How to Spot a Sexual Predator – And What to Do When You Find One

“Men only want one thing,” my developmentally disabled cousin told me when we were teenagers. It was like her mantra – something she said over and over: “Men only want one thing.”

I suppose her father drilled that into her skull as a way to protect her. She was (and still is), unfortunately, a high-risk target for sexual predators. So it wasn’t a bad impulse. Just very poorly executed.

Not only does it place men alone in the role as predator and ignore their capacity for romantic love, but it overlooks the real danger. It’s something I’ve stayed tight-lipped about – even through the #MeToo campaign – but Lupita Nyong’o’s op-ed about Weinstein fired me up.

Nyong’o – in addition to pointing out her own complicity by virtue of her silence on the matter – describes multiple scenarios in which she must have told Weinstein “no” dozens of times.

Here’s something about sexual predators that I didn’t understand until one of them became fixated on me:

They. Do. Not. Take. No. For. An. Answer.

You can say “no” all day and all night. It’s not that they don’t hear you or that they don’t get it. They just don’t think “no” applies to them. It is maddening.

With a sexual predator, the danger isn’t that they might get their hands on you. Odds are, they will get you, even if you know they’re coming. In my most recent experience, my assailant managed to get behind me twice even though I was hyper-vigilant.

Similarly, the few other sexual attacks I’ve been through have come from behind. This is because I made it very clear to each of these people that I didn’t want them to touch me. Any approach from the front was unsuccessful. Therefore, they had no choice but a rear attack (don’t giggle – this is serious).

In addition to ignoring refusals, predators also will not take responsibility for any failures in their attempts to coerce and/or attack their victims. I was targeted, for example, because I barred my assailant’s path to a previous victim. In protecting this other person, I made myself an obstacle and, in this case, another victim.

Fortunately, I already knew all of my predator’s tricks. Because they’re all the same. For example:

When confronted with their behavior, the predator will immediately place blame on their victim, assuming an expression of mock surprise. In Nyong’o’s case, she describes Weinstein playing off her refusals as her being “stubborn” or coy. This is a very common tactic: immediate and uncompromising deflection.

Every move a predator makes is calculated. They will say and do anything to get what they want. Their bag of tricks, however, is limited by virtue of the limited nature of their weaponry. Again, sex as a weapon is all they know. At their core, they are just bullies with a superficial understanding of human nature.

This can be good news for a potential victim. You can surprise the predator, thereby forcing them to fall back on one of their tired old tricks. The more you do this, the more transparent they become to you, to the people around them, and to themselves.

This is the best way to discourage your predator so they will avoid interactions you. If you do not respond the way they expect you to, you become a mystery to them. Their normal strategies are ineffective. Now they don’t know what to do. They don’t know what to expect, and this makes them feel foolish and impotent; it’s the opposite of how they want to feel, and how violating others makes them feel: powerful.

Try to remain calm and self-possessed in the face of their most disgusting behavior. For instance, once your predator has put their hands on you, refuse any further interaction. Shut down all attempts at conversation and/or reconciliation; instead, when they approach you, only speak to tell them to go away and leave you alone. Block and refuse any attempts at physical interaction. This denies them any opportunity to “possess” you.

Please note: this is only useful when you cannot escape your predator. It is always best to remove yourself from the situation, to go to another room, and to avoid that person altogether.

In my recent experience, I had to remain in close proximity with my assailant. I had no support from my superiors. I wasn’t physically alone, but I might as well have been.

What saved me from more traumatic violation was my refusal to back down. This may seem simple, but it’s not.

I repeat: it’s not easy to refuse a sexual predator because THEY DO NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER.

They don’t hear “no” and, like a normal person, say, “Oh, okay. I apologize, and I’ll stop.” Instead, they become irritated, frustrated, and, eventually, enraged. They repeat their actions, each time expecting a different outcome.

Once they’ve set their sights on you, you will be their focus until they find another. So heed this warning: if you tell someone “no,” and they give no indication that they heard you, then get away from this person. Do not give them any third or fourth chances. Do not forgive. Do not forget.

Know what to look for:

  1. Inappropriate and unwanted touching. Duh. But seriously, I first noticed my predator’s behavior when they touched a teenager – and this kid did not look happy about it. That’s when I started to ask questions and learned that this predator had propositioned multiple people (all under the age of 21; this person’s pushing 50 and likely saw these younger folks as easy targets, too naïeve to realize what was going on and too unworldly to stand up for themselves).
  2. Grooming. Another dead giveaway. It’s basically priming the pump – if you accept their gift, then you’ll accept the other strings attached to “friendship” with the predator. If a gift is not accepted, the predator remains insistent and grows angry.
  3. Literal grooming. “Let me brush your hair.” “I’ll braid it for you.” Anything to touch you and make them feel like you belong to them. As with everything else, they will insist and try to find excuses to get their hands on you.
  4. Possessiveness. Yes, you belong to them. That’s how they feel, and they will respond with anger to anyone who challenges this notion. If you enjoy a social activity without your predator, they will pout or grow angry. Literal grooming can fall under this; apes groom members of their own family groups; your predator is basically an animal.
  5. Lying. Everyone lies (“Yeah, uh, traffic was so bad”), but predators lie just to see if they can fool you. They’ll lie about things that you wouldn’t think mattered enough to lie about. It’s another projection of ownership; they can control how you see the world, thus controlling you.
  6. They’re almost never as smart as they think they are. Again, this is to your benefit. Predators think very highly of themselves and their ability to conquer others. Have patience because this is when you destroy them – when they’re the most sure of themselves and their guard is completely down.

Know how to protect yourself:

  1. Collect evidence from the moment you suspect someone of being a predator. Note every interaction with this person; when it happened, where you were, and what was said. If they touch you in a way that makes you uncomfortable – even if it seems non-sexual or non-threatening – make note of it. Record every phone call. Save every email. If you’re in an area with security cameras, make note of where they are and try to stay in their sight. Hang on to all of this and make copies to give to local law enforcement and other authority figures, be they a teacher or a human resources director. This is part of that whole “destroy them” thing I was talking about.
  2. Talk to a lawyer. Asap. You’re going to need one sooner or later, and sooner is better. Even if you don’t have any plans to prosecute. Even if you don’t want to talk to local law enforcement. You never know what the future will bring.
  3. Read. I mean something written by a professional psychologist that gives you further details about what to look for and how to respond. 
  4. Visit an actual psychologist. This is better still. I’m seeing a therapist to help me deal with this most recent attack and its aftermath; I’ve focused our sessions on preventative measures for the future, as well as how to get back to a place where I can trust people. Your mental health is very important. Even if you don’t feel traumatized by your interaction(s) with a predator, these people can screw you up. Watching a chronologically mature adult use childish methods to manipulate an autistic teenager makes you feel very bad things about the world.
  5. Practice saying no. Again, this can be more difficult than it sounds because sexual predators don’t accept refusal. Their goal is to wear you down until you give in; if they succeed even a little (for example, if you eye-rollingly accept that ugly necklace they keep trying to give you because you just want them to shut up about it), it will convince them that they are capable of bringing you under their control. Don’t let that happen. Keep refusing no matter how uncomfortable it gets.
  6. Be prepared for people to say horrible things to and about you. Not just any people – people you love. The kind of ugliness that comes out when you reveal you’ve been a victim will shock you. You will be told to stay quiet, don’t make a fuss, just let it go, etc. Your own mother might say these things to you. Repeatedly.

These are the real dangers that a sexual predator poses: the destruction of your existing relationships and of your self-worth. A predator can ruin your life for an extended period, leaving you to put yourself back together – often with little to no guidance.

Finally, when your predator does come at you, show no mercy. If you become a target, you’re most likely in for a physical attack. Remember, they don’t think the rules apply to them. So don’t follow any rules when it comes to protecting yourself. Your target areas are: nose, mouth, teeth, eyes, solar plexus, and reproductive organs. If you box their ears, it’s not only painful, it disorients them (remember, your inner ear is responsible for your sense of balance, so forcing a bunch of air in there knocks you for a loop). You’ll be able to get a couple of hits in before they regain their bearings.

Take care of yourselves and of each other. Remember that standing up to a predator may make you a target. Don’t expect your friends, loved ones, co-workers, etc. to support you; most of them probably will, but if they don’t, there are people out in the world who will support you. You might have to settle for a chat room.

Above all, read Nyong’o’s story. Sometimes you cannot avoid a sexual predator; you have to rely on your wits and/or experience to protect yourself as best you can. If not for her clear thinking and fortitude, something much worse could have happened to Nyong’o. I hope it never, ever happens to you.