Grooming is more common than we would like to acknowledge and much of it is due to lack of awareness, accessible sex-education, and non-judgmental support systems. Being queer might make someone even more vulnerable due to these reasons. Here are some ways you can spot a groomer in your (or your loved ones’) offline life (online grooming requires addressing on its own!), and nip it in the bud.
Age Gap – This is a tricky and subjective parameter. Subjective in the sense that there is no set number of years that translates to being a universally identifiable age gap that would lead to grooming. But there is usually a gap in the breadth of lived experience, education, professional or social position, such as that the groomer (so to speak) seems to occupy a position that is aspirational and enviable. For instance, if you’re 14, a 19-year-old can seem intimidating as well as attractive because they go to college and have a lot more social freedom than you do. However, a 5-year age-gap may not seem as vast as you grow older and gain more life experience yourself. But while you’re still 14, this can lead to precarious power dynamic.
Charm Offensive – You might have heard the phrase about some people being able to ‘charm your pants off’. They seem to take note of your insecurities, idiosyncrasies, interests, and so much more, and play their cards just right so as to be able to take advantage of them. They encourage you to do things that you might not do in other circumstances, without really discussing the pros and cons, the resources you might need to feel safe and ready, and so on. Sometimes these can be sexual in nature, but it could also be invites to events and places that you are probably not old enough to enter, but they whisk you in anyway. They might push your buttons just a little bit, negging you, and follow it up with a compliment – a heady mix that could feel thrilling to receive, in the moment.
The ‘Knight in Shining Armor’ – You might have just had a falling out with your friends or need a safe place to take refuge in after a rough time at home. You may be in a financially precarious circumstance or be generally feeling misunderstood by your loved ones. It’s a vulnerable position to be in, and someone with intentions to groom you might swoop in like a knight in shining armor. They offer you everything you seem to need in the moment – exciting social opportunities, a job, a loan, a place to stay. In such times, feel free to ask them about their intentions.
Other times, they might ask you to move cities for them or give up your regular plans with friends or time for your hobbies or even nudge you to miss classes/work. They may criticize the people you hang out with to the point that it might seem like your responsibility to manage their emotions about someone else. This is usually to isolate you and to make it seem like you’re the cause of their distress or pain. Remember that you are not responsible for their emotions or actions, and encourage them to seek help elsewhere. Do not entertain ultimatums to choose between them and another person/opportunity.
Thrusting Trust – Trust is built over a long period of time, through conflict, establishing boundaries, and having some mutually-uncomfortable conversations. Through it all, there has to be curiosity and respect for each other. Thrusting trust means that they are asking you to trust them without any reason or proof, especially in matters that you have little knowledge about. They might suddenly share a ‘secret’ without checking in with you first. They might tell you that they know you better than you know yourself (what? You’re the only expert on yourself!). They might ask you to trade favors by saying, I’ll do this for you if you do something for me. Even if you do agree to do something for them, please remember that you can always change your mind if you do not feel resourced or safe.
Abuse followed by profuse apologies – Sometimes they might do something to hurt you, emotionally, physically, or sexually, only to bombard you with repeated apologies and not really respecting your need for distance from them. They might push you to give in to forgiving them by telling you how special the relationship or you are to them.
Golden cage – The golden cage is built when one entity (whether it is a person, couple or organization) promises to give a person everything they need, and gets upset when that person seeks connection, fulfillment outside of the relationship. This can often be done under the guise of loyalty of some sort. When it is breached or even questioned, the entity may turn around and call you names, shame you, or play on your insecurities (‘where do you think you’re going to find better?’).