Grooming is a term in psychology to describe a set of manipulative techniques used by sexual predators to foster a sense of ‘trust’ with a targeted person before inflicting violence. For many victims, abuse happens after trust has been established in a relationship. The trauma inflicted by someone ‘trusted’ often forces victims to doubt their experiences. Sexual trauma can make one feel disassociated from reality; especially when there were no foreseeable signs of danger. Grooming, is like leaving a trail of bread crumbs so abusers can say “See? There’s nothing weird about how we got here?”. Disassociation can impair a victim’s ability to self-advocate because, in a very literal sense, our brains have a difficult time processing trauma. Unfortunately, abusers take advantage of survivor disassociation and promote their violence as a misunderstanding or even worse, argue that it’s normal.
The normalization of violence against women has become so common in social attitudes that it has altered what we define as ‘violence’. In the case of Niger, child marriage reinforces the male hierarchy and normalizes violence against women starting in childhood. According to UNICEF 76% of girls in Niger are married before their 18th birthday and 28% are married before the age of 15. Niger has the highest rates of child marriage in the world. This is one example of how women’s suffering is normalized by their gender roles in society.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) a human rights subsidiary of the U.N., reported that the subordination of women in Niger has affected their perception of what ‘violence’ is. A report in 2007 stated that: “70 percent of women in parts of Niger find it normal that their husbands, fathers, and brothers regularly beat, rape and humiliate them”.
In this case study, it’s evident how the social roles of girls and women in Niger perpetuate ‘violence’ as aspects of female life. This normalization then gets passed off as “culture” without any real examination of underlying conditions, and laws that reinforce violent patriarchal institutions. There are, however, less obvious cases in Western society of violence being synonymous with the ‘social roles’ of women.
Groomed For Male Consumption
The Male gaze is a powerful lens which has fostered a lot of internalized misogyny even among staunch feminist. From an early age, girls are programmed to view themselves as sexual performers. We are conditioned to solicit sexuality over intellect. This is reinforced by popular culture and norms that insist we are objects of male desire, instead of the subjects of our own destiny.
As feminists, we shouldn’t only critique cases like child marriage in Niger. Many industries in the Western world sexualize children and groom young girls to be recipients of sexual violence. The portrayal of young girls in media and fashion glamorizes violence against women; and champions the domination of the female body. There are countless examples of models depicted as dead, beaten, raped or bleeding all in the name of ‘fashion’. This unmistakable promotion of sexual violence is one that conditions society as a whole. Objectively, this ‘marketing tactic’ is predicated on the belief that ‘sexual violence’ is sexy, and sells. A lifeless, abused, woman, one who is easily dominated, is fashionable?
From the pages of high fashion magazines to the dark corners of the internet, violence against women is readily available content. The black hole of online pornography boast titles like ‘brutal hate fuck’ or ‘teen gang bang’. Sexual violence in pornography is just one dimension of what promotes rape culture. However, instead of discussing ‘morality’ or ‘preferences’ let’s unpack the politics of porn.
Who Profits from Sexual Performance?
Around the world, prostitution is illegal or criminal in some capacity. In the United States, prostitution is illegal in most of the country. The laws against it are designed to undermine women’s sovereignty. Recalling that pornography is legal in all 50 states it begs the question: Why is it illegal for a woman to exchange sex for cash, on her own terms, behind closed doors, where she can protect her identity? But a group of men can recruit an 18-year-old to record ‘rape scenes’, and upload it to the internet for mass distribution where it exists forever. Not everyone wants to be remembered for exchanging sex for money, but the only way to legally do it is if you “commemorate” it online. Even the ‘law’ is constructed with the belief that women’s sexuality is meant for public consumption, not personal discretion or profit.
The current modality of porn is a system that replicates violence against women on every level. Female ‘performers’ in the industries make significantly less than male producers. For a decade Mia Khalifa has been the most searched performer in the industry, her videos online have over 784 million views but in a recent interview, she claims to have only made $12,000 from her porn career. Since leaving the industry, she has made statements about struggling with depression and anxiety. Another famous performer August Ames, killed herself in her Los Angeles, home months after saying she was so “roughed up that it felt like rape“. In the same year as Ames’s suicide, five other female performers took their lives. Many performers suffer from PTSD and this billion-dollar industry offers no relief.
By definition porn is a ‘hazardous job’, performers subject their bodies to physical (and mental) harm every day, yet most of them don’t have health insurance because they are ‘freelance workers’. Perhaps most revealing of this industry, is that production companies make performers sign nondisclosure agreements and lengthy contracts that waive the right to sue in the case of harassment, physical abuse, or injury (which happens a lot). The porn industry is predatory and operates in multiple layers of oppression. However the term ‘porn star’ grooms’ society into thinking there is something glamorous about it, akin to violence against women being ‘fashionable’.
No More Profits For the Patriarchy
Institutions that create ‘popular culture’ like media, fashion, and porn, all portray women as objects of male desire to promote rape culture. Fashion and porn are both male-dominated, billion-dollar industries, that condition society into accepting violence against women as chic. These industries influence social values, and those ‘values’ are reflected in bad laws.
Only 11 of 50 states in the U.S. consider revenge porn a felony, and 4 states have no laws on the subject at all. A devastating ruling came from the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, which struck down a lower court ruling over a man filming up the skirts of unsuspecting women on public trains in Boston. The ruling found ‘upskirting’ was not a crime because the victims weren’t ‘unclothed’ and it occurred in a ‘public place’ therefore it did not violate any laws. There are dozens of hypocrisies in U.S. law that undermine victims and side with sexual exploitation.
Therefore, we must look deep inside ourselves to consider all the ways we have been groomed by Western society. How has Western feminism allowed us to dissociate from our trauma, or excuse popular culture and bad policies? How has our internalized misogyny conditioned us to believe certain professions are less deserving of workers’ protection? It requires no self-reflection to criticize the ‘other’ cases of oppression and reduce it to ‘their religion’ or ‘culture’ without examining the failures of our own society. What do our laws say about us and our beliefs?
About the author:
Sarah Cavarretta was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Growing up in a multicultural environment helped framed her world view and appreciation for diversity. She holds a BA in International Security and Conflict Resolution from San Diego State University. Her undergraduate research focused on international women’s coalitions and the implementation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, a landmark resolution calling for gender mainstreaming. After graduating Sarah became certified in Mediation and Negotiations from the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, CA. Shortly after this, she moved to Costa Rica and attended the U.N. Mandated University For Peace in San Jose, Costa Rica. This one of a kind program gave direct access to regional mechanisms and how they implement human rights law, like the Inter-America Court of Human Rights. Her thesis Moving Beyond Philanthropy urges states to enable regional action plans to address the impending crisis of climate change and global inequality. She has experience in social work as a behavior therapist and has worked for international NGO’s like the International Rescue Committee and Oxfam International. Her most recent work has been on political campaigns and community organizing. Today Sarah lives in Costa Rica where she is pursuing beekeeping and sustainability. Her feminism is intersectional and champions the liberation and free movement of all people.