Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Grooming (by Suzie)

No, this post won't have tips on how to style your hair for holiday parties. Instead, I want to examine how "grooming" describes the behavior of sexual predators.

Last week, the St. Pete Times headlined a story: "Like Jerry Sandusky, Pinellas doctor accused of 'grooming' boy for sex." The story explains how sexual predators often groom their victims in a similar way: They look for vulnerable youth. They shower them with gifts. They take them to places where they can be alone. Touching starts out benign but becomes sexual over time. They assure the kids that what they're doing is OK.

Basically, these men are treating boys like women. The difference is that, with women, it's called seduction and is generally seen as normal and often romantic.

Some men look for a woman who is drunk, sad, lonely or vulnerable in some other way. Many others consider themselves good guys who would never take advantage of a woman, but nevertheless, find vulnerable women attractive. In professional photography, for example, women are often posed in vulnerable positions that would be laughable for a man. Some movie critics have praised the actress in the remake of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" for exuding more vulnerability. Women can be strong -- as long as they also are vulnerable.

I look forward to January, when there will be fewer TV ads suggesting that men buy women's affections with jewelry. Some men gripe that they are expected to spend money on women with whom they want sex, but women didn't invent this tradition. This stems from the days when women had to choose a good provider since society greatly limited their own ability to make money, and even earlier, when fathers married off their daughters for money, status, another cow, whatever.

If a boy drives a girl to a deserted area, she may acquiesce to physical pressure, lest she get dumped there. A woman taken on a fancy trip may feel pressured to put out even if she finds she isn't as interested as she thought.

Some men keep pushing physical boundaries to see what the woman will allow. Some men persuade women to do certain sex acts, even if the woman doesn't seem to want or enjoy them. Women may do this, too, but the difference is that many men see this as their normal and natural role.

Men having sex with underage boys is rape, and the general public assumes boys don't want to have sex with men, especially older ones. In comment sections, you rarely see the boys described as ... oh, wait, there is no male equivalent for "Lolita," "slut," "trash," etc. Among their peers, however, they may be accused of being gay. After all, it's a great insult for a male to be put in the position of a female.

When men use the same grooming tactics on underage girls, people don't seem to see it as so perverse. In comment sections, you can expect readers to insist the sex was consensual. After all, if the girl were only a few years older, the behavior would be normal.

Pedophiles don't need to make up a playbook for grooming children. They just need to use the same tactics that some men have used on women for years. Sexual predation exists on a spectrum, and it starts with what society considers normal behavior.
P.S. The publicity around the Sandusky case seems to be encouraging more victims of childhood sexual abuse to go public.