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July 14, 2022 26 mins

A reoccurring theme throughout the series has centered around grooming. Rachel and the women with whom Spencer had affairs related how he built trust and leveraged vulnerabilities over time. Our audience, through emails to the show, has had conflicting and passionate feelings about what grooming is and who can be groomed. This week, Jenifer and Andrea speak to Jerika Heinze, who is both a survivor and an expert to shed light on what grooming is and the many insidious ways it works. 

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
This podcast discusses sexual assault. Please take care while listening.
All of a sudden, there he is standing there with
this very abrupt information that you know, I find you attractive.
I think you're beautiful. I want to kiss you. It's
very confusing. I mean, our brain is just on a
cognitive level trying to make sense of what's unfolding right now,

and then all of a sudden we might find ourselves
going along with it. Now we've shared a kiss, there
usually is a feeling that there's a point of no return.
I'm Andrea Gunning and this is Betrayal, Episode nine Grooming.

During the course of our series Betrayal, we learned that
Jennifer's then husband, Spencer, had dozens of affairs and sexually
assaulted one of his students. Rachel, the student, bravely recounted
her experience. On an earlier episode. She painstakenly recounted how
a trusted adult in her life roomed her by first

becoming a trusted mentor and confidant to a sexual predator.
It was hard to hear, but a lesson in how
adults manipulate children. I think I was more confused with
a grown adult telling me that they had these feelings
for me that you see it in movies, you know,
when someone confesses their feelings, and as a kid, it's

shocking when someone tells you at the time that they
love you and they have these feelings for you that
they don't want to hide, and that you're special. It
was a shock. I remember him specifically saying that he
had never felt this way before with anyone, and that

I was special to him. That's how he made me feel.
He made me feel special and I could trust him
if I ever needed to talk to him about anything personal.
That interview triggered a slew of responses from many of you. Jen,
would you mind reading one of those emails? Sure this

may sound scattered because I'm a stay at home mom
with four little ones, but I am Rachel. I was
groomed by my teacher and coach. He was very calculated
and preyed upon me, just like Rachel. I'd never dated anyone,
was very insecure and innocent. I have felt so alone
for so many years. Rachel was brave and a huge

encouragement for me. Wow, I know right. It's that whole
feeling alone thing that sometimes just makes you feel like
you've done something wrong. But then when you hear other
people tell a similar story, it's just like, Wow, this
happens to other people, so it must not just be

my fault, or it must not be my fault at all.
And we're seeing this in the emails or so much
relief and there's like a weight lifted. I mean, there
were so many others just like the one that you
just read, actually, including students of your ex husband. Yeah,
we got a lot of feedback, but the ones that

actually knew him or were one of his students at
some point in his career. Oh man, it's sickening in
a sickening and it's consistent. Yeah, after we heard Rachel's story,
you ended up speaking with two of the women that
your husband at the time carried long term affairs with

and these went on for years. One of the women
was also a friend of yours at the time. Let's
hear a little bit of that. Okay, the way I
was talked to to feel good about myself, to trust him,
surely that happened to that same girl. I bet you
any money it was the same steps. Just continuously building

a relationship with somebody and making them feel good about themselves,
but also making them feel like they're not doing anything bad.
I had remembered saying like, I can't do this, this
is wrong. Well, no, no, it's not wrong. You just
can't help when two people just click like we do,
it's rooming. It is rooming, and they don't mind taking

the time to build that trust. We received a lot
of emails about this particular episode. You know, out of
all the episodes, this one getting the most feedback from
was really interesting. I think it really started that whole
discussion about what is grooming, what is predatory behavior? Can

you be groomed as an adult? It was so interesting.
So many people were just curious but also had a
lot of feelings about it. Do you mind sharing one
of those? Sure? I learned so much from this podcast,
but mostly I decided it was time to forgive myself
from a relationship that has weighed on me for far

too long. I don't make excuses, and I take full
responsibility for my decisions. However, now I realized that I
was a perfect target, vulnerable and desiring attention, even if
it was the wrong kind of attention. This is nothing
compared to what you went through. But Spence in this
guy seemed to have similar characteristics regarding how they approached others.

Emails like that made me feel really great. Why there
was empathy and forgiveness and it's healing for you and
the other women involved. A spencer hearing from the other
women allows them to release that shame a little bit.
You know, people would ask why did you need to

talk to these women? And I understand that some people
are going to think it's weird or strange or something
like that. But that's how you understand someone else's side
of things. You listen to what they went through and
you realize that they were lied to, they were manipulated.

But there were a lot of other big feelings about
this episode that weren't the same reaction, especially when it
came to your former friend. Yeah, you want me to
read this one email we got, Yeah shared the woman
who had an affair with a married man kept saying
she was groomed. That is not grooming. Manipulative, yes, grooming. No,

she was an adult and he was not in position
of authority over her. This is an irresponsible use of
this word and takes away from those of us who
are really groomed. You may want to provide some additional
information about what grooming is versus being manipulated by a sociopath.
Language matters. And here's another one. The two women were

grown adult women, and no right from wrong. I feel
it's a dangerous viewpoint to treat women as helpless victims
that are at the mercy of manipulative men. Adult women
can make their own decisions. We are not weak, helpless creatures.
I think it would be a far more effective message
to hold the adult women accountable for their choices and

not portray them as victims. When we read that email
about how language matters, I was like, absolutely it does,
and so let's have a larger conversation and educate the
audience about what grooming is and really explore that conversation
in this forum because so many people reached out about it,

just wanting to know what it is, how it happens,
and clarifying the difference between what happened to Rachel and
these other women, or how are they similar, how are
they dissimilar. I think we have been very responsible in
telling this story, and so when we did get this feedback,
we decided to seek out an expert to really help

define this stuff absolutely. And look, our job was to
tell your story and let women involved speak for themselves
and tell their truth and their stories. And by any calculation,
it took a lot of guts to do that. It
really did. But it's also clear that we need to
do some more work on defining grooming in a more

clinical way, so we sought out a top expert. Jerika
Heinzie is a resource specialist at the National Sexual Violence
Resource Center and also the founder of the field Work Initiative,
an organization which addresses issues of trauma and gendered violence
in academia research field Work. Jerika is a cultural anthropologist

who speaks internationally on issues of sexual harassment, abuses of power,
and violence prevention. Thank you, Jericho for spending some time
with us. Thank you so very much. I'm always very
happy and glad to have these conversations, not because they're
particularly uplifting, but more so because they've been so historically

absent in conversations that are had in our society, and
I think having these kind of illuminating conversations is the
ultimate form of prevention. So thank you so much for
opportunity to do that. Of course, So, Jerika, how did
you get into this line of work and become an
expert in this field. I myself have experiences of grooming

and that culminated into the sort of very subtle beginnings
of sexual harassment than much more apparent sexual harassment, and
that culminated into a sexual assault. It was still a
peach student with an immense amount of trust and moral
debt towards an adviser, a person who in my research
field was helping and guiding me for many years, offering

help and aid and trust in that individual who was
significantly older than me, but I was still a very
much an adult woman. I was in my late twenties.
Since that there was another researcher who was raped and
murdered nearby that area, and that was what fully initiated
the creation of field work initiative. My work at National
Sexual Violence Resource Center is looking very broadly at topics

of the sexual abuse or gendered violence, domestic violence, and
thinking about survivor led and centured resources for folks. For
the past three years, I have interviewed survivors of academic
trauma and field work trauma abuse, and that kind of
lended itself to a corpoise of knowledge that's training and
informational where we shed light on this issue about grooming,

about the abuses of power and how those dynamics and
full So is it safe to say that your experience
you went through as a Page D student change the
course of your career. Yeah, that's absolutely spot on. I
mean I had this fear that I didn't want sexual

harassment to be like my thing. I never wanted to
do this work, and this work has continued simply because
it's needed. No other organization exists that sheds light in
the same way. So in doing this podcast, I spoke
with not only the sexual assault victim, but also with
a couple of the adult women that my ex husband

had had affairs with. The question that came up a
lot for us is how exactly do you define grooming?
Grooming is a concept of putting an idea in somebody's mind,
painting a picture that will align and allow them to
perpetrate whatever acts they intend, and building that emotional connection

where you know the people they target, which allows them
to set a stage of hiding in plain sight. He's
a teacher, he would never do that. He's such a
great neighbor and a coach. That targeting earning of trust
with the purpose of exploiting their own motives, be that
through sexual abuse, financial abuse. We see grooming with elder adults, right,
you know, fiduciary abuse. So grooming is not anything that

is specific to anyone age group, any one individual. You know,
anybody is susceptible to be groom. That is so helpful
to know, because, as you know, my husband was involved
with women of many ages and backgrounds, and so we've
gotten so many questions and feedback about grooming in this case,

and it's been a topic of so much debate. Jericha.
One of the things that I feel like we noticed
with a lot of my ex husband's communication with these
women were to kind of prey on their vulnerabilities, saying
things to them like how beautiful they are and I

haven't felt this way before, lines like that, Would you
consider that grooming? Oh? Absolutely, praying on the vulnerabilities, those
imaginations of what does that person need to hear to
kind of turn the key for this situation to take flight.

And you know what I noticed in the story of
the friend, you know, at the bar of the initial contact,
was that she was coming out of the bathroom and
she had had a little bit of wine, and that
all of a sudden, that abrupt. He's standing there, he's
saying these things. You know, if we look at our
brains when something unexpected happens or traumatic or shocking, I mean,

it's lit up like the fourth of July. There's confusion,
what's happening or what does it mean? What's going on?
And all of a sudden, there he is standing there
with this very information that you know, I find you attractive,
I think you're beautiful. I want to kiss you. It's
very confusing. I mean, our brain is just on a
cognitive level trying to make sense of what's unfolding right now,
and then all of a sudden we might find ourselves

going along with it. Now we've shared a kiss, now
that person has become part of it. It's not as
we might imagine it would go, where we expect a
person to say, excuse me, no, I can't do this,
or you know, it's all very much preying on opportunism
of the person not expecting and also the idea that
that person is special and that they're the only one,

and that it's not really a bad thing because I
see how specially you are. How do you respond to
people saying, well, they're an adult, they have agency that
feels different than someone that doesn't have any sexual experience
that was so young and really doesn't have context to
the sexual and romantic world. And then if you have

someone who has lived in the world longer and has
had those experiences, they should bring that judgment to those scenarios.
So how do you respond to you know, a grown
woman or a grown adult has agency. There's a whole
sea of different ways and modes that vulnerabilities are kind
of created and exploited. But there's no magic age or

a set age in which we are actually fully formed
adults that are completely moved on from any of the
things that you know, we might have struggled within our
past or our traumas, and those are different for different people.
You know, somebody with childhood sexual abuse, it's going to
have a different experience with that than somebody who did
not have those experiences. And so it's important not to
be so kind of on and off about where we

imagine adults agency lies. And more so think about trauma
and it's role in all of our thinking, in all
of our concepts of ourselves and how we move through
the world. That's so interesting in the case of the
two women I spoke to that are adults that had affairs.
I think Spence used making them feel beautiful specifically for them.

Do groomers look for a certain personality type. I think
grooming is quite across the board. There was grooming of
neighbors and parents at school, There was grooming of the coworkers.
Planting that idea about them being a trustworthy individual and
planting that idea about who they were is a form
of grooming as well. We do know that when groomors

see an opening of a vulnerability, they are really privy
to stepping in and perceiving that and seeing and testing
sort of where they can insert themselves and insert and
yield that power over them and then over time sort
of slowly portraying that image, but where the victim still
has that strong image in their mind because there was
such an impression made, and there was everybody else's holding

the same idea. And how is that different if it's
different than being a sexual predator we see at times
with sexual predators, even though they might have a desire
or an inclination, there may not in every instance be
this premeditation, this grand orchestration that we see with grooming.

Grooming is that false sense of an extreme emotional connection
that the individual builds over time. They're also never the
same person twice. If we ask an array of people
who they are and what they know about them, we
might hear things about that person we would never even
imagine are possible. Because there's a portrait that a groom
or paints and they sort of hand it to you.

That makes so much sense to me. So much of
this project has been about trying to see the many
different portraits my ex husband painted to others. Spence painted
himself different ways around different people. To me, he painted

himself as the perfect husband and I was his perfect wife,
and you just usually accepted, as we do in society.
If I were to tell you I was an astronaut,
you know what reason would you not believe that that's true,
especially if I say it with confidence and have a
certain way in which I carry myself with that information.
And so grooming is that sense of dependence and overall

vulnerability that's created between an individual and the groomer, and
it's all done for the purpose of orchestrating their own motives,
be those sexual, be those financial, maybe just the power
of it he orchestrated an emotional connection with many many
of these women, obviously with the sexual assault victim herself,

but also I think with a lot of these other
grown women. So when we were thinking through questions that
we wanted to ask you, Dereka, one of the questions
was how to victims who are experienced grooming shut it down?

And as I was sitting with that phrase shut it down,
it just didn't sit right with me because it just
felt like it was on the victim. You know, those
who do not shut it down are weak. Those who
do not shut it down need to work on themselves.
They're not strong. And there's like this like weird inherent

criticism to that phrase. There usually is a feeling that
there's a point of no return that if that person
who knew that you told someone that you're going to
be in trouble or that oh well we kiss now,
you know, the cats out of the bag? Yeah, how
can victims know that, no matter what has happened, there's
always a way to step outside of that dynamic and

getting them to realize that that's their right and that
they have the freedom to do it, and that you
know they're going to be believed and they're not going
to be blamed things like that. And I think that
telling survivors that no matter how long something has gone on,
no matter what has happened, that you always have a
right to set it down by saying and expressing it.

It's like, oh, what so much has already happened. I
have to somehow spin it. I have to somehow make
it okay or make it better, or there's some sort
of burden about it not being as bad, or I
have to somehow go down with the ship, or you know,
there's so many ways people might feel it, and just
letting people know no matter what has happened, no matter
how long it's gone on, you always have the right
to say, you know what, I'm going to speak my

truth about this, this has been happening, this has happened,
and that there's always that exit button. It usually begins
with telling someone we trust, usually begins with a feeling
empowered to do that because there's an immense amount of fear.
It's not easy, it's scary. It's extremely scary. It's one
of the scariest things you can imagine is not knowing
what's possible when you're scared or operating from a place

of fear. It's really hard to think rationally. We become
hypervigilant when we have trauma, and that hypervigilance creates this
thing our brain where we have to imagine the worst
case scenario is going to happen next. We're going to
be blamed. No one's going to believe us, They're going
to use some sort of revenge. That's why we need

more trauma informed education, starting from a young age, why
we need these kinds of conversations. Absolutely. One feeling I
get from some of these women that I've spoken with
is they were really upset and angry with themselves for
falling for it. I'd say one of the paramount things
to understand about grooming is that the groomer has implicated

you in this event. You've played a role. And this
is why I think for you, Jen, as the core victim,
as the wife, we can't really look back and think
that there was any even red flags. But thinking too,
the fact that all of these victims of selves played
in some way, you know, the groomer implicated them. Well,

I kissed you and you didn't push me away. You know,
you could have said no at any moment. You didn't
have to text me back. You could have told the
police at any moment if you didn't want to, and
you could have walked away. You know, this is the
way in which it happens. And so what happens is
the victims feel this as the first surge of guilt.
And that's how rumors are so successful. They find that

little wedge between where they can really bring out vulnerabilities
in the sense that they're going to ameliorate them, but
also drive that wedge wall. Yeah, this is bad, but
you know I didn't act alone. You kissed me too,
And that's where so many victims feel shame and guilt
and self culpability. What we do is we look back
on our role in it and think of a thousand
ways we could have and should have done it different.

So what are some resources that you suggest for people
who have gone through this. I think all victims need
there being, of course, having a space to talk about this.
I think that having a connection with other survivors is
immensely important. When we have group sessions, the kinds of
connections that can be made between two individuals where we

can say, hey, I see you're blaming yourself and you
totally shouldn't and the other person says, yeah, well you're
doing the same thing. It makes connections that we can't
otherwise do in a one dimensional way or internally. We
need to be much more outward about it, talking about it,
saying hey, I feel really bad right now about the
way that you know I'm feeling about it. And it
might be on a random Tuesday when we're driving down

the road. Feeling is not linear. It's kind of like that, right,
and the same with these feelings and these emotions. So
I think the first thing that survivors need to know
is that there are spaces and there is help to
be able to let all of these things out from
the internal space where they just usually get worse and fester.
So it's really important to find each other and speak

about it, and whatever it's setting is comfortable, be that
in a therapy setting, be that in a group setting,
be that just with friends or everybody else or whomever
the person finds good. And then understanding our ability to
create post traumatic growth where we can say, you know,
I choose to create an error of where I see
that I was exploited in this way. So starting to
put tools and survivors hands to realize the power they

have now even though they're nursing wounds, to create that
post traumatic growth, whatever that might look like. And again
that is so immensely plural what it looks like to
the individual, and they get to choose what that is.
This has been so enlightening and helpful, and I just
thank you so much for all of this information and
just educating. Yeah, thank you very much. It's the education

we need and I'm really grateful that you could spend
some time with us to talk about it. Thank you
so very much. I just want to share one more
email we receive that really hit home because I think
it's so easy to confuse positive attention and negative attention,
and this listener summed it up so well and I
think we both thought it was worth sharing. At the

end of this episode, Jen, do you mind reading it
for us? Dear Jennifer and the whole crew of Betrayal.
For three and a half years, been the victim of
a predator who has, unbeknownst to me until this podcast,
been grooming me and sexually harassing me. He is a charming,
brilliant and powerful CEO. I never had the nerve to

tell him to stop. Until now you have given me
the power and the nerve, and you have opened my
eyes to the fact that it is not flattering to
be groomed. I've been in agony for three and a
half years and it stops today a cry. It's education, right, yeah,

it's letting people know what this behavior is so hopefully
they can recognize it. A little goes a long way,
and we just want to help each other. That's right.
If you'd like to reach out to the Betrayal team,
email us at Betrayal Pod at gmail dot com. That's

Betrayal Pod gmail dot com. Betrayal is a production of
Glass Podcasts, a division of Glass Entertainment Group, in partnership
with iHeart Podcasts. The show was executive produced by Nancy
Glass and Jennifer Fason, hosted and produced by me Andrea Gunning,
written and produced by Carry Hartman, also produced by Ben Fetterman.

Our iHeart team is Ali Perry and Jessica Krinchek. Sound
editing and mixing done by Mount de Vecchio. Betrayal's theme
was composed by Oliver Bain's music library provided by my
Music and For more podcasts from iHeart, visit the iHeartRadio app,
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