TW // Child Grooming. Sexual Trauma.
Child grooming isn't something I can talk of easily. And it isn't a topic that should be sugarcoated. I tried my best to approach this topic with my own experience. This might make people relive things they do not wish to if they have been exposed to certain graphics, or situations where they were manipulated and gaslighted. As such, I'd advise to read this with caution as it gets graphic. It's a slippery slope. If anytime you feel uncomfortable to proceed, do take a breather, and decide if you wish continue. Otherwise, it's fine for you not to at all too.
It has obviously been a long time since I have posted something here. I most definitely have taken an extended break. Despite this, I’ve been receiving an influx of responses and personal messages on my social media accounts asking if I am okay, while other messages are more general as to how I manage my emotions being an empath, and what were the events that made me the person I am today. And it’s really something I wish to answer, but not just answer partially.
But that’s the thing about talking about life and emotions, right? You can’t just simply tell everything in one story. Our lives progress, and in that progression, we open new chapters in our lives. Some chapters more defining than the other, and some chapters, we don’t wish to relive it. Thankfully, there’s no expiry date in how or when we choose to tell those chapters. I have thought about it so many times on which chapter do I talk about, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. Today feels like the appropriate time to come back and linger here for a while. And I really wanted to share this until I had some time just to process everything that has happened to me in the past, with a clear mind and a different perspective.
If you know me personally, you will know that seeing photos of children or any minor online makes me feel unsettled. And it’s something I often struggle with on the internet where I see proud and happy parents sharing a harmless picture of their child. As much as I wish to share that happiness with them tapping a ‘like’ on the picture or even leaving a comment, I often end up skipping everything and scroll past them. Other days, I tell myself it’s okay and I would give the picture a ‘like’. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling awful afterwards. So, how does a picture of a child relate to me?
Almost all the time, I have friends who would ask me why I’d feel uncomfortable with this. While I’m a whole lot more comfortable talking about this in person, it’s still something I find, difficult to express in writing but that’s the whole point of this. I talk about uncomfortable topics that it is easier to not talk about. And it’s these topics and my personal experience that I write about. When we keep it hidden, nothing can be solved, and we can’t progress. I have decided to reveal the unrevealed to let change in and let the cycles to not be repeated. I want to reveal so I can heal. So, if I’m open about this, it will give others the chance to share their experience as well, and to be comfortable in sharing it.
So, the one thing we are not talking about enough… It is the erosion of safeguarding towards children. For the longest time now, I had downplayed the fact that I was exposed to online child grooming. To summarize the term ‘child grooming’, it is essentially a deliberate process by which offenders gradually initiate and maintain sexual relationships with victims in secrecy. And that’s the thing, I never truly understood how traumatizing that incident was for me that I chose to shut it down, believing that I wasn’t as affected as I thought I was.
I was only a minor then where I had spent a huge chunk of my time in an online virtual world. It was so bizarre. I remember how exciting it was being all new to a platform, and meeting a stranger and getting along so quickly, and before I know it, we were calling each other ‘friends’. But as time went by, not only were we both getting closer to each other, but there’s also something odd about the friendship. Because as much I knew their name (which now I think, may have all been a lie too) and the things they liked, they had a way with words that sounded so assuring—even when they were saying something that clearly didn’t sit well with me. And overtime, their behaviour was getting strange too. Because they’re starting to get really personal talking about how mature you sound for a minor. And they are slowly revealing to you their actual age… first, they are 13 just like you, then oh, they’re actually 20 over years old.
They’d apologized for lying to me. They’d explain to me how they wanted to be my friend at that time and thought I’d stay far away from them because they were way older than I was. That’s alright, they admitted they were wrong. So, being a 13 year-old, I forgave them and move on. But wait, no. They are actually way older, they’re really 43. Man, why do they keep lying? But because they’ve listened to me to all those times I was treated poorly in school, it was nice to have someone older listen to me—even if that someone older had lied to me multiple times and also asking me things that made me uncomfortable. And because I was withdrawn, low on confidence, and emotionally deprived, their presence began to feel comforting and persuasive, I couldn’t simply say ‘no’.
I have been warned about cases of online predators—but they couldn’t have happened to me. I read these things, but these things don’t and won’t happen to me. It does.
I can’t tell you how my mind completely shut down when I was sent suggestive texts by that person. Just how do you expect a 13-year-old child to respond to “Do you think about me and touch yourself at night? Do you think about me exploring you?” Yet, this person, because she was persuasive and compelling, she was always texting me as a form of checking up on me, “I hope no one picked on you in school today, because that would break my heart” … And she was particularly good in changing the subject too. We could be talking about music and the next thing was, she would be telling me the sorts of sexual positions she would love to be in.
For me then, the confusion as to why she would bring up such topics was not the worst of it. It was her dismissing my uncomfortableness with it, never taking my ‘no’ for an answer, and then proceeded for us to get on live cam where she would masturbate in front of me and exploit my insecurity with her own idolized fantasies. You would wonder why I couldn’t turn off the camera or just shut the computer down. Full transparency, my mind just went blank. Even as I stared at what was happening in front of me through a screen, I had physically shut down. And that image of her would still burn into my memory till this day. Tragically, that were more similar incidents as such that would continue to take place.
In knowing what the bullying that was taking place in school, she offering me soothing solutions were all just masked with hurtful intentions. And all the times where I was pressured to strip in front of her and touch myself, I had been firm in declining even though that upset her and she would gaslight me into thinking that I didn’t care about the friendship. She would get colder. She would tell me maybe the reason I was a recluse and that I was bullied so often was because I deserved it. After all those harsh words, I would once again shut down and create a space between us, but that only made her more persistent as she would send me explicit nudes apologizing for her behaviour. It made me feel sick, but I didn’t know what to do. Our last exchange was her trying to get me involved with another older man, and I remember feeling unwell and blocking her (finally). And yet, that decision made me unhappy too because at that moment, it felt like I really lost someone whom I considered as a friend even if what they did was nothing a friend would do at all. I lost my appetite for sometime after I concluded our friendship.
After what seemed to be an eternity of fever dream, I hadn’t fully moved past this chapter of my life. I had continued to move on to pretend like nothing ever happened, but I was damaged perhaps more by the aftermath than by the actions of a predator. The aftermath of being an adult, and coming to terms that I was in fact, sexually groomed by someone whom I trusted, where they fed me lies, showed me pornography, and had me involved in things I never consented to. Even with all the effort I was putting in, I just didn’t reach a healthy mental state. This is something I’m working on towards healing. And I understand how cautionary narratives can seem like a prey on our fears rather than explore them and we can’t do much afterwards other than say, “Yes, that actually happened and life goes on.”
In sharing this, I just want others are parents to be more vigilant of their surroundings, and for those who have been in situations similar to this when they were a minor, to understand that what had happened wasn’t their fault and it isn’t something for them to blame themselves. I hope this can spark some extremely important conversations between parents and minors about internet safety and in dealing with strangers online, and perhaps, have some second thoughts about sharing pictures of their child on the internet. Because, no matter how harmless they are, you’d never know what kind of sick mind lurks around and sees them as a potential prey.
I think a lot of people find themselves in that position where you’d want to be honest and in one hand, you also want to be compassionate especially when some people really have led difficult lives in handling traumas like this. But at the same time, I think I’m also seeing that when people pretend to not know the things that they know, it has consequences.