Saturday, November 22, 2014

Staying Safe in a Predatory World

The world has changed significantly and if we do not change how we approach life, we stand the risk of being perpetually victimized.  For most of us, this idea is difficult to comprehend or accept.  We continue to view people as safe, unless they prove otherwise, and expect that those we meet will operate by the same set of rules that we observe.  Sadly, this is not the case.

According to Dr. Anne Salter, each of us operates by a set of positive personal illusions.  These illusions include a common tendency to "soften the world, ignoring and minimizing its bad aspects and overgeneralizing its good ones." (Salter, p. 160).  Positive personal illusions are the truths we tell ourselves about others that provide us with a feeling of personal safety.  They include a naive acceptance of what individuals tell us as absolute truth.  Some of them might include:
  • Bad things happen to people other than me--people of color, people who live on the wrong side of the track, people who like XYZ, people who are ABC, people who do MNO, etc.
  • People are basically good and are trustworthy.
  • I'm a good deception detector.
  • What you see is what you get with almost everyone.
The tendency to live in a rose-colored world puts us at risk and most importantly puts at risk those we love the most, including our children.  How often have we heard about yet another person acquiring access to children in order to molest because the parents trusted the man with the clerical collar, the family-oriented neighbor or the energetic teacher, coach or family member?

Approximately 25 percent of the population are sociopaths, that is they do not have a conscience.  For those of us who do have a conscience, it is unfathomable that individuals could lie without batting an eye, use and abuse people, including children.  The inept ones are already incarcerated but that doesn't mean that we are safer.  The really competent sociopaths are still walking among us and we have to become more aware and practice defensive living.  Part of our defensive living strategy should include:
  • Suspect flattery: "Compliments are lovely, especially when they are sincere.  In contrast, flattery is extreme and appeals to our egos in unrealistic ways."  Predators will use flattery to lower your defenses and gain an entrance in order to exploit.  "Peek over your massaged ego and remember to suspect flattery." (Stout,  p. 158)
  • Avoid conscienceless people (i.e. sociopaths):  Avoid him, refuse contact and above all, don't worry about hurting his feelings.  "Strange as it seems, and though they may try to pretend otherwise, sociopaths do not have any such feelings to hurt." (Stout, p. 160)
  • Don't pity too easily:  pity should be reserved for "innocent people who are in genuine pain or who have fallen on misfortune."  The predator will "campaign for your sympathy" but is engaged in a pattern of hurting people. (Stout, pg. 160)
  • Do not be afraid to be unkind or even unfriendly:  predators often are void of conscience and are incredibly dangerous.  They do not respect boundaries and they do not take "no" easily.  Be kind and friendly to people who deserve that treatment.
  • Do not try to redeem the unredeemable:  conscienceless individuals are unredeemable!  If you are dealing with a predator, cut your losses and walk away.
  • Do not fall prey to the "you owe me" guilt-inducing tactic to ensure your silence:  Predators will do their best to silence you; to guilt you into letting them off the hook.  "'You owe me' has been the standard line of sociopaths for thousands of years, quite literally, and is still so." Another perfect line they commonly use is "You are just like me."  You are not--don't forget it! (Stout, pg. 162)
On the bright side, positive personal optimism offers a sense of personal control and confidence.  It is not a denial that bad things might happen but rather a belief in one's ability to make meaning of whatever life experiences we are confronted with.  While positive personal illusions put us at a greater risk of exploitation, manipulation and deception, positive personal optimism engenders a sense of personal resiliency and strength.  Personal illusions create a rose-colored view of the world; personal optimism removes the rose-colored glasses and while the new view may be frightening, chooses to move ahead with faith, determination and purpose.  And maybe that is the best offense against the bully, perpetrator or the sociopath--a sense of empowered living rooted in a realistic view of the world around us, including the people we meet.  Maybe this makes us less of a target.

Two excellent resources quoted above:
  1. The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout, Ph.D.
  2. Predators Pedophiles, Rapists & other Sex Offenders, Anna C. Salter, Ph.D.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Predators and Online Dating

I recently decided to dip my big toe into the frightening world of online dating and chose a site that I thought would be safer than most.  But predators do not respect the sanctity or security of others so no site is really all that safe.  It kind of reminds me of trying to swim in shark-infested waters with the hope of finding a goldfish.  I'm sure there are great individuals on each of the sites but there are predators as well.  Let me tell you about my experience with one such individual.

The site I subscribed to has a strict moderation policy, that is, they carefully screen all essays, written introductions as well as photos before allowing the material to go live.  So "Barry, aka nicemaninin46360" contacted me prior to really knowing who I was or what I looked like.  He was quite the charmer, I have to give him that, but he is a predator pure and simple.

So let's explore what we know about predators and I'll provide the comic relief by telling you about Barry (I feel no qualms about using his "name" because it isn't really his name).

They will tell you what they perceive you want to hear.
"I love your smile."  You are just the woman I have been looking for."  Note this was before he had seen my smile or any of my profile information other than the very basics.

They appeal to your kindness, charity, human decency and trust.
"Why would you ask me if the pictures I want to send you are obscene?  Don't you know that I would never do that?"  But then the pictures he sent me were not of him.  I wonder what Neil and Tom would think if they knew he was using their legitimate pictures to lure someone into his net?  Thank God for Google Image Search and for a friend who told me about it.

They will warn you about who they are or what they intend to do but you have to learn to read the subtitles of their script.
"In this digital age, you need to know that I am a real person."  While reassuring me that he was real and not representing himself as something he wasn't, he was fraudulently representing himself.  He warned me of who he was right from the start; I just needed to pay attention to his subtitles.   

They will push your boundaries.
"I know you don't want to share your phone number or email address with me this soon in the process but my computer is acting up.  I want to get to know you, I really do.  Can't we talk on the phone?"  And to reinforce these statements, he had to reboot his computer repeatedly--at least that is what he said.

They will manipulate the reality of your interaction with them.
"But I am trustworthy and God-fearing.  You should trust me, you need to trust me."  They will attempt to sound like a person of faith and integrity but in actuality they are a wolf in a poorly designed sheep costume.

They will slowly but surely groom you to accept more and more unacceptable behavior.
"I'll be glad to tell you all that you need to know about me," except for who I really am and what I'm really trying to get out of you.  They will attempt to ingratiate themselves to you very early in the game, calling you endearing names far too early in the relationship.

They will lie.
Have you heard of the Rule of Threes?  "When considering a new relationship of any kind, practice the Rule of Threes regarding the claims and promises a person makes, and the responsibilities he or she has.  Make the Rule of Threes your personal policy.  One lie, one broken promise, or a single neglected responsibility may be a misunderstanding instead.  Two may involve a serious mistake.  But three lies says you're dealing with a liar, and deceit is the linchpin of conscienceless behavior."  (The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout, p. 157)

If you stay in relationship with them long enough, they will exploit the relationship, steal your trust (and maybe your money) and abandon you when they have accomplished their purpose.

So after an online chat, several email exchanges, text messages and one voicemail, how do I know without a doubt that "Barry" is a predator?
  • His story lacks consistency and believability.  He indicated that he earned a MA degree from a University in England and in another place indicates that he has an Associate's degree.
  • He is unable to write grammatically correct sentences or express himself as one would expect from someone in the profession and with the education he claims to have.
  • He has lied to me in that he sent me pictures of Neil and Tom and indicated they were images of him.
  • His accent and word choices reveal that English is not his native tongue.
  • His first email went into my spam folder, along with all of the other nefarious "solicitations."  It appear that Gmail was quicker than I was in detecting the scam!
Fortunately, I'm familiar with the tactics of predators so poor Barry is history.  He was a great teacher for me, however.  He reminded me once again that predators are always looking for their next target, that I should trust my gut always.  And contrary to how most of us in "civilized society" think, I need to suspend judgment--either good or bad--on individuals I meet in person or online until they give me evidence one way or another.  Goodbye Barry!  I'm onto you.    

For online dating safety tips, click here