On Grooming And Power Imbalances

Warning: Harassment, Abuse, and Suicide Discussion

The sexual harassment of women is so prevalent and wide-ranging, we're dangerously close to running out of weeks in the year to discuss all of them. This week's sad new sexual assault theme seems to be grooming. Over the past week, allegations have come out against stand-up Chris D'Elia, writer Warren Ellis, and comic book writer/artist Cameron Stewart, accusing them of engaging in the sexual manipulation of countless teenage girls, some of them minors. But, what exactly is grooming, and how does it relate to a bunch of famous entertainers sliding into the DMs of women half their age? Here's a quick primer.

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Grooming is a very innocuous-sounding word. It doesn't evoke the same gut-reaction as terms like "molest" or "rape" or "I'm Louis CK, please close the hotel door behind you." But imagine a 14-year-old girl, slowly getting her hair brushed by a 40-year-old stranger in a faded Motorhead T-shirt whispering: "You're so mature for your age." That pit of disgust you just felt in your stomach is the nature of grooming, an insidious, predatory manipulation of the most defenseless demographic in the world, insecure children. It can result in sexual abuse ranging from assault to soliciting nudes, often by the kind of Peter Pan creeps who idolize Matthew McConaughey from Dazed and Confused.

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The tricky thing about predator groomers is that they could be anyone: a twenty-year-old nerd, an elderly woman, perhaps even the star of Chris D'Elia's Incorrigible. But their methods to exploit adolescents are often the same: emotional manipulation, the abuse of power dynamics, persistent online harassment, and plausible deniability. Groomers will leverage their experience and, often, relative positions of power to appear as mentors, confidants, and arbiters of worth for the naive and emotionally vulnerable. A group of women of what seems to be a full-fledged community of Warren Ellis victims has accused the 52-year-old author of using his celebrity to attract easily impressed young fans -- showering attention and advice on alt-girls in whatever city he would lay down his fedora, and building long-term "friendships" that would inevitably lead to sex chats and tricking them into sending nudes.

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That many of his self-proclaimed victims were also aspiring artists and writers isn't surprising. The same is true of those pointing the finger at Cameron Stewart, the artist behind several feminist-friendly female superheroes. He allegedly used and abused girls like Evelyn Hollow hoping to break into the business he was a 20 year veteran of -- encouraging them to commit suicide when he had no more further use for them.

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At the same time, abusers will often try to downplay the age gap between them and their potential victims. This is why they often prefer to groom over the internet and social media, a place where everyone perennially behaves like a college senior. In screenshots of alleged grooming by Chris D'Elia, the 40-year-old comedian uses language that obscures the fact that he's a middle-aged millionaire trying to hook up with someone who has a calculus quiz the next morning. They display chats with these underaged girls about their Instas and how he wants to make out with them -- something no one over the age of 23 has any business showing an interest in.

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The obscurity of online also allows groomers to play the plausible deniability card. D'Elia, the guy who plays a grooming pedophile in You, has already released a statement denying the allegations, employing the same "I didn't know she was 16" defense that you hear on every other episode of Law & Order: SVU. Meanwhile, the more sophisticated Ellis chose a different denial, professing he never realized it was inappropriate for the co-writer of Netflix's Castlevania to have more teens in his contact list than the average middle-school principal. This shocking revelation prompted the repentant author to apologize with the token promise that he will try to do more listening and less talking.

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An English study posits that one to three in ten teens will, at some point, be the target of grooming. But those are only the young boys and girls, men and women, who've figured out what was going on. Abusers count on the fact that their victims are too immature and inexperienced to realize they've been groomed. Which is why it's important to believe victims of grooming, whenever and however they choose to come forward. Because it can take years, if not a lifetime, of growing up before it dawns on them that the anxiety, depression, and trust issues they feel may have something to do with the fact that they were once tricked into exposing themselves to a piece of shit with a blue checkmark who was old enough that he can remember where he was when Dylan went electric.

Cedric Voets is a writer and comedian who wants you to believe women. If you fear that you or someone you know is or has been the victim of grooming, do not hesitate to contact law enforcement or your local hotline.

Top Image: Netflix

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