Sexual Predators Often Elude Casual Profilers After allegations of child sexual assault at Penn State, many wonder why more people didn't see warning signs. Former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole says many predators spend years grooming victims and parents and gaining their trust. O'Toole and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Harold Bursztajn explain.


Sexual Predators Often Elude Casual Profilers

Sexual Predators Often Elude Casual Profilers

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After allegations of child sexual assault at Penn State, many wonder why more people didn't see warning signs. Former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole says many predators spend years grooming victims and parents and gaining their trust. O'Toole and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Harold Bursztajn explain.


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The allegations against popular, respected assistant coaches at Penn State and now at Syracuse remind us that sexual predators may not be who we think they are. The stranger who abducts kids from a playground turns out to be a rarity. Much more often, predators gravitate to professions where they work with kids and work hard to convince parents and colleagues to trust them.

Before we continue, we do need to note that predators represent a tiny fraction of those who work with kids and that many, maybe most predators, are members of the family in one way or another.

Given the latest allegations, though, we focus on those outside the home and the profile of a predator. If you were a victim, how did it start? Tell us your story. Our phone number is 800-989-8255, email us You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, police response to Occupy protests on The Opinion Page this week. But first the profile of a predator. We begin with Mary Ellen O'Toole, a former FBI profiler, the author of "Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us," and she joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you with us today.


CONAN: We also need to remember that at Penn State and Syracuse, these are allegations, but in too many cases, we hear people say this is the last person I would have suspected.

O'TOOLE: You hear that all the time. People are stunned when the news comes out, and they've identified someone who allegedly has been involved with especially sexually deviant behavior and then even more specifically, sexually deviant behavior with children.

And the one issue that I've seen over and over again as an FBI profiler for more than 15 years is that the general public wants to look at someone and be able to tell physically if there's something wrong, and therefore they can run away and grab their children and run away. But that's not - that's not the real world. Sexual predators often times look just as normal as you and me.

CONAN: And maybe even ultra-normal.

O'TOOLE: And maybe even ultra-normal, up to and including the status of being an icon in the community.

CONAN: An icon in the - well, obviously if you're an icon, that's another layer of protection.

O'TOOLE: It really is. Years ago, I started to look at all the features of cases that almost prevented cases from coming forward to law enforcement. And one of the things that I identified was I called it icon intimidation. And by that I meant if someone assumed a status in the community because of their job, because of their title, because of how much money they had or whatever the case may be, it oftentimes made it much more difficult to accuse them of a crime, let alone prosecute them.

CONAN: And it feeds into another of those categories you were talking about: doubts.

O'TOOLE: It does. It leads into doubts and questioning of oneself and then fear of going up against someone who's so powerful.

CONAN: And we saw in some of the reactions at Penn State just how - why people might be fearful.

O'TOOLE: Yes, that's right.

CONAN: And as you again look at these people, and these are cases that have been proven, we're not talking necessarily about the cases at Syracuse or Penn State, but cases that have been proven. These are not just teachers, the most popular teachers; not just coaches, the most popular coaches. People who go out of their way to work with kids.

O'TOOLE: They can oftentimes go out of their way not only with their hobbies and in their pastimes but also with their professional pursuit, and in some cases it's a combination of what they do in their off time plus their professional pursuits, which gives them almost an added infrastructure to victimize - select and victimize children.

CONAN: There is a behavior that we've heard about called grooming, where an adult will show a lot of interest in a kid, particularly a kid who's vulnerable for one reason or another, and give them time, attention, gifts, trips, something like that.

O'TOOLE: That's right.

CONAN: The grooming, though, is not just of the kids. It's of their parents. It's of their colleagues. It's of the community.

O'TOOLE: That's right. The grooming behavior as an umbrella term can include not only the victim, the child, but also the parent and other people that may otherwise become suspicious of the behavior. So we call it in the FBI's profiling unit the offender takes steps to basically seduce a whole variety of people so that he can achieve his goals.

CONAN: Joining us now from a studio at Harvard Medical School is Dr. Harold Bursztajn, a forensic psychiatrist, senior clinical faculty member at Harvard Medical School, and good to have you with us.

HAROLD BURSZTAJN: Good afternoon, Neal, and good afternoon, Mary Ellen.

O'TOOLE: Good afternoon.

BURSZTAJN: It's been a privilege to listen in and be educated by the two of you in the dialogue here.

BURSZTAJN: Thank you.

CONAN: Well, you are something - someone we need to listen to and be educated by, as well, particularly including about pedophilia, which is considered a mental health disorder. It's sickness.

BURSZTAJN: It can be, although, Neal, as I think the dialogue that you and Mary Ellen have been having points out - and again without reference to the Syracuse or the Penn State cases - there was a spectrum of behaviors which involves children being sexually molested.

In that spectrum, we have pedophilia, but as also have people who are not mad but just simply bad and mean. We also have people who may be psychotic, delusional, in some instances demented, who may engage in sexual molestation of children. And one has to go through a differential diagnosis on a case-by-case basis. Here is one case where the devil is truly in the details.

CONAN: I get your point, and of course every individual case is different, and details matter. Nevertheless, are there characteristics such as those we were talking about that do join them together, at least as a rule?

BURSZTAJN: Well, if we look at the spectrum, on one end of the spectrum we have people who are delusional, who cannot go ahead and control their behavior and who are driven to molest children. On the other end of the spectrum, we have people who are mean and vain and who have a choice as to how they can express their fantasies.

It's not about their fantasies or the intensity of their fantasies, it's simply an unwillingness to go ahead and control their behavior of an investment in humiliating those who are helpless or those who feel hopeless. So again, we have a spectrum here.

CONAN: And that grooming behavior, is that typical?

BURSZTAJN: In some instances yes. Again, when you have someone - just because someone is delusional doesn't mean that they cannot plan to act out their delusions. The same is true just because someone is mean and vain, it doesn't mean they lack planning capacity. And part of planning capacity can involve identifying likely victims, people who will not talk or who feel helpless, people who themselves may suffer from low self-esteem, who need to be befriended by a mentor or by a father figure or a mother figure in some instances.

CONAN: We're talking with Dr. Harold Bursztajn and Mary Ellen O'Toole. We'd like to hear from those of you who were victims. How did it start? 800-989-8255. Email us, And we'll begin with Joe. Joe's on the line with us from Bardstown in Kentucky.

JOE: Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Joe.

JOE: So yeah, I was listening to your show about how these are the people who you trust. It's not the bad guy. And that's - I was abused when I was a child. I'm a father now of several boys and girls, and I just don't let them go anywhere with adults, you know, unless it's a large group, and there's multiple adults.

CONAN: And how did it start with you?

JOE: My mother was a single mom back in the '60s, and I grew up without a dad. And I think she felt like it would be good for me to have some interaction, you know, with a kind of a father figure. And it was kind of a boys, you know, a Big Brother, Big Sister, and it wasn't that organization, but it was kind of like that. It had a religious affiliation.

And he would come by the house, and he really spent a long time working on my mom, you know, not romantically or anything, just to get her to - you know, he could talk about religion and things that he knew would reassure her, and then eventually said he wanted to take me on a trip for some kind of a religious convention or something. And that's when the abuse started, when he got me alone.

I was 12. I was totally unsuspecting.

CONAN: And I'm so sorry, Joe, and I don't know if the person was ever...

JOE: You know, no, and that's a big problem for me. This lasted about four years. By the time that I got the courage to do it was oddly enough when my son turned 12. It just kind of came, it just hit me like a ton of bricks. I've been trying to ignore it, and that thought came, you know, is he hurting other people.

And, you know, I went to therapy and all that, and there's not much you can do when you're 12, 13 years old. And of course he went through the whole, you know, you did something wrong, you cannot tell anybody you did this, you'll be punished, that kind of thing. But no, nothing was - I called the police in California, and they said that the statute of limitations had run out. There was nothing they could do.

CONAN: I'm so sorry, Joe, and I hope that you...

JOE: Well, it's important to know - I know you don't have time - the important thing is - that I've learned from this as a parent is don't make judgments about who you should trust with your child because that would be to blame these people that sent Mr. Sandusky, who had these kids. It's not that they misjudged him. It's that in today's day and age, especially maybe always, you can't send your child alone or in a situation where he could be alone with another adult even that you trust.

I've had people ask to take my son to overnight baseball games out of town, people that I would cut my arm off before I thought they'd hurt him, and I said no, not because I'm judging them but because it just shouldn't be done. So...

CONAN: Joe, thanks very much for the call.

JOE: Thank you.

CONAN: And we wish you and your kids good luck. Mary Ellen O'Toole, as you listen to that, you were, I know, sympathetic. But the question of what can be done after all these years. In a lot of cases, some places there's no statutory limitation on rape, but in other places, depending on what the laws are, and it varies so much.

O'TOOLE: Well, it's a stunning story, and it's just really gut-wrenching when you hear about someone that has been victimized, and it's years in the past. But one thing that I've seen - at least in the FBI, in the profiling unit - is that when you see this kind of predatory behavior, even if it's 10 or 15 years ago, there's a very good possibility the behavior is continuing to the current day.

And so if the behavior started in California, but the offender at that time now has moved to Missouri or Illinois, you could still begin to take a look at them to see if there are new victims and if the behavior is in fact continuing. And in a lot of cases, I would expect that it is.

CONAN: We're talking about the profile of a sexual predator, how they groom their victims and the victims' parents and their own colleagues and why our assumptions of what a predator looks like or acts like can prove often to be wrong. If you were a victim, how did it start? 800-989-8255. Email us, Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. We're talking about the profile of a child sexual predator. In the vast majority of the cases, the victim knows his or her attacker. Often, the abuser is a family member, but there are exceptions.

One study looked at young victims in three states and found that about half the time, abusers were acquaintances or friends. The facts we're reminded of in the allegations - again still allegations - involving cases at Penn State and Syracuse. If you were a victim, how did it start? 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email us, You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guests are Dr. Harold Bursztajn, a forensic psychiatrist and senior clinical faculty member at Harvard Medical School and former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole. Her book is titled "Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us." Let's see if we can get another caller in on this. Patrick), Patrick with us from Sharon in Connecticut.


CONAN: Hi, Patrick.

PATRICK: Hi, and thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

PATRICK: Yeah, I was just, you know, telling your screener that when I was a young boy, I think nine or 10, you know, I had a bowling league every Saturday and with a lot of other boys. And, you know, the guy that ran the bowling alley, he was kind of, you know, a weird kind of creepy guy, but, you know, he seemed to be an affable fellow.

And he had one boy that, you know, we kind of questioned the relationship, as it was. And then one day he took me aside, and he said he wanted to talk to me. And he sat me down, and he was holding my hands across the table and, you know, telling me if I ever needed anything and then asked me if I liked drugs. And he fooled me into looking into his wallet by asking me if I was interested in marijuana.

And I said, oh yeah. I was a bit of a wise guy, and I said oh yeah. And so he opened up his wallet, and he showed me a bunch of money. He's like, well, you know, if you ever need anything, I think you're a really special guy and so on and so forth.

And I was - luckily, I came from, you know, a good family, and I had all that I needed. I wasn't, you know, vulnerable. And I just said, well, thanks, you know, thanks for the offer, but I have everything I need. You know, I get my bowling shoes, and I get my lunch money and my, you know, my ski trips and whatever else.

So I wasn't, you know, vulnerable to his - but I could see where a lot of other children would be. And subsequently, he was arrested years later and spent time in prison and then passed away, I believe from HIV. And so I think two other coaches, you know, also were arrested, and I know that one of them is still in jail now.

And so it was happening all around us, and we kind of had inclinations of it. We didn't - you know, but we didn't know how to approach it or to say anything to an adult. It wasn't - it didn't dawn on us that maybe we should say something and get an investigation started here. You know, you're so naive, you're not aware.

CONAN: I think that's the definition of naive, and Patrick, of course you're not trained for any of that. You're not supposed to be able to do any of that at nine or 10. And I'm glad things did not turn out worse. But thanks very much for the call.

PATRICK: You're welcome.

CONAN: Dr. Bursztajn, I wonder, this ability to pick out the vulnerable kid, that seems to be critical.

BURSZTAJN: Yes, the ability to target victims by identifying those kids who are most helpless or feel most hopeless or feel most alone tends to be part of the predatory nature of this crime, which is what child molestation is.

CONAN: And the transference of guilt, this is something that you must never tell anybody - it's our secret - that's very effective.

BURSZTAJN: The ability to go ahead and say to the child, shame on you, if you tell anyone, either they won't believe you, or they will humiliate you just the way I've humiliated you except far worse. There is a conspiracy of silence, which is woven by the threat of humiliation.

CONAN: And Mary Ellen O'Toole, I have to add sometimes people are afraid to approach the police, and sometimes they're afraid for good reason. The police don't take their charges seriously.

O'TOOLE: That is very true, and people will listen to an allegation maybe by their son or their daughter, and they'll say, well, wait a minute, I can't bring false charges against this person, they could lose their job, they could go to jail. Are you sure...

CONAN: It's huge. It's huge.

O'TOOLE: It's huge possible repercussions, and so oftentimes they'll do one of three things: They'll ignore it, they'll rationalize it or they'll explain it away, because the alternative is just too great for them to go to the authorities.

CONAN: And sometimes...

BURSZTAJN: If I can just chime in for a moment.

CONAN: Go ahead.

BURSZTAJN: This September I had the privilege of working with the FBI here to teach local law enforcement on how to interview victims, traumatized victims. I was very much struck how the times are changing, that their conference room was overflowing with law enforcement being interested in how do we interview traumatized victims, which itself is a skill which people need to learn. It doesn't come naturally.

CONAN: And we do remember, and it comes up every time we discuss this subject, the recovered memory cases in North Carolina several years ago where it turned out the allegations were false, and they were terrible things.

BURSZTAJN: Absolutely. How does one - how can one be empathic without being suggestive is the heart of a good interview. And again, that's not something that you can just well, it comes naturally. There's a fine balance between empathy and suggestibility that one must walk in order to be able to get at the truth.

CONAN: Mary Ellen O'Toole, did you get that kind of training when you were starting out?

O'TOOLE: We get a lot of training in interviewing, but it's a real specialty to learn how to sit down and interview a child, especially when there's a threat of an allegation, because you can be assured that that interview, more than any other interview, will be litigated in court, meaning that the prosecution will address it, and defense will address it.

And anywhere along the line where that interviewer made a mistake, it could be a huge problem ultimately in court in the outcome of the case.

CONAN: David's on the line, David with us from San Antonio.

DAVID: Hello?

CONAN: You're on the air, David. Go ahead, please.

DAVID: Yes, my name is David, and when I was 16 years old, I was - had some behavioral problems, and my parents sent me away, for lack of a better word, to a boarding school with therapy. And there I encountered a gentleman, and everything that you all have been talking about, it just, you know, it sounds like it's textbook.

He singled me out. You know, he was so kind to me. He always wrote glowing reports to my parents about me. The first incidence, when I knew there was something wrong, was when he came up behind me. I was playing a video game - this was in the 1980s - and pressed up against me and told me about his member.

And that went on and on, and it finally accumulated into he - him sneaking into my room one night and raping me. Because of where I was, you know, credibility was an issue, and I was absolutely terrified to tell anybody.

CONAN: And it sounds like you were the - talking about textbook - the textbook vulnerable kid, in a position of absolutely no power whatsoever.

DAVID: None. I had no power whatsoever at all. And I let it slip to a girlfriend what had happened, and she told a coach, and I happened to have had a pass to go home that weekend. And when I got back, my caseworker was the person who picked me up at the airport, and I knew something was up because my caseworker never picked me up from the airport.

And probably what bothers me the most about it is I don't think they ever believed me about what happened. How they got rid of him is that whenever you went on and off campus, you had to be basically searched, and he got fired because he searched me without another staff member there.

CONAN: So, some minor procedural thing.

DAVID: Exactly, exactly, and the last I heard, he was working at a similar place.

CONAN: That's scary David. Again, I'm sorry, that this happened to you.

DAVID: Well, I just wanted to - you know, I was listening to your program, and I always enjoy it, and it's one of the few times that I've had an experience that I could share with your listeners.

CONAN: Well, thank you very much, and we appreciate the phone call.

DAVID: You're welcome. You have a great day.

CONAN: Thank you. The - too often, Mary Ellen O'Toole, it seems that someone who faces these allegations is allowed to leave quietly and move on somewhere else because nobody wants the attention to the institution. Nobody wants the perhaps dicey situation of a he-said, she-said kind of a situation. Let's just put it behind us and move on.

O'TOOLE: I was thinking exactly that as I listened to this last caller. And what's important to understand about this behavior, it's not snap behavior. So it doesn't start at age 30 or 40. It's behavior that begins to manifest at an early age, and the fact that you fire someone or terminate someone or send them to another part of the United States, that doesn't stop that behavior.

That behavior will continue, and in many cases, it continues until the person is really quite old. So, really, it has to be addressed. If it's real, if it's genuine, it needs to be addressed from a law enforcement perspective and therapeutically. But there are so many cases where this behavior just does not respond to therapy, and that's really important to know, as well.

CONAN: Dr. Bursztajn, is that right?

BURSZTAJN: I think what Mary Ellen is saying is fair, which is that - again, a lot depends on what the diagnosis is. If you have someone who is psychotic and sexually molesting children, if you treat the psychosis, that may indeed stop the sexual molestation. On the other hand, if you have someone who's simply mean and vain and molesting children, they can't be treated. They can give the illusion of treatment. Also, thinking again about David's story, institutions themselves need to be able to ask for independent evaluation of such claims. As long as institutional pride is on the line, institutions themselves cannot be objective about the contribution of their staff, of their faculty, to an abuse allegation. You need to have an independent forensic evaluation of what has actually happened.

CONAN: All right. Here's an email from a listener in Davis, California: I am a male teacher. I am regularly invited by my students' parents to family dinners, to their soccer games, gymnastic meets, et cetera. Must I now start wearing an FBI clearance saying I'm not a sexual predator? Should I limit my social contact with these other adults from now on and ignore both parents and kids outside the school setting? I enjoy the company of others, but it seems like nowadays, being a male teacher requires one to avoid being part of the community in which one works. We noted earlier that only a very tiny percentage of those who work with kids are predators. But, Mary Ellen O'Toole, you can understand his frustration.

O'TOOLE: Well, I certainly understand that. And truthfully, if you wore a T-shirt that said FBI background checked on, it's just a T-shirt, and so it would have absolutely no meaning. And not wanting to get into giving advice to people, but I - what we talk about in terms of looking for behavior for parents and teachers is to look for that person that looks for opportunities, for solo time with the child, that really seduces and grooms the child, that doesn't want the parents around, that wants to spend alone time, have the child come over to their home. So if you're screening your own behavior, you want to ask yourself: Am I giving them the illusion or the impression that I'm more interested in the child than in the family?

CONAN: We're talking with Mary Ellen O'Toole, a former FBI profiler, and with Dr. Harold Bursztajn, a forensic psychiatrist and senior clinical faculty member at the Harvard Medical School. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. And here's an email from Clarence in Salt Lake City: When I was about 11, I left home without my parents' permission, went to an arcade downtown in the city where I lived. A man started to chat me up, even offered to give me some quarters. We talked, but I was wary of him. Since I'd moved around a lot, I was experienced enough to realize that not all adults are good or have good intentions. Finally, after he asked if I wanted to see his room, I got really scared and told him I had to go since I was meeting my brother for a movie in a theater downstairs, which was a lie.

To this day, I have huge trust issues. It is ruining my relationship with the most wonderful person I've ever met. I've tried to talk about it, but the guilt at not turning this man in when I had the chance makes me worry that he just found another victim. So in the end, my comment is that kids are the absolute last stand against being victimized by these people. It's awful to have to do it, but kids need to be educated that all adults are a threat, regardless of whether they are a family friend, business associate, uncle, aunt, grandparent, neighbor, teacher or anyone else in their lives. Dr. Bursztajn, you sympathize with somebody who had that experience, but doesn't that sound a little extreme?

BURSZTAJN: Well, Neal, I think that the extremity that you're hearing is there, because very often, blind cynicism begins with blind trust. If you blindly trust human beings, then it's easy enough to become blindly cynical. How do we go ahead and teach our children to be open-minded, to be able to use their best judgment as to who to trust, for what, when, is the job of the parents, and it's a job which we - only we can do.

CONAN: And parents, Mary Ellen O'Toole, you come back to that, too: The children who are most vulnerable are children who don't necessarily spend a lot of time with their parents.

O'TOOLE: Those children can be very vulnerable, not just because they're children and their judgment skills certainly are not where they would be as an adult, but they don't have their parents or caregiver around to help them make right choices and right decisions and right assessments about people. It takes a lot of effort, training and background to do good assessments on people. To put it off on a 10 or 12-year-old child is not even reasonable.

CONAN: Another email along the lines of one we read earlier. This one from John: I'm a male social work grad student interested in working with children. I now realize I will face suspicion from parents and other workers of the community. What do I need to do to help children and families feel safe with male therapists, considering there's a shortage of male therapists working with children? And, Dr. Bursztajn, I suspect psychiatrists are not immune from such suspicions, too.

BURSZTAJN: Absolutely. And there has been at least one case I know of a child psychiatrist who was a child sexual molester. I've known a case of a pediatrician who was a child sexual molester. So there's no immunity. But I think to be able to go ahead and talk honestly with families of children about their concerns is a prerequisite for being able to do good treatment with children, and when their concern's a realistic one, has to acknowledge those concerns as being realistic.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get one more caller in. This is Jennifer, Jennifer with us from Cincinnati.

JENNIFER: Hi. How are you?

CONAN: I'm good. Thanks.

JENNIFER: I've listened to a lot of your programs before, and they all kind of set a chord with me, but this one is really close - is hitting close to the mark. I had a neighbor that I grew up next to. He was that grandfatherly little man, you know, in the neighborhood. And my mom was single, and it was one of those little communities where we all just kind of - the kids left in the morning and went out and played, and all the neighbors kind of kept an eye on us. And, you know, he was that trusted, older gentleman that nobody, you know, questioned his integrity.

And a couple of years ago, he passed away, and my mom said, oh, isn't it sad that this gentleman died? And, you know, I didn't really say anything. And she said, you know, I heard stories sometimes about him when you were little that he would do bad things, but he never did that around you. And I said, well, yeah, mom, he did, and explained, you know, that there were - it started with, you know, like pats on the behind when I would leave the house. And, you know, it would be, you know, come here and give me some sugar, or it would be, oh, I'm gross from working in the garden. I'm going to take my shirt off. Come and give me some sugar while I have my shirt off.

CONAN: Jennifer, can you hang on with us? Stay with us.



CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

In just a couple of minutes, we'll get to the Opinion Page. But just before the break, we were talking with a caller named Jennifer from Cincinnati who said that when she was a little girl, the friendly old man who lived next door, eventually she heard from her mom that the man had died and, well, that he had maybe done some bad things, but at least not with her. She was telling her - telling us that, well, yes, in fact, she - he had done some things with her. Jennifer, obviously, we can't get into details, but how did it play out in the end?

JENNIFER: Well, it started when I was in kindergarten. And about - this is, like, '75, '76. So by the time I was in third grade, you kind of started hearing towards '78, '79 more stories of kids being abducted or molested. And it was like I heard the stories, and I was like, wait a minute. What he's doing is not right. It's not normal. And so I would just stop going to his house, you know? Mrs. Tobler(ph) would make chocolate chip cookies, and I wouldn't come in to get them. I would, you know, wait out on the porch.

And it just - you know, it was a growing-up process. But my whole thing is that with parents - I have four children, and I'm very careful now, and I'm very leery. And when we do church functions and things like that, you know, I ask them to - you know, I go and I ask other parents about, you know, are they going to be with the reverend for the day? Do you know him? Have you ever heard any stories about him? And they kind of look at me strange like I'm asking for trouble, but I just don't want my kids to grow up with that feeling where your mouth goes dry and you start shaking, and, you know, your belly - you get this lump in your stomach like, oh, my God, it's happening again and...

CONAN: Yeah.

JENNIFER: ...and I just don't want them to feel that hopeless and trapped, ever. And so I'm very protective.

CONAN: Jennifer, thank you - as you should be. Thank you so much for your story. And before we leave, Dr. Bursztajn, I just wanted to ask you: We were talking earlier about whether predators can respond to therapy. What about the damage to their victims? I'm sure some things can never be repaired.

BURSZTAJN: The damage which child molestation causes is intense. It can be lifelong. The most important part of therapy is to help the victim get over the sense of helplessness and humiliation which accompanies sexual molestation. And in order to be able to do this - not just what happens in the therapist's office, but how the family responds to it - fundamentally, education without humiliation is the essence of therapy for victims of child molestation.

CONAN: And, Mary Ellen O'Toole, as shocking as the allegations at Penn State, Syracuse - again, allegations, but we're talking about it. Does that help people or hurt people, do you think?

O'TOOLE: Oh, I think it's very helpful to be able to talk about it and to make it normal to talk about it and allow people the opportunity to say this happened to me. And one of the biggest issues when I was - as an FBI profiler is to make people feel like they weren't the Lone Ranger, that this kind of behavior does happen to other people. So what happened to them doesn't make them an outcast or that there's something wrong. So I think that just talking about it so that they know there are other people that have endured this, incredibly helpful.

CONAN: Mary Ellen O'Toole, her book is "Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us." She joined us here in Studio 3A. Our thanks as well to Dr. Harold Bursztajn, a forensic psychiatrist, senior clinical faculty member at Harvard Medical School. Most importantly, our thanks to all of you who wrote to us and called. We're sorry we could not get to everybody's story, which is important. But we hope that the stories we did broadcast today were of use. Stay with us.

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