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Politicians: Stop Using Sexual Abuse Terms to Rile Your Base

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, there are a lot of triggers that make my days difficult. But there’s been one trigger lately that is not only challenging to deal with but also has me extremely frustrated. I was tentative to write about this topic because it exposes my own vulnerabilities as a victim, but I’m incensed enough that I feel like I have to do something.

For some reason, there has been an increase lately in politicians using terms relating to childhood sexual abuse (particularly the word “grooming”) in an effort to demonize and dehumanize the people they disagree with. Politicians seem to use them when they want to criticize things that have absolutely nothing to do with abuse-related issues (like what to teach in schools or who should be elected to the Supreme Court). This nasty discourse has been harmful to not only marginalized communities like LGBTQIA+ individuals but also to people who have actually been victimized and abused.

Last week, a Michigan state senator named Mallory McMorrow went viral with a speech she made condemning an attack made against her from a colleague in government. She defended herself against claims that she was trying to “groom” or “sexualize kindergartners” because of some of her beliefs regarding education. I was horrified when I read of this attack. I want to make this clear — I’m not writing this to push any kind of political agenda or to slam any political party. What I want to point out is that the use of terms relating to sexual abuse is extremely triggering for many people – and as in this case, are being used in a completely inaccurate and inappropriate way.

Grooming is predatory behavior done in a premeditated way in order to abuse a child (and get away with it). Sexualizing children is about exposing them to material or acts that are way beyond their maturity and what they can handle emotionally. These terms should only be used when referring to actual perpetrators of abuse — not someone whose views differ from your own.

When politicians throw these terms around, there is absolutely no thought given to how it affects victims of these actual crimes. To hear what has been done to you (and most likely caused long-lasting, harmful effects) tossed around casually with only the intent to debase someone else or to scare people into casting a vote is extremely hurtful. It minimizes the effects of grooming and abuse and it diminishes the pain that survivors are living with.

There’s also an added danger with politicians using these terms — the more they’re used incorrectly, the less meaning they have. The grooming and sexualizing of children becomes something that people see attached to anyone that has a differing opinion instead of solely on the actual perpetrators of these crimes. Without the severity and horror these words should evoke, there’s less danger attached to them – even though everyone should be educated about what these forms of abuse can look like. Basically, we won’t be able to spot actual groomers and pedophiles if we think that anyone can be named one based on their political opinions.

In my mind, there are two explanations: politicians who use these terms are either completely ignorant or uneducated about what actual grooming is and what constitutes child sexual abuse, or they don’t care that they’re causing immense harm to a group of individuals who have already suffered enough. They need to either use these terms correctly and appropriately (like when it comes to discussing legitimate abuse) or they need to stop this ridiculously harmful and shameful practice now. I don’t want any more victims like myself to stifle themselves and keep their history in the dark because the wrong people are monopolizing and contorting the words that help us tell our stories.

Getty Images photo via Westend61

Originally published: April 27, 2022
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