The Dynamics of Abuse - How does it happen? Why is it so hard to say no?

Grooming is the word used to describe the befriending process by which a sexual predator selects and prepares his victim. The process can be likened to courting, except that the object of the priest's desire is not only totally unaware, but also doesn't usually even consider such a relationship an option, due to the priest being married, celibate, or whatever. It is a process of gradually becoming more and more friendly, until the friendliness slides into intimacy, and the victim's normal reluctance to reject the predator's advances has been overcome by the desire (often the psychological/emotional need) for the friendship/relationship that is offered.  It also often happens so gradually, each step being just a little further than the last, that the victim concedes the early steps (which often engender a feeling of discomfort) for the sake of not offending the abuser, but when it comes to the point where a victim is sure things have gone too far, the moment of objection seems long past.

It is naturally easier to groom a child than someone who is older. The older the person, the greater the internal battle that goes on within the victim. However, the primary criterion a predator looks for is a vulnerable person. Children are essentially vulnerable by virtue of their comparatively powerless position, but adults may be vulnerable too. Vulnerability can be emotional, psychological, positional or age-related. Positional vulnerability is always present in a minister-parishioner relationship due to the "shepherd" nature of the minister's job and the respect in which he is held. Emotional vulnerability happens with parishioners in a difficult life situation, particularly where they seek out the minister's counsel. Psychological vulnerability can be a result of prior abuse, or patriarchal social heritage, or perceived inferiority.

The offender priest has the life of being a priest and all the responsibility that goes with it: counselling, saying mass, tending to the church members, portraying biblical morality. THEN, there comes the "other life": the one of his predatory sexuality. He chooses his victim....grooms them...and keeps this secret life separate from his life as a minister.

The essential part of the grooming process is to make this secret life the reality of his victim....that way the victim will WANT and NEED what is happening. That enables the offender to go from doing this for himself to doing this for the victim eg. "they wanted me to do this...." or "they needed this...." and that is where the dilemma comes for the victim: when the victim's reality is governed by the offender, and yet contradicts all that he is preaching. The question then arises for the victim, how much of all of this is their fault? That is why so many victims do not report until many years later; because they have been conditioned into believing that the abuse is their fault. The perpetrator uses their power and elevated moral status to disavow their responsibility for their actions. The implicit message is, “Because I am more godly than you, if this is a sin, it must be your doing”.

Many victims have a low sense of self-worth prior to the abuse, which makes the predator priest's job in creating their reality that much easier. Here's one victim's description of the grooming process:
"He was kind and attentive. I poured out my soul to him. He told me it [prior sexual abuse] wasn't my fault. He told me I was smart, thoughtful, and pretty. He said he loved me. He paid attention to me. I was grateful for every morsel he gave me. I actually cooked, did his laundry, and cleaned for him. I was like a puppy going belly up for any affection. I had never been loved without strings attached. When he first kissed me, I knew what he wanted. Part of me knew it was enviable. After all, what else could I give him to be worthy of his attention and care? I needed someone to care about me because I couldn't care for myself. Part of me needed to be loved so badly that despite my fear of eternal damnation, I went to him whenever he called. I didn't blame him for seducing me. I blamed myself for being so needy. Even when I first started going to counselling, I tried to maintain a friendship with him. I told him how much I needed to back off the sex. That I needed to feel important to him for other than what was between my legs. He said he understood and I again went to him when he called. To make a long story short...he raped me. I said no, and he ignored my tears. Again I blamed myself. Why had I gone? Why did I believe him? Why had I worn that nightgown? etc. It is the nature of most survivors to blame themselves. It's easier than believing that someone you so dearly trusted betrayed you. It's easier than believing that you have truly witnessed evil."

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