When is a red flag more than just a red flag? How to identify paedophiles in your midst

In November 2019, Deon Wiggett’s sensational weekly podcasts held South Africa in thrall as he hunted down the paedophile who raped him as a schoolboy. Now, in My Only Story, he completes his exposé of Willem Breytenbach, the once brilliant teacher and later media luminary who led a predatory life.

Deon’s mission to expose his abuser takes him from Breytenbach’s high-school years at an agricultural school in South Africa’s hinterland to the famous Grey College in Bloemfontein and the media titan Naspers. But his quest reveals so much more. As he traces systemic failures through schools great and small, he uncovers a culture of complicity that poses a clear and present danger to the country’s children.

While investigating men who prey on boys and girls, Deon devises a model that anyone can use to identify paedophiles in their midst. In his own words: ‘It’s pleasant to pretend that men don’t rape children, but once you accept that they do, it becomes surprisingly easy to recognise their trickery. Once you match a universal pattern to a specific man’s profile, you can spot the deceit before it is too late.’

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Deon has this advice for parents and teachers to identify paedophiles:

What should parents or teachers look out for?

First, it’s important to remember that men who want to have sex with children never stop thinking of ways to get close to children. Whenever anybody gets close to your children, don’t default to the notion that they are probably trustworthy. Our default position should be extreme vigilance. Paedophiles are not like us.

If someone is a sports coach, teacher, scout master or whatever, we must scrutinise what that adult gets from being around children. Always question their motives. Look at their behaviour. Be aware of the stages of sexual grooming – this is a pattern and something all paedophiles do to turn themselves into a child’s hero. Children need heroes, but we must be super vigilant when someone actively tries to become a child’s hero – giving the child gifts, showering them with affirmation, taking them on outings alone, that kind of thing. This is not normal. In the process, they groom the parents too so that they trust the person with their child.

What should kids look out for? 

Children need to be taught to be wary of any grown up taking a sudden or above-ordinary interest in them. They must be taught that if a grown up starts developing a one-on-one relationship with them, they should tell their parents about it.

Additionally, children must know to be extremely careful of being lured into sharing seemingly innocent secrets with a grown-up. This is so often the trap.

The moment you hear “you must not tell your parents about this” – this should be a red flag.

There is no substitute for solid caring guidance and support from parents or guardians. Don’t allow your kids to develop inappropriate relationships with other adults.

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When is a red flag more than just a flag? And how trustworthy is that ‘gut feeling’? 

Always listen to your gut. We get taught not to, but your gut is always right. Our bodies and brains pick up things that our conscious mind thinks are irrational or unreasonable. If somebody gives you the creeps, keep your children away. You don’t need a reason not to want a certain adult next to your child.

 What should happen if the suspect is a close family member or trusted adult? 

It’s a crime not to report sexual offences against children to the police. If it is found later that you knew, you are an accomplice. You could go to jail for not reporting this.  Paedophiles do not deserve protection; children do. If you suspect someone is a paedophile, first make sure your children are far away from him, and then take a look at the other children that are around him. It is not enough to keep just our own children safe; we need to keep everyone’s children safe. It takes a village to keep children safe. We have to speak up, or these men will carry on till the day they die. Paedophilia is a life-long compulsion.

My Only Story is available in English and as ‘n Enkele Verhaal in Afrikaans online, or in bookstores nationwide.

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