It's been exactly 39 days since the James Hooker story broke. Last week we learned the former Modesto, Calif., schoolteacher had an earlier -- some 14 years ago -- relationship with yet another teenager. Hooker's now in jail, and his former student and live-in lover, Jordan Powers, is headed for the hills.
Powers feels hurt, angry and betrayed, understandably so. This is what I want to tell her: "Honey, I feel your pain."
But I also urge you to take responsibility for your actions. You made some bad choices along the way, even as people tried to get you to stop and think about what you were doing. So did I, long ago.
So before you think I'm castigating you, Jordan, let me clarify: I'm not. Not at all.
Furthermore, I deeply commiserate with you: I felt the same way, after learning the man who groomed me (and whom I later married) had -- well, shall we say -- a "special bond" with several other young girls, too.
I felt this way after he became involved with one of my sisters, which I learned about not long after we married. Then again throughout our marriage, after he "made a pass" at no less than three of our underage babysitters. Finally, I felt betrayed one final time just before I divorced him, when he tried to seduce my other sister, who was then 14.
Now I have a question for any readers out there: Would you prefer the old-fashioned notion of "seduced," instead? Does that make what happened to both Jordan and me sound prettier, or less sordid? Ironically -- as ironic as Hooker's last name -- the words "grooming" and "seduction" are almost synonymous in our modern-day English.
Yet there is one key difference between seduction and grooming: The Latin root of "seduce" means "to lead away," and includes synonyms like "allure," "beguile," "entice," "solicit," and "lure." Related words are "entrap," "bewitch," and "captivate." While not entirely so, most of those terms carry negative connotations. Certainly the Latin root, "to lead away," sounds harmful.
Definitions for "grooming" include the rather sterile idea of readying someone for a specific objective ; it has as synonyms such words as: "prep," "fix," and "ready." Related words like "indoctrinate," "educate," and "train," are also cited. These words imply "grooming" is something good.
You know, Jordan, like what a teacher does with the students in the classroom.
Interestingly, Merriam-Webster's online dictionary does not include the definition of grooming that the FBI uses, which we've come to learn is synonymous with sexual child abuse.
However, another online dictionary renders grooming thus: "The act of attempting to gain the trust of a minor with the intention of having a sexual relationship with him or her."
And yet, if you look around, most women will swoon over a beloved character in a book or a movie who was seduced. We've got Hollywood to thank for that, where seduction is made to seem like its part and parcel of every romance or relationship. That same swooning is less likely to happen nowadays, though, if you substitute the term "groomed" for "seduced."
That's because "grooming" is becoming more and more widely known -- thanks to headlines about people like Hooker.
And yet, after I interviewed two well-known and reputable experts in the fields of psychology and sexual abuse and wrote about your relationship in March, some people praised their own youthful "seduction," and were upset by what they termed "pop psychology."
Given how dictionaries define "seduction" and "grooming," and how we use the words in our own language, it's easy to see how confused people might be. When people introduce me at conferences with the term "seduced," I try to reinforce the idea that what happened to me was not the romantic seduction we read about in books or see on TV: it was grooming designed to gain my trust, so that I'd want to have sex with my abuser.
That sounds like exactly what happened to you, Jordan, at the hands of an experienced instructor who was paid by the State of California to do just that -- only inside the classroom, and not at the expense of students like you! So in that respect, and given that your education by Hooker began at age 14, I'm not blaming you. I blame him. Entirely.
But here's the tricky part: You must take some responsibility for your actions: you knew Hooker had a wife and children, when you gave up "everything for this guy. I lost my senior year. I gave up all my friends at high school because they didn't agree with me."
I understand how powerful, and pleasurable, such grooming can be: the inordinate attention, the feeling of being loved by an older man who says he wants to take care of and protect you, and all of the wonderful gifts he no doubt gave you.
At some point, though, you must look deep within yourself and see what led you to need, then want, then accept that kind of attention and "love." Then you need to accept the role you played in this relationship, and use it to help other young girls to not be so easily misled. Finally, and only after you get some serious counseling for these issues, you really should consider sending a letter of apology to his family, for the pain they've endured.
Because let me tell you from experience, they won't get that from Hooker.
Even more important, though, is this: the woman you choose to be now will define the woman you will become in the future. This is your defining moment, my dear girl. Make the most of it.