Anyone can perpetrate abuse or victimize someone. It is what happens afterwards that defines whether that perpetrator made a big mistake, or whether they are a predator. The key to this difference is accountability
A predator is someone who has a pattern of enacting coercive control in their relationships, especially intimate or sexual ones. A predator is someone who feeds off of being in power, and being in control. A predator is someone who gets off taking advantage of other people- by making other people feel helpless and powerless. A predator is someone who thrives on being manipulative.
Even when they have behaved in an abusive or harmful way, if someone is able to look back, take accountability for their actions without making excuses, and make genuine amends by abiding to whatever requests their victim has made, I can generally assume that they are not a predator, but that they made a big mistake.
There are lots of reasons why someone might make a big mistake. Maybe they have personality flaws that made them selfish in a particular situation. Maybe they had a hard childhood and have some maladaptive patterns of behavior. Maybe it was a side effect a mental illness they have, or maybe they were under the influence of substances and made a poor decision. I should also note that a predator may also have any of the above traits, but they actually enjoy being in control and in power non-consensually.
Another important thing to note is that the effect on the victim or survivor can be the same regardless of whether the perpetrator was a predator or a person who made a mistake. The accountability piece is important- it can have a huge impact on how the survivor feels later on into their life, but not change how they experienced the abuse and the immediate after effects.
Accountability is complex process. It requires taking responsibility for your actions while taking into account the environment that contributed to it, while not using that environment as an excuse. It requires listening to those who were harmed by your actions, regardless of the intent of your behaviors. It requires fulfilling the requests of those who were harmed in terms of how you go about your future actions.
Accountability is essential for healing on all parts. It is essential for survivors to feel validated that yes, someone did something to harm them and they are not crazy. It is also important for the perpetrators, because they cannot investigate and reflect on the reasons behind why they made the choice to hurt someone, intentionally or unintentionally, until they take accountability for the fact that they did in fact hurt somebody.
In my experience, the way you can tell the difference between a predator and someone who made a mistake, is that actual predators will not take accountability. The people who take accountability are the folks who aren’t actually predators, who really did just make a big mistake. It is the actual predators who will continually deflect and manipulate around their accountability. This is the nature of accountability and how it works. But it leaves the most dangerous people out in the world, still un accountable, still perpetrating harm.