by Nicole Pramik
This is part 2 in a series examining potentially abusive relationships.
If you haven't read part 1, click here for What Is Grooming + the first four stages in a groomer's tactics.
Stage Five: Sexualizing the Relationship
Here, the abuser’s goal is to take advantage of you and have you become desensitized to sexual conversation and normalize bad behavior. This starts in small ways, such as jokes or passing remarks. It may move on to getting you interested in pornography or initiating physical advances. Desensitization is a diminished emotional response to negative stimuli—the more an abuser exposes you to sexual content, the more you become numb to it. This may lead to normalization, which is when you begin to see things originally believed to be disagreeable, even morally wrong, as now acceptable.
George tried to desensitize me by loaning me books and sharing stories he had written that contained sex scenes. These scenes (including one where George had written himself as a character) became explicit, and I openly objected. He apologized—but later he would sneak such scenes in. I would protest, but his reaction would be to either act annoyed or make me feel stupid. In one instance, he told me he thought it was cute that I considered a sex scene too graphic while some older female writer friends of his didn’t think it was graphic enough. At times I challenged him, but I eventually stopped verbally protesting because I could see that George wasn’t trying to change his ways and wasn’t genuinely sorry for offending me.
He brought up random sexual topics in general conversation.
George also brought up random sexual topics in general conversation. Books he claimed to have read often contained sexual content, particularly rape written from the rapist’s perspective. I asked why he gravitated toward such books and confronted him about some of the content in his stories, but he never gave an answer. The sexual politics George employed in his stories often reflected unbiblical views, despite him claiming to be a Christian.
George also told me I needed to flirt with men and try online dating, asserting matter-of-factly, “Unless you date online, I’d say your chances of meeting anyone are pretty low.” He grew exasperated when I insisted I wouldn’t let a man kiss me on the first date and remarked angrily, “It doesn’t mean anything. You’re going to have to let him do something!” He was specific about what he found attractive in a woman, and godly characteristics weren’t on his list. Instead, he remarked, “Any time I get dictated to by a woman about what I can say, the dating interest passes real fast.” In time, it was clear George was trying to get me to see things his way, but I refused to agree with him.
After George tried to desensitize me, he moved on to normalization. During what would be our last lunch, he started quizzing me about sex, insisting on knowing how familiar I was regarding the mechanics of various acts. He claimed certain acts were not wrong because the Bible didn’t say they were wrong, asserted a Christian man might divorce his wife if she didn’t agree to his demands, and demeaned a friend’s wife because she refused to do certain acts with her husband. I countered him, citing Scripture that “all things are permissible but not all things are beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23), but he persisted until I left.
I was shocked, ashamed, and angry.
I was shocked, ashamed, and angry. I was shocked because I had assumed he was a Christian, though it was clear he didn’t adhere to a biblical worldview when it came to sex. I was ashamed because he made me feel naïve concerning my boundaries. And I was angry at myself for falling for his charms. I wondered if I had somehow led him on, though I knew I hadn’t.
As a side note, while the Bible has specific commands about sex, there are related topics it doesn’t address. However, what it says regarding how a husband and wife are to treat each other is telling. Spouses are to reflect Christ-like love and mutual respect in every aspect of marriage.
Stage Six: Keeping Control
Once abuse has occurred, secrecy, blame, or threats will be employed in order to continue the relationship. The abuser may impress upon you the need to keep the abuse quiet, insisting no one would believe you if you told. They might blame you for giving in or threaten you or your family or friends if you stop complying.
Luckily, George and I never reached this stage—after that final lunch described above, I cut off all contact with him, and he never bothered to reach out to me. After ending the relationship, I emotionally felt better but wished I hadn’t wasted two years of my life before seeing the truth.
Having said all this, just because someone is helpful and friendly doesn’t mean they are an abuser. The worst way to protect yourself from abusive people is by acting paranoid or constructing walls around your heart—that’s not the way God wired us for relationships. Instead, replace paranoia with vigilance. Pay attention to what people say, how they act, and how they treat others. Potential abusers will reveal themselves, but it takes a careful ear and an even more careful eye to spot it.
Here are six ways to protect yourself against a potential groomer:
1. Have boundaries and don’t compromise. Boundaries protect us physically, emotionally, and mentally. If someone can’t respect your boundaries, then let the relationship go. Similarly, don’t feel obligated to explain yourself. If the other person hasn’t fully earned your trust, they don’t deserve a reason why something is off limits. It’s OK to tell someone “No” without further explanation.
2. Remember basic red flags. Relationships evolve over time and should demonstrate mutual compassion and respect. Therefore, be wary of anyone who: touts a victim mentality through a “sad puppy” story or a “poor me” attitude; assumes no personal responsibility; displays narcissistic traits such as entitlement or arrogance; lies or uses misdirection; is manipulative; acts possessive and/or paranoid; expects you to trust them right away; shows constant affection or attention; disregards your boundaries; displays any forms of aggression. These, among others, are all warning signs that shouldn’t be ignored.
3. Talk to someone you trust. Have someone with whom you feel comfortable opening up to, whose judgment you trust, and who is grounded in Christ. Don’t allow yourself to be isolated from family or friends. Remember, a godly relationship welcomes loved ones, but an abusive relationship shuts them out.
4. Look for good fruit. Just because someone claims to be a Christian doesn’t mean they strive to imitate Christ. Some people darken church doors or don a religious mask to trawl for victims. While a true Christian doesn’t live a perfect life, Jesus said we will know a person by the fruit they produce, as a healthy tree produces good fruit but a diseased tree produces worthless fruit (Luke 6:43-45). Hence, if someone asserts to be a Christian but their words and actions are to the contrary, then consider them spiritually diseased.
5. Don’t be an open book. Lacy Strum explains in her book, The Mystery: “How much of me do I let out? All of me, all the time, to all people? I used to think the artistic, free answer was yes. But as I become emotionally healthy, I realize the deeper and wiser answer is ‘no.’ There’s a special beauty to remaining hidden to most, revealed to some….The ability to reserve your heart, out of love for yourself and honor for the God who made you, makes the display of certain parts of your heart sacred and precious.”
Some people have earned the privilege to know our deepest parts. Others are acquaintances or strangers who have not yet earned—and may never earn—the privilege to see into your heart. Therefore keep these sacred places hidden and never reveal them too soon or to just anyone.
6. Don’t beat a groomer at their own game. A groomer can only be bested by someone who plays by their rules. But don’t stoop to their level! Instead, do as Jesus instructs: “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We need to know how unscrupulous people think, but we should never imitate them.
Sifting Out Bad Seeds
I believe groomers and abusers are blind to the thoughts they have allowed to control their minds and drive their actions, which makes them ignorant of the consequences. They never learn how to stop their destructive ways. But what we sow, we reap, as consequences can never be indefinitely avoided (Galatians 6:7).
The best advice—wise up and walk away.
Consequences should come as no surprise to the wise. I see now that George was decidedly unwise. He was baffled why he was continuously spurned by dating prospects, though he blatantly cultivated bad seeds in his life. When these seeds produced consequences, he claimed it was the woman’s fault for not seeing him as a great guy. But the fault wasn’t with the women he dated—it was with George. These women, like myself, probably saw him for what he was, wised up, and walked away.
That’s the best advice when it comes to encountering groomers—wise up and walk away. As you screen the people you invite into your life, seek people who “love all, trust a few, [and] do wrong to none” (William Shakespeare, All’s Well that Ends Well). Remember that a godly, good-willed person is not perfect but will strive to imitate Christ.
posted on August 6, 2018
Meet the Author:
Nicole Pramik is a speculative fiction writer from Kentucky (though she is originally from Texas). Her works include The Guardian Trilogy, a fantasy series, and A Modern Apocrypha, a poetry collection. She has also served as a contributor for various volumes analyzing facets of popular culture with a philosophical slant, from SpongeBob SquarePants, to the films of Tim Burton, to Star Trek. She holds an MA in English (Creative Writing) from Marshall University and is a former English and Humanities adjunct professor. She is a self-proclaimed geeky bookworm who has fun with flags (technically known as vexillology) and harbors a love for EDM and curling. Currently, she is working on several speculative fiction manuscripts and hopes to see them in print someday. You can follow her on GoodReads.