The Problem with “Predators”

Readers sfayrbeftz
— When I was growing up, I knew what predators were: Lions, hawks, sharks…. Now animals come to mind only distantly when we hear that word, and that has changed our outlook on crime, childhood, safety — and parenting. This musing comes to us from the commenter signed worthdoinganyway: 

Dear Free-Range Kids: I think just the explosion of the use of the word “predator” is part of the problem. I don’t remember, when I was growing up, people talking about “predators.” Sure, we knew there were kidnappers and child molesters and murderers, but it seems like in the last decade we have decided there is this class of “predators” out there, which of course is going to make people feel unsafe.

While I don’t doubt there are some individuals out there who really do actively, continually, go around looking for potential victims to prey on, I don’t believe for a moment that that describes most criminals, or even most people who molest or murder children. More often than not, these are, like all other crimes, committed not by diabolical predators who have masterminded the perfect crime, but by people who are impulsive and often under the influence of drugs or alcohol (and in some cases who are severely mentally ill).

I think we’d do well to discard this notion of “predators,” as if there’s some subset of the population who are actively and always trying to come up with ingenious ways to harm our children. That’s the stuff of TV crime shows and mystery novels, not reality.

Lenore here: Wait a sec? TV, mysteries and movies aren’t reality? One of my favorite comments in the immediate aftermath of the whole Izzy-on-the-subway incident was a man berating me: “Why did you let your son ride the subway alone? ‘Don’t you watch Law & Order?'”

Hey! Don't forget about ME!

Hey! Don’t forget about ME!


24 Responses to The Problem with “Predators”

  1. John October 6, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    Just like everything nowadays is considered “child abuse” anybody and everybody who responds, let’s say, to a YouTube video posted by a 10- or 13-year-old kid, is considered a “predator” even though there was nothing in the response remotely sexual. But there is always somebody somewhere who will read into it because it was an adult communicating on the Internet to a child who doesn’t know him. Many kids love posting videos of their athletic feats on youtube be it wrestling or gymnastics etc. Because obviously they want EVERYBODY to see their accomplishment and the more complimentary comments they receive, the bigger boost it is to their self-esteem. But if I were to post a comment underneath their video saying “Good job! You’re a great wrestler!” Or “Oh my gosh, are you ever a strong looking kid, keep up good work and keep on training hard!” Now as innocent as those comments are, the pedophile patrol we have here in the United States would obviously read into them and would see a message that is not there and deem me a “predator”. The term is way over used to the point where it has no meaning as far as I’m concerned!

  2. MichaelF October 6, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    Predator gives you a visceral response to what is going on, it’s no longer just something that “happens” it’s something that was “intended”. Just as the comment says there are crimes that are planned and methodical or there are “spur of the moment” incidents but the Fear Patrol wants you to know that the “predators” are out there watching you and waiting for you to slip up. Like any natural predator once you are weak, distracted or vulnerable they strike. So you have to be vigilant and irrational feeding that primal brain where the fight or flee response is. If everyone was rational about things, looked analytically at the risk inherent in whatever activity you would be participating in or each situation then there would be less fear and less salve being sold to you to prevent it.

    A world without predators would be great, but there are always those who see threats and are too nervous about everything around them and oddly, they would probably be the first ones to go in a world of real predators.

  3. J- October 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    “There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.” – Hemingway

  4. Ravana October 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    I have to disagree with you here. There have always been the subset of predators in human society. In the past we mixed fact with superstition and called them vampires, werewolves, elves, demons, witches, the possessed etc. As humanity became more enlightened the magical aspects of the predator disappeared and they became gypsies, tinkers, hobos, hitchhikers etc. implying that evil was a result of being “other” not us. Move along a few more generations and we take the “other” out labeling them sociopaths, psychopaths, insane. Then the advocates of the mentally ill step in and say that by using such names we have painted all those with mental illnesses (autism, schizophrenia, manic depression etc.) with the same broad brush and along comes predator.

  5. Warren October 6, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

    “Predators” implies actively preying. Someone, somewhere at sometime used the word, noticed the effect it had and ran with it.
    Putting the image of a tan overcoat wearing man actively preying on vulnerable little children is about as effective as you can get for

    1. New laws.
    2. Media ratings.
    3. Law enforcement budget increases.
    4. Security companies lobbying for increased security measures, thus selling their wares.
    5. Neighbours spying on and ratting out neighbours.
    6. The gov’t to exert more regulations to control how parents live their lives and raise their kids.

  6. Puzzled October 6, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    There’s a spoof on “To Catch a Predator” where they have the alien from Predator show up. Choice lines: “Well, it says in this chat log ‘I want to rip your head off and eat your spine.’ ‘We were just, uh, role-playing, and I came here to warn her about the dangers of talking to aliens.’ ‘You flew 50 million light years just to talk to her about the dangers of the internet?’ “

  7. Jill October 6, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    Well, I actually DO watch Law & Order and CSI and other such shows. And you know what? The perpetrator in those shows is almost always….the person you least expect.

    And how do you deal with an act of evil committed by the person you least expect? You prepare for it – by learning self-sufficiency, survival skills, communication skills and so on. And then you equip your kids by teaching them the same.

    You don’t do it by expecting an act of evil to be committed by every person you encounter!

  8. lollipoplover October 6, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

    I think we do our children a disservice when we perpetuate the myth of predators lurking everywhere wanting to do us harm and that there’s a bunch of sicko strangers in this world to be fearful of when in reality, the sickos are people we know.

    I think it’s important to teach our children about predatory behaviors and not label any boxes of people. It could be anyone. Teach them not to tolerate these behaviors at any age. I do like how our school educates the kids on *tricky* people and ways they might prey on a child. We can empower kids by teaching them to obey their inner alarm systems and stand up to abuse which most of the time, is someone known to the child, not the boogeyman in the bushes.

    I want my kids to be able to recognize and resist abuse. I don’t want them to feel like a potential victim every time they play outside like there’s a fox in the chicken coop. It’s not the fox to fear, it’s usually one of the other chickens that will peck you to death.

  9. Tiffany October 6, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    My late father’s occupation, and love, was teaching mobility to blind students. He was employed by the school district and taught blind, k-12 students how to move about in the community. The classroom consisted of busy intersections, the mall, the post office, and many other places. He had been doing the work for 35 years and had seen society change so much. During the last 10 years of his career (1997-2007) he prepared himself for police calls, when “vigilant” neighbors, would see a man with a child in the neighborhood during school hours. Police would show up, question my dad, and send he and the student on their way. He carried his credentials with him. Once, the police told him that a call had come in about a “child predator” that had been seen with different children in the neighborhood (the neighborhood near one of the schools where the majority of district blind students attended). During the last two years of his career, the district pushed my dad to move all of the “lessons” to the school campuses. This was so frustrating, because you cannot recreate busy intersections and shopping on a campus. The parents of the blind students often offered to pay my dad to work with their child during off hours so he could truly teach the kids to navigate the world. Another note, not once did the other teacher, a woman, get stopped by police when out with a student. So, my dad was seen as a “predator” just for being male as well.

  10. EricS October 6, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    “Predator” is a catch word glamorized by media. Like trending, people keep seeing the word, so people start using the word, then more and more people start using it on a daily. Now it’s become part of societies mentality and vocabulary. Just like “Happy…”, “YOLO”, “FML”, etc…

    It’s a monkey see, monkey do world now. With a dwindling number of people using common sense and reason. And who think for themselves. Rather than follow the mainstream.

    Here’s an interesting article on how the human mind works. It’s geared towards politics, but it certainly does apply to why fear makes some people see what isn’t there, even with evidence that what they see isn’t really happening.

    But if it can be done, it can be undone. Just a matter of choice.

  11. Donna October 6, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    Somewhat off topic, but Puzzled’s comment reminded me. This weekend my daughter and her friend decided to sell rocks in a park right around the corner from our house. A driver stopped to talk to them, and I believe even bought a rock, and then told them not to talk to strangers. Even the 9 year olds saw the irony.

  12. Nadine October 6, 2014 at 2:30 pm #

    While there is a lot of fear mongering around and stigmatization. There is no way for people struggeling with pedophile tendencies to get help.
    The stripping of humanity from “animals” and “predators” is preventing them to get treatment and care even if they want it. Because the urge already makes them guilty in the eyes of society.

  13. fred schueler October 6, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    the idea of “predator” is subject to empirical scrutiny – either by asking those convicted of child-harming crimes if they were prowling for victims, or by roaming the streets and measuring the percentage of folks encountered there who are prowling for victims. Somebody could do a Master’s on this and make big headlines: “Child predators an empty set, study shows.”

  14. Philip Horner October 6, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    When New Hampshire wanted to revise its sex offender registration scheme to make it strict enough to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Act, the bill was entitled the “Child Predator Act”. The 70+ page bill was probably not read by most of the legislators who voted overwhelmingly for it. No one wants to go on record as protecting the “animals” among us. This is how second-class citizenship is created.

  15. marie October 6, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    The stripping of humanity from “animals” and “predators” is preventing them to get treatment and care even if they want it. Because the urge already makes them guilty in the eyes of society.

    ‘Pedophile’ is another (willfully) misunderstood word. It is not a crime to be a pedophile. Most pedophiles never commit a crime against a child and yet that word is used as if it means ‘child molester’.

    The words pedophile and predator are both used to work up an emotional response. Somehow, the ability to reason has been lost. The origin of the misuse of those two words coincides with the idea that a good parent puts safety above all.

  16. Donald October 6, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    “Why did you let your son ride the subway alone? ‘Don’t you watch Law & Order?’”

    That’s the problem. Subconsciously, they think that it IS reality. If you ask them, they will say, “Of course it isn’t real”.

  17. John October 6, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

    @Nadine…..very interesting article Nadine and I’m so glad for “Adam” that he was able to find a trusted source in order to receive the much needed counseling that he so deserved. BUT playing devil’s advocate here, Adam was categorized as a “nonoffending” pedophile. From reading that article I would whole heartedly agree. But he did admit to having an addiction to child pornography. With that being the case, because we have such a torch bearing witch hunt mentality here in America when it comes to pedophilia, couldn’t the legal system claim that Adam did indeed commit an offense on an innocent child by the mere viewing of child pornography? Remember, viewing CP is a crime and many people have ended up on the sex offender registry just for viewing CP.

    Personally I think that’s BS and I don’t believe the viewing of CP should be used against anyone trying to seek help for their pedophilia. But we have such crazy strict laws in the U.S. When it comes to children and even though his counselor gave him what I thought was wise advice in recommending that he delete the images in order to rid himself of temptation and to destroy the hard drive in order that he avoid prosecution for his past sins that he is trying so hard to repent from, couldn’t the present U.S. legal system not only prosecute Adam, but couldn’t they also prosecute his counselor for telling him to destroy the evidence?? I mean it’s such a lose lose situation for a pedophile wanting help here in the U.S. Would any legal person like to weigh in here? Donna?

  18. BL October 6, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    ““Why did you let your son ride the subway alone? ‘Don’t you watch Law & Order?’”

    That’s the problem. Subconsciously, they think that it IS reality. If you ask them, they will say, “Of course it isn’t real”.”

    Just say “I watch Kim Possible, so I know world-class criminal masterminds are no match for spunky kids.”

    Makes as much sense.

  19. Shelly Stow October 6, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    This seems like a good place to put in a plug for my latest blog post, “Lions in Cages…,” on this very topic. (
    Predators…monsters…scum…perverts…calling others by any of these pejorative terms diminishes us all. Our society has a history of creating a class of “the other,” those so different from ourselves that we can’t even see them as fellow human beings. The dehumanizing invariably leads to
    disdain, to hatred, to shunning, to vigilantism. When we stoop to this level, we make ourselves more despicable than that which we vilify.

  20. Puzzled October 7, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    >‘Pedophile’ is another (willfully) misunderstood word. It is not a crime >to be a pedophile. Most pedophiles never commit a crime against a child >and yet that word is used as if it means ‘child molester’.

    While I agree with the thrust of this comment, I thought the article posted said that the DSM defines a pedophile as having offended at least once?

    By the way, Law and Order SVU actually did an episode on pedophiles and vigilantes that showed a person on the registry for a 15-18 offense being harassed and murdered, and showed the leader of a vigilante group as being a repeat offender.

  21. Warren October 7, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    Whenever I have pointed out that people need to stop believing what they see in the Criminal Minds/ Law and Order shows, because it is fiction, I always get the same response.

    “Well the stories have to come from somewhere.”

  22. Donna October 7, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    John –

    The hard drives have been destroyed. It would be extremely hard to prosecute someone for possession of child porn without the police ever finding him in actual possession of the child porn.

    The therapist, Adam and his mother could possibly be charged with tampering with evidence, but that is even a big stretch. There was no active investigation into Adam at the time, so they didn’t really destroy “evidence.” They destroyed something that could potentially be evidence should the police ever choose to investigate a crime against Adam. It would be a stretch of the law to basically say that everyone has to forever keep anything illegal that ever came into their possession on the grounds that they may one day be investigated by the police and it would then be evidence.

  23. Papilio October 7, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    I watch those shows too and yes, those stories come from somewhere… but as we’ve seen, they also base episodes on stories like Izzy riding the subway.
    In defense of Criminal Minds: they did say that teaching children about stranger danger was one of the biggest child-rearing mistakes ever (or words to that effect), and one thing I like about L&O (SVU) is how they sometimes frame ethical issues in thought-provoking ways, challenging/questioning common views of right and wrong.

  24. Paul October 8, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    “Why did you let your son ride the subway alone? ‘Don’t you watch Law & Order?’”

    The ironic thing is that THEY’RE the ones telling YOU that you have a problem with reality.