Sex Offenders Aren't Always Easy to Spot

By Sam Shawver
Marietta Times
June 30, 2012

The typical child molester isn't lurking around the playground wearing dark glasses and an overcoat, luring youngsters away with a piece of candy.

"These perpetrators don't look like aliens-in fact they often seem OK. You could have a sex offender in your neighborhood and wouldn't even know it," said Karen Days, president of the Center for Family Safety and Healing in Columbus.

Sex abusers are often portrayed as older men, but she said that's not always the case.

"Thirty percent of the sex offenders are not over the age of 18. They're between 12 and 17 years old," Days said.

She added that many incidents of child sex abuse occur within the child's own family unit.

"Parents need to be hyper-vigilant to know if this is happening. Does a situation seem weird, is what this person is doing seem normal?" Days said.

Assistant Washington County Prosecutor Alison Cauthorn often does research for sexual abuse cases. She said abusers hunt for the child that fits their needs.

"They're predators, and they're selective about their prey. (Sexual abuse) is a lifetime pursuit for these people, and they become very skilled at it," she said. "They'll work to build a trusting relationship first. They want to form an emotional bond with the child."

Dr. Avery Zook, a psychologist and team coordinator with the Portage Path Behavioral Health sexual offender program in Barberton, has been counseling abusers for 23 years.

"There is no typical abuser profile," he said. "We really have very little idea about why these people offend."

Zook said some child sex offenders exhibit no tendencies toward that type of behavior earlier in their lives.

"They somehow develop a mental distortion that makes them feel they can justify the act-that it's OK," he said. "But exactly why some people do it and others don't we just don't know."

Most victims of sexual abuse don't go on to become sexual offenders, but about 40 percent of male sex offenders have been sexually abused themselves, Zook said.

He added that there are far fewer female sex offenders, but 90 percent of female offenders have been sexually abused in the past. Zook said it's not clear why there is such a difference.

But he noted that male and female sex offenders are often viewed differently by the public.

"For example, if a female teacher sexually abuses a male student we say she had an affair," Zook said. "I think that's a great disservice to the boy. And how do these kids go on to date age-appropriate people?"

Children are ideal victims for sex abusers because they're naturally curious, easily led by adults, and have an overpowering need for attention and affection, according to Kenneth V. Lanning, former supervisory special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In his 2010 report, "Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis," filed with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Lanning says abusers can turn those normal childhood characteristics to their advantage.

Lanning reports the need for attention and affection is often the predator's key to gaining a child's trust.

"Even when they are getting attention and affection at home, children still crave and need it from others in their lives," Lanning wrote. "It is important to realize all children, even those from 'normal' homes and 'good' families, are at risk from such seduction techniques."

But he noted children from dysfunctional homes are the most vulnerable to sex abuse.

"Many victims get to the point where they are willing to trade sex for the attention and affection they get from some child molesters," Lanning added. "It is sad but true in many ways some child molesters treat their victims better than the victim's own parents or guardians do."

Zook said 95 percent of sex offenders are no strangers to the victims.

"They may be a friend, neighbor, step-parent or even a parent of the victim," he said.

Sexual predators may look for children who display some sort of vulnerability, Zook said.

"Children who exhibit low self-esteem and who may not have a good family support system at home are often targeted," he said.

Some sex offenders can be rehabilitated, but it can be a long process, Zook said.

"We encourage them to put as much effort into recovery as they did into the sexual offense," he said. "It's a very selfish act, so we focus on overcoming that selfishness. But it can be very difficult for them. Some genuinely feel terrible about the behavior, but others simply see it as a legal offense and just say the right words so they can avoid jail."

Zook said the good news is that the rate of child sex abuse appears to be declining.

"Children are becoming much more empowered to tell about abuse because they're being given more support now than in the past," he said.

Attempts to interview child sex offenders were unsuccessful.

An official at the Noble County Corrections Center said inmates serving time for child sex offenses in any of Ohio's institutions would not be willing to talk for fear of their lives, because the crime is considered so heinous by other inmates.



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