Patheos [Englewood CO]
September 1, 2022
By Mary Pezzulo
“Grooming” is a word that a certain set of people have become fond of, lately.
If you’re on social media in any capacity, you’ve surely seen it. People will refer to a gay person minding their own business as a “groomer,” trying to paint them as a person preparing to sexually abuse a child. They’ll call school teachers “groomers” for giving kids access to library books, or for calling a child “they” if the child prefers it to “he or she.” Anyone who suggests rudimentary sex education in schools or that kids should have some autonomy in dressing or presenting themselves the way that they want is also called a groomer. It’s as if any mention of gender or sexuality or letting kids think for themselves is grooming a child for sexual abuse.
I, myself, am a mother. My Adrienne is on the cusp of adolescence. Abuse is something I worry about a lot.
But I have a different notion of things that count as grooming children to be vulnerable to sexual abuse.
It is grooming to teach your child that sex and genitals are things you can’t talk about. It’s grooming to not even teach children the correct names for body parts, or to tell them they can’t say “penis” or “vulva” or “vagina” because those are nasty words. It’s grooming to be so delicate about naming body parts that children don’t even know how to talk about the space between their thighs and their ribcage. It’s grooming to refuse to teach children anything about sexual intercourse, to tell them “you’ll find out when you’re married” and leave it at that. Children who don’t know how to talk about body parts can’t name what part was touched. Children who don’t know what an erection is don’t have words for what it looked like when the pastor or babysitter or substitute teacher was erect. Children who know nothing about sexual intercourse are going to have a very hard time telling somebody if sexual contact was forced on them.
It is protecting our children to teach them real, medical terms for body parts and to give them truthful, age-appropriate descriptions of what those parts can do. It is healthy and safe to talk about sex honestly instead of acting like it’s a scary secret.
It is grooming to tell your children that only men enjoy sexual intercourse and women just endure it. Girls who think they’re not supposed to like sex will put up with all kinds of abuse their entire lives because they don’t understand that being female is not supposed to hurt. Girls who experience pleasure in a sexual context will be ashamed of themselves for not being feminine enough, and they’ll be less likely to tell you what happened.
It is protecting our children to teach them that most grown-ups do enjoy sex, but it’s not shameful to not want sex either, and sexual intercourse is supposed to be fun for both parties. It’s safety to tell our children that even unwanted and abusive sexual contact might make them feel pleasure, and that doesn’t mean they asked for it.
It is grooming to repeat in front of your child that the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis is the fault of closeted gay men being allowed to be ordained. It’s grooming to make it sound as if the reason for child abuse is LGBTQ people. Children who grow up internalizing those stories won’t think to be cautious with adults of the opposite sex, or with adults in heterosexual marriages, and will assume it’s their fault if those people hurt them. It is also grooming to try to stop your child from ever knowing that LGBTQ people exist, because they’ll think of sex as only ever happening between a man and a woman, and they won’t understand if a person of the same sex does try to hurt them. It is also grooming to repeat the lie that sexual predators go after victims because the victims were immodest or were otherwise leading them on. Children who were told that story will assume they were the ones who sinned, if somebody else abuses them.
It is protecting our children to teach them that anybody can choose to be a sexual predator, that sexual abuse is not something that happens because of a sexual orientation, and that even though we need to follow safety precautions sexual abuse is never the victim’s fault. If we tell them that, they can learn to exercise appropriate caution, and they won’t be ashamed to tell someone if something unthinkable happens.
It is grooming to teach your children to never disobey an order from a grown-up. It’s grooming to tell them that there are certain types of grown-up, such as priests or religious, that they’re not allowed to disobey even when a situation turns dangerous and scary. It’s grooming to tell them that it’s gossip to tell people bad things about a priest. It is grooming to tell children that they can never trust their own feelings but always have to obey a superior because their desires are sinful and selfish. Children who learn that they can’t disobey or talk about certain people and they can’t listen to their own instincts are sitting ducks for abuse. It’s also grooming to tell children that certain categories of grown-up who are supposed to help them, like teachers or pediatricians, are secretly part of a Liberal conspiracy to hurt them in some way. This means the children won’t go to those people for help if they’re abused and you’re not around.
It is protecting our children to tell them that they mustn’t obey a grown-up who tells them to do something dangerous, and that they should never obey a grown-up who tells them to keep secrets from their parents. It’s protecting them to teach them the difference between tattling and gossip on one hand, and telling something important on the other. It’s important for their safety that children learn to develop and use their own common sense. It’s necessary to teach them that, while disliking something doesn’t automatically mean the thing is bad, our feelings of fear and pain do exist to help guide us in deciding whether something is good or bad for us. It’s important to teach children to ask adults they trust for help, and it’s also important that they know that an abuser might come from any walk of life, so they shouldn’t trust people JUST because they’re authority figures.
These are some of the things that are really grooming, and that really do put our children in danger.
These are things that are sometimes done by the crowd that’s going around calling everyone else “groomers” lately.
I know what kind of people make me fear for my child’s safety.