Grooming and psychological violence

In 2016, Georgia Winters and Elizabeth Jeglic published a scientific paper on the six components of the grooming process that are part of any form of abuse of power.
See also the TED talk by Grace Tame.
Grooming is a cornerstone of corruption. A relatively harmless example of grooming is personalized advertising and marketing. An example of group grooming is fascist propaganda.

Abusers and perpetrators know that what they are doing is wrong. Otherwise, they wouldn’t hide it. But they really want it and find ways to get what they want. It is primarily about power and control, and secondarily about sexual acts, money, recognition, various other benefits, emotional labour etc.

The six phases of grooming are:

1) Selecting a "target"
This means choosing a primary target, and, at the same time, working on other people’s minds in the environment, to normalize the abuse or make it invisible.
For example becoming very popular in your circle, so that others will stand up for you. Since abusers usually have many people in their network, they prefer an environment that makes it easy and comfortable for them. 

From the beginning and again and again, perpetrators test where the target is vulnerable and where he*she is particularly strong. Not so many try against strong resistance. Most want it to be easy and work where the target is soft and vulnerable. Everyone has weak points somewhere. And they are brought to light, particularly in education in the arts.

People who engage in victim-blaming like to tell themselves that it couldn't happen to them. Fun fact:
I first witnessed the abuse of power in music in my
early 20s. My flatmate at the time was put under massive emotional and psychological pressure by a choir director. He started making advances to her, which she did not return. Still it seemed like she was spell bound to him. Even though I didn't have the vocabulary for it at the time, my feelings about the guy were crystal clear. And I told everyone that, too. So why didn't I get that when four years later someone did exactly the same thing to me? The answer is simple: because I wasn't the target then and the abuse wasn't tailored to me.
As hard as it is and as superior as you may feel, anyone can become a "victim" of such skilled and practised abusers.

2) Building a relationship of trust
The abuser often wanted to meet to discuss music for ensemble lessons with me, and then used this opportunity to shift the topics of conversation and also the places where we met into the private. Perpetrators collect information about the target person in this phase and later use it against them. They usually also share sensitive and delicate information about themselves because this strengthens the bond with the target person and their duty to equally delicate information to the perpetrators, or the duty to protect the person.

3) Identifying and fulfilling a strong need
This way, perpetrators secure a place in the target's life that is irreplaceable in the given context and environment. In my case, the abuser was the only lecturer at the university who listened to students' concerns and who exuded a sense of warmth.

In my case, there was also the fact that I did not really find my place at the school, due to various factors.
I had already completed a classical degree and thus triggered not only the insecurities of the students but also of many lecturers who were frustrated by years of systematic discrimination against so-called E-music.
I was also older than most of the other students and had more life experience. So I lacked someone in my environment with whom I could elaborate on music across genre boundaries and who also had more life experience.

4) Isolating the target
This, like everything else, is done in subtle, seemingly harmless ways and separates the target from the social control of those around them. This can be: small comments that gradually put the other people around in a bad light, while the target is put on a pedestal. Jealousies among fellow students and especially women, cleverly orchestrated by the teacher. Dynamics due to the sensitivity of topics discussed. Never meeting with others as a couple, not even with my closest friends.

I wasn’t given permission to talk to anyone about the relationship.
At the beginning of any relationship, it makes sense to see how you get along first and not go public right away. But at some point, the lie becomes a burden. You actually spend all your spare time as a music student at concerts and run into each other all the time. After more than a year, a mutual friend caught us after all. But the abuser convinced her to keep quiet, too.
At some point I dared telling my sister and two friends, but they all lived far away. During this whole time I didn’t even dare write his name into my diary. It felt worse and worse for me to be denied by him and to receive either no attention at all or only casual, distant attention in public. This was in stark contrast to the seemingly loving attention I got in his home, where about 95% of the time spent together in private took place. Yet, he hid my toothbrush and other references to me under the sink when he had visitors at home. For over two years. Even though I told him several times how much all this was hurting me.

5) Sexualization and abuse/ exploitation
Boundaries were not obviously violently transgressed in my case, but gradually pushed. Consent was cleverly constructed by the perpetrator. I was genuinely interested in a friendship and in playing music together with this person, just like all the other students. Nothing more.

With distance and a clear mind, I now understand how the abuser gradually sexualized conversations about art, everyday life and work. How he twisted the words around in my mouth until I no longer knew which thoughts and feelings came out of myself and which he had planted in me. How casual touches and comments on my appearance became more frequent, and how he skilfully blurred the boundaries between different types of relationships. Student, colleague, friend, lover, confidante... He always maintained the ambivalence of his relationships, always left open in public what his relationship was with the respective person, usually a much younger woman.
I remember that every time he transgressed my boundaries, I was confused to the max. I remember asking myself quietly: "What am I doing here?", while I hesitantly allowed his advances, but at the same time barely or not at all reciprocated at first. There were no questions like "Do you want this?" or "Is that okay?" from his side. These boundary transgressions, unlike all other phases of grooming, happen in seconds. And by the time one is close to realizing it, one’s boundaries have already moved.

In addition, all this happened before the reform of the Criminal Code of Sexual Offenses of 2016, and I was socialised accordingly. Even today's law defines everything described here as a consensual act. Today, I have, by necessity, come to an understanding how consent is  constructed. But at the time, my mind could not make sense of why anything about his behaviour should be reprehensible. I couldn't explain to myself where my doubts came from, and was already trusting myself less and less through his conditioning.

In this kind of abuse, the abuser creates the illusion of infatuation, of a soul mate, of an extraordinary connection in their counterpart, and thus disguises the emotional dependency that they really want to install. Every person who has ever been ghosted by a flirt knows the instense feelings one feels in a very short time, for a person who meant nothing to you the day before.

In addition, he made use of my capacities to the full. Getting and transcribing sheet music from libraries for his ensembles, writing and translating texts, research work, watering plants in his absence and endless emotional care that was out of proportion to his.

6) Maintaining control
At this stage at the latest, different tactics of psychological manipulation come into play.

  • Lovebombing: showering love and affection onto the target.

  • Gaslighting: misleading the target so that he or she doubts his or her own perception or sanity

  • Perpetrator-victim reversal in confrontations

  • Guilt-tripping: trying to soften someone up by blaming them.

  • Withholding: withholding closeness and care, withdrawal of love

  • Breadcrumbing: giving a little affection at a time

  • Stonewalling: punishing the other person with prolonged silence.

  • Degradation: poisoned or cynical compliments, talking down, reinterpreting and denying basic needs, pathologising emotions.

  • Neglect: This form of abuse was the most difficult to expose. Everyone first asks what a person has done. In romantic or friendly relationships, however, what a person does NOT do or refrains from doing weighs just as heavily.

  • Silencing: enforced silence. Here the abuser was particularly skilful. He feigned great fear of losing his job or his reputation. No matter how many times I told him that the relationship was legal and that there were other examples of student-professor relationships. He had conditioned me to put this supposed fear before my own needs.

The thing about emotional abuse is that most incidents, taken on their own, don't look like a big deal. But accumulated and extended over a long time, they cause massive damage. This is also called "death by a thousand cuts".

While one is still under the influence of the perpetrator, none of this makes sense. You first have to have escaped from the situation, have distance and feel a sense of security again to have a chance to understand it all. Nevertheless, I have never been passive. I resisted and I fought for conversation. But whenever I dared to stand up for myself, I was subtly treated with one of the above tactics.

This combination of deliberately contradictory behaviour on his part drove me to despair and often to the brink of insanity. And since I was not allowed to talk to anyone about it, I had to go through it completely alone.

And still our society is astonished about violence in the closest circle. That a seemingly loving and popular person can be insanely manipulative and behave violently is not something many want to accept or take seriously. Instead, the blame is passed back to those affected. How much would be gained if witnesses could give their attention without prejudice and in a trauma-sensitive way, and at the same time admit when they are overwhelmed with something?

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