So let us take a moment to discuss grooming. We are well aware of the word, it is bandied around a lot. We may have a shiver run down the spine as the connotations become clear.
But what isn’t clear is the wider implication of the term. It is no different than the children that we hear about. We stop and think. How did this happen. Why did no one realise, why did no one notice? Put a stop to it, what were the red flags… surely it was obvious?
Hindsight is 20/20 = that is something we all hear a lot but it is very true. We are able to make logical and reasoned conclusions when the information is laid out for us.
October is the month we will discuss domestic violence. It is not an easy topic. It is not clean, simple, it is not easy. And I want to discuss my own experiences. I have discussed it to a degree over several blogs. It is not something I enjoy discussing. Far from. But I want to give you an insight. What I experienced? Nothing. It is nothing in comparison to what others have experienced.
However, I will share a few things that have happened, with the benefit of hindsight and I am hoping that will help open the conversation up a little.
I grew up in a violent house hold. This is something that was not really discussed at the time or for a long period afterwards. I remember one afternoon, after dinner. Something had set an argument off between my parents. We were all sitting at the dinner table, the meal had finished. There was a teapot on the table. The plates had been cleared. My brother was sent to his room. I have my back to the rest of the room and parents on either side. There was shouting, screaming. The teapot was thrown. The tea marked the ceiling after that day. The cupboards behind my fathers chair were slammed hard enough for glass to break.
This was far from isolated. My father was a very angry person. If things were not done just so, or when he said there was a raised voice. Hands were raised. Against each other? I don’t think so. I am sure that it was voices and emotional abuse. But that is my mother’s story and not mine to tell. She left with us, when I was 12 years old and not a moment too soon.
Now fast forward a year or so. I used to go to school in Cornwall and lived in Devon, and not just over the bridge. It took well over an hour to get home. The second bus often had Dockyard workers. One man got talking to me about … look honestly I can’t remember. But he was very complimentary. He liked my purple eye shadow (I loved purple, don’t judge!) and would always make sure to sit next me to talk. Now, at the time I didn’t give it a second though. I was clearly in school uniform the first time he spoke to me and that was always a topic of conversation. I didn’t think there was anything more to it and didn’t for a moment think that I got off the bus practically on my door step was anything to concern myself with. Luckily I got chatting to a couple of kids my own age and this put a stop to anything that may have happened. I am not saying anything would have happened. But does it show you how easy it is?
Let us move forward to someone I used to spend time with at 16. I had known him casually for a while, we shared similar interests and he met my friends, he was 10 years older than me. I had spent time at his home a number of times and there was never a thought it would be at all inappropriate. He had a live in girlfriend and seemed pleasant, laid back. One day I was hanging out at his house and we where both on the sofa. I was lying down and somehow he ended up lying down behind me. He made a comment about my perfume and I really didn’t know what to say or do. We finished the movie and I went home as planned. A few weeks later, he popped over to my house and we went for a drive. Nothing unusual about this, and I didn’t give it a second thought. Until we had driven to an out of the way car park and he started sliding his hands over my top, on my thigh. Now I was not stupid. I knew what was going on. I didn’t want it to happen and luckily he stopped and we went home. He wasn’t happy and yes, it was my fault, I had led him on and how I better not mention it to his girlfriend or he would tell my mother what a whore his daughter was.
Now let us move onto the biggie. You see, I had met someone and dating him on and off. Ended up living with him. To say the relationship was complicated was somewhat of an understatement. We dated, we stopped dating, he slept with someone, we slept together, I was completely at his mercy.
This is the one. This is the big one. You see, in both previous (there are other incidents but 3 is the right number I guess) there was a degree of grooming involved. Compliments, listening, just keeping someone company. Similar interests. In older men – when you don’t have experience it is easy to be blamed for leading them on because you may be doing something they expect someone to do if interested. But I will say this. That is an excuse whatever your age and NEVER EVER let someone make you believe it. Well.
This last one, it was over a period of time, and started in my home town, he moved to London. I ended up in London and because I had never really lost contact, we started hanging out again. I knew a lot of his friends group so it was natural that I would fit into his social group again. He worked in the financial district and because I was very much in the PVC and lace goth period, I was somewhat of a novelty. He paraded me around like some toy. Luckily I can hold a fairly civilised conversation and got on well with his colleagues so I was never an embarrassment. But I helped add to his mystique. And all the time he told me I was stupid. Worthless. I worked in a hotel to begin with, then I moved and worked in a bar. I then moved back home and lived with a friend. He couldn’t let me go, this isn’t conceit on my side. He couldn’t let go because I had gone. He hadn’t had a say in the matter. I ended up agreeing to pop up for the weekend. That turned into a week. I moved in. I can’t even remember it being an actual conversation. Isn’t that the excuse? ‘Oh well she just moved herself in, I felt trapped’. How he only cheated on me because I assumed he already had (he had) but honestly? I was past caring by this point. His flatmate (a mutual friend) had moved out. We moved house. I ended up sleeping on the sofa. It wasn’t something we discussed. I just did it. I needed to give myself some space. He was still sleeping around. He did it with intent. Always from our friends circle. Which shows how fucked up our relationship was. No one knew our status and clearly some people didn’t give a fuck.
I am editing a lot here, I am sorry. But this is difficult enough as it is and I don’t know anyone wold want to read an even longer blog but please, feel free to contact me if you want to discuss.
So the final move, my boss had recently moved and his house was on the market. So we moved in. We had separate rooms by this point and led fairly independent lives. Up to a point. I remember my close friend spending time with us during all of this and would say what a lovely couple we made, how lovely we were, comfortable together. Well, we knew each other intimately, inside out. He had known me since I was 15. By the time I left? I was 23. That is a big chunk of time to know someone. And formative years. I wasn’t in a relationship with him the entire time but he was there, in the background.
One day, I remember, I was in the kitchen, and chatting to my friends, I had made 2 calls one after the other. I had expressed that I wasn’t happy. One was a good friend, one a relatively new one. Now I honestly can’t tell you who it was at the time. But I was just saying how unhappy I was. There were a number of reasons, failed relationship, money, sleeping on the sofa. I didn’t even realise that he was there. Suddenly he flew into the kitchen. Punched me. While I was on the phone. When I finished my call he called me out for acting shy around him. How I should know he wouldn’t hit me without reason. What always comes back to me especially with this one. The language. The cute names, the terms of endearment. There is something very sinister about someone using a cute name for you. Never using your given name. You know how if someone uses your full name at school? That the headmaster is calling? Or your mother calling your name and if she uses your entire name you may as well dress for your funeral? Well this is the same. The cuter the name, I can’t say them even now. But I remember at the time, I even thought… he cares enough to give me cute names. Social conditioning? It has taken a long time to get over my issue with it. And Batman knows I do it myself. Often I will use an ‘anti’ cute name for people or a level of sarcasm as somewhat of a defence mode. This isn’t to say don’t call your girlfriend ‘cupcake’ ‘sugartits’ whatever, but it is just another little part of the grooming that I endured and I am sure I am not alone but I don’t for a moment assume to project my own experience onto another.
What utterly broke me – what was the straw? It was a mutual friend, whom I had spoken to about my issues with him. She knew more than … actually anyone. Because she had known him almost as long as I had, who had dated his best friend. We had an argument and she threw it all back in my face. The argument was not even directly related to me, it was to do with her BF and a mutual friend. So why it got so vicious. I don’t know. But she didn’t believe me. Had she ever? Was she just saying it to hurt me? Clearly I was such a good actress as she questioned it. Why would I still be there? Why would I live there? Why had I not said or done something. I mean… it wasn’t bad he wasn’t hitting me. We weren’t even dating at this point, what was stopping me.
But all of this? It comes down to grooming. I am sorry, this has been more of a release of information that something more informative. But are you reading this as someone who had suffered from mental or physical abuse. To be told, no one would want you, you are useless, stupid, you did this, you caused this, you are responsible, that somehow, it is your fault. And this is from friends, family, strangers, society let alone your abuser ? When people stand around saying ‘once is enough, I would leave’ and make you feel like shit for staying. For not realising how difficult this is. That is isn’t always as simple as walking away, even if children are not involved? That your life is more than just who you are in a relationship with. It is more people. It is all those friends who you see all the time but don’t see a problem. That hell, might even whisper in his ear, she is no good, you can do better. Who don’t for a moment see the haunted look in your eye.
Because the problem is, behind closed doors people behave differently, when they are at work, when they are with their friends, family, when they are chatting to the barman? That isn’t always the person you see at bed time first thing in the morning, when the dinner isn’t just right, or you hadn’t had a chance to hoover because you were doing over time. Because your friend’s mutual or otherwise will have been won over by them, your family will have gotten to know them over a period of time. Maybe they didn’t agree with them to begin with, maybe now they are part of the furniture. Or won them over, after all you are still with them ?
Grooming is about slowing introducing behaviour that you would not normally tolerate, of changing your tolerance, your habits, of converting your social circle, friends, family. So that the changes are not noticed. It is not over night, it isn’t something that happens over a weekend, it is a long game. It is something that happens slowly, and this is where the danger is.
If you are in a position where you feel you are out of your depth, you need help or support? Or do you suspect someone needs helps?
Please, the worst thing you can do is say ‘well I managed/it is easy/why didn’t you’
Because every story is different, everyone has their own path.
Some places that can help :