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Site Hardening: Predator-Proof Your Home

By December 23, 2021November 28th, 2022No Comments

By Wendy Patrick, Ph.D.

In many cases, the predators who threaten us are not strangers. They are neighbors and acquaintances, hiding in plain sight. We spend thousands on home alarm systems, install video cameras, and obtain scary guard dogs (or post signs that claim we have). We expend valuable time and effort protecting our homes from unauthorized entry by strangers, yet some of the most dangerous individuals are those we invite in. Or, if we do not invite them, we fail to protest when they invite themselves. For predators, this is a test, and boundary probing may be a prelude to more devious behavior.

Fortunately, there are measures you can take to both perceive and prevent boundary-violating behavior before more intimate boundaries are crossed.

Familiarity Breeds Contentment[1]

Neighborhood Watch programs are ineffective unless they consider both the danger outside as well as the danger within the neighborhood. In a previous column discussing why we miss signs of potential terrorists in the workplace,[2] I discussed the research behind the phenomenon of familiarity breeding contentment.

This counterintuitive finding debunks the frequently cited cliché that “familiarity breeds contempt.” Part of the explanation is quite practical: Proximity increases the chances of interaction and forming relationships.[3]Unfortunately, predators want to take advantage of close and repeated interaction with young children who usually don’t recognize the forms that grooming often takes.

This false sense of security, however, can give rise to the “Ax Murderer Next Door” syndrome, where the next-door neighbor of the serial killer describes him as — say it with me — “such a nice guy.” When questioned further, however, the next-door neighbor admits that she thought the killer was nice because he was “quiet” or he “kept to himself.” In other words, she thought he was “nice” when she knew nothing about him at all.

Whether we live on a residential street or in an apartment complex, we behave the same way. We smile and wave to neighbors we see every day. Perhaps we even send our children over to sell Girl Scout cookies. Proximity breeds the perception of safety, which is very different from the real thing.

Regardless of your square footage, your home is your castle. Consider these tips to fortify your walls.

  1. Enforce Physical Boundaries

Have you ever had someone you know walk into your home uninvited? How did you react? When a predator does this, it is a test. Some people fail to protest an uninvited home intrusion out of fear of being perceived as rude, because the boundary violator is a neighbor. One sexual predator I prosecuted breezed through his neighbor’s front door without knocking, having lived next door for almost a year. What did she say about his failure to knock? Nothing. The next day, he did it again. Her failure to enforce boundaries established behavioral precedent that gave the offender easier access to her son, whom he went on to molest.

  1. Dissolving Emotional Boundaries Helps Dissolve Physical Ones

Physical boundaries are often penetrated with emotional ammunition, as devious predators charm and disarm. One of the most disarming strategies manipulators use to break down defenses with neighbors is helpfulness. Helpful people within close proximity to our home are wonderful to have around, in case we need something. That is exactly why predators adopt this positive, socially endearing strategy.

Sexual predators use helpfulness to ingratiate themselves with victims and their families.[4] They offer to fix things, help with errands, or babysit, free of charge.[5] Their assistance leads beneficiaries to describe them as “too good to be true.”[6] Sometimes, they are.

Helpfulness can lead to the blurring of boundaries, affording the predator increased access to a victim´s family through creating a sense of indebtedness.[7] One mother describes reluctantly allowing a neighbor who had been working on her car for several years to walk into her house and pour himself a cup of coffee.[8] The first time it happened, not only did she refrain from objecting because he had spent time working on her car, she even offered to make him a sandwich.[9]

Site Hardening

Your home should provide both sanctuary and security. Accordingly, protecting your residence requires perception and proactivity. Vet your friends and neighbors carefully, remain attuned for boundary-probing behavior, and shore up any cracks to protect yourself and your family.


A version of this article originally appeared at Psychology Today.

[1] Portions of footnoted text are taken from my latest book Red Flags: Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press, 2015). Although all a matter of public record, case examples have been deliberately altered to protect the identity of those involved.


[3] Frank W. Schneider, Jamie A. Gruman, and Larry M. Coutts, Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 2005), 80

[4] Carla Van Dam, Identifying Child Molesters: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse by Recognizing the Patterns of the Offenders (New York: The Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press, 2001), 150−151.

[5] Van Dam, Identifying Child Molesters, 150.

[6] Van Dam, Identifying Child Molesters, 170.

[7] Van Dam, Identifying Child Molesters, 171.

[8] Van Dam, Identifying Child Molesters, 171.

[9] Van Dam, Identifying Child Molesters, 171.

Wendy Patrick

Author Wendy Patrick

Wendy Patrick is a career trial attorney, behavioral analyst, and author of multiple books.

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