Jerome’s Story

“When you’re groomed, you’re taught to keep secrets. You don’t even realize that you’re being groomed to keep secrets.”

Jerome Whitehead is an author, husband, and survivor of multiple childhood sexual assaults.

At 13 years old, Jerome was groomed by a man with a highly respected reputation at Jerome’s school. The perpetrator was a financial contributor to the church and was friendly with the principal, so few thought to question his presence at the school and his friendship with students.

The perpetrator targeted male students from single parent households and established a father-like relationship with the boys. He drove them to movies, took them swimming and out to eat, and quickly became a trusted friend to them.

“He was very funny and I just enjoyed being around him… At one point, I really did have strong feelings for him, which of course led to me keeping that secret.”

Because Jerome liked the perpetrator initially, he did not identify what was happening to him as abuse. The perpetrator made Jerome feel like his favorite, only to take advantage of Jerome’s fondness for him by sexually abusing him. As an adult, Jerome discovered that the man had abused other boys as well.

 

Unfortunately, this perpetrator was not the only one to take advantage of Jerome. Around the same time, a homeroom teacher at a different school that Jerome attended began to abuse him.

“He would call me into the classroom during lunch under the guise of tutoring me… finally he asked me if I talked and I didn’t understand what he was asking me. I said, ‘I talk all the time.’ And he said ‘No, I mean, do you talk?’”

Once the teacher secured Jerome’s silence, he began abusing him.

Around the same time, one more person took advantage of Jerome’s vulnerability. Jerome was introduced to the third perpetrator through a friend. This man took an interest in Jerome, showed him kindness, and became a friend. He would take Jerome out to eat and walk him to the train station.

After a school field trip, the man picked Jerome up and promised to get Jerome a cab if he went home with him. The man ended up keeping Jerome at his house all night, as the cab never came. He raped Jerome that night.

Each of these men used different forms of grooming to ensure silence and complicity from Jerome, from a fatherly relationship, to an authoritative one, to a friendship. Fearful of getting in trouble, Jerome kept everything that happened a secret.

“Know who you’re going to trust with this secret. Unfortunately, most boys don’t—especially boys of color. We don’t tell because we’re taught to be men. We’re taught to be bread-winners and protectors. We’re not taught to be victims, because being a victim implies a weakness.”

Because it is so difficult for children experiencing sexual abuse to come forward, Jerome advises that parents practice patience with their children, ask questions, and pay attention to warning signs of grooming.

It was not until Jerome met his husband that he finally confided in someone about the abuse he experienced.

“Out of all the relationships that I had, he was the only one that I told.”

For decades, Jerome suppressed what happened to him. The trauma impacted Jerome’s relationships with sex, drinking, and other people, but he did not realize it.

“I looked at abuse as something that just happened when I was 13. I thought, ‘It’s okay and it’s over.’ I’m now realizing that it’s not okay, and it’s not over. It’s not over until you deal with it.”

Once Jerome had more distance from his trauma, along with a stable, comfortable relationship, he was able to begin talking about what happened. To spouses of survivors looking to support their loved one, Jerome advises patience and compassion.

“Let your partner tell it in their own time in their own way… give them space to breathe so they can comfortably tell you everything. Be patient, because there will be tears and there may be anger. But understand that none of it has to do with you. This is all about the individual. This is all about the person that’s going through this.”

As a teenager processing trauma, Jerome found solace in writing. As an adult, Jerome’s writing still helps him to heal.

“One of the ways I dealt with it was by writing it down; telling my story from the beginning… It took me years just to be able to say that the last perpetrator raped me. Like, I couldn’t say the R word, because guys don’t get raped. So I had to let go of that shame.”

Jerome has written extensively about the events of his life, including a book titled Groomed.

“It feels like this big ball of energy that you have, and it’s not positive energy, and you don’t know how to get rid of it. For me, the only way that I could get rid of it was to write it down.”

Because Jerome lived in silence for so long, he is passionate about holding conversations within the African American community, and particularly with Black men, about sexual abuse.

“I think that a lot of African Americans have a tendency to just bleep over issues that they don’t want to acknowledge or don’t understand, like it never happened. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.”

To other survivors, Jerome advises patience with oneself.

“Take your time, because time is all you got. It’s a little bit at first, kind of like an onion. Just keep peeling, layer after layer. It just takes time.”

 ---

“I’ve always wanted to talk about this because I think the more that we talk about it, the more people will come out and say, ‘This happened to me.’ It may be a club that nobody wants to belong to, but I don’t mind talking about it. I don’t mind being the poster child for people that are recovering.”

Search for support in your local community from more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers.

Search All Providers

93¢ of every $1 goes to helping survivors and preventing sexual violence.

Donate Now