I had just gotten out of a Place Of Safety that I was staying in for 6 months. I entered the government system a day after my mother beat me with a metal-studded belt. I was bruised from head to toe. The lady from welfare took me to the clinic the next day, where they had this outlined man drawing on it, on the left the man faced you and on the right, you see the back. Like a T-shirt ad. They asked me to undress and the lady filling in the form drew on the man everywhere I had bruises on my body. She basically coloured in the man’s entire left side.
Coming out of the Place Of Safety and entering back into mainstream schooling is very difficult to adjust to. Somehow I passed that year. The beginning of 2008, I got my cellphone back. Mxit was THE APP to have on your phone in 2008. All before we all got WhatsApp. If you don’t know what MXit is, the closest thing I can probably relate it to today is WeChat.
Now on MXit you could join public chat groups and talk on this group to strangers. If you got on well you would start to private message each other. I started chatting on this app with a guy. John*. He was so interested in what I did – from my homework tasks to my school projects and so much more. He was a dream come true to 14-year-old me.
On one fateful night, he said he was in my area and would like to meet – but he wanted to tell me something beforehand and hoped that he wouldn’t scare me off. He wasn’t 16; he was a 28-year-old tow truck driver. Just like Graig*. I wasn’t quite sure exactly how we will be meeting as I was scared to sneak out of the yard. So he suggested he meets me at home. If I can sneak outside the house- he will jump over the wall.
I agreed and got really excited. He told me over and over how happy he was that we could meet. That he can’t believe he has met someone as special as me and that I was still so young. I felt special. I felt special because he never mistreated me on our chats. He never even asked for a photo. We’ve been chatting for a few weeks, I knew his favourite colour and that he had a job. What more do I need to know about this man, that’s more than enough info to be safe with anyone.
So that day I snuck a blanket out of the house and hid it behind the braai area. After dark, I quietly took boxing tape and tape the door lock of my room so that I wouldn’t make a noise when I open and close it. I quietly unlocked the front door and safety gate, went out and locked it behind me. I knew that if there were any sound that would wake my mother- she always checks the door and gate first. If there’s nothing. She goes back to bed.
So I snuck out, spread the blanket behind the pool fountain. I know from growing up in that house that this particular spot was entirely out of sight. So I sat down and waited. A few minutes later I heard someone land in the garden. I had told him exactly where to find me and it wasn’t long before he showed up and lay down on the blanket.
We didn’t talk much. From the lighting caused by cellphone and garden lights, I could see his expression change. It’s something I see to this day in every man I have ever had sexual contact with. It’s as if every man’s eyes change colour. They turn darker and deeper in colour, almost hypnotizing you. It wasn’t long before his hands were all over me. He was completely naked in just a few seconds and I followed. I sat on top of him and lowered myself onto his very erect penis. But this time, it wasn’t painful. It wasn’t pleasurable either. It was just – uncomfortable because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. His hands quickly cupped my still then small breasts and as he pushed back my hips moved and I could see the pleasure on his face.
So I kept doing that until he finished. I got off, got dressed and lay down. He got dressed and said he had to get back to work but that he would come to see me again the next evening. A few minutes later, he jumped the wall again and I snuck back into the house. We saw each other like this a few more times. I would sneak out and we’d have sex, and he’d leave. I felt safe with him because he never once raised his voice or hurt me. He always wanted me.
One evening, my mother caught me sneaking out. She asked me what I was doing and I told her I was going for a swim, that I couldn’t sleep. She pulled me back into the house and took the keys. I couldn’t’ get out of the house and John was really upset that I would not be able to see him. I was disappointed as well. I have upset him.
He suggested he comes to visit me anyway. We could chat through the window. That he badly wanted to see me. Suddenly I fell in love with John*. He wanted to talk. Not just have sex. The following night he came into the yard as usual and slowly crept up to my room. I opened the window and he kissed me. We talked for a short while. His head resting on his arm on the burglar bars as his other hand slipped up my shirt. He said that he was really turned on by my new pyjamas and asked me if there is no way I could sneak out again. He told me that, If I can’t sneak out, there’s no point in coming to see me. That he just has to look for someone older, someone that could actually get out of the house. After finally accepting that no, I can’t, he asked if he could climb up the windowsill and have me give him a blowjob.
This was the very first time I have ever given someone a blowjob. It was horrible. It tasted horrible. It felt horrible. I just did what I thought is working and suddenly he pulled back and I felt this warm liquid shooting across my ear into my hair. He got off the windowsill. Took a few breaths. Told me how amazing that was, and then he left. That night I cleaned my hair with a dirty t-shirt and got into bed, feeling happy that I could make him happy. He promised to come to see me again soon.
A few nights went by, he had been working a lot, but eventually, he came to visit me. My mother was still keeping the house keys with her so there was no way of me getting out the room. When he got to my window he looked into my room and told me to move my bed to the window so that I could sit on it. My bed’s height was the exact same height as the window. He told me that he wanted to try something, that I need to get undressed and turn my back to the window.
I did as he said, feeling really self-conscious. He told me to put my feet through the window and the burglar bars. I tried and he helped until my knees were on the inside windowsill. I heard him struggle up on the outside as he hanged onto the burglar bars, trying to find his way into me. It was long before he managed. He held my feet down in place so that with every thrust wouldn’t move forward and out of position. This was our go-to move every time he came to visit me again.
I had been practising ice-skating at the time. I wanted to become a figure skater. I had been taking dancing lessons since I turned 9 and wanted to do figure skating. My best friend and I decided that we would like to go to the ice rink one day for fun, not for practice. Her dad trusted us a lot. So he dropped us off in the mall and she and I continued to the ice rink. I had messaged John*, telling him I was parent-free and at the ice rick if he would like to come to have fun with us. I didn’t think he actually would, but an hour later- he walked through the door.
I had just put my skates back on after a break when I saw him. I was so excited to see him that I forgot I had my skates on and I fell. But like a cinderella movie, he helped me up and pulled me into his arms, kissing me hard while his hand went to my crotch. Laughingly pulled away and introduced him to my friend. Coming to think of it now, his expression wasn’t confusion, but maybe concern that I had a friend.
We sat down for a while as my friend went onto the ice. He asked me if there is any place where we could go to have sex. I have been to the ice rink a few times, so I knew there was no place we could go where no one would find us. He tried convincing me to go into the area where they keep the ice scraping machine. I was too afraid of being thrown out of the place and continued to tell him no.
After a few more minutes, he said he had to leave for work. That day he didn’t kiss me as he usually would. He didn’t say when he will see me again. I only realise that now. I had my fun on the ice – practised a few new moves. Falling my ass off a few more times. I had a good day. When I got home I tried to message him. I couldn’t. So I sent him an SMS. He didn’t respond. After that day, I never heard from him again. I never saw him again. And I never mentioned his name again.
To me, it was never an abusive relationship. I had agreed to everything he asked me to do. I was never forced. To me, I had never told anyone because I was such a slut for having sex through a window. To me, it was a consensual relationship. Up until a few months ago when I had to think about him again. I was told to write my life story to my psychologist while in hospital. 50 pages. He was in it. Still, during that homework, I never thought of it as him grooming me. My psychologist explained to me, why it was wrong. Suddenly I felt even more embarrassed that I could do such a thing.
A few days ago, I get two lists of planned shows for a radio show I work with. I scoffed at the list ticking off a few shows I have the first-hand experience with. At first, I made a joke out of with my friend. She didn’t believe me when I showed her the list. When she asked about the grooming; I felt her shock through the messages. I was so embarrassed. I shut down. I thought to myself, yes my friend, this is the shitty person you agreed to give to my Dom. Slutty teenager with a load of mental issues. In my head, I told myself over and over that I shouldn’t have said anything. That I just made myself look worse and less worthy of my Dom.
But today she called me, asking me if I am still willing to be on the show. I was shocked actually, that she would want me on the show. She said it’s not to tell my story, but more in the sense of, what parents should look out for. Educating parents to see and listen to their children. What can be done differently to avoid it? And at that moment, I realised, she was on my side. That it was okay. She had my back and not his. Somehow in my fucked up thought process, I believed my friend was shocked at me for doing all those things. When in fact, I think she was probably shocked that he did that to me.
I am now only dealing with the fact that I had been abused. It never crossed my mind until recently. All this time, it was consensual, but as I read up and talk to my psychologist and my friends. It’s like waves crashing down on me that okay- you were groomed to be what he needed from a teenager. He made me believe I was the one.
As a mother of a soon-to-be 4-year-old girl; the idea of some older man doing that to her makes my blood pressure rise and my hands shaky. The thoughts of taking the law into my own hands and making a person like that disappear without a trace makes me happy.
We can all say what we would do in a situation like that – until we find ourselves in that situation. I can’t say what we as parents should look out for in our children. Sure you can google signs on what to look out for, but the only way I believe we can put a stop to child and teenage grooming is to build trust. Our children need to know that they can trust us with anything. We need to consistent. We need to be their allies, not their enemies. We need to raise our children to be vulnerable. We need to educate them about what is right and acceptable and what is wrong and abusive. I personally hope that my daughter will grow up knowing that she can trust me to tell me anything. That we can have a discussion about what is going on and not just a one-sided “teaching her” conversation.
There is a lot of talk and upheaval about the Sex Ed in primary schools at the moment. I hope to not offend anyone or to make it seem that I am forcing my opinion on, for me personally if I was taught about sex, about what abusive sex is, what is considered rape and have I been informed and educated on grooming from a very young age, this would probably not have been the story I told about my teenage years.
Again I can’t give you a list of things you need to look out for, but I can tell you what we do to make sure my daughter feels safe to talk to us about anything, even at her young age. My daughter is almost four. Her father and I both agreed on teaching her from this young age that no one is allowed to touch her private parts. She knows all the correct terminology of her body in both English and Afrikaans so that she knows what to say if anyone ever touches her. We make sure she knows every person’s name she meets. Hoping that, and God forbid, that if anything ever happens she can tell us that Uncle Tony touched my vagina or anything similar.
Instead of giving a list of things to look out for, I would rather stop telling our children that if this happens to them, to tell an adult they trust. Because being groomed is to gain trust in the adult that is abusing you. He or she will convince you that they are the only person you can really trust. Instead, build trust with your child first. By having your child trust you with anything, the chances of them not telling you about what is going on in their lives, will be less. They won’t feel the need to hide it from you.
Children are parent-pleasers. If your child comes to you and tells you something that is upsetting, do not react in an aggressive and upsetting way. This will translate into your child that he or she has done something wrong because now mom or dad is really upset, they will shut down and never say anything again that might upset you. Instead, practice some self-control and have a conversation about the event and find out as much as you can about what exactly happened, who exactly did this and when. This way you will also gain your child’s trust to tell you more.
Make sure our children know they are always safe to speak about anything they want to with us. From a young age, you can start teaching this to them by asking them about their day at school. What they did, what they didn’t do. If they got detention for not doing homework, be supportive and help them through it instead of shaming them. I am not saying bubble wrap your child’s emotions; I am saying that even when they did something wrong, to teach them it’s only human but that our actions have consequences that we need to deal with. You can support your child emotionally without losing your authority as a parent.
Again, people are trying to prevent this from happening by stopping their children from having cellphones of Facebook or depriving them of technology. It’s not going to help you in any way. Yes, the chances of them meeting a predator online will be less, but they will feel the need to hide from you that they have a Facebook account or Tik-Tok or Instagram or whatever platform. Stop bubble-wrapping our children. Let them experience life. We live in a new era where technology is key to everything from doing research for school projects to chatting with our friends. Again, educate your child about what behaviour is acceptable and what is not and enforce the trust and consistency you offer your child.
If your child knows that he or she can trust you with anything without you “over-reacting” you possibly wouldn’t need a list of signs and symptoms. But sometimes having a trusting relationship with your child is still not enough; here’s a list of signs and symptoms to look out for after it has happened to them.
It can be difficult to tell if a child is being groomed – the signs aren’t always obvious and may be hidden. Older children might behave in a way that seems to be “normal” teenage behaviour, masking underlying problems.
Some of the signs you might see include:
- being very secretive about how they’re spending their time, including when online
- having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
- having money or new things like clothes and mobile phones that they can’t or won’t explain
- underage drinking or drug taking
- spending more or less time online or on their devices
- being upset, withdrawn or distressed
- sexualised behaviour, language or an understanding of sex that’s not appropriate for their age
- spending more time away from home or going missing for periods of time.
- A child is unlikely to know they’ve been groomed. They might be worried or confused and less likely to speak to an adult they trust. If you’re worried about a child and want to talk to them, we have advice on having difficult conversations.
If a child talks to you about grooming it’s important to:
- listen carefully to what they’re saying
- let them know they’ve done the right thing by telling you
- tell them it’s not their fault
- say you’ll take them seriously
- don’t confront the alleged abuser
- explain what you’ll do next. Make sure your child knows that you are not upset about the fact that they told you and explain to them that what happened was wrong and that you are proud of them for telling you.
- report what the child has told you as soon as possible.
Grooming can have both short and long-term effects. The impact of grooming can last a lifetime, no matter whether it happened in person, online or both. I only recently became aware of the effects of being groomed has on me. An underlying trauma. To this day my mind still tells me it was a consensual relationship. I am still struggling to comprehend that what happened was abuse, and considered as grooming a child and rape.
Only after doing some research did I realise I showed all the symptoms of being groomed. I ticked off every single thing on the below list.
A child or young person might have difficulty sleeping, be anxious or struggle to concentrate or cope with school work. They may become withdrawn, uncommunicative and angry or upset.
Children, young people and adults may live with:
- anxiety and depression
- eating disorders
- post-traumatic stress difficulty coping with stress
- suicidal thoughts
- sexually transmitted infections
- feelings of shame and guilt
- drug and alcohol problems
- relationship problems with family, friends and partners.
So to sum it up on what to do as a parent.
Build sincere trust. Educate your child. Support them. Listen. Do not react but respond. Explain, and show unconditional love in all your actions and words.