“Some girls are just trouble, dear” – A short story about how the other half live.

“Some girls are just trouble, dear” – A short story about how the other half live.

Trigger warning: Child sexual abuse, trafficking, rape, trauma, neglect, gender based violence.

I wrote this poem at 00:35 one night last week whilst thinking about the way children experiencing significant traumas and abuse are brought up side-by-side with children in safe, loving and healthy environments.

You know the kids I mean. The kids at your school who never arrived on time, sometimes didn’t turn up for weeks. Sometimes they were excluded from school and then spent their entire lives hanging around the estate and the school gates. Sometimes they were getting in cars at the end of school with people you didn’t know. They were the ones your parents didn’t want you to hang around with, the bad eggs, the trouble causers, the bad influences, the wastes of space, the never-amount-to-nuthins.

I wrote this to explore how it feels to be those children. And what it must feel like to look upon the lives of others with awe, powerful jealousy and a feeling that they would never understand the stuff they did – even if they tried to explain why they are the way they are.

Those loved kids had never seen the stuff they’d seen. Those protected kids had never felt what they’d felt.

 

A day in her life

I wake up. She wakes up.
I’m tired from drinking til 1am. She slept soundly from 9pm.
I find my screwed up uniform. Her mother brings her ironed uniform.
We’ve got no hot water. She has a hot shower.

I put on too much makeup. She splashes her fresh face.
I straighten my dyed hair. She plaits her healthy hair.
I refuse to eat any breakfast. She is served porridge and fruit.
I forget to make some lunch. She is handed her packed lunch.
I walk out of the door. She walks out of the door.
I walk down to the gulley. She walks down her block paved driveway.
I read the vile graffiti on the wall. She reads ‘Great Expectations’ in the car.
I get asked to get my tits out. She gets asked what lessons she has.
I meet my friends and crash a smoke. She meets her friends and share a joke.

I am taken behind an old shop. She is walking into the school gates.
I am held close by an older guy. She is holding her English books.

I am humiliated and objectified. She is supported and personified.

I am worrying if I’m pregnant. She is wondering if she got an ‘A’ again.

I am falling asleep in class. She is raising her hand when asked.

I am borrowing money for food. She is eating her packed lunch.
I am skipping lessons to get a drink. She is being challenged to think.
I am under the tree that no one knows. She is safely at school in full view.
I am climbing into a dirty bed. She is trying to keep the equation in her head.
I am feeling drunk and bare. She is tying her tie with care.
I am writhing in premature adulthood. She is planning her 14th birthday party.
I am screaming at this guy out here. She is giggling with some guy in there.
I am fighting for him to get off me now. She is twiddling her pencil and laughing now.
I am disoriented and alone. She is getting ready to head home.
I am running through the estate. She is meandering with her mates.
I am wishing I had my damn shoes on. She is watching someone in the distance.

I am coming up the estate hill. She is watching a running shoeless girl.

I am looking over my shoulder. She is distracted from her conversation.

I am pulling my shoes on as I cross over. She is wondering why the girl has no shoes on.

I am staring at some bitch who is staring at me. She is watching the shoe-girl intently

I am embarrassed and cold and need to get home. She is tempted to take pics of this on her phone.

I yell over ‘what the fuck you looking at?’

She mumbles ‘nothing, sorry’.

I feel my face flush red and my eyes well up.

She pipes up ‘but why weren’t you at school?’ 

I yell back ‘the fuck has it got to do with you?’ 

She snaps ‘you look a right mess!’

I yell through tears ‘you know nothing about me, I couldn’t care less!’ 

She gawps at the shoe-girl, the never at school-girl.

I am jealous of the perfect-girl, the mummy’s-whole-world-girl.

She wonders what went wrong for her, why she always cries rape.

I wonder how she got so lucky in a life I am constantly trying to escape.

 

She continues to walk along the street. I pick the stones out of my feet.

She tells her mum of what she saw. I creep in and carefully close the back door.

She is told ‘some girls are just trouble, dear’. I am told ‘that fucking car turned up here!’

She finishes her meal, then does her homework so she can finally chill.

I get another death threat whilst googling where to get the morning after pill.

 

_________________________________________________________________________

This short story ‘A day in her life’ is not as far fetched as some might have us believe. Many children are living lives of horror, fear, abuse and violence, right alongside the children living lives of fun, learning and safety.

 

 

This blog may be reproduced and used in education and professional settings with the name of the blog and the name of the author.

If you do choose to reproduce, please reference:

Jessica Eaton – Victimfocus Blog, (2017)

I’m here to call out the psychiatric diagnosis of victims of sexual abuse and violence.

I’m here to call out the psychiatric diagnosis of victims of sexual abuse and violence.

It’s time to stop the practice of diagnosing humans with psychiatric labels and allow them to naturally experience distress, trauma and shock when they are abused and violated by another human being. 

I want to share with you the moment I realised that enough was enough.

In 2012, I took over a rape centre. The centre provided free counselling and group therapy for women, men and children who had experienced recent or non-recent abuse, sexual violence or rape. I trained and line managed around 35 psychotherapists and counsellors and some months we were working with caseloads of over 150 people. We only covered one town in the Midlands so that’s a very high caseload for a small organisation.

Previous to this job, I had managed crown and magistrates courts with responsibility for the VIWs (Vulnerable and Intimidated Witnesses) Programme. I had always worked with people who had experienced trauma from crime, which is a specific type of trauma. Trauma from crime is specific because it is a man-made trauma. It is a trauma caused by the actions and decisions of a fellow human being. It’s not like a natural disaster. Its not like a freak accident. The person copes significantly better with those types of traumas because, eventually, the person can allow themselves to believe that there was nothing they could have done to avoid it and it certainly wasn’t their fault – or anyone else’s fault. No one meant for the freak accident or natural disaster to happen. However, crime – now that’s a different story. Crime is perpetrated by humans. It includes decisions, choices, targets, perpetrators and victims. It leaves people with questions like ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why did they do that?’ and ‘Don’t they care about the impact it had on me?’ and ‘Did I do something to deserve that?’

It’s no wonder that victims of sexual abuse and violence – crimes meticulously planned, based in power and control to violate a human being – suffer such varied and severe emotional distress to what happened to them.

Within about six months of being in post at the rape centre, I noticed a worrying trend.

“Jess, my client has just been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder…” became a common conversation starter from my team. First it was one or two, then it was a handful, then it was ten, then it was thirty.

As I had responsibility for all face to face and telephone counselling and supervised every counsellor and psychotherapist in the centre, I was able to carefully analyse hundreds, maybe over a thousand cases of sexual abuse and rape that we held and realised that almost all of the women and girls referred into mental health teams in the NHS were quickly diagnosed with BPD and medicated. I specifically say ‘women and girls’ because in the rape centre I worked in, I saw very few men and teenage boys with a BPD diagnosis despite them experiencing very similar histories and emotional responses.

I was still very early on in my career and hadn’t yet started to specialise in forensic psychology or feminism but even back then, at 22 years old,  I was horrified by what I was seeing. People who had been abused and raped, who were 100% entitled to be traumatised and struggling with life were being told that they had something fundamentally wrong with their personality. If you could freeze-frame my life at that exact moment and zoom in on the face I was pulling – you would be able to pinpoint the moment I realised that women and girls were being diagnosed with disorders instead of being allowed to be in emotional distress. It felt scarily familiar to ‘hysteria’ diagnoses.

Clients were attending the centre with higher and higher dosages of medication. One 18 year old woman was sexually abused throughout her childhood and had been medicated with three rounds of electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). I remember reading her file and discussing this with her as she had attended one of my groups and she told me that the ECT made her feel like a zombie. I also remember listening to her and thinking ‘I didn’t even know we were using ECT with children in the UK!’ and spent the rest of the evening at home googling it.

A couple of years later, I was chatting to a woman I met whilst in the third year of my degree. We were talking about life and relationships and she started to talk about her relationships breaking down and how she longed to settle in a healthy relationship but had gone round and round the cycle of abuse for nearly twenty years. As always, I didn’t offer any perspective or theory but listened carefully. However, whilst listening to her story I did recognise her life journey as incredibly similar. Eerily familiar…

And that’s when she said it:

“I will never really settle down with anyone because I have this thing called BPD. Its a personality disorder. My CPN told me that’s why all of my relationships are abusive. I attract wrong ‘uns. I always wondered whether it was because I was abused as a teenager but when they told me I had BPD, I was so relieved. I realised that I had a mental health issue and that’s why people keep abusing me…”

I wasn’t at work. I wasn’t duty bound. I was talking to this woman in a personal capacity. I toyed with my ethical duties. I decided to stick my neck out.

“Kaci*, do you truly believe that? That there is something wrong with your personality? I think you are brilliant. But isn’t it possible that you were right all along? That you were experiencing emotional distress from the abuse you experienced as a teenager? And that’s totally okay. You can struggle. You can struggle for years if you need to. Other people abusing you in your relationships was never your fault – even if you were struggling. Don’t you feel its a little unfair to tell you that you have something fundamentally disordered about your personality?”

I immediately regretted it.

She stared at me, open mouthed, tears in her eyes.

“I’m so sorry, Kaci*. I didn’t mean to…”

“No, I’m not upset at you. But you just said exactly what I’ve been trying to say to the mental health teams for years! You are the first person to ever say this to me…”

And I have been saying it ever since.

 

Borderline Personality Disorder has a pretty (shall we say… inclusive?) set of criteria, meaning that most of us who have ever experienced a period of distress would fill enough criteria for a diagnosis. In fact, if I am having a particularly shitty time, I can honestly admit that I fulfil most of these.

Criteria for BPD (not all are required for diagnosis):

  • Feelings of anger or irritability at minor issues
  • Risk taking behaviours or engaging in activities without personal regard
  • Acting impulsively
  • Self harming during emotional distress
  • Feelings of being down or depressed
  • Fears of rejection of not being loved
  • Intense feelings of anxiety and fear
  • Emotions easily changeable and unstable
  • Relationships with mistrust and neediness
  • Hypersensitivity to emotions and situations
  • Change or instability in life goals or direction
  • Issues with body image
  • Issues with self-identity

In fact, a piece of research by Middleton (2013) showed that people who have experienced a complex trauma such as sexual abuse, neglect, rapes or exploitation, on average, would have enough ‘symptoms’ to be diagnosed with between 10 and 12 disorders at any one time. You read that right.

Add this to the fact that we are still not 100% sure how psychoactive medications work and we are now much more aware that antidepressants are not the magic cure-all we once thought they were; and we now have hundreds of thousands of people who have experienced sexual abuse and violence being told that there is something fundamentally wrong with them whilst being told to take more and more medications and sedatives to numb their feelings. Their completely valid feelings.

I am here to call out the psychiatric diagnosis of sexual abuse and violence victims. 

Whether its unqualified, knee-jerk front line professionals telling parents or children that they think they have ‘anxiety disorder’ or ‘PTSD’ or qualified, established CPNs and Psychiatrists telling people who have recently been raped or remembered significant histories of abuse and trauma – I’m here to ask you: What is your obsession with pigeon holing people and telling them that there is something ‘disordered’ about their psychology?

Why can’t we just accept that the ongoing, malicious, violent and abusive grooming and violation of children and adults, often by people they trusted most, is possibly one of the most harmful things they could ever go through? Why can’t we create space for people to react and respond and cope in the way they need to without labelling them? Why can’t we support them through their ‘extreme’ responses to extreme harm?

Instead of saying:

“You are showing symptoms of BPD. That’s why you are feeling like this. Not the abuse. You have a personality disorder. Here are some pills that will mask the feelings.”

Why can’t we simply say:

“You have seen and experienced things that have changed your life. Those people hurt you and they have scared you. They have changed the way you react to certain environments and feelings. They have heightened your senses and your emotions. And you know what? That’s totally normal and totally understandable. You are entitled to respond like this. Is there anything I can do to help you to cope with these feelings and thoughts? What do you need right now? What helps and what hinders you?”

Is this response really that unreasonable and unrealistic?

 

 

Jessica Eaton is an independent national specialist writer, speaker and researcher in sexual violence, forensic psychology and mental health. 

Twitter @JessicaE13Eaton

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

 

 

 

Let’s talk about sex… and porn and abuse. To children. Right now.

Let’s talk about sex… and porn and abuse. To children. Right now.

Talking about sex, porn and abuse with year 10 and 11 children

One of the most common responses to CSE in the UK is the delivery of ‘awareness raising sessions’ with children in schools. Frequently this includes a specialist team, organisation or charity coming into school to deliver this work with groups of children ranging from a handful right up to assemblies filled with hundreds of students. I am clear in my message that sex and relationships, bodies and respect need to be talked about from the earliest age possible. Despite widespread agreement on this principle, there are still worries about removing the innocence of children and discussing ‘taboo’ topics. This article will discuss some key approaches to consider when you are delivering sessions to secondary school children, starting with some important evidence that suggests that what we are already delivering could be improved.

Research and Reports

The latest report from the Equality and Women Committee 2016 presented concerning findings about the sexual harassment, sexual violence and insidious sexism in our schools. When the board appealed for experts and practitioners to discuss the approaches to awareness raising sessions, the evidence mirrored the practice we see all over the UK. Awareness raising sessions, DVDs and resources were based on shock tactics, fear, shame and fault-finding. When we consider the films, clips, resources and workshops currently delivered to children and young people, this argument appears justified. Whether it is films that depict the rape of a child in multiple positions, a clip that tells children they will be put on the sex offenders register for taking images of themselves or a resource that teaches young people that if they just stopped some of their behaviours, they would be safe from perpetrators. The second point made by the report is that these sessions are being delivered to targeted groups of girls to ‘help the girls protect themselves from sexual violence’ but that the same sessions are not being delivered to the rest of the girls – or the boys at all. We are all responsible for the reduction of rape culture in our society, so why do we continue to target teenage girls? The final point which will be discussed in more detail later on in the article, is that the sessions have been shown to encourage victim blaming of peers due to building sessions in which children are asked ‘what could that young person have done differently?’ or ‘why did this happen to them?’ The report found that these types of discussions elicited victim blaming responses such as ‘well, it wouldn’t have happened to her if she didn’t…’ or ‘it was his own fault because he…’

And we can all agree, that this is not what we set out to do when we arrive to deliver sessions with young people. So, what can we do to improve this practice?

 

  1. Preparation is key

 

Whether we have been asked to deliver to 4 children in a small class room with their pastoral team on hand or whether we have been given 30 minutes to talk to 300 children in a huge assembly hall; we can make initial judgements and decisions in our preparation to ensure that the session is effective and, above all, safe. When it comes to safety, it is important that we consider the histories, experiences and emotional wellbeing of the young people we will be delivering to. Professionals don’t need reams of details but before they deliver the session, they must ask whether any children are known to be currently at risk of abuse, currently experiencing abuse or have a history of abuse. Statistically, in any room of children 1 in 5 of will be sexually abused by the age of 12 (NSPCC, 2012) – so when a professional is delivering a session on abuse, healthy relationships, consent and equality, they may well be teaching children who are suffering from trauma. By gaining the information about the abuse and trauma histories of the children in your audience, we can make informed decisions about whether our resources, worksheets or discussions will be safe and ethical for that group of children. Without this information, we risk re-traumatising, patronising or triggering children who have experienced abuse. In addition, it is important to develop the session environment to be voluntary to attend and free to leave at any time to promote self-care and autonomy in a sensitive topic. To achieve effective sessions, it is important that we also explore the needs of the children in the audience to ensure that our materials are relatable, culturally appropriate and understandable for all children. This means making sure that you ask questions about impairments, language barriers, learning disabilities and cultural differences of the children in your audience before you develop the session. If the school or youth organisation provide information relating to additional needs or differences; it is likely that standard resources will be unsuitable. It is not appropriate or effective to simply ‘slow down’ or ‘simplify’ existing resources or films when a child has additional barriers to understanding the topics. It is probably best to postpone the session until support from specialists has been secured, safe and effective resources have been gathered and evaluated and you have met with the professionals or parents to thoroughly discuss how you can make the sessions as accessible and valuable as possible. Without this level of preparation, sessions can be confusing, irrelevant, patronising, traumatic, dangerous and unethical.

  1. A Feminist Approach

I have recently built a new set of workshops for year 10 and 11 which are based on feminist principles: the workshops avoided terms such as ‘unhealthy relationships’ ‘abuse’ ‘sexting’ ‘risk taking’ and ‘online safety’. Instead, the workshops covered communication forms, human behaviours, grooming, emotions and feelings, respect and equality, gender roles, pornography, digital sexual violence and how to set and enforce boundaries in relationships, friendships and communication online and offline. All of these topics were framed within the dynamics of a patriarchal society, oppression and objectification of women and understanding the pressure that gender roles place upon girls and boys to treat each other in particular ways. I didn’t talk to them about ‘protecting themselves from sexual violence’ or ‘changing their risky behaviours to prevent their abuse’ – I created exciting and interactive exercises to explore why girls were expected to control the sexual desire of boys, why girls were being blamed when their images were being shared and how porn and popular media was skewing their ideas of real sex and real relationships. Delivering these workshops from this perspective led to insightful discussions, debates and questions from the young people who slowly began to criticise the mass media, porn culture and the insidious sexism that meant that whilst they were labelled a ‘slag’ for being exploited or sexually harassed, their perpetrators were ‘high-fived’ or seen as ‘boys just being boys’. The sessions worked to empower the students to question the status quo and to challenge the language they employ to describe themselves and other young people.

            3. We’ve heard it all before, Miss!

 

One of the reasons I built the sessions differently was confirmed when I asked the young people what they already knew about ‘online safety’, ‘staying safe’, ‘sexting’ and ‘consent’ . The response was loud and clear: “We’ve heard it all before, Miss! It’s been hammered home over and over again. We just switch off and stop listening to you lot. We hear the messages but we do it anyway, this is our life.” This response was not the response of ‘problem children’ who simply couldn’t be reached – this was the response of a diverse group of young people who had been receiving the same kind of ‘awareness raising sessions’ for years – mainly consisting of fear mongering, shock tactics, stereotypical explanations of abuse and unrealistic, abstinence messages that had advised them not to talk to people on the internet, not to meet new people, not to give out their mobile numbers, not to take images of themselves, not to have sex before 16 years old and not to put their information on their social network profiles. After years of these ‘do not’ sessions, sat in front of us was a group of young people who had learned to switch off from us. The session began with rolled eyes and scepticism, a feeling that I could teach them nothing new and that I was about to spend 2 days patronising and boring them to death. This should deliver a strong message to us as professionals: we need to up our game and change our tack. Pronto! In a society where large proportions of children are watching porn by the age of ten (NSPCC, 2016) and where children are regularly receiving unwanted nudes and hundreds of friend requests from strangers – the time has come to realise that some of our messages are now outdated; not only outdated, but no longer culturally relevant to this generation. In a time where their entire lives, self-worth and popularity are based on friend lists, likes, retweets and comments on their photos and extreme porn is sent around for ‘laughs’ – it’s no longer adequate to advise them not to be on these sites or to stop sharing their information, our new aims have to be about sculpting children into critical and intelligent consumers of mass media, sexual imagery and the world of social media. We need to create activists and critics that will go on to challenge their peers and of course, themselves.

          4. Grooming is so much more than sexual abuse

 

I decided to redesign our teaching approaches around the topic of ‘grooming’. Rather than framing grooming around sexual exploitation and meeting strangers from the internet, I developed and delivered exercises about all the different forms of grooming in the world, whom does what to whom, why they would do it, what are perpetrators attempting to achieve and the methods that different perpetrators employ to achieve trust, rapport, loyalty and secrecy. I pulled away from linear models of grooming and instead introduced young people to all different examples of grooming that occur over different time periods and communication methods. I gave thought-provoking examples which got them arguing – such as ‘is it grooming if a young woman builds a relationship and then marries a very old and poorly man with thousands of pounds in the bank, knowing she will inherit the fortune?’ Our debates quickly showed that students had a knowledge of grooming that ranged from zero through to highly stereotypical examples of grooming in which they found it very difficult to see women as groomers at all. Linking this struggle back to patriarchy and gender roles allowed them to understand that women have been positioned as safe, nurturing and caring – whereas men have been positioned as unsafe, sexual and powerful. Breaking down gender stereotypes instantly broadened their understanding of grooming and perpetrators.

 

          5. Porn, sex and all the gory details

 

In the sessions, I trialled some interactive new session plans and debate exercises around the porn they have watched, the messages they have already absorbed – and importantly – the reframing of porn as a form of oppression of women for the enjoyment of men. This session got graphic quickly. I learned that young people had seen a lot of porn – whether they were tagged in it, sent it, searched for it, forced to watch it or heard about extreme porn that their mates had been watching – their knowledge of porn and extreme sex acts was staggering. I spent time unpacking the power imbalances in porn – the way the camera angle is always shot for the male viewer, the way the actresses are exploited and pressured into sex acts they didn’t want to do, the way that producers offer drugs and alcohol to nervous young actresses and the high rates of chlamydia within the industry. We debated whether we felt rough sex was acceptable or unacceptable and why the porn and glamour modelling industries have been found to target vulnerable underage girls in poverty. We talked about how many young people think extreme sex acts are the norm – the students engaged in loud and messy discussion in small groups who were swearing, gasping and challenging myths, biases and prejudice in their own thoughts. Not for the faint-hearted – but clearly vital to their burning curiosity about porn and sex. Without a doubt, this part of the session was the most successful and produced the most ‘penny-drop’ moments of the entire course, with young people remarking that they didn’t know about the use of drugs on set, the exploitation of women, the rife sexually transmitted diseases, the sexual injuries or the abuse. They didn’t realise that some porn scenes take over 40 takes to get right and possibly most importantly, they had no concept that porn actors and actresses were paid to look like they were enjoying sex acts that hurt or humiliated them. Since porn culture, sexualised imagery and objectification of women is seriously affecting boys and girls in our schools – it is imperative that any session that covers abuse, grooming or online sexual communication also covers the elephant in the room: porn culture.

            6. Do we perpetuate victim blaming?

 

The report from the Equality and Women’s Committee links victim blaming to the responses professionals are providing to the sexual harassment, exploitation and assaults of girls in schools. The report argued that the examples of campaigns and resources that show a girl sending nudes and then having them shared all over her school encouraged and perpetuated victim blaming and slut shaming rather than focussing on the person who shared the images in revenge, in spite, for banter or for ‘rates’. Materials and questions were causing children to conclude that the girl shouldn’t have taken the images in the first place, that the young person shouldn’t have been on Facebook in the first place, that children were to blame for their sexual exploitation and abuse. Whilst I built the sessions to avoid this type of prejudice against victims, I found that young people were naturally moving towards victim-blaming conclusions whereby they convince themselves that the boy or girl in the case study made ‘poor decisions’, ‘were just stupid’ or ‘asked for it’ – and then loudly convincing themselves that it would never happen to them. This kind of self-preservation victim blaming is very common in children and adults – but it is taught and reinforced by professionals delivering sessions like these. I responded to these comments by ‘putting the shoe on the other foot’ and by refocussing the blame back on the person who chose to manipulate, threaten or expose the victim. I reinforced the message that, whilst we don’t advocate the sharing of nudes, they are never to blame if someone they trusted shared their images or videos.

Conclusions

We have to make a quick move away from authoritative awareness raising sessions that seek to ‘reduce risk of CSE’ by ‘increasing awareness of CSE’. We have no evidence that this is the case, yet. What we do know, is that boys and girls need feminism. What we do know, is that boys and girls watch a tonne of porn and are getting their sex ed from oppressive, filmed, fake sex. What we do know, is that young people are already taking photos and making videos of themselves and sharing them – threats of putting them on the sex offenders register are not working (surprise, surprise). It’s time to embrace feminist SRE and start talking to young people about the things they are already seeing, the things they are already doing and the things they are already talking about. Frank, open, sweary, real. No threats. No shame. No finger pointing. No blame culture.

Adults: We are the creators of taboo. We are the breakers of taboo.

Children: They are our next generation of adults.

Let’s teach them about real sex and real life in real terms.

Written by @JessicaE13Eaton

http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

The Response to Sexual Harassment? “Don’t flatter yourself!”

The Response to Sexual Harassment? “Don’t flatter yourself!”

Written by Jessica Eaton

Follow and share on twitter @Jessicae13Eaton 

Email: JEE509@bham.ac.uk


Today, I become completely enthralled by a 522 (and growing) comment thread on professional networking site, Linkedin. 

In this blog post, I am going to show you screenshots of real comments made by professionals from all different sectors, made in the last 48 hours. These comments are direct responses to a female CEO who uploaded a post about her weariness of the sexual harassment and inappropriate comments she receives in her Linkedin inbox. So why was I so enthralled by this growing stream of comments? 

Because those comments were the most incredible, public and professional display of victim blaming I have ever seen. 

So first of all, let’s have a look at the post that started this whole thing off:


I read this post from a very successful female CEO and Founder of a large company; and I empathised immediately. I could hear the frustration in her post, the capitalisation speaks volumes. This is a woman at the end of her tether. This is a woman who is sick of having to tell male professionals on LinkedIn that she is not interested and that LinkedIn is not for ‘romantic requests’ – which is considerably more polite than the way I would have written that post. 

I was about to scroll away until I noticed the large amount of comments and I clicked to open them up because I instantly wondered if it was hundreds of other successful women saying ‘me too!’ 

And don’t get me wrong, there were some women thanking her for being so honest. There were a handful of women admitting that they had the same problem. However, I did wonder whether the nature of the other hundreds of comments would deter a woman from admitting it happened to her too. 

The types of comments can be broadly split into 5 main themes: 

1. Men ridiculing her for ‘moaning about’ being sexually harassed by directly saying that she was exaggerating or calling her derogatory names

2. Men trivialising and laughing off her complaint 

3. Men telling her that she should be grateful for the compliments and that she needs to lighten up

4. Women normalising the harassment, telling her that she is attention seeking and should get over herself 

5. Women disclosing the same sort of harassment on LinkedIn and then being shut down 

I am going to work through these 5 main themes and explain why they have direct links to victim blaming in sexual violence. 

1. Men ridiculing her for ‘moaning about’ being sexually harassed by saying that she was exaggerating or by calling her derogatory names 

Example 1


Example 2


Example 3


Example 4


Analysis 

This was a very common type of comment. If that isn’t bad enough, all of the comments were provided by people with their full name, photograph and employer’s name right next to the abusive and sexist comments. 

The comments vary between outright name calling and comments that imply she is being rather too self-congratulatory about being sexually harassed so frequently. A few of the comments criticise the way she looks to minimise the possibility that this has really happened to her (almost suggesting she is lying or exaggerating). Some of the comments tell her that they no longer want her as a business connection or that they wouldn’t even meet her for a coffee because she is so ‘scary’, ‘nasty’ and ‘rude’. One man announced that he was disconnecting from her immediately if she was going to moan about sexual harrassment. 

So, how does this link to victim blaming in sexual violence? 

Each of the screenshots above give accurate examples of the ways women are blamed when they experience sexual violence (and of course we must ensure we are acknowledging sexual harassment as a form of sexual violence). When women disclose sexual violence, it is common for them to have their experience minimised or trivialised. When someone responds to a disclosure with the words ‘grow up you old hag’ and ‘dog’ and ‘I’m still confused why you are getting so much attention’ – they are telling her that she is worthless, her anger is not justified and that she does not fit their stereotype of a sexual harassment victim. If she is disclosing sexual harassment then she must be lying, exaggerating or confused. And if she is the type of woman to do that on linkedin, she is clearly a ‘nasty woman’ and she deserves instant and harsh consequences for lying/bragging/exaggerating about her sexual harassment. 

When a person responds with ‘don’t flatter yourself, love’ – it is very clear that they have read the disclosure of sexual harassment, looked at her photograph and then made a judgment call that she is not nearly attractive enough to be sexual harassed and is therefore taking these comments the wrong way in order to inflate her ego. This relates to victim blaming as there is ample research that shows that juries are more likely to find a sexual violence perpetrator guilty if the female victim is judged to be stereotypically ‘beautiful’ and that juries are more likely to blame the victim if she is overweight and stereotypically ‘unattractive’. 

There is even a comment rating her as a 7 out of 10 – again insinuating that she is just not attractive enough to be sexually harassed so is probably making it up. 

 Another saying that she has a ‘face like thunder’ and is therefore not attractive or smiley enough to be sexually harassed. (I can tell you now that her profile photograph is a professional head and shoulders shot with a neutral expression – maybe he thought she needed to ‘smile more’.) 

The final comment is a perfect example of victim blaming. Example 4 is a man who is going along the lines of ‘if you don’t want to be sexually harassed, don’t look nice, or ever be seen by men, they can’t help themselves…’

Solution: Live on an island. Forever. No men allowed. (Apparently)

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme: 

– Only gorgeous women get sexually harassed 

– Men cannot help themselves and women are responsible for dealing with that desire 

– Women often make up or exaggerate sexual violence 


2. Men trivialising and laughing off her complaint by implying that she is full of herself and overreacting 


Example 5


Example 6



Example 7




Analysis 

These types of comments were frequent throughout with many people liking them and agreeing with them over and over again. Most of these comments referred to her ‘huge ego’ that she has because she spoke about being sexually harassed. For some reason, this large, organic sample of professionals thought that talking about sexual harassment was ‘bragging’. 

What’s interesting here though, is that I noticed that these comments were more likely to have women agreeing with them than any other type of comment. Men would typically start the thread by commenting on the size of her ego for ‘assuming’ that men found her sexually attractive and then women were quickly drawn to these threads and became involved. One woman in particular was relentless for hours and repeatedly commented that the entire thing was to boost her own self worth and to increase the number of men looking at her profile and contacting her – sort of like pseudo-reverse-psychology I guess… 😳

So, why is this linked with victim blaming?

Well, overall, it fits very well with victim blaming messages that tell women that sexual violence isn’t that serious, isn’t that harmful and that sexual violence has been made into this big issue by us killjoy feminists who demand respect.  Comments like the ones above deliver two harmful messages: 

You are not worthy of being sexually harassed or of moaning about it and if you do disclose sexual harassment, it will not be taken seriously and you will look like a jumped up female who brags about strangers hitting on her.

Yeah. Right. 

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme: 

– Sexual violence isn’t that serious or harmful 

– Women shouldn’t talk about sex or sexual violence 


3. Men telling her that she should be grateful for the compliments and that she needs to lighten up


Example 8



Example 9



Analysis 

As you can see, some of these are very offensive and I found myself wondering how much harm they were doing as every second a new comment like this was added. The ‘be grateful’ theme was very common indeed, but exclusively put across by men. The messages ranged from polite but sexist comments telling her to lighten up, get a grip and enjoy the attention right the way through to horrid comments calling her names like the example above.

Either way, she ought to be happy, grateful and thankful for the sexual harassment and unwanted comments she keeps receiving. This has to be one of the most blatant examples of sexism I have seen recently. A woman discloses how frustrated she is with unwanted sexual contact from professionals in her field and a load of professionals in her field tell her that she should be enjoying it and to shut up. Appalling but real. These are real professionals on LinkedIn. I wonder if they behave like this in the workplace? 

So, how does this link to victim blaming? 

When women talk about sexual violence, it is the word ‘sexual’ that tends to stick in people’s minds. This (in addition to the fact that women are still seen as sexual objects with just one purpose) meant that sexual violence still gets categorised as ‘sex’ in the minds of many. The violence, the harassment, the assault: that tends to get lost. 

If a beautiful woman is being contacted by businessmen because she is so desirable – what on earth is she moaning about?! 

It doesn’t matter that the person is a stranger or even a business contact who thinks it is totally okay to comment on her body or ask her if they can take her out on a professional networking platform. It doesn’t matter that she is an intelligent, powerful, successful CEO – as long as she looks nice and they can message her out of the blue, stoked with the right to be able to say whatever they want to a woman whenever they want and not only should she be polite – but she must be grateful too. 

Unless you’re only a 7 out of 10 – and then you’re lying about it anyway. 

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme:

– Women often lie about sexual violence for attention 

– Women enjoy sexual violence 

– Sexual violence is not harmful, it’s just sex 

– Women secretly love being sexually harassed 

– Women make a fuss about sexual violence to save face and to pretend to be righteous 


4. Women normalising the harassment, telling her that she is attention seeking and should get over herself 


Example 10



Example 11



Example 12



Analysis 

Now, we move on to the theme dominated by women. In this theme we see women ridiculing her for being ‘up herself’, telling her to take it as a compliment and stop seeking attention and some advice from a woman at the end who seeks to normalise the inevitable abuse she is receiving. 

Again, very common in the comments. I guess most people would assume that women might have more empathy or relate to her more, but we can see that far from relating to her, they distanced themselves from her and joined in with the ridiculing and minimising. 

So why does this link with victim blaming? 

There is a theory in victim blaming called the ‘defensive attribution hypothesis’ which argued that people who identify as similar to the victim of sexual violence are much less likely to blame them. So for example a woman might think ‘Wow, I am a professional woman too – it just goes to show that it could happen to me too.’ This is the same theory that argues that female victims would be better with female supporters and that women victim blame less than men.

However, this is rarely the case. Women are just as likely to victim blame as men and this is something I have been examining in my PhD. There are also potential reasons for why this could be. The first would be that the women who leave comments like the ones above are engaging in some kind of ‘self-preservation’ tactic by ridiculing her and distancing from her experience, they can assure themselves that it won’t happen to them and it must be happening to her for a reason. 

The second, which accounts for the woman who normalises and minimises her sexual harassment, is that women have absorbed systemic sexism and patriarchy for so long that it has truly become normality for them. So when a man acts inappropriately towards them, they have learned that this is a normal, everyday occurrence and that they have no right to be so angry about it – because all women experience it. 

The third is that women have been taken in by the counter-arguments to sexual violence and they erroneously believe that sexual power and abuse is part of men’s nature, that it’s natural for men to be so sexually demanding and abusive and that they cannot help themselves. This results in women being taught to ‘protect themselves and ‘reduce risk’ in a society supposedly filled with men who cannot possibly control themselves – which is an insult to millions of men.

These potential reasons are possible because women and girls spend their entire lives submerged in a society that objectifies and dehumanises them. A society that tells them that they must be attractive at all times but not a ‘slut’ or a ‘show-off’. That they are so desirable that men cannot help but rape them. That their body is public property. That they need to smile more. That they need to just accept sexism for what it is and move on. 

Women who have been successfully socialised to believe that they are a walking, talking, non-thinking sex object to be commented on and conquered are not going to defend a woman who is experiencing sexual harassment as they will probably take on the views of the patriarchal society in which they have been moulded. 

Sadly, the comments that concern me the most are the ones telling her to get over herself and that she is attention seeking. I see these comments as a direct result of women being pitted against each other in terms of aesthetics. The media have been having a field day with this for decades (Field decade? Field era?)…

Women are pitted against each other in gossip magazines, in reality TV shows, in competitions and beauty pageants, in lads mags where they literally rate readers’ girlfriends, in women’s mags where they rate fashion and make up and hair, in music videos and films in which women compete for male attention or a relationship with a man who is playing them both. 

This is not an accident. When women are pitted against each other, they are much weaker as a community (and they make lots of money for companies profiting off their competition to look perfect). 

The comment ‘get over yourself’ could be seen as a woman saying to her ‘you’re not even that attractive’ or ‘you’re not worthy of this much attention’ or ‘you think a lot of yourself, don’t you?’ Those three words speak volumes. 

Why did a woman read the experience of constant sexual harassment of a female business connection and instantly respond with a flippant and derogatory remark? Is it because she felt threatened? Did she think ‘Why is she getting all of those messages from men? She must be bragging. I mean look at her, she’s not even that attractive!’ 

I see this as a direct result of pitting women against each other.

(Note: the relative beauty of the woman and the actual appearance is irrelevant here but the way she was quickly perceived as ‘not that attractive’ in many of these comments makes me wonder whether her assertive post suddenly made her seem less attractive to people who originally found her photos attractive until they realised she had an opinion). 

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme: 

– Women lie about sexual violence for attention 

– Men cannot help themselves 

– Women need to accept that sexual violence is a part of life 

– Women don’t have a right to talk about sexual violence 

– Sexual harassment isn’t that serious 


5. Women disclosing the same sort of harassment on LinkedIn and then being shut down 

Example 13



Analysis 

This was the rarest type of comment but, as I said at the beginning of this blog, I wonder if that’s because the comment thread was so hostile that many women read the thread but didn’t disclose the same sexual harassment as the original poster because they could see what they would be up against. The example above gives a flavour of the responses to women who did dare write ‘me too!’ 

The exact same levels of judgement are thrown at the women who disclose similar sexual harassment. 

Why is this linked to victim blaming? 

This one is slightly more obscure but is strongly linked to victim blaming of the self. Self-blame. We know that self-blame is very common in sexual violence and there are lots of reasons for this but one of them relates to the example above. Women are consumers of media, opinion and thoughts about women – and they absorb the messages from as early as the toddler years. They grow up listening to and watching stories of female lives, trauma, mental health issues, experiences and abuse where the women are picked apart, criticised and judged for why these things have happened to them.  Women learn that disclosure = judgement. 

Not only this, but they learn to blame themselves using the same victim blaming messages that they are expecting to be judged with at the point of disclosure. Was I drunk? Was I wearing a low cut top? Did I come across as a flirt? Should I have behaved differently? Is my story believable enough? 

When the answers to these questions are less than perfect, women are able to accurately predict the responses they may receive based on all of the responses and messages they have ever seen before. They may think ‘well, I guess what I said could have been misconstrued as flirting so I am probably to blame’. Once the self-blame sets in, victim blaming become so much more powerful because you have the social victim blaming coming from myths, gender roles and victim stereotypes, then you have the directed victim blaming about the character or behaviour of the woman and then you have this new layer: the woman themselves, employing these messages to blame herself and to agree with the victim blaming messages of herself and others because she knows that unless she is the ‘perfect victim’ (shown to be completely and utterly innocent) she will be judged by these values and she knows she will lose. Badly. 

Closing Comments

This blog was a reaction to a LinkedIn post by a successful female CEO and Founder. She has not only experienced significant sexual harassment in her private messages that led her to speak out about the nature of the professional networking platform but also paid a heavy price for thinking that people would agree and empathise with her. The comment thread (which is still growing at the time of writing) became a petri-dish of all different types and styles of victim blaming which I sought to expose and explain. The thread is shocking and probably triggering for many people, including people who have experienced sexual violence. It provided a window into the prevalence of victim blaming of women – but in a unique context: sexual harassment in a professional workplace environment. I did attempt to challenge some of the commenters but I became one of the women who got spectacularly shut down. 

Please call out sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace – and everywhere.

The screen shots were taken on the 5th November 2016. All names and photos have been (badly) removed to preserve anonymity of the poster and the commenters. 

‘Take Responsibility’ – The New, Improved & More Socially Acceptable Way to Victim Blame

‘Take Responsibility’ – The New, Improved & More Socially Acceptable Way to Victim Blame

By Jessica Eaton

Twitter @JessicaE13Eaton 

It’s not okay to victim blame – but it’s more than okay to force women and girls to take responsibility for their rape or sexual assault. This article examines recent evidence and possible reasons for why this is happening. 


In my doctoral research in forensic psychology, in my job as a writer, speaker and training manager in CSE and sexual violence and in my general experience of being a woman in the world (an observant, highly critical woman at that) I am becoming acutely aware of a societal shift away from ‘victim blame’ towards ‘victim responsibility’ – and this is something I have designed a new psychometric measure in, which will be tested on thousands of people in the UK this Autumn. 
When I say acutely aware, what I mean is a feeling that every time I look at the news, see an advert or campaign, hear a broadcast, teach at an event or get into a conversation – I find myself listening to people who are victim blaming whilst denouncing victim blaming. 

What do I mean by this? Well, I can already tell as I am writing this that it sounds like waffle so I will give some examples I have seen or heard recently and then I will move on to more structured arguments:

“I’m not saying she’s to blame for being raped, but she shouldn’t have got into that car.”

“It’s always the perpetrator’s fault but if he hadn’t gone on the app in the first place, none of this would have happened to him, would it?”

“She’s not to blame for what happened to her, but she does need to take more responsibility for her choices that evening.”

“We advise all festival goers to stay aware. Please do not get so drunk that you end up a victim of crime.”

“Women need to take more responsibility. They need to know that if they dress like that, they are bound to get inappropriate comments!”

“The child needs help to make better decisions and to reduce their risk of child sexual exploitation.”

“She’s received 47 death threats from the perp so we have advised her to take the initiative to move out of the area and to change her number so he won’t be able to continue harassing her. She refuses to move so the abuse continues.”

What we have here are more intelligent, more socially acceptable and more subtle examples of victim blaming. However, whilst the principle remains the same (the shift of focus from the perp to the victim), the wording is slightly softened and changed to ‘responsibility’ or ‘decision making’. Some of these comments actually contradict themselves by claiming to understand that the perpetrator is always to blame, but then use ‘responsibility’ to equally blame the victim without sounding like they are blaming the victim. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have the rise of the socially desirable response.

This interests me so much because my research focus is victim blaming and the way women and girls learn to absorb these victim blaming messages from an early age which then leads to them blaming themselves when they experience sexual violence. I believe that as a general society, victim blaming is not reducing at all, it is merely becoming more insidious and cameoflaged by adapting the language used. People know that they shouldn’t victim blame, but they still feel the need to do it, so what do they do? They adapt. 

Examples of the shift from blame to responsibility:

Anti-rape wear by Defendables (and others)


Anti-rape wear is the ultimate shift from blame to responsibility. The slogan of Defendables on all of their marketing materials is:

“DEFENDABLES -DON’T BE A VICTIM

Anti-rape wear is generally marketed as underwear or other garments that are designed to lock (you’re thinking chastity belt aren’t you? Yeah, you’re not far off) so you don’t get raped. Genius, eh? All those millions of women who have experienced rape and sexual violence and all that was really needed was a pair of knickers that can’t be tugged, unlocked, cut off or ripped. 

AR Wear advise women that they can wear the knickers when they go running, travelling or on a first date. Excellent. 


However, there are a few problems with anti-rape wear. 

1. To prevent rape, you would have to wear these 24/7, 365 days a year 

The fact that these items are marketed for running at night, travelling alone and going on first dates just confirms that the designers and founders of these companies have no idea what they are talking about. With the large majority of rapes happening within the home of the victim and perpetrated by someone they knew well (family member, partner, friend or ex partner) – women would have to wear these for the rest of their lives in order to get protection from them. 

2. These knickers completely ignore wider sexual violence acts

So you’ve got your anti-rape knickers on, you’re safe, you’re confident. You are now protected from rape. Really? 

The sexual offences act 2003 defines rape as including oral sexual assault. What are we going to wear to prevent that? A Bane mask? (Sorry, Batman fans.)

But seriously, what about women being forced into sexual acts that do not require the penetration of their vagina? What about being touched? What about being coerced or threatened into taking the knickers off and unlocking them? What about being sweet-talked and groomed into not wearing them? 

This garment is designed based on the myth that all rapes and sexual assaults are random acts of severe violence perpetrated in unfamiliar environments by a stranger. Every other form of sexual act is ignored. The concept of grooming, threat and charm is ignored. 

3. “She should have been wearing her anti-rape knickers!”

In more direct and overt examples, victim blaming will most certainly increase if these garments ever became a serious trend. Imagine the ridiculous arguments in court, by police, from friends and family and the wider public when a woman gets raped and she wasn’t wearing her trusty anti-rape underwear. It’s just more pathetic excuses added to the arsenal of rape-deniers and victim-blamers everywhere. 

In more subtle blaming, the focus will shift to a woman’s responsibility to ensure she is prioritising her personal safety by wearing these knickers. It will be her duty to ensure she is taking adequate steps to reduce her risk of rape. Don’t drink. Don’t wear short skirts. Don’t live one hour of your life without your anti-rape knickers on. You fool. 

This is not a route we need to go down, ever. Anti-rape wear is not the answer to rape. It never has been and it never will be. Forcing women to take more precautions and more responsibility to prevent their own rape is ridiculous. What about women who have been with their partners for 12 years and then they begin to show abusive behaviours and start manipulating them, eventually leading to their partner raping or sexually assaulting them? What would be said to them? That they should have worn their anti-rape knickers for their whole relationship just on the off-chance? That she ‘should have seen the signs of abuse’ and bought anti-rape wear to protect herself? 

The fact that a lot of money, innovation and resource has been pumped into designing prototypes of knickers that imply that the burden of responsibility to prevent rape sits with the woman feels like a massive step backwards. 

Public safety campaigns aimed at potential victims 

Some excellent examples below contain messages that place an incredible amount of responsibility on the victim and even her friends – to ensure she is not raped. It feels as though our government and our public services have just resigned themselves to the fact that women and girls will continue to get raped so they have decided to target all of their messages and resources at women and girls rather than perpetrators. It’s a sorry state of affairs that teaches women that they are responsible for their rape, if they break any of the rules in the campaigns. 


I doubt that you will be surprised to see this one. The U.K. and USA especially have created solid links between alcohol and rape in recent years. Their reasoning is so frequent and confident that they make it sound as though it’s the alcohol that rapes women. It’s incredible really. 

This poster is implying that if you drink alcohol, you might get raped. More than that, it positions your choice to have a drink over the choice of the perpetrator to target you and rape you. 

This poster sends the message that if you were drunk when you got raped, you will have broken the golden rule and you will not be afforded any sympathy. Case in point: The Sun headline about India, who was raped and murdered. #2The coverage of the Brock Turner case in which the fact that the woman had been drinking was a massive focus. 

You had a responsibility not to drink and you did not uphold that responsibility – you will therefore come under heavy scrutiny from both men and women about why you were drinking in the first place.


Again, another example of subtle victim blaming in which the shift is based on the responsibility for personal safety and ‘looking after yourself’ and ‘making good decisions’. 

This poster by Essex Police clearly instructs women not to walk home alone. Well, what happens if they do walk home alone? Are they less deserving of justice? The answer to that, sadly, is yes. There is a high chance that people around them will question why they decided to walk home alone and why they didn’t reasonably predict that they would be raped or sexually assaulted. The focus will shift back to the ‘everyone is responsible for their own safety’ message, which is what this poster is based on. 

This is not crime prevention, this is victim blaming. However you dress it up. 


I really do not like this one. The poster depicts a woman with her knickers around her ankles with a bit of text aimed at her friends saying that she might get so drunk that she will make bad decisions. However, the large text overriding the poster says ‘she didn’t want to, but she couldn’t say no’. 

Well, in my opinion, she didn’t make a bad decision. Her decision was that she didn’t want to have sex. However, she was unable to communicate her decision due to being drunk. And when you are too drunk to convey your decision about sex…

(Say it all together now) 

That is rape. 

So why exactly has this police force reframed a very clear example of rape due to the person not having capacity to consent or communicate – as a ‘bad decision’ and then placed the responsibility on the friends? It’s astounding. 

There are hundreds of examples of these types of campaigns, resources and anti-rape wear garments and judging by the quick and critical response to most of them on social media, I would hope that a lot of these messages are being rejected – however, a critical look at academic research and professional practice in sexual violence has a slightly different story to tell. A story that ultimately suggests that the ‘take responsibility’ message is alive and well and unfortunately, increasing. 

Academic Research 

There are a string of studies into victim blaming that sparked my interest into whether victim blaming was becoming more intelligent and more subtle. Having recently conducted a very large literature review in victim blaming and self blame in sexual violence which led to me designing a new measure of victim blaming, I noticed something really important that I hope to test. 

In the 1980s, Martha Burt found that around half of all people surveyed blamed women for their rape, usually using reasoning like ‘they were asking for it’ or ‘they deserved it’ or ‘they brought it upon themselves by the way they were… (Insert reason here)’. As you can imagine, half is a pretty big claim. However, as someone who works in this field, I accepted that to be fairly accurate. However, in 2005 Amnesty International performed a very large survey or victim blaming and rape myth acceptance and found that the proportion of people who blamed women for their rape had dropped to a third. Many researchers hailed this as a true reduction in victim blaming and put it down to better education, rape prevention programmes and good campaigns around sexual violence. I was sceptical. 

My observations and criticisms were based around the survey items used to test people. They were so direct and so overtly sexist that I doubted whether even the most confident sexists would admit to agreeing to the items. Examples include items such as ‘if a woman acts like slut, she deserves to get raped’ and ‘rape is a common weapon that women use against men’. I argued that it was much more likely that people were just responding in a socially desirable manner and were therefore disagreeing with the most overt examples of victim blaming and were only agreeing to the items that were more subtly worded such as the items that talked about responsibility and casual factors that ‘led’ to the rape. I also had issues with language and wording of a lot of items due to the scales being written some decades ago and the way the general public speak having changed. 

I was delighted to find that McMahon (2010) had the exact same criticisms as I did and had done an excellent piece of research that asked university students to look at the IRMAS scale and to be honest about whether they thought people of their age group (18-25) would answer them honestly. The findings were really useful to researchers like me. They confirmed that many people would not like to be seen as agreeing to overt victim blaming but would be more likely to agree to the more subtle forms of victim blaming, which usually involve responsibility or cause rather than blame.  One item about women who deserve to be raped was completely dropped from the updated version of the scale because so many participants said that even if they believed that some women deserved to be raped, they knew that it was not socially acceptable to say it like that so they would not answer that question or would lie about their views. 

Once McMahon had amended the scale using updated language and the ideas from the participants, it was found that the proportion of people who blame women for their rape went back up to half. For me, this was good evidence of my argument that victim blaming was not reducing, it was evolving. 

The second issue I have been looking at is language around blame, responsibility, fault and cause. In every day language, we use them interchangeably. However, when it comes to sexual violence, it appears to me that people think they mean different things. This results in people saying ‘they are not to blame for being raped but they need to take more responsibility for their actions that caused it’. Most people would say ‘that’s still victim blaming’, but in the mind of the speaker, they are reasoning that blame, responsibility and cause are different concepts that do not lead to the same level of culpability. They are saying that you could be at fault, but not to blame. They are saying that you should be held responsible, but that it wasn’t your fault. They are saying that your actions caused it, but that the perpetrator is equally to blame. What!?

At the moment, other than the fact that people have started to realise that research in this area has seriously muddled up these terms, not much else has been achieved to unpick this web. I have built this into my new measure and will be excited to see how language plays a role. I will also be conducting interviews across the UK on this topic to see what we can learn about this mixed up set of concepts. One thing is fairly clear though, ‘blame’ seems to carry much more negative weight than ‘responsibility’ which means that professional practice has already started to adopt this approach (either consciously or unconsciously) and I can already see the effects. 

Professional Practice Example: Child Sexual Exploitation

I am going to use a fictitious but typical case study of a child who is being sexually exploited in the UK and then unpick some of the ways the ‘take responsibility’ message is harming professional practice with victims of sexual violence. 

  • The child is 14 years old 
  • They have a Facebook account through which they have been groomed repeatedly 
  • They have been sexually exploited by a number of peers and adults 
  • They are taken to hotels and pubs by perpetrators in nice cars 
  • They are in love with their main perpetrator and have no idea why everyone thinks they are being abused
  • They are being given drugs and alcohol regularly

This case would be classed as ‘high risk’ in the UK using the CSE risk assessment toolkits (I don’t have time to go into the serious flaws in those here but the fact that a child who is already being raped is classed as ‘high risk’ probably gives you a good idea of my main criticism).

The child and family would have a number of different agencies involved in an effort to keep them safe and to reduce their risk. 

The ‘take responsibility’ victim blaming message really takes hold here, and this is how:

“Parents need to take more responsibility for the safety of this child”

Whilst this seems fairly reasonable, because as parents, we are all legally responsible for the safety and wellbeing of our children; this is not quite what that statement means to parents of exploited children. This statement is used with parents even when they are trying absolutely everything in their power to keep their child safe but the perpetrators are just too powerful. The child climbs out of the bedroom window whilst they sleep. The perp pulls them out of school at dinner time. The perp threatens the child to ensure they run away and come back to the perp or the residence where the perpetrator are. In these situations, the power of the parents is limited. And yet, if the child continues to be exploited the child will inevitably be removed from the parents on the basis that they are failing in their responsibility to protect the child from harm. The local authority will seek to put the child in care which generally solves nothing, creates further trauma and vulnerabilities for the perp to exploit and ultimately, punishes the parents. 

This is victim blaming. 

Instead of focussing on the perp and the power of the perp, professionals are being taught and forced to focus on the responsibility of the parents. Rather than working with them, they eventually decide that the parenting is the source of the problem, in line with the traditional child protection model. 

Even the CPS have banned the criticism of the responsibility of parents in CSE cases in court – but it still happens regularly in frontline practice. The shift in language from ‘blame’ to ‘responsibility’ has meant that parents continue to be blamed, but in a more subtle manner.
The ‘take responsibility’ message to parents results in parents and carers feeling helpless, disengaged and blamed by professionals who are using standards of ‘responsibility’ unfairly against parents who cannot override the power of the perpetrator. Nor can the professionals, and yet there is no punishment or blame for that. It is common in this country to see children who are removed from parents under the explanation that they were failing to protect their children from external perpetrators of sexual abuse and exploitation – but then the children are put in care homes and foster placements who also struggle to protect them and in most cases, the risk actually increases. Yet there is no such equivalent process for the professionals who are now also failing to protect the child. Surely, when the child is removed from the parents and the CSE continues to worsen, isn’t that just evidence that the risk was never coming from the parenting or the lack of ‘responsibility’ of the parents themselves? Is it so hard to see that the risk comes from the perpetrators? 
“We need to help the child to make better decisions and to reduce their own risk

Nope, the children are not safe from the ‘take responsibility for your own abuse’ message either. The child in this case study would be told to complete work on ‘staying safe online’, ‘drug and alcohol awareness’ and ‘healthy and unhealthy relationships’ – in an attempt to engage the child in taking responsibility for their own safety and ultimately, for the actions of their perpetrators. The thought process behind this baffles me. 

We have a child in serious trauma, being sexually exploited, going missing and already deeply groomed by the perpetrators and the national response to that is to help the children take more responsibility for their own safety? That horse has bolted, my friends. Why are we even doing these pieces of work whilst they are in active exploitation and active complex trauma/crisis? We have perpetrators sexually abusing children and we get them to sit down and watch a DVD about sexting and tell them that they need to take more responsibility for their online behaviours – completely ignoring the actions and grooming methods of the perpetrator, whom is the true catalyst behind these risks. 

We can do all the ‘take responsibility’ work we like, but if the perp is still in the picture, we are actively and consistently perpetuating victim blaming by focussing on the responsibility of a child rather than putting all of our resources into the disruption of the perpetrator. 

Which brings my to my final point. You will notice that throughout this post, there has been no mention by the anti-rape wear companies, the police, the home office, the NHS or the professionals about the responsibility and decision making of the perpetrator. I get the distinct feeling that professionals and larger structures feel that it is just too hard to target perpetrators so they target victims. This in itself, could be construed as victim blaming. Moving to the ‘take responsibility for your own safety’ message might look more socially desirable than victim blaming and it might cost organisations less money than chasing perps but this approach will not reduce sexual violence and it will not empower people who have experienced rape and sexual assault. The focus MUST shift back to the perpetrator and their responsibility. 

Rather than ‘don’t get raped’ messages, we need ‘don’t rape’ messages.

Take responsibility = blaming the victim.

For more information about this article or my research, get in touch

JEE509@bham.ac.uk

Here’s why the decision to strip Zara Holland of her title perpetuates victim blaming of women who are sexually assaulted 

Here’s why the decision to strip Zara Holland of her title perpetuates victim blaming of women who are sexually assaulted 

Written by: @Jessicae13Eaton

This week saw Miss GB, Zara Holland, stripped of her title for having sex on the (apparently) popular TV show, Love Island. 

The official statement read: “Following recent actions within ITV2 show ‘Love Island’ it is with deep regret that we, the Miss Great Britain Organisation, have to announce that Zara Holland has formally been de-crowned as Miss Great Britain.”
“As an organisation we have not taken this decision lightly, we are close to all of our winners and wherever possibly stand by them during their rein. That said, we feel we have no choice but to make this decision under the circumstances.
“The feedback we have received from pageant insiders and members of the general public is such that we cannot promote Zara as a positive role model moving forward.
“We wholly understand that everyone makes mistakes, but Zara, as an ambassador for Miss Great Britain, simply did not uphold the responsibility expected of the title.”

This blog post will discuss why the move to remove her title as a beauty pageant winner is hypocritical at best and reinforcing victim blaming of women who are sexually assaulted or raped at worst. 



#1 She won her title for being desirable and now she’s lost it for the same reason

One of the most ironic issues the decision raises is that an entire culture and community of beauty queens, pageant fans and judges who have pushed, helped or forced girls and women through this process to be more and more desirable and sexy and attractive to win a competition based solely on desirability are now shunning Zara because what she did was perceived as ‘irresponsible’ and she is now a ‘negative role model’. How they have come to this conclusion without realising how hypocritical they sound, truly escapes me. 

I am attempting to consider the logic behind this decision. So, it’s literally your bread and butter to have women wearing as little as possible, in the highest heels possible, in the most make up possible, with the biggest hair and best nail possible, parading around a stage, posing for sexual images, competing with each other for the best bikini body and the best figure, best skin, to be the most desirable, have the most sex appeal and the most ‘beauty’ (ignoring a holistic definition of beauty completely) – but it’s not okay for her to have consensual sex with a man on a dating program because that would make her a bad role model? 

Where exactly are the beauty pageant boards drawing the line here? So judging women on a stage solely based on a male-centric definition of desirability and then having them parade around like prize cattle would make her a great role model, but demonstrating the same sexuality you have been exploiting for years makes her a bad role model?

Ah, I get it. The answer to this is #2.

#2 It reinforces the age old sexist notion that women should be ‘sexy but not a slut’ 

It has become very clear that the message we are all receiving from society at large (mainly perpetuated by the media and then absorbed and relayed by both men and women) is that we need to be sexy – but not a slut. We should aim to be seen as desirable and sexy and attractive to men – but not too desirable or sexy or attractive because then we cross some invisible line created by the patriarchy that means we no longer conform to the rigid gender roles and we will now be judged for whatever we do. 

The other way of explaining this is that we are allowed to ‘look’ sexual and ‘illustrate’ sexuality – but we are not allowed to ‘be’ sexual and ‘demonstrate’ sexuality. You have likely had a conversation in which you say ‘I want to look sexy but not too sexy’ or ‘I love this dress but do you think it makes me look a bit slutty?’ 

In my opinion, one of the most concerning factors is that people seem to think it is men that are doing all of the judging and controlling of women’s sexuality but that isn’t quite true anymore. It certainly started out that way when we look at the history of the genders and both of their roles in society over the centuries – but men don’t need to be the driving force of sexism and control of women’s sexuality anymore. They have a new ally. 

Our sexuality has been created, maintained and controlled for so long that we now employ these absorbed messages about how a woman ‘should’ behave and then beat each other (and ourselves) over the head with them. 

There are women blasting Zara for ‘being a slag’ or ‘letting herself down’ or ‘acting like a slut’ and my personal favourite: ‘she should have kept her knickers on then, the tart’ (all taken from comments left under news articles on Zara Holland dated 22/06/2016). 

It’s pretty safe to say that patriarchy and sexism has succeeded in playing divide and conquer with us as a gender and we now wage war on each other rather than work together to support each other when we are victims of this type of judgement about our sexuality.

What perplexes me more is that the beauty pageant board (and the general public that are chastising her now) seemed to have no problem with the tonnes of lingerie shoots, bikini shoots and sexualised poses directed to her in her photo and promo shoots. It’s as if they have drawn the line at actual, physical sex but everything up to that is fine. It’s okay to ask her to pose in lingerie and bikinis in sexualised positions that scream sex appeal but god forbid she actually has real sex. 

Which brings me nicely to #3. 

#3 It demonises the normal, consensual sexual appetite of women 

So, she had sex on TV. It’s not the first time that has happened on a reality TV show. You know what though? She didn’t have sex with herself, on her own. She had sex with a willing and consenting adult partner. They flirted and found each other attractive and they both wanted to show that attraction by touching each other and being sexually intimate with each other and for it to feel pleasurable. I was worried I was missing something here, because I didn’t really see the problem with this. 

I shouldn’t have worried however, because lots of people have made it clear what their problem is with her having sex with someone on TV and some of those comments are above. The word ‘slag’ and ‘slut’ tend to be used when people are talking about females who are seen as overly sexual or overly sexually active. 

‘Overly’. Like there’s a limit. Didn’t you know there was a limit to the amount and types of sex you can have? Silly you. Of course there is! You’re a woman. Duh. 

So the first issue seems to be that people are finding it irresponsible, disrespectful and uncomfortable that she has chosen to have sex with someone for pleasure and wasn’t scared to do it on the TV show (which by the way is pretty much about people hooking up on an island called Love Island). We have to consider our responses to this. Why do so many people have a problem with this? Why are so many people aiming their problem at Zara and not at the guy she slept with? I’m pretty sure he was just as involved as she was. He’s being virtually high fived by a tonne of people on social networks whilst she is being demonised for partaking in the same sex act. 

Is this because sex is seen as a male act that is done to women? Well, unfortunately, the answer to this is yes. Porn, and increasingly, the mainstream media is overwhelmed with scenes in which women are depicted as submissive sex objects used for the pleasure of men. The pleasure of the woman is only really depicted whilst a man is slamming into her from behind or cumming all over her face (not to judge here, but I’m not that sure that all women tend to orgasm from having cum splatter all over their face the way they do in porn). The rest of the pleasure and servitude is shown from the perspective of the man who uses and abuses the body of the woman throughout the scene. Sex becomes about the woman serving the man and delivering pleasure to him. It’s easy to see how the sexuality of women is owned, policed and controlled by men when a very large proportion of the sexual materials in the world are created and produced via the male perspective. 

What the board are saying in their statement is: “You can perform our rigid version of sexuality when we want you to and how we want you to, but you are not to perform your own version of your own sexuality at any time because we will find that to be highly offensive behaviour.” 

Zara having control of her own sexuality and sexual activity really pushes against this rigid expectation of how she should perform sex (coy, submissive and when she is expected to). 

#4 It allows people to reframe her as unworthy and unable to be respected as a woman 

Zara has swiftly been repositioned as an irresponsible woman and a poor role model by the board of the beauty pageant and unfortunately, the general public have blindly followed this viewpoint. By having sex when she wanted to and controlling her own sexuality, she is now no longer conforming to their twisted boundaries of an acceptable and desirable woman. She has crossed the line. She has gone past sexy and into the realms of slutdom. She can’t be Miss GB anymore because she is no longer just looking sexualised and being looked at, but is acting sexualised and being touched by someone. This is somehow unnacceptable. Her sexuality is for them, not for her. 

The board apparently imposed a contract on Zara that she could only go on Love Island if she agreed not to partake in any sexual acts in order to uphold her title. Again, who are they to police her sexual activity based on the fact that she is a ‘beauty queen’? 

She has gone from being a well known and famous beauty queen to being labelled a slag or slut for having consensual sex with one person. If we compared that to men who have been in positions of power or authority or fame, I cannot think of a comparable example in which a man has had his role or title stripped of him for having consensual sex with an adult. I mean, we struggle to strip their titles and roles from them when they have non-consensual sex with children let alone adults. Usually because the same thing happens, the sexual behaviour of the women or girls are demonised. 

#5 How all of the above relates to the victim blaming of women and girls who have been sexually assaulted or raped 

To summarise and pull these (ranty) ideas together, I am going to link them to victim blaming. Victim blaming happens when a woman or girl is blamed for someone else choosing to target and abuse, assault and rape her. This is alarmingly common and embedded. Despite the need to focus on the behaviour and choices of the perpetrator, the focus is shifted back to the behaviour and choices of the woman or girl so she can be blamed for why it happened to her. 

Why would the act of de-throning Miss GB have links to victim blaming? 

Well, if we go back through our points, we have that a woman is supposed to be desirable but not too desirable otherwise she has broken her gender role norms and is acting like a slut. We also have that her sexuality and sexual desirability is not owned or policed by her and it is seen as irresponsible and disrespectful for her to own her sexuality and make her own sexual choices. We have talked about the way women are depicted as submissive sex objects for the pleasure of men to look at or to touch or to have sex with. 

And when you put all of these things together and then add in the fact that if a woman ever steps outside of these very strict expectations of her dress, her character, her sexuality and her behaviour; she is quickly demonised, outed as a bad example or poor role model and made to feel shame and guilt about her actions, we have fertile ground for victim blaming to be planted and to grow quickly. 

Twitter: @Jessicae13Eaton

Email: Jee509@bham.ac.uk 

Rape Apathy – The Real Responses to Research in Sexual Violence

Rape Apathy – The Real Responses to Research in Sexual Violence

Follow me on Twitter @jessicae13eaton 

Today was the first day I have ever presented my research to hundreds of people whom are not in my field and have no knowledge of sexual violence or psychology. 

The title of my research is ‘Things I ‘Should’ Have Done Differently: Exploring the effect of victim blaming and self blame in rape and sexual violence’. I am conducting this research for my PhD in Forensic Psychology, but most of all, this is my lifelong passion. 

Jessica Eaton, Jun2016
I want to tell you the stories of the people I met and observed today to propose that the real reason we are making such slow and painful progress towards appropriate, sensitive and respectful responses to people who have experienced rape is what I am going to call ‘rape apathy’. Never have I ever seen it so clearly as today. I have been in this field for 7 years and it has never been this blindingly obvious. Maybe that’s because I am usually speaking to hundreds of people who have come to hear me speak about victim blaming and sexual violence – so in a way, I’m preaching to the converted. I drove home in awe of the apathy of the majority – and inspired by the empathy of one woman in particular, who I will introduce you to later on in this article. 

The ones who screwed up their faces and walked away 

This was probably one of the most common reactions from academics, students and the general public today. I was stood next to my research poster ready to explain and answer any questions. These people stood a few feet back from me. These people approached me with a relaxed face, sometimes chatting to their friends. They sometimes smiled at me and then looked from my face to the title of my research. I could see them reading the title, taking in the words and the topic at hand: women who have been blamed for being raped and sexually assaulted and have then absorbed this blame from family, friends, authorities and society – and have blamed themselves. These people all seemed to pull the same face. They screwed their nose up, they pursed their lips and they narrowed their eyebrows. It was a strange mixture of looking disgusted by the topic and perplexed as to why I would give years of my life to this cause. These people usually continued to stare at my research with the screwed up face and then stare at me, still with my optimistic smile on my face, and then walk away or look purposefully at the researcher next to me, who was presenting her research findings on proteins in plants.

The ones who read the title aloud, looked at me and walked away

These people interested me, too. They meandered around the conference and engaged in animated conversation with other researchers and then they arrived at me. I smiled, shook their hand and introduced myself. They did exactly as the heading suggests. They read the title aloud to themselves (sometimes to their friends or colleagues) and their voices changed as they got through the words in the title. One woman’s voice rose more and more until the words ‘rape’ and ‘sexual violence’ were almost said in an intonation that expressed complete disbelief. Most people read it aloud until they got to the words ‘rape’ and ‘sexual violence ‘ and suddenly hushed their voices into a quiet growl with a grimace. What happened next was quite unnerving. They looked at me as if to assess me – and then they immediately walked away before I could say anything. What were they looking for? It was an inquisitive look. Were they wondering why I had chosen this topic? Were they wondering if I had been raped? Were they asking themselves why I thought this was an appropriate topic for a huge A1 research poster? All I know is that all of these people took one look at me and walked away without even saying goodbye or gesturing towards me at all. 

 

The ones who saw my presentation, put their heads down, avoided eye contact and quickly walked past

There were lots of these ones. I watched them like I watched everyone else. They were confident people, good conversationalists, knowledgable and interested in the array of research topics on offer today. They walked towards me and started to read my huge poster from afar, but within a few seconds, I knew that they were not going to engage with me at all. These people put their heads down, looked at their watch, became incredibly interested in their pen or their phone or their badge or their nails and avoided every single attempt I made to make eye contact or even verbal contact. I was so desperate to engage these people that I even said hello to a few with the hope of reassuring them that I was approachable and personable despite the difficult subject matter. None of it worked. They picked up their pace and got away from me and the subject of rape and sexual assault as quickly as they could without breaking into a jog. 

The ones who said my research wasn’t real science and was a waste of their time 

There were only two people that fit this category today but their response concerned me. Both were male academics in an unrelated field but this should not be a reason for their behaviour. Lots of men talked to me today. Lots of people from other fields talked to me today. But from these two men, I learned that my research was not real science, was not worthwhile and didn’t even merit actual conversation to my face. 

I was stood next to my poster when they approached me. I was expecting them to engage with me as they were stood less than three feet from me. Their bodies were turned towards me and they were both looking at my poster. I smiled at both of them and attempted to make eye contact but neither looked directly at me. Suddenly, they began to speak:

Guy on the right: I mean, this isn’t even real science 

Guy on the left: It’s about ‘sexual violence’ (said in a strange growling low voice)

Guy on the right: It would be more worthwhile if it was about archeology or something 

Guy on the left: And we are supposed to actually talk to this presenter about the research? 

Guy on the right: Apparently… 

Then they both looked at one another knowingly and walked away, probably to seek out ‘real science’ or a ‘worthwhile’ research project. I was clearly not regarded as interesting or knowledgeable enough to ask a question of me or to even gesture towards me in any way. I was just the woman who was wasting their time with the research about sexual violence.

On balance, I don’t believe this to be down to gender. This was demonstrated to me a few moments later when a woman approached me and explained that she was looking for PhD researchers to present their research at a series of seminars for retired academics she was arranging. She then glanced over my shoulder at my research. She very sharply told me that she wouldn’t be interested in my research because:

“Let’s face it, no one wants to hear you talk about sexual violence!”

And there you have it, folks: Rape Apathy. 

No one wants to look at the poster. 

No one wants to engage with me about the topic of victim blaming of women who have been raped and sexually assaulted. 

No one wants to make eye contact with the woman who talks about rape. 

No one wants to hear about the way I will explore the experiences and champion the voices of women who have been blamed for being targeted and attacked by sex offenders. 

No one wants to hear me talk about sexual violence. 

So, why do people exhibit such obvious apathy towards rape and sexual violence? 

1. Because it doesn’t affect me 

Like many of the important issues in society, the ones that understand the importance the most are those that have personal connection to the topic. LGBTQI people understand the importance of having their voices heard in policy and research because they know the feeling of marginalisation. Black people understand the importance of statistics that continually show the tiny percentage of black professors in academia. Women who have been sexually assaulted or raped understand why I am holding the issue of victim blaming and self blame up as a serious societal problem.

So what about those people who have never been touched by sexual violence? Whilst being careful not to generalise, it’s fairly safe to say that people with no history or understanding of sexual assault or rape can successfully distance themselves from my research because they don’t feel it relates to them in any way. What does my research have to offer them? What can I possibly tell them? Why do they even need to know about rape and sexual assault? Why would they want to think about it? 

If they feel that they are in some way immune to rape and sexual assault, not only are they wrong but they are likely to fall into the trap of #2.

2. Because it only happens to certain kinds of people

One of the most common reasons why we are getting nowhere fast is because humans have developed impressive cognitive biases that can help them to feel safe from horrid things that could happen to them. If humans accepted that at any given moment, life changing and horrible things could happen to them, it’s pretty safe to say that we would be in a constant state of anxiety and defence. The best way to combat this reality is to find a way to pinpoint ‘types of people’ that are raped and sexually assaulted and then mentally differentiate themselves from those ‘types of people’. Indeed, this is one of the most important underpinning factors of the rape stereotypes. It could be ‘women that wear revealing clothes’ or ‘women that get drunk in nightclubs’ or ‘women who stay in abusive relationships’ or ‘women from the rough estate’ or ‘women in poverty’ or ‘women who cheat on their husbands’. 

Whatever the irrelevant and illogical category placed upon the ‘type of woman’ who is raped or sexually assaulted – the purpose is to enable people to use that category to blame the woman and then announce that it would never happen to them because they are not (insert type of woman here). Society are not ready to accept that rape and sexual assault happens to men, women and children through absolutely no fault of their own – the world is random and unfair. 

Whilst this ‘it only happens to certain types of women’ rationale continues, we will never make the progress we need because there will be a large portion of the population who could be standing arm in arm with us that are instead stood at the sidelines reassuring themselves that they will never become a victim.

So this is pretty disappointing, right? 

But let me tell you about one last person. 

Here she is. 

The woman that lifted my spirits today. The woman who stood and spoke to me with equal enthusiasm and reminded me that there are people with huge empathy and understanding for women who have experienced victim blaming and self blame after rape and sexual assault. 

The one who made the sign to encourage more people to speak to me

After a day of confused looks, walking away, ignoring me, undermining me and being too uncomfortable to talk to me, a man said to me:

“Hang on, my wife would love your research. Let me go and find her for you.”

A few moments later, she arrived. I introduced myself and we shook hands. She looked at my research title and she beamed. She smiled. She kept looking at my diagram and my research studies. She asked me to explain my theories and my studies and we had a conversation that lasted well over 30 minutes. After a while she said:

“May I ask you something? Have you had many people stop and talk to you today?”

“Honestly? Not really. I think people may be a little intimidated by the topic… Plus, I’m kind of at a weird angle so I don’t think people know I’m here…” I admitted. 

She shook her head, “I’m going to do something about this! You watch!”

I suddenly felt anxious. What was she going to do? 

The photo above is what I spotted a few moments later. The woman went off to find paper and a pen and was stood at the back of the conference hall scribbling away. I watched her with interest. After a few more moments, she came back to me flapping her piece of paper that she had folded into a makeshift arrow. 

IMPORTANT RESEARCH THIS WAY! SEXUAL VIOLENCE! >>>>>

“Look, I’ve made you this sign. I’m going to stick it up over here so everyone knows to come and talk to you. I’m going to send people to speak to you. More people must understand the experiences of women who have been sexually assaulted and raped. There are hundreds of people here and your message is important!” She explained passionately whilst attempting to stick the sign to the notice board behind me. 

Her sign and her personal referrals must have worked because I quickly became unindated with people wanting to hear about my research. At one point, I had a crowd of 8 people huddled around listening to my poster presentation in a tiny space. Through the huddle popped the woman, again. 

“I’m so proud of you and your research. I’m going home now but I’ve brought you a drink…” She smiled as she passed me the cup. 

Despite the large number of people who did not engage with me today for the reasons discussed above, I appreciate ‘the one who made the sign’ and she was a perfect, passionate and timely reminder that there are others in the world who see the importance of breaking down victim blaming of women who have experienced rape and sexual violence. Now our challenge is to help the others I met today to understand this importance and help us to champion it in their communities alongside us. 

A picture of my poster from today: 


Contact: jee509@bham.ac.uk

Twitter: @jessicae13Eaton