I have written this article 16 different ways trying to soften the language and avoid giving offense to anyone. The trouble is that my conscience won't allow the softening. With the sex abuse scandals exploding in every industry, sport, religion, and educational institution, it is clear that we don't have time or good reason to spare feelings over safety. Those examples don't even include the endless experiences that we have personally had in our communities and homes.
It's an evil that has become systemic. We have been culturally conditioned - publicly groomed actually - to accept a degree of certain abusive behaviors as normal.
We feel a false sense of security because we have aggressively rooted out the most egregious offenders, put them on registries, taken away their positions of authority but, we ignore the elephant in our own living room. We have been silent. We have been complicit. And yes, we have been trained and groomed by evil people whom we allow access to our minds and families.
I have put together a short list of qualities in men that are red flags for a discerning Catholic girl or woman. These guidelines will also apply to my Protestant sisters in Christ. If even one of these risk factors exists, that is a solid reason to put on the brakes. If you want to jump right to the list, scroll down. If you want to understand the problem a little better and how you can better serve your daughters (or yourself), hang with me for two minutes.
I rarely watch TV but recently fell into a YouTube vortex of shows that are currently popular. I don't know if it's just because I've been away from regular watching for so long but I was struck hard by one thing I saw...
The distinct and unhidden patterns of grooming and predatory behavior in media are constant. There is no coverup. No shame. No outcry.
Men and women have always enjoyed the thrill of the chase and old TV shows are sprinkled heavily with the same messages, but I found the aggressiveness and crassness of the newer shows to be alarming and constant; acclimating us through clever scripting to a system that breeds abuse. It's the same culture I met so strongly in high school - having to constantly share close space with guys who were openly and aggressively predatory - and in so many other places.
My hope for this article is to sharpen our Catholic axes so that we are better prepared to fight this battle and to help those specifically whose souls, minds, and bodies fall under our care. I am concerned for both males and females but my gifts are more suited to helping other women - that is my unique perspective - and so my focus will be on helping protect our Catholic teen and young adult daughters from false and predatory men.
We don't have to be powerless. The easiest way to become a victim of evil is to give our consent and an open door. So... let's teach each other to retain our power. Some of our sisters and daughters will need our help to climb out of the trap of attraction, manipulation and possibly shame. Let's do this. Let's be strong in mercy, love, and willingness to go a little Joan-of-Arc on the enemy.
THE PRACTICAL STUFF
I will go over some practical guidelines for being able to spot possible predators. This is a defensive maneuver only. There are many excellent resources out there for identifying healthy qualities in a man and I encourage you to look those up as well.
Are you currently dating?
Are you involved in a relationship?
Are you a teen girl interested in boys?
Are you a parent entrusted with the care of young men and women?
Let's talk about our predatory culture and practical ways to protect them against the common (criminal and non-criminal) predatory male.
SURELY YOU DON'T MEAN TO SAY 'PREDATOR?' THAT'S A STRONG WORD.
Actually, yes. Yes, I do. When I say predatory, I am referring to boys and men whose ultimate aim is not the eternal well-being of the girl, but the satisfaction of their ego and sexual urges. That is not necessarily a criminal action but it absolutely makes them a hunter/user of women and ultimately, dangerous. Whether it is a behavior that is studied and deliberate or simply learned by being a part of a hedonistic culture is irrelevant to the safety of the young woman involved. It’s still predatory.
There's a difference between a man struggling with virtue and a man who is a predatory and we should acknowledge that. But it is also true that an habitual lack of virtue is the path to all evil actions. So...
Some of you will get hung up on the term "predatory." I stick by it and won't soften it. I'm tired of the silence. We see where silence gets us. It gives us a broken, bleeding wound delivered by evil permitted to flourish.
Back to the bad guys who want to date our daughters...
Some of these guys are impatient, boorish, and angry; some of them are poetic, gentle and willing to play the game and wait (some even profess a love of Christ). Regardless of the differences, both have the same end goal which is satisfaction of their own ego and physical desires. Both engage in a form of grooming.
Because this topic always seems to get some "boy mom" defenses up, I have to give the standard disclaimer:
I am a "boy mom" of 4 boys. I married a man. I have male friends and beloved male family members. I know many good (male) priests. This post is not male-bashing. I don't hate men. I do not think men are the only ones at fault. This is wholly and simply a practical and instructive resource for single women and those who love them.
It's also a resource for teenage girls not yet ready for marriage who are uniquely vulnerable to false and bad men... and possibly a self-check for good men who don't want to be that guy.
So for the record, girls: Don't be losers. Don't use or entrap guys. This post can be helpful for teaching you how not to be abusive (simply apply the points to your own behaviors) and also to avoid getting yourself caught up with one.
DEAR MOMS OF GIRLS...
We've all been around the block a few times. We know things that our girls don't know. But our girls haven't lived in our shoes, haven't learned our lessons, and haven't undergone our conversions. We cannot assume that they are equipped to weather the storms we are accustomed to withstanding. We cannot assume that when they nod their heads in agreement with our maternal rants that they actually have a deep enough grasp of the truth or an unwavering relationship with Jesus Christ.
We have to be willing to go to the mat for them; to make ourselves a righteous nuisance about technology, defensive protocols, and constant instruction in the art of navigating the human condition.
I'm not going to sugarcoat this. Some of you think your girl is okay... and she's not.
God didn't allow me to wade through the sewage in my own life only to stay silent and watch other hearts, minds, and bodies assaulted by wickedness. Here is your warning and I give it with all the sisterly and motherly love in my feminine heart:
Evil hardly ever comes looking like a monster... but usually appearing like the deepest desires of our heart. We have to be prepared.
Evil slips through the cracks through our weaknesses and our pride. It finds our sorrows and our loneliness. It listens to our doubts and becomes the consolation and affirmation that we deeply desire.
CATHOLIC GIRLS ARE PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE
Young women from good homes who are pursuing virtue are particularly vulnerable to the snake in the grass because they are more trusting. They are surrounded early in life by people pursuing virtue. Consequently, they more quickly believe the lies from the forked tongue of a compassionate admirer. The answer isn't to expose them to more and earlier wickedness but to better prepare them with the truth before, during, and after they hear the lies.
I love you.
I want you to be happy.
I can make you happy.
Your parents don't understand you.
I go to church at St. fill-in-the-blank.
I will take care of you.
Some of your daughters will fall. If they do, you will strap on your armor of maternal justice and mercy... and you can use this list to help them climb out of the hole of sorrow. To destroy lies and restore the order of truth.
I would be negligent if I didn't add that this list holds true for any person in a position of authority over our children including teachers and priests. If even one of these things is true, a relationship of vulnerability and trust should not be pursued. Safeguards should be in place. No spiritual direction or personal mentorship. No outings. No private phone calls. No car rides. It should go without saying that private meetings (closed off from others) with an adult male even without these markers are generally imprudent.
Please note that not all of these indicate that a boy or man is bad beyond recovery or that he only has evil intentions. But the presence of even one of these factors increases risk significantly. Even one of these is sufficient to decline a single date, an exclusive relationship, and certainly marriage discernment. You don't even have to have a reason if your gut tells you "no."
Some of us fell hard to predators as young women and didn't have the support that we needed. Here's what I wish I knew...
A Catholic Girl's Guide to Detecting a Predator
Give your guy 1 point for each of the 13 risk factors.
Scroll down for an explanation of each warning sign. Again, a man struggling with virtue is not necessarily the same as a predatory man. But he can be... and that is why this is a list of risk factors and not definitive statements.
He is not a Christian.
He is not a Catholic.
He is a bad Catholic.
He is a liar.
He is secretive.
He isolates you.
He is vulgar.
He is divisive.
He is mean.
He pressures you to abandon your morals.
He is fast.
He is immersed in foul music and media (or porn).
He doesn't want to talk to your dad.
1. HE IS NOT A CHRISTIAN
He may be a "nice" guy or a "decent" guy. He may claim to be a moral person and pursue natural virtues but, if he does not submit his heart and actions to Christ, there is no standard for him to follow when he feels like straying.
This is a non-negotiable for a Catholic girl.
"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." - Matthew 12:30
Aside from his own comfort and passions, a man who does not follow Christ has no guide. He has no reason to be honest when it will cost him. No reason to remain chaste when he feels that he is in love. No reason to forego worldly pleasures.
Why should he tell you the truth about anything?
Why should he wait for marriage?
Why shouldn't he use you?
Every man can eventually choose to follow Christ. But if he wants to date you and does not currently adhere to a Christ-centered worldview, he will only be able to follow his own ego and his passions.
You cannot save him. Only Christ can save him. Perhaps he will be ready someday to discern a relationship with you... but not yet. This does not necessarily make a man a predator, but it is a significant risk since he does not yet know how to love as he was made to love. He does not yet know that love is an act of service with an aim of heaven... and not just a way to gratify ego and urges.
2. HE IS NOT A CATHOLIC
What if he's a follower of Christ but not a Catholic? I deeply love my Protestant brothers and sisters and have found them to be some of the greatest examples of Christian love I have ever seen. They've taught me how to better love Christ and express His love to others. They've taught me how to joyfully worship and how to speak like a true believer. They've taught me about what it means to suffer well for Christ and have given noble examples of red and white martyrdom for His sake. They've also been an incredible support for learning how to navigate the cesspool of secular culture.
But because there is no one governing body or thought in Protestantism, it cannot be said that all non-Catholic Christians have the same beliefs and behaviors.
This does not necessarily make a man a predator, but can be a relationship risk since he likely rejects some boundaries set in place by Catholic moral teaching. If he accepts sexual deviancy of one kind (i.e. homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, contraception, etc), then he may also be less resistant theologically to things like porn and premarital sex. This is a problem among Catholic men who have clear and permanent boundaries. How much more so if there are movable boundaries?
Let's be straight about this. This post is primarily for Catholic women who want to be safe and want to remain Catholic. If that's what you want, then you will have to fight hard for it and make uncomfortable, unpopular decision... because most of the world is going to think you're nuts.
3. HE IS A BAD CATHOLIC
This is probably the most dangerous dating category for a young woman who wishes to remain Catholic. Once a predatory man finds out that she is a committed Catholic, he will know exactly what to say to gain her confidence. He knows the externals and how to appear pious. He will go to Mass with her and talk about his Catholic school upbringing. They will have deep conversations about matters of faith and he will listen attentively while she expounds on moral and theological matters. He may even go through RCIA if he was never confirmed.
He's a liar because he doesn't believe and doesn't want to believe. He's already been a Catholic and rejected it and Christ. He's been living in a state of mortal sin. And he thinks he's got a sure bet with his innocent Catholic victim.
Another example of this is a boy or man who is living as if he is a believing Catholic but is rebellious in his heart. A priest who has stopped praying and who is sexually active but who is still in active ministry to other souls. A Catholic school teenager who goes to Mass to please his parents but who prefers the ways of the world.
I know the observation is harsh but it is not wrong. This is a very dangerous man. And he lives in our parishes, in our schools, and all over the internet.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. - Matthew 7:15-17
4. HE IS A LIAR
If a man has a habit of lying, walk away. If he encourages you to lie in order to be with him, run. If he will lie to your parents or his, he will lie to you. And if he lies to you, you are not safe in his care.
"Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" - John 14:6
5. HE IS SECRETIVE
There is no place for secrets in a healthy relationship. If you have to sneak to meet him, he's not the one. A good man will not make you jump through hoops so that he can hide in the dark. A good man will walk up to your front door and ask courteously to speak to your dad.
If your relationship has developed entirely (or almost entirely) on the internet for the purpose of staying hidden and in isolation from your family, it is a bad relationship and you should end it.
A good man who loves you will want to know your family and introduce you to his. He will want to become a part of your life not hide away in a dark corner with you.
If he doesn't want to meet your parents and doesn't want you to meet his, he is a liar and a thief. His objective is to keep you away from your safety net and the people who can protect you. Run. Run. Run.
6. HE ISOLATES YOU
Technology is a wonderful and terrible thing. In the case of relationships, it is often absolutely devastating. One primary tactic of predators is to isolate and alienate someone from their support system. They are narcissists and demand all of your undivided attention. The existence of texting, messaging via many social media platforms, and things like Google Hangouts means that you have unrestricted access to each other at any time of the day or night. In bed, at school, in the bathroom, at work, at church, on family outings...
That. is. not. healthy.
To be fair, we are a society of technology addicts and many otherwise healthy people spend far too much time on devices. Relationship development is completely different than it was even 15 years ago and I acknowledge that imprudence is not the same as predation.
However, predatory behavior easily includes isolating via technology.
There is no accountability, no protection, no loved one observing visitors or phone calls in a healthy way. There is no way to ignore a communication, no way to be unobserved or to take time to yourself... UNLESS it is a healthy relationship where boundaries are observed and appreciated.
If he is constantly checking on you, jealous of your family and friends, demanding of your time, and punishing you emotionally for claiming healthy space... that's a red flag.
7. HE IS VULGAR
If your guy's mouth is dirty and you would be ashamed to have him overheard by your grandmother, father, or parish priest, then you've got a problem. This may just be a problem of his upbringing (in that he never learned it was wrong) but it is no less concerning. A man should be conscious of the dignity of a woman and take care to be polite and refrain from crude talk. If he is constantly dropping the F-bomb and talking using explicit language, he is not yet a trustworthy man. He is a vulgar boy and not worthy of your time.
If you adopt vulgar or coarse speech as a result of hanging around him, then you are being false in order to gain attention and affirmation. It is not love. It doesn't attract true love. It does not build up, heal, bless, or make beautiful. It is ugly and you should reject it.
8. HE IS DIVISIVE
One of the hallmark actions of narcissists and predators is to isolate a person from her support system and family.
A good man will want to know the rules of your family and abide by them. He will not put you in situations in which you are vulnerable or separated from your support system. If you find this to be the case, you may very well be dealing with a predatory person. Or at least someone who is self-absorbed and not good relationship material.
9. HE IS MEAN
If he reacts angrily or unkindly to your efforts to maintain connection with what is good and true in your life, regularly puts you down, or easily erupts into angry outbursts... end the relationship. You are headed for a life of sorrow.
10. HE PRESSURES YOU TO ABANDON YOUR MORALS
He may be supportive at first but many predators will start to chip away at the foundation of your beliefs after they have gained your trust. They might start to do this by asking innocent sounding questions about moral issues and then increase negativity once they find gaps in your knowledge or faith. They will press into your doubt and use your affection to their advantage.
A predatory person is often excited to learn that you are a religious-minded person because it makes the catch that much more exhilarating. They know if you want to be pure and possibly if you are a virgin. They've just entered the most thrilling video game ever.
They are willing to wait a long time for you if they think they can ultimately "win." Studies of criminal sexual predators show that some of them will groom a victim for years. In relationships where a man isn't criminal but simply lacks virtue, he may also be willing to wait a long time for you if he is enjoying the ego-affirming chase.
If your guy is pressuring you to abandon your morals and isn't Christian or Catholic, see points #1 and #2. If he claims to be a Catholic, see #3. If you are certain that he is a practicing Catholic and he regularly pressures you to abandon your moral compass, especially in matters of sexuality... see #4. Run from them all. They don't love you.
11. HE IS FAST
You've known him for a few weeks and he already says "I love you." You've just had a first date and he gives you a full body hug (pressing thighs, hips, abdomen, chest, and shoulders together). He is quick to hold your hand, quick to kiss you, quick to talk about the future. Quick to demand the majority of your time.
This is not proof positive of a bad man, especially since most young men simply suffer from terrible formation or a tendency toward imprudence. But just know...
Healthy discernment is not generally that fast and predators are willing to wait a long time but will also go as quickly as they are allowed to go. Pushing physical boundaries early is often a way of grooming for rapid physical intimacy. It shows them how far they can go without resistance and it shows you one of two things 1) Dude hasn't been taught boundaries and respectful behavior to women, 2) He lacks self-discipline and maturity, or 3) He doesn't care.
12. HE IS IMMERSED IN FOUL MUSIC AND MEDIA (OR VIEWS PORN)
When he gets in the car, he turns on music that would make your grandma blush. He regularly views television, YouTube videos, and movies which depict sexually explicit content. He views pornography.
Many practicing Catholics also do these things and it can get very confusing. I have seen practicing Catholic men and women defend soft porn in movies and explicit music lyrics. I do not agree with them and have written about it before but I understand that it can be a difficult point of navigation.
My point here is to say that if someone has become desensitized to material which degrades, disrespects, distorts, and hates the truth and beauty of God-given sexuality... that's a red flag. As for pornography... someone who currently and unapologetically uses porn is not a safe person for a young woman.
You are made in the image of God (the Imago Dei). You were made to love and be loved. You are not an object. You deserve better.
13. HE DOESN'T WANT TO TALK TO YOUR DAD
This is an excellent gauge of a man's integrity and strength of character.
Not everyone likes, admires, or gets along with their dad but, if your dad is still in your life and isn't a criminal, then a man who wants to date you should be ready and willing to come face to face with him and express his interest in you.
This practice has almost entirely fallen away in our culture but it is worth restoring even if only as a general barometer of character. Ideally, a guy should reach out to your dad first but most have never been presented with such an idea. You may have to bring it up. And then know....
A guy who refuses to talk to your dad is likely a man of secrets, lies, poor character, and a hidden agenda. He doesn't want his cover blown by dad and is averse to the proper order of relationships.
Some predators can even fool dad and Eddie Haskell their way through a meeting. But I maintain that if your guy is happy to meet with your dad (even if he's nervous), discuss expectations, accountability, intentions, etc, and shake his hand... then your odds of happiness are greatly increased.
Now... add up the points.
I can't tell you what to do with them because I do not claim this to be a fool proof formula for discernment. I only offer you food for thought.
If you have one point, you need to figure out if it really is a concern or not (unless it's a non-negotiable like sexual pressure) . If you have multiple, I recommend bringing the information to someone you trust with your very life (not the guy) and prayerfully considering the potential concerns.
I don't want to end this article... I want to keep talking about it. I want to put my arms around every girl and make sure she gets it. I had to keep it relatively brief here because the internet has robbed our collective ability to read something even as long as this post. I know most will just skim.
But let's get the conversation started.
A girl should be prepared early on to understand her dignity and to become accustomed to defending boundaries. She will need those tools her entire life. She will need them in the Church, in school, in sports, in family life, and in friendships.
She will be tempted to become like the culture in order to find love. The predators are waiting.
Break the silence. Restore the culture. Protect each other.