I took some time to read this article by Dr. Jessica Taylor, because it’s thought-provoking, and fairly challenging to think about. Frankly, I’m going to recommend you do the same, because in it, she really challenges how we think about “grooming” when it comes to child abuse, because much of what we think of as the “signs” we should be on the look out for, are things that happen every single day to all of us.
As you can see, the process of grooming is about the manipulation, persuasion and control of humans. It is not specific to sexual offences at all.
By narrowly defining it, we have put our own blinkers on. We ignore the way grooming is utilised all around us. We then start to believe that grooming only happens to the most vulnerable, and that we can teach them how to spot the signs and how to stop it happening to them. But it rarely works.
To me, this is an important topic, one we don’t pay enough attention to. If grooming equates to the act of manipulating or persuading someone to a certain course of action, that has been going on since day one. Somewhere along the way, especially in the UK where they have actual laws that make certain acts of grooming illegal, we have decided that the act of manipulating a child in order to abuse them is something so far and away different that we would notice it right away, and yet, when I look at what we define as grooming behavior, versus what we do to each other, and to children, every day, is there really that much difference?
Yes, the goal of the manipulation and the end game for pedophiles is very, very different, and absolutely is far and beyond any of the other behavior she goes on to talk about, but the process might not really be that different.
Think about it. Right now, this very second, you are reading this post because either you found the headline intriguing and clicked, or someone shared it with you and said you should read it, and you clicked. In both cases, you were persuaded by another person to do something. If you saw it on Facebook or other social media platform, there’s a Facebook algorithm watching you and trying to give you more stuff you like, to persuade you to keep coming back to Facebook, and you’re reading it on a device that you were persuaded to purchase by some other factor in your life.
Not to mention the fact that parents, teachers, or someone, somewhere, persuaded you to learn to read. You were persuaded, even manipulated, to go to school, study, become the sort of person who could get a well-enough paying job to own a piece of technology and pay for an internet connection, and all of that wound up with you, right here, right now.
You were “groomed” to do what you are doing right now. And yet, so many want to look at children, and make them responsible for knowing which persuasion is good for them and which isn’t.
Quoting from Dr. Taylor again:
Many victims of abuse question themselves and ask, ‘How didn’t I spot it? Why didn’t I know? How could I be so stupid?’
You’re not stupid, you’re normal.
Not even professionals can spot groomers. Not even the police. None of us can. We miss millions of them every year, even when the evidence is staring us in the face.
She is right, if grooming were easy to spot, we wouldn’t have millions of children around the world becoming victims of sexual abuse. We would know who to arrest and who to avoid. Now, I am not saying there is zero value in teaching parents and adults that there may be some signs to look out for, but it needs to be so much more than that. I don’t think there’s much value in teaching little children the signs of grooming though, that’s not their job to figure that out, it’s the adults.
We mostly need to stop shaming victims, and ourselves, for not seeing that we were being manipulated when that is pretty much how we interact with every person around us every day. Granted, most of those interactions are harmless, I kiss my wife because I want to persuade her to know that she is loved, I cheerfully explain a concept to a co-worker on a call to persuade them to agree with my plan, I write this blog to convince survivors that they are not alone and hopeless, I try and persuade them to share it with their friends and survivors they know. I’m not “grooming” any of them in the narrow way that we define that now, but I am absolutely trying to persuade them to do or feel something, just as they are doing the same to me. Just as the last news article I read tried to educate and persuade me to keep reading, or act is some way.
Where do we draw a line in the same when it comes to persuasion? Usually when we can see what it is the persuader is getting people to do, and we don’t agree with it. Stealing money from widows, sexually abusing a child, robbing a location you’ve become familiar with, hacking a network after persuading one of their users to be careless with passwords. Yes, there are a ton of bad things we may be manipulated into doing, but to say that it’s stupid to miss the signs, is the wrong takeaway. The correct takeaway is to recognize that some nefarious people are really, really good at it, and they will victimize someone.
Your abuse was their fault. Not yours.
Extra bonus for anyone in the mental health space – go read Dr. Taylor’s explanation of how trying to persuade a client might actually be triggering them. Inisghful stuff there too.