Jessica Jones: A Study in Grooming and Exploitation?

jessicajones_poster“Jessica. I know your secrets. I know about your friends, about your gifts. Jessica. Jessica Jones. I know everything.” ~Kilgrave, Jessica Jones

He’s so incredibly interested in you. He asks questions. He listens like no one ever has.

He’s never too busy to find out everything there is to know about you. Your hopes. Your dreams. Your talents. Who your friends and family are.

He takes you places. Wines and dines you. You get a taste of the finer things. Expensive meals, hotels, spas: money is no object. Some days you think you are living in a dream.

You experience this all with someone who is really interested in you, in taking care of you.

Watchers of the Netflix TV show Jessica Jones know about the master manipulator, Kilgrave. He’s a man who can bend anyone to his will, make anyone do *anything* he wants.

Superhero Jessica Jones was once in his power. He exploited her and her abilities for his own gain. Once she broke free, Kilgrave turned to other women. He used and manipulated them into doing unimaginable things.

For people who have been exploited by a lover, or who work everyday with survivors of sexual abuse like I do, the Marvel villain Kilgrave hits very close to home.

Kilgrave makes those he exploits do things they never would before. He puts a fence around his victim’s brains. And that’s where they stay – trapped in a prison of their own minds.

Someone who grooms vulnerable people for exploitation works in much the same way as Kilgrave. I see this everyday in my practice. It is called grooming and it often follows a predictable pattern.

  • They find out everything there is to know about you.
  • They tell you that no one cares more about you than they do.
  • They tell you that they love you. That no one has ever made them feel this way before.
  • While they get you to open up about your dreams and your secrets, they convince you that their future is with you.
  • They ply you with gifts, expensive meals and experiences.
  • They might convince you to do things that you might not have normally done – sexual acts or even encourage you to engage in criminal behaviour.
  • They might even encourage you to engage in sexual acts that you are uncomfortable with, but because you want to please them so badly you do it.
  • They start to isolate you from friends and family.
  • They convince you that they need to do things to help raise money for your new life together.
  • For many, it can mean doing anything they can to give their lover what they want.
  • For some, this means work in the sex trade. Many in this situation believe it is temporary, and will help their lover raise enough money to start a life together.

Kilgrave is a fascinating study into a manipulator and the process of grooming taken to an extreme. However, real-life exploitation doesn’t require superpowers nor the otherworldly talents of a supervillain.

There is something at work that is just as powerful in cases of grooming and sexual exploitation: the promise of love and security.

For survivors of sexual abuse, who have bravely dismantled that fence around their minds, they know how powerful that pull can be – even as the legal system and service providers struggle to understand.


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