Tuesday, September 1, 2015

About Grooming

Difficult Topic

Grooming is a vast and challenging subject to cover because there are not always readily noticeable behavioral differences between someone who is grooming a child and someone who is simply building a mentoring relationship with a child, as a church worker might do. Some people might look at a list of grooming behaviors and respond, “What’s the difference between that and a normal relationship? Sure, the secrecy might be concerning, but everything else? Come on, be serious.”

To me, the main difference is gut reaction, secrecy, and how many behaviors are being noticed. Like my list of warning behaviors, the presence of a single behavior should not be cause for concern, but the presence of many behaviors that seem odd or out of place. 

Regardless, it is important for you to write down what you see. We are often socially conditioned to give people the benefit of the doubt, so we might see something that does mean something and dismiss it because we rationalize what we are seeing. One great example is driver behavior: We see someone driving fast, and we just assume they are running late, when they may be driving fast for a wide variety of reasons, and we do not call the police because that step seems far too drastic.

Personal Impact

Grooming is an extremely difficult topic for me to cover for a number of reasons. I never intentionally groomed my victim, yet that is exactly what it looks like from the outside. I never intentionally manipulated my victim, except to get him tell someone what was going on, yet what I did was exactly that: Manipulation. I know it may be hard to believe that I did those things without intending to or realizing I was doing it, but that is the truth. 

In the moment, it was not about me being sexual with my victim, it was about me helping him. I was not even being honest with myself about my own thoughts, and lied to myself inside my own head. I manipulated my own thoughts without even intending to. That, I think, more than anything enabled me to groom and manipulate my victim without any awareness I was doing it.

My method of manipulation was to tell him that I was helping him have good hygiene. That is what I thought I was doing. I wanted him to be happy, and free from the problems I had when I was a child with wetting the bed, getting rashes and zits, etc. So in my mind and to him, I was helping him know how to take care of himself. 

All of that was just a facade that I told myself and him to avoid the truth of the matter: I was emotionally overwhelmed by many, many things and was using him to try to feel better about myself. Internally what was motivating my abuse of my victim was not anything I was consciously aware of.

Why do I bring that up? I must point out and illustrate that knowing the difference between grooming for child sexual abuse, and genuinely trying to be helpful to a child can look very, very similar. Observing signs of grooming are just one way that you could determine that someone may be a potential abuser.

No List?

I have been asked by a few people if I will put a list of warning signs, or ways that abusers can groom their victims, so that parents and caregivers can have a list of things to watch out for. I am still adamant about not sharing such a list, because such a list could easily be misused by people to abuse children. It would also be entirely too triggering for me to write or find such a list, and too much information for most people to handle. 

The information can be misused far too easily, either by the minority of sexual predators that we must be concerned about, or the people that see a potential abuser around every corner, in every shadow. If you are still determined to find a list of grooming behaviors, I am sure you can Google that and find information.

What I will say about grooming and manipulation is that offenders and those with the high potential to offend have lived in two worlds: One, everyone thinks that the potential abusers are wonderful people, and two, they know the potential abuser’s thoughts and have their own opinions about the potential abuser’s struggles. A potential abuser or abuser is adept at lying to others about their issues, and concealing the truth so that they are not found out and burned by the information. 

They feel that they are alone in their struggle, and must just plow ahead anyways without help. They are adept at lying to themselves and thinking that no one can understand their issue, even if they know what that issue is. They need a caring person to intervene, and show them a healthier way of doing things. They need access to mental health.

The Need For Mental Health

It took me just over two years of hard work to be able to see all the ways I was lying to myself and others, and how harmful keeping secrets is for me. It took me five years before that to get to the point of abusing a child, which means there is time to intervene. An abuser and potential abuser do not have insights into their own behavior. They will likely be grooming and manipulating without ever realizing they did so. That is where you can come in: Giving perspective on their behavior.

The ones that do realize it, like Sandusky and Seville, are the people you should truly be afraid of because manipulating and grooming on a conscious level means there is no conscience. They are the sexual predators, but we must remember that these people represent a small minority of “sex offenders”, and that most abusers are people like me: Completely unaware of how harmful their behavior is, where their behavior is headed, and what is motivating the behavior. In other words, people in need of mental health help and a caring support system.

The best advice I can give about grooming and manipulation is that you instinctively know when someone is not being forthright. You feel it in your gut that something is off, whether you can identify what or not. Use that feeling, and if it happens concerning children, write it down and make a list. Then consult the warning signs, and how to talk to a potential abuser. If necessary, report your suspicions to the police or a child protective agency. If you are still unsure, contact Stop It Now and ask for help and guidance, or visit your nearest child advocacy center.

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