What is grooming? Everything you need to know about this abuse tactic

Sexual abuse often begins when the perpetrator 'grooms' their victim, which serves to entrap them into the abusive relationship.

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Armie Hammer, an American actor known for Call Me By Your Name, is the most recent man in Hollywood to have sexual abuse allegations come out against him. Following the actor’s divorce from his wife of 10 years, Hammer quickly jumped back into the dating pool, finding himself in a relationship with Courtney Vucekovich for a short period of time. Through the lens of social media, everything pointed to them being the perfect couple, and it wasn’t until months after the break-up that Vucekovich revealed the truth about Hammer. She explains:

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He quickly grooms you in the relationship.
He kind of captivates you and while being charming, he’s grooming you…

She goes on to describe how Hammer was able to groom her into being submissive, susceptible to his manipulation tactics and gaslighting.

Wait, so what’s grooming?

Grooming, or sexual grooming, is the predatorial process of manipulating someone into a state of easy victimization and dependence. Even though Vucekovich is an adult, grooming is often associated with children and minors, since their age makes them a vulnerable target by default. However, don’t be confused—anyone can be a victim of grooming, regardless of age or gender.

The first step in the grooming process is to identify their target and seek out contact with them. Once the groomer develops this relationship, they establish trust by offering them gifts, attention, and compliments. Slowly, the abuser convinces the target that only they can help them, that only they understand them, making isolation even easier. By demonizing the victim’s family and friends, the victim’s codependence increases.

The next stage of grooming is the actual abuse itself, which is often accompanied by emotional and psychological abuse.

Then comes the last and most vital stage of the process, which is to maintain control over the victim. Threats, emotional blackmailing, and shaming are all used to entrap victims. Recognizing this abuse isn’t always easy, and sometimes victims take years to process what actually occurred between them and their abuser.

History of grooming

Grooming is more prevalent than one might think; as a matter of fact, there have been many instances of this abuse in Hollywood, and other elite circles, that have been normalized. Elvis Presley met his wife when he was 25 and she was 14. When R.Kelly was 27, he married Aaliyah, who was only 15. Perhaps one of the most notable instances of grooming is when Woody Allen and Mia Farrow separated after she discovered his sexual and romantic relationship with her daughter, Soon-Yi.

As with most things, the Internet revolutionized the way groomers performed their abuse. With an added layer of anonymity and easier access to minors, this form of sexual abuse became far too commonplace. Many vigilante organizations began posing as underage teenagers to ensnare these abusers, passing their information off to the police.

Unfortunately, many groomers hold positions of power and have wealth, which has a huge influence on how victims might respond to this abuse. That’s why repercussions in the more infamous cases are either nonexistent or minimal at best.

Where are we now?

In the past couple of decades, more protective features have been added to most major community-based platforms, including programs that monitor instant messaging logs for suspicious activity. Legislation has been put into place to ensure that this abuse is criminalized, including any other type of abuse that might fall into the 'grooming' category.

In the United States, laws focused on grooming were officially enforced federally in 2009. Popular figures are now being held accountable, at least publicly, for their normalized grooming behaviors. Drake made headlines when actress Millie Bobbie Brown, who was 14 at the time, said that she and Drake text each other all the time, and he often gives her advice on dating and relationships. This followed soon after Drake announced that he was dating an 18-year-old who had only recently graduated high school.

No one would have batted an eyelash at these situations if they had happened decades ago, but thanks to the Information Age, people have become more aware of the warning signs of abuse.

Key figures

The fight against sexual grooming has been less about individualism and more about collectivism. In many of these cases, the response has been to establish organizations and groups that actively target groomers. One of the major players in this is the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP Command), which was formed in 2006.

The CEOP Command is a branch of the UK’S National Crime Agency, and they are tasked with working nationally and internationally to bring online sex offenders to court. Other vigilante organizations were also created by community members, like Dark Justice and Creep Catcher.

Even the media worked to combat this rising epidemic. NBC created a recurring segment, To Catch A Predator, which helped shed light on the crime stings necessary to combat this abuse. Like most things, added awareness meant added exposure, and people were waking up to the abuse that had been under their noses for so long.

How do I get help if I’m being groomed? How do I help someone else that’s being groomed?

  1. Recognize that something isn’t right. If you have a feeling that your relationship with someone fits these descriptions, it might be time to involve a third party. It’s important to trust your gut—if something feels weird or uncomfortable about your relationship, take a second to listen to yourself.
  2. Tread carefully. If you think your friend might be a victim, it is important to be as considerate as possible. Sometimes, the victim may not believe there’s an issue. Give them reassurance without being intrusive by gently asking if they’re okay and lending them a listening ear. Building this trust is an important step in getting the victim help.
  3. Protect yourself. Take steps to ensure your safety before ending the relationship with your abuser. It’s important to remember that abusers usually lash out against their victims when they attempt to leave. Some steps you can take are to: tell someone, bring someone with you, call a supportive organization, or seek professional help.
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