Being unaware that kindness can be used as a grooming technique

Grooming is a tactic of manipulation, an invisible hook that reels you into sweet lies and petty promises while it holds you hostage at the hands of your perpetrator.

I didn’t know I was being groomed until a few years after it happened. During the first years I experienced it, I sat in a dilemma of shame, not wanting to believe that a person–a teacher who was meant to protect me–was actually preying on me.

After being diagnosed with panic disorder and depression during my junior year of high school, I found refuge and comfort in a teacher I became an assistant for. We’ll call him “Dee.”

I helped in his class, and due to his mentoring, he became the crutch I needed to make it through the semester.

If the pressure from class got too much, I could simply text Dee and he would remove me from whatever class I was in. This should have been a first warning sign to me, but when you’re desperate for an escape, you’ll take it from anywhere.

At first, the harassment was minor, comments on my appearance or my body whenever I bent over or wore something nice. Just the things that, as a young woman, you learn to grow accustomed to and tell yourself they’re only harmless compliments.

But the extent of his interest in me became more apparent when I entered into a relationship with another student who was also an assistant for Dee. The strange part was that he was jealous.

Dee, who was an older man retiring that year, was jealous of two underage students dating. He used to watch us from afar, hiding behind pillars, until his jealousy fueled him to text me “not to touch” my then boyfriend.

Dee even undressed himself while my ex and I were in the same room with him. He removed his clothes down to his underwear, saying, “I’m only doing this because it’s you guys and nobody else,” while we sat stricken with extreme discomfort.

The extent of the expletives increased, now to a daily basis, with Dee telling me lewd descriptions of things he fantasized about doing to me. He used to ask if my ex and I had a sexual relationship, and become upset when I answered honestly.

He asked me if I thought he was jealous of my ex at one point and I didn’t want to know the answer (although I already did) so I politely removed myself from the situation to avoid answering.

There were times I would walk into class, and after having left a scarf or article of clothing from the day before, Dee would wear the item and smell it while expressing that it reminded him of me.

After losing all my friendsbecause of their ignorance to see that I was falling deeper into a place I feared I couldn’t come back fromI had hit rock bottom. I was abusing anxiety medication, smoking and self-harming to fill those voids, and as a result I ditched class more frequently than I was there.

Because of my surmounting tardies, my parents were facing serious trouble and could have went to court over my absences. After hearing about me express my concerns over attendance, Dee strolled confidently into the office and I never heard about tardies or court orders ever again.

I was aware of the discomfort I felt, but I was more aware that this man was going out of his way to “help” me. I TA’d for his class twice in one semester, which wasn’t allowed amongst students.

He always commented that “nobody will stop me from retiring,” which I now believe was him weaseling guilt and shame into my mind, preventing me from ever saying anything.

Just because I’m uncomfortable sometimes doesn’t mean I should ruin this man’s retirement, right? I should be grateful and appreciative, right?

My other teachers noticed I wasn’t okay. I was constantly being pulled aside and bombarded with questions about grades and attendance. I was even put on a special 504 plan for my mental health.

None of it helped, and I was convinced the only person who was there for me was Dee, and I continued to go to him more than anyone else because of how available he made himself to me.

Now I know that he was using my mental struggles as a way to get closer to me. Other TA’s, my ex and a few remaining friends expressed to me that they thought Dee had an odd, obvious interest and obsession in me.

My response was always to deny it and praise him for how much he helped me.

I continued to deny that I was a victim of grooming until a few years after, now in college and no longer an impressionable teen but a young woman angry about the way I had been manipulated.

Filing a police report was a big step that took courage, but I had to think about protecting young girls like me, whose kindness could so easily be smothered by the hands of a sexually greedy old man.

Did the police report achieve much? Probably not, but what it brought me was ease. A blanket of relief that warmed me into freeing my mind and soul while shifting focus to the next thing, preventing this from happening to more young boys and girls.

To my brothers and sisters, don’t pretend that harassment are compliments and don’t pretend the strange, erratic and inappropriate remarks are normal. Don’t force yourself to be flattered when you’re actually displeased and uncomfortable.

Remember you are smart and strong, and no man has the right to take advantage of you because of your age, your looks or your mental capacity.