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Watch out for this predator’s super-stealth tool

appearsfriendlybutDesensitize (de·sen·si·tize): “To make insensitive or unresponsive to a sensitizing agent.”

Even people with strong personal boundaries and good awareness skills can be targets of predators if they don’t understand that some criminals are experts at desensitizing their prey with incredible patience.

Desensitizing is the slow, steady dismantling of your warning bells and red flags. You are made to see a harmless teddy bear, but the bear is actually a grizzly in teddy bear’s clothing.

For example, predators testing the waters at a workplace might take days or weeks to painstakingly follow a plan of action using repeated exposure to desensitize you like this:

✦ Sit uncomfortably close to you a few times until you get use to it

✦ Remove some lint from your clothing or fix your hair to get you comfortable with having your personal space invaded

✦ Bring publications to your side of the desk, then lean toward you to read them with you

✦ Place a hand on your shoulder or leg, gradually increasing the duration

✦ “Accidentally” touch your breast  or drop something in your lap

✦ Get you alone and try something overtly sexual

✦ Force themselves on you saying, “Hey look, you wanted this or you would have stopped my earlier advances.”

Desensitization is so subtle and controlling, a target barely feels their boundaries slowly receding. Predators in a position of authority have it even easier.

Predators make their slow desensitizing tactics seem like standard operating procedures. Some predators use “permission marketing” sales techniques to worm their way into your confidence and past your boundaries. Unlike friends, they strategically push smoothly past your comfort zone by throwing a subtle challenge to your strength or good nature with questions or statements such as:

predatorstricks✦ “I’m not making you feel uncomfortable am I?”

✦ “You don’t mind if I come around and show you this report do you?”

✦ “Do you think I’m being too friendly or are you OK with this discussion?”

✦ “I know I’m a bit straight forward, but you can handle it, yes?”

✦ “I speak from my heart. I can’t change. You understand don’t you?”

✦ “I wish more people were like you. I feel I can tell you anything.”

✦ “I know this gift seems like a lot, but you helped me out so much with the project.”

✦ “You don’t think I’m being a jerk about this do you?”

Predators work on stealing trust as hard as most of us work on becoming successful at work, school, or at sports. Don’t underestimate their cunning. Some like to push into your level of trust by:

✦ Giving inappropriate gifts or tips to make you feel as though you owe them

✦ Providing too much personal information or “secrets” so you will feel special or obligated to volunteer private information in return

✦ Going too fast into friendly or overly familiar conversation (“I just love you, hun. We are just so alike!”)

If you are uncomfortable around somebody, give yourself permission to ask why and to draw a line around your personal safety.

Have you ever faced an office “teddy bear” like this?


Thank you for visiting and learning about self defense.
If you think others can benefit, please pass it on!

Lori Hoeck

Photo Credits:  TedPercival (top) & Stevendepolo

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Davina October 25, 2009, 9:40 am

    Hi Lori.
    This is disconcerting you know? How to know when to trust someone? That question takes me back to intuition and just “knowing”. Makes it even more important to learn how to tune in. Thanks.

  • Patricia October 25, 2009, 3:04 pm

    This is such a good point, my youngest daughter has learning problems and a lesion in the brain area of Long Term Memory – makes it had to retrieve information after two weeks….the kids in high school were always persuading her to do things that were dangerous or out of bounds – like skip class and go to MacDonalds and when she had no money they would persuade her to get it out of her bank account (which had to be linked to our special savings account) one young girl conned her out of $1,000 worth of clothing and goods….and then when we hired private detectives to figure it out….the schools would not back us…we had to change schools and get a restraining order so they could be fair.

    I had a professor in grad school in a class where I was the only woman, he kept desensitizing the men in the room, until during the final exam he reached down my blouse and grabbed my breast – none of the men laughed or helped me or would testify against the prof. because they said they were so focused on the exam and getting the grade they needed to progress.

    I on the other hand ran my fist straight up into his jaw and ended up breaking his nose….I failed the class and was suspended for the year and removed out of the Master’s in Counseling program.

    I have seen Boards of Director’s do this subtle predatory grooming and set up an office to assist the board in firing someone or having them quit….
    Good post about important things that can disrupt a life

  • Lori Hoeck October 25, 2009, 6:49 pm

    Hi Davina,
    Just being aware that such people exist and not living in denial helps a person pick up on these types more quickly. Eventually we learn to see the sleaze factor from afar.

    Hi Patricia,
    Tough deal for your youngest daughter! Wow. “The school would not back us” — one thing I know is that schools often cover their butts better than teach their students.

    Desensitization and predatory grooming go hand in hand. And the groomers usually have years of practice under their belt to make it ever so smooth.

  • janice October 26, 2009, 12:30 pm

    This is such a good post, Lori. It happens so often, women being told they’re frigid, or anal, or up tight – or even conceitedly imagining things – if they complain or draw a line around their personal safety at the very first inkling.

    Reading this made me happy that I’m so prepared to be brave, honest and not a sheep who can be intimidated. I have very strong instincts and it would seem daft not to trust them. It’s maybe a shame that we can’t trust as much as we’d like, but there’s a lot of sense in the old adage, better safe than sorry. My instincts got even stronger after I had the kids.

  • Barbara Swafford October 27, 2009, 12:42 am

    Hi Lori,

    You’ve raised another important issue. There is something to be said about keeping our space and not letting others intrude unless we give them permission. How sad it is to know some are preying on others with an ulterior motive in mind. All the more reason to be alert.

  • Lori Hoeck October 27, 2009, 10:36 am

    Hi Janice,
    Feminist have written about how name-calling a woman “Bitch” used to be a powerful and controlling put-down. Thankfully we are becoming more immune to such marginalizing.
    And let’s remember, guys can also fall prey to predatory treatment from women in authority.

    Hi Barbara,
    Keeping our space and not letting others intrude are good boundary setting skills that turn predators away. This doesn’t have to be done with a chip on our shoulder, though. It can be done by acting forthrightly, keeping a relaxed wariness, and meeting life with a strong inner spirit.