Being a teenager was the most curious stage and I’m sure most of us have shared a kiss with people we liked during adolescence itself. I was 13 year old when I had my first kiss with my friend during a sleepover at her place. I still remember my racing heart in a dark room, slightly illuminated by the fairy lights that my friend called ‘indoor stars’. Raindrops trickled down the window pane, silence so haunting that I could hear my own breath and my 13 years old friend sitting in front of me. Even though it was just a kiss between two curious teens, consent is the main highlight of this incident.
“Hell yes, let’s do it” and “I’m not comfortable doing this". Two generic but separate instances of expressing verbal consent in a sexual situation, between adults. Did you notice that I intentionally used the word ‘adults’ in the previous sentence? Yes, we are bound to use the term ‘intimacy between consenting adults’ because according to the POCSO Act, 2012, the age of consent in India is 18.
While people might have a difference of opinion, the intention behind the act was purely protective towards children, specifically children who are at a higher risk of being exposed to sexual violation through social practices of child marriage. In most rural areas where female children are often deprived of their basic rights to education and living an independent life, they are taken care of until they are old enough to marry and have children, at the age of 15-16; which is why the Government of India implemented the POCSO Act back in 2012.
According to the POCSO Act, the age of consent for sexual activity for people of all genders has been raised to 18 years, which was earlier set at 16 years. Until 2012, a lack of legal vigilance has been over exploited by the Indian society to coerce young adolescents into marriage. This also sheds light on the fact that our Indian society holds traditional notions of marriage and patriarchy at a higher place than an individual’s consent, risking not only their physical and mental wellbeing but their entire lives.
According to WHO, adolescence, the stage between childhood and adulthood from the age of 10 to 19 is the most vulnerable stage for a young adult. To support the ongoing physical and mental development at this stage, adolescents require age-appropriate information on sexual education and life skills so they can protect themselves and people around them from being exploited.
When we talk about exploitation, we need to address the unhealthy relationship dynamic between adolescents and adults that we often come across. What do you think about a 24 year old adult dating a 15 year old child? If we look at this situation from the lens of power dynamics (not age), it is clearly visible that on one end, the adult has already been through the vulnerable age of adolescence and knows that ups and downs of teen hormones and on the other end we have a child who has only began their journey to explore themselves as a person and is at a vulnerable stage where they are seeking to be seen and appreciated.
An imbalanced relationship is something like a curry with too much spice, you could have it but it is not recommended and would probably upset your digestive system, something that most people of marginalized genders have experienced at least once in their lifetime.
Teenagers today are much more aware of vulnerable situations and know how to ask for help, something that I personally wish I knew as a teenager. Yet, with teenagers having a high exposure to online activities, they are also highly susceptible to being groomed by strangers on the internet. The act of child grooming is an adult befriending and creating emotional bonds with a vulnerable teenager with objectives of sexual abuse and it is often carried out in subtle ways that leaves the victim unaware of what happened with them until much later.
I was 17 when I personally experienced grooming for the first time. I was in my first year of college, very excited about this new world unravelling in front of me, taking more interest in activism and performance poetry among many other things. That was when I met this 26 year old person X on Facebook. X and I connected over our mutual interest over activism and gradually, they started to show interest in my personal life. Being a typical 17 year old, I was overjoyed to have a person who would listen to my teen ramblings and political ideas, something that friends of my age were not interested in. After a few weeks, we started to talk about our lives over phone calls, relationships, career and so on. “You are so much more mature for your age, unlike most kids of your age”, X said to me over our phone call one night, something that should have been enough to help me read the situation if I was aware of what grooming was.
Phone calls turned to video calls and late night texts to the extent that I had to miss my sleep and spend tired days in college. I remember sharing this with X, letting them know that my schedule doesn’t let me spend so much time conversing with them, to which X replied with emotional texts of me not avoiding them. “Hey, I know I don’t fit into your world but I’m trying my best to be the best person for you so that you will never need others. They don’t deserve you”. An adult guilting me into doing things for them that I did not want to do.
A few weeks of non-negotiable taking my stand countered by a lot of emotional manipulation led to me realizing that I was in a potentially harmful situation all that time. The last thing I remember doing was telling X that I never want to converse with them again and blocking them over all platforms. Even though this might not seem like a dangerous situation, my bad mental/physical health, potentially being coerced into sexual actions could have had drastic effects on me.
It was only 2 years later while I was reading about grooming that I realized that I was being groomed by an adult without realizing the gravity of the situation. If you are a young adult reading my story: Always be skeptical of strangers on the internet who show interest in your personal life out of the blue, until proven otherwise. It is quite different when people of the same age as you show interest in your life as they might be going through similar situations but be extra careful if it is an adult trying to get personal information from you and call them out publicly if they ever make you uncomfortable
Most predators target teenagers by creating a simulation where they are made to feel alienated and distant from the world around them, pushing them closer to the groomer as they pretend to give you a safe space to express yourselves. Distant yourself from people when they tell you that you are not like other people of your age or you are more mature than them.
If anyone, including adults you know, ever tries to coerce you into indulging with actions which are of sexual nature without your verbal consent, reach out to a trusted adult who will support you and don’t hesitate to file a case violating cyber crime laws against the groomer if you are comfortable with it.
While many adults still think that portraying young adults in a sexual manner is sarcastic, it is problematic and dangerous. If you are an adult, try your best to protect children around you from groomers and call out potential groomers around you. Holding people accountable to their actions is the only way to protect our vulnerable younger generations.