The Psychology of Predatory Sexual Behavior

Gillian Sisley

A look inside some of the most disturbing minds that walk among us.

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Photo by Quinten de Graaf on Unsplash

Several months ago, a new homeowner in Arizona reported finding a two-way mirror and camera in the bathroom of a house her family had purchased. The house was a known "party house" owned by at least one man before transferring ownership.

The two-way mirror would have allowed the former owner to watch innocent people in the bathroom during their most private and vulnerable moments.

This story absolutely horrified me — and it also had me contemplating the psychology that is involved in crimes such as these.

As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I have often wondered where the characteristic to violate another human being manifests from.

And so, I’ve finally sat down to write this article.

Like with any predator, the crime is about power more than anything.

In the example above, the predator is the house owner and the victims would have been their visitors. This already shows an imbalance of power that cannot be ignored, as the owner of the property which is hosting the unsuspecting victims.

And like with most predators, this predator targetted what he considered to be more vulnerable victims — young, single women, whom may be more likely to trust or not suspect any foul play.

There is a misconception that sexual crimes are committed first and foremost for sexual desire. But in fact, sexual gratification is only one of the factors behind why an assailant will choose to attack.

A desire to feel powerful in a predator/victim dynamic is one of the most common reasons for sexually motivated crimes.

Pre-existing power dynamics already leave an opening for potential misconduct to occur. The difference between predators and non-offenders is this: non-offenders recognize the imbalance, and consciously decide not to exploit it for their own advantage.

Predators, on the other hand, see the opportunity to use their power to exploit another individual and decide to do so for their own gratification, regardless of the harm it causes.

Self-entitlement is a key component in a predator’s character.

If you’ve heard the saying, “Drunk with power”, then you already know that immense amounts of power can affect a person’s psychology in a potentially dangerous way.

The characteristic that lets power entice one into committing harmful crimes against others is often closely related to narcissism. The perpetrator feels like they are special, or in some way deserving of the gratification they are receiving through exploiting someone else.

They might not even consider their actions as ‘exploitative’, but rather as receiving some sort of justified reward that they deserve for their actions of x, y, and z.

Using the example above, for the previous owner who installed a two-way mirror and camera in his bathroom, he may have felt entitled enough as the person who was hosting the victims to then watch them without their knowledge.

He may have felt that, because he owned the property, he was justified in viewing them naked, while bathing, and in their most vulnerable states. Because if he owned the house they were visiting, he could potentially rationalize how whatever happened within it was his business.

This, of course, is a concept that many of us simply cannot wrap our heads around. Because a normally adjusted, respectful person who doesn’t feel entitled to the bodies of other human beings would never think that they were owed the violation of other people for their own enjoyment and interest.

And that’s exactly what makes us different from sexual predators.

Predators have the ability to switch off the fear of consequences or empathy for the victim.

This is perhaps the element of a sexual predator’s psychology that I am most baffled by. Tying in closely with the misplaced sense of entitlement laid out above, I cannot imagine consciously violating another person and not caring about the impact it would make on the victim I committed a crime against.

Of course, I’m a sexual assault survivor myself, so I know the exact outcome that results from the trauma of a deep violation. And I wouldn’t wish this life sentence of a PTSD diagnosis on anyone.

Whether the predator can switch off their sense of empathy or fear of consequences permanently, or just for the moment the crime is being committed, depends on the individual. For some, they can flip that switch to exploit their victim, only to feel immense guilt and shame afterward.

On the exact opposite end of that spectrum, a highly disordered predator may never feel empathy or fear of consequences in their entire life.

Regardless, during the crime a psychological switch is flipped, allowing for the predator to enter a state of mind where they can exploit their victim(s) with pleasure or gratification, rather than guilt.

And once that exploitation has been committed, regardless of how the predator may register it afterward, the damage has been done to the victim.

Damage that will follow that innocent victim for the rest of their life. The injustice of this reality is beyond infuriating.

Final word.

There are some people who are just too monstrous to ever be able to relate to — and for many, sexual predators fall into that very category. In particular, repeat offenders who leave a trail of traumatized victims in their wake.

It’s difficult to fully understand the psychology of a predator unless you are one. But the hope is that if we can recognize and understand the signs of a sexual predator, we may be able to avoid further threat or protect someone vulnerable in our lives from becoming a victim.

At the end of the day, victims are not responsible for avoiding these types of people. Instead, we should hold perpetrators responsible for their destructive and harmful actions.

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Online solopreneur. Tea drinker. Committed optimist. I write about womanhood, social justice, writing & entrepreneurship.

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