What Do Sexual Predators Look For When Grooming Victims? Someone To 'Succumb To Their Manipulations'

Experts say sexual predators don't pick their victims at random.

By Gina Tron

One of the girls allegedly targeted by billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein, who is now facing federal sex-trafficking charges, was approached at age 14.

That girl, who identified herself as Jennifer Araoz, told NBC News that she met Epstein in 2001, when she was a high school freshman who had recently lost her father to AIDS. She said she was led to Epstein’s home by a female recruiter where she was slowly manipulated into committing sex acts. 

Sadly, it's not shocking Araoz was targeted.

Chris Hadnagy, founder of Innocent Lives Foundation, a national nonprofit that works closely with law enforcement agencies to bring child predators to justice, told Oxygen.com that sexual predators seek out people like Aaroz. He noted "medical bills had inundated the family [of Araoz]" and that the kind of money she was offered for sex acts was “life-changing," making it easier to manipulate her.

Experts say sexual predators do have a pattern when it comes to selecting a victim to abuse.

Dr. Darrel Turner, a forensic psychologist who has consulted the FBI and law enforcement across the country for various cases, told Oxygen.com that he has interviewed hundreds of sexual predators. When asked if most predators seek out victims with a deliberate checklist in mind or if they select their victims on some sort of subconscious level, he had a clear answer.

He said the decisions are absolutely calculated and deliberate.

“I had a guy describe to me, just by flipping through Facebook pages, what they look for for possible victims — they can tell by what’s posted and what's not who is gonna be more likely to succumb to their manipulations.”

So what do sexual predators look for when searching for possible victims?

People with broken families

Both Hadnagy and Turner said that predators look for people with broken families, people who are going through a rough time, and people who seem to have less of a community.

“They can look [at someone’s social media presence] and go, 'How many pics does this 13-year-old boy have of his family, and of Boy Scouts, and of church, and is he happy or is there darkness?'" Turner told Oxygen.com, adding that someone who seems separated is easier to prey on. “He wants to try to identify with and create a bond with [the victim].”

People lacking in confidence

Turner said that victims who don't seem to be confident in themselves will likely be “eager to please,” and “not certain of their own identity.” 

“They go for people who are marginalized,” he added.

Why are these people targeted?

So they can isolate them more easily

They want to “isolate this victim from their normal social network,” Turner explained, "because it destroys their frame of reference.”

That way, friends and family won’t step in to call out a situation or relationship that is either inappropriate, abusive, or strange.

So they can control them

The more they can isolate from that network, “the more they can control the thinking of that person,” Turner said.

So they can normalize the abuse

“Once they start isolating and controlling, then they start to normalize the sex,” Turner explained. “So they normalize sex between a child and an adult and they are going to do that gradually. “

He said that gradual process often involves gifts. He noted in Epstein’s alleged abuse, the accusers said he would often start off with massages and it would slowly escalate into rape.

"The offender has to take it from something that is bad and frowned upon and turn it into something good and universal and normal,” Turner said.

So they can make the victims feel complicit

Part of the reason that gifts, money, and more are given is because it will “make the victims feel complicit in the sexual act,” according to Turner.

He said the more a victim feels complicit, the less likely they are to report the abuse.

“Guilt and shame kicks in,” Hadnagy told Oxygen.com. ”These manipulators convince these girls that they are at some fault which is easy for them to believe, sadly, so they don’t go and report it.”

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