‘Groomed’ Review: Confronting Patterns of Abuse

Gwen van de Pas was a preteen swimmer in Holland when she met the man who would become her assistant swim team instructor, her caring confidante and soon after, her sexual abuser. Now a filmmaker living in San Francisco, van de Pas explores the traumatic experience in the documentary “Groomed.”

The film (streaming on Discovery+), which van de Pas directed, has a strong pedagogic drive, laying out the steps perpetrators often take to “groom” victims — target, befriend and prime them — for sexual abuse. Van de Pas calls on experts, psychologists and a convicted sex offender for interviews, but the most illuminating examples come from her own story. In one harrowing sequence, she returns to her childhood bedroom to find the fawning letters her abuser wrote to her, and rereads them with an adult’s eye.

As the film lays bare the intricacies of grooming, van de Pas chronicles her personal journey toward closure. In interviews, she recalls how she blocked out troubling memories for years, until the encounters began appearing in her dreams. She meditates on the meaning of justice and explores her hesitancy to report the abuse. Cathartic conversations with family members and other survivors lend comfort and clarity.

Much of “Groomed” was filmed with a crew, and the subjects often appear in soft focus and cool hues. But the most affecting scenes clearly arose too suddenly for a production team. Early one morning, van de Pas calls her partner on Skype to relay upsetting news. She weeps in bed as her partner, on his way to work, sits down, stunned. The documentary is deliberate in ending on an uplifting note, but it is such intimate moments of pain that linger on.

Groomed
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes. Watch on Discovery+.

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