I’ve just travelled back from the UK today, and during my journey I read an article that made me sit up and take notice. It’s the story about a teenage girl, Gemma Barker, who created three separate male aliases in order to dupe her female friends in to sexual relationships with her. She had made enormous efforts to develop and maintain these aliases. She succeeded so well, in fact, that not only the victims but also their families were fooled in to believing that Gemma was a boy. Whilst it’s claimed that she suffers from autism spectrum disorder and ADHD, the judge still called her “Cunning and deceptive” and the report states that she showed no remorse when handed her sentence. Ring any bells?
The thing that really struck me, though, was a quote from one of her victims who was 15 or 16 at the time. Gemma was 18, so legally an adult. Saying that she felt “repulsed and dirty” after learning that the boy she loved was actually her female friend, the victim goes on to say
“Nobody understands what it’s like to be told that the person you love and want to spend the rest of your life with isn’t real. It’s like you have disappeared. I just want to stop hurting” She also asks the poignant rhetorical question I know many of us will have asked ourselves: “What did I ever do wrong to you?”
It’s heart-breaking isn’t it? The shame of deception runs deep. Left untreated it can grow, multiplying like a cancer in the soul of those whose only crime was to love someone else. People who trusted what they were being shown, and treated the other person with care and compassion – while the other person just looked on and laughed. While in some cases there may not be any physical scars, the emotional and spiritual damage hits hard in every case. It is far more damaging – and can last so much longer.
I would have hoped that in this day and age, perhaps there might be a little more understanding and compassion for people who have been duped. After all, there are plenty of stories. Accounts from people who have been deliberately deceived and misled. People who, like us, gave all we had to people we believed and loved with all our heart.
You know what, though? Reading through some of the comments that have appeared online after the article, I am disheartened that so many still seem more focused on blaming the ‘stupidity’ of the victims, or urging us to ‘take pity’ on the person who deceived the girls. For many people, I know it may seem hard, almost impossible to believe that someone can get away with such a deception. But for those of us who’ve been there, once we work through the pain and shame, we know we were not to blame! We know we were not stupid, gullible, needy, blind or any of the other stinging veiled questions that stab at our soul as we try to make sense of what has happened.
It’s not just deception in romantic love that causes the pain. The hurt of betrayal can hit just as hard when it’s about relationships of trust between friends and family, or perhaps misguided loyalty to bosses or colleagues. Whatever the connection, when hit with the cold hard truth, the horror can be almost overwhelming.
And… in the same way that I had absolutely no comprehension of these sorts of behaviors before it happened to me, I guess the question is how on earth can we reasonably expect other people who haven’t ‘been there themselves’ to have any level of understanding? Well? It’s a reasonable question…. But then, in recent times I‘ve realized that our natural propensity to be reasonable and understanding is just another of the ways people are exploited while predators continue to thrive. It’s by thinking “Oh, they’re just under pressure!” “Well, you know, we all make mistakes!” or “It’s ok, I know they didn’t really mean it – I won’t say anything it’s not that important” that the abuse is allowed to continue, right under the noses of ‘reasonable’ people who just can’t begin to comprehend that the attacks are deliberate!
It’s the same reasonable, caring approach by ‘normal’ people that keeps these heartless creatures free to continue what they are doing. It’s also the thing that hurts the victim time and time and time again – because there is no reason behind why these predators do the things they do. There is no explanation. They’re just like that – and they’re darned skilled at what they do. And that’s all there is to it.
So, these days I’m becoming stronger and more determined in what I am now beginning to see as a crusade to educate and help others. Yes, the numerous judgments and barbed comments from people who don’t know what they’re talking about can grate and often rattle me. But you know what? I’ve also decided that there is little or no point in getting frustrated at those people. It’s fair to say that we don’t know what we don’t know…. It’s also fair to say that I now have an unreasonable passion to do something about it whenever I come across a situation where people are being hurt and the perpetrators are getting away with it. I’m determined to help people remove their blinkers and recognize that yes, there is such a thing as ‘bad people’ who live among us. It’s tough. Because it means inviting people to consider that they have been conned. That they, too, have been taken in by someone who tells lies as easily and effortlessly as you and I breathe.
The more I get to understand this subject, the more I believe that the self-righteous outpouring from people who have never been in that situation, stems from fear. The fear that perhaps, in the same shoes, they may not be quite so streetwise as they’d like to think. Perhaps they are not as invincible to the surgically accurate deceptions of a person who does not have the same emotional wiring as we do. A bit like children hiding under the covers when they’re afraid, it’s a good short-term fix but it doesn’t get rid of the bogeyman!
The thing is, though, hiding away or going in to denial will never get rid of the bogeymen – or women. All of us here know that from our own experiences. I’m determined to do all I can to ensure that ‘first hand experience’ does not remain the only way to be certain that the person who is causing the harm is usually a harmful person. I know there’s a long road ahead – I also know it’s a road that’s well worth travelling.