Emotional Abuse in the Age of Social Media.

Appropriate photo for serious aesthetic purposes. No more images after this.

So, I wanna talk to you all for a minute about grooming. Not hygiene related grooming, but grooming done by sexual predators. A lot of people don’t know what that is. However, it’s an integral part of the abuser’s behavior towards their victims. Without it, their whole charade may fall apart.

What is grooming? Grooming is an insidious predatory tactic utilized by abusers. Grooming is practiced by narcissists, antisocial predators, con-artists and sexual aggressors (including pedophiles), who target and manipulate vulnerable people for exploitation. So, what does this mean? Well, I’ll explain here:

A predator will identify and engage a victim and work to gain the target’s trust, break down defenses, and manipulate the victim until they get whatever it is they are after. Overt attention, verbal seduction (flattery / ego stroking), recruitment, physical isolation, charming, gift-giving, normalizing, gaslighting, secrecy, and threatening are all the hallmarks of grooming.

Say a sexual predator wanted to cheat with multiple people on a loving spouse with whom they’ve lost interest, but they don’t want anyone else to know about it. Obviously, this predator is someone who thinks they’re “God’s Gift to Mankind”. One thing they might do is befriend someone they find attractive, but who’s going through a difficult time.

They shower this person with attention and make them feel appreciated: like they’re worth something when the whole world is against them. If they get into an argument with friends, the predator gently convinces them that they don’t need friends. This helps to isolate the victim, and it serves two purposes. One: the victim feels loved; they might not know that the predator is married, or that it’s a manipulative ploy. They keep the relationship a secret because they figure it’s still budding. Two: the victim, if they realize they’re being abused, might not have anyone to turn to for help.

Therefore, we have several things at play here, such as flattery/ego stroking, secrecy, overt attention, charm, and isolation.

Now, the predator starts taking things to a sexual level. Still, the victim feels charmed, feels like the person wants them, and they’re okay with a little dirty talk and heavy flirting, maybe even the occasional risqué photo. The predator begins sending nude photos of themselves, oftentimes with some kind of a joke, something a little negative but charming. It disarms the victim and they joke back; it begins to normalize the predator’s behavior. Once the behavior is normalized, it becomes easier to excuse, typically as a ‘quirk’ the person has, not a moral failing.

Soon enough, though, the predator is sending random photos of themselves, nude, throughout the day. It escalates to videos of themselves masturbating and this behavior becomes normalized.

And then something happens. The predator’s significant other comes forward stating they’re getting a divorce. The victim, unaware that the predator was married, discovers this, becomes uncomfortable. When the victim confronts the predator, the predator threatens them. Scared, the victim has no one to turn to. Coming forward would mean a lot of things, like for instance being slandered by everyone, including the predator, so the victim chooses to stay quiet in order to avoid this.

THIS is what grooming does. It allows a predator to control a victim to the point where they have no other choice but to allow the behavior to continue, because facing the slanderous talk of others risks their mental health more than allowing the abuse to continue does. Sure, maybe the victim can block him and get out of it, but that doesn’t undo the damage. And it doesn’t mean the predator is not doing it to others.

A lot of women feel as though they can’t come forward or leave abusive situations simply because the consequences would be overwhelming. They feel trapped, betrayed, and worse, alone, all because they were groomed to find this pattern of behaviors to be normal.

When victims of these types of behaviors do come forward to discuss their abuse, people demand proof, often at the expense of risking the victim’s privacy, mental health and sometimes even physical health as the after effects of mental trauma often manifest physically. For example, panic attacks. The threat of legal action in particular frightens the victims, so they fear coming forward without their evidence ready. The demand for proof of assault is quite often so intrinsically tied with giving out some of the unsolicited images, that with the new age of social media, abusers cry that it’s revenge porn, trying to paint themselves as victims.

Let me be clear about this: abusers are not victims. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And in the case in the skeptiverse that has only recently come to light, it’s not just one person who has come forward. People I have spoken to about it have mentioned they know at least a few women who have been harassed and groomed and abused by this person. They have mentioned that these women have been threatened with litigation if they share their evidence. Abuse isn’t just physical violence. Emotional manipulation can have just as much of a effect on the victims as physical abuse does. Silencing victims, causing them to fear retribution, all of it has an effect on mental health. For these women to come forward in the first place is a huge step for them and their recovery. It also shows immense courage against a tide of people who want nothing more than to ignore their existence and brush off their claims as false allegations because evidence isn’t provided.

In the advent of social media and sharing, abuse of this caliber becomes harder to pin down. Something that may look innocuous out of context might not be so innocent after all, but screenshots still leave much to be desired when proving abuse or wrongdoing. You can’t see bruises from emotional abuse. You can’t find scars. A simple dick pic can be explained away by some as “well, he was probably drunk.” That being said, it’s not an excuse. To be frank, it’s never an excuse.

The term ‘evidence’ itself is also often oversimplified into “I want screenshots of what he sent you.” If the abuse began months ago, it becomes harder to pin down when it started and whether or not something said, seen out of context without background, can be considered abusive due to gaslighting. A simple dick pic posted as evidence could be seen as revenge porn. While in different countries, an unsolicited dick can be considered flashing (or a form of public indecency), in the realm of the internet, normal rules don’t apply, especially when the predator in question has quite a bit of a following.

Sure, the offender can be blocked, but that doesn’t stop them from doing it to others. It doesn’t erase the damage already done. And it doesn’t make living with the aftermath any easier. If the predator is crying about being victimized, know the people who they hurt feel entirely alone in their own private hell, dealing with things they don’t know how to process and damage that cannot be undone.

So, the next time you hear of someone stepping forward to discuss an abusive relationship, don’t take the side of the abuser. Listen to the voices speaking up. Consider their stories and how much it had to take for them to come out and say anything to anyone at all.