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by Anna Salter
Basic Books, 2003
Review by Jack R. Anderson, M.D. on Dec 10th 2004


     The pages of this book are fraught with red flags and sounding alarm bells. Salter wants us all to wake up and do something about the sexual predators who live, undetected, among us, and wreak physical and emotional damage upon defenseless women and innocent children with their secret and deceptive agendas for satisfying their perverse sexual appetites.

     The author has impressive credentials for writing such a book: a Harvard Ph.D. in psychology; more than two decades researching the subject; lecturing in more than forty states and in ten countries; giving keynote addresses at national conferences in four of these countries; and receiving, in 1997, the Significant Achievement Award of the Association of the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, an award given to only one person in the world every year.


     This book  can be roughly divided into three parts: beginning; middle; and end. The Introduction and Chapter 1, "The Problem," constitute the beginning; Chapters 2, "Deception," 3, "Techniques of Deception," 4. "Child Molesters", 5, "Rapists," 6 "Sadists," 7, "Psychopaths: Fooling People for the Thrill of It," and 8. "Staff Seductions," make up the middle portion; and Chapters 9, "Rose-Colored Glasses and Trauma," 10, "Detecting Deception," and 11, "Protecting Our Children and Ourselves: Deflecting Sex Offenders," are included in the ending. 


     In the book's beginning--the introduction and first chapter--the author tries to dispel the erroneous belief that sexual offenders are all monsters who differ so much in their appearance and behavior from "normal" people that they can be easily recognized. Instead of sneaking into a house in the middle of the night, they are more apt to "…come through the front door in the middle of the day, as friends and neighbors, as Boy Scout leaders, priests, principals, teachers, doctors, and coaches."

     She also gives statistics to help us readers understand the scope--the enormity--of the problem. Research beginning in 1929 documented sexual abuse of female children as being from 24 to 37 percent, and of male children between 27 to 30 percent. A modern study found that two hundred and thirty-two child molesters admitted attempting more than 55,000 molestations, 38,000 of which were successful, involving more than 17,000 victims. In a larger sample of five hundred and sixty-one offenders involving all kinds of sex offenses--exhibitionism, voyeurism and adult rape as well as child molestation--they admitted to more than 291,000 sexual offenses and more than 195,000 victims.

     Even more astounding than the number of sexual offenders, offenses and victims is the report that most of the offenses had never been detected by the authorities. "Crime pays, it seems," writes Salter, " and sexual crime pays particularly well." 


     The seven chapters in the middle section of the book are filled with reports given to the author by different kinds of sex offenders. Many of these offenders had been committing offenses for years and decades before finally being identified. They had been able to continue their molesting, raping and other sex offenses for so long because what Salter sees as most people's trusting nature. Even mental health professionals were frequently taken in by the sex-offenders proficiency at deception.

     The author believes that the various psychoanalysts who hypothesize that child victims of molestation unconsciously lure the molesters because of their own repressed sexual desires, are themselves part of the problem rather than the solution.

     Salter gives an extreme example of how easy it is for sex-offenders to deceive people. A correctional officer and his wife made friends with a convicted child molester during his term in prison, and invited him to live with them after his release, despite the fact that they had a nine-year-old daughter. They were so taken with this offender that they initiated adoption proceedings after he had lived with them a few months. The offender molested their daughter the entire time he lived with them , and when this was discovered he was again convicted and re-incarcerated. Despite this development, the officer and his wife were still so attached to the prisoner that they continued to visit him in prison.

     Throughout this middle section of her book, Salter emphasizes the two principal reasons for the astounding number of undetected sexual offenses: the offenders' unbelievable deceptive skills and the gullibility of the general public.


     At the very beginning of the final section of her book, Chapter 9, Salter compares her own view of the world with that of one of her friends. Her friend voices her belief that "there is good in everyone." Salter believes that this point of view is not only naïve--it is also dangerous. She writes: " The most optimistic viewpoints on the world can be shown to make us healthier and happier, but can--unchecked--make us vulnerable to predators as well." She further contrasts her own viewpoint with the "rose-colored" one of her friend by saying: "She would reason with an intruder. I would shoot him."

     In Chapter 10, "Detecting Deception,"  Salter points out  that there is no such thing as a checklist that we can use to spot predators. She advises that the first step we must take to recognize sexual offenders is to become aware of our own biases--our "positive illusions" that cloud our judgment by making us believe that we live in a much kindlier and gentler world than is really the case.

     Once we manage to convince ourselves that there really are sexual predators all around us, looking for circumstances that offer opportunities for rape or molestation, we are ready to learn the tell-tale signs of lies and other forms of deception. Salter, who gives training sessions on detection of deception, tells us that most people believe that gaze aversion and fidgeting are reliable signs of lying. Not so. These are only signs of nervousness, and many sexual offenders are such practiced liars that they feel no nervousness at all while prevaricating. The author gives us a long list of different kinds of body language that are indicative of deception--the kinds of "tells" that gamblers look for to recognize when an opponent is bluffing. However, at the end of the chapter she gives us a caveat : "We should not put all our eggs into the basket of detecting deception; we should consider deflection instead."

     In the final chapter, Salter suggests that, since the detection of sexual predators is so difficult, "…we must pay attention to ways of deflecting any potential offenders from getting access to us or to our children." She goes on to give us some common sense suggestions as to how to do this. For example, if we accompany our children to school and church events, our very presence is a deterrent to attempts at molestation. We can avoid high-risk situations--for example, don't leave our children unattended with men who involve themselves in youth activities although they have no children of their own or children of that age.


     The last paragraph of the book reads: "If I do my job right, my children's lives will be filled with so many opportunities and interests, they will not even notice what they're missing. The only one who will notice is that friendly, smiling, affable man with a secret life, the one at the sock hop, the one who's waiting for an opportunity that will never come."

     All of us who have children--particularly if we also have grandchildren--owe Salter a debt of gratitude for writing this book. If we read it carefully and follow her advice, there will be a noticeable decline in the incidence of sex offenses and the devastating effects these offenses have on their victims.      


© 2004 Jack R. Anderson


  Jack R. Anderson, M.D. is a retired psychiatrist living in Lincoln, Nebraska. 


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