Trigger warning: The contents of this blog may bring back memories and cause emotional upset.


Sex offenders cannot be profiled. There is no specific race, gender, sexual orientation, or education level that defines us. We are most often a family member, teacher, coach, minister, someone the child knows. In my association with hundreds of offenders, the favorite places offenders hide are in the family and in religion. We tend to give ourselves away by what I call “red flags.”

how to spot a sex offender

Illustration by Tara Harris

While not 100% guaranteed, red flags signal something is wrong. For instance, when an adult devotes most of his time to children and has few or no adult friends or adult interests, this is a red flag. They may refer to a child or children as their “friends.” You may find them watching children’s shows on Saturdays, “so he can keep up with what his friends are watching.”  

The husband who neglects his family to be with children, believing they need him, that he has a “special gift,” is a red flag. When demands are made for him to spend time at home, he may do so only to answer calls and find “emergencies” to rush out, assuring you that this is his mission in life, his calling. Or he may spend too much time in inappropriate ways with the children in his family, maybe showing them pornography, saying this is what fathers do.

When you feel sick, appalled, upset, and he responds with claims of innocence, “normalcy,” and accusations of you being jealous or uptight, (read my blog on gaslighting), stand your ground. Trust your gut! You have every right to set boundaries and to be heard. Any number of issues can arise, such as viewing adult media, and nudity in the home. This has been used by offenders to groom children. Cover yourself. Some will take offense at that statement. And sleeping nude with children is not ok. Again, some will be outraged at such “nonsense.”

The cute puppy is still a lure. Wearing a Donald Duck T-shirt, a belt-buckle that lights up, toys in the yard, and a pool party when mom is gone, are lures; red flags. A man I knew had his trailer filled with computers, the newest video games, chips, and pizza. When his trailer became a second home for with little boys, the mothers were happy the boys had found a father figure. When they discovered he was showing them porn, giving them cigarettes, beer, and molesting them, they sent him to prison. The presence of another adult with those boys would have prevented the molesting.

Another man groomed his eleven-year-old, budding neighbor with gifts and attention, then he lured her into his basement to try on a special shirt. His wife caught him, sent her next door, and sent him to treatment. Grown men do not have little girls as ‘friends’ nor do they go out of their way to buy them things, take them into basements and ask them to take off their tops. The neighbor may have excluded him had they known what to look for.

Offenders may comment on how sexy nearby children are, how mature, and tell a child they look hot. We may offer a child beer, puff of a cigarette, or a hit of weed. Then begins the friendly poking, and grabbing and “accidental” touching. Maybe teaching her sex is necessary, or some private show and tell. Always the good guy, the inappropriate behavior often disguised as play, and always taking the side of the child, is a Big Red Flag. Keep your child away.

Taken by themselves, Red Flags and inappropriate behaviors do not make an offender. No one should ever be labeled as such until proven. Offender or not, no parent has to allow or tolerate inappropriate behavior and has every right to set boundaries. Those upset by it or refuse to comply are free to stay away. Keeping your child safe is the priority, not making other people happy.

Does your child need to be alone with anyone? Piano lessons, tutor, talking with a teacher, doctor, can all be done with the door wide open, or a parent in the room. Overnight camping? Sleepovers? With other adults present, of course; never one person. There are times when this cannot be done and there are situations where a child will be alone with an adult. Not everyone is an offender. By being aware, taking precautions, knowing the signs, and communicating with your child, your child has a good chance of being safe.

Do you know your score?

Discover your ACE score and unlock a new understanding of your life. Take the test and gain insights into how your early experiences shape your well-being. Don't let your past define you – empower yourself with knowledge.



Offender in recovery. Advocate for preventing ACEs

I show ways to recognize the behaviors of sex offenders and breakthrough their feigned innocence, denial, blaming, and excuses.

Authors express their own opinions which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Stop Abuse Campaign.