#Metoo in the Theatre : Understanding the Warning Signs of "Grooming"

Dr. Alisa Hurwitz

We are currently living in the zeitgeist of the #MeToo movement, which has empowered and emboldened sexual abuse survivors to speak up about the perpetrators. The number of sexual abuse survivors is likely underestimated, the best current information shows that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men in the United States have been the target of rape or attempted rape. #MeToo has helped to shed light on a small number of these abusers, from Hollywood to corporate America. No field is exempt from these accusations, including our beloved theater community. 

On Stage Blog recently published articles about perpetrators among us. It was disheartening to read but vital to acknowledge that this gross abuse of power is happening here. Recent reports have also highlighted Ben Vereen and Kevin Spacey as theater people who belong to the ranks of these dangerous men. The details of these assaults illustrate the warning signs of a potential predator, also known as “grooming”.  These signs stand out to me due to me from my day job as a clinical psychologist specializing in sexual trauma. 

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In outlining and elucidating these signs, I want to be clear that I am in no way suggesting that the victims are to blame or “should have” seen these signs. My goal, much like in sessions with my individual trauma patients, is to discover healthy ways to protect oneself based on past experiences. (In fact, survivors of often have developed unhealthy ways to try to protect themselves; trauma causes people to cast a wide net of self-protection. So making this distinction is a vital step in someone’s therapeutic process.) But let me be clear, THE SEXUAL ABUSER IS ALWAYS 100% AT FAULT. 

With that said, here are signs of grooming:

Taking Advantage of a Power Differential:

Perpetrators always look for a power dynamic to abuse. Examples include being an older age, holding a supervisory position, greater physical strength, being someone’s teacher, etc. In the theater world, with so many individuals working extremely hard to make connections and gain opportunities, there are unfortunately multiple inroads for abusers to use to their salacious ends. Be mindful of people trying to step over the boundaries and maintain boundaries that make you feel comfortable. 

Gaining Access:

A perpetrator looks to manipulate access. Requesting private meetings, setting up group discussions and then suddenly uninviting all but one individual, and asking to see someone outside of regular business situations are all ways of trying to get time alone.  If you feel uncomfortable, listen to your gut. If you are unsure, talk to a trusted friend. Any reasonable person who is not trying to gain access will be fine with not meeting alone.  

Decreasing Inhibition:

Molesters will start with requests that they may couch as “innocent” to ease their access, such as by first suggesting “snuggles” before moving on to asking for “f*cking”. Abusers also use drugs and alcohol for this purpose. If someone is asking you to cuddle and you do not feel comfortable, find a way to get out of that situation safely. Ask a friend to come meet you. Call the police if you feel unsafe. Try to avoid consuming mind-altering substances around people you are not comfortable or who you do not know well.

As a society, we need to hold the abusers accountable for their actions, both legally and making it as socially reprehensible as cigarette smoking. While we strive for that more perfect union, keep these signs in mind to help protect yourself from future abuse. 

If you or someone you love has been the victim of sexual assault, please go to the RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) website for information and resources: www.rainn.org

Dr. Alisa Hurwitz is a clinical psychologist and writer. She practices at The Counseling Center of Nashua in southern New Hampshire, specializing in family therapy, autism spectrum disorders, and trauma. She maintains a blog and interview site that focuses on the intersection of theater and psychology. You can read more of her articles and interviews with Broadway actors at www.drdrama.com