Ohio Republican Legislators Are Grooming Us All
Right-Wing American Conservatives have attempted to liken child sexual abuse to the LGBTQ community for decades. I’m witnessing Ohio legislators throw around the word “grooming” incorrectly, trying to live in Ohio as a parent and counselor during a revival of anti-LGBTQ legislation.
Purposeful misrepresentation erases and overshadows child abuse preventions and drives racist anti-trans bills.
It’s gone on long enough.
What was once a professional term related to treating child or intrafamily sexual abuse, is now an everyday internet insult. The time and necessity have come to talk about what grooming actually is.
How I Learned About and Define Grooming
I began my career in mental health in 2007, and quickly learned about grooming. Children and youth who are groomed are chosen because of their availability. The way this impacts a child victim’s human development is complex, multifaceted, and not to be understated.
Grooming isn’t to be taken lightly.
It’s not an internet gotcha.
Grooming isn’t counseling.
Grooming isn’t gender-diverse language or affirmation of another’s self.
I’ll use Steven J Collings 2020 paper here to illustrate how the ongoing assault on human rights in Ohio, is, actually, grooming. Along the way, you’ll be a great deal more knowledgeable about what grooming actually is.
The Brief History of Grooming in Western Psychology
The study of grooming and how trauma impacts youth was in it’s infancy in the 1980’s. Grooming then focused on the abusers; people in police captivity at that time. Child sex offenders were willing to share how they chose victims once caught. Patterns were clear: groomers were usually relatives or friends; many had ingratiated themselves to the family if not the community; and they chose their victims with calculated, long-game, intent.
Isolating a child for ongoing sexual exploitation while simultaneously avoiding consequences, is what drives all groomers.
Women and children, thanks to the changing landscape of the U.S.’s Civil Rights and women’s rights movements, were talking for the first time about incest. Returning Vietnam Veterans and child sexual abuse victims had the same symptoms; even if from drastically different traumatic events.
In learning how perpetrators sought victims, and accepting that most children are targeted by acquaintances and/or family, the terminology for groomer expanded.
Groomers, it was clear, were people who had some form of influence and control. They worked to gain victims ongoing, while concealing their abuses. Groomers moved intentionally, and always with the goal to sexually exploit, not just abuse, children.
Ingratiating oneself to the adult(s) around a targeted child or group of children was key.
As research into grooming expands our knowledge of it, institutional and societal grooming have been discovered and researched.
Institutional and Societal Grooming
After Western society ditched the idea of “stranger danger” popular in the 1970’s, accepted that most child sexual abusers were at best, acquaintances, another issue arose: the obvious grooming of institutions and societies.
Religious institutions specifically are studied as “extrafamilial” environments where grooming occurs.
Accepting acquaintance and incestuous child sexual abuse allowed for understanding that groomers use the adults closest to children for their means. For example, teachers, counselors, or parents.
Because grooming is by definition physically non-violent, that creates confusion for all involved. Grooming allows the ongoing testing of boundaries and redefining of appropriate behaviors toward children. It allows for more isolation of specific children. It incorporates specific behaviors and rewards for some children and not others, inherently exploiting children by refusing to acknowledge their autonomy.
Ohio and Social Grooming
Over the last year, I’ve watched state and national (international) media normalize the sexualization of one elementary-aged child who needed an abortion; the Ohio Board of Education refusal to preserve Title IX, while State legislators say out loud like it’s normal that rape can be “an opportunity” for a youth.
I’ve been afraid of losing my license because of this legislation’s clash with both my personal and professional, ethics.
All of these are by definition grooming. They remove my autonomy to practice, earn a living, inherently feel safe, and feel secure in raising my children. All while simultaneously somehow normalizing bullying me and my whole family.
Ohio’s Changing Norms
Calling Ohio State legislators grooming doesn’t thrill me. As I said, writing this gives me no joy. But It’s important to me to be able to say what I’m seeing happen.
In the year-plus since Ohio Republicans introduced Ohio House Bill 454, the rest of the Ohio Republican party has been busy. Gerrymandering and perfecting anti-trans legislation. Making voting the strictest in the nation. (And inherently bigoted and racist, too). Removing abortion.
If I could travel backwards in time to any other point in my life as a lifelong Ohioan, never would I have found this suddenly acceptable. No, no. We’ve been groomed with ongoing boundary testing a long time. And while heroic opponent testimony against anti-trans bills is robust, limitations on time and opponents prove this process only serves to further the right-wing Christofascist agenda.
Grooming as Psychological Manipulation
Child sexual abusers (or groomers) caught for and admitting to their crimes, made it clear that psychological manipulation of both child targets and their caregivers was key.
Psychological manipulation is one way to describe being in the Ohio Statehouse during anti-trans bill hearings. Opponents to anti-trans bills are publicly berated and made fun of. Parenting choices are called into question.
Suddenly, there is an environment of intimidation on many fronts. Especially when one considers that a potential white Christian nationalist hate group is directly bankrolling this hateful legislation.
Psychological Manipulation and White Christian Nationalist Hate Groups
I’ve sat silently while Gary Click called counselors “groomers” and while he’s grilled parents on their children’s mental health to a packed chamber being live-streamed.
This is exactly how groomers operate. Psychological manipulation can occur between individuals, say, in a family. Or, it can occur institutionally or on the societal level.
We see this all the time in institutions like white Christian cults–especially when the Duggars makes another media-go-round.
Religious cult activity like the Duggars display are fascinating in the public sphere. The centering of white supremacy, of white Christian nationalism, is lost when we sensationalize and other people who are sexual abuse victims: instead of addressing their root causes.
White Christian nationalism within families centers secrecy, control, and hate. Incestuous sexual abuse is common in these environments for obvious reasons.
White Christian nationalist families exist outside of TV sensationalism of some of these specific, sensationalized, families like the Duggars. Groomers within these large religious families who suffer traumatic scandals likely are hiding the biggest scandal of all: their allegiance to a Whites Only Jesus.
What is prison time for child sexual abuse to the white supremacist? With non-denominational ideology inherent in the Aryan Brotherhood and other prison gangs, not much; if, after all, that is any specific family’s ultimate secret.
Grooming Parents and Caregivers
Psychological manipulation looks like intimidation, bullying, and using influence to make sure parents and caregivers depend on the groomer(s). Fear of losing one’s ability to live and work and keep their children and raise them without State coercion is definitely intimidating.
Remember: grooming’s goal is always to keep up the exploitation while minimizing consequences. Individuals who groom may be helpful to the community or family in some way. Upkeep of a pristine reputation, while the parents and caregivers depend upon the groomers, is a grim cycle, indeed.
Universities, mental health and medical centers, and public schools are at risk. As are all the individuals who work within them. Hope springs eternal. I hope that there are staunch opponents to this legislation; people within the system just waiting to tear it down.
Any minute now, there will be an end to this nightmare. I just know it.
Ohio’s Present Repeats a Sad History
Ongoing impacts of grooming and child sexual abuse can make life hard for survivors. Let us never discourse on grooming while omitting the survivors of child sexual abuse and grooming–especially the survivors of incest.
Those of us who have had to reconstruct how to move through the stages of human development with such a skewed baseline to start from, it takes years, if ever, to find stable footing.
Wait. I’m talking about groomers, so why bring up incest?!
I can’t talk about groomers without incest and cishet, white, masculine force. White cishet men, after all, have consistently been the standing demographic of child sexual abusers. More importantly, we have grooming as a descriptor in large part because of incest survivors; not just their abusers.
This is the reason I’m here, talking about this, in 2023. Despite the fact that Dr. Freud* already knew about incestuous abuse and it’s impacts on “hysterical” women, he made a name for himself by blaming the victims.
Over a hundred years and two World Wars later, we know why. Incest itself, and the motivation to keep it quiet, can drive, inadvertently or not, grooming behaviors.
History matters here. I have no desire to live through more erasure of women and children because some men say that they don’t exist. Ohio’s legislature is working hard to erase everyone who isn’t a white cishet Christian man, and that has to end immediately.
Grooming, Christians, and Ohio Politics – ohhhh myyyy!**
It was never my plan to stop working so I could criticize my government during a rise to fascism, but here we are. I’ve studied incest my whole career. This inevitably leads to an acute understanding of what grooming behaviors actually are. To say I’m concerned is the understatement of the year.
While human rights are erased because of white Christian nationalism in the U.S., I think too many of us are staying quiet to the detriment of all. Proof, one could say, is in the normalization of Nazi displays in public with armed people claiming they’re heroes of women and children.
In reality, it’s ridiculous to entertain that a group of us are groomers trying to “trans the gay away.”
My only question left is, then what are we going to do to stop this ridiculous narrative, or are we just going to slide away into overt white Christofascism?
I’m still holding out hope for the former. And I’m still asking the Ohio Legislature to stop hearings on all hateful legislation.
*For further reading on incest, family dynamics at play with incestuous abuse, including the historic patriarchal impact of Freud, I recommend the book by Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Judith Lewis-Herman titled, Father-Daughter Incest
I am not in any way affiliated with anyone mentioned in this article and speak only for myself. I am not paid by anyone to write this. Distribute information within freely.
Resources for abuse prevention:
Toddler books about consent and bodily autonomy.
Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, 24/7 hotline and resources for survivors. (RAINN)
Academic resources on cyberbullying, including in adult behaviors.
The research of, in no particular order: Dr. Rita Segato, PhD, Dr. Lenore Terr, MD, andDr. Judith Lewis-Herman, MD