What Does Gaslighting Mean?

The film deals with the complexity of child abuse and the psychological play known as 'Gaslighting'. The term "Gaslighting" has been used colloquially since the late 1970’s to describe efforts to manipulate someone's sense of reality. The term was hijacked from the 1944 movie Gaslight, staring Ingrid Bergman, about a man who plays mind games with his wife to convince her that she is losing her mind. Gaslighting is now a professional term to describe the systematic pattern of abuse by which the abuser manipulates factual information to give the victim the impression that they cannot trust their own senses.

Gaslighting happens mostly commonly when a victim perceives something about the aggressor that he/she does not want to admit. When the victim brings this up, the aggressor denies it. Since the information is incomplete, and the victim is willing to contemplate being in error, the victim begins to doubt themselves. Since the aggressor knows what is actually going on, there is a certainty of manner. This works hand in hand with the illusion of a special relationships and is produced by a mix of positive reinforcements, simulated affection and trauma bonding. Frequently, the aggressor will involve the victim in some petty crime or violation of social norms. By the end, shame and secrecy entraps the victim in a much deeper way than if they had been assaulted all at once.

‘Sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive ‘something’ (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them performing, and/or another or others performing on them, sexual activities. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common involvement in exploitative relationships being characterised in the main by the child or young person’s limited availability of choice resulting from their social/economic and/or emotional vulnerability.’ - The UK Government’s definition of child sexual exploitation

For most of the relationship, the victim may be eager to experience the sense of specialness and push to see the aggressor. This may contribute to later guilt and shame when abuse is occurring. Due to the staged and confusing progression, the victim may not at the end understand that the aggressor has been the sole instigator. The victim might erroneously believe that there has been a mutual progression. This is largely responsible for the tragic, well-known reluctance of victims to report abuse.