Trigger Warning: References to Child Grooming and Sexual Assault of Minors.
It’s July 2011, the newest, hottest news of Hollywood takes over tabloid headlines: Courtney Stodden, a 16-year-old child bride, marries 51-years-old acting coach Doug Hutchinson.
Source by PEOPLE
Courtney Stodden, who identifies as Non-Binary and uses they/them pronouns, was an aspiring singer-songwriter and actress when they hired Hutchison to teach acting classes. Stodden, at the young age of 16, was unable to recognize predatory behavior. After 4 months of conversing online through emails and only one week after meeting in person, Hutchinson had proposed to Stodden in May 2011. Being well under the legal age of marriage of 18, Stodden was not even old enough to marry. Stodden needed and received their family’s consent to legally get married in Las Vegas, Nevada.
What was the world saying about this unconventional, unusual and disturbing marriage? Unfortunately, instead of focusing on Doug Hutchison, the pedophile who pursued a minor 34 years younger than him, Stodden became the subject of endless media hate and negative media coverage. Stodden was branded as a ‘whore’ by Courtney Love, publicly shamed by Anderson Cooper on National Television and received death threats from Chrissy Teigen.
Source by BuzzFeed
Stodden has later revealed that they had suffered from depression largely stemming from the immense cyberbullying and public shaming she experienced with regards to their marriage.
It is evident that the media has betrayed this 16-year old child.
According to 18 U.S.C. Section 2243(a), on the Sexual Abuse of a Minor, statutory rape applies when the perpetrator ‘engages in a sexual act’ with a child between the ages of 12 and 16. However, 18 U.S.C. Section 2243(c)(2) defends this crime when both persons ‘engaging in the sexual act were at that time married to each other’. Child marriages are extremely dangerous as it serves as a valid defense to statutory rape. This law enables sexual predators to engage in sexual activity with children as young as 12, and portrays child marriage as an incentive to pedophiles such as Hutchison.
From Courtney Stodden’s story, we can see how society needs to change their approach towards the sexual exploitation of minors. The media has called Stodden a ‘fame whore’, a ‘regular whore’, and a ‘worse-for-wear’. This is harmful as it puts the blame on their appearance and behavior for being sexually exploited as a child – a convenient way to push the blame to the victim. Instead of intensifying and invalidating Stodden’s trauma, society needs to shift their focus onto the one who is truly at fault, Doug Hutchison. As a full grown adult, he consciously and willingly manipulated and sexually exploited a child.
Having happened across the world, this may feel distant to us, but child grooming happens everywhere and Singapore is no exception. Microsoft conducted a study in 2019 and the results showed that 68% of Singaporean youths aged 13 to 17 received unsolicited sexual content online, with 45% of them coming from strangers. The staggering fact is that these statistics are far higher than the global average.
It is Important to Realize that Everyone is Subjected to Grooming.
Grooming is not limited to children, it can happen to anyone through methods like persuasion and manipulation. Victims of abuse need to know that everyone is and has been subjected to grooming throughout their lives from all types of people. Psychologist Dr Jessica Taylor writes that ‘grooming makes the world go round’. The culture to manipulate, to convince, to profit and to abuse is embedded in our society.
Many survivors of child grooming might say ‘Why did I not spot the warning signs? How could I have been so dumb?’
We need to remind survivors that they aren’t dumb, they are normal.
We have created the narrative that victims of abuse should have spotted the signs of sexual grooming, that they have failed to ‘protect themselves’. But how could we expect victims to recognize these signs when we have all been trained to accept grooming in our everyday lives? All this results in is feelings of self-blame which invalidates and intensifies the psychological effects of sexual assault.
We need to approach victims with compassion and listen to them. Validating their traumatic experiences will help survivors through their healing journey. By standing by victims of not just sexual grooming but of all forms of sexual abuse, we can encourage self-forgiveness and create a safer environment for people to come forward.
Let’s ditch the narrative that survivors of sexual grooming should know what is happening to them or have the power to escape. Let’s ditch the victim blaming.
To all victims of sexual assault: Surround yourself with the people who can love and support you in the way that you need most. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness, it is a sign of confidence and strength.
If you are a survivor and are seeking help, get in touch with a professional:
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