer clear of perpetrators like them and helping them find–and use–those ways. The men (to use the term in only the loosest of senses) who victimized my family have small reach within one community, whereas men like them walk en masse through the world. Naming names might change small sections of one community. Giving or pointing to tools to identify predators wherever they walk, on the other hand, can change the world.

      I do believe the world can be changed.

  20. January 5, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    This must have been so hard to write. I appreciate you taking the time to candidly share such well written words of caution. Unfortunately you are so right. Sadly this is so common.

    • January 8, 2014 at 9:00 pm

      I’ve written a few related posts in the past, and each was difficult to write. This one was even more so, to the point where I was despondent for a couple of days after writing it. (I wrote it several days before discussing it with my sister and going for posting it.)

      And yet, as is so often the case, I felt lighter after that initial sinking sensation. It feels good to look these things in the face and know that past experiences can help avert future like experiences.

      I hope this reached someone in a way that is helpful for them. I’m seriously thinking of writing a post about Protecting the Gift itself, because there’s so much good in that, or would be if folks would open up to certain terrible possibilities and thus equip themselves to avoid them.

  1. December 30, 2013 at 3:26 am
  2. February 9, 2014 at 8:04 am
  3. February 13, 2014 at 5:50 am
  4. May 29, 2014 at 1:47 pm
  5. January 8, 2015 at 8:52 am
  6. February 2, 2015 at 5:20 am
  7. February 17, 2015 at 7:00 am
  8. August 27, 2016 at 12:16 am

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