What if rape was responded to like terrorism? 

What if rape was responded to like terrorism? 

What if rape was responded to like terrorism, and terrorism was responded to like rape?

As someone who specialises in the psychology of victim blaming in sexual violence, I have found the responses and media coverage to terrorism quite perplexing. In this article, I am going to compare and contrast rape and terrorism – and then show what would happen if rape was responded to as terrorism and what would happen if terrorism was responded to like a rape. 

When a woman is raped, she is highly likely to be blamed by everyone from her own family to the support services supposedly helping her. She is also very likely to blame herself – either because she has been told it was her fault, or because she has grown up in a patriarchy that has taught her that rape is a trivial issue that women bring upon themselves, lie about and overreact to. 

She hears victim blaming messages like: 

“You should have known that would happen”

“What did you expect was going to happen?”

“Why didn’t you just leave him?”

“Why did you leave your friends on a night out, that’s stupid.”

“But what were you wearing?”

“You have to take responsibility for walking home alone.”

“You shouldn’t get into a taxi alone next time.”

“You should always get a lift from a trusted friend.”

“Don’t get too drunk this festive season, you need to keep yourself safe.”

Trust me when I say that the list goes on and on and on and fucking on. 

(I dealt with a case of a rape of a 16 year old girl once where she was head butted 10 times in the face and the defence barrister actually defended the rapist by trying to convince the jury that all of her injuries were self inflicted for attention – I have quite literally seen it all. Victim blaming is the name of the game.)

So, when a woman gets raped, everyone is very sure who the problem is. The problem is the woman. The woman must change. The woman must adapt. The woman must take responsibility. The woman must see what’s coming her way. The woman must defend herself better. The woman must make herself completely undesirable and unnoticeable so sex-crazed-men don’t accidentally rape her (#fuckoff). 

The man who raped her is completely erased from his own crime. The woman becomes the perp and the victim – she brought this on herself. She is under scrutiny. Her sex life is investigated. Her background. Her ethnicity. Her class. Her life. Her experiences. Her job. Her education. She is on trial, make no mistake. She is on trial. 

If anyone actually reports on the rapist, he gets a lovely write up about liking swimming and being a great guy – and the huge impact the rape allegation is having on him. 

The police do not rush to arrest anyone. The government does not ‘find’ millions in defence money to protect women. Officials don’t hold emergency meetings about the amount of women being killed and raped every day. 

But what about the terrorism narratives? 

What happens when a guy goes into a tube station and plants a bomb? What happens when a guy detonates a bomb at a concert? What happens when a guy drives into a crowd of innocents? How is it spoken about and what is the media coverage like? 

“We will not change our way of life!”

“We are not afraid of you!”

“You can’t control us!”

“They just want us to stop going out and stop having fun! We will not stop!”

“The world will keep going and we will not be deterred!”

“We cannot let this attack on innocent people change our way of life – we must act, dress, think and behave as normal!”

“I’m still coming in the tube every single day – I’m not scared. They can’t stop me!”

“I still go to gigs – I won’t change my behaviours because of their sick crimes.”

So, when a terrorist attack occurs, there is no victim blaming of the innocent victims. No one tells them to do something different or asks them why they were walking down that path when the car hit them. No one tells them to stop going to work on the tube incase it is bombed again. No one tells them all to take self defence classes and wear bomb proof clothing. No one tells them to stay home and hide. No one tells the victims that they wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place if they didn’t like Ariana Grande so much. Think about it.
The perp is absolutely vilified, in minutes of the crime happening (and don’t get me wrong, I see the intersection here with race and class) – but just look at the difference in motivation and reporting when a guy commits a terrorist attack or mass murder versus when a man rapes a number of women. He has every bad thing he ever did reported about him. The press raid his Facebook and talk to all of his family and friends to piece together how he could commit such a sick act as to harm innocent humans. The police swoop in fast as fuck and it’s ‘all systems go’. 

People call for the death sentence and better prevention approaches. People have huge meetings about how to keep innocent people safe in cities and at events. 

So what if a rape was reported like terrorism? 

“Good Evening. This is the 6 o’clock news. First, this breaking story. This week thousands of innocent women were brutally raped and abused all over the UK. Women who were just going about their day, going to work, looking after their children, exercising and sleeping in their beds – all targeted and attacked. The PM Theresa May has given a statement today committing millions of pounds in resources to stop the abuse and murder of women at the hands of men and has convened an emergency meeting with top officials to understand what went wrong. She finished her speech by saying that women must be able to go about their daily lives without fear of violence and death. Women should not have to change the way they live to stay safe. The public and celebrities from all over the world shared their hurt and condolences on social media. The families are all receiving the very best support at this difficult time. We will be following this story all week, as more and more women are named as victims of rape and male violence – stay with us for live updates throughout the night.”

And what if terrorism was reported like a rape? 

(You could argue here, there wouldn’t be a report. But for arguments sake, let’s pretend the media actually does report rape…)

“Good evening. This is the six o’clock news and tonight we have a number of headlines including the return of Garden Force, the latest from Donald Trump, a report on terrorism and we go live to the BAFTAs. 

A new report on terrorism has shown that at least 3 people per week are being murdered by terrorists and thousands per year, possibly in the region of 700,000, are being attacked by terrorists. Experts have been commenting on the new report with many saying that terrorism is a lot better than it used to be and the stats are only going up because people feel more confident to report it to the police thanks to the brilliant work of police forces to raise awareness of terrorism. A new charity which specialises in terrorism prevention has given a list of terrorist-proofing strategies to vulnerable potential victims and research has been commissioned into exploring what vulnerabilities lead to people being attacked by terrorists. One expert explained that people can stay safe by rarely leaving their house, working from home, never using public transport, never going abroad, always wearing bullet proof vests and never going to large public events of any kind. Pro-terrorist groups have started a campaign called #notallterrorists to put pressure on the anti-terrorist groups to stop talking about terrorism. 
And next up, Garden Force is set to return to our screens next year!”

I won’t stop until the rape and murder of women is responded to and reported like terrorism. 

I won’t stop until victim blaming of women and girls is seen as ridiculous as blaming innocent victims of a terror attack.

Written by Jessica Eaton


British Pakistani Men raping White British Girls: Bad Apples or a Bad Barrel?

British Pakistani Men raping White British Girls: Bad Apples or a Bad Barrel?

Yeah, that’s right. If the mainstream media can play at sensationalist titles, so can I.

Newspapers, radio shows, TV chat shows, social media and internet news outlets have been positioning Pakistani Muslim men as the ‘issue’ in child sexual exploitation for years now – and we have finally reached a point where suposedly intelligent and influential spokespersons are making frequent racist comments that generalise and dehumanise millions of people based on a handful of highly publicised cases of child sexual exploitation.

We have to fight back against the way the media propaganda and ill-informed spokespersons are affecting the discussion, practice and policy in child sexual exploitation.

In this article, I will present the facts about this issue and incorporate some psychological insight into why we might be so vulnerable to statements that position an ethnic minority group as deviant child sexual offenders. Last week, I had the privilege of filming with ITV for a new documentary which is exploring this issue, so I had done my research and gathered as much evidence and insight as I possibly could. The documentary will be aired in a few months.

I will discuss the following important points:

  1. When we demonise a community as sexually deviant or abusive, we fail to protect or identify victims in that community
  2. We are much more likely to blame a ‘culture’ or a ‘religion’ when Asian and Black people commit crimes than when white people commit violent crimes.
  3. We are basing much of these statements on terrible data samples and have become victims of our own confirmatory bias
  4. We are being distracted from the issue that sexual abuse of children is extremely common, by being encouraged to point the finger at a minority group
  5. This entire situation stinks of structural racism


When we demonise a community as sexually deviant or abusive, we fail to protect or identify victims 

It is very difficult to gather any meaningful statistics on prevalence of child sexual abuse victimhood in South Asian communities in the UK and many people simply put this down to low rates of disclosure and high rates of stigma. Whilst both of these things play an important role, I would like to talk about the way the media and the field of CSE has repositioned South Asian communities as ‘problematic’ and ‘hard to reach’ – which will also be having a profound effect on the way people disclose or understand their own sexual abuse and exploitation.

There are thousands of cases of CSE and CSA involving South Asian children. The reason I can say this with zero evidence is because CSE and CSA is not specific to any culture, any country or any region. There are no ‘CSA-prone’ areas and there are no ‘CSA-free’ areas. There are no religions or cultures where the sexual abuse of children does not occur. Many researchers have argued that we should assume, at all times, that the prevalence of sexual abuse and exploitation of South Asian children is the same as any other children. However, after years of arguing this – we are now further back than we ever have been – because we are not only not identifying or protecting children from CSA or CSE in South Asian communities but we are collectively asking  distracting questions like ‘What is is about Pakistani Muslims that makes them rape our white children?’

Questions like that cut out the victimhood of any child who is not white – and those are the questions we must rise up against with everything we have. Questions like that mean that South Asian children do not recognise their own abuse because they are not white and they don’t fit the stereotypes of the kids in the resources, the posters, the adverts and the TV programmes. Questions like that mean that the abuse and exploitation of children is being seen as an attack on white people. Questions like that make me think long and hard about our white privilege and the way we are utilising positions as dominant groups of people to ignore the abuse of South Asian children whilst writing countless commentaries, news articles and documents about the sex offending of South Asian men.

Afterall, how can it be possible that the South Asian community are referred to as simultaneously deviant colluders of sex offenders and vulnerable to sexual abuse?

If the offending of South Asian men bothers you so much, why do you not worry for the safety of their children and develop better ways of working with those people? Why do we continue to make excuses that we do not understand their cultures and child-rearing practices and therefore cannot engage them? Why do we create disclosure-focussed services where the majority of the workforce are white British with extremely low levels of understanding of any other religion, culture and value systems? Why do we comfortably sit around whilst only 22% of CSE cases even report ethnicity of the children (National Police Chief Council, 2017)? If we are only collecting ethnicity data on 22% of the children, how can we even make comments about the ‘majority of victims being white’?

Whilst we have loudly and confidently ‘called out’ the British Pakistani community as if it is one entity of people in some sort of constant sex offending group-think – we have failed to acknowledge that children in those communities are being sexually abused, they are being sexually exploited, they are being raped and trafficked by people in their own families and networks but also by White British sex offenders. 

Whilst we spend our column inches on demonising an entire community, men like my friend are asked questions about why he wants to foster children:

‘Could you just tell us why you want to foster?’

‘Umm because I was in care myself – me and my wife both work in children’s services and we are at a point in our life where we can foster children and give them respite when they need it.’

‘Hmmmm. And there’s no other reason?’

‘Um. No’ 

‘You understand we have to be careful because of all the cases of CSE, you see.’


And strategically, where are we? Well, we are sat around tables planning ways to force predominantly Asian taxi drivers to undertake CSE awareness training or risk losing their licences. We are making dumb comments in the media like ‘we need to make the Pakistani community take responsibility for the sexual exploitation of these girls’.

Which brings me on the the next point.

We are much more likely to blame a ‘culture’ or a ‘religion’ when Asian and Black people commit crimes than when white people commit violent crimes. 

People make memes about America being racist, don’t they? Here is one that will illustrate my point perfectly:

Image result for mentally ill terrorist family guy

When terrorists (or alleged terrorists) conduct an attack, you will notice that the language and reporting changes consistently and significantly depending on the ethnicity of the person. This meme spread across the internet as people realised that white people can commit atrocities, mass murders and terrorist acts but will be labelled as ‘disturbed’ or ‘mentally ill’ (which I accept, has its own problems) – but when someone from Black, Asian or other ethnic communities commits the same crime, the reporting becomes about their ethnicity, their religion, their cultural values and so on.

The same is happening in CSE and we need to get a grip on this quickly.

White British men are the majority offenders of all sexual crimes in this country. However, when was the last time you saw headlines that mentioned their ethnicity?

‘White men rape children’

‘Group of White men exploit children’

‘White teacher exploits three students’

Have you ever seen that? Because, I haven’t.

Replace the word ‘White’ with ‘Asian’ and ‘Pakistani’ and you’ll have seen that a whole lot of times. Why is this?

Well, just like the example I gave you from America about terrorists, this is about attribution of cause and blame. When white people commit violent crime, no one talks about their cultures, their values, their communities or their whiteness. Everyone assumes that they chose to commit those violent crimes because of issues internal to them – the rest of the white community goes unscathed. As we know from the integrated theory of sex offending and the integrated theory of terrorism, the pathways to offending are a complex mixture of personal, developmental, social and cognitive factors. However, because most white people come from the dominant culture, no one writes an article asking ‘What is it about white culture that makes white men abuse children?’

The white person is the bad apple. The barrel is just fine.

By contrast, South Asian people do not come from the dominant culture or ethnicity in the UK, so it is an easy way to deflect for the media to write deliberate articles asking ‘What is is about the Pakistani/Muslim culture that makes Pakistani men abuse children?’

The Pakistani person is not the bad apple. The Pakistani culture (or Muslim religion depending on which tabloid you read) is the bad barrel.

Cultural norms and values are important in the offending pathways and reasoning of some sex offenders – but then we are still presented with the question:

Why don’t we examine the ethnicity, the cultural norms and values of white child sex offenders?’

We see white sex offenders as lone wolves, weirdos, creeps, paedos, psychos, sickos and pervs. Those words all situate the issue within the offender – that there is something ‘wrong’ with them. We see Asian sex offenders as some sort of slave to their culture and religion that has embedded into them the need to abuse children. Those messages do not identify the abuser as the problem, but the South Asian culture or the religion of Islam.

This is scapegoating at it’s finest.

If you truly care whether culture and values underpin sexual offending against children I suggest you read up on the hypersexualisation of children in society, porn culture, misogyny, patriarchal societies, hierarchies in society of adults and children, power imbalances, stigma of disclosure, glorification of sexual violence and ‘sex work’.


We are basing much of these statements on terrible data samples and have become victims of our own confirmatory bias

Ahhh the statistics. The statistics that are being thrown around the media with joy. The statistic from CEOP that 26% of CSE offenders were Asian men.


The data samples are horrendous. Here are some important statistics you need to know about this issue:

  1. In 2015, the OCC said ‘Ethnicity data is only collected in around 30% of cases of CSE’
  2. In 2011, the CEOP report had a paragraph underneath the statistics which said that the statistics were not representative and they were only able to identify the ethnicity of 60% of the offenders in the cases – so the statistics should not be used to generalise or come to any conclusions about ethnicity of offenders
  3. In 2011, the CEOP report containing the ethnicity of CSE offenders (which failed to collect hardly any ethnicity data at all by the looks of things) only identified around 6% of the offenders as British Pakistani men. The ‘26%’ statistic came from the category ‘Asian’ which was then split out into Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Other. Other was huge – Pakistani and Bangladeshi were a few per cent each.
  4. In 2014, Aslan & Edelmann conducted a study of CSE offenders online and found that 94% of them were White British men under 26 years of age
  5. In 2017, the National Police Chief Council released statistics which confirmed that the majority of CSE offenders are White British men but it also admitted that it did not know the ethnicity of 66% of the offenders in the 6107 cases they identified.

What you should be able to see here, is that the samples being used to draw massive conclusions about ethnicity of CSE offenders are extremely poor quality – and where the data is of decent quality (such as Aslan & Edelmann) the trend becomes very clear. The majority of child sex offenders in the UK in CSE are White British men. The data coming from CEOP, NPCC and others are so poor that they would not pass peer review to draw any such conclusions.

For example:

If I conducted a study in which 6000 people told me whether they had ever stolen anything from a shop, but only 30% of them told me their sex (male or female) – I would not be able to draw any conclusions about whether males were more or less likely to shoplift than females – because my data isn’t good enough.

Instead, what has happened in CSE, is that these rogue statistics from terrible samples have been propped up by confirmatory bias – with people saying ‘Look at Rochdale, Rotherham, Derby, Oxford. Telford! They were all Asian men! It’s a trend I tells ya!’

To them I say:

‘Uhuh, that’s a handful of cases. What about the other 2150 cases of CSE prosecuted in 2012, of which the large majority were White British men? Do they not count in your ‘trend?’

The reality is – this is the result of confirmatory bias – the cognitive bias of irrational humans (and we are all irrational) to see something that confirms their existing beliefs to use as evidence to support those beliefs whilst ignoring any evidence to the contrary.

And the only ‘trend’ in sex offending is that it is men that largely commit these crimes. 

And yet no one is saying ‘Men! Stop raping children!’ On the front of the tabloids. No one is asking ‘what is it about men that means they abuse women and children?’ 

We are being distracted from the issue that sexual abuse of children is extremely common and being encouraged to point the finger at a minority group

The result of this mass distraction tactic is that the general public and even professionals I work with, are convinced that this is a ‘Muslim issue’ or are telling me ‘the Asian communities need to rise up and publicly condemn these acts of sexual abuse!’

Why do they? Do you ‘rise up and condemn’ acts of abuse every time a white guy rapes someone?

Do you feel implored to put up Facebook statuses when white people commit crimes?

‘I am just writing this status to say, that as a white person, I condemn the acts of this white child abuser today. Not all white people are child abusers.’

Didn’t think so.

Instead of accepting the fact that sexual abuse and exploitation of children has been going on for centuries – in every corner of every land in the world – we are using ‘look-over-there tactics to make this about an ethnic minority. Something that only a dominant ethnic group could do. Despite the fact that most sex offenders are white, no one is challenging our white culture. No one is writing headlines about whiteness being linked to raping children – despite the correlation being much stronger and the incident rates being much higher on paper.

We are being deliberately distracted by the mainstream media and some spokespersons – away from abuse being a systemic, structural and global issue, to the finger pointing at one community. This is a self-preservation tactic. This is ‘othering’. This is demonising millions of people who follow Islam and millions of people in this country of South Asian descent whilst ignoring the fact that they live in a society that largely ignores their abuses and harms.

How do the media even get away with the fact that they have just spent years reporting hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation committed by rich, powerful white guys in the public eye – and then make claims that this is predominantly a Pakistani/Muslim/South Asian/Asian issue. Have they forgotten the skin colour of Rolf Harris, Jimmy Saville and their ilk? Have they forgotten the skin colour of the numerous priests, vicars, teachers, careworkers and nuns who abused and exploited children for decades? Have they ever written articles about their religion or cultures?

There are those that say ‘Police and local authorities ignored cases of CSE because it was Pakistani men!’

Well, unfortunately, I have a sober reality for you:

Police and local authorities have ignored and failed in plenty of cases of child sexual abuse, rape, domestic homicide, child neglect and so on – and there was no possibility that was based in ethnicity because the offenders and victims were all white. In actual fact, what we see is a huge inertia and unwillingness to tackle abuse of humans – and whatever reason that can be given will be given:

“But, racism!”

“But, power!”

“But, resources!”

“But, victim blaming!”

“But, sexism!”

“But, cover-ups!”

Cases of abuse are missed, dropped, ignored and failed in this country every single day – and having worked in this field for 8 years, I’ve seen that for my own eyes. Its not based in racism or political correctness – its based in a stigma around abuse.


This entire situation stinks of structural racism 

I teach my kids that when they are born into positions of power (they are White, wealthy and male) they have a responsibility to ensure that they never contribute towards – and actively campaign against the discrimination and harm of people without their privileges.

Similarly, this is what we all must learn. This situation – that of the scapegoating and finger-pointing at South Asian Muslims as the ‘enemy’ as the ‘Pakistani men who rape our white girls’ – stinks of structural racism. I have never seen a white politician or white journalist question the whiteness of child sex offenders or ask ‘uncomfortable, brave questions’ about why our culture is so completely jam-packed with abusers. But this move towards racism is not new. For centuries, white people have positioned Black and Asian people as deviant, dangerous, unsophisticated and uneducated. Genocides and Apartheid were preceded by time period where those people were dehumanised, scapegoated and pointed to as the source of every social problem.

We know that structural racism in our CJS is still alive and well because the Home Office published an info graphic two years ago which showed:

  • If you are Black or Asian, you are up to three times more likely to be arrested for a violent offence
  • If you are Black or Asian, you are 7 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than a white person
  • If you are Black or Asian, you are much more likely to be given a custodial sentence for the same violent crimes committed by a white person
  • If you are Asian, on average you will receive a custodial sentence 10 months longer than a white person who committed the same crime as you

We cannot ignore that this is the society we have built and maintain. How can we possibly argue that this convenient scapegoating of South Asian communities based on a handful of cases is not based in racism? How can we ignore comments like the follow up to Sarah Champion’s article where the writer for The S*n called CSE ‘The Muslim Problem’?

This is the deliberate ignorance of tens of thousands of white sex offenders and the close examination and public demonisation of a few hundred Asian sex offenders to turn them into the new ‘folk devils’.

These offenders are committing the same crimes. They are both raping children. They are both making and distributing images. They are both grooming children. They are both trafficking children. They are both causing serious harm to numerous children. All sex offences are absolutely life changing and abhorrent. All sex offenders have the capability to make decisions about whether they act out their fantasies or impulses. All sex offenders carry out self-satisfying crimes to harm another human.

But when white men  do it, the issue is situated within them as a person – not the white community or their whiteness.

And when Asian men do it, they are seen as an product of their deviant communities, cultures and religions. This dehumanises the offenders – it reframes them as mindless followers – not dynamic, decision making sex offenders like the white men.

And when you make harmful, irrational generalisations about an entire ethnicity or culture based on an individual’s actions, what do you call that again?



The word you are looking for is ‘racist’.


If you are interested in this topic – why not join Abdul and I as we tour the UK next year to talk about this in much more depth?



Written by Jessica Eaton





Do you see young people for their potential or their problems? A personal essay. 

Do you see young people for their potential or their problems? A personal essay. 

I rarely post a personal piece but this one has some legs for wider conversation about strengths-based working and seeing the potential in a young person experiencing abuse. And you get to see some pictures of me in a NY cap, a chain and a hoodie from 2005 – win, win really, isn’t it? 

I had a dream last night that I was back in year 5 in middle school, which would make me 10 years old. I was being taught maths. I was not doing the task. I thought the task was rubbish so instead I was developing a funding bid for a research grant. At 10 years old. 

My old math teacher, Mrs Harrison, came along and started to yell at me in front of the whole class to make an example of me for not concentrating. She was waving my math book in the air and pointing to the fact that I hadn’t even written the date let alone the sums. 

I stood up and said to her:

“Listen Mrs Harrison, I grow up to be fucking brilliant at math and get a PhD that requires skills in statistical equations, psychometric data and being able to use SPSS until I’m blue in the face. Not only that but some day I’ll open a charity and run the whole thing myself including all accounting and finance, so I need to get really good at bid writing because one day I’ll win £500k for that charity. I end up more qualified than you and this task is just some worksheet you downloaded from the internet and doesn’t ‘teach’ me a thing for my future. I need to write this funding bid, alright?”

She tells me to go to the headteacher and laughs at the prospect that I will ever do those things. How could a 10 year old know that, anyway? 

A confused kid asks her ‘What is a PhD, Mrs Harrison?’ 

I walk to the office; annoyed that they can’t see my potential and they don’t believe that I will be any of those things. 

I wake up.

Weird dream, I think. 

But then I wonder how children would develop if they knew they had that potential – if we told them they were capable of anything? They don’t need to be able to ‘see’ their future like I could in the dream but I wonder what the effect would be if a school took on an ethos where the entire staff team used positive future statements about their abilities and ideas – rather than deficit statements like ‘if you don’t do well, you’ll never amount to anything’ and ‘if you don’t do well, you will never get a good job’… 

I wonder what would happen if education systems learned to harness individuality instead of stamping it out. 

The kid that’s always mouthy and has an opinion on everything? Direct them towards public speaking or making YouTube videos on social issues. The kid that is known as the class clown and makes hilarious quips you’re not supposed to laugh at – could they write comedy or sketches for the drama group? The kid that never stops talking about building huge structures on minecraft – could you start talking to them about architecture and challenge them to recreate important buildings in minecraft and then showcase their work? The kid that keeps showing videos of themselves doing stunts at the skatepark, could you show them to the year group and celebrate the skill and practice that’s gone into that? The kid that is always arguing with authority – can you set up a debate team and make them the team leader? The kid that’s always drawing and doodling when you’re talking, how can you harness that amazing artistic skill? 

I have a letter I wrote to myself when I was 10 years old which is at the bottom of my wardrobe in a box – it says ‘one day in the future, I’ll be a psychologist or a politician’ – where would that sense of future come from? 

When I was 13 I did a presentation to my class in which I wandered around as I spoke informally about the topic (I’ve just laughed as I remembered the bloody topic!! It was about the way no one expected a working class bin man to ever make anything of himself and yet he saved up for a yacht and retired to the riviera – it was based on the Deacon Blue song – ‘Dignity’).

I delivered my presentation the exact way I deliver my speeches now: as me – and I got a B because I didn’t stand still and spoke too informally. I knew I would be a public speaker there and then – I didn’t know what I would talk about, but I knew I would be someone on a stage talking about important things to important people. 

I always daydreamed of starting a revolution. I imagined tearing down the establishment and starting again. I imagined rising up out of poverty and making a difference. I imagined arguing in parliament. I imagined being the underdog. I imagined writing books that made people rethink the status quo. I imagined giving interviews and appearing on TV arguing for the rights of the oppressed and vulnerable. 

You know, I once wrote an essay for which I got an A*. The task was to write about a terrifying place. I had been put in isolation and wasn’t allowed to learn in class – I think I had the wrong item of uniform on or something equally as ridiculous. 

I wrote an essay about a building filled with hundreds of humans, managed by grey, tired, dehumanised people who forced the other humans to conform, that taught them skewed propaganda history, that made them all wear the same thing and do their hair the same way, that punished them for irrelevant and minor mistakes to keep them in line. I wrote about a place that everyone believed was good until you were inside and you slowly realised it was part of a bigger system to crush individuality and create workers for the system. I intricately described the isolation room I was in. Even the cracks in the ceiling and the worn carpet. I described my teachers in that essay – right down to hair colour and body language. I handed it in and scrawled ‘THIS PRISON’ on the top of my essay despite me just having sat and described my high school in perfect detail. I got an A* – I don’t think they ever worked it out. It was one of my more subtle acts of defiance – rather than scratching ‘Mr Gregory is a wanker’ and ‘Mr Murray the Masturbator’ in the science lab tables with a compass. The teachers were probably just relieved I had done the work and not ran off for a joint. 

Me at around 14 years old in full chav attire
And throughout all those years of harm in my childhood, why did those feelings that I would eventually be a voice – never really go away? Why was I still so convinced I could make it out of the town and be something? Was it arrogance? How was it that all of the trauma and harm hadn’t knocked it out of me? How did those feelings persists despite no one nurturing them? 

Indeed, one of the first things I did once I left Stoke and left the abuse was enrol on a degree. I remember feeling like I was ‘behind’ on the grand masterplan. I hadn’t been allowed to go to sixth form and I left school 11 months before GCSEs started. I wonder why I had this underlying sense that I needed to get ‘back on track’ and get back into education immediately? Looking back, it certainly wasn’t the logical priority at that point when I was having extreme responses to trauma I wasn’t processing and I was still being hunted down by the abuser I had ran away from. 

Sometimes I stand up in front of hundreds of people and give a speech, or I lecture them on victim blaming in society or some other psychological concept, sometimes I meet with politicians or give a TV interview or write a document – and internally, I disassociate for a few seconds and I marvel at the fact that someone like me is even allowed this platform. Sometimes I am able to take a few seconds to soak in that hundreds of faces are watching, hundreds of brains are engaging, hundreds of ears are listening – whilst I stand alone with a microphone and talk to them about science, evidence based practice and my own research in forensic psychology. I wonder whether they would still listen to this ‘expert’ if they saw me 10 years ago when I was smoking weed, binge drinking, being abused and raped, leaving home, learning how to handbrake turn and drift in stolen cars, riding motorbikes illegally and generally being a ‘troublecauser’ to the outside world. 

Me at around 14-15 years old
I was the stereotypical council estate abused girl who would end up on drugs, dead or in prostitution. Two of those came true. I came very close to death a number of times thanks to a cocktail of drugs, drink and some very dangerous people. There’s only so many times you can wake up face-down on a roundabout until you don’t wake up. 

Me at around 13-14 years old

By the time I was 12, teachers had stopped encouraging me or talking to me positively about my future. Even when I performed well academically – I got ‘You might have done well in your exam but your behaviour is appalling and you never look smart, you still don’t have the right shoes on, your tie is too short – you’re always swearing and you have no respect for the staff!’ 

At least two teachers told me that they had placed a bet in a sweepstake in the staff room that I would fail my GCSEs. I was a lost cause. A waste of time. A never-amount-to-anything. 

I left school waaaaay before GCSEs and I can honestly tell you that the only reason I turned up to take them in between my shifts at two jobs at 16 years old was to piss them all off that I came to my exams wearing jeans. I knew I could bluff through my GCSEs and it should be okay. 

Me – the week I left school and never went back – this was the last photo of me in uniform
I was pregnant when I got my results and furious when I opened the envelope – I got 12 Bs and B+ – not a single A. The teachers didn’t hang around me to celebrate or congratulate or commiserate. I got my envelope and I walked off. I remember scolding myself for mediocrity despite not actually attending school in almost a year and having worked til 12am the night before the exams in bars I wasn’t legally allowed to work in. Despite being in serious danger and being raped almost every day throughout that entire time period. I can honestly say that I was ashamed to look at my GCSE results until about a year ago when I realised that it was a goddamn miracle I even turned up to my GCSEs let alone get 12 Bs and B+… looking back now with all my experience and expertise – I haven’t the fucking foggiest how I did that. The tatty envelope is still in my wardrobe with the grades written on the front. I wonder if my teachers thought I had cheated?

Fast forward to 2017…

Me – delivering some of my PhD research at the Coventry IVA conference

I bumped into my old English teacher recently – when I went back to my home town and needed to nip into Sainsbury’s for a birthday card. I didn’t recognise her at all (which I tend to put down to trauma blocking stuff out) but she eyed me up for about 5 minutes. 

I asked this woman, “Excuse me? Do you know where the greetings card section is? I don’t know this store well and I can’t find a member of staff.”


I stared at her. She looked familiar. How do I know this woman? 

“Do I know you?” I asked. 

“I was your English teacher…”

I clicked. Ah yes, I recognised her now. She had dyed her hair. 

We had a brief conversation before she interrupted:

“Sorry but you sound so posh and well spoken. You pronounce all of your words correctly. You’ve lost the stokie accent. Where did you end up?”

“I am a doctoral researcher in forensic psychology at UoB working for my PhD and run my own business – I specialise in sexual violence, feminism and mental health. I write guidance, research and I speak all over the country on the topic of child abuse. I am the founder of the first male mental health centre in the UK and we now see hundreds of vulnerable men a year for free.”

There was no mistaking the facial expressions: pure, unmasked shock. Then confusion. 

“You? How? Well, uh, I would never have had you down for that. You were, uh, always intelligent Jess but… you uh, didn’t seem the type to go on to do… uh, anything really… and then you got pregnant when you were, what 16? And that was it really….”

I smiled a knowing smile at her and thought, ‘That was just the beginning.’ 

Written by Jessica Eaton

Dedicated to impactful and ethical research, writing and speaking in forensic psychology, sexual violence, feminism and mental health. 


Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Critical thinking and parsimony will improve the field of CSE – here’s how… 

Critical thinking and parsimony will improve the field of CSE – here’s how… 

Critical thinking is the key to protecting children from child sexual exploitation.

It sounds so deceptively simple. Too simple. Parsimonious in fact. 

The law of parsimony is from science – the principle that something: an event, a behaviour or a problem can usually be explained with the simplest solution which makes the least amount of assumptions or inferences. 

Parsimony = The simplest answer which makes the least assumptions is the most powerful. 

Why does this relate to children being sexually exploited? Why does this relate to strategy, policy and protecting children? 

I am going to give you 4 brief examples of how parsimonious solutions and critical thinking would immediately improve the outcomes for children who are being or have been sexually exploited. 

1. Trauma after sexual violence 

As demonstrated by numerous serious case reviews, inquiries, reports and research in CSE, children’s trauma is not only misunderstood but in many cases it is completely ignored. Professionals are seemingly baffled by children showing aggressive, violent, ambivalent, withdrawn or anxious behaviours after sexual trauma. Children are hauled off to doctors and psychiatrists for assessment and diagnoses. Children are informed they have disorders, mental health issues and are referred for therapy to alter their behaviours and thoughts. Some children are even medicated for their newly developed psychiatric disorders. 

Organisations, companies and authorities sell us complicated therapies, frameworks and assessments to keep these troubled children under control. We attend training about these disorders and behavioural issues and we hear horror stories of children who will never recover and never be able to form ‘healthy attachments’ ever again. 

We have somehow become so wrapped up in the pseudo-complexity – telling ourselves and each other that these behaviours are so complex that we cannot solve them or help these children. 

The reality is nothing like this. The reality is that those behaviours have a very simple explanation, that makes no assumptions, that makes no great leaps to mental disorders or neuropsychological deficits – the child is traumatised by something horrible. 

For this field to move forward and improve its responses to children – it MUST embrace and advocate for trauma-informed responses in which the CSE is seen as the criminal act of committing extreme and life threatening injuries and crimes against a minor who then displays equally extreme – but perfectly logical – trauma responses. 

And how would this improve the outcomes for children? 

– they would learn about trauma responses and their own experiences, which would equip them with knowledge to understand their own feelings and experiences for the rest of their lives 
– they would not feel broken or disordered 
– they would not have a psychiatric diagnosis for life 
– they would be seen as a whole human being and not a collection of negative issues


– they would be seen for their potential not their abuse 

2. The use of CSE resources with children 

There is now a large selection of CSE resources, varying in quality and content but all based on the same set of assumptions: (a) that showing a child videos of child abuse will enable the child to identify abuse quicker or escape a sex offender who is already abusing them and (b) that showing a child videos of child abuse will ‘educate’ the child so that they can become ‘more resilient’ and ‘reduce their chances’ of being sexually abused. A lot of this is just marketing waffle to sell DVDs of child rape that would be illegal in any other context. 

So how can we apply critical thinking and the law of parsimony to this issue? 

At present, these resources are being used with thousands of children in the UK based on a set of assumptions and a complex set of anecdotal theories whereby the more the child ‘sees’ and ‘understands’ abuse, the less likely they are to be abused. But the law of parsimony would eliminate these assumptions. And it is only these assumptions that keep professionals using them. 

The reality is that the resources are not evidence based and this practice amounts to the mass showing of child abuse to children in large and small groups. If we remove the assumptions from this issue, we are left with a DVD that shows child rape with no evidence it works. 

Not only this, but we have ample evidence in psychology that showing children sexually violent materials has a negative not educative effect on them. Add this to the fact that, statistically, a sizeable proportion of a year group, class group or even a smaller group would have experienced child abuse: the risk of retraumatising victims and traumatising others is so real that if we were ever sued for this practice, the complainant would probably win. And so they should. 

Simple answer: stop using them. They don’t work, we have no evidence to back them up and there is already emerging evidence that they traumatise children. 

And how would this improve outcomes for children? 

– the children who have never been abused wouldn’t be traumatised by a shock tactic film 
– the children who have been abused wouldn’t be retraumatised by a shock tactic film 
– the culture of responsibility would reduce whereby children would not be held responsible for identifying and escaping sex offenders 
– the myths about education protecting children from sex offenders would disappear 
– resources would be developed and tested empirically by psychologists through ethical processes with peer review to keep children safe 
– professionals would be reempowered to talk to children about important issues and build human relationships whilst talking about the negative things in society instead of putting on a DVD 

3. Assessing children as ‘low, medium and high risk’ of CSE

This is a clear example of a simple concept that has been over complicated to the point where it no longer makes a jot of sense. I’m talking about labelling children who are already being abused ‘high risk of CSE’ and calling children who professionals suspect are being groomed as ‘low risk’. ‘Medium risk’ is redundant. It’s mind-numbingly stupid. 

Children are being assessed all over the UK with over 110 ‘CSE indicators’ of which only two have any evidence base whatsoever and we aren’t even sure which (if any) the correlational direction moves in. Does the indicator increase the likelihood of being sexually exploited or does being sexually exploited increase the likelihood of that indicator? Or does being sexually exploited lead to trauma behaviours that look like that indicator? We don’t know – but we use them anyway. 

The other 108 indicators are completely anecdotal and some are even based on rape myths and misogyny such as ‘overtly sexualised dress’, which is virtually impossible for boys to be labelled with. 

The CSE toolkits, screening tools or whatever buzzword is being used to describe them – are based on a pseudo-theory that the more indicators that are present, the higher the risk of the child and the more urgent and intensive the intervention must be. Whilst that sounds pretty logical, the entire procedure is flawed because the tools have no evidence base. If the tool we are using doesn’t work, the rest of the process is problematic. 

So how do we apply the law of parsimony to this problem? 

Well, first of all, bin the toolkits. They don’t work on boys, they don’t work on younger children, they don’t work for disabled children and they don’t work for children being solely abused online. That’s a LOT of children they don’t work for. In science we call that ‘poor validity’ and we scrub it all out and we start again. It is not ethical or even adequate to use or distribute a tool that has not been scientifically validated and knowingly misses huge chunks of the child population. 

Second, look for a solution that is simple and makes the least assumptions and used the least anecdotal evidence. The solution is surprisingly simple: we reempower our frontline workers, remind them that they are ALWAYS a thousand times more accurate than a knocked-up toolkit with no validity and we ask them to make a referral and conduct a needs assessment like they would for any other issue. Ask them to record their concerns and their evidence so far, ask them about this in context to the child’s whole life and history and then ask them what they think the best course of action is and what the child has expressed themselves. Done. 

Simple answer: listen to the child and listen to the frontline professionals who know the child and bin the pseudo-risk-assessments

And how would this improve the outcomes of children?

– they would not be assigned a redundant label that slows down response to abuse 
– they would not be assessed using a bogus tool with no evidence base 
– girls would not be tested against sexist indicators 
– boys would not be systematically missed or ignored by female-centric tools 
– cases of online sexual harm would be responded to quicker and with more resources 
– professionals would regain their expertise and sense of mastery that has been taken away by these tools 
– professional judgement and knowledge of the child would come first, meaning that the child would be treated as a whole human and not a CSE case 
– professionals would regain the confidence to escalate cases and challenge the processes that are failing children, thereby increasing positive outcomes for children 

4. Removing children from non-abusive familial homes 

One of the benefits of being a national specialist and consultant is that I have not only discussed, advised or worked with thousands of cases myself but I can see national patterns in the caseloads of hundreds of areas. I can see strategies, procedures, screening tools, commissioning processes and even worker morale – all over the UK. And one of the things that just won’t stop bothering me is the removal of children from non-abusive families where the sexual exploitation of the child by an external sex offender is becoming so dangerous and so serious that the local authority make the decision to take the child from their family and plop them in a residential or secure unit anywhere from one county away to half the country away. 

This is usually done when the sex offender has such a hold over the child that the parents are struggling to keep them safe and conversation eventually turns to ‘failure to protect’ and parenting issues. Not only is this a pristine example of victim blaming but it is unethical and dishonest of professionals to ignore the control and power of the sex offender and tell a non-abusive family that they are not good enough whilst simultaneously failing to protect the child and the family from a sex offender, themselves. 

The child is then placed wherever they are placed where they repeatedly tell us in research and reports that they feel they were punished and isolated from their loved ones as a consequence for being sexually abused and raped. The families are then put under unnecessary scrutiny whilst workers convince each other that the family home was too unsafe and the residential/secure unit is in the best interests of the child who now keeps going missing and cutting themselves because all they want to do is go home to their families or go home to the sex offender (who they still think loves them). The sex offender has these magic tools called a car and a smartphone which means the exploitation continues or evolves. Their behaviour is reported to escalate and the placement ‘breaks down’. The child is moved somewhere else. The behaviours escalate and the placement ‘breaks down’. 10 months and 5 placements later and the child is now showing serious trauma responses – not from the sexual violence because they haven’t even psychologically processed that yet – but from our practice. We have moved them from pillar to post for months because no one will accept that removing them from their family was the wrong thing to do and now this child is showing extremely disturbed behaviours and everyone is sat around scratching their heads as to why that might be. 

So what would we do if we applied the law of parsimony and the skill of critical thinking to this issue? Well, the answer is always the most simple one that makes the least assumptions: keep the child at home. 

If we have no evidence that the family are dangerous or harmful, that child should stay put and we should support the entire family unit as a group of victims of serious sexual violence and crime cause by an external sex offender. Even if the parents are struggling and are begging us for help because they don’t feel they can keep their child safe from the sex offenders – the answer is to dig in and to hold that family together and teach them how to support their child with sexual trauma. 

Simple: keep the children at home with their safe family and invest the massive amounts of money and resources that would have been used to put the child into care, into therapy, coaching, advice and practical support for the whole family including siblings.

And how would this improve outcomes for the children?

– they would not feel punished by removal from their families 
– their relationships with primary caregivers would not be destroyed 
– their families would learn all about trauma and sex offending to better support their children 
– the siblings would not experience the grief of losing a child from the home 
– the family would have access to wraparound, non-judgemental support 
– the child and family would not feel blamed or judged for the harm done by a sex offender 
– the recovery from sexual trauma will be better when supported by the primary caregiver

The reason CSE feels so complicated and so difficult to address is because we have created a monster. We created CSE. We pulled it away from CSA and we convinced ourselves it was different and special. We have overcomplicated it. We have developed tools that don’t work. We have disempowered experienced and skilful workers. We have ignored decades of research on sexual trauma and sex offenders. We have made up models and theories and constructs that make no sense. We have sold resources that will never do what we say they do. We have told parents it is their fault that their child was raped by someone they never knew existed. We have sold and trained each other in institutionalised practice and ‘best practice’ with no evidence base. 

It’s time to bump back down to earth, colleagues. 

You’re working with children who have been sexually abused and will spend years processing their trauma. 

They need your help, your empathy, your role modelling, your patience, your compassion, your wisdom and your full commitment to their journey through trauma and towards a happy, healthy life. 

That’s it. They just need you. 

Simple but true. 

PS – here’s a cool info graphic from the global digital citizen foundation about how you can challenge yourself to think more critically:

Jessica Eaton
Specialist researcher, writer and public speaker in forensic psychology, sexual violence and victim blaming 

Web: Www.victimfocus.org.uk
Tweet: @jessicae13eaton
Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk 

You are not going crazy: Your physical health after sexual trauma 

You are not going crazy: Your physical health after sexual trauma 

One place where I see my passions and specialisms intersect is the issue of women being diagnosed and labelled with psychiatric issues after experiencing sexual abuse and violence perpetrated by males.

Millions of women and girls who have experienced sexual trauma will also experience a wide range of trauma responses. Whilst these trauma responses should be seen as rational, normal and reasonable; they are often medicalised or misunderstood – not only by professionals but by the women and girls themselves. 

This blog is for any woman or girl who has unresolved health issues, symptoms they don’t understand, illnesses with no physical basis and a feeling of going around in circles with health professionals and even some mental health professionals whilst attempting to find the answer to their problems.

This blog will also be useful to those professionals who work with women and girls all over the world – either in physical or mental health.

Let’s talk about sexual trauma in females

When we talk about sexual intercourse, it is helpful to consider it within a radical feminist perspective. Sex has never been neutral for women and girls – sex has never been controlled by women and girls. Whether it’s a father controlling when a woman has sex, the myth of ‘losing her virginity’, the media hypersexualising girls as early as possible with fashion and make-up, women being made responsible for contraception or being denied contraception and abortion, men being celebrated for being increasingly sexually active with many partners and women being punished for sexual activity and more than a couple of sexual partners, men being taught that women engage in ‘token resistance’ to sex, so if she says no, just keep badgering her… the list could go on and on forever. Indeed, many authors and academics have tackled this issues in great detail, including myself in my forthcoming work. 

Sex is already wrapped up in so much power and control, so much expectation and rules and boundaries, so much shame and blame and honour. Women and girls are held up as sexual objects of desire and as chaste, pure virgins who should be sexually conservative; simultaneously. And these competing demands exist for women and girls having consensual sex with chosen partners. 

So then, what extra factors affect the women and girls who have been sexually abused, assaulted or raped? 

Sexual trauma from: rape myths 

All of the above, and so much more. The first point to make is that sexual abuse, assaults or rapes are rarely experienced as a form of sex. It is much more likely to be experienced as a form of violence, harm, suffering and fear. Despite this, many of the assumptions around sex are applied to rape, abuse and assaults. Women and girls are taught from an early age that they could have been ‘asking for it’ or they could have ‘enjoyed it really’. They are told that they shouldn’t have flirted, shouldn’t have been polite to the man, shouldn’t have accepted the drink, shouldn’t have walked home with them, shouldn’t have kissed them, shouldn’t have swapped numbers, shouldn’t have shared that taxi. In short, women and girls are made responsible for when ‘sex goes wrong’. Women and girls are made responsible for the abuse, assaults and rapes committed against them. 
These expectations leave women and girls with feelings of blame, shame and guilt for the crimes committed against them, which have a significant effect on their mental wellbeing. 

Sexual trauma from: change in world-view

Being sexually abused, assaulted or raped also challenges the world-view of most women and girls. The trauma of living through a rape, assault or a period of abuse can force a person to rethink everything they thought they knew. Maybe the person who attacked them was their most trusted friend, their boss, their parent or their partner. Someone they looked up to. Someone they were inspired to be like. Someone they told all of their secrets to. Someone they loved with all their heart. All of a sudden, their feelings of safety, trust and judgement are shaken. They consciously or subconsciously ask ‘Who is safe? Who can I really trust? How did I not see that coming? Are all humans going to harm me? How do I protect myself from humans? Am I a bad judge of character? Why did they do this to me? Did I do something to deserve their harm? What if this happens to me again? Do I attract this type of person?’
Their view of sex might change too. Memories of being raped or abused might change the way they see sex. Sex may become scary, dirty, horrible, painful or may feel like a violation of their body again. Sex might feel like the ultimate act of trust. Sex might come with new rules, new boundaries and new feelings. 
Women and girls might experience a change in their view of the world. A world that once held opportunity, excitement, adventure and a future might now start to look like an inherently dangerous and harmful place where no one is to be trusted and there is no future to look forward to. The world might have felt safe and filled with generally good people – but now feels like an unsafe place to live, filled with sex offenders ready to pounce. The world might have been a positive place to live where the person felt they had self-efficacy and power over what happens to them – but now feels like a negative or uncertain place where the person feels powerless and at the mercy of random acts of violence. 
The change in the world view of a woman or girl after sexual violence is often deep and long lasting – however, it is rational and reasonable. When we were evolving as a species, we encountered a new animal or a new threat and if it attacked us or harmed us in some way, we created a stereotype of that ‘thing’ and then we kept well away from it for the rest of our lives. We wouldn’t have lasted this long as a species if we simply kept going back to the harm in the belief that it would be different this time. When a woman or girl has been sexually abused, assaulted or raped, they process the features of the person who did it to them or the situation it occurred in and they often avoid those features whilst in trauma – and some avoid them for the rest of their lives. 
Sexual trauma: physical harm and physical responses 

Much has been written about the five Fs of trauma – the physiological and psychological responses to extreme stress (fight, flight, freeze,friend, flop), so I won’t labour this theory here. However, it is important to discuss the physical ways the body responds during and after sexual assault, abuse or rape. This is very personal and variable. Part of this is based on acknowledgment, which I write about in my forthcoming work. Acknowledgement is whether or not the woman or girl knew they were being assaulted, raped or abused at the time of the offence. For example, a woman might think that she has no rights to say no to her husband so she must comply with his demands for extreme sex acts despite them hurting. Or a girl might have been sexually exploited for 5 months and not realise it until she is in her thirties. In contrast, a woman might be violently raped whilst she cries and begs them to stop. Acknowledgement is at the heart of the response and the trauma – where someone has no idea they were being harmed, their physical responses to the crime will be delayed until they realise what happened, whether that is the next morning or five decades later. This is also why some people (including child abuse victims) can develop physical and psychological sexual trauma responses years after sexual violence. 

So what physical symptoms am I referring to? 

In line with the work on physiological trauma responses in the body and brain, I am talking about the urgent release of noradrenaline which causes the increase in heart rate, blood pressure, the change in blood flow, the change in priority of blood supply to organs, muscles and extremities, the feeling of dizziness, the banging headache from the surge in blood pressure, the fainting or collapsing during or after the assault, the slowing of digestion whilst the body concentrates on keeping the person alive, the tingling of the skin, the sudden focus on their heart beat, the come down from the adrenaline leaving them shattered and unable to move, talk or focus on tasks.

These are just some of the common ways trauma can affect the body. These symptoms are not caused by an underlying medical problem. The person did not suddenly develop a serious medical problem in the weeks or days after being raped or assaulted. But this is what this blog is all about: the incredible ways that sexual trauma can impact on the body – and the wide lack of understanding in professionals which leads to women and girls being tested for obscure medical issues, being prescribed medication for health issues they don’t have and then, after years of searching for answers; being diagnosed with some catch-all psychiatric disorder or broad physical health issue that can only ever be ‘managed’. 

Over my years in this field, I have become aware of some of the most common complaints from people who have experienced sexual trauma.

Common complaints

Palpitations such as suddenly being aware of the heart beat, the heart pounding, racing, fluttering or slowing 

Chest pains such as a stabbing sharp pain in the chest or a perception of ‘heart pain’ 

Muscle pains anywhere on the body 

Headaches and migraines ranging from tension headaches to days of severe migraine 

Fainting and collapsing which could include falls, losing consciousness momentarily, feeling faint but not actually fainting

Digestive issues such as IBS 

Neck pain and shoulder pain 


Tingling limbs such as fingers, arms, legs, feet, sometimes even one-sided in the face or lips 

Jaw aches and pains 

Pressure in the face or head

Vertigo feelings 

Visual issues such as vision shaking, vision blurring, vision going grey

Hearing issues such as losing hearing or everything going echoey before passing out 

Whilst these symptoms sound terrifying, they can all be linked to or directly caused by the anxiety and trauma responses following sexual abuse, assault or rape. What makes this more complex and often even scarier for women and girls experiencing any of these symptoms is that they are often also linked with very serious physical health conditions such as stroke, heart attack, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, brain tumour and other rare conditions. 

What this often leads to in the early stages is women and girls seeking urgent medical help (which all medical advice would advise for a lot of these symptoms, in order to rule out life threatening conditions) but getting nowhere. They get their clean bill of health from a confident medical professional who is sure that the symptoms are not life threatening and sent on their way. In fact, this clean bill of health is not the reassurance the woman was seeking and it often triggers health anxiety and incessant googling of alternative diagnoses or the percentage of error in medical professionals. They get a clean bill of health whilst their symptoms spiral out of control and even develop into new symptoms. The medical professionals are confident that the symptoms are not life threatening (and they are correct) but they don’t necessarily have any of the patient’s trauma history, the knowledge to piece together the puzzle, the time or the resources to figure out that these symptoms are psychosomatic – and the person ends up on everything from beta blockers to proton pump inhibitors to treat the apparent ‘symptoms’. The sexual trauma is never addressed and the symptoms become embedded outlets for the anxiety, stress and trauma of their experiences. 

All of the symptoms above can be directly caused by high levels of stress, adrenaline and can therefore be linked to sexual trauma. Many of the symptoms are caused when the body is shoved into that ‘fight or flight’ mode day after day. High levels of cortisol and adrenaline increase blood pressure, heart rate, slow digestion, cause tingling in skin and limbs, change perception of pain and sensation, change visual processing and perception, change the priorities of the body and leave the person feeling like they are constantly on the ‘edge’ – some describe it as a constant impending feeling of doom or as if something terrible will happen at any given moment. 

Muscles become tense and often take the brunt of trauma responses – commonly the neck muscles, shoulder muscles and the connecting muscles all across the head and face are tightened for days at a time, leading to searing headaches, pressure in the face, pressure in the temples, stiff neck, pulled shoulders and even jaw pain. 

Fainting can appear serious – and due to the links with medical issues, it often leads to a trip in an ambulance (or ten). However, fainting after sexual trauma or at times of stress is a normal response for some people when they react to high levels of adrenaline in the body. As an example, I actually fainted whilst making a 999 call for someone else who was seriously injured. I was so stressed from hearing them scream in pain that I fainted whilst trying to tell the ambulance where we were – a lot of good I turned out to be! There is no other medical reason why I would have fainted in a circumstance of extreme stress other than the extreme stress itself. 

When women and girls who have experienced sexual trauma begin fainting, this is a sure symptom of stress. The body and brain has a very complex and amazing relationship – meaning that there is debate as to whether the ‘mind’ shuts the body down to protect the person from further psychological trauma or whether the brain shuts down the body due to a sudden surge of adrenaline causing the momentary myopia. 

When we put all of this information together, with the knowledge of experienced professionals who can recognise trauma responses after sexual violence – we can see that it is likely that hundreds, thousands or millions of women and girls (the most likely victims of sexual violence due to sex-based oppression) will experience diverse trauma responses and may never find the professional who can help them to understand that their medical mysteries and boxes of unneeded medication are really due to completely normal, rational and common stress responses in human beings. 

The final stage of searching for the answers seems to be diagnosis with a psychiatric disorder or a catch-all illness or disorder where the woman or girl is made to feel defective or ill. Alternatively, women and girls find a medical professional who dismisses them and says ‘it’s all in your head’ – making them feel ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’ or ‘wasting medical time’. 

It’s been a long one, this blog. It’s a big topic. Even bigger than this blog. But please take these messages away from my blog and share them with others who have experienced sexual trauma: 

1. You are not crazy – your symptoms are real and they suck. However, you are not physically ill and you can find support to help you work through your trauma responses in a healthy way 

2. Your trauma responses are completely normal and very common – for an idea of just how common, have a look at the anxiety charity support forums in the UK 
3. Trauma responses are not mental health issues and you do not need a psychiatric disorder or label to get help for trauma responses 
4. Your experiences of sexual trauma will not define you or control you forever 

5. I won’t tell you not to google because I know you’ve googled your symptoms to death and that’s cool because you want answers – but be careful if you can tell your googling is making you feel worse 

6. Try this mantra as a starter: “I have had these symptoms before, and they don’t last. I didn’t die. I didn’t have a rare disease. This is my body telling me to look after myself.” Mantras like these can break the spiralling thoughts of impending doom. 

7. Give yourself permission to respond to your trauma however you need to and just allow it to pass naturally in its own time

8. Some people respond to trauma in psychological ways – some people respond in physical ways – right now, your trauma is being expressed through physical symptoms. 

You can do this. 

You are not alone

Written by Jessica Eaton

Email Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet @Jessicae13Eaton

Visit http://www.victimfocus.org.uk 

“Mum, what things do you have to do to be a sex offender?” Answering big questions from small children

“Mum, what things do you have to do to be a sex offender?” Answering big questions from small children

It was Saturday afternoon, the kids were in the back of my car when I turned the key and my stereo suddenly came on full blast. 
Kanye West sang out:

“She found pictures in my emails. I sent this bitch a picture of my dick. I don’t know what it is with females. But I’m not too good at that shit.”

I turned it off. I made a decision to never use misogynistic language ever again when I was in my early 20s so I cringe when I hear the word ‘bitch’. Not only that, but he was singing about sending dick pics to a woman. 

My six year old son asked, “Mum, is Kanye West a sex offender?” 

I pulled the handbrake back up, took my seatbelt off and turned around to my sons, six and eight years old (although my eight year old would want me to be crystal clear about the fact that he is, in fact, nine next month). 

“What makes you ask that?” I asked, genuinely intrigued by his use of language and his ability to identify Kanye’s voice seeing as I refuse to listen to any of his music after College Dropout. 

My six year old explained, “He sent a girl a picture of his dick. So, I’ve heard you saying before that people who send pictures of their private parts to women are sex offenders.” 

I am a firm believer in frank, open, honest conversations with children when they ask a question or require information. Not only that, but my sons both know that their Mummy is a national specialist in the psychology of sexual violence. In fact, my eight year old recently made a little poster which said “I love my mum because she does amazing speeches about a lot of stuff!” They know what I do and they were both taught about sex, relationships, abuse, puberty and bodies when they were around five. Because it was never made a taboo, they ask whatever they want, when they need to. We don’t have any ‘off-limits’ topics; and over the years they have taught me that young children comprehend far more than we ever give them credit for. I’ve taught my kids and primary school children about everything from nuclear weapons to porn to atheism and I’ve never had a problem. Children are extremely sophisticated learners and as long as our language is age appropriate, they won’t struggle with any concepts, no matter how complicated you think they are. This conversation was one of many and I replied the way I always do; calmly and openly. 

“Oh right, okay. Good question. Well, that would depend on whether she asked him to send her a picture of his penis, or whether he asked her permission, and how old she is,” I explained. I need to protect my sons from growing into men who do this stuff but I simultaneously need to ensure that the concepts of consent and pleasure are interwoven into my answers. The last thing I want is to create a taboo around sex being negative just because in my job, it is. However, my kids have ears everywhere and my eight year old instantly gave an example from a few months back.

“You’ve had men send you stuff before and it made you really angry. Were they sex offenders?” He asked. 

“Technically, they are a sex offender; although they probably don’t feel they are one. They broke the law and committed a sexual offence; they chose to take a picture of their private parts and send it to someone they didn’t know, without permission.” I explained further. 

My six year old then interjected, “Mum, what things do you have to do to be a sex offender?” I smirked at how this question from an innocent child sounded like the equivalent of ‘What things do you have to do to become a vet?’ No matter how strange our conversations might seem to others, I would never change them.

“A sex offender is someone who uses sex or sexual acts, touching, pictures, videos or words for violence. So, if a person forces someone to have sex with them, touch their body, look at their body or show them something sexual – they are a sex offender. They could use sex to scare someone, control them, threaten them, make them do stuff they don’t want to do or to hurt them. Sex should be fun and feel good for both people involved and they should both be old enough to have sex. Sex offenders use sex as a weapon to hurt others.”

My eight year old son pondered. “So, if one day, I took a picture of my balls and sent it to a girl, I’d be a sex offender?” 

My six year old burst out laughing, “Haha! You said balls!” 

“Shush you, I’m asking Mum. You said dick and I didn’t laugh!” 

I let them calm down for a few seconds and then answered his new question.

“If you were a child when you did it, I and hopefully other people would tell you it was wrong but would help you and the other child – you can get into a lot of trouble for doing that before you are 18. If you were a grown up and you sent it to another grown up you were in a relationship with and you liked taking pictures with each other then that would be totally your private business. Lots of grown ups like doing that. But if you were a grown up and you sent pictures to another grown up without their permission, or did anything else to them without their permission, then that would be a sexual offence and the other person would be very upset.”

“But there are some sex offenders that do stuff to kids aren’t there?” My six year old asked me.

“Yes. So if a grown up sends a picture of their breasts or penis or testicles or bottom to a child, they are a sex offender. If a grown up ever asked to look at your bodies or touch you – or asked you to look at them or touch them, they are definitely a sex offender. If a grown up asks you to meet them or talk to them, lie about them or keep anything a secret, you can tell us straightaway.” I explained to both of my boys.

My eight year old looked at me and said, “That conversation was a bit awkward but it’s okay cos it was with you.” 

“It’s okay, some of this stuff can be awkward but your brother asked a question about the song lyrics and then you got to ask some questions and now we are all done. That’s all there is to it. If you don’t ask, you never know. Come on, seat-belts on, let’s go.” 

Why have I sat down to write this story? You might wonder.

I have some tips and advice for the parents reading my blog, who may read this and think ‘Why would you tell your kids that!?’ 

1. Your kids are growing up in the most sexualised society there has ever been – even more sexualised than when kids were actually being married off and used as sex slaves in British history. Your kids are surrounded by music videos filled with semi naked women, people dry humping each other, Justin Bieber singing about make-up sex, little mix singing about faking orgasms, clothing with sexual slogans on, baby romper suits that say ‘TITS MAN’, padded bras for 7 year old girls, Disney channels filled with series for children about dating and cheating, advertisements encouraging gender role stereotypes, kids magazines with tutorials on having anal sex and over 28% of 11 year olds are watching porn. 

2. You cannot ignore the environment your kids are growing up in. You must learn to be their source of real information and honesty in a world that is selling them bullshit. Be the person they look up to and think ‘I’m gonna ask Mum/Dad/Carer later, they’ll know the answer!” 

3. When your kids ask a question about their body, sex, relationships or abuse – give them an honest and appropriate answer. You know your kid best, if they can handle quite a comprehensive answer, go for it. If they are very young or have a disability, you may need to amend your answer for now, but as long as it is correct and honest; you’re doing just fine.

4. When they ask you a question, you might feel shocked, scared, embarrassed or nervous. Try your very best to remain calm and talk to them like you are talking to them about what they are having for dinner. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, adults are the creators of taboo. Kids don’t know what taboo is until you impose it. If you react with embarrassment, they’ll learn embarrassment. If you react with shock, they will learn that asking you something about their bodies is bad or shocking. 

5. If you don’t educate your kids, porn will. If you have daughters, it is imperative that you do not allow porn to educate them about the sex they will have. If you have sons, it is imperative that you do not allow porn to educate them about the sex they will have. See what I did there? Men and women are harmed by porn. We have kids as young as 13 copying BDSM and anal from porn and we have some of the highest rates of porn-related erectile dysfunction in teenage boys we have ever seen; argued to be due to boys being so visually stimulated by perfect porn bodies and extreme porn sex that when they have real sex, they cannot get aroused. A forensic psych colleague told me last week that her GP friend is seeing around 7 teenage girls a month for fisting injuries. You read that right. Teenagers, some under the age of consent, are copying fisting from porn and causing internal injuries to girls. 

6. When your kids are trying to ask you something about sex or relationships, don’t interrupt to correct them. You will notice that I didn’t immediately correct my six year old on his use of the word ‘dick’ when I prefer them to say penis. He was using the language in the song to ask me his question and it would be unhelpful if I was to cut him off at that point to tell him off for swearing or corrected his language. Allow them the space to express themselves in the language they have and teach them alternatives later on in the conversation. 

7. It’s very important to teach your children the right names for their anatomy (vagina, vulva, penis, testicles, nipples, breasts, anus among others) because there are so many sexist and offensive slurs mixed in with meaningless infantile terms for their genitals that it’s a wonder kids ever figure out what they have or how to talk about their bodies when they need help (fairy, flower, tuppence, penny, minge, pussy, cunt, cock, dick, snake, winky, rack, tits – and much worse depending on where they are getting stuff from). 

8. Sexual abuse is extremely common. Some estimates of the proportion of people who will be abused in childhood sit at around 1 in 3 females and 1 in 8 males. When the CSEW (our national crime survey) is conducted, around 1 in 5 adults report that they were sexually abused in childhood. That’s millions of our population. That could mean up to 13 million people in the U.K. have been or will be sexually abused. In your kids’ class, that’s around 6 of them. Whilst it is a fallacy to argue that teaching your kids about abuse and sex will make them immune from abuse or sex offenders, more knowledge will give them more knowledge. Some research suggests that children with more knowledge can disclose earlier or easier because they have the language to do so – but this is currently in need of much further research.

9. Sexual abuse is extremely common. With those statistics up in number 8, you might well have thought ‘but that would mean millions of sex offenders’ – and you would be right. The majority of all sex offences are committed by someone the person knew – in their family or close support network. By that logic, we have millions of sex offenders in our population. Talking to children about sex, abuse, power, control, pleasure, offending, harm, relationships and so on may one day play a part in influencing our next generations to understand sexual offending so much more that they change their own society. Some of our kids will grow up to be sex offenders, some will become police, some will become lawyers, some will become counsellors, some will become teachers, some will become jurors, some will become social workers and some will become victims. If parents all over the world started the process of deconstructing taboo, myths and stereotypes about sex and relationships and started challenging harmful messages coming from porn, media and music – we could make a huge difference to future generations and future societies. 

10. Try not to be scared about the prospect of teaching your kids about sex, abuse, relationships, porn, bodies, puberty or indeed any other social issues – there is no evidence that children go out and ‘do’ whatever you explained to them. The countries with the highest and most comprehensive levels of sex education have the lowest levels of teen pregnancy, STDs and have higher average ages of first sexual experiences. 
Give your kids the gift you were never given: honest, frank, open communication about sex. 

Written by Jessica Eaton 



Tweet @JessicaE13Eaton 

What do you know?

What do you know?

What do you know?

I had a realisation today that no matter what stage of my life or career I have been at, I have always been asked

“What do you know?”

I have thought about all the times I have been asked this question by someone attempting to discredit or belittle my views, skills or knowledge and laughed to myself at the prospect that maybe, there will never be a day when people stop asking me this.

Let’s start from the beginning:


“What do you know? You’re only young!”

I often say when I am public speaking, that British culture does a very strange thing to young people. It constantly rushes them to grow up, take responsibility, be more mature, become independent, make their own decisions and make their own way in life – whilst simultaneously belittling them for being immature, too young to understand, poor decision makers, born yesterday and not old enough to do any of the things we pressure them to do.

I was very young when I started my career, in a lot of people’s eyes, I still am. Maybe that’s why I’ve come up against so much criticism whenever I have something to say – because I’m old enough to say it but not old enough to be taken seriously. I am 27 soon and have been in this field since I was 19 years old. Not a month has gone by where someone hasn’t commented on my age.

I was 21 years old when I managed 2 crown courts and 5 magistrates courts and I was forever being challenged as ‘too young’ to manage the CJS, ‘too young’ to manage a large team, ‘too young’ to do my job well, ‘too young’ to teach others how to ensure vulnerable and intimidated witnesses were protected and empowered. I thought that as I got older, it would get less and less, but it hasn’t stopped yet.

It’s also worth mentioning that throughout my years as a trainer, I was forever being asked ‘What do you know? You’re only young!’ too.

A delegate once put their hand up whilst I was teaching about harmful sexual behaviours and the theories of development in children; and said “Excuse me, how old are you?”

For what felt like the thousandth time, I told them my age was irrelevant, laughed it off and carried on teaching for the day. I remember thinking ‘One day, when I am older, these dumb questions will stop…’

I have also watched people silently work out my age when I speak about my children. Looking at me, considering the age of my kids, counting backwards and then saying

“But you can’t be over 25? How have you got a 9 year old? How have you been in this field for as long as you say you have? That’s impossible…” Stranger things have happened, carry on with your group activity.

Maybe when I’m 30 or 40 or 50 I’ll be old enough to do my job? When will I be old enough to have the knowledge and skills I already possess?

But because I am young, what do I know?


“What do you know? You didn’t even finish school.”

Like lots of young people, I was not in a position to finish school. I wish I was, because I was as academic as I am now and I found education easy – it was much easier than life. I did rock up for my GCSEs a year after leaving school, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, having worked 40 hour weeks at 16 years old for a dodgy hotel chain and revised on my breaks and I still came out with 12 B grades – I remember being so pissed off that I didn’t get a single A grade but seeing as I hadn’t attended school in months; I now see it as some form of wizardry.

I remember trying to apply for jobs as a teenage, single mother. I knew my limits. I knew I would never be offered any of the dream jobs I wanted because I didn’t do any A-levels or go to university. My academic abilities were not matched with qualifications or training. Every time I had an idea or tried to express a view on something in my jobs as an accounts administrator or a waitress, I was asked “What do you know?”

But because I never finished high school, what did I know?


“What do you know? You’re just a practitioner!”

I’d worked so hard to become a practitioner in the criminal justice system and in sexual abuse counselling services. I was doing a degree part time around my full time jobs and my toddlers. I was so proud of myself. I had made it. I was trained up and I was studying psychology. I was doing a good job. 

There is something frustrating about the field of social care and support in which leaders constantly harp on about how the service couldn’t run without the time and skills of the frontline practitioners, but woe betide you if you, a measly frontline practitioner, point out failings, problems or issues in the service or in other professional practice. Don’t you even dare suggest improvements or present evidence to the contrary. I remember questioning safeguarding cover-ups, lies about clients, the framing of counsellors for failings of management, poor practice with victims and witnesses of child abuse trials in my courts and I was often knocked back down to my station, “What do you know? You’re just a practitioner…”

I remember thinking “One day, when I have my degree and I have much more experience, no one will ask me that question…”

The other angle to this one is the ache I used to feel when a client would say “What do you know? You’re just a professional. You’ve never been where I’ve been.” I am a firm believer in non-disclosure to clients and I have never crossed that boundary where I have told a person experiencing trauma that I also have a long history of cumulative trauma. There were many times when I wished they knew that I was not the empty, soulless, jobsworth frontline practitioner they probably thought I was. I wish they knew I wasn’t like their perception of ‘all the rest’ and that I was going to fight for them all the way through the CJS and their recovery from abuse.
But because I was just a practitioner, what did I know?


“What do you know? You’re just a trainer!”

As my career developed, I realised that the only way to change the things I saw and to improve the experiences of thousands of victims of sexual violence – was to leave the field as a practitioner and to write and teach practitioners how to be better. But all of a sudden, the perception of me changed. I was no longer getting asked ‘What do you know? You are just a practitioner!’ – I was being asked ‘What do you know? You’re just the trainer!’ I designed, wrote, tested and taught training materials in sexual violence for 4 years and an assumption developed that I had never worked with real people, that I was a stereotypical trainer who teaches on a wide range of issues with shallow knowledge

I have had numerous incidents of people saying:

“Not being funny love but we actually do this job, working in sexual violence, day in day out. You are just a trainer, what do you know? What could you possibly teach us?”

I remember thinking “I am not about to launch into my years of frontline work… how do I answer this challenge? Maybe I’ll have to add an introduction about my career…”

That’s when I started doing a quick 2 minute introduction to my career history whenever I trained people – in an often unsuccessful attempt to convince them that I had years of previous and ongoing experience in the field of support and psychology. It’s also the reason I have a page on my website with a timeline of my achievements and awards.

I have a track record of excellent delivery and training all over the UK, with thousands of people following my work, hundreds of emails a day – so I must have taught them something.

But because I was just a trainer, what did I know?


“What do you know? You’re just an academic.”

Here I am, 10 years since the GCSE results, coming to the end of my PhD Forensic Psychology and widely regarded as a specialist in my topic areas. I have finally got to the level of knowledge that I thought would stop the dumb questions, asked only to attempt to silence me or belittle me – and yet I am now getting a new question. ‘What do you know? You’re just an academic.”

In fact, only a few weeks ago, I was told I was ‘too academic for the field of CSE…’ because someone didn’t like my critical thinking skills very much.

Too academic? What does that even mean? 

I was delivering an invited keynote speech this month at a very large conference and I was discussing the most pivotal issues facing the field of CSE and the lack of evidence for much of the practice. At the end, there was a Q&A. A woman made a comment:

“With all due respect, you don’t even work in this field. You’re just an academic. What do you know? You don’t know what our practice is like, you don’t know how to work with young people.”

But because I am now an academic, what do I know?



I’ve been a young person. That’s not enough.

I’ve been a person in difficult circumstances. That’s not enough.

I’ve been a service user. That’s not enough.

I’ve been a practitioner. That’s not enough.

I’ve been a manager. That’s not enough.

I’ve been a trainer. That’s not enough.

I’ve been an academic. That’s not enough.

What do I know?


What I do know

I know how to write excellent materials in the field with a considered and sophisticated evidence base taken from peer reviewed studies

I know how to design, set up and run a large mental health service from scratch

I know how to perform ethical, impactful and focussed research and how to interpret findings

I know how to write tenders and win large bids my charity, The Eaton Foundation (£500,000 in the last 4 years)

I know how to secure, renovate and build a mental health centre from a derelict building

I know how to develop, validate and test psychometric measures in forensic psychology

I know how to write accredited, national training for tens of thousands of professionals

I know how to teach children about social issues

I know how to support people experiencing trauma

I know how the police and CJS works from front to back in sexual and domestic offences

I know how to inspire teams to be the best in the country

I know how to public speak to large crowds

I know how to advocate for victims and survivors of sexual violence and to ensure services put them first

I know how to hold my ground when I know I am right and I know when to learn from people who know much more than me

I know how to support people through the most distressing and life changing traumas

I know how to perform complex statistical and factor analysis on huge datasets in psychology

I know how to evaluate service delivery and outcomes for real people

I know how to challenge poor practice, whistle blow and know to never put myself before a client

I know how to talk people down from suicide attempts and self injuring

I know how to support someone in escaping a relationship where their life is in immediate danger

I know how to talk stakeholders, government and funders from all over the world

I know how to influence people, services and huge systems to be the best they can be

I know how to explain very difficult concepts to a wide range of people, including very young children

I know how to write charity constitutions, policies and legal documents

I know how to negotiate large contracts for property, tenders and services in the charitable sector

I know how to teach at every level from primary school to doctoral programmes

I know how to take a calculated risk in my practice to get the best outcome for a client

I know how to teach children how to public speak and teach others

I know how to use my incessantly critical, quick thinking to assess evidence and challenge bias

I know how to write about, speak about and perform excellent research in forensic psychology


What do I know?

I know my quality of work speaks for itself.

I know my thoughts and views are shaping the field.

I know my squishy little brain will make a massive impact in my lifetime.


And one last thing:

This is an inherently female issue. Males are not questioned the way young, successful women are. Research tells us that men are more likely to be successful at job interviews for jobs they are not even qualified for just because men are always seen as more competent and more authoritative than women in the workplace (which unsurprisingly, has links to the pay gap).


If you’re reading this as a female professional or academic and thinking ‘OH MY GOSH, THIS IS ME!’ then get in touch with me for a rant and a chat – and maybe some cake if you’re nearby. Remember that you are awesome.


And when people ask you

‘What do you know?’

Look them in the eye, keep a straight face and say

“Nothing really. I just make it up as I go along, mate.”



www.victimfocus.org.uk – My work in forensic psychology and sexual violence

www.theeatonfoundation.org.uk – My work in male mental health and wellbeing

@Jessicae13Eaton       jessica@victimfocus.org.uk