Predator Relationships are Real!





Hello Dr. Sally: I recently learned that a friend’s daughter has been the victim of a predatorial relationship with an older woman. The older woman took advantage of my friend’s daughter knowing she is vulnerable. The age difference between them was/is a factor, as it often is in predatorial relationships.

This brought back a memory I have from youth. I attended a camp for about one week at which my camp counselor ‘friended’ me. She made me feel special – pretty – liked more than the others – I remember telling the other girls that I was her favorite. I think more happened but my brain has blocked some of this out by now. It’s been many years. I do remember the counselor telling me that she really liked my pajamas and that she thought I was the prettiest girl in the cabin, and so on: setting me up for an unhealthy relationship between a young girl and a person of influence.

Perhaps you can offer tips for parents who might not understand how this works: when an adult or a person of higher power preys on a weaker vessel in order to get needs/wants met. How can parents protect against this? What can they do now in order to ready their kids for a world that involves more and more of this predator/prey behavior?

Thank you. – Anonymous Mom

Hi Mom,

This is so interesting that you write to me now about this. Even today, after so much exposure has been given to this problem, young children, people with disabilities and women of all walks of life keep being taken advantage of by sexual abusers. We have all followed the terrible things that happened at Penn State by Jerry Sandusky, a convicted child molester, and how he took advantage of so many young children. We also know about all the women who were abused by Bill Cosby.

Here is the real problem. Silence. Common to all these cases were victims who felt either shame or guilt that was enough to keep them quiet. At the end of the movie “Spotlight,” a true story about pedophilia in the Catholic Church, what happened? Victims started pouring forth. It was safe then for them to look back, look deep and speak up with their own words of truth.

When looking up this kind of relationship where one person, usually the older and/or more powerful one, controls the other one, I found this example on a blog, and here is what the moderator wrote.

“This brings to mind an episode of a popular court show I watched recently. A woman testified on behalf of the integrity and honesty of her boyfriend. As it turns out, he had cheated on his wife with her (and another woman as well). But his girlfriend nevertheless staunchly defended his character. She maintained that even though she knew that her lover was a cheater and a liar, because she herself was such a great catch and because they had such a special and unique relationship, he was completely faithful and honest to her.

The judge laughed out loud and added, “…that you know of!”

Based on your childhood story, this example and much that I have researched and read, my sense is that the power and glue that keeps the other person attached is a plea of specialness and a unique bond. Who wants to give up that?! No matter what the suffering, unhappiness or difficulties that in reality surround the relationship, this “I picked you” message is so powerful that it is extremely hard to break.

However, having said that, “Hard does not mean impossible.” If it is your daughter, a friend’s daughter or just another human being you know who is caught, then there is a way.

Here are some common give-away words that can tip you off to possible abuse:

“It was not her fault. It was mine.”
“People make mistakes. It is okay.”
“We have a special bond.”
“I am the only person who makes her happy.”
“She needs me.”

Combine any of these phrases with a relationship in which the older person has the control, then don’t delay.

You were lucky that your camp experience ended after one week. Another case I know was stopped after a month by a concerned mother who picked up on the abuse cues right away. I sense the relationship with your friend dragged on. Here are some interventions I know. I hope other parents will share more.

For your child…

  • Remove your child from being able to see the person, if possible.
  • Re-direct your child as much as you can in new and wonderful ways..
  • Figure out, with help if you need it, how to make your child aware of some of the hidden and detrimental factors affecting him or her.

For the predator…

  • Do what you can to keep the person from being able to see your child.
  • Talk to the other person about ways to change his or her behavior.
  • Get professional help to take whatever steps are necessary to bring the relationship to a close.

Mom, I hope you feel better now knowing that it is safe today to talk about what happened to you. Burying these experiences are detrimental, and the feelings never go away. Sharing them is one of the powerful tools we have for sorting out deep and difficult thoughts. Probably best of all is having a victim meet another victim who experienced a similar situation and providing an environment where the two of them can compare notes and help each other.

~ Dr. Sally 


  1. Joan Smith



  2. Great insightful wisdom about a facet of life that takes many parents by surprise. Our children are so vulnerable and predators of all kinds are ready to exploit if given the opportunity. That’s why it’s so important to create and maintain a close, trusting relationship with your children so they confide in you about outside influences that you may not be aware of. Remember to listen first and well before judging, lecturing or shaming your child about these experiences. They are innocent victims!

  3. Hi Joan,

    Your example is an interesting one. Vulnerable is one of the characteristics that predators look for. Yes, it is a heart break for any parent to see their child regress after years of hard work.

  4. Hi Rosalind,

    You certainly showed your expertise with this comment. I know you are always helping parents who are either divorced or divorcing. While they are doing anything and everything possible for their children, they may not see or even suspect their child’s vulnerability.

    You mentioned parent-child communication as the key, and it is.

    In one case I heard about the child was told “Now you don’t gave to tell your mom everything anymore.” Ohhhh that poor child got cut off from her parent and for a very long time.

    The signs are everywhere. I am so glad we now have this post to teach about this dangerous situation.


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