Why didn’t I know?

When you find out that your loved one has been having sexual thoughts about children or has committed a sexual offence involving a child, you not only have to deal with your anger and distress but you will probably ask yourself – why didn’t I know?

Don’t be hard on yourself! When you trust someone it is unlikely that this possibility will have even crossed your mind. Unless there were really obvious behavioural warning signs you won’t have been looking out for things that, with the benefit of hindsight, would prompt you to consider that the person you care about would have been having sexual thoughts about children. Thoughts are invisible – we can’t know with any certainty what someone is thinking and your loved one will have been working hard to conceal his thoughts and behaviour.

We all use masks – or put on a front – to help us deal with different situations. We show different bits of ourselves to the world whether this be at work amongst out colleagues; when out with friends or at home with our families. Often we show other people what we want them to see or even what we think they expect to see. This is normal, especially if the thing we don’t want others to see or know is liable to get us into trouble or be frowned upon.

If individuals want to cover something up, they may use these masks even more. It is likely that the person you care about wanted you to only see the side of him which reflected positive thoughts, feelings and behaviours and not the negative. This might be because he was ashamed, anxious and confused about his thoughts and behaviour and/or he felt unable to share what he was thinking and doing. He might have feared negative consequences including rejection or he might have wanted to protect you from this knowledge. Alternatively he might have not wanted you to suspect there was anything wrong so that he could continue in his thoughts and behaviour. There are many possible reasons and it is frequently only in the aftermath of disclosure or arrest that people begin to put two and two together and are able to recognise the signs that are indicative that something was not okay.

Remember thoughts are invisible and therefore knowing what the warning signs are in a person’s behaviour and how to deal with them is really important.

Warning signs

Below is a list of warning signs that indicate that an adult may be using their relationship with a child for sexual reasons. It is not an exhaustive list and there are likely to be other examples of behaviour which may be associated with the individual’s specific situation and circumstances.

  • Refuse to allow a child sufficient privacy or to make their own decisions on personal matters.
  • Insist on physical affection such as kissing, hugging or wrestling even when the child clearly does not want it.
  • Are overly interested in the sexual development of a child or teenager.
  • Insist on time alone with a child with no interruptions.
  • Spend most of their spare time with children and have little interest in spending time with people their own age.
  • Regularly offer to baby-sit children for free or take children on overnight outings alone.
  • Buy children expensive gifts or give them money for no apparent reason.
  • Frequently walk in on children/teenagers in the bathroom.
  • Treat a particular child as a favourite, making them feel ‘special’ compared with others in the family.
  • Pick on a particular child.

Although these signs may not definitely be evidence of someone engaging in sexually harmful behaviour towards a child, being alert to any behavioural changes in the person is essential, especially if a number of these signs are present and should prompt you to have a conversation with the person displaying this behaviour and/or for you to seek advice and information such as is available through the Stop it Now! helpline. Feeling equipped and able to challenge behavioural changes should they arise is important.


If the person you care about has been arrested and you have decided to stay with him it is important that you talk to him about his sexual thoughts and behaviour. You need to discuss not only the nature of his thoughts but how he concealed them. Knowing this and how this would have influenced his moods and behaviour will help you notice if he struggling with such thoughts in the future.

Obtaining this knowledge can be difficult; both because the person you care about may be ashamed and struggle to share this with you and because it is sometimes difficult to hear the details. However in order to best support the person you care about you need to have sufficient information about his thoughts and behaviour. In addition he needs to agree to give you this information and be prepared for you to talk to him if you have cause to be concerned about what he might be thinking based on what he has told you and/or his actions. BUT remember you are not responsible for his thoughts and behaviour and if he were to have such thoughts or re-offend this is not your fault.

Your own support

It is also important that you feel supported and have people that you feel safe and confident in talking to. Our experience of talking to the family members and friends of people who have disclosed they are having sexual thoughts about children and/or have been arrested is that telling other people can be very difficult. They may have a fear of other people finding out; be worried about what others would think of them; how they might be viewed by others and there may be a concern that others might believe they should have known or that they have colluded with the other persons behaviour.

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