Know the signs of grooming

We each have considerable potential to protect children and adults from ever experiencing that trauma. The key is knowing signs to look for.

BRATTLEBORO — Few everyday words carry such a sinister secondary meaning as the term “grooming,” a predatory process used to gain the trust of a potential victim.

Moreover, few terms capture as clearly the premeditated and opportunistic nature of sexual violence, though we may all get glimpses of offender tactics in daily life.

That's both the grim news and the basis of our collective power, though. We each have considerable potential to actually help shift outcomes of such dynamics and to protect children and adults from ever experiencing that trauma at all.

The key is knowing signs to look for, and the Women's Freedom Center is hosting a free community forum to help highlight red flags across the lifespan, whether in a workplace, a school setting, or any other social sphere where they might occur.

This virtual event on Thursday, Nov. 18, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., is open to all adults and is co-hosted by Brooks Memorial Library.

We hope you'll join us for some frank discussion. Please help spread the word!

We'll examine grooming tactics we might encounter at any age, plus we'll discuss signs parents can look for and teach to their children and teens.

And for those interested, this 90-minute interactive forum can be followed up with additional in-depth skill-building and age-specific Bystander Empowerment Workshops, ideal for workplaces, faith communities, and other such groups.

More focused parent workshops can also support you in protecting your kids from sexual predators. We also offer a wide range of youth workshops to directly empower young people with knowledge, skills, and resources.

To get the zoom link for this first community forum, contact the Women's Freedom Center at 802-257-7364, or call Brooks Memorial Library at 802-254-5290.

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The very next night, on Friday, Nov. 19, from 5 to 6:30 p.m., we will host one other significant event: a survivor gathering, open to those of all genders who have experienced either domestic or sexual violence.

Year-round, we are deeply moved by their courageous healing work, and we'd like to honor and support them with a private outdoor gathering around a bonfire.

We will observe social distancing and have masks available to help keep us all safe. This gathering is free and confidential, and any sharing there, or joining in quiet activities, is entirely optional. It's also perfectly fine to just come and listen, plus share simply in some autumn warmth, soup, and solidarity with one another.

All survivors are welcome, but for planning purposes, we ask that you call to reserve your spot and get more information: 802-257-7364.

We hope to see many of you soon, and thanks for helping us get the word out about both these events.

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There's a cruel irony, too, in this word “grooming,” whose core meaning, of course, is “to maintain the appearance of,” according to Merriam-Webster's dictionary). It certainly speaks to the attention offenders usually pay to their own public image and self-protection, while carefully strategizing how to do harm without getting caught.

They may already hold positions of power, and their perceived social polish can create further disguise. Using whatever cover they can thereby achieve, they typically groom (or try to fool) not just their potential target(s), but anyone else around who could intervene. And that could be any of us.

However, let's not gloss over the flip side, either: namely, that subtlety isn't even always needed by sexual offenders.

As #MeToo still underscores - both locally, and everywhere else - many predators have also gotten away with blatant behavior for years, via the pandemic of rape culture itself, which pressures entire communities to keep quiet while pain is being caused.

Together, let's interrupt this old toxic program for good.

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