5 ways we are encouraged to blame women and girls for being raped and abused

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Dr Jessica Eaton

23 June 2019

Content warning: This article discusses sexual violence against women and girls and the ways they are blamed for being victims of male violence

Having spent 10 years working with women and girls subjected to sexual and domestic violence of all kinds, I have never had a case or a caseload in which the woman or girl was not being blamed for what someone else (usually a man) was doing to her. Sometimes she is blamed by her family, sometimes by her partner. Sometimes she is blamed by police or by social workers. Sometimes it’s the mental health team blaming her.

Victim blaming is the act of transferring the blame from the perpetrator (who is 100% to blame for sexual offences they commit) and moving that blame back to the victim of the sexual offences.

My interest in the psychology of victim blaming really started to grow about 7 years into my career when I noticed strong patterns in the ways victim blaming was being encouraged and communicated across all sectors I had worked in. I decided to do a PhD in forensic psychology to explore why victim blaming of women and girls was so common.

This article gives an introduction to 5 ways (out of thousands) we are encouraged to blame women and girls for sexual violence perpetrated against them, built on my own research and my new book which will be coming out in 2020.

Let’s look at the ways we blame women and girls when they are raped, abused, exploited, assaulted, harassed or stalked:

Blame her behaviour

One of the first things we are encouraged to do is called ‘behavioural blame’. This is where we are encouraged to examine the behaviour of the woman or girl to look for behaviours that might have ‘led’ to being raped or abused.

Behavioural blame may include blaming women and girls for drinking, going to an event, using a dating app, walking somewhere alone, working in a bar, going travelling around the world, getting the tube at night, wearing headphones, meeting new people at a party and so on until infinity.

The purpose of behavioural blame is to pinpoint the ‘behaviour’ of the victim which ‘led’ to being raped or abused so we can convince ourselves that we would never make the same ‘mistake’ and therefore this offence would never happen to us. This is about denial of personal vulnerability, and us searching for an answer as to why this happened to her.

The problem with this of course, is that the answer has been staring us in the face for millennia. The cause of rape is men who rape. The cause of sexual offences is sex offenders.

Behavioural blame therefore obscures the real reason for the offence and focusses our attention on the victim.

Behavioural blame often leads to behavioural modification, too. This is where the victim (and sometimes women and girls in general) are advised or told to change their behaviours to protect themselves from sexual violence.

In my own research, I found that women and girls who had been subjected to sexual violence had often been told by professionals or by people in their personal support network that they should change their behaviours so they are not raped or abused again.

Just in my one study, this resulted in women telling me that they had changed their lifestyles, stopped dancing, stopped dating, stopped wearing certain clothes, stopped going to bars, stopped drinking, closed down their social media accounts, stopped going to places of worship, quit their jobs, stopped hugging people, stopped walking home from work, stopped smiling at men and stopped making new friends.

However, lots of those women told me that their drastic behavioural changes failed to protect them and many of them had been assaulted, raped or abused again despite following the behaviour modification advice from professionals and family members.

This is completely unfair. This is encouraging women and girls to make their lives smaller and smaller, whilst blaming them for the actions of a sex offender.

Blame her character

When behavioural blame fails to explain a sexual offence against a woman or girl, we very quickly move on to ‘characterological blame’.

This means that when we can’t blame her behaviour, because maybe the circumstances of the rape or assault were such that we can’t find anything ‘wrong’ with her behaviours before, during or after the attack – we will be encouraged to examine her character.

Characterological blame can include blaming a woman or girl for being too confident, too naive, too trusting, too flirty, not assertive enough, too outgoing, too sexual, too ‘streetwise’, manipulative, deceitful, too clever, too stupid, too articulate, too scared, not scared enough, too emotional, not emotional enough and literally anything else they can use to attack her.

Research shows that attacking the character of the woman or girl and finding something that we believe ‘led’ to being raped or abused makes us feel better about ourselves and reaffirms our belief in a just world in which bad things only happen to inherently bad people.

Again, this type of blame obscures the real reason for the sexual offence (the sex offender) and instead encourages us to dig up dirt on the character of the victim – like this cancels out the offence or makes her deserving of rape and abuse.

Characterological blame is central to the defence in some trials, in which the evidence is so clear that the only thing left is to destroy the character of the victim to cause doubt in the minds of the jury. Whenever defence lawyers used this tactic in my courts, I always knew they had nothing left to give to the defence, so instead, they had taken to attacking the character of the girl or woman.

However, whilst this is a sneaky tactic, it often works. Juries are highly influenced by characterological blame of women and girls and I saw many trials take a nosedive at the point where the defence team started to attack the victim for their character and encouraged the jury to take this into account to decide their ‘credibility’.

Blame her sexuality

My research has recently shown that one of the main factors of victim blaming women and girls is to blame her sexuality.

What I mean by this is her choices, preferences, actions, history and experiences of sex.

In a general public sample study in UK, I deliberately manipulated some scenarios about sexual violence against women to contain sexually active women. I then asked participants whether they blamed the woman for being raped or abused.

In some items I mentioned that she had multiple sexual partners. In some I mentioned she was bisexual. In some I mentioned she used Tinder. In some I mentioned she had been having a sexual affair. In some I mentioned that she enjoyed a good sex life. In some I mentioned that she liked feeling sexy and desirable. In some I mentioned that she takes nudes of herself. In some I mentioned that she likes to dress sexily sometimes to make herself feel good.

Long story short – these items resulted in much higher victim blaming than other items in the study. Some of these items caused between 40-60% of the participants to blame her for being raped or abused by a man.

This finding is backed up by much research and real life examples of trials and investigations in which the sexual history or the sexual activity of the woman or girl is used against her to either drop charges, to drop an investigation or to use against her in court to position her as promiscuous.

Isn’t it interesting that in 10 years I’ve never heard of a case in which a man who was raped was asked how many people he has slept with and whether his ‘promiscuity’ led to being raped?

This is because research definitively shows that we have an issue with female sexuality. We love objectifying and dementalising women into the topless pin-up or the woman being penetrated by three blokes in the porn scene – but we don’t like it when women and girls around us are sexually active. Or worse. In control of their own sexuality in the way they want to be. Oh hell no.

Blame her situation

‘Situational blame’ is an intriguing approach to victim blaming which again, completely erases the offender from the offence. In this case, we are encouraged to blame the situation the woman or girl was in when the offence was committed.

I find this type of blame most common in child sexual exploitation practice (CSE) in the UK.

Situational blame may sound like people blaming parties, clubs, hotels, taxis, tubes, train stations, parks, gigs, schools, council estates or blocks of flats for sexual violence committed against women and girls instead of blaming the offender.

It often sounds like this:

‘Well you know, if she’s going to keep going to hang around on that park, she’s putting herself in a situation where she might get raped’.

Or it sounds like this:

‘That estate is like that though. It’s dangerous. If you live on that estate then you know what will happen.’

Or it can sound like this:

‘She lives in poverty and hasn’t got much else going for her so it’s obvious this was going to happen to her.’

In this type of blame, we are encouraged to blame the situation, the inanimate environment, the park or the stairwell.

What this does of course, is it ignores the offender as the cause of the offence.

You cannot be sexually assaulted by a park. You cannot be raped by a hotel.

You cannot be exploited by train station.

You cannot be sexually abused by poverty.

These are human actions. There has to be an offender for these offences to take place.

For example, last week a social worker told me that it was a teenage girl’s fault for being sexually exploited because she keeps hanging around the MacDonalds drive thru at 10pm at night and men keep picking her up in their cars and asking her to get in to give them head or have sex with them.

She claimed that MacDonalds was the dangerous situation that she kept ‘putting herself at risk’.

I argued back.

I said to her, ‘If I drove past her at the drive thru, would I ask her to get in my car and give me head? No. If you drove past her at the drive thru to get a burger, would you wind the window down and tell her she’s sexy? No. That night, it’s likely hundreds of adults drove right past her and her friends and didn’t even notice they were there. Families. Single women. Single men. Couples. Parents. MacDonalds therefore is not actually the dangerous situation you’re making it out to be. The danger comes from the ONE sex offender who winds the window down and asks her to get in his car. If he never went to MacDonalds that night, nothing would have happened to her. He chose to attack that child. He could have just driven past and ate his food. But he didn’t. The situation isn’t to blame, the offender is. Every time you blame MacDonalds drive thru for this offence, you excuse the perpetrator.’

See how that works?

Blame her appearance

This one is how we know misogyny is still alive and kicking. No one cares what men and boys were wearing when they were raped or abused. Similarly, no one cares what the man was wearing when he raped someone. No one cares what the victims of literally any other crime were wearing.

Except women and girls who are subjected to sexual violence. Then, clothing becomes central for some reason.

Was she wearing a low cut top? Was she wearing a short skirt? A push up bra? Lace knickers? A bikini? A backless dress? High heeled shoes? Knee high boots?

Apparently this is all relevant in blaming women and girls for sexual violence committed against them.

This is most curious, because the majority of all sexual offences against women and girls are committed by partners, ex-partners and family members and are usually committed within a residence. Therefore, the chances are that most women and girls are wearing pyjamas, comfortable everyday clothing, school uniforms, work uniforms, jeans, leggings, hoodies, slippers, trainers, sports bras, trackies and tee shirts when they are raped, abused or assaulted.

However, this doesn’t stop professionals from using clothing against women and girls. Even children are being blamed for their clothing choices.

Last year I worked with a local authority where their social workers felt strongly that girls wearing cropped tee shirts and showing their midriff were bringing CSE upon themselves and that took some serious work to challenge those beliefs.

In 2014, I was given access to case records of children being sexually abused and one of them said of a 12 year old girl who was being raped, ‘She prances around the house wearing knee high boots trying to seduce her Dad’.

In 2016, I read a missing person notification about a 13 year old girl who was being trafficked around the country; written by a police officer.

It stated that she must want it, because she had packed a small bag containing a change of underwear, a clean bra and make up.

Further, in many CSE risk toolkits used in local authorities and police forces all over the UK, there are items that ask what the child is wearing which include:

  • Sexualised dress
  • Wearing make up
  • Revealing clothing

This means that the common rape myth of ‘only girls and women who wear short skirts get raped’ has actually filtered right down into social work and police assessments, not only of women but of children who can’t even consent to sex.

Does it really matter if the 12 year old is wearing a crop top and shorts at the time she is raped? Really? Isn’t she a victim of serious crime anyway?

And to that end, even adult women should not be scrutinised on their clothing at the time of rape, abuse or assault. Why would her wearing a backless dress change the offence that was committed against her?

Unless of course we are claiming that the bodies and clothing of the woman are causing the offences. Which we are. Which is why this is still happening.

Interestingly, the appearance of the woman or girl can also influence a police investigation and a trial. In my PhD thesis, I wrote about research that has shown that body type and body shape of women and girls can change the outcome of sexual violence trials. For example, if the woman or girl is perceived to be overweight or unattractive, they are more likely for their case to be dropped or to be found not guilty in a court of law. Researchers argue that this is because there is still an assumption that ‘fat’ or ‘unattractive’ women and girls don’t get raped or abused because the offence is about sexual desire.

However, that doesn’t mean that other women and girls are going to get an easier time in court. Oh no.

Research has also found that if the woman or girl is slim and perceived to be very attractive, she also has a high chance of her case being dropped or found not guilty in court. This is because there is still a perception that the attractive woman or girl must have either wanted it, or led the offender on with their appearance, because he can’t help it.

Blaming the appearance of women and girls for sexual violence committed against them is related to sexual objectification.

Objectification and sexualisation of women and girls as constant walking sex objects for men and boys to use and abuse will encourage victim blaming. When we look at girls and women like this in our society, we will still see them as sex objects even when they are raped and abused. In fact, we are not likely to see certain sexual offences as ‘real rapes’ or ‘real assaults’ at all because we will be socialised to believe that women enjoy them or want them to happen. Therefore, our thinking about sexual violence becomes about the sexuality and sexual allure of the woman or girl – rather than thinking about sexual violence as a deliberate act of violence and oppression.

I’ve written about research that has shown that when we objectify women and girls, we also dementalise them. This means that we assume they have no thoughts and feelings of their own, as they are an object to crave and use, not an equal human being. Therefore, objectification will also result in an assumption that sexual violence against women isn’t that serious and women are exaggerating or lying about it.

This is not an exhaustive list of ways we blame women and girls

Far from it. This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I have found in my research and work.

If I was to continue writing this blog, I would include the way we blame women and girls for their reactions to sexual violence, their culture, their upbringing, their age, their ethnicity, their social class, their assertiveness, their mental health, their relationship status, their knowledge of sexual violence and hundreds of other issues which will be covered in my new book, ‘Why Women Are Blamed For Everything’ by Dr Jessica Eaton.

This will be available on pre-order at the end of 2019 and will be published in 2020.

The fact is, we have cooked up thousands of reasons as to why women and girls are the ones to blame for sexual violence. The evidence is solid, and we have been finding these reasons and factors for over 50 years in the academic literature. However, even books such as ‘Rape in Antiquity’ can teach us much about the way women and girls were subjected to sexual violence and then blamed for it centuries and millennia ago.

Victim blaming is nothing new. But it does need to end.

We will never tackle male violence across the world whilst we use women and girls as the scapegoats and excuses for millions of rapists, child abusers, paedophiles and sex offenders.

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Psychologist

Founder of VictimFocus

Published: 23 June 2019

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Website: http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Jessicaforenpsych

Why education will never stop rape

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Content warning: discussion of rape and abuse 
Written by Jessica Eaton – VictimFocus

05/07/2018

This blog is long overdue. I have been talking about this issue for about 18 months now but I am learning that the myth that rape and sexual violence comes from a lack of education is a strongly embedded myth in the UK (and maybe abroad but I only have limited experience working in other countries).

It doesn’t matter who I say it to, professionals recoil with horror when I tell them the following things:

  • Educating children about sexual abuse will not reduce sexual abuse
  • Educating women about rape will not stop them from being raped
  • Educating men about male rape will not reduce male rape
  • Awareness raising campaigns about sexual violence will not end sexual violence
  • Education about being sexually exploited will not change sexual exploitation
  • Educating children about being groomed online will not reduce grooming online

I said these things recently in a couple of national workshops, at a conference and in some meetings and the response is generally the same: shock, and then anger.

So I am writing this blog to set out the problems with assuming that education can solve rape, sexual violence and abuse – from both angles, by educating victims and by educating perpetrators. Education is clearly not the answer and yet we are ignoring all of the warning signs.

Before we go any further, I am NOT saying that education is useless or irrelevant. I write and teach sex and relationships ed myself. I even teach children about porn and sexual abuse. So, I am pro sex-ed from the earliest possible age.

However. And this is a HUGE HOWEVER.

I do not do my job, believing that educating those children, women or men – will protect them from a calculated and motivated sex offender. And herein lies the crux of this blog.

Here are my 5 main arguments of why education will never stop rape:

1. Education is not preventative or protective for victims

Education is a wonderful thing. We can teach children and adults about relationships, respect, sex, their bodies, their development, their identities and even teach them about their perspectives on the world.

We can teach them about abuse. We can teach them about rape. We can teach them all about domestic abuse and familial abuse. These are all great steps forward for a society that still regards abuse and sex as taboo.

However, we have taken a bit of a leap of logic over the past few years in a desperate bid to appear like we are doing something positive or to look like we have all the answers. We started to sell packages of education to each other and to victims of abuse and rape (child and adult) that assume that the REASON the child or adult was raped or abused, was because they couldn’t identify abusive behaviours and grooming tactics. Some companies and individuals got fat off the profit – some still are. They sell programmes to schools and tell the school that their work is ‘preventative education’ – to ‘reduce the risk of being abused’.

This is absolute bollocks. There is no way this can be proved – but also, this ignores the fact that it doesn’t matter how educated you are, if a sex offender can overpower you physically or psychologically, your education disappears. That’s why police officers and rape specialists can still experience rape. That’s why qualified social workers working in social care can still be in abusive relationships at home.

I once worked on a case of a very successful female solicitor who specialised in domestic and sexual violence. Her husband was an extremely dangerous abuser. He would lock her in the house and cut all the phone lines, smash her phone up, cut the electricity off, abuse her and keep her there for days with no contact with the outside world. Then he would blackmail her with her job and telling everyone about her, knowing it would ruin her career. At one point, he locked her in a place outside with nothing but a tent.

This woman was at the pinnacle of her career. She knew everything there was to know about domestic and sexual violence. But education and knowledge did not save her from such a dangerous and controlling abuser.

Think about it. Education is educative. It is not preventative or protective. Education will not protect any of us from a sex offender or an abuser in our inner circle.

 

2. Education has not solved a social problem or oppression yet

This is really important but this is also the point that annoys me the most. We often claim to be evidence based in our work – which would mean drawing on evidence from the past and from parallel issues. However, we don’t seem to do this much.

Education has attempted, and failed to solve lots of serious social issues and crime types. Education has not reduced the statistics of domestic abuse at all. Education and awareness campaigns has not reduced the statistics of women being murdered every week by their partners – in fact, in our age of wokeness and information, its gone up! Education has not reduced racism or war or genocide or terrorism or misogyny or… anything really.

Education has certainly raised our awareness of the issues. Maybe we can all converse about it. Maybe we know what FGM stands for and we know what radicalisation is now. But has that awareness translated into safety for humans around the world? Did we all have epiphanies with our new knowledge and stop harming each other? Nope.

This is arguably because these issues are not from lack of education. You don’t call an entire generation ‘cockroaches’ or ‘bad hombres’ because you need a bit more education. You don’t hold a child down whilst you abuse them because you missed the awareness raising in Coronation Street the other week. You don’t drive a truck into a group of Muslims because you didn’t have enough information about Islam.

Come on. Education is vital, but we have to stop pretending that it is the magic bullet.

 

3. Educating victims and then expecting them to protect themselves is victim blaming

This was the first time I think I ever blew my stack at work. It was when I realised that we were sitting children down who had been repeatedly raped and abused by adults and getting them to learn about consent and healthy relationships as a way to ‘reduce their CSE risk’. I couldn’t think of anything more damaging or patronising. It partially led to my #nomoreCSEfilms campaign – in which films of rape and abuse were being shown to children as an educative or preventative method.

In exactly the same way as the domestic abuse field had to learn that leaving a woman and her children to be raped and battered by an abusive partner whilst we taught her about keeping herself safe and what a healthy relationship looks like was completely inappropriate and a form of victim blaming; here we are in sexual violence.

We are investing left right and centre in sessions for school children about how to reduce their risk of being raped or abused. We are putting on workshops for women going to university. We are talking to girls before they transition up to secondary school. We are making police force campaign posters with images of unconscious women with their knickers around their ankles that say ‘Don’t drink too much tonight’.

We are heavily psychologically invested in telling victims what not to do, so they stay safe from a rapist or abuser. So heavily invested in fact that when activists or victims stand up and say ‘Why don’t you tell the rapist not to rape people instead?’ its either met with shock or it is laughed at as a stupid approach to sexual violence, because victims have a ‘responsibility to keep themselves safe’.

Someone said to me last week:

“If we know that a certain sex offender operates in a local venue, and we educate all the kids that the sex offender is there, they can protect themselves from that sex offender because they were educated. We can educate kids about where sex offenders hang around and how they will target them – so education does work.”

And I said:

“But 97% of rapes and sexual abuse occur at home with their significant others or family members as the perpetrators, so what are you gonna say to them? Don’t go home? Leave? How do you educate a child or adult to ‘keep themselves safe’ if their rapists lives at home with them? Can you educate them out of that situation?”

The reality is, education as a method has good intentions and we shouldn’t abandon it as a universal right to information and education – but telling children and adults who are already being harmed, raped, assaulted or abused that they can protect themselves once they have the education is a horrible form of victim blaming. It positions the victims as uneducated or unaware, and therefore reframes them as culpable because they ‘didn’t know enough’.

4. Educating sex offenders hasn’t worked out too well for us so far

The opposite argument to all of this, is that we should educate offenders – and potential offenders about sexual violence and consent so they don’t commit a crime (or any more crimes). Most people I teach come to this conclusion before really thinking it through. They assume that if teaching victims is negative, the positive outcomes must come from placing responsibility on the sex offender and educating them to stop raping and abusing children and adults.

I wish it was that simple. So did many others. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that thousands of people working in forensic psychology, prisons, CJS, criminology and psychiatry all thought the same. Much research and development was done over the past thirty years to look at education of sex offenders to look at things like sexual schemas, rape supportive beliefs, cognitive distortions and so on.

In 2016, the USA released a report that showed that the Sex Offender Treatment Programme actually increased sex offending in the men who went through it – and less than a year later, the UK released the same findings. The SOTP was dropped from every prison and community programme and we were back to square one. Why would an educative programme fail like this? Why would men who had committed sexual offences and then spent weeks in a SOTP become more dangerous?

The truth is, the SOTP was designed to be an individually tailored, one-to-one programme based on the offence and characteristics of the offender. When it was expanded and watered down by government and prisons, it turned into a classroom based group programme where lots of sex offenders spent time together talking about their offences, feelings, beliefs, thoughts and sexual schemas. Instead of education, we caused collusion. We caused normalisation and minimisation. The same has more recently been found in domestic abuse perpetrator programmes that have group elements.

Education is not the answer here, either.

Sex offenders who are motivated to harm others, will do so. They didn’t end up in prison for raping six children because they needed some education and some workshops. They did it because they wanted to and because they created an opportunity to do so. And so it becomes glaringly obvious that we have missed something vital in our calculations…

 

5. Sexual violence is so much more than a misunderstanding or ignorance of consent

Someone said to me last month:

“Most men in university who rape young women do it because they don’t understand consent and misunderstand when women say ‘no’.”

Yah. Sorry but I call major BS on that. Sexual violence is not a lack of education. It is not a low awareness. It is not misunderstanding or ignorance. It’s not that these people don’t know what ‘no’ means.

Sexual violence is a global social phenomena wrapped up in misogyny, hypersexualisation of society and children, economic factors, power struggles, porn culture, rape myths, weak laws and… individual motivations.

The uncomfortable truth is that our education cannot undo the damage our society has already done – and we cannot use education of individuals to change the way our entire society of millions of people have absorbed messages from porn, advertisement, patriarchy and the media.

The true way to combat sexual violence is to begin to reflect on the world we have created for ourselves. No point in blaming society when we ARE the society. It is us who allow porn to feature children, violence, rapes, torture, strangling, suffocation and abuse. It is us who allow our children to become sexualised by the media, by marketing and by popular culture. It is us who allow entire generations to be oppressed and harmed by a second powerful group. It is us who are so desperate for power over each other that the heady mix of sex and power gets mixed together to form an influential rape culture that is celebrated and accepted everywhere.

Education alone cannot solve these issues. We need drastic, human, individual and collective change. Educating children in a school hall or adults in a small group therapy about abuse and expecting them to be able to keep themselves safe – and then sending them off into that society we have created for them is WHY none of this is working. Educating sex offenders in prisons and community groups and then sending them off into that very same rape-supportive society we created for them is WHY none of this is working.

A message to professionals and commissioners:

Lots of professionals and commissioners are terrified when faced with the prospect that what they have been told to do won’t actually protect children or adults from sexual violence and to them, I say this:

  • Sometimes, you cannot fix a huge global issue like this – but you CAN fix the way you or your organisation responds to it. You might not be able to end sexual violence or abuse or CSE – but you can vastly improve the way you interact with victims and the services you deliver
  • Telling someone that the reason they were abused, raped or assaulted was because they didn’t know any better and that knowing more about abuse or rape could have stopped it from happening to them is abhorrent practice – make sure no one in your team says or believes that
  • Do we make daft promises like ‘We aim to end murder by 2020’ – no, we don’t. We know that won’t happen. But we are making massive promises like that in abuse and sexual violence. ‘We aim to end child abuse!’ ‘We aim to end CSE’. Good for you, but, you won’t. So stop chasing the impossible dream and focus on what you CAN do. Stop making promises we can’t keep. Stop selling products that don’t do what you say they do.
  • Stop commissioning education of victims as preventative or protective method. It’s patronising and it’s unethical. Focus on asking them what they need from you or your organisation. Support? Advice? Practical help? Someone to offload on? Someone to help them with a criminal trial?
  • Do not use education as an excuse to blame victims of sexual violence and rape. Education would likely not have made any difference to what a sex offender chose to do to them. The victim is not the problem here, the offender is.
  • When you are thinking about the problem of sexual violence, think bigger. Look around you. See adverts, music videos, porn, upskirting, forced marriage, laws, policies, campaigning, imagery, film plots… you live in a sexually violent society that celebrates forced sexual activity and the objectification of women and children
  • Remember that you can do a brilliant job of educating children, adults, professionals and even offenders – but to do so you must accept that you can’t predict or control sexual violence perpetrated by offenders you don’t even know.
  • Your education might have a positive impact on the people you are teaching, but please do not assume or expect it to protect them from rape or abuse – and don’t blame them if they are attacked after you educated them.
  • Outcomes measurement is important here – do not mix up your values and beliefs with true outcome measurement. If you educate 500 teenagers – the outcome is that you provided education to 500 teenagers. The outcome is not ‘we reduced the risk of 500 teenagers’ or ‘500 teenagers are now educated in sexual violence’ or ‘500 teenagers now better understand how to protect themselves’. You provided information, that is what you did.

 

Jessica Eaton is the founder of VictimFocus and the VictimFocus Charter to reduce victim blaming in professional workplaces and organisations. http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

My Post (1)

 

Social Immobility

Social Immobility

Dr Jessica Eaton

Before you even see me, you hear the way I drop my Ts

I mispronounce the words from books

And I laugh at the formalities

These halls don’t want me and I know I’m out of place

You explain the etiquette rules

And I try to hide the confusion on my face

Kanye said, ‘We wasn’t supposed to make it past 25’ I laugh and cry at those song lyrics

Cos I guess most of us are still alive

Josh died from drugs at 25 and Johnny was shot dead at 19 Mickey was inside by 21 and I was pregnant by 16

Kat had a baby from rape at 12 and Emily was stealing coke

We sold illegal CDs at school cos we were all so fuckin broke

Milli and Danny were both ran over by cars

And all the girls were touched up to allow them entry to the bars

Jess was stabbed at 17 and Weedy went missing when we were kids

Teachers told us we would never do anything, and some of us never did

The military recruited my mates at 16 and they went off to war

Scrawny lads risking their lives for £14K

Cos they know that’s a jackpot when you’re poor

We were all on drugs and drink by 13 and we dreamed of escape

We said we would grow up to be strippers and ballers

Whilst we were oppressed, abused and raped

But Laura ended up a teacher and Louise is now a lawyer

And Kim speaks three languages and works for a famous employer

Liam went from bottom set maths to a leader in education

Aimee is a midwife and Dan designs train stations

Alex is an artist and Jenny is a nurse

Becky escaped the YMCA, went to uni and got a first

Steph is a surgeon and I got my PhD

We are all the things they told us we could never be

And yet here I am in these halls, being told that I don’t belong

Told to tone it down, or change it up

My accent, my clothes and my upbringing is all wrong

I chat about my estate and the gulley and the weed

You don’t want someone like me teaching here And I was never supposed to get the PhD

I won’t hide where I’m from and I won’t forget where I was grown

That council estate where we all lived and died

Is carved on us like etchings into stone

I will stay where I am not welcome, and talk it to the youth

They cannot be what they cannot see

And they need to know the unashamed truth

#workingclassacademics

#councilestateacademics

Tweet: @Jessicae13Eaton

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Website: http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

3 reasons we need to talk about token resistance

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Director of VictimFocus

Senior Lecturer in Criminal Psychology

1 November 2019

What is token resistance?

‘Token resistance’ is the act of pretending to resist sexual advances when really, you want to say yes.

The term ‘token resistance’ has been used to describe the way women and girls supposedly ‘play hard to get’, ‘act coy’, or ‘play it cool’ when men or boys show them attention or proposition them.

Make no mistake, there is societal pressure on women and girls to do these things to appear chaste, innocent or hard to obtain. They are often advised to ‘play hard to get’ when men or boys they like ask them on a date, ask for their number or come on to them.

Key studies in psychology from the 1990s onwards have shown that both men and women are likely to consider a woman’s rejection of sexual advances to be ‘token resistance’. Studies have found that when women reject sexual advances with anything other than crying, shouting and fighting back – it can be seen as token resistance from a woman who ‘wants it really’.

This blog will outline three key reasons why we need to talk about token resistance and the impact this concept is having on the prevalence and perception of male violence against women and girls.

1. It is fucking everywhere

Token resistance really is everywhere. It features in soaps, music videos, films, stories, fairytales and music lyrics.

When I give speeches, I often joke that every single romantic comedy you have ever watched is based on the concept of token resistance.

(Warning: I’m about to ruin romcoms for you for the rest of your days)

However, whilst people always laugh along when I talk about the tragic storylines of pathetic men who find a single, outgoing woman and then harass her for 90 minutes until she ‘realises’ she wants to marry or fuck him – this really is no laughing matter.

Consider how many romantic comedies you have watched which begin with a single woman who is working in a new job, just moved to a new apartment, just broke up with a shitty ex. Starts okay, right?

But the storyline changes quickly with the introduction of a man who would like to date/marry/fuck the woman.

Annnnnnd literally the rest of the film plot is the story of a man who:

  • Turns up at the woman’s workplace
  • Calls her repeatedly
  • Leaves her hundreds of voicemails
  • Follows her to a park
  • Turns up at an airport to stop her from going on a once-in-a-lifetime journey
  • Writes letters to the woman
  • Sends her flowers
  • Engages in huge public romantic gestures until the woman gives in
  • Flies to the woman’s parents’ holiday home in France to ‘surprise her’
  • Learns a skill or joins a class/club to follow the woman
  • Stalks her location and turns up there
  • Contacts all of her friends and family to tell them how much he loves/wants her
  • Stops her wedding to a man she loves
  • Manipulates or lies to the woman
  • Pretends to be someone he is not to trick the woman

The list is fucking endless. Those of you who watch a lot of so-called ‘chick-flicks’ will be able to write a list as long as your arm.

I’m sorry to break it to you: but those behaviours are not romantic at all, they are harassment.

The real kicker is that once the ‘token resistance’ of the woman has been overcome (read: her ‘no’ is ignored and then she is ground down until she literally can’t take anymore) – the plot of the film usually shows the woman ‘realising’ that she does want the man and then finally saying ‘yes’.

Yes to the sex, yes to the marriage, yes to moving in with him, yes to being in a relationship with him or yes to abandoning her career and family to move across the world with him for some reason. YAY.

Token resistance features heavily in films. But it also features in music videos and music lyrics.

I mean, how can we forget the rapey lyrics of Robin Thicke when he said:

Tried to domesticate you/ But you’re an animal/ Baby, it’s in your nature/ Just let me liberate you/ I know you want it/ I know you want it/ I know you want it/ But you’re a good girl

Music video upon music video of men wooing, following, stalking and harassing women in which the woman is seen to be enjoying the attention.

Even fairytales contain copious amounts of token resistance in which traditional female characters reject or ignore the advances of male characters who then woo them or win them over until they marry at the end. Most first generation Disney films are about the conquest of a woman.

Token resistance is embedded into so much media and into so many accepted narratives about sex, love and dating that it is likely to be having an immense impact on society.

Arguably, it is.

2. It is teaching men and boys that no means yes, or maybe, or try again later

Humans learn much of their knowledge about love, sex, dating, romance and respect from other humans. Whether that’s their role models, parents and friends or from music, film, soaps and media depictions of relationships.

Token resistance is not just a concept taught to women and girls who are taught to be scared of being seen as ‘easy’. This concept is taught simultaneously to men and boys who wonder how to capture the attention of that woman or girl they fancy.

Whilst a girl may watch a scene of token resistance and think, ‘So that’s how I’m supposed to act when a boy asks me out!’

A boy may watch the same scene and think ‘So that’s what I’m supposed to do when a girl says she isn’t interested!’

Instead of teaching boys and men that no really does mean no, the constant depictions of token resistance teach boys and men that women and girls don’t really mean no.

In token resistance, no means:

  • Maybe
  • Yes
  • Later
  • Try again
  • Try harder
  • Say something else
  • Keep talking to me
  • I like you but I’m playing hard to get
  • I want it really

Feminists often discuss how we will ever change the rape culture which exists in our world. How do we reduce or eliminate sexual violence against women and girls? How do we get abusive men and boys to understand that no means no?

The reality is, with relentless messages that no means yes and that they should simply keep trying and do something else to ‘win’ that woman or girl – we will never tackle rape culture. Men and boys are being socialised to believe that no means ‘yes but I don’t want to appear easy’.

3. It is contributing to the victim blaming of women and girls

Token resistance is embedded into our society. This means that millions of men and women have been taught or indirectly socialised that women and girls saying ‘no’ sometimes means ‘yes’.

We have been exploring the psychology of victim blaming and rape supportive attitudes for several decades now. Part of this research has been to explore how much the general public believe in rape myths such as:

‘Women say no to sex even when they want it’

‘When women say no to sexual advances, they are just playing hard to get’

‘Rape happens when a woman doesn’t say ‘no’ clearly enough’

These common myths directly relate to token resistance – and this feeds into the increasing levels of victim blaming of women and girls subjected to sexual violence.

For example, in the recent USA literature there is much discussion about a concept known as ‘sexual assault refusal assertiveness’.

Wait for it. Yep. It’s as bad as you think.

Researchers have been arguing that the reason women and girls are raped and abused is because they have ‘low sexual assault refusal assertiveness’ and therefore require training and education which helps them to ‘refuse’ an assault better.

In my own research, I found the opposite. My interviews with women who had been raped demonstrated that they had said ‘no’ to men several times in many different ways. None of their refusals protected them from the offender. Some women told me they had told the offender ‘no’ several times, then pushed their hands away, then moved away from them and then tried to convince the offender not to hurt them and it still hadn’t worked. This was true for women in stranger rapes and in domestic violence.

Clearly, their ‘sexual assault refusal assertiveness’ skills were fine. The problem here was the offender. The offender did not care that they said no. Suggesting that women and girls who are raped or abused had ‘low sexual assault refusal skills’ is most definitely a form of victim blaming which comes from the concept of token resistance.

Another example of the way token resistance feeds into victim blaming of women and girls is in the courtroom.

I often say that in the courtroom, whilst there are technical rules on what is and is not allowed to be used against the victim or against the offender – the majority of the rules protect the latter. For instance, you cannot use the ‘bad character history’ of the offender even if he has raped 5 women before, because it can ‘bias the jury’. In order to use this against him in a trial, you must have significant reason and prior permission.

However, the same process does not occur for victims, in which literally anything to attack their character or their history is admissible. What she was wearing, how many people she’s slept with, what kind of knickers she was wearing, whether she watches porn, whether she was abused in childhood and even whether she’s ever told her GP that she has mental health needs – these factors can all be used against the victim without prior applications or protection from the court.

It is therefore no surprise that one of the best defences in rape and sexual assault trials is to admit the sexual act occurred, but to argue that she ‘wanted it’ or ‘lead him on’ or ‘asked for it’.

Many years ago, it would have been a valid defence to argue that the offence never occurred and the woman is making it up. However, with the development of evidence collection and investigation techniques, this defence is no longer wise. Instead, it makes sense to admit or partially admit the sexual contact, but the claim that the woman consented or didn’t say ‘no’.

Concepts of token resistance rear their head in the courtroom on a regular basis. Women are accused of wanting the sex, asking for it, leading the man on, not saying no clearly enough, giving mixed signals, flirting with the man or even saying no when she really meant ‘yes’.

What can we do to combat token resistance?

As such a heavily employed belief in our society, it will be hard to combat. However, I do think there are some simple and practical things we can do to create change as soon as possible:

1. Talk about it openly and with as many people as possible. Most people don’t even know this exists, but once you point it out to them, they can see it everywhere.

2. Stop teaching oversimplified lessons on consent. Yes, I know it’s nice to believe that all we have to do is teach kids that ‘no means no’ and they will never grow into rapists and abusers. But consent is so much more complicated and contextual than what we are teaching. Why aren’t we teaching children about token resistance and how harmful this is?

3. We could start to challenge media representations of women who ‘want it really’ and instead show depictions of men and boys who do take ‘no’ for an answer and move the fuck on with their lives

4. Talk to girls and women about the social pressure to say ‘no’ when they are interested in men and boys – due to the shame attached to having sexual desires and sexual interests. In reality, no always means no. Men and boys should take no for a no. But it might be worth talking to women and girls about the way society teaches them that they are supposed to be ‘up for sex’ but also coy, protective and hard to get.

5. Talk to men and boys about sexual harassment and the way that movies, stories, soaps and music encourage them to harass and stalk women and girls even when they have said no. Get them to think critically about the amount of media and social norms expect them to keep pursuing women and girls who don’t want them, and how to deal with rejection respectfully.

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Director of VictimFocus

Senior Lecturer in Criminal Psychology

Tweet: @Jessicae13eaton

Fbook: http://www.facebook.com/jessicaforenpsych

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Web: http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

Shop: http://www.victimfocus-resources.com

Work with women and girls? It’s time to reject psychiatry

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

14th September 2019

Is it that time again? Time to shake the field up again?

Seems so.

Diagnosing women and girls with personality disorders after they have been abused, traumatised, trafficked, raped, neglected or harmed – is disgraceful practice. It needs to end. We all need to lobby, campaign, influence and convince decision makers and leaders to reject personality disorders as quack science.

Yet, when I say this to social workers, nurses, family support workers, police officers and teachers – they look at me like I’ve grown two heads.

It’s the look of, ‘But, diagnosing them helps them, doesn’t it? We can get them the help they need if we can just get them the diagnosis. Right?’

You see, many professionals I teach or work with, have never even considered the trauma-informed approach to working with women and girls who have been traumatised. They have been taught traditionally, medically and oppressively. They don’t subscribe to the medical model because they have chosen it as their ideological approach – they subscribe to it because they had no idea there was an alternative.

To their credit, many of them listen intently as I explain the origins of psychiatry, the theories and models, the lack of evidence and the abuse of psychiatric diagnoses that has oppressed classes and groups for decades. Similarly, many of them realise that their practice has been misinformed or misled. Some of them have a feeling of confirmation when they attend my training – a feeling that they had never truly subscribed to the medical model of working with women and girls subjected to abuse, but they didn’t know the language, the theories or the evidence to back themselves up. They didn’t know how to fight against it.

As the years have passed, I have incorporated more and more trauma-informed, anti-psychiatry approaches into my work, training, research and speeches. The impact has been incredible. So many professionals are now able to see that diagnosing girls and women with personality disorders and psychosis after they have been abused is not only harmful, but will impact them for the rest of their lives.

And as I have said, this is not completely down to me – because so many frontline practitioners already felt very uncomfortable with our practice, anyway.

However, because so much mental health and abuse training is medical-model-dominant, they have never been taught an alternative explanation.

We need to provide alternative narratives to practitioners and we need to do it now.

My top 4 messages for frontline practitioners working with women and girls

  1. Learn the oppressive history of psychiatry

The medical model of mental health is so dominant that it is communicated as ‘the’ explanation of emotional and mental life. Many of us have been taught that mental health issues are genetic, neuropsychological/physiological, developmental or a combination of all. We are taught that medications can ‘balance people out’ or ‘help them prepare for therapy’. We are taught that some people need to be locked up and sedated for their own safety.

As of September 2019, 7.3 million British adults (1 in 6 adults) are taking antidepressants and a further 3.9 million British adults are taking anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines, Z drugs and gabapentinoids.

But this monopoly on our mental life didn’t happen overnight. Long before we started talking about ‘mental health’, we punished, killed, sacrificed, outcast and abused people who did not conform to our social norms of behaviour or character. Many feminists and historians now suggest that the death of up to 100,000 women who were murdered for being ‘witches’ between 1450 and 1750 were often women who were non-conforming, disabled, ill, intelligent, opinionated or had been abused and traumatised.

In the European Middle Ages, mental health started to become mixed with religion. When someone was not conforming or was traumatised, it was proposed that they were possessed by demons or satan. Most ‘treatments’ for mental health included religious ceremonies, exorcisms, torture or death of the person. In some cases, it was argued that the only way a demon could be stopped, would be to kill the ‘host’ person.

As time passed, mental health was proposed to be caused by imbalances of fluids in the body and brain. Excess bodily fluids such as bile, blood or choler were said to cause ‘hysteria’, ‘melancholia’ or ‘mania’. However, the religious approach to mental health continued for a long time. Quakers set up many asylums and developed religious conversion treatments to ‘cure’ mental health issues.

Lieberman (2015) puts it well, ‘The mentally ill were considered social deviants or moral misfits suffering divine punishment for some inexcusable transgression.’

Asylums multiplied across America and Europe during the 1700s and 1800s, and professionals from all different backgrounds became interested in working with the ‘mentally ill’. Asylums became sites of experimental research, surgery, treatment, torture and death of patients – on which the ‘science’ of psychiatry was built.

Psychiatric experiments, tortures and surgeries included everything from holding patients under freezing cold water until they ‘calmed down’ (read: passed out or drowned) to deliberately ‘releasing humors’ from the patient by bleeding them, blistering them, starving them or purging them. In 1927, Wagner-Jauregg won the Nobel Prize for ‘proving’ you could treat schizophrenia by injecting malaria-infected blood into people with the diagnosis.

By 1941, insulin shock therapy was rife. In this ‘treatment’ for ‘mental illness’, people were injected with extremely high doses of insulin to cause seizures and coma, claiming that when they came around, they would be cured of madness.

By the 1940s, electroconvulsive shock therapy (ECT) and frontal lobotomies were common. Whilst frontal lobotomies stopped being used by the 1980s (although this did mean that over 100,000 people were subjected to them), ECT is still used today. In fact, it is making something of a comeback – and now being used to ‘treat’ autism in some clinics in North America.

I have personally worked with children who have been subjected to ECT in the Midlands in the UK, after they were abused and raped. One girl I worked with in 2013 was completely wiped out by ECT sessions on the NHS, so much so that she used to come to my sessions and fall fast asleep on the sofa for hours, and then wake up confused and upset. She was being given ECT sessions for ‘depression’ because she had been sexually abused.

By 1955, psychiatric medications were a fairly common way of ‘treating’ madness. But it wasn’t for many more decades that we stopped using language like ‘hysteria’, ‘madness’, ‘retardation’ and ‘mental illness’. However, despite this seemingly positive shift in language, we are still using some of the same treatments, misconceptions and oppressive practices we have used throughout history. We have moved towards the term ‘mental health’ which we now equate with ‘physical health’ – but we still use oppressive, dangerous and abusive practices to ‘treat’ the natural, normal distress of traumatised people.

The language got nicer but the practice, well, it didn’t really evolve.

Throughout these years, the groups most significantly affected were Black people. Psychiatry is notoriously white, elitist and racist. Always has been. Still is. Racism was embedded into theory, practice and research. Psychiatrists believed that Black people had smaller brains than white people, were ‘naturally’ better at hard labour and slavery, were less psychologically developed and were more aggressive, emotionally unstable and violent. These beliefs still have an enormous impact on mental health practice, in which people still believe that Black people are more likely to have ‘mental health issues’, more likely to have ‘schizophrenia’ and are more likely to be violent or commit crime.

My questions to practitioners are:

Did you know all of this? Did you know that our modern psychiatric system is built on all this suffering, death, murder, oppression, racism, abuse and torture?

Have you really researched the history of the treatments and medications your clients are being prescribed?

Do you really understand and believe the labels your clients are being given?

  1. Borderline personality disorder (or EUPD) is misogynistic twaddle

Along with the racism and classism in the psychiatric systems, there is the harrowing misogyny. In 2019, women and girls are 7 times more likely to be diagnosed with BPD or EUPD than boys and men showing the same symptoms. Again, the origins of this oppression hark back to hundreds of years ago.

From the 18th century, ‘hysteria’ was classed as a women’s disease, linked to femininity and the female form. ‘Hysteria is the woman’s natural state’ (Laycock, 1840) and ‘A hysterical girl is a vampire who sucks the blood of the healthy people around her’ (Mitchell, 1885: 266).

Much of the BPD or EUPD diagnosis is based on gender role stereotypes and sexism. Women and girls are ideally polite, nice, happy, content, quiet, have no opinions or ambitions and live to serve others. ‘Difficult women’ are frequently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (Ussher, 2013). The typical borderline patient has been described as a ‘demanding, angry, aggressive woman’, who is labelled as ‘mentally disordered’ (Jimenez, 1997: 162, 163) for behaving in a way that is perfectly acceptable in a man. Research found that men’s sadness and anger was considered to be related to situational factors – such as ‘having a bad day’ – whereas sad or angry women were judged as ‘too emotional’ (Barrett and Bliss-Moreau, 2009).

Indeed, I always make the point of telling frontline practitioners that the diagnostic criteria from DSM II for ‘hysteria’ and the diagnostic criteria from DSM V for ‘borderline personality disorder’ are very similar. Hysteria has been described as the ‘wastebasket of mental health’ and BPD has been described as a ‘catch-all diagnosis’.

They are essentially the same diagnosis. They are both targeting women and girls. They are both built around gender role stereotypes. They both oppress traumatised and abused women. Where hysteria (or ‘wandering womb syndrome’) was said to be caused by women’s hormones and biology – BPD is said to be a disordered personality. Both innate, internal causes which need to be medicated, treated and dealt with.

The ‘symptoms’ or ‘diagnostic criteria’ of BPD are:

  • Fear of abandonment
  • Unstable or short relationships
  • Unclear or shifting/changing self-image
  • Impulsive, self-destructive behaviours
  • Self-harm
  • Mood swings lasting minutes or hours
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Intense anger
  • Feeling suspicious, paranoid or disassociating

Most people would agree with me when I say the following three things:

  1. Anyone who is traumatised by abuse or exploitation would hit enough of these criteria to be diagnosed with a personality disorder
  2. Most people at pretty much any point of major stress, would exhibit these behaviours as a normal response to distress and change
  3. These feelings are completely justified in traumatised and abused people – and therefore do not constitute a disorder or abnormality. These responses are normal.

We need to think much more critically about how many of the girls and women on our caseloads are being told that their responses are abnormal and are caused by personality disorders, rather than caused by the people who abused, oppressed, scared and harmed them. Why would we want to collude with the victim blaming and encouragement of self-blame of women and girls like this?

My questions for frontline practitioners working with women and girls are:

Did you know that BPD and EUPD were so closely related to hysteria and women’s ‘madness’?

Have you not ever wondered why so many of the teenage girls and young women you work with are being diagnosed with personality disorders after traumatic life experiences?

Have you ever considered how a woman or girl is ever supposed to move forward if she has been told that her personality is disordered?

  1. Psychiatric diagnosis will stay on her file for a long time

Many of our systems in the UK require a psychiatric diagnosis in order to get a service for the woman or girl we are working with. This means that girls might be diagnosed with a mental health issue before they are allowed access to a mental health service or counselling service. It may mean that a woman has to be diagnosed with a disorder before she is allowed to be referred to a service that can help her.

Psychiatric diagnosis has become the gatekeeper of therapeutic services. So much so, that even counsellors and psychotherapists are colluding with the psychiatric diagnosis of their own clients. Many practitioners are told that the best thing you can do for the girl is to get her the diagnoses she ‘needs’ so they can access funding, support or services.

This is very short-sighted.

One of the things that many practitioners are not warned about, is how long those psychiatric diagnoses will impact the girl (soon to be an adult woman in a completely different set of services). When teenage girls who have been sexually exploited, raped or abused get two or three psychiatric diagnoses, are medicated with antidepressants or mood stabilisers and are then kept on those drugs or treatments for the rest of their childhoods – what do you think is going to happen to them when they reach adulthood?

They will be miraculously cured, have their diagnoses removed and live a healthy, normal life?

For most of those girls, their diagnoses will impact them for a long time. They may be refused access to services, refused access to education, housing, occupations, college courses and volunteering opportunities. They may be told they are ‘too unstable’ to be involved in projects or to start therapies. They may even be flagged as having personality disorders to their local police force, ambulance crews, fire service and GP surgeries.

Many professionals I teach are unaware that the psychiatric diagnosis can be passed to emergency services who then use that information out of context to label the woman or girl as ‘high risk’. This may mean that ambulance crews are told they have mental health issues before they attend an address. It may even mean that they call for the police to support them. Further, it may mean that a GP is less likely to believe their symptoms or illnesses because they have been flagged as having a personality disorder.

These issues are serious and long-term. I have personally worked with and met many women and girls affected by this discrimination.

My questions for frontline practitioners are:

Did you know this happened to women and girls?

Would you still encourage them to get psychiatric diagnoses, if you knew this would define them for the years to come?

Wouldn’t it be better to support the girl/woman with the trauma and to talk to them about what it means rather than encouraging them to get a psychiatric label?

  1. Do everything you can to reject deficit models of working

The final thing I always teach practitioners to do, is to reject the deficit model of working with women and girls – or any humans to be honest. The deficit model, like the psychiatric model, is dominant in all our practice with children and adults. We have been taught that the pasts of girls can predict the futures of women. Professionals are taught to assess the past of the girls to enable them to predict their future – whether they will be abused again, whether they are at risk of CSE, whether they will be criminally exploited, whether they will end up ill, in prison, self-harm or suicidal.

Whilst it might be tempting to have some sort of algorithm that could predict the outcomes of women and girls, I prefer to teach practitioners that women and girls can overcome and work through everything and anything (with the right humanistic support). I prefer to teach them to work from a strengths-based model; to see all women and girls as whole humans with an entire future ahead of them. A future that is not defined by what someone else put them through.

Instead of seeing women and girls as traumatised, doomed or broken – I want practitioners to acknowledge their trauma, work in a trauma-informed way, but to see them as capable, intelligent, powerful humans with potential, skills, coping mechanisms and many values to give to the world.

Moving away from a deficit model means not only rejecting the diagnosis of women and girls as mad, mentally ill or hysterical – but rejecting the way we try to quantify, categorise and predict the future of oppressed and abused women and girls.

My question to practitioners:

Wouldn’t you rather see women and girls as potential lawyers, activists, musicians, scientists, teachers and artists than believing the deficit model that these women and girls will amount to nothing?

Around half of our own workforce were abused in childhood (Eaton and Holmes, 2017). If the deficit model was correct, how did we all get into these jobs? Wouldn’t most of us be completely ineffective?

If we believe the deficit model to be correct, why do any of us bother doing our jobs at all? Aren’t we all in this line of work because we believe that every human has the capacity to process their trauma and go on to live a fulfilling life after abuse?

Reject psychiatry for the good of the women and girls you work with 

For these reasons and so many more that I teach and write about, we must reject the psychiatric diagnosis of women and girls subjected to traumas. In fact, reject all psychiatric diagnosis. The evidence base for psychiatry is shameful, elitist, oppressive and dodgy as fuck. How this profession has continued to tout itself as a real science is beyond me. How millions of people are prescribed more and more drugs for human distress whilst we leave them in abuse, poverty, oppression and trauma disgusts me.

We can change practice and theory. We can refuse to diagnose women and girls with psychiatric conditions. We can challenge the concepts of personality disorders used to oppress and label women and girls who have been abused. We can stop referring people subjected to abuse into medical model services that will tell her she is mad and needs treatment. We can stop supporting deficit models of working in which we use numbers, calculations or assessments to predict the outcomes of women and girls who have been abused.

We can commit to research, read about and learn about the way psychiatry oppresses populations of people. We can learn about new models of trauma and mental health support such as the PTMF (Power, Threat, Meaning Framework).

I will leave you with this thought:

As the outspoken, difficult woman of the 16th century was castigated as a witch, and the same woman in the 19th century a hysteric, in the late 20th and 21st century, she is described as ‘borderline’ or as having premenstrual dysphoria disorder. – Ussher, 2013

In conclusion: Same shit, different era.

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Author of ‘The Reflective Journal for Practitioners Working in Trauma and Abuse’ £17.99

Author of ‘Why Women are Blamed for Everything’ Pre-order £17.99

Co-Author of ‘The Little Orange Book: Learning about abuse from the voice of the child’ £14.99

https://victimfocus-resources.com/

 Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Council Estate Academics: Take Pride in Your Roots

Council Estate Academics: Take Pride in Your Roots

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

20 May 2019

I was desperate to escape my council estate. I used to dream of the day that I ran away and lived somewhere ‘nice’. I fantasised about becoming rich and successful so I could afford the things I needed to live. I hated that council estate so much by the time I was 18, that I continued to be ashamed and embarrassed of my roots until I was at least 26 years old.

Only a few years later, I see it as one of the most important and influential experiences I ever had. Living in poverty on a council estate in a deprived area made me who I am today. It made me.

Maybe you’re reading this as a fellow academic from a poor background. Maybe you’re reading this from your council house right now. Maybe you’ve never lived in poverty or on an estate and you’re reading this wondering how any of us could be ‘proud’ of our roots.

I want to share my 5 reasons for pride and the way my thinking has changed over the last few years; which has transformed my thinking from hating my roots to loving and respecting them.

I also want to explain how I went from telling myself that class doesn’t matter and doesn’t affect me, to truly understanding the way our perceived or real social class is affecting us every day – and affecting our research, career paths and experiences in academia.

1. Being brought up on a council estate provided me with experiences that I still draw upon to this day

Walking down to the shops and bumping into like eleventy people you know. Dragging your sofa out on to the front of your house in the summer and sitting in the street or front yard. Pointing your stereo out of the front room window and blasting music. Walking down the alleys you’re not supposed to walk down. Reading who is fucking who on the graffiti walls on the way to school. That shop that sold cigarettes to kids cos they had gone past caring. Sitting on the park til 1am talking about what you’re gonna do when you finally get rich or become a famous footballer. Turning up to school with the wrong uniform on and being ‘told’ to buy more like you had the money. The estate stray dog whom everyone loved and fed but no one knew who owned him. That bloke who always asked you for 20p for some extravagant lie about his dog being trapped on a train and he needs 20p to save his pretend dog, even though you knew it was for heroin. Sitting on the garages throwing stones at the ‘No Ball Games’ sign. Going round your friends’ houses and eating literally everything in the cupboards. Playing knock and run for hours. Hedge hopping. Getting chased by police for climbing on top of the school roof. White dog shit everywhere for some reason.

Yep. Growing up on a council estate sure gave us some life experiences. People say experience shapes us, and I totally believe that. We are an accumulation of everything we’ve ever seen, done, heard, felt, experienced and thought.

Growing up poor is hard. I’m not here to romanticise the shit we all went through. Like I said, I hated my estate. But I am definitely in a different place mentally, now.

See, as a psychologist, an academic – and as an activist in feminism, I need these past experiences every day.

I need to remember the feeling of hunger. I need to remember the danger. I need to remember the drugs, the drink and the stupid shit we did. I need to remember how normal it was for one of our mates to turn up covered in bruises. I need to remember how romantic we thought it was for that 21 year old bloke to pick that girl up from school every day. I need to remember how normal it was to sell a bit of weed to keep you going. I need to be able to remember the logic that caused me and my friends to carry knives and weapons in our socks or trackies.

I need to remember the good times too. I need to remember the hilarious laughter. I need to remember sledding down the snowy hills on a car bonnet some lad had nicked off his Dad’s car cos he heard it goes faster. I need to remember the long conversations about whether we believed in god or aliens or afterlife whilst sat on a slide and a swing at 1am. I need to remember the time when my mate got cut out of a baby swing by the fire service. I need to remember the long summer evenings spent around a £10 BBQ, next to a paddling pool full of beers to keep them cool. I need to remember the carnivals and the summer fayre. I need to remember the years we spent playing in the stream and in the woodlands. I need to remember the tarmac melting so you could shove your fingers in it and write your name with a rock.

We convince ourselves that we can leave our poor pasts behind and reinvent ourselves as these new, successful, educated, accomplished people.

But underneath it all, underneath your degree and your new accent and your code switching – aren’t you just the kid who used to stick transfer tattoos on your face and tell everyone your Dad was harder than my Dad?

The reality is, ignoring, denying or abandoning our roots will hurt our practice as academics and as professionals working in research, practice or policy. If we can’t even be true to who we are and where we are from, what fucking use are we to the people in need, who we are working with or conducting research with? If we are spending our days hiding our background or our dialect, why should communities believe us or trust us when we go to work with them or advocate for them?

And anyway, what example are we setting for kids and adults in poverty if we all pretend we ain’t from the same estates they are from? How will they ever see that we turned out alright if we hide who we are?

Use your experiences to connect with people. Remember who you are.

2. I understand and believe in the strength, potential and abilities of people in poverty and oppression

One of the things that hit me the hardest when working in practice and academia is the way communities and individuals in poverty or oppression are perceived as a bit stupid, unable to become anything and destined for a life of shit.

That’s not how I remember it. That’s not my truth and that’s not the truth of many council estate kids and adults I know.

There was a girl I grew up with whose family had never been able to own a car, so they had never left our town. Never been on holiday. Never even been 20 miles up the road. She’s a lawyer now.

There was a lad I grew up with who was constantly seen as thick. Bottom sets for everything, lived in poverty, never going anywhere. Works in education now and is easily one of the most successful people I know.

Another girl I grew up with on the estate lived a life similar to mine. Sexual exploitation. Drugs. Alcohol. Pregnant as a kid. She’s a very successful, bilingual professional working in technology now.

These aren’t one-offs. These aren’t tokenistic rags to riches stories. This shit happens all the time. Don’t get me wrong, some of the kids we grew up with are dead or in prison right now. We don’t all make it out alright.

But generally, these kids that we are sidelining and ‘predicting poor outcomes’ for, will go on to be happy, healthy, successful parents and/or employed people in thousands of different roles in our communities.

Second, it takes some serious ingenuity, intelligence and determination to grow up in poverty or whilst being oppressed for who you are. These people are some of the most equipped humans you could ever meet – they know how to navigate life and they know how to keep themselves fed, housed and alive by any means necessary.

By any means necessary.

Loads of us who grew up in situations like that, know what that sentence means.

People who are being oppressed or are living in poverty are just as capable and have just as much potential ahead of them as anyone else. The difference lies in the opportunities granted to them by society and authorities, not their abilities.

This realisation as I got older, has changed my practice, my thinking and my theories. It’s not that what I am saying is revolutionary or hadn’t been said before – but I had never thought it before. I was always told by teachers and others that us kids on the estate we ‘never going to be anything’ – and why wouldn’t we believe them?

If you make it out or up – or whatever you wanna call it, you have a responsibility to pull others up with you and to never allow people in your new circles to stereotype or derogate people in poverty or oppression.

3. The grass isn’t much greener on the other side

So many of us dreamed of the perfect life away from the estate. We fantasised about how nice everything would be once we had enough money to pay the bills. We imagined our nice new cars that worked. We dreamt of friends and family around our posh houses. We thought about all the amazing jobs we could do when we were big.

We told ourselves that anything HAS to be better than this shit hole.

Well, it’s not. Not really.

Money solves some of your problems, like being hungry or having debt collectors trying to force their way in to your house all the time. But it doesn’t necessarily give you the emotional and social things you wanted. The higher you climb, the more you’ll notice how cut throat it is. How individualistic everyone is. How materialistic everyone is. How people are comfortable fucking over the little guy to step up the ladder. How unfair the world is, even when you think you’ve ‘made it’ to the upper echelons. How much you will be discriminated against in the academic world once they figure out that you’re not one of them.

When you’re poor as fuck, you imagine that being wealthy or educated will solve all of your problems and you’ll be happy. That’s what society sells to us all. The dream of education, property and wealth. Until you’re so happy you look like the happy couples on the DFS advert on their new recliner sofa reading magazines or the people making amazing meals in the Magnet fitted kitchens you have only ever seen on TV (and promise yourself one day you will have a Magnet kitchen).

The grass is rarely greener on the other side, and as a person who grew up in poverty or being oppressed – you are not going to ‘fit right in’ in academia or in powerful institutions. This can often lead to people feeling alienated or outcast – as a number of people researching working class academics have learned.

Don’t try to be them. The grass is not greener. Be you.

4. To understand poverty, crime and oppression – you have to LIVE IT

I wouldn’t normally say something like this. I wouldn’t say ‘to understand rape and work in sexual violence, you have to be raped first’, for example.

However, there is something about poverty, crime and oppression that no one can ever understand until they have lived in those environments and situations. You cannot possibly imagine what it is like to have no food and no way of getting any food, if you have always been fed.

You have no idea what it feels like to be oppressed by a powerful group of people who see you as inferior and non-human, until you have been the oppressed people. You have no idea what it means to be forced to do things you don’t want to do because you owe someone money or someone is exploiting you.

You will never understand what it feels like to be told hundreds of times during childhood that you will never amount to anything and that your life is worthless and a drain on society until you have lived that shit every day until you even hate yourself and you are ashamed of where you live and who you are.

You will never understand the feeling of being told your benefits have been stopped or sanctioned and you are being left with no money for the next 3 months and no one gives a fuck if you live or die because you should just go out and get a job.

This means for us academics and professionals who HAVE lived through this stuff, we *should* have a much more sophisticated understanding of poverty, oppression and crime. I say ‘should’ because I know plenty of people from these backgrounds who seem to have wiped their own memory and deny their own upbringings and then use that denial and ignorance to judge people who are just like them.

But we should. We should have more understanding, more empathy and more awareness of societal pressures and contexts when we are working with people or conducting research. We should be using ecological models and contextual models. We should be using social models of theory. We should be looking at wider society, oppression and discrimination.

I’m not interested in rich, privileged white people telling poor, oppressed, disadvantaged, discriminated people how to ‘become more resilient’ or ‘get out of poverty’.

They have no place, no knowledge or experience to be advising any one of us.

5. Our backgrounds as an asset, not as a deficit

For lots of us in academia and other institutions, it can be seen as shameful or embarrassing to be ‘found out’ or ‘outed’ as poor, working class or from a disadvantaged background. This is not a reflection on us, this is a reflection on those academics, institutions and authorities.

I would argue that working class and council estate academic researchers have an incredible amount to bring to the table. Completely different life perspectives and experiences. Usually much more competent at communicating and connecting with communities and research participants. Often looking at the world from a different point of view, coloured by their own experiences of which they should not be ashamed of.

The interesting thing is, these people will be perceived as ‘less academic’ or ‘biased’ or ‘bringing their own stuff to work’.

But the same is not said about the professor who’s dad and grandad were professors, who lives in a £700k house, who brings fucking ‘cultured almonds’ to work in one of those expensive Tupperware things that they stewed overnight with porridge oats from Waitrose.

How come those academics are not seen as biased or bringing their own stuff to work? How come their life experiences aren’t seen as colouring their research or their conclusions?

We know why.

Because our backgrounds are seen as deficits that we had to overcome. And their backgrounds are seen as assets that supported their success and academic profile.

Well I disagree. I would much rather be working with a team of working class researchers who could connect with their participants and work in their best interests than be working with an elite team of well-cited researchers who ask me, ‘How do you actually work with and talk to people who have been exploited though? Don’t you get worried they might find you on Facebook? Don’t you worry they’ll find out that you have kids?’

All the stuff we have lived through, seen, heard, felt and experiences on our estates and in our lives – have led up to this work we do in academia. Never see your background as a deficit – learn to see it as an asset. A rare asset.

Final thoughts

Like millions of others, I was fed the myth that if I worked hard and went to university, I could escape my social class and I could move up the ladder in society. It’s bollocks, mate.

Yeah you can gain wealth, you can get your degree or your PhD. You can get that senior lecturer job. You can get that place on the course you always wanted.

But you can’t erase your memories. You can’t deny your roots. Most of us won’t be able to hide our accents or dialect for long (my tip: don’t bother, why should you?). You can’t pretend you have privilege you don’t have. You can’t imagine experiences you never had. You can’t pretend you know what that big word is. You can’t openly talk about how broke you are and how you can’t afford to attend the conference because you can’t afford the childcare.

I spent years running away from who I was, convincing myself I could reinvent myself so people would take me seriously. Only when the penny dropped at about 26 years old did I become the most powerful and authentic version of myself. No longer masking the accent or the colloquialisms. No longer hiding the tattoos. No longer trying to fit in. No longer hating my council estate.

Loving my council estate. Loving what it taught me and what it gave to me. Respecting the people I grew up with and their potentials and abilities instead of seeing us all as broken and poor. Loving my accent. Loving my dialect. Being patient with myself when I can’t pronounce a word I read in books. Fighting the corner of every person living in poverty and oppression – making sure they are not written off or stereotyped. Raising the issue of classism in our research, policies and practice.

Being damn proud of who I am, where I come from and what I can offer the world.

You can take the girl out of the council estate but you can’t take the council estate out of the girl.

Spaghetti hoops is a whole meal on it’s own. End of.

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Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Web: http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

New Zealand gave me the strength to keep fighting

New Zealand gave me the strength to keep fighting

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton FRSA

18 May 2019

I am writing this blog in the final hours of the 27 hour flight home from beautiful New Zealand. I’ve been constantly reflecting and rethinking whilst I have been working in Auckland and Hamilton but this is the first time I’ve had the (albeit forced) time to sit down and write about the impact New Zealand has had on me.

Don’t worry, this isn’t about to turn into a travel blog. New Zealand is by far the most beautiful part of the world I have ever seen and I’ve taken thousands of photos, but it was the people who taught me to keep fighting. That’s what I want to write about in this blog.

But first, I need to explain some things for context.

I flew out to New Zealand the morning after I successfully passed my PhD Psychology Viva. I was extremely ill during the viva, owing to me having an allergic reaction less than 24 hours before my viva was due to take place. In reflection, pulling that viva off with only a small amount of minors was nothing short of divine intervention.

I had been studying my PhD part time around my family, full time job and building my business. Despite it normally taking 6+years, I completed the PhD in 3 years and 3 months which was stupid, don’t ever do that. Ever.

This meant I was working all day and then studying and writing all night and every weekend for years. During the PhD I also wrote The Little Orange Book with my wonderful friend Dr Claire Paterson-Young, I created four new flashcard resources, wrote three national evidence scopes, published three peer reviewed reports and delivered training and speeches to thousands of people.

To put it bluntly, I was fucking knackered. Physically knackered. But my brain was still going 100mph and loving every second of it.

That was until I was faced with numerous people (many of which I had never heard of before) who went out of their way to bully, discriminate against and attack me for years. Now, let’s not pretend I’m some shy, retiring fucking wallflower who doesn’t speak her mind or challenge the status quo.

But let’s also not pretend that I deserve to be told I am unfit to be a psychologist because I have a baby from a rape from when I was just a kid. Let’s not pretend that I deserved to read 110 pages of sickening emails about me sent by and to well-respected psychologists in my field. (Still not received an apology by the way!) Let’s not pretend I deserved to be falsely distance-diagnosed as ‘mentally ill’ by jealous academics whom I’ve never met or spoken to. (Still not received an explanation for that by the way!) Let’s not pretend I deserved to be stalked and harassed online for years. Let’s not pretend I deserve rape threats. Let’s not pretend I deserve being doxxed and my kids put at risk by professionals who don’t like my work. Let’s not pretend I deserved being no-platformed, conferences being cancelled, speeches being pulled and projects being cut because of who I am or what I stand for.

There have been years of personal attacks – about where I grew up, what I look like, how I speak, how I work, what topics I focus on and why I centre women and girls. I eventually learned how to use very strong filters on twitter which mean you lot can still see the abuse I get but I can’t see it at all, this cut out about 100 abusive and misogynistic tweets to me a day. They still happen but I can’t see them. I deleted LinkedIn because of the amount of misogynistic abuse I was getting from men in my field and men who don’t know their arse from their elbow, mansplaining my own research to me every single damn day.

In addition to this constant shit slinging from people who would never dare talk to me like this in real life – I have also experienced backlash from some charities, local authorities, police forces and individuals working in child sexual exploitation (CSE).

Generally, this is because I come at CSE from a critical feminist, social psychological, trauma-informed and anti-victim blaming stance – I tend to see the abuse and exploitation of children in a very different way to others.

I teach it in a much more critical way. I don’t teach professionals that children put themselves at risk. I don’t subscribe to the notion that only the ‘vulnerable’ children will be abused. I don’t use ACEs. I don’t advocate for shock tactics with any traumatised people. I don’t support the pathologising or medicalising of people subjected to abuse, oppression, trauma or violence.

I teach strengths-based, feminist, trauma-informed, anti-blaming and anti-psychiatric approaches to working in the most human way possible with children and adults who have been harmed by others.

This means that some people commission me repeatedly and know that their staff or delegates will be challenged and will learn a great deal about a different way of working and thinking – and some people wouldn’t commission me if they had a gun to their temple.

I can live with that. It’s not my job to please everyone. I’m not here for popularity. My aim is to reduce victim blaming in abuse, violence and oppression and to raise the bar in research and practice. I genuinely am not here to make friends or to kiss up to people who think they are running the game. (Despite this, I have strong networks all over the UK of women and men who love me and I love them. Love to all my radicals, trouble-causers and critical thinkers.)

So why is any of this relevant to my trip to New Zealand?

Because, in all honesty, I went there to teach and I was totally fucking burned out. I told a few friends and my husband that I was so exhausted from battling with professionals over the most basic stuff (e.g. children are never to blame for sexual abuse, children who have recently been raped should not be diagnosed with personality disorders, you can’t quantify abuse and trauma and use it to predict outcomes of humans).

I was so exhausted in fact, that I was worried that I didn’t have any energy left to battle anymore. I knew I was flying out to New Zealand to deliver advanced workshops to groups of experienced professionals and I just didn’t want to spend those days banging my head on yet another wall about why it can’t possibly be the 12-year-old’s fault that she was trafficked and raped.

I didn’t know what I would be faced with in New Zealand – but I knew I didn’t have the energy to battle the way the UK forces me to do. The looks. The whispers. The comments. The boycotts. The complaints. The delegates arguing back that some children ‘do put themselves at risk’ and that ‘some girls do ask for it though’.

Someone needs to do a PhD to explain why it’s such a hard task to convey the message that kids who are being abused and exploited are never to blame and deserve our unconditional compassion and support.

Imagine my shock when I delivered the following four workshops in NZ, to APPLAUSE:

Day 1: Trauma, abuse and gender role stereotypes

Day 2: Learning about abuse from the voices of real children

Day 3: Psychology of victim blaming and self blame of women and girls subjected to sexual

violence

Day 4: Critical perspectives of child sexual exploitation and abuse practice and theory

Not only did all professionals engage well, interrogate the evidence and debate in depth – they totally understood that children were never to blame for abuse. They already knew they wanted trauma-informed practice. They had already noticed the damage the medical model is doing to our abuse practice and support services. They already knew that CSE films were disgusting and unethical. They already understood why having separate definitions of CSE and CSA was causing problems and misunderstandings in social work and policing practice.

Each workshop finished with interesting debates, swapping of details, further conversations, gratitude and thanks.

I haven’t been received like that for years (except in feminist and critical thinking orgs and communities).

In those four days in two different regions of New Zealand, not one professional attempted to argue that children ‘put themselves at risk’ or that ‘some women are just inherently more vulnerable to being raped’ or ‘we can predict the outcomes of children from what has already happened to them in the past’.

No one said anything like that.

And that’s when it dawned on me.

If New Zealand professionals are listening to me saying the same shit I’ve been saying in the UK for years – and they don’t think it’s controversial, and they don’t sit there glaring at me, and they already have a better person-centred, trauma-informed foundation than many others I teach – then maybe it’s not me with the issue?

Maybe we have a cultural issue in the UK around the way we perceive, talk about, practice and theorise in abuse, violence and exploitation.

Let me be clear here, I’m one of the thickest-skinned people I know. When people are being shitty with me or are trying to pull me down, there’s always a voice in the back of my head that says, ‘This is nothing.’

However, years and years of ‘Jess is too controversial’ and ‘Jess is really critical’ and ‘Jess is just too challenging’ – had started to wear me down. I had started to wonder if the UK just was not ready for my work yet.

But New Zealand taught me to keep fighting. New Zealand professionals taught me that progress is possible and the ethos I am desperate to see in our work and research – already exists in other fields in other parts of the world.

At the end of one of my workshops, the professionals stood up and sang Maori thank you song, ‘Te Aroha’.

I burst into tears. The beauty of a room of people deciding to show gratitude in such a beautiful and traditional way was emotional enough, but the reason I started crying was because that was the moment that I realised my fight wasn’t going unnoticed and that I had to keep going.

I spoke to the delegates about how I was received in the UK and they thought I was joking.

I told them about the professionals who are set in boycotting my work, discrediting me, making fake profiles to bully me online so they don’t get caught by employers or police, stalking me on social media, trying to get me to retaliate to them every single day. I told them about the way academics attacked me for my childhood because they had nothing else to throw at me.

I told them that the week before I flew out to New Zealand, a group of professionals had deliberately refused to attend all-expenses-paid-for training course because I was too ‘challenging’ about the way our CSE and CSA practice was placing blame and responsibility on children who were being abused and oppressed. I told them that a venue had pulled out of my event that week too, citing that they could ‘no longer support’ my work. The event was about reducing victim blaming. So go figure.

As I was telling them, I realised how ridiculous I sounded. After these amazing, nourishing, humanistic workshops here in New Zealand, how would anyone believe that these exact workshops cause so much drama when delivered in the UK?

‘We thought the UK was way ahead of us in this stuff. We thought New Zealand was behind,’ they said to me.

No. No, one thousand times. Nope.

This raised some important issues:

What is stopping professionals from practicing true trauma-unformed practice in the UK and why are we content with the buzzword bullshit we are being sold at the moment?

What is it that makes professionals and organisations in the UK so uncomfortable when I say that NO CHILDREN can ever be to blame for rape, abuse, trafficking and oppression?

When will we all put our money where our mouths are? We talk a good game about this ‘trauma-informed, child-centred, anti-pathologising’ practice, but let’s be honest, it’s rare.

And if we are so committed to radical change in our abuse and support services, why does radical and critical work freak so many people out and cause organisations to shut down or silence speakers?

The UK either wants progress in this area or it doesn’t.

We can’t keep talking the talk if we aren’t prepared to walk the walk. I am so sick of hearing professionals tell me that ‘it’s really hard to change and it’s really difficult hearing that our practice might be harming children or blaming them.’

Know what’s harder?

Being a child or adult who is raped, exploited and trafficked around the UK and then being told by police or social workers or psychologists that it’s your fault or you put yourself at risk, or that you have to work on your own vulnerabilities to stop sex offenders from abusing you.

This narrative of ‘oh it’s so hard for us professionals to consider a new perspective’ is insulting to the amount of kids living through abuse, trauma, violence and oppression whilst we sit around the table arguing about how ‘hard’ it is for us to consider new emerging evidence and better ways of working.

I will no longer accept that excuse for poor practice and inaction. I no longer care that it is ‘so hard’ for professionals and researchers to consider new ways of working that don’t blame victims of abuse and trauma.

So thank you, New Zealand. Thank you to all of the professionals I met and taught. Thank you to Selena Needham for commissioning me.

I land in 50 minutes and my feet are hitting UK soil with a renewed sense of strength and fight that people had been trying to beat out of me for years.

Radical change and progress is possible.

Let’s go get em. Are you in?

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Written by Dr Jessica Eaton FRSA

18th May 2019

Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

7 reasons why I don’t support police checking victims’ mobile phones in sexual violence cases

7 reasons why I don’t support police checking victims’ mobile phones in sexual violence cases

Jessica Eaton

29/04/19

I have a good mind to just write the words:

BECAUSE IT IS VICTIM BLAMING

And then end the blog, to be honest with you.

Apparently, this is not exactly considered a great method of getting a point across or presenting a counter-argument so instead I will use this blog to present my key arguments against the police checking mobile phones of victims of rape and sexual violence.

I have worked in sexual violence for 10 years and this practice is nothing new. Today it hit the headlines that police would be using consent forms to ask victims of rape and sexual violence to hand over their mobile phones to check up to 7 years of evidence, media, messages, internet history and call logs when they report rape or sexual violence.

Media outlets have also reported that police have refused to take rape and sexual violence reports where the woman has refused to hand over her phone – resulting in viable cases being ignored and not investigated because the woman refused to give access to her data.

So let me tell you why I completely oppose this practice, and what I think it means for victims of sexual violence.

(Note: The majority of all sexual violence victims are women and girls based on national annual statistics and the perpetrators of all rapes are men based on the SOA 2003. Whilst perpetrators of other forms of sexual violence could be female, 97% of all sexual offences are committed by men. Therefore, this issue of checking phones of rape and sexual violence victims disproportionately AFFECTS women and girls and disproportionately PROTECTS male sex offenders from prosecution.)

Reason 1: This is a way to discredit the victim

Let’s be clear. This initiative is not to protect, support or help the victim of sexual violence in any way. I don’t care how many bows you tie around it, this is a way to discredit victims (mainly women and girls) so that the case is too weak to take forward and so no further action is taken.

The data from the phone could include call logs, internet history, text messages, locations, social media profiles, photos, videos, audio recordings, geodata, connections, friend requests, emails, journals, notes pages, files, dropbox, apps, internet shopping and even finance apps.

Just stop and think about how private this stuff is to you. That pic you took in the shower. That time you bought vagisil online. That time you googled gay porn. That time you spent ages looking at your ex’s Instagram. The messages you send to your best friend about how much you hate that bloke you work with who keeps being creepy. The social media accounts you follow. The tweets you posted about abortion rights. The time you recorded yourself trying to sing ‘Fighter’ by Christina Aguilera. The horrible messages you sent to your brother in a vile argument. That new dildo you bought from that online sex store.

Think about it. Think how this irrelevant shit could be used against you. This is what they want to find. Compromising information that can be used for Reason 2.

Reason 2: They are looking for characterological or behavioural ‘flaws’ that could undermine their case

The point of this invasive and unnecessary exercise is to look for evidence of things that undermine their case. Evidence of your character, behaviours, communication, the company you keep, who you talk to, the things you say online, the stuff you google, the selfies you take.

People reading this might think I’m overreacting or even over exaggerating here – but 10 years working in sexual violence has shown me that this has been happening for years. I’ve worked with women and children who have had iPads, phones and laptops removed to check for evidence when they were the victims of CSE, trafficking or rape. Some kids don’t get their phones back for years. I’ve worked with women who had their phones taken for evidence purposes to then have private information and data being used against them by the defence solicitors. I’ve interviewed women whose cases fell apart because they texted the rapist after the rape in a panic and then the police used that to argue she was lying.

One woman I interviewed texted the rapist a few hours later to say she was sorry. In the interview, she told me she apologised to him out of sheer panic and that she felt worthless and disgusting, and she had apologised to him for saying no repeatedly and not wanting sex which led to him raping her. She blamed herself, so she said sorry to him.

Unfortunately, that’s not how the police saw that message. That case was dropped.

Imagine a woman or girl is raped but the night before she was googling lingerie. Imagine a girl is messaging her best friend saying she cannot wait to have sex with her new boyfriend but the boyfriend then forces her to do things she didn’t want to do. Imagine a wife is sending messages to her abusive husband telling him she loves him, but he’s raping her every night when he gets drunk. Imagine a girl is being trafficked and she is on WhatsApp with the abusers who are telling her they will get her some weed if she gives them head and she agrees. Imagine a woman is sexually abused and Googles it for weeks before actually reporting to police and she is then questioned as to why she was googling all of the info about sexual abuse but not reporting.

Think about it. We already have cases in which children are being blamed for rape because they were wearing lacy underwear (Irish trial, 2018). Imagine that level of victim blaming and misogyny – but with all of the data on your smartphone.

Reason 3: Most (or none) of the data they will take from your phone and use against you is not even relevant to the case

This is important. Even in trials, lines of argument can be deemed inappropriate, evidence can be inadmissible, information can be hidden from a jury so as not to bias them etc.

So what strikes me as unfair about this practice is that the police are gaining data that is completely irrelevant to the offence. How is your photo album relevant to you being raped by your partner? How is your call log relevant to you being sexually harassed by that guy on the tube? How are your emails relevant to you being sexually abused in childhood?

This information is excessive and irrelevant. It would make much more sense if phones were only ever being taken in cases in which the phone contains the evidence (a video of the woman being sexually harassed on the tube, death threats from the ex-partner, call logs that prove the offender called the victim 68 times in the night he killed her, geodata that can prove the whereabouts of the girl when she was trafficked).

And of course, police will argue that this is precisely what they are looking for. But if the case doesn’t include technology and doesn’t require the confiscation and examination of the victims’ smartphone, why are they telling women they will drop sexual violence cases unless they hand over their phones?

Reason 4: Everyone is entitled to a private life

You know what? Even if you had googled ‘how to have good anal sex’ 15 minutes before you are anally raped by a man who ignored your boundaries, WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

Even if you took a picture of yourself naked and sent it to some guy who three weeks later drugged you at a party and sexually assaulted you, WHY DOES THAT MATTER?

Even if you had sent your boyfriend 12 messages telling him how much you loved him on the weekend he beat you up, WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

Everyone is entitled to a private life. None of this cancels out the crime of the perpetrator. Are we now sliding down a slippery slope of ‘oh well, she takes pictures of herself in her underwear so it can’t be rape’ or ‘oh she text him saying she loved him so it can’t really be domestic violence’? or ‘she likes watching porn so she can’t be a real victim of sex trafficking’?

Is that where we are?

2019? Hello?

Reason 5: One guy made a complaint against a woman and the whole fucking system changes but thousands of women suffer injustice and nothing changes for decades

Well, isn’t that just peachy?

One guy who is being held up as a victim of a ‘false rape allegation’ for which there is no evidence for, managed to kick the entire system into change within months whereas women’s rights and rape crisis organisations have been trying for decades for reform and achieved very little.

Let’s be clear, actual false allegations are appalling – but they are extremely rare and false rape allegations are one of the rarest types of false reports there are. Have a think how many people might falsely report their house was burgled for an insurance job. How many people falsely accuse people of harassment. How many people falsely report their phones or cars stolen. Where’s the outrage for those false reports? Where’s the massive systemic change? Do those victims of crime have to surrender their mobile phones too? To look for evidence?

How is it that women and girls have been being discriminated against, harmed, traumatised and blamed by the criminal justice system for decades and change is slower than a tired snail – but one guy kicks off about his case being mishandled and the entire system shifts?

Don’t worry, I know the answer to that question. We all do.

Reason 6: How come it’s so easy to manipulate innocent victims into handing over their phones but it takes us months or years for police to get hold of the phones of traffickers, rapists and child abusers?

In the same vein as reason 5 – if systemic and procedural change is this easy, can ANYONE explain to me why the professionals working in CSE, trafficking and child abuse are being told by police forces that there is nothing more they can do to disrupt perpetrators and that they can’t possibly seize phones and iPads without evidence or warrants?

How the hell have you managed to utilise tactics against victims that you can’t even use against child traffickers?

How have the police managed to convince other professions that change is slow and cumbersome, will take years and will be hard to achieve – when this has been turned around in a matter of months?

How has blackmail been signed off as a tactic against victims?

‘If you don’t give us your phone, we will not take this case forward.’

I mean, wow.

Don’t ever let me catch police tell us again that changing the systems and practice takes years and we all have to be patient. Nope.

Reason 7: There is nothing in law which states that the police can blackmail you into giving over your phone and you are entitled to representation and protection from crime anyway

Everyone in this country has a human right to protection from crime and harm. Remember that. You have a right to be able to access law enforcement and protection. You have a right to be able to report a crime. You have a right to transparent and fair justice systems.

Being blackmailed into handing over your mobile phone so they can look through the last 7 years of data when you aren’t even a suspect or offender is NOT part of those rights. You do not have to surrender your mobile phone and have your own private life inevitably used against you. Don’t do it. It’s not in your best interests and police should not be allowed to refuse to take a case of rape or sexual violence on just because you won’t let some office jockey pour through your texts and photos looking for evidence that undermines their case so they have an excuse to drop even more rape cases than they already do.

My final word on this is:

What message is this new practice giving to rapists and sex offenders who are targeting women and girls? What are they learning from this?

That their victims must consent to having years of their private data checked before being believed? That their victims must not only be brave enough to report (87% never do according to CSEW, 2017), but also should let the police investigate completely irrelevant sources of private data to check their credibility?

To the police, you’ve made a grave mistake and you need to rethink this before you do major damage to individuals, reporting rates and to your own force reputation and public trust.

Written by Jessica Eaton

Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk