According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, “Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking. Children and young people can be groomed online or face-to-face, by a stranger or by someone they know – for example a family member, friend or professional.”
Following the grooming, these girls often find themselves making terrible mistakes – running away with the men or committing crimes or unable to escape from a horrible situation.
Ariel is a teenager who escaped. She was being groomed by a creep right under her mother’s nose. But her grooming was one based on fear, rather than emotional connection.
We are calling her Mom “Kate” and also using the anonymous name “Ariel” after her favorite Disney princess. Kate is sharing what could have been a devastating end to a life-changing experience with the hope of making other adults and children aware of how quickly and easily grooming can happen.
How did this person end up in your life?
We had known each other during our childhood. We reconnected on social media and he told me he was looking to get out of another area where he lived. He hated his job, he was living with his mom and was miserable there. So when he decided he was moving here, I invited him to move in to my house because he was going to get a job.
He didn’t have a car because he had lost it for non-payment of child support. He didn’t have a driver’s license because he lost that too.
How long did he live with you before you sensed something was off and what happened?
It was fairly quickly that I sensed something was off. He had said he was going to get a job, but he didn’t even look for a job until child support caught up with him in this state and started going after him. Then he only looked enough to turn in the required job applications required to keep from going back to court.
Every opportunity I presented to him, there was an excuse as to why that wouldn’t work. But what kept me from saying “get out” was that I thought that I loved him first and foremost. And he was helpful around the house. He did the laundry and the cleaning and he did the cooking because he was home all day. It was convenient. It was like having a house husband.
How did he treat you?
He treated me okay. He treated Ariel okay except when he got ticked off about something. He was adopted as an infant and had absolutely no desire to know anything about his birth parents, had never met them, didn’t know names, nothing. The fact that my daughter and I are so open about her adoption pissed him off to no end. It was like he had to control her because her open adoption pissed him off so badly.
One night when we were at the dinner table, she said she had to write a paper at school about who she looked up to and why. When I asked who she wrote about, she said, “About my birth mom because she’s funny and makes people laugh.” He went off, pointed at me and yelled, “She’s your mother! You should write about her!” Ariel said I was her second choice, but I was okay with her first choice.
I look back at that and all other signs and question how I was so stupid, why I was so stupid. Why didn’t I tell him to get his butt up off my couch and get out?
You said he wasn’t abusive to you. But he was controlling over Ariel? How so?
He would often raise his voice, yell. He would tell her things like to stop doing stupid things and making me mad because it was making my blood pressure high and I was going to have a heart attack. He said if I had a heart attack, she would end up in foster care and he knew that was one of her biggest fears in life. There are a lot of places she could go and she knows that, but he convinced her she would go to foster care.
When the abuse came out and she finally said he had touched her inappropriately, she still wouldn’t tell me why she didn’t tell. There was a Child Protective Services investigation and a La Vergne police detective in our house that night. She very clearly told them that she had not told me, that I did not know about the abuse. She wouldn’t tell them or me why she didn’t tell.
She finally told her therapist that my boyfriend had convinced her that if I knew about the abuse, I wouldn’t believe her and I would put her back in foster care. Abandonment and rejection are her biggest fears in life because of the early childhood trauma that’s ingrained in her. In her young mind she was also convinced that if I didn’t believe her, she would go to foster care. And if I did believe her, then she would end up in foster care anyway because I would kill him. So she was convinced she couldn’t tell. Ariel had made her mind up that either way it went, she would end up in foster care regardless of what happens.
That is the ultimate control over a young mind.
He knew that. He preyed on her biggest fear – because she was adopted, because she had been abandoned by her birth mother. Knowing that was her biggest fear, that’s what he preyed on. That’s how he manipulated her to not tell.
How did it go down?
It was a Friday afternoon and I had run an errand on my lunch hour. I got a call from the school. The person on the other end of the phone introduced himself as a guidance counselor and told me that Ariel had attempted to commit suicide and I needed to come. I got to the school and they let me see her for a minute. She was working on homework. I saw her… I obviously got emotional. And then there were two guidance counselors. One asked to see me in her office to tell me exactly what happened. While they were waiting for me to come, they talked and she disclosed he had touched her inappropriately and she didn’t give them details other than she had touched her on her butt and on her boobs.
Mobile crisis was called because of her trying to cut her wrist. They did an evaluation to see how to proceed. The safety plan included that she could not be around him without another adult. She called in a CPS referral and we were allowed to leave the school. I couldn’t take her home, so took her to my cousin’s house for a couple of hours and went home to talk to him.
He denied everything. He actually appeared hurt that she would say those things about him. I just said I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t want to believe it happened, but I also know that kids don’t make this kind of stuff up.
CPS and the detective interviewed us and did their investigation. I called the foster and adoptive parent advocate to come to my house and be with me during the investigation. The CPS investigator did not want to let the advocate be with me during the investigation, but knowing my rights as a former foster and now an adoptive parent, I knew I had the right to have an advocate there. That night ended with the conclusion that one of the two of them had to go. Either he had to move out or she had to go somewhere else.
That’s her worst fear.
I didn’t want him out on the street. I should have said get your ass out of my house, just go. I made an arrangement that Ariel and I would stay with my advocate who is also a good, close personal friend. So we packed out stuff and went over there. In that week I basically bought him a bus ticket and told him he was out. Once he left, they came and inspected the house to see that he was gone and we moved back in.
So his abuse was controlling your daughter.
I learned more about the physical part. He would pay footsie with her under the table at dinner. He would wake her up by touching her butt. She says he hit her one time when she was trying to talk to him. She was leaned in and he struck her to get her away.
What advice would you give to parents of minor children?
Watch their anger level. Hers increased. Her personality changed somewhat in that she seemed more depressed. In looking back on it now, I recognize there was depression that I didn’t recognize in the moment. Probably because I was so focused on making sure we didn’t piss him off because I knew they didn’t get along. If I pissed him off, her tried to control her more because that was the way he knew he could hurt me.
I was so busy busting my butt to maintain a household of three because he wouldn’t work and pay a penny that I missed some of the warning signs. I should have seen them.
That goes back to what Stacy says. The guilt is not yours. It is his. It is all his.
The guilt that I have, I know I didn’t do this to her and I know she didn’t tell me so I couldn’t have known. The guilt that I have is bringing him in to her world, for giving him the opportunity to do that. I didn’t’ do it. I’m not the one who hurt her. But in Ariel’s mind I was supposed to protect her and I didn’t because I brought him in. That’s how she interprets it.
Does she still interpret it like that?
I don’t think so. Now she knows that when I did learn about it, I took the steps to get rid of him. She knows I didn’t know he would do that. I would not have brought him there. But I think there’s still a lingering fear that if I get into a relationship again, what about the next one? In her mind there as some part of me that abandoned the relationship she and I had before he came in because I was all she had know. It was just the two of us. I opened the world and brought him in.
Has it changed your possible future relations with men?
Oh yeah. I have no desire to have a man around right now. No desire to be in a relationship because I have fear myself. How could I have been so stupid the first time to let something happen to her? I don’t ever want to take that chance again. As wonderful as someone may seem to me, there’s always the possibility that he could hurt my child. Next time I will know. Because I will watch.
But Ariel is resilient. This has changed her. But she is okay. She is happier. She is healthier. She has worked through some things in counseling. I don’t as a parent have the same fears about leaving her alone, is she going to hurt herself. I think she learned a big lesson that is when something happens you tell right away because that’s the only way you can get the help you really need. It doesn’t matter what someone says, you tell anyway. The bottom line is she is okay and she’s going to be okay.
If you suspect your child or any child is being or has been abused, contact Child Protective Services at 877-237-0004. This is a mandatory reporting state, so if you suspect any type of abuse of a minor, by law you must report it or possibly face legal consequences for not reporting.