Can you spot a sex offender in a crowd? Most likely, no. But research studies have shown that there indeed are common traits in sexual offenders and pedophiles. Taken individually, most of us demonstrate some of these traits ourselves. But taken as a whole, these traits can may serve as warning signals that something is amiss.
Characteristics of a sexual offender
The following are characteristics of sex offenders that have been culled from several research studies (typically surveys conducted with convicted sex offenders). Where percentages are listed, they are statistics of the group that was studied. Careful attention should be paid to the meaning behind the percentages as you can glean information from the percentage of the group that was excluded from that characteristic. For instance, 20% of sex offenders have other psychiatric problems which implies that 80% do not have other psychiatric problems. The percentages will be more relevant if you compare them to percentages of the general populous.
- Pedophiles typically range in age from 12 to 80. Very young sex offenders (prepubescent) are rare but older sex offenders are fairly common. Median age is around 30 years old.
- Contrary to what most people thing, many sex offenders are married and have jobs. Most do have problems with interpersonal relationships though, particularly with other adults.
- 20% have psychiatric problems or intellectually deficient (below average intelligence). 90% of abusers have only a high school education or did not finish high school and 65% have repeated a grade level in school.
- 65% have problems with alcohol. Around 25% were under the influence of alcohol during the act of abuse.
- 40% have drug problems.
- 50% had a prior criminal record. In most cases, the prior record was not directly related to a sexual abuse charge.
- 35% know the victims their entire lives. Interfamilial abuse, abuse that occurs between family members makes up a smaller percentage but in many cases the abuser knew the victim from other social relationships (e.g. neighbors or church members).
- 20% are fathers or father figures. A large percentage of these are stepfathers or live-in father figures.
- 35% of interfamilial cases the father was known to beat the mother and had a prior history of family violence (although in many cases the violent history was not known until after the act of abuse).
- 25% of interfamilial cases, physical abuse of the child by the father preceded the sexual abuse.
- 85% had an existing relationship with the abuser. Of these, when the abuse began, the relationship changed in some way.
- 50-70% of abusers have other sexual problems such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, or sadism.
- Typically abusers are attracted to a particular age range or sex of a child and do not often veer outside of those established parameters.
Common traits of a sexual offender
Sex offenders also demonstrate common psychological traits. Like the statistics presented above, these traits are found in non-abusers too but sexual offenders demonstrate a disproportionate degree of the traits.
- Most sex offenders know that what they are doing is wrong and that it is harmful. But just like we make excuses for breaking the speed limit or cheating on a diet, sex offenders use cognitive distortions that may convince themselves that what they are doing is not harmful, that the victim brought it on or enjoys it.
- Many have ineffective communications skills or problems with intimate relationships.
- To some degree, sexual offenders may lack empathy, or the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
- Although not unique to sexual offenders, they often act on impulse and tend to not think about the consequences of their actions beforehand.
- Sexual offenders often show a high prevalence of sexual or physical abuse history themselves.
- Mothers of abused children are more likely to be single with a below average education.
- Although they may present themselves differently in public, offenders typically have feelings of inferiority, low self esteem, and emotionally immaturity.
- They typically have reduced assertiveness, elevated levels of passive-aggressivity, and increased anger or hostility (that they keep inside).
- There is a slight prominence of left-handed offenders.
In general, there are several behavioral characters that should set off warning bells in a parent’s mind. Many sexual offenders:
- are adults who work or volunteer with children’s activities
- are adults who spend time volunteering with youth groups but do not have children in those groups
- adults who seem to engage in frequent physical contact with kids
- adults who act like children when with children
- adults who allow children to do questionable or inappropriate things
- adults who want to take your children to activities that would include being alone with your child
- adults who do not have children but know all the latest fads and music popular with kids
- adults that your children seem to like for reasons that you cannot understand
- adults who seem to always show up at family functions or who are always available to “watch your kids”.