Today somebody asked me what grooming was.

It’s an important question and something I feel not enough people understand. If friends, family, and colleagues knew what grooming was and understood it – and I mean really understood it – then as a society we would be better equipped to help victims and possibly even prevent some perpetrators from abusing.

While I was explaining what grooming was to the person who asked, I was grateful that they wanted to understand and in knowing more, maybe the next time they hear a story of somebody who has stayed in an abusive relationship for years, they will not need to wonder or even ask why that person stayed.

What is ‘grooming’?

Generally, as a society, we have a poor understanding of what ‘grooming’ is. We often don’t know what grooming looks like and therefore miss the signs.

Grooming is gradual, and insidious. Almost anyone can be groomed for abuse. This is not the victims fault – but the perpetrator’s.

Grooming is a tactic of overcoming the survivor’s defenses by slowly desensitizing his or her natural reaction to abusive behaviors… Grooming works by mixing positive behaviors with elements of abuse. At the beginning, all behaviors are positive. Slowly, abusive elements are added in amounts that surprise the survivor to an extent, but do not push alarm to a high level. Overtime, the inappropriate comes to feel normal. (Source)

Grooming is a complicated thing to truly understand, not intellectually, but on an emotional level.

Grooming may seem quick, if the victim is already vulnerable

As the quote above says “Overtime, the inappropriate comes to feel normal”. A person may have been groomed over several relationships or even from childhood to think that abusive behaviours are normal.

Someone who writes professionally on domestic violence and whom I thought was knowledgeable on the subject, after I disclosed to them that my ex-partner had first hit me one month into our relationship, said in a surprised voice, ‘Really? After only a month? That’s quick.’

You may wonder if these words hurt or annoyed me. They didn’t. What I did feel is that if they didn’t understand, how did people who knew nothing about domestic violence except what they read in the paper understand? I realise that it is a complicated subject because each story is different, yet very much the same.

I accepted being punched by my partner after only one month of grooming directly by him because I had already been taught to accept many abusive behaviours as normal.

I was in my twenties when I met him. I had been abused by both my parents since I was born. So effectively, I had been groomed for over two decades. I had already made some pretty bad choices when it came to men, so it really didn’t take much work for me to accept that it was my fault he had hit me and feel guilty that by driving him to hit me, and making him feel bad.

Probably if I had had a nice childhood, my ex may have had to take months or even years to groom me by building me whilst subtly putting me down to get me to accept that it was my fault he hit me. But his work had already been done.

Victim blaming doesn’t empower the victim

If someone – say a work colleague or a friend – confides in you that they have been hit, insulted, manipulated, judging them doesn’t help.

Victim blaming makes the abused person feel worthless, like they should have done something to stop it, if only they were smarterstrongerbetter etc. ‘Should’ is a bullying word, and victims don’t need anymore bullies in their lives.

Give assistance and support, not judgment

If a friend or colleague reveals that they have been abused in some way by their partner, it’s important to understand that they might brush it off as being something ‘they deserved’. Abuse is never ‘deserved’. Provide a safe environment for them. If you’re a colleague, try and make the work place a safe zone that is free from the perpetrator, if possible. But most of all, be understanding. They are still the strong and smart friend/family member/colleague that you know.

The fact that my partner punched within the first month of our relationship and I stayed with him for over a decade, does not make me weak or stupid. Because I had the strength to take the abuse and the smarts to eventually escape and heal, I was neither weak nor stupid.

I wish for all the smart and strong people who are still in abusive relationships a life beyond abuse where they are safe, happy and laughter is daily, deep, and genuine.