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The Fine Art of Institutional (Peripheral) Grooming (Domestic Violence, Child Abuse & Family Court)
An Art Being Perfected Under Shared Parenting Laws
A lot of people will have heard of the term "grooming", but most will think of the term only as it is used in the context of child sexual abuse. What many people do not consider, is that grooming is an art that is practiced by most perpetrators of any kind of abuse, and, I believe, particularly by perpetrators of family violence.
Institutional Grooming Defined and Explained
In the context of abuse, grooming refers to actions deliberately undertaken by a perpetrator with the aim of befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a victim. The victim is "prepared" in this way, so they unwittingly allow abusive behavior or exploitation to occur later. The abuser typically befriends or builds a relationship with the victim in order to establish a relationship of trust.
Child grooming involves psychological manipulation in the form of positive reinforcement and foot-in-the-door tactics, using activities that are typically legal but later lead to illegal activities. This is done to gain the child's trust as well as the trust of those responsible for the child's well-being. Additionally, a trusting relationship with the family means the child's parents are less likely to believe potential accusations.
Although it is a common belief that grooming is most relevant to children, the same or similar psychological processes are used by perpetrators to exploit adults. In the case of adult grooming, the victims family and friends are also manipulated into thinking the perpetrator is a "nice guy" and that he can be trusted.
It is not only a perpetrator's victims that are groomed (which would be considered emotional abuse), but the victims' family and friends, the perpetrator's own family and friends, and even public servants and medical professionals (in which case it is purposeful manipulation).
The grooming of doctors, nurses, mental health carers, family support workers and other public servants is called "Institutional Grooming" and the perpetrator does it for the purpose of self-preservation.
Institutional grooming refers to the manipulation of professionals who have contact with the victim, so that any allegations of abuse made by the victim are doubted or outright disbelieved.
The targets of Institutional Groomers may include their victim's General Practitioner, psychiatrist, psychologist, child health nurse, pediatrician, carers at a Family Day Care Facility, school teachers, counselors or therapists. The public servants targeted may be social workers, case workers, investigative officers or police officers employed by government departments such as the Department For Child Protection, the Police's Family Protection Unit and the Department for Community Development. When done with enough finesse to be successful, institutional grooming ensures that any complaints alleged about the perpetrator are either disregarded outright, doubted and therefore not investigated thoroughly, or if acted upon, subsequently dismissed in a court of law.
Why would a perpetrator go to such lengths to manipulate people other than their victims? Because when their victims, the victims' family and friends, and the public service networks intended to support their victims are groomed successfully, the investment of all that hard work does not go to waste - the victims are then still available to continue to abuse.
Some Thought Provoking Insights into a Victim's Reality
The scary thing about successful institutional grooming is that it substantially increases the harm done to the victims, not only because the abuse they face continues for longer, but because they lose their trust and faith in the world around them, in their family and friends, in the professional people who are meant to protect them, and most tragically, in themselves.
The things that are said and done to hurt and manipulate a victim only occur behind closed doors, and it can be very hard to remember exactly what was said or done, where, in which order and at what time, when your world feels like it is caving in. An abuser will jump on this uncertainty to highlight a victim's supposed insanity or make them seem dishonest, and to shift the focus away from his/her own appalling behavior.
Once a victim's memories of the abuse, the words said, things done and feelings felt during that abuse, have been twisted and distorted to deny, justify or excuse that abuse, one can understand why the victim begins to feel unsure about what really happened. Combine this with the common symptoms of complete and partial memory blocking and/or memory substitution in victims suffering from even mild cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and one can see how it can all combine to compound a victim’s confusion and distress, and deter them from objecting or trying to report it the next time it happens. One can also see how these factors can pervert the course of Justice.
Grooming by Perpetrators of Family Violence
In the context of family violence, institutional grooming is done to discredit the non- perpetrating parent (who is often also a victim), and the effects of successful institutional grooming in these circumstances are almost always tragic.
In best case scenarios, it can ensure debilitating emotional trauma and devastating long term consequences as the perpetrator is free to continue their abuse of both the child(ren) and the abused parent. In worst case scenarios, the results can be overwhelming, and may include horrific physical abuse, soul destroying sexual abuse or even premature death of the victim(s). The death of such victim(s) may be due to suicide, manslaughter, murder-suicide or violent murder. The most prevalent and obvious consequence however, is once again perversion of the course of Justice, and the undeniable failure of the Legal System's purpose.
Damned If They Do & Damned If They Don't
For clarification, consider this generalized example: If a mother seeks help with protecting her children in a situation where emotional and physical abuse of both herself and her children has already occurred, and/or where there has been inappropriate sexual talk and behavior in front of her children (that may or may not be sexual grooming), and the children have displayed signs that indicate possible sexual abuse (that may or may not have happened, and may or may not happen in the future), but where the perpetrator is skilled at the art of institutional grooming, that mother will often then be subjected to accusations of parental alienation and of perpetuating feelings of fear in her children. Instead of being taken seriously, she finds herself having to defend her actions and her parenting skills, and sometimes may even find herself being the one accused of abusing her children.
she seeks legal advice, she is advised not to make an application to
the Family Court because it is likely that any application will result
in 50/50 shared care of the kids. Further more, she is informed that
under current Family Law, if she makes any allegations of abuse that
cannot be proven, she risks being found guilty of parental alienation
and quite possibly faces losing her children to the perpetrator in the
likely event that interim orders would award him full residency, and
allow her only a couple of hours of supervised contact per fortnight,
while her children are sent to live with their alleged abuser. She may
also be required to pay the legal costs for both parties.
On the other hand, if she does not do anything about seeking help from the authorities, either because she has circumstantial evidence but no substantiated proof, and no other witnesses to testify on her behalf (her own testimony would be considered hearsay, and therefore discounted), or perhaps because she has been doubted and/or counter-accused before, then at some point in the future she may find herself being found guilty of neglecting her duty of care to her children, and face the prospect of losing her kids to foster care.
While I have no doubt that there are indeed parents out there who do not put the best interests of their children first, and who are in fact guilty of alienating their children against the other parent and perhaps even of fabricating false allegations of abuse, whether for revenge or some other reason, surely they must be the minority? Wouldn't the majority of parents want to put their kids first?
Further more, I ask this question: What about the mother who, in spite of her own abuse, subjugation and degradation, somehow finds the strength to trust her own intuition, and manages to intervene before her children become the victims of more serious physical abuse or devastating sexual abuse? Instead of being supported and respected for the strength she has shown in the face of her adversity, she is instead victimized, subdued and humiliated to an even greater extent. Where is the justice for mothers such as she? Instead she becomes a victim of the system, and so do her children. What happened to breaking the Cycle of Abuse?
A Society-Sized Cycle?
Has anybody even stopped to think that perhaps the term "cycle of
abuse" now describes a far greater cycle of perpetual dysfunction than
simply the personal relationships between perpetrators and their
victims, a cycle that in fact occurs and continues on a much larger
scale - one that encompasses modern society as a whole? I mean, who is
more likely to be a liar? A victim or their perpetrator?
Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, but in most cases, what would a victim get out of being a liar? Any parent who has suffered as a victim of family violence, then chosen to speak out against their family's abuser, and then been consistent in their commitment to the ongoing and endless process of attending appointments with social workers, lawyers, medical professionals, psychologists, counselors, art therapy and group therapy sessions (for both themselves and their children), would agree that the financial costs, physical energy requirements, mental strain and emotional drain of post traumatic abuse times could simply not be worth it.
Proactive parents who choose to engage in such an
involved process, due to their genuine desire to heal their family's
wounds, to protect their children from further harm, and to ensure a
positive, healthy change in their life circumstances, will have often
maintained such efforts for months before the matter is brought before
the court, and they will have to maintain their efforts for many months
or even years after the court makes final orders, even if orders are
In stark contrast, perpetrators who engage in such therapy will almost always only do so after being questioned about allegations of abuse, or in the weeks and days leading up to a court hearing. They only do so to preserve their false reputations, and their energetic last minute efforts will seldom last more than a few weeks past the need to be seen as the "poor victim" of a "vengeful" or "jealous" partner, rather than be exposed as the selfish, unrepentant perpetrators of abuse that they are.
Morality & Proactive Logic vs Passive Ignorance
I think that the Family Law Courts and some government departments are missing the whole point of what is in the best interests of the child. I am not saying that a perpetrator should be guilty until proven innocent, or punished without sufficient proof, but what is wrong with protecting our kids BEFORE they become victims? Why should the only evidence taken seriously enough to warrant supervised contact be substantiated proof of past abuse? Surely prevention is better than a cure?
They cannot say that the cost of supervised contact would be too great if they compare it to the long term costs of abuse to our society, considering how many victims of child abuse go on to have lifelong psychological problems, alcohol and other substance abuse issues, often grow up to become abusers themselves, or in some cases resort to suicide.
Considerations of a Responsible Government
The purpose of Family Law should be the protection of our children, who
are not yet capable of making their own choices, rather than any
irrationally perceived justice for those adults who have chosen not to
take responsibility for the destructive effects of their abusive
behavior, or the unjust persecution of those adults who are trying to
shoulder responsibility for both their own and the abusive parents
actions, by trying to fight a losing battle that must be fought if they
are to honor the duty of care they have to their children.
It is essential that any reforms implemented as a result of the review of the 2006 Family Law Amendments (and any future changes) ensure there are no violations of the first and foremost Rights of our Children - their right to be protected from harm, and to live with out fear, in the warm, safe embrace of unconditional love.
Surely the Government can see the necessity of making well informed decisions regarding the specifics of any changes. Hopefully those responsible for making these decisions will question the effectiveness of a Justice System that only takes into account substantiated proof (scientific fact?) when making judgments that are guided by Laws which have been based on inductively reasoned generalizations drawn from the observation of limited numbers of specific instances (philosophical opinion?). Even the existence of the many heated debates over Australian Shared Parenting Laws highlights the fact that those generalizations were a misrepresentation of the prevailing truth.
The Laws that govern the Australian Family Court System need to be decided by using deductive reasoning to draw valid, logical conclusions from the overwhelmingly substantial amount of relevant empirical evidence available, and most people would agree that those facts can be easily found in the historically prevalent and devastating long term effects observed in children who have witnessed and/or experienced any kind of abuse.
The proven reliability of empirical knowledge obtained by making specific, logical and valid deductions based on vast numbers of instances that demonstrate very clear and consistent long term trends is surely what is required to ensure that the changes made to Family Laws are effective. It is essential that once amended, Family Laws consistently achieve their purpose of effectively guiding judgments in those cases where in there is a need to protect children from a risk of probable future abuse but where most often there is no proof other than circumstantial evidence, victim testimony and professional opinion based on hearsay. It is the only viable path to follow if we are to build a Family Law System in which Justice will actually serve in the best interests of the child.
A Utopian Vision
Once all that is achieved, time will confirm the truth and future generations will prosper from the positive, healthy, and wide spread evolution of our society. Their enlightenment will ensure that the wondrous gift of human morality will finally manifest in every aspect of society, propelling mankind into the peaceful bliss of a Golden Age filled with warmth, love and Light!
Some statistics on Abuse
A survey of 130 abused parents found that 76% of the 148 children
ordered by the courts to have contact with their estranged parent were
said to have been abused during visits: 10% were sexually abused; 15%
were physically assaulted; 26% were abducted or involved in an abduction
attempt: 36% were neglected during contact, ...and 62% suffered emotional
harm. Most of these children were under the age of 5 (Radford, Sayer &
Further more: 70% of children living in UK refuges have been abused by their father.
(Bowker et al., 1998)
79% of women leave their violent partner because the abuse is affecting their children or they fear for their children's lives. - Humphreys and Thiara (2002)
"Relationship to perpetrator: Around two-thirds (66%) of men physically assaulted during the last 12 months said that the perpetrator was a stranger. In contrast, women were less likely to be physically assaulted by a stranger (22%) than by
someone they knew (82%). Almost a third (31%) of women physically
assaulted said that the perpetrator was a current or previous partner,
and 37% reported their attacker as being a family member or friend (see Australian Social Trends 2007, Women's experience of partner violence).
Women were also most likely to be sexually assaulted by someone known
to them (89%), with 29% of those sexually assaulted reporting that the
perpetrator was a current or previous partner, and 39% a family member
A study of 200 women’s experiences of domestic violence commissioned
by Women’s Aid, found that 60% of the women had left because they
feared that they or their children would be killed by the perpetrator.
(Humphreys & Thiara, 2002).
In the same study, 76% of separated women suffered post-separation
violence. Of these women:
- 76% were subjected to continued verbal and emotional abuse;
- 41% were subjected to serious threats towards themselves or their
- 23% were subjected to physical violence;
- 6% were subjected to sexual violence;
- 36% stated that this violence was ongoing.
In addition to this, more than half of those with post-separation child
contact arrangements with an abusive ex-partner continued to have
serious, ongoing problems with this contact (Humphreys and Thiara,
MYTH: Children are not being placed at risk by court ordered contact
FACT: A recent report stated that there are 'serious concerns that contact is
being inappropriately ordered in cases where there are established
risks' (Hunt and Roberts Child contact with non-resident parents 2004 )
42% of all female homicide victims, compared with 4% of male homicide
victims, were killed by current or former partners in England and Wales in the year 2000/01. This equates to 102 women, an average of 2 women each week (Home Office, 2001...).
Between 50% and 60% of women mental health service users have experienced domestic violence, and up to 20% will be experiencing current abuse. (Department of Health, 2003; Bowstead, Janet, 2000; ReSisters, 2002).
From April 2000 to June 2001 there were 30,314 offences under the
Protection from Harassment Act 1997 in London alone (Metropolitan
Police Service). A study carried out by the Home Office found that more
than a third (41%) of cases brought to ...the courts under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the suspect had previously had an intimate
relationship with the complainant. 33% of the suspects were ex-partners, 4% were relatives, 1% a current partner and 4% were friends. In situations where the suspect previously or currently had an intimate relationship with the victim, 94% of the suspects were men (Home Office Research Study 203, 2000).
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Organize to Resist! Together we can take on the Predators! Let's Break the Silence to End the Violence by working together to make our voices a Resounding SHOUT!!! Perpetrators BEWARE - you don't stand a chance!
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Copyright © 2010 Mel Stewart, "safe-at-last", of Perth, Western Australia. All rights reserved.
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