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Profile of a Pedophile

Photo by doglington via Flickr

Parents often try and figure out what a pedophile looks like, what they think like, what they sound like, and more. But the truth of the matter is that they don’t look any different from anyone else.

I recently talked with George Feder, a regular contributor to this blog, about his experiences with child molesters in prison. He gave me this bit of information:

I’ve met, spoken with, and gone to church with child molesters, and I didn’t know it. That happened over 20 years ago while I was in prison doing my time for burglary. These guys used to seek the secure feeling of carrying bibles, working in the prison church and staying close to the Pastor. They’re scared because they realize that almost the entire prison population would gladly cut their collective throats if they could get away with it.

George is right—child molesters, pedophiles, child predators, and other sex offenders, are highly vilified (not just by the prison community), but one could be standing right next you and you wouldn’t know it.

Definition of a pedophile

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s actually define what we mean by “pedophile.” Technically, a pedophile is an adult or older teen who is sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children, generally under the age of 12 or 13. True pedophiles are generally not sexually attracted to people their own age. This is different from someone who may have abused a child, but otherwise has age-appropriate sexual desires. In fact, not all child molesters are pedophiles. And, by extension, not all sex offenders are pedophiles.

As such, pedophiles—specifically—exhibit some characteristic behaviors that are not necessarily common to other child molesters, child abusers, or other sex offenders.

Characteristics of a pedophile

  • Generally male—but not always, there are female pedophiles
  • Usually single and with few close friends in his or her age group, preferring the company of children over the company of adults
  • He or she will often refer to children in pure or angelic terms describing them as innocent, heavenly, divine, and pure
    They have hobbies that are child-like, such as collecting popular toys, keeping reptiles, exotic pets, or building plane and car models—these hobbies may be used to groom a child into trusting the pedophile, looking up to the pedophile, and thinking he or she is “safe” when around the pedophile

The target child

Pedophiles often seek out shy, withdrawn, or handicapped children, or those children who come from troubled, abusive, or neglected homes. These children are specifically vulnerable to a pedophile’s advances because they may easily welcome the attention that a pedophile showers on them and, as such, may be hesitant to disclose abuse to other adults. A pedophile may groom these children by showering them with attention, gifts, and trips to desirable places like amusement parks, zoos, concerts, or the beach.

In some cases, children are so neglected or abused by others that they may even develop a relationship where they may seek out abuse in return for attention and may become emotionally attached to their abuser. And a pedophile can encourage this behavior through manipulation by guilt, fear, and love that will confuse the child to the point where they don’t know what to do other than what the abuser tells them.

But a pedophile’s manipulation goes far beyond the child he or she may be abusing. Many pedophiles lull a child’s parents or guardians into a false sense of security by appearing to be extremely nice or especially “sweet” with children.

Some red flags

  • “John was so sweet with those children at the party last night, he was in the basement playing with the kids all night.”
  • “Did you know John has a large collection of toy robots? It’s so cute that he tinkers with them all the time, and the kids just love to go over and play with them.”
  • “John in the nicest man I’ve met in the long time. The other night he brought over a big cake for us—out of the blue—then offered to babysit the kids, so I could have a few hours to myself.”

These extremely nice gestures not only serve to mask abuse, but when abuse is uncovered, other adults or friends may feel bad about bringing the attention to police because “he’s such a nice man. And he promised never to do it again.”

Unfortunately, there is no cure for pedophilia. There are treatment programs that attempt to help pedophiles overcome their sexual preference for children and help them not act on those desires, but true pedophilia is not 100% curable.

Pedophiles are able to act out their fantasies on children because they have access and time. You can prevent your children from becoming victims by monitoring other adults’ behavior around your children and looking out for red flags.

(Special thanks to George Feder for providing information and the impetus for writing this article)

James Gunter is the editor of The Crime Map and the director of social media for

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11 thoughts on “Profile of a Pedophile

  1. Great post.

    This leads directly to a very commonly mis-applied statistic: that sex offenders can rarely be rehabilitated, and almost always re-offend. That statement is true of pedophiles (a very small population of offenders), not of the general sex-offender population.

    • Right. There is a difference between a clinical pedophile and other child molesters. I hope that this information can reach more parents who will understand the difference and adjust their attitudes accordingly.

      • ANYONE who would molest a child is a disgusting, animalistic, creature….there is no difference in type it is all the same, and I will NEVER adjust my attitude toward this. How can we make lite of something like this? Do you not have children yourselves???

        • I don’t think anyone is making light of sex offenders here. Clearly, anyone who would molest a child has severe mental, emotional, and social problems that need to be addressed. I suppose what I was trying to get across is that there are different types of sex offenders and some may be more easy to spot than others.

          Often the media and the general public lump all sex offenders into the “pedophile” category. But pedophilia is actually a very specific clinical diagnosis, and as such there are some signs and flags to look out for in those that have pedophilia. Knowing the difference between a pedophile and other sex offenders actually help you be more informed and more aware. As well, pedophilia is incurable, according to most studies, and other sex offenders are able to rehabilitate better and more quickly.

          Personally, I think there is value in knowing about the different types of sex offenders and there level of danger to me and my family. Knowing the difference, for me, helps me be vigilant when I need to be and not breed unnecessary fear in my children, friends, and neighbors when it is not called for.

  2. Pingback: Refocusing Our Attention on Sex Offenders | The Neighborhood Crime Map

  3. I am about a year late to the conversation but I pose this question to you.
    How would a parent be able to tell the difference between a “pedophile” and a “child molester” while one is more of a rare sickness they both commit the same crime, they rape children. I know because I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and it also happened to my daughter by her own father. I think anyone who touches a child in a sexual manner should receive a branding on their forehead.

  4. What if you feel you know someone with a lot of these red flags but there’s never been any inclanation from anyone that he is. Could he be and should I stay clear. Or are there considerabley nice men that we feel the need to accuse? I’m so confused of what to think. My heart wants to say no way he’d been caught by now or someone would know something but my head says red flags. What do I do

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