“Grooming” (also known as “entrapment,” “engagement,” “subjection,” etc.) is the seduction stage which can precede incidences of child sexual abuse. The sexual victimology of youth, Charles. During this stage, child molesters may use various techniques which function to gain access to the child, increase the child’s compliance with the sexual abuse and also decrease the likelihood of the child disclosing the abuse to anyone. Child abusers may also use threats during the grooming process and subsequently during the abuse to keep the child compliant as well as prevent the child from disclosing
The world of a four year old is a magical place. It is a place of play, imagination, discovery and learning. A sense of self is awakened, separate from others and at last the feeling of being happy, sad, afraid or angry is known. The tiniest detail of their your day is retained and regurgitated. Your world is becoming more imaginative during play – as pretend games with imaginary friends or toys, like having a tea party with toys or a simple stick becomes a flying aeroplane. The tiniest crack in the wall is the living place of a tantalisingly unseen fairy. Different roles and behaviour can be a pretend doctor or a dad or even pretend to be a mother who kisses you goodnight instead of kicking you senseless at the end of the day. At this age, it is common to have imaginary friends. Mine was my beautiful fairy in the wall. She never left me. No matter what is happening, you know you can whisper into that space and tell her what you can tell no one else.
All adults tell me, “this is our secret”. They commit me to a world of silence. A world of secrets never to be shared, ever, or else bad things will happen. The terrible pressure never to tell or divulge to anyone. The burdensome pain of carrying their covert, abstruse, enigmatical stories supposedly for my conspiratorial ears only. My unwilling hearing which was forced to listen. They woo me with tales of their daughters dolls, dolls houses, teddy bears and how I might deserve such gifts. I heard all about Eirmear O’Kelly, Maeve O’Connor, Siobhan Tiomey and others. I knew the intimate details of their lives. I knew what they did and didn’t like to eat. I listened attentively, drinking in the stories as they came from a world of my dreams. Fireplaces with hearth rugs, in front of deep sofas, upon which sat children with books read to them by Mammy and Daddy’s after sharing home cooked roast dinners. Elmer would be kissed goodnight and tucked into bed by her Mammy, safe in the knowledge her Daddy would be there for breakfast in the morning. I knew Siobhan did not like boiled cabbage served her with ham so while her Mammy’s back was turned her Daddy would scoop it off her plate onto his own. Mr. Tiomey always delighted in telling this Friday night story. Sometimes after days of not eating these men would bring me food and so seemed like saviours.
They taught me that a good girl receives such endowments because she is special and lives in a special room where exceptional things happen. At first, I wait in anticipation of the men’s visits and the promised food, gifts and special attention. But the enormous and gut-wrenching pain I am told I should enjoy causes only confusion, distress and fear.
So I do as I am told and reveal nothing, except to my fairy in the secret passage in the rose peppered wallpaper. The roses protect the Secret. They have wondrous powers. They envelop me with kindness and their tender red petals, like inner rose ears, listen only to me. The promised gift comes from a man after man, not as dolls and teddy bears, but as special attention, undressing me, lying me flat upon the bed, touching me all over. Touching in places where I can’t believe, even at four, can be right because it feels alien to my infantile resisting body. Probing fingers, pushing and shoving making my body contort in shapes so unnatural that I scream in pain. A hand covers my mouth and a voice hisses “be quiet”. A face slobbers near mine. The heady breath of tobacco and alcohol’s fetid smell. Vomit so often rises in my throat but can go nowhere. My legs are torn apart and my muffled screams are deafening me.
As the weeks pass my attempted screams stop, no use to anyone. All my energy goes into my fairy in the wallpaper. I transcend the physical pain of the men’s gifts and enter into our private world and talk to her. She tells me, “It will be over soon. Come with me. Let’s go for a walk along the beach. Take my hand and stroll together, just you and me”. She and I would go for a walk along the beach collecting seashells until the man had finished. I collected hidden coins in the sand dunes exposed by the stormy seas. The fairy and I concoct a world separate from the violations perpetrated by Mr. O’Connor, Mr. O’Donnell, Mr. Bolger and later other friends of my parents or just customers from overseas who came to visit the village on holidays.
There was always a quite normal introduction. A preparation time seemed to be very important to them, to pretend everything is normal.
There’s an old urban legend that if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, he’ll naturally hop out; however, if you place a frog in a pot of cool water and gradually increase the heat, you’ll end up with a cooked frog. It was the same for these men, the pleasure of the ‘slow cook’ was a huge part of their enjoyment. This initial friendliness fed my guilt, confusion and shame. They knew how to get their prey to feel responsible for what they were doing. Even my fairy world could not protect me from that guilt. It was as powerful as the physical abuse.
Instead of their urgent, hungry, bestial grunting, I listened to the lapping of waves against the shore as it flowed back and forth over the pebbly strand. I let it fill my ears, drowning out my own stifled wails and the primitive groans of the men. My fairy helps me escape from reality and survive in the room but the confusion, fear, guilt and shame remain. Such is the strength of the Secret.
The floor is lino. Popular in Ireland in the Fifties and Sixties, it was once glossy with vibrant red roses now faded and, in places such as below the yellow sink, worn through to the wooden floorboards. But the roses can still embrace and hold me safe. For me the most worn roses hold the most secrets and must not be troubled, so under the bed is my garden of unburdened roses. I share my secrets with them in hushed whispers. Here and the small rickety wardrobe became my refuges in desperate attempts to disappear. All futile of course. Adult arms easily extend to clutch a skinny child’s limb and drag the resistant urchin from under the bed or out of the wardrobe. Any refuge from the onslaught was brief, but still, I never gave up seeking it out.
Under the bed, the original pattern is a joy to behold. Bright, luscious deep red roses, entwined around branches of brown, thorn encrusted brambles. Fresh; ready to listen. Unencumbered by the troubles of others, I felt at ease to share my secrets. This was my safe place. Once the men were gone I went back under the bed or would go there during the day sometimes. I lay in the furthest reaches under the metal bed on the chaise of roses, looking up at the metal, diamond-shaped bed base through which peeked the green and white embroidered mattress. The white tucked-in sheets were visible at the end of the iron bed edge, where large screws held the bed together. Over and over I keenly followed the pathway of these diamonds from the foot of the bed to the head and from side to side. In between each diamond was a wound coil spring which magnetised my trembling fingers.
I would often be joined under the bed by a furry friend. Very timid at first, he became braver the longer I stayed. He had a hole in the skirting board through which I could see him peep out his nose sometimes and then if I lay motionless he would just keep his nose poking through, eyes furtively scanning the room. This went on for a few weeks but It was winter so I could not stay under the bed for long. The bare board floor was freezing and I only had my pyjamas on as my mother had left me no clothes. I was about eight and had not been out of the room for a few weeks. I would get cold quickly and crawl out of my sanctuary and get back into bed and watch my furry friend wander around the room searching for food. I bought a bit of bread under the bed with me and left it on a rose. He appeared and peeked his nose out and bravely came out of his home and ate it. As time went by he became more audacious and would just come straight out of the hole as soon as I left some food out and I could watch him eat as he held the bread or morsel in his two front claws, whisker and nose constantly twitching. I suppose at first I was afraid of the rat and the other rats that would scurry around the floor at night that they never came onto the bed, so I felt safe. Only one ever came out when I was under the bed so eventually, I found there was nothing to fear from them. Some would climb on the chair and then onto the sink and drink from the dripping tap, then scurry away again if I clapped my hands. They were as timid as I was. The room smelled strongly of them and the men. Sometimes it was hard to tell which was which. Each had a pungent odour but I knew which gave comfort and which gave terror.