Grooming refers to a series of behaviors by an abuser to ensure a victim readily accepts physical and psychological abuse as normal and desirable, and to ensure that a victim does not report or expose sexual abuse.
Researchers and mental health professionals agree that grooming generally follows a pattern:
- Identifying and targeting victims
- Blurring boundaries and gaining trust
- Isolating and fostering secrecy
The grooming process at Barrett has been known to begin in mandatory freshman seminars and often progresses to Study Abroad trips, teaching assistantships, and thesis direction.
Although grooming is typically discussed within the context of child and adolescent sexual abuse, established grooming patterns have been observed among several professors at Barrett over the past decade. Undergraduate students are legally considered adults, but the key brain structure involved in decision-making and impulse-control does not fully develop until age 25.
In addition to drastic age differences, students are especially vulnerable to professors because of the power a professor holds over a student’s academic career and quality of life on campus. Even when students believe they are consenting to romantic and sexual relationships with their professors, their ability to consent is undermined by asymmetrical power. According to ASU policy, for a relationship between a professor and student to be consensual, the professor must hold no power over the student’s academic career (ACD 402).
Identifying and targeting victims
Sexual predators look for victims they can easily manipulate. Honors students are especially vulnerable because of the reverence they tend to have for their teachers and the importance they place on academic status. At Barrett, professors have behaved flirtatiously in class and targeted students they believed were physically attracted to them.
Blurring boundaries and gaining trust
Barrett encourages close relationships between students and professors, and professors use intimate classroom settings and mandated office hours to obscure the necessary boundary between teacher and pupil. In many cases, an abuser will gain a victim’s trust and lower a victim’s inhibitions by showing interest in the victim’s interests and personal life. Dr. Joel Hunter, for example, taught courses on Harry Potter and The Hunger Games to impress and gain access to the books’ target audience, his students. Barrett professors like Dr. Jacquie Scott Lynch have used international Study Abroad trips to blur the student-teacher boundary by drinking alcohol and flirting with underage students.
Isolating and fostering secrecy
College students are often outside their comfort zones and away from their support systems. Barrett professors have been known to isolate their victims further by encouraging inappropriate verbal and/or physical conduct during office hours and off campus. By this point, the professor has built a strong enough relationship with the student that the student is less likely to consider the relationship abusive. Even if a student does recognize the abuse, the bond with the professor often prevents the student from reporting for fear of consequences for the professor.
A greater culture of secrecy exists at the institutional level, where Barrett and ASU administrators actively silence complainants to protect faculty predators and the school’s reputation. Thanks to student-led activism, sexual abuse at Barrett gained local and national media attention.
A federal complaint filed against ASU in 2014 listed at least 10 Barrett professors as having had inappropriate contact with students, some of the professors serial offenders. Since then, 6 have left the university on their own or because ASU refused to renew their contracts.
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If you or someone you know is being groomed or abused by a professor, email us at SDASA.ArizonaState@gmail.com for support and to learn about options.
- 20 warning signs your professor is abusing you
- History of ASU’s student-teacher dating policy (ACD 402)
- Barrett Rape Culture Timeline
- Phoenix New Times exposes Barrett sexual predators
- Fox 10 News segment (Dr. Conz, Dr. Hunter, Dr. Susser)
- Identifying signs of a child being groomed for sexual abuse
- Grooming dynamic of child sexual abuse