Warning Signs in Offenders

It is not possible to predict who is or is not a sex offender. No notable differences exist in social status, employment status, financial status, marital status, sexual identity, or religious persuasion. The motivation and ability to sexually offend is internal and not readily apparent to an external observer. However, certain characteristics  and behaviors are common among sex offenders. These are warning signs of risk. Offenders groom their victims to increase access and maintain secrecy. Offenders often groom family members, including mothers, to increase trust and have easy access to victims.   

Engel (1994) outlined some indicators that could be considered warning signs. These include:
  • Overly interested in children
  • Spend time in children's activities such as sports, youth groups, children's clubs
  • Frequent physical contact with child such as wrestling, tickling, combing, having child sit on lap
  • Planned outings alone with child
  • Acts like child and allows child to behave inappropriately
  • Does not have children but know a lot about children's activities
  • Child likes him, but mother cannot determine why 
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Narcissistic - self-centered and selfish
  • Poor social skills
  • Low self-esteem
  • Needy 
  • Inability to have successful relationship with adult partner
  • Overly sexual, preoccupied with sex
  • Compulsive masturbation
  • Alcohol, drug, and other addictions
  • When with woman and child, shows more attention to child
  • History of sexual abuse as child
  • History of being physically, verbally, sexually abusive to adult or adolescent
  • Addiction to pornography and frequenting pornography establishments
  • Compulsive use of internet sex
  • Sexual dysfunction with adult partners
  • Dependent on others
  • Prior history of low boundaries around sexual behaviors such as multiple sexual partners, seeking out prostitutes, or sadomasochism
  • Need to be in control or in power position over partner

These warning signs are not definitive and are not to be used to decide whether someone is an abuser. However, if several are evident and other warning signs of abuse are present, the possibility of child sexual abuse is likely.

See Good and Poor Prognosis Factors in offenders.

See Red Flag Behaviors in Perpetrators.

See Alert List for Children. Children can be taught to look for these behaviors, who to tell, and how to tell about their concerns 


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