Perpetrators of Trauma

It is scary to think that there are individuals who are active in their efforts to traumatize children. I have spoken with a number of families who learned that someone outside their home but in their community was abusing or traumatizing their children—an uncomfortable, unsettling statistic. If we are going to prevent childhood trauma, it is essential that we are particularly vigilant in supervising our children’s activities, schedules and in whose company they will be. It is also essential to know the typical characteristics of perpetrators of trauma.

Be clear, but be attuned to all things involving your child

Serious little boy
It is essential to know the typical characteristics of perpetrators of trauma.

We need to be clear that because someone has one or more of these characteristics, that does not indicate with certainty that they are traumatizing or abusing children. There may be many reasons why these characteristics exist. However, when we know the characteristics of trauma perpetrators, we can carefully observe those who surround and relate to our children. Further, parents who are attuned and aware of some current research (below) and apply that knowledge to the routines and behaviors of their children can minimize the possibility of abuse or trauma. 

The list below encompasses a range of individuals who perpetrate trauma in the lives of people with whom they share relationships. One way we can consider this range is in terms of how intentional the perpetration of the trauma was (i.e., how aware the perpetrator might be with regard to the possibility or probability that he or she could be causing a traumatizing event for someone else). 

scared child peeks through clothes in closet
The list of trauma perpetrators characteristics is not meant to scare parents or caregivers but to raise awareness to the tragic reality of those who might abuse children.

Potential trauma perpetrators includes people/caregivers who:

  • Are physically incapacitated/incapable of providing adequate care
  • Suffer from any of many mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and depression
  • Suffer from a character or personality disorder, such as narcissism
  • Are overwhelmed by other stresses
  • Are impoverished and unable to provide adequate care
  • Are drug and/or alcohol addicted
  • Suffer from PTSD
  • Are caught in the power of reenactments
  • Struggle with anger management issues
  • Have been impacted by their own Reactive Attachment Disorder
  • Are disengaged, disinterested, indifferent with regard to the needs of children and other family members
  • Are misinformed about healthy ways to parent and are encouraged to parent in less healthy ways
  • Are unable or unwilling to deviate from family legacies of unhealthy parenting
  • Are isolated, without support, encouragement or role models
  • Are racists, zealots, cult members, supremacists, terrorists
  • Are oblivious to abuse being perpetrated by others, are unable or unaware that protection is needed
  • Are exhausted
  • Are immature, irresponsible, have poor judgment
  • Are controlled by others who do not have the well-being of children in mind
  • Are sexual deviants, pedophiles
  • Are sociopaths or psychopaths

It is difficult even to admit that predators who prey upon children exist in our society. Though the list may be frightening, it is not meant to scare parents or caregivers but to raise awareness to the tragic reality of those who would abuse children. However, if we suspect that a child may be in a potentially abusive situation, knowing these characteristics may help us to assess whether to remove the child from that situation or relationship.

sad punished little boy
Being informed and intentional—clear and prepared—helps us prevent abusive and traumatic situations for our children.

Protect your child, prevent potential trauma

Remember, I offer these characteristics to inform you. When you know who may be influencing your child because you keep your radar alert and your involvement high, you are doing what you can to protect your child.

 Sadly, I have experienced too many stories in which parents were not aware and very damaging relationships occurred to their children. It is my hope that being informed and intentional—clear and prepared—helps us prevent abusive and traumatic situations. We need to protect our precious children. 


Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network


Information taken from Deepening Trauma Awareness, Diane Wagenhals, 2008.  All rights reserved.  Licensed materials.

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