Is our culture grooming our young people to be abused? I’d like to believe not, but a sinking feeling tells me we are.
The internet hadn’t been invented when as an impressionable teenager I was lured into a relationship with an older man. He isolated me from friends and family and brutally abused me in secret for almost 30 years. Towards the end of my ordeal, the internet helped me find information and supportive people that aided my escape from abuse. Aware that he’d finally lost his control over me, the abuser killed himself.
With internet devices almost always within reach, abusers are challenged to isolate their targets from support. Unfortunately, these devices are also spreading information that is growing susceptible targets among our youth.
History is filled with stories of sickos and psychopaths in search of vulnerable targets, among the young and inexperienced. We’ll always have a predator supply, so I think we address abuse by preparing our youth to resist getting drawn into an abusive relationship. Our current culture is doing a horrible job of it.
Consider how much value is now given to feelings over values, kindness over honesty. Relying on feelings is a disaster for resisting the tactics of an abuser. An abuser counts on the rush of good feelings achieved in the early love-bombing phase to groom the target for future abuse.
Does anyone else notice how little we listen to opposing viewpoints? Some have labeled contradictory views as hate speech and demand safety from exposure to offensive opinions. An abuser wants their target to dismiss alternative views because they can more readily engulf the target into their controlled environment.
Recent movies seem to emphasize the stereotypically weak as superheroes. Wonder Woman and other physically assertive women bring down the evil patriarchy with fancy kicks performed in high heels. Internet forums allow the bullied to strike back under an anonymous screen name. While this might encourage young people to dream of a more empowered persona, could it also entice them to enter unhealthy situations too readily? An abuser would be eager to exploit an overconfident target.
Now look at the gender and sexual preference dysphoria movement, which promotes a fluid identity rather than a grounded or solid identity. Demanding that others use special pronouns, they seek endorsement of their identity from others. If someone needs my endorsement to support their identity, it’s not an identity. Abusers want a target conflicted about their identity because the abuser gets to fill the gap.
Current feminists cite men as part of a dangerous patriarchy, furthering men’s mistrust of women. In my experience, many men have also been abused and can offer solutions for recovery. Men recognize predatory men sooner than women do. Women recognize predatory women sooner than men do. To leave an abusive relationship, many women need the protective qualities of a man. My brother helped me find a safe house and cared for me while I detoxed from the abuser’s influence. I’ve also seen the nurturing qualities of women support men recovering from the aftermath of an abusive relationship. Every successful story of escape and recovery from abuse involves a team of sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, adult children, and friends. Rifts between men and women isolate us and only empower the abusers.
Sexualization of children in the media is grooming targets for abuse by confusing undeveloped minds about adult decisions. Netflix recently streamed a movie showing a nine-year-old girl masturbating. Can we normalize the sexualization of children and still expect our youth to make safe choices about sex and relationships? The hip hop culture brutally objectifies young women, and we fail to mention that young girls twerking to the beat is exactly what these older male performers and producers are cultivating.
In the music world, Ariana Grande released the song Side to Side to an audience of mostly tweens and teenagers. What goes through a young girl’s mind as she sings along to lyrics about having difficulty walking after sustained sex? In this verse, the lyrics promote sex with bad boys based on the power of desire instead of thoughtful decisions.
I’m talkin’ to ya
See you standing over there with your body
Feeling like I wanna rock with your body
And we don’t gotta think ’bout nothin’
I’m comin’ at ya
‘Cause I know you got a bad reputation
Doesn’t matter, ’cause you give me temptation
And we don’t gotta think ’bout nothin’
To further confuse our youth, the book and movie Fifty Shades of Gray blurs the lines between abuse and BDSM. Abuse survivors often share how their abuser used ‘rough sex’ as a gateway to abuse and control over their targets. Note the lyrics from the movie’s theme song, Love me Like you Do:
You’re the cure
You’re the pain
You’re the only thing I want to touch
Never knew that it
could mean so much
You’re the fear
I don’t care
‘Cause I’ve never been so high.
The NXIVM organization headquartered in upstate New York is a horrifying example of young women who searched for identity in personal growth workshops and became trapped in a cult environment. Under the leadership of Keith Raniere, participants were charged large entry fees for the privilege of sexual relations with him, handing over collateral for their own blackmailing, accepting brands in the pubic area with the leader’s initials, restricting themselves to an 800-calorie daily diet, and isolating themselves from family and friends.
Our willingness to accept the entire belief system of cultures that promote submission and accept child rape is also grooming our youth for abuse. In Western culture, we codified ages of consent and imposed penalties to protect children from the age-old practice of pedofilia. Some cultures may have such rules but do not always enforce them. Reference the Muslim grooming gangs in England. An ideology that permits spousal abuse and sex with children is not one to accept without requiring they adhere to some basic western standards. How much abuse are we enabling in the name of cultural diversity?
Some hope for protecting our young people is emerging. The Department of Justice announced earlier this month the success of Operation Broken Heart, where 2300 abusers were arrested for internet crimes against children over the last three months. The current administration has made more child trafficking arrests in one year than the previous administration did in eight years.
I see positive steps in the sentiment behind the #metoo and #timesup movements. If someone treats you poorly, speak up. But public shaming of wrongdoers didn’t appear to bring solace to the wronged, and their methods created strong backlash. I’d like to see these movements become more inclusive and acknowledge that abuse and harassment is a power and control issue and not an issue that divides women and men.
To protect our children, we need to focus on answering important questions:
- Where do young people learn that love-bombing is the gateway to future abuse?
- Who teaches our youth a sense of self?
- How can we impart critical thinking skills to protect our youth from the con job of an abuser?
I wrote a memoir about my experience with abuse, partly as catharsis but mostly to share my fortune in recovering from an abusive relationship and finding a fulfilling life. I worry that our current culture is grooming a new crop of young people who will need my book. And, that makes me sad.