• Profiles of Sexual Predators and Reducing the Risk of Sexual Misconduct at Your Church, School or Other Youth Organization
  • May 5, 2010
  • Law Firm: Butler Pappas Weihmuller Katz Craig LLP - Tampa Office

    Will I know him when I see him? We now know the answer is a resounding "no." Until recently, when we heard the words sexual predator, an image of a dirty old man, dressed in a trench coat, lurking around an elementary school, appeared in our minds. Today, with ever increasing frequency, we have learned our mistake.

    Sexual predators occupy various positions in our local communities. They have been identified as youth ministers, day care workers, boy scout leaders, babysitters, camp counselors, photographers, social workers, Big Brothers, school bus drivers and foster parents. These individuals have been welcomed in our homes and trusted with our children. They are both men and women.

    In the media, sexual predators are commonly referred to as child molesters and pedophiles. However, not all child molesters are pedophiles and not all pedophiles are child molesters. A pedophile is an individual who prefers to have sex with children. If this person does not act out his sexual preference, he is not characterized as a child molester.

    Unlike a pedophile, a child molester generally prefers to have sex with an adult, but for some reason, decides to have sex with a child. A child molester is an individual who sexually molests a child, for reasons such as availability, curiosity, or a way to hurt the loved one of a molested child.

    There has been a dramatic increase in the filing of lawsuits against churches, schools and youth groups by victims of sexual molestation in response to abuse perpetrated by sexual predators. Therefore, it has become increasingly important for individuals involved in church, charitable and educational endeavors, as well as attorneys and claims handlers, and, of course, parents, to become familiar with the profile of a sexual predator.

    This paper will generally identify and recognize common profiles of sexual predators, and, more specifically, will discuss their patterns of behavior and well-developed techniques of gaining access to child victims. The first portion of the paper will include information from a behavioral analysis report, prepared by Kenneth V. Lanning, formerly with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Behavioral Sciences Unit. The paper will later address two important cases decided by the Florida Supreme Court regarding clergy sexual misconduct and the separation of church and state.


    In his report, Kenneth Lanning describes four major characteristics of pedophiles. They consist of 1) a long term and persistent pattern of behavior, 2) having children as preferred sexual objects, 3) a well-developed techniques in obtaining victims, and 4) sexual fantasies focusing on children. Lanning, Kenneth, "Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis," 3rd Edition (1992). Lanning points out that, although each indicator listed below, and contained under each of the four major characteristics, means very little alone, "their significance and weight comes as they are accumulated and come to form a pattern of behavior."

    A.    Long-term and Persistent Pattern of Behavior

            1.    Sexual Abuse in Background

    Although most victims of child sexual abuse do not become offenders, research indicates that many offenders are former victims. Therefore, it is important to investigate a person’s background, including interviewing family members, friends and acquaintances to determine if the individual has ever been the victim of sexual abuse and to find out what the nature of the abuse was (i.e. the age it occurred, relationship with the offender, acts performed, etc.) Unfortunately, such in depth background investigation is generally impossible when screening potential candidates for employment situations.

            2.     Limited Social Contact as Teenagers

    A deviant’s sexual preference for children usually begins in early adolescence. For that reason, during his teenage years, a pedophile may have exhibited little sexual interest in people his own age. Of course, as with several of the indicators provided, that fact alone means little.

            3.     Prior Arrests

    In many cases, predators have been previously arrested for child molestation or sexual abuse. Such an arrest record is a major indicator if the arrest goes back many years or is repeated. Interestingly, however, Lanning also states that pedophiles may have arrest records that do not appear to involve sexual abuse. These arrests might include impersonating a police officer, writing bad checks, violating child labor laws, or other violations that may reveal the pedophile’s interest in children and, therefore, the potential need for further investigation. A thorough criminal background check is necessary to elicit any prior arrests and/or convictions.

            4.    Frequent and Unexpected Moves

    Often when a pedophile is identified, they are "asked" to leave town by someone in authority, the parent of one of the victims or by an employer. This was, and still is, a common way to deal with the problem. Accordingly, pedophiles often 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, however, it will most likely not reflect the true circumstances. Most of the time, investigators will find no official record of what happened. Therefore, if possible, an investigator should try to contact neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances located in the person’s prior city of residence. The individual’s moving pattern can sometimes be determined from examination of driver’s license records or internet search results.

            5.    Premature Separation From the Military

    At times, one may find that a pedophile was dishonorably discharged from the military for molesting children. However, it is far more common for this type of individual to be prematurely separated from the military with no specific reasons given or available. Like most organizations, the military was frequently interested in only getting rid of pedophiles and not necessarily prosecuting them.

            6.    Multiple Victims

    Most of the time, pedophiles have victimized more than one child. Therefore, if only one victim is known and there is reason to believe that the sexual predator is a pedophile, it is more than likely that other victims may be present and could come forward on their own, or if questioned by law enforcement or investigators.

            7.    Planned, Repeated or High-Risk Attempts

    According to Lanning, "Bold and repeated attempts to obtain children that have been carried out in a cunning and skillful manner" is a strong indicator that an individual is a pedophile. Oftentimes, the danger element of being apprehended excites the pedophile and, as he becomes more successful at gaining access to children in different ways, he begins to gain more confidence at his skill and, therefore, undertakes higher risk attempts.

        B.    Children as Preferred Sexual Objects

               1.    "Over 25, Single, Never Married, Does Not Date"

    Although these indicators, by themselves, means nothing, they bear significance when combined with other characteristics of a pedophile. Often, pedophiles do not marry and have trouble performing sexually with adults due to their sexual preference for children. They may also have very little dating experience. However, a pedophile is still capable of engaging in sexual relations with an adult. For example, a pedophile may marry in order to gain continuous access to stepchildren and/or friends and acquaintances of the children in the home.

               2.    Lives Alone or With Parents

    Of course, the fact that a man or woman lives alone does not mean that he or she is a pedophile. However, an individual that lives alone and who possesses many of the other characteristics provided in this paper should raise suspicions.

               3.    If Married, A "Special" Relationship Exists With Their Spouse

    According to Lanning, male pedophiles that do marry often marry either "a strong, domineering woman or a weak, passive woman-child." Either way, male pedophiles most often marry women who do not have high sexual expectations or needs.

               4.    Excessive Interest in Children

    Although it is difficult to determine if a substantial amount of interest shown to a child or children is excessive, Lanning states that the old adage "If it sounds too good to be true, maybe it is" may apply. Of course, this may be difficult to determine if the pedophile is employed in a position in which he primarily deals with children, such as a youth counselor or child care worker. Evidence that the individual spends a great deal of time outside of work with children may be more indicative of a problem.

               5.    Young Friends and Associates

    Many pedophiles frequently socialize with children and become involved in activities that young people are interested in. They often spend a substantial amount of time at schools, arcades, malls and other places that children frequent. Depending on the age and gender preference of the pedophile, they most often have friends that are very young or may be teenagers.

               6.    Limited Peer Relationships

    Most pedophiles have very few close adult friends because they are unable to share the most important part of their life (their sexual interest in children) with most adults. Frequently, however, if a pedophile has a close adult friend, there is the possibility that the friend may also be a pedophile, since, as Lanning states, "Only other pedophiles will validate their sexual behavior." Again, speaking with neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances may elicit important information about the pedophile’s social relationships.

               7.    Age and Gender Preferences

    According to Lanning’s findings, most pedophiles prefer children of a certain sex in a certain age range. He explains that pedophiles attracted to toddlers are more likely to molest boys and girls, indiscriminately, while pedophiles attracted to teenagers are more likely to molest either boys or girls, exclusively. However, most of the time, how old a child looks and acts is more important than the child’s actual age. Therefore, a pedophile who prefers children 8-10 years of age, may target a 13 year-old child who looks and acts like a 10 year-old child. Nevertheless, most pedophiles do not molest, or attempt to molest, children who have gone through puberty.

               8.    Refers to Children as "Clean," "Pure" or "Innocent"

    Since pedophiles often have an idealistic view of children, it is common for a pedophile to refer to children by the adjectives provided above. On the other hand, some pedophiles refer to children as if they were "objects, projects, or possessions." According to Lanning, comments by pedophiles may include, "This kid has low mileage" and "I’ve been working on this project for six months."

        C.    Well-Developed Techniques in Obtaining Victims

                1.    Skilled at Identifying Vulnerable Victims

    Although some pedophiles can observe a group of children for a short period of time and choose a target, many develop their skills in selecting victims through practice and experience. Most of the time, victims are from a broken home or have been emotionally or physically neglected. Children that exhibit signs of loneliness and seek attention are frequent victims. Often, children of low-income families, in which there may only be one parent present in the home, are targeted by pedophiles, especially if there is not a male figure present in the child’s life.

    The internet is another vehicle where a predator can describe himself as a twelve year-old to a twelve year-old on the computer. The predator may then lure children, via the internet, to meet him.


                2.     Identifies with Children

    Most pedophiles identify with children better than with adults. Typically, they know how to listen to children better than most other adults. As Lanning states, many pedophiles are described as "pied pipers" who attract children.

                3.    Access to Children

    In order to gain access to children, most pedophiles place themselves in situations in which they can be around young people. Pedophiles may not only marry to gain access to children, as mentioned above, but may befriend a woman for the sole reason of getting closer to her children. In addition, a pedophile may become employed at a job where he will be in the presence of many children (teacher, camp counselor, photographer, babysitter). He may even become involved in a position where he can eventually specialize in dealing with children (minister, doctor, dentist, police officer, social worker). As Lanning mentions, "the pedophile may also become a scout leader, Little League coach, and so on." Of course, sexual abuse by many pedophiles in these positions have led to the increase in lawsuits against such institutions as churches, schools and charitable organizations.

                4.    Activities with Children, Often Excluding Other Adults

    Another common characteristic of a pedophile is that he is always attempting to place children in situations where there are no adults present. For example, Lanning mentions that on a scout hike, a pedophile might suggest that the fathers go into town for a beer, while he will "sacrifice" and stay behind with the boys. Another example may be a pedophile "volunteering" to stay home and babysit or take the children to a Disney movie.

                5.    Seduces Children with Attention, Affection and Gifts

    Lanning states that this is the most common technique utilized by pedophiles. They develop a closeness and trust through paying attention, listening and talking to children, when others will not. Buying gifts, such as toys, video games and candy is also part of the "seduction" of the child. This process is often referred to as "grooming." As indicated above, children from single parent, low-income families are often "easy" targets for pedophiles. Many of them have never had significant material possessions and are easily swayed by such things as gifts and trips to fun places that they have never been. Like most children, they crave attention and enjoy fun activities.

                6.    Skilled at Manipulating Children

    Most pedophiles are very skilled at manipulating people, specifically children. As Lanning states, pedophiles use "seduction techniques, competition, peer pressure, child and group psychology, motivation techniques, threats and blackmail." Once a pedophile succeeds in lowering the inhibitions of a child, he can more easily take advantage of the child. Frequently, a pedophile will ask children to sleep over at his house so that the children will have to change their clothing at night and, therefore, will be more easily seduced. Oftentimes, sexual molestation at these "sleep overs" may take place with other children, or even the pedophile’s wife, close by. With others present, it not only provides the pedophile with a defense (i.e., how could anything have happened when there were so many others present?), but also adds a danger element to the seduction and abuse.

                7.    Engages in Hobbies and Interests Appealing to Children


    As Lanning states, this indicator must be "considered for evaluation only in connection with other indicators." A pedophile may collect toys, have a strong interest in video games or perform as a clown to attract children. The pedophile may also pretend to be interested in activities, toys or games in which the target child shows interest.

                8.    Shows Sexually Explicit Material to Children

    It is common for pedophiles to show children sexually explicit material in order to lower their inhibitions. As part of this seduction process, a pedophile may send a child a sexually explicit picture via a computer, allow him/her to view pornographic magazines, or encourage the child to call a dial-a-porn service.


        D.     Sexual Fantasies Focusing on Children

                1.     Youth-Oriented Decorations in House or Room

    According to Lanning, "the homes of some pedophiles have been described as shrines to children or as miniature amusement parks." Oftentimes, a pedophile’s house will contain games, toys, posters and other objects to which children are attracted. Children will more likely want to spend a substantial amount of time at a house that has such attractions. They, as well as some adults, may think that the adult pedophile is just a big kid.

                2.     Photographing of Children

    Although one might think that a pedophile is only interested in photographs of children undressed, Lanning indicates that it is common for pedophiles to enjoy viewing photographs of children fully dressed. He provides an example of a pedophile that bragged that he went to a rock concert with thirty or forty rolls of film in order to photograph young boys. After he developed the film, he fantasized about having sex with them. It is not uncommon for pedophiles to frequent playgrounds, child beauty pageants or athletic contests involving young children in order to take pictures of the children. With the invention of digital cameras, it is now possible for a pedophile to store and view his pictures on his computer.

                3.    Collecting Child Pornography

    According to Lanning, it is very common for pedophiles to have extensive collections of books, photographs, movies, magazines, toys, games and other things that relate to children in a "sexual, scientific or social way." While most child pornography is used by pedophiles in absence of a child being present, oftentimes, a pedophile will show a child the pornography, again, in order to lower the child’s inhibitions. Lanning explains that a child who is reluctant to engage in sexual activity with an adult or to pose for sexually explicit photos can sometimes be convinced by viewing other children having "fun" participating in the activity. Pedophiles frequently organize and collect much of their pornography on their computers. According to Lanning, many pedophiles are "compulsive record keepers" and store and retrieve names and addresses of victims and other pedophiles. They also use computers to communicate with other pedophiles, in order to exchange child pornography, and to locate others, including children, with similar interests.




    Sexual misconduct is not restricted to paid employees. A volunteer can be a child predator. Therefore, both future and current employees and volunteers should be required to complete an application. This application should include, at a minimum, the following information: the applicant’s full name; applicant’s full address; area of youth work the applicant desires; training/education in youth-related field; description of youth work at churches or other organizations for prior five years; description of church membership for past five years; description of church/youth volunteer work for last five years; prior felony convictions; prior criminal convictions for sexual abuse and molestation; and names and addresses of two or three references.

    If the applicant is unknown by the church, school or organization, the entity should confirm the person’s identity by obtaining photographic identification. Each organization in which the applicant listed prior experience should be contacted and the conversation memorialized. Further, each reference listed should be contacted and the conversation documented. When obtaining the application and collecting information, materials and communications received should be considered strictly confidential. Child abuse reporting requirements should be provided to every staff member, whether the employee is compensated or not compensated. Finally, a mandatory child sexual abuse prevention program for employees and volunteers should be offered.

    Unfortunately, churches, schools, and youth organizations are targets for child molesters, since they provide individuals with direct access to children. Therefore, the business or entity should consider implementing a policy that restricts eligibility for positions involving supervision of minors to employees, volunteers, or church members in good standing for a minimum period of time. If possible, select married couples as youth leaders, since it reduces the risk of sexual misconduct and can provide children with positive role models.

    The organization should, obviously, follow common sense guidelines. Adult males working with youth should never be alone with a female member of the group. It is also strongly advised to always have two adults present with any child or group of children.

    The organization should also be alert for warning signs of child molestation. Physical signs include: irritation, pain, injury to genital area; difficulty in urination; discomfort when in sitting position; torn or bloody undergarment; cuts or bruises; and/or nightmares. Behavioral signs include: acting out; withdrawal from church activities and friends; sexual self-consciousness; anxiety when approaching church playground or nursery area; nervous or hostile behavior toward an adult employee/volunteer; marked personality change; and/or a child who appears aloof or withdrawn. Verbal signs include: dislike of a particular youth worker; not wanting to be alone with a certain youth worker; a youth worker who plays roughly with a child; and/or a youth worker who likes to play alone with a child.

    When an allegation of sexual misconduct is claimed, it should be immediately investigated. One person of the organization or congregation should be designated a spokesperson for the media. A statement should be prepared on behalf of the organization or church regarding the alleged sexual abuse. The church’s or organization’s policies and established safeguards should then be explained. The statement should advise that the allegation is taken seriously and the church or organization is responding in a timely and appropriate manner. The organization should never state "no comment." Finally, rather than blaming the alleged victim or minimizing or denying the allegation, the organization must react with concern and compassion by making counseling and services available.

    By taking the proper safeguards to reduce the risk of sexual misconduct occurring at your church, organization, or school, both the reputation of the entity and the innocence of a child may be protected.


    It can be expected that claims for negligent hiring and supervision against the employers of individuals guilty of sexual misconduct will continue. Therefore, it is important to understand the characteristics of pedophiles so that churches, schools and charitable organizations can be more aware of potential problems that may arise with regard to employees they hire who deal mostly with children. Additionally, attorneys and claims handlers should likewise familiarize themselves with the behaviors of the alleged perpetrator who is at the center of a sexual misconduct lawsuit.