Gwen van de Pas was a teenage swimmer in Holland when she met the man who would become her assistant swimming instructor, her caring confidante, and soon her sexual abuser. The filmmaker van de Pas, who now lives in San Francisco, examines the traumatic experience in the documentary “Groomed”.
The film (streamed on Discovery +) that van de Pas directed has a strong educational drive and shows the steps perpetrators often take to “groom” victims of sexual abuse – to target, befriend and priming them. Van de Pas calls on experts, psychologists, and a convicted sex offender for interviews, but the most revealing examples come from her own history. In a harrowing sequence, she returns to her nursery to find the scratchy letters her abuser wrote to her and rereads them with an adult’s eye.
While the film shows the intricacies of care, van de Pas records her personal journey towards closure. In interviews, she remembers how for years she blocked out disturbing memories until the encounters appeared in her dreams. She meditates on the importance of justice and examines her reluctance to report the abuse. Cathartic conversations with family members and other survivors add comfort and clarity.
Much of “Groomed” was shot with a crew, and the subjects often appear soft and cool. But the most impressive scenes were clearly too sudden for a production team. One early morning van de Pas calls her partner on Skype to pass on annoying messages. She cries in bed when her partner sits down stunned on the way to work. The documentary ends on an uplifting note on purpose, but it’s such intimate moments of pain that linger.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes. Watch on Discovery +.