Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Harassment, Grooming, Underage
Sexual misconduct has come to the forefront of our media of the past few years as many survivors have finally felt as if they have a voice to share their stories. Making this process as open, non-judgmental and supportive as possible is essential to alleviating as much pain and suffering as possible. With this discussion circulating too often on the internet, many people are often put into a place of confusion on whether they were abused or not, making coming forward about their stories difficult due to the strict guidelines as to what assault is. Having these guidelines often makes survivors feel as if their experiences are not relevant or were not even that bad, leaving them even more confused, hurt and alone.
During the early 2000s, many college-age students were growing up with an increased amount of internet usage available to them, this often would take dark paths as many negative things are easy to access on the internet. Teenagers going through puberty with a lack of sexual education in schools, mental health battles of their own, and troubles between friends and partners can make you seek out unexpected things. However, this is not where the problem lies, the issue at hand was the grown people, often men, seeking out younger, vulnerable children.
The concept of grooming is when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them. Many people experienced this form of abuse in their younger years but often did not understand the situation fully, as they were children, or did not know how to bring up the problem without also incriminating themselves. This can be through many sources and servers, chat rooms, special interest groups online, all meant for a targeted young audience but is infiltrated by older people with the intention of grooming.
Internet applications such as Omegle, Kik and other apps prompted this behavior as they were essentially secure and your true identity could be hidden if you chose so. Going into details on the types of games and interests that were discussed in these instances is unnecessary as those often also cause guilt to the victims.
However, the problem at hand is not children being curious about the vast information they had at their fingertips but rather the adults that preyed on the curiosity and vulnerability.
Many people have a story similar to this, even if they do not realize it. A mix of shame, confusion and suppression of these early childhood memories can leave many with a sense of guilt surrounding their experiences and not even a particular word to call it. However, many people did encounter or experience a form of sexual harassment or assault because of these actions, but since they were not in person, it is often explained away in their head.
By discussing somewhat taboo topics such as this allows many to work through their trauma and come out about their stories, without fear of judgment from their peers. Doing somewhat shady stuff online as an early teenager does not negate the fact that many are intentionally targeted, harassed or more, leaving them with unresolved and confused feelings on the issue.
Sexual misconduct is rampant within the online and gaming communities and did not stop in the early 2000 teens. More recently, there have been sexual abuse allegations come to light with the fighting game community towards minors, showing this extends to all parts of the internet. However, the problem has never been minors having too much exposure to the internet, blaming the parents or the games themselves, it is the adults grooming and abusing vulnerable people.
The solution to this problem is too big for anybody to think of, at least for the time being, but telling stories of the past and explaining how you overcame or escaped this abuse is essential for children of today to understand what to look out for. Sexual abuse and harassment are just that, no matter the platform you are exposed to it on, understanding and accepting that your story is valid and not shameful is crucial in healing and helping others.
Featured Illustration: Olivia Varnell