In Search of a Stereotype

It would make our task easier if we could identify predators on sight by applying a simple demographic test. Alas, it’s not that simple. We can say with confidence that the vast majority of sexual perpetrators are male, accounting for 85-90% of all cases.9 Beyond that however, there is no consistent stereotypical predator.

Recent research suggests that adult sexual predators range in age from 18 to 72, with a preponderance between 30 and 42 years of age. Yet sexual perpetration is not limited to adulthood. Many youth also commit acts of sexual perpetration, and as many as 30%–60% of child molestation cases in the United States are committed by children under the age of 18.10


Researchers have attempted to understand what goes on in the mind of a sexual predator. Some patterns emerge, but again no completely reliable stereotype.

Research also indicates that adult sexual perpetrators (e.g., pedophiles) who target children under age 12 experience a high occurrence of psychiatric, substance abuse, and personality disorders. Nearly 75% experience anxiety or depression, whereas more than half experience lifetime substance abuse problems. Furthermore, 60% of pedophiles experience a personality disorder: obsessive compulsive (25%), antisocial (22.5%), narcissistic (20%), or avoidant (20%). Although sexual perpetrators may experience coexisting psychiatric disorders, there are also sexual perpetrators without such psychiatric difficulties. In the majority of cases, sexual perpetrators were themselves the victims of sexual abuse while in their youth.11

9 G.E. Davis and H. Leitenberg, “Adolescent Sex Offenders,” Psychological Bulletin 101 (1987); Peter Fagan, Thomas Wise, Chester Schmidt Jr., and Fred Berlin, “Pedophilia,” JAMA 288 (2002); F. Felicia Ferrara, Childhood sexual abuse: Developmental effects across the lifespan, Brooks/Cole Thomson Learning (2002).
10 Stefan C. Dombrowski, John W. LeMasney, and C. Emmanuel Ahia, “Protecting Children From Online Sexual Predators: Technological, Psychoeducational, and Legal Considerations,” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 35, no. 1 (2004).
11 Ibid.
Photo by Neuner Stein.

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