The Story of You: Grooming Warning Signs

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Artwork by Ramez E. Nassif

By Alejandra Garcia - First-person experience

Trigger Warning: Sexual harassment, grooming 

April 18th, 2022 at 9:00 P.M. EST.  

 

       Four years ago, I walked into a classroom and saw you. I was fourteen. I did not think much of it. I sat in my seat and patiently listened as the class started. You were the cool one, the person everyone wanted to have. 

       An idol in everyone's eyes, still are … just not in mine. 

       That first day was like any other, and I wish I could say that it is where the story ends, but it is not; it should have ended that day, that semester. As the days went by, my interest grew, and I grew fond of you, just as everyone else. 

        Not in a romantic way. Nothing was ever romantic. You were just fun to talk to; you listened - first mistake. 

       So innocent. 

       The following school year rolled by, and I found myself in two classes with you. I should have seen it then, but I did not. 

       So naive. 

       I saw you four hours a day, three times a week. Everyone idolized you. God forbid someone said something bad about you. How could someone so perfect and kind do anything wrong? Laughter filled the classroom every time you walked in. I wished a burst of single laughter never left my mouth, just as any word I ever said to you, but how could I resist when everyone else was so enthralled by you?

       I enjoyed our time together, and I met my closest friends because of you. All of that was tainted, smothered. A picture ripped apart. The year ended, and I had your number; you gave it to everyone. 

       I asked to keep in contact with you. Why did I do that? Second mistake. 

      Another school year started; I saw you first thing every morning. In the afternoons when I did not have class, my friends and I made our way to you. We were “cool.” 

      It was not cool. 

      We gossiped, we shared, I hurt and you listened. 

       A pandemic started; even through a screen, things began to change, and escalate. I found myself talking to you more. 

      I never had feelings for you. It is not denial. It is the truth. I needed someone, and you were there. I could have relied on anyone, but I chose you. You never let me down, and I never thought you would - third mistake. 

      Through breakdowns, problems, stress, and anxiety, you were there to cheer me up when I was down. Evening phone calls, you helped me, you listened. We weren’t always alone, but that doesn’t make it any better. 

       You were there when I needed someone, and to me, that excused everything that was about to happen. You were there for me, so why couldn’t I be there for you. It was an obligation. It was wrong. 

      I finally graduated at 18. Officially an adult. Is that good? Fresh meat. Once I turned 18, a 14-year age gap did not make a difference. 

      “Age is just a number,” you said 

      I agreed - fourth mistake. 

      I bought into it. I believed that as an eighteen-year-old, I would be capable of making “adult” decisions. In reality, it was the contrary.  I started my first months as an "adult" making the most regretful decisions of my life. 

       Consent. I consented - fifth mistake. 

        You started flirting. I went along. I thought it was normal. How could it be normal? You met me when I was 14 and watched me grow up. 

        You showered me with gifts; it was not the objects themselves but rather the thought that someone would care for me that much that made me falter. I bought into it - sixth mistake. 

        I thought I knew what I wanted; I did not. Nothing was real - none of it. You convinced me to believe what I thought I wanted. I asked to go forward with it. 

        It was all me. I did not say no. 

        These series of events have affected me more than I could think. I am more cautious talking to others.  I observe how people interact or approach each other. I am weary of whom I can trust. It affects how I handle my own emotions and whom I can talk to about it. Frankly, it has made me question everything around me more than I would like. It broke me, but I am moving on …  healing.

        Everyone has a different story; mine is a complicated one to tell. No one talks about the realities of “grooming.” The Victoria State Government states in their Education and Training, “Sexual exploitation happens to children of any age, background, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, and vulnerability. Offenders can be from an ethnic background; they can be women, men, or other young people.” When the topic is discussed, you may think that it would never happen, that you know what to look for; I thought the same. That was not the case for me. It can be seen in many different ways and more often than we think. As a society, we need to do better to take care of our youth. However, it is too late for me. I cannot do anything more than blame myself; a constant reminder of my mistake is everywhere. I question many things: Was I the only one? Are there more? I want to help but do not know how. 

       This is a start. 

       If you or someone you know is being groomed, please seek help. Organizations such as RAINN can help you find resources for support.

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