Cruel Summer: How the hit TV series exposes our lack of understanding around grooming


*Please be aware that this text comprises spoilers for season one of Cruel Summer*

There are many scenes in the TV present Cruel Summer which might be arduous to overlook, however there’s one which stands out. Kate Wallis (performed by Olivia Holt) has been staying at the residence of her highschool’s vice principal Martin Harris (Blake Lee) for 2 days when he receives a telephone name from the native detective. “That’s terrible news,” he says earlier than thanking him and hanging up.

Staring out of the window of his plush residence, Martin closes the curtains in a single forceful tug, in sync with a chilling crescendo on the soundtrack. He turns again to face Kate and informs her: “You’re officially a missing person; the police are looking for you.” The music deepens. And in that singular second, the whole lot between them modifications. The viewer realises that Kate is trapped – and that Martin doesn’t wish to let her go.

Grooming is a way utilized by abusive adults to interact a weak particular person in sexual abuse. To an knowledgeable outsider, it might sound straightforward to establish. To a sufferer, nonetheless, it’s normally a lot much less apparent, notably when the abusive relationship is framed as romantic, as it’s in Cruel Summer.

Created by Bert V. Royal, Cruel Summer follows the lives of two teenage ladies in Texas in the Nineteen Nineties. Tracking the identical day over the course of three years – 1993, 1994, and 1995 – the series follows the disappearance of Kate, a preferred highschool scholar whose life is seemingly taken over by outcast Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) whereas she is lacking. When Kate is later discovered alive, she accuses Jeanette of understanding about her abduction and failing to report it.

Over the course of the present’s 10 episodes, we study that Kate was being groomed by Martin, whose home she in the end fled to following an argument along with her mom. After she’s reported as lacking, she begins dwelling with Martin and shortly enters into what seems to be a romantic relationship with him. But after two months, issues take a darker flip and when Kate makes an attempt to go away one night, Martin locks her in his basement: an inevitable destiny the viewer is aware of is coming from the begin, however one the place the motives are by no means solely clear, which is only one of the methods the present highlights the complexities surrounding grooming.

Olivia Holt as Kate Wallis and Chiara Aurelia as Jeanette Turner.


“The brilliant thing about Cruel Summer is that you’re seeing nuanced details of these moments between Martin and Kate throughout, but it isn’t until we’re really living with them in the house that we’re seeing the manipulation at play, and the degree of control he has over her,” says Alexis Ostrander, who directed episodes seven and 9 – which is after we uncover what actually occurred between Kate and Martin in his residence, studying that she wasn’t all the time locked in the basement, as the present had beforehand implied. It’s a vital episode in the plot, one which highlights precisely how Martin was capable of place himself as Kate’s saviour to the diploma the place she didn’t wish to go away, no less than not at first.

The present illustrates this by cleverly interrupting moments of the narrative with scenes between Kate and her therapist, two years later, who spells out Martin’s techniques. For instance, after getting into Martin’s residence for the first time, she tells her how lonely she feels, asking him the way it occurred. “You’re not alone, I’m here, I’m listening,” he replies. Flashing ahead to 1995, the therapist breaks down how grooming works. “A groomer isolates their victim,” she says, referring to that particular change. “He saw your unfulfilled need to confide in someone, and positioned himself as the singular person to fulfil that need.”

The second night that Kate spends Martin concludes with the two of them enjoying a sport of “Never Have I Ever”. Watching the characters ingesting and speaking, it’s straightforward to overlook what’s occurred and suppose you’re watching two adults flirting. At least, it’s till Martin asks Kate if she has ever kissed somebody “significantly older” than her. The subsequent shot flashes ahead by 20 days. Kate is hiding in the closet; we then study that her and Martin are enjoying a sport of cover and search. When Martin finds her, they embrace and kiss, as if for the third time that day.

Not exhibiting their first kiss was essential when it got here to how the workforce behind Cruel Summer needed to current the relationship between Martin and Kate i.e. in a method that prevented viewers from rooting for them as a pair. Similarly, we’re by no means proven them having intercourse or partaking in every other bodily intimacy.

“We didn’t want it to feel like a love story and to romanticise this relationship,” says Ostrander. “We wanted to get these glimpses of their lives in that house to show how he was isolating her through love bombing so she felt like her two choices were either staying with Martin, where she felt loved, or going home where she felt completely unsupported. It’s a very unique feeling of entrapment. Ultimately, we wanted the audience to feel uncomfortable watching them together.” In this, the present succeeds with aplomb, continuously reminding the viewer in tacit ways in which this isn’t the romantic relationship Kate appears to suppose that it’s.

We didn’t need it to really feel like a love story and to romanticise this relationship

Alexis Ostrander, one of the administrators of Cruel Summer

For instance, we’re continuously reminded of the indisputable fact that Kate, as a 17-year-old woman, is a toddler. There’s the second when Martin asks how she slept after her first night time there, and she or he replies, “Like a baby”. Then, there’s the scene the place, earlier than leaving for work, Martin means that Kate spend the day studying by way of journey brochures and selecting a spot for them to go on vacation collectively when she turns 18. “It’ll be your homework,” he says, winking at her as she grins.

Another chilling second comes on Halloween, when the two are snuggled beneath a makeshift tent watching scary movies. That was Ostrander’s thought. “I threw out this idea to our showrunner, Tia Napolitano, thinking it could illustrate how, because he’s keeping her in his house, he has to constantly find new ways to entertain her or keep her engaged. Doing that with childlike activities, such as Hide & Seek from earlier, drives home the point that what we’re seeing play out here is the sexual grooming of a minor.”

Napolitano agrees, emphasising how this was additionally a method of illustrating the energy dynamic between Martin and Kate. “We tried to avoid them looking like they were ever on equal footing,” she says. “We didn’t want viewers to start thinking, ‘oh, well if it wasn’t for their age difference they’d be together’ because that’s not what’s happening.”

The Cruel Summer workforce labored carefully with grooming marketing consultant, Dr Sheila Modir, on the present. “We would give her the scripts to look at and she really helped us be responsible with our storytelling,” says Napolitano, who, like Ostrander, didn’t know an enormous quantity about grooming earlier than engaged on Cruel Summer. “We really wanted to invite the audience to think about a subject that isn’t talked about very much and can be difficult to understand, so Sheila’s input in that sense was hugely helpful,” Napolitano provides.

Holt and Lee of their respective roles as Kate and Martin after she has been locked in the basement.


Indeed, grooming isn’t talked about an enormous quantity, no less than to not the identical extent that different varieties of abuse are. The NSPCC states {that a} little one is unlikely to know they’re being groomed, therefore why elevating consciousness is so vital. “Abusers use a range of tactics, including online platforms, to establish trust and an emotional connection with a young person,” say Sarah Ward, safeguarding supervisor at the NSPCC. “The risk of this happening can be increased when the adult involved holds a position of trust due to the amount of power, authority and influence they have over the young person.”

This is what occurred to Chloe-May Cuthill. The now-32-year-old was 9 years outdated when she began getting taxis to and from faculty – her household lived distant and weren’t capable of take her as a result of work commitments. The identical male driver took her each time. “He was very friendly towards me and made me feel grown-up because he would tell me adult things, which felt exciting, such as jokes with swear words.” Soon, the driver began telling Cuthill about his relationship and finally spoke about his intercourse life together with his accomplice.

“I remember the first time he abused me,” she recollects. “He got a camcorder out of the boot and he told me a customer had left it in the car. It was a big old one and you had to put your eye to the view-finder to see the tape. He told me to watch the film, so I did and it was pornography. That’s when the abuse started and it escalated from there.”

Like Kate, Cuthill remembers feeling like she was in a relationship along with her abuser. “His attention made me feel mature and I loved it,” she says. “He was careful in his abuse too, he wasn’t aggressive and he didn’t hurt me. I grew to like what was happening so didn’t want it to stop. It’s taken a long time for me to say that and it’s only through the court process and counselling that I’m able to admit that.”

We tried to keep away from them trying like they had been ever on equal footing

Tia Napolitano, Cruel Summer’s showrunner

Cuthill had studying disabilities and was notably brief for her age; she believes her abuser took benefit of each of these elements. “I think that combined with my physical size meant he targeted me because I was more vulnerable than other children. He exploited the fact that we spent time alone and was able to groom me over a long period of time.”

The grooming continued for 3 years, stopping solely when Cuthill’s mom began taking her to highschool. Cuthill didn’t speak to anybody about what occurred till, at 15, she confided in her sister. Then, at 18, she instructed a pal. “They both told me to go to the police but I didn’t want to. I asked them to not tell anyone, and they didn’t.”

In 2017, aged 28, Cuthill watched a TV programme about sexual abuse that triggered her reminiscences of what had occurred. She rang the NSPCC Helpline and reported it had occurred to her when she was a toddler. “I called the police as soon as I hung up and two officers came around to take my statement,” she remembers. The driver was convicted in 2019. “Now I want to speak out to reduce the stigma and shame surrounding the topic of abuse,” says Cuthill. “I want people to be able to talk about it and not hide it.”

Talking extra about grooming and understanding extra about the way it works couldn’t solely stop it from occurring, say campaigners, but in addition defend kids and others from the sexual coercion that usually outcomes from it. “Abusers may normalise the sexual abuse, and create a pseudo-relationship, where the victim is manipulated in order to feel like they are special, and genuinely believes they are in a relationship,” explains Jayne Butler, CEO of Rape Crisis. “If the general public understand the signs and effects of grooming, they will be able to better identify perpetrators, can help to recognise those who may be at risk of being abused, and ultimately help those who have been subjected to grooming and exploitation.”

Abusers might normalise the sexual abuse, and create a pseudo-relationship, the place the sufferer is manipulated so as to really feel like they’re particular, and genuinely believes they’re in a relationship

Judith Butler, CEO of Rape Crisis

It might additionally assist those that have been uncovered to different varieties of sexual violence, says Elizabeth Jeglic, medical psychologist and researcher in sexual violence prevention at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “We know that the majority of sex crimes are perpetrated by someone known to the victim such as a family member, friend or acquaintance,” she provides. “Relatively few sex crimes meet the stereotypical prototype of the violent rape by a stranger in a dark alley and most sexual violence does not result in visible physical injuries to the victims as they do not involve physical violence but rather psychological manipulation.”

Recognising if you end up being manipulated is essential, says Jeglic, and basically, sexual grooming could be thought of as a “skillful manipulation of the victim” to the diploma that sexual abuse could be dedicated extra simply with out their understanding. “By understanding that the large majority of sexual violence is perpetrated by someone we know using these manipulative strategies to prevent detection, it can help us better spot abusive behaviors thereby preventing abuse before it occurs.”

That stated, of course the onus relating to ending violence towards girls and ladies of any form isn’t, nor ought to it ever be, on the sufferer. Cruel Summer makes this crystal clear. In reality, Napolitano says that’s the one message she hopes viewers, notably younger girls, take from the programme. “We wanted this show to give a microphone to the young women by telling it through their eyes. Kate’s journey through the show is realising that she was a victim. She was not at fault at all for what happened to her; no victim of grooming – or any other form of sexual abuse – ever is.”

If you’ve been affected by this text or are involved a few little one, you’ll be able to name the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, or go to their web site for extra data right here.

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