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‘Keep This Between Us’ explores how teachers groom students

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Growing up in a small town in Texas, Cheryl Nichols adored her highschool drama teacher. He was the type of guy who read poetry and made her feel like she was the neatest girl at school. She relished his reading recommendations, and admired his killer taste in music. 

“He was one in every of those teachers who was such a pricey mentor,” Nichols, now 39, told The Post.

One night when she was just 16, he invited her and a few of her classmates over to look at the ’90s comedy series “Strangers With Candy.” Later that evening, together with his wife in one other room and none of her classmates in sight, he leaned in to kiss her. 

“I knew that it wasn’t only a flirtation. [I knew it was wrong] when it became an actual physical thing — it was at his house — a bunch of theater kids would go there periodically and he and his wife would have us over and they’d cook for us. [His wife] was not aware of what was happening,” Nichols said, of her predator who was hiding in plain sight.

Cheryl Nichols documents her relationship along with her highschool teacher when she was just 16 years old in the brand new Freeform docuseries “Keep This Between Us.” Freeform

“I used to be in a relationship with my teacher and it began after I was 16,” Nichols admits within the trailer of her recent four-part docuseries “Keep This Between Us,” out Monday on Freeform. 

In it, she chronicles her relationship with the mentor she trusted — though never names him, she said, for legal reasons — who groomed her to maintain their relationship a secret.

“Dearest Pony: OK, first things first — never send an email together with your real name on it. Remember, that is our little secret,” Nichols said, reading an email from her former teacher within the trailer for the docuseries.

“He just starts getting increasingly more sexual,” she says within the series, which sheds light on the prevalence of grooming in schools across the country and the way common it’s amongst young women and older male teachers.

Cheryl aims to seek answers from her classmates, teachers and family to put together the missing pieces of her past. “It began very innocently. He’d complement me on my intelligence or the way in which I danced on the pep rally, and it just slowly became this type of direct sexual innuendo conversation,” Nichols said.Freeform

“My relationship with the teacher was a extremely delicate process and something that was seemingly deliberate on his part. It began very innocently. He’d complement me on my intelligence or the way in which I danced on the pep rally, and it just slowly became this type of direct sexual innuendo conversation,” Nichols told The Post.

The glaring warning signs, she said, went neglected due to her admiration for somebody whom she thought was her mentor, a standard misconception amongst many teenage girls who may experience similar grooming patterns, Nichols said.

Grooming is defined as a pattern of manipulative behaviors used mostly as a tool to sexually abuse young children and teenagers, in response to the nonprofit organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). Abusers use manipulative tactics, targeting vulnerable victims to emotionally or physically separate them from family members by gaining their trust through attention, gifts or sharing “secrets,” in response to RAINN. These tactics are most frequently utilized by someone in a victim’s closest circle — family, friends or authority figures like teachers, coaches or mentors and will be particularly difficult to acknowledge. That was the case for Nichols.

“He was just easy to be around and he enriched the parts of my life that needed in enriching. I assumed he hung the moon. I assumed he was the best thing ever and I loved how much attention he would give me. I felt loved by him,” she says. “How could you not love a individual that’s that invested in you?” 

But really, that was a tactic, she said, that helped him gain her loyalty as their bond grew stronger, and, ultimately, kept their relationship isolated well into her early college years.

“[I thought,] ‘This person really loves me so he must not need to hurt me.’ It occurred to me that [the relationship] was flawed the whole time, but I didn’t have the adult processing skills at that time to take into consideration the results of this,” she said. “As a young person, you don’t at all times have the attention that you simply are being targeted or these items are happening to you. You’re searching for validation from all adults who’re around you.”  

Cheryl and her friend retrace her harrowing past in the docuseries Nichols interviewed her classmates, teachers and family to place together the missing pieces of her past and make clear teenage grooming in schools. Freeform

When Nichols, now a filmmaker, decided to maneuver to Los Angeles in her early 20s to pursue her profession, the connection ended, she said. In response to her, the teacher never faced any consequences over their relationship, but he was fired from a job after later having an inappropriate relationship with one other student.

Within the series, Nichols reaches out to the teacher for comment in a fraught moment.

 “I haven’t spoke to him in about 10 years and I surely hadn’t seen him,” Nichols told The Post. “I used to be really nervous. I had been through a whole lot of therapy and I used to be really concerned about being drawn back into his web in a way, to be totally honest. I used to be afraid that he was going to have the ability to control me.”

A scene from Within the series, Nichols reaches out to the teacher for comment in a fraught moment. “I used to be really nervous. I had been through a whole lot of therapy and I used to be really concerned about being drawn back into his web … I used to be afraid that he was going to have the ability to control me.”Freeform

And he was.

“He actually didn’t directly deny it, but skirted the conversation at every point and focused on the faculty aspect [of our relationship],” said Nichols. He also denied the accusations to producers of the series show. In some ways, she regrets reaching out to him.

“I might not advocate victims to confront the those that groomed them or their abusers — I might never advocate for a confrontational moment. There was an element of me that was naively jumping into it as a filmmaker and I had no idea what would occur to me. It’s been a protracted road.”

Nichols hopes “Keep This Between Us” will foster conversations about teenage grooming and help parents discuss among the subtle warning signs with their kids, comparable to secretive relationships or teachers or those in positions of power overstepping boundaries.

“We haven’t spent a whole lot of time culturally fascinated with what those subtle signs are. Just basically, the road is crossed if a teacher gets your number and is privately texting you. For those who’re being complimented by your teacher in a way that makes you uncomfortable. There are immediate signs that you simply are being targeted,” she said. 

“Keep This Between Us” premieres Monday at 9 p.m. on Freeform as a two-night event and will likely be available to stream on Hulu.

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