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

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Dr Jessica Eaton

23 June 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blame her behaviour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blame her character

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blame her sexuality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blame her situation

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

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

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

It often sounds like this:

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

Or it sounds like this:

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

Or it can sound like this:

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

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

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

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

You cannot be exploited by train station.

You cannot be sexually abused by poverty.

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

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

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

I argued back.

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

See how that works?

Blame her appearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Sexualised dress
  • Wearing make up
  • Revealing clothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Psychologist

Founder of VictimFocus

Published: 23 June 2019

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

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

Why education will never stop rape

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

05/07/2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

However. And this is a HUGE HOWEVER.

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

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

1. Education is not preventative or protective for victims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Someone said to me last week:

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

And I said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education is not the answer here, either.

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

 

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

Someone said to me last month:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A message to professionals and commissioners:

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

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

 

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

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Council Estate Academics: Take Pride in Your Roots

Council Estate Academics: Take Pride in Your Roots

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

20 May 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By any means necessary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, it’s not. Not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We know why.

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

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

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

Final thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

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

New Zealand gave me the strength to keep fighting

New Zealand gave me the strength to keep fighting

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton FRSA

18 May 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 1: Trauma, abuse and gender role stereotypes

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

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

violence

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

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

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

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

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

No one said anything like that.

And that’s when it dawned on me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. No, one thousand times. Nope.

This raised some important issues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know what’s harder?

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

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

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

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

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

Radical change and progress is possible.

Let’s go get em. Are you in?

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Written by Dr Jessica Eaton FRSA

18th May 2019

Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

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

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

Jessica Eaton

29/04/19

I have a good mind to just write the words:

BECAUSE IT IS VICTIM BLAMING

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reason 1: This is a way to discredit the victim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reason 4: Everyone is entitled to a private life

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

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

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

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

Is that where we are?

2019? Hello?

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

Well, isn’t that just peachy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean, wow.

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

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

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

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

My final word on this is:

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

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

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

Written by Jessica Eaton

Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Jessica Eaton granted a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts

Jessica Eaton granted a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA)

17th April 2019

Since the Enlightenment, The Royal Society of Arts has championed the sharing of powerful ideas, has carried out cutting-edge research and built networks and opportunities for people to collaborate.

The RSA believe that all human beings have creative capacities that, when understood and supported, can be mobilised to deliver a 21st century enlightenment. The 260-year old organisation believes that creative ideas can enrich social progress.

The fellowship is awarded to individuals who are recognised by a panel to have made significant contributions to social change.

Jessica Eaton was invited to become a fellow to recognise her contribution to the psychology of victim blaming of women, her work in mental health and her contribution to feminism.

At 28 years old, Jessica is the Founder and Chair of the first trauma-informed male mental health centre in the UK. Founded at 23 years old, she has won over £600,000 for the male mental health service which now supports hundreds of men per month.

In addition, she is the Founder of VictimFocus, an international research and consultancy organisation focussing on the rights and wellbeing of victims of trauma, violence and abuse. Her VictimFocus blog has 1.3 million readers per year and covers topics of feminism, women’s rights, victim blaming, child sexual exploitation and violence against women and girls. She conducts research on topics affecting women and girls, and has recently submitted a PhD in Psychology, specialising in the psychology of victim blaming and self blame of women subjected to sexual violence.

More recently, she set up VictimFocus Publications as an independent publisher to ensure free and accessible research, information and resources to improve the fields of abuse, violence and trauma. In the first year, the research and reports were downloaded over 20,000 times; providing free evidenced-based information to everyone interested in the topics. In June 2019, she will open VictimFocus Academy, which is a global E-learning platform dedicated to free and affordable education, open to all, on the topics of psychology, trauma, violence and abuse.

A statement from Jessica Eaton, on the award of the Fellowship:

‘I am absolutely blown away by this nomination and award of fellowship with the RSA. When I first got the email, I thought it was a prank! When you work in feminist psychology and women’s rights, it is so rare to be recognised like this. For a council estate, school drop-out teen mum like me, not much was expected from me, I guess. Now I have the privilege of undertaking work in psychology and the prevention of violence against women all over the world.

I always dreamt of creating change in the world but I could never have dreamt that sheer determination and self-belief would have got me here, from where I was. It’s the main reason I take the view in all of my work that humans are capable of brilliant, world-changing achievements – if only we platform them, listen to them and give them space to grow and flourish. Strengths-based, trauma-informed work is my absolute passion.

I have spent the last week learning all about my new fellowship and about how I can get involved with the RSA and the incredible network of fellows. I cannot wait to travel down to London to visit the RSA house and I hope to attend and then provide some workshops and seminars for other fellows. 

I would like to thank the RSA for recognising my work and my contribution to social change. Millions of people engage in my work and I have dedicated so much to the challenge and the change I want to see in the world. So, this one is for you, sisters. We will be heard.’

Fellows have access to the brightest new ideas, innovative projects, a diverse network of like-minded people, and a platform for social change. Past RSA Fellows include brilliant minds and change-makers like Marie Curie, Karl Marx and Stephen Hawking.

Jessica’s website is http://www.victimfocus.org.uk where you can download free videos, reports, research and resources.

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Dear men: Here are 5 things you can do to support your wife or girlfriend in a sexist world

Dear men: Here are 5 things you can do to support your wife or girlfriend in a sexist world

Written by Jessica Eaton

06/04/2019

 Content warning for discussion of sex, porn, violence and misogyny 

This blog is for all of the men who love women, who are in relationships with women they respect and care about. You see, being a decent bloke to your wife or girlfriend is great and all, but the woman you love lives in a society that is inherently sexist and misogynistic.

She lives in the same world as you, but the world doesn’t treat her the same way it treats you. That’s why I’ve put together some things you can do to support her in a society that hates her for being a woman.

Actually, before I start with the things you can do to support her, take a few moments to think about this. Were you really aware that the woman you love lives in such a misogynistic world? Have you noticed the way she is spoken to? The way she is treated? Has she ever told you about the way other men have treated her? The way she is talked over and ignored? The way the builders wolf-whistled her at 12 years old? The way she picks different routes home from work to stay safe? The way she texts her best friends to check they ‘get home safe’?

If you respect her and care for her, she is with you because she can feel that. However, her trust and love for you does not stop her from being oppressed, discriminated against and harassed out there in the world.

Here are some things you can do to support her in a sexist world:

1. Believe in and educate yourself about misogyny

If you love her, care about her and respect her – you need to make sure your eyes and ears are open to the misogyny and sexism she is battling every single day. Don’t convince yourself that sexism is over, and that women are treated as equals in society. Learn about the global oppression of women. Look around you and consider the way women are objectified, hypersexualised, discriminated against and blamed. Watch the way other men treat women around them. Listen to the way your peers talk about women and girls. Consider how many notions of ‘not being manly enough’ are based on the stereotypes of women. Have you ever been told not to cry like a girl? Been told to ‘stop being a woman’? Been called a ‘pussy’ for being scared? Been told you run or throw ‘like a girl’? Heard a man calling another man a ‘little bitch’? Have you ever noticed how many slurs are female?

Notice these aggressions all around you. Imagine what it is like to be the woman you love in a world in which being a woman is the worst thing you can be, and that’s why all the male slurs are about humiliating men for acting like a woman. The woman you love is being held up as an example of what men should never be. Think about that.

2. Don’t ‘not all men’ her when she tells you about the way a guy has treated her

I know its tempting or can even make you feel offended or defensive, but when she is talking about men treating her like shit, or the time she was assaulted, or her friend being raped – she does NOT need to hear you say ‘Yeah, but not all men are like that, babe.’

She already knows that. That’s why she’s with you.

So please, don’t tell her what she already knows. She knows not all men are rapists or abusers or wife beaters or paedophiles. She knows. But that doesn’t take away from what she is saying.

Lots of men feel personally attacked when women talk about male violence, but as long as you are not one of those men who are committing it, minimising it or encouraging it, then this isn’t about you. Listen to her, care about her view and her experiences. Condemn what the other man did to hurt her or hurt someone she knew.

Remember that she is in a relationship with you because she cares about, respects and loves you. That means she can sit and rage about the way some footballer is getting away with raping women and the women are being blamed – and it’s not about you. She doesn’t think it’s ‘all men’.

3. Do not stand by and allow men to disrespect her

Now obviously, as a man who loves and cares for your wife and girlfriend; I already know you wouldn’t let someone hurt or threaten her. But what about the microagressions she faces every day?

What about the way the man at the car garage won’t listen to her about there being something wrong with her car because she’s just a woman? Or the way the estate agent talks to you as you walk around a house viewing, as if your partner isn’t even there? Or the way your mates joke that you are a ‘walking bank’ and she’s probably out right now rinsing your credit cards? Or the way your family tell the women to get back in the kitchen and make the food? Or the way the bank manager only makes eye contact with you whilst talking about your joint mortgage?

These examples might sound small and petty but imagine being on the receiving end of them.

Imagine being side-lined, ignored and mocked like this. Furthermore, imagine a man treating her like this or talking to her like this, whilst you stand by, completely oblivious to how she is being made to feel.

Imagine the mechanic only speaking to her, because you are too stupid to understand. Imagine being shown around your new house by an agent who only ever asks her about the house, the mortgage and the deposit – because it can’t possibly be you with the money or the authority to rent or buy a house. Imagine her friends joking that you live off her money and you are some wasteman who uses up all her credit cards. Imagine going to the bank to discuss the mortgage and the bank manager literally ignoring your existence and only talking to your wife or girlfriend, because they assume she is the only one who understands and the only one making the money.

That’s what it feels like to be on the receiving end of this constant disrespect.

When you live in a sexist world, even if you respect and care about a woman – it doesn’t mean other men around you respect her. Lots of men around you will assume you have the same lack of respect for women as they do.

When these things happen to her, say something. You don’t have to be aggressive or confrontational, but don’t stand there and allow her to be disrespected by other men.

All it takes is a swift ‘Well, this is a joint decision so my partner needs this information too’ or ‘Why don’t you ask my wife what she thinks?’ or ‘Would you speak to her that way if she was a man?’ or ‘Actually, I agree with her, she’s right’ or ‘My girlfriend does not sponge off me, she makes her own money.’

Deliberately bring her into the conversation and keep referring back to her, to reposition her in the conversation.

4. For the love of women everywhere, please stop expecting her to act out things you saw in porn

It’s a slap in the face for a lot of people to realise that porn is misogynistic and sexist. It represents the true derogation, humiliation and objectification of women. If you’re a guy who watches porn and has maybe been watching it for 5, 10, 15 or maybe more than 20 years – you will notice how much more violent and degrading it has gotten.

The days of ‘the plumber who came to fix the pipe under the sink and then ended up having sex with the woman over the dining table’ have gone, my friends. Long gone. Now we have women being violently penetrated by groups of men. Women being beaten, strangled, hit, kicked, slapped, spat on, shouted at and called names. Women being forced to commit disgusting acts that no woman you love will ever want to copy. Women being fed drugs before, during and after porn shoots so they are so high they can’t feel the hours of pain that is required for these shoots. Women suffering internal injuries and irreparable anal prolapse because, guess what, the ass is not for sex.

The reality is, men in power are making porn that frames women in this way – and then men and boys think that is normal sex. Those of you who have had sex with women will know that real life sex is absolutely nothing like porn sex. And you need to remember that.

Two stories that might make you rethink this issue:

  1. My friend is a GP who reckons she now sees about 4-5 women with ‘fisting injuries’ per month from men who have tried to copy fisting from porn and have caused extremely serious tears in women’s vaginas. This is NOT okay. This is NOT healthy experimentation. Stop trying to copy porn. Porn is not real sex.
  2. My other friend is a therapist who sees men and boys who have watched so much unrealistic porn, that they can no longer get an erection or have sex with women they fancy. Some of those men say that the only way they can ejaculate is if they are having sex with their partner and watching porn on the laptop at the same time, next to them. She recently saw a guy who has a girlfriend that he really loves, but he just cannot get aroused by her healthy, natural body – because her body looks nothing like the women in porn. This is also NOT okay. This is the way men and boys are being manipulated by porn. These effects are seen in boys from the age of 14 years old. Think about that.

Porn, unfortunately, is not the harmless bit of fun it is made out to be. In fact, just take a few minutes to think about the things you thought women liked because you saw it in porn, only to be told by a woman in real life to stop it, that it hurt, that she didn’t want to do that or that she physically could not copy that from porn.

5. Challenge your peers when they are abusing, disrespecting or harming women

Women and girls have been trying to challenge men and boys for decades, but they are not the sex that holds the most authority and power in society. When women and girls stand up and challenge men and boys, they are often laughed at, ignored or shouted down.

However, when men start challenging each other and holding each other to account, shit will change.

You might be the good guy who has never hurt a woman, but do you laugh along with your mates whilst they tell rape jokes or call a woman they know a ‘fat slag’? Do you quietly shake your head when your mate chats up a woman who keeps telling him she is not interested? Do you intervene when you think your brother is abusing his girlfriend? Do you stop in the street to ask if a woman needs help when her drunk husband is yelling at her and the kids? Do you report your boss for treating your female colleagues like tea-maids?

Please, SAY SOMETHING.

Women who stand up and defend or protect themselves often fear repercussions or actual threats of violence. Women you know will tell you how dangerous it can be to tell a bloke you’re not interested in him, especially considering how many of them will turn on you at that point. Women who speak up at work against a sexist boss will probably find themselves fired or bullied to the point of resignation.

Showing support and challenging the misogynistic world we all live in doesn’t end with your own girlfriend or wife. What about the way your sisters, friends, mum, daughters, cousins, aunts, nieces and grandmothers are treated in the world? What about the way your female colleagues are treated at work?

Again, you don’t have to aggressively stop a man, but you can challenge him, talk to him, report him or find a way to protect the woman you are worried about. And if a woman discloses to you, listen to her and believe her.

If you see a man you know abusing his partner, threatening her, coercing her, manipulating her, bullying her, assaulting her or gaslighting her – please consider saying something or doing something. Don’t leave her to struggle on her own. Don’t stand by in silence. Don’t watch it happen whilst thinking, ‘It’s none of my business’.

If you have a mate who laughs as he says he has never done a single nappy for his baby because it’s ‘woman’s work’ – laugh at him and tell him he’s a father and he needs to sort his shit out.

If your brother can’t take no for an answer and is pestering the woman at the bar for the second time this evening, move him away from her and tell him she’s not interested.

If you have a boss at work who listens to the ideas of the men but seems to think women are naïve or stupid, keep highlighting the good work of your female colleagues and ALWAYS say when a good idea was from one of the women in the team. If you can sense a female colleague is being overlooked, simply say, ‘Have you thought about asking Maya? She’s really good at that, you know.’

Never allow men in your team to take the work or ideas from a woman and claim them as their own. And when a guy repeats the exact same thing a woman just said, literally say ‘Isn’t that what Amy just said? Didn’t she just say the exact same thing?’

Finally, one thing to everyone reading this. Please don’t use the comments under this blog to bring women down further – or to ridicule the men who care about women, sexism or misogyny. If anything, if you want to leave a comment, why don’t you suggest more ways that men can stand up for the women in their lives and challenge the misogyny we live in every single day?

If my ten-year-old son can recognise sexism and say to the guy at Volkswagen, ‘You wouldn’t talk to my Dad like that…’; then I firmly believe that men and boys can be encouraged to step in and challenge male violence and misogyny when they see it.

Written by Jessica Eaton

Founder of www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Special request blog: Why I chose to home educate my sons

Why I chose to home educate my sons

A special request blog

Jessica Eaton

Founder of VictimFocus, Research Psychologist, Founder of The Eaton Foundation

This is quite a different blog, and something I never planned to write. However, there are two reasons why I have decided to write about home education:

1. Lots of people keep asking me to write about this, to explain why my children do not attend school and to discuss how we educate the boys

2. It does feel like there is a current attack on home education in the U.K. at the moment and I don’t like the way it’s heading.

So this blog will work through a list of my most FAQ about home education. I will answer them honestly and openly, from my own perspective. The blog will also provide information to other parents who might be considering home education. Finally, I will provide an overview of an average week of education that our kids get up to, so you can get a feel for how it works in our house.

Please remember that home education is extremely varied. Some parents choose completely unstructured unschooling and some parents choose structured timetables with tutors and breaks. Lots of parents are anywhere in between those two, sometimes with a bit of both.

Our sons are 10 and 8 years old.

Frequently asked questions

Why did you choose to home educate?

There were a number of cumulative reasons that seemed to hit us all at once. But if we go back to when the kids were in reception, it really started to enter our consciousness there.

When our eldest son started reception, I remember exactly what I said and wrote in my diary – that I felt that I had committed him to the rat race, the same one I was fighting against and trying to get out of. I felt like I had lost control of his well-being and his upbringing, for it to be taken over by a school system that was under resourced and over stretched. A school system that was designed to create compliant factory workers that moved on the bell, sat in silence, all looked the same and spoke the same. It felt like a loss to me. I felt the same way when our second son went from nursery to reception.

Then there were a few things that bothered us both as parents. The kids coming home looking tired and bored. The kids never being able to tell us anything they had learned. The kids suddenly hating reading books. The kids avoiding homework. The kids becoming more and more concerned with peers and mates than actually learning anything. The kids hating school every day and begging for the weekend to come.

Then, when our eldest was in year 4 and our youngest was in year 2; they really started to change.

Our eldest is extremely bright but had basically given up. He was acting the clown at school, distracting other kids and no longer being challenged with any harder work. He was being reframed as troubled and naughty – but he was bored. He was also perceived as too old beyond his years and teachers didn’t like him having the same straight forward communication style as his mum and dad. I was once brought into school by a teacher who complained to me that my son had asked her how she was and how her weekend had been. In our house, that type of dialogue is normal, but she told me he needed to remember his place and to never speak to an adult in that manner. I laughed at her and told her he was being polite and friendly in the way he knew how. She said I had to tell him to stop acting older than he was.

I told her I would not do that.

Meanwhile, our younger son, whom we had always been told was a little slower and very withdrawn, was becoming extremely fearful, depressed and quiet.

At home, he was like a ninja tornado. But all of his teachers told me stories of him being as quiet as a mouse and never speaking all day long. Apparently this was a good thing because he was easy to manage. Teachers described him as a ‘pleasure’. I on the other hand, was gravely concerned by my child being so withdrawn at school. It didn’t match what we knew of him.

Then, at parents evening the teacher told me he was crying if he got anything wrong, crying if he was asked a question, crying if he was asked to read and crying if he didn’t get 100%. He never told me this, so I went to talk to him.

My then-7 year old son told me he was thick.

My heart shattered. My eyes welled up. My son thinks he’s thick? He’s seven!

We spoke to him for hours over a period of days. He told us he cried because he was so embarrassed that he got anything wrong and he wouldn’t get his name on the chart or he wouldn’t get golden time if he wasn’t perfect.

For me, that was the final straw. I had one kid losing the will to live with school cos it was too easy and one kid who was crying every day because he thought he was stupid.

We decided to remove them from the system. Both kids were being failed by a system that cannot tailor individual education easily – and uses such heavy positive reinforcement and assessments that they don’t notice how much it harms the kids who think they need to be perfect.

We talked about it solidly for two weeks. We talked about it alone, as parents. We talked about it as a family. We talked to each of the boys separately and together. Our eldest wanted to leave school immediately with no questions, but our youngest was petrified of leaving school, thinking he would be doing something wrong. However, right on the last day, he approached us both and said he had decided he didn’t want to go to school anymore because it made him feel stupid.

We deregistered the kids and decided we could do a better job.

In the first few weeks, we let them rest and get out of the habit of school. School is not the same as education. They needed to get completely out of the habit of ‘school’. It was June so we decided to keep them off all throughout summer to play and enjoy themselves, and begin proper structured education in the September.

Our eldest loved it immediately, but the first week for our youngest was one of the most heart breaking times I had ever had with him. Every task we gave him, no matter how small, he cried and told us he was too stupid. He told us he couldn’t do anything right. He wouldn’t try anything new. He needed constant love, positive regard and support in those first weeks.

However, sticking by him, encouraging him and showing him how well he was doing eventually paid off as his confidence grew. Within a few months, he was happy, confident, trying lots of new things and excelling far beyond anything we had ever seen him do at school. In fact, he completed the math curriculum for his year in a few months – something that he would never have done in the school setting or in his previous state of mind.

He now sings, performs, writes and works with such brilliant confidence in himself.

Home education has been amazing for our eldest too. He has gone from hating reading, hating drawing, hating learning and never sticking at anything – to being a promising young musician who has discovered he can literally play any tune he hears, he can write music and he can even compose. There’s no way we would have known that if he was in school, and he has an amazing guitar tutor who inspires him.

Home Ed has completely changed our kids.

Isn’t home ed illegal?

No. Absolutely not. Home education is elective. It might seem odd to the average working class person like me or you but think to yourself, how many celebs, royalty and politicians home educate or privately tutor their kids? Why does no one question whether that’s illegal? It’s almost as if the wealthy are seen as eligible and entitled to home educate but the working classes must be breaking a law.

It’s completely legal to choose to home educate.

Do the local authority come to your house to inspect you?

No they don’t. They can ask, but you don’t have to oblige. To be honest, if they pushed, I’d just let them meet us and the kids just to satisfy them that my kids aren’t feral. But from a personal and political perspective, I don’t think they should be able to inspect us and we have a right to a private life and to educate the kids in our own ways without interference. As long as the children are safe, healthy and getting an education; we are entitled to privacy.

I think there is an assumption that if kids aren’t in school, there must be something gravely wrong – either with the kids or the parents. This is simply because home education bucks the social norm, so it makes people anxious and suspicious. Unfortunately, there are still strong stereotypes around home education.

Don’t you have to be really intelligent to home educate?

A few people have asked me this, right before telling me that they are too dumb to teach their kids. The last person to say this to me was a children’s social worker who told me she always longed to home educate her children but fears she’s ‘too thick’.

The reality is, home education does not require you to be a genius in everything. Second, there are amazing resources, books and apps to help you. Third, do you really think your kids’ school teachers are geniuses of every topic? Don’t you think they have to read up on a topic or a mathematical method? Don’t you think they need to keep learning too?

Home education is just that, it’s family learning in a natural environment. The whole family learns when a family home educates. Learning becomes naturalistic. You end up having conversations about grammar on a sign at the garage. You find yourself talking about whale migration during dinner time.

You learn as parents, as you support your kids to learn. I’ve really enjoyed learning along with my kids in some topics I didn’t know much about.

People say to me ‘Yeah but you teach for a living and did a PhD, so you can Home educate’ or they say ‘you have to be a trained teacher to home educate’.

That’s not true. Home educators come from all walks of life, and you certainly do not need to be a teacher or have a doctorate.

Teaching your own kids on a one-to-one basis is completely different and so much easier than teaching 30 x 6-year-olds how to write in cursive!

Do your kids learn anything?

Haha. Yes. In fact, both of them have chosen to move up a year, because their current year became too easy and boring.

We have a really cool app called IXL which covers and analyses their maths and English skills against national curriculum. This is how they learned that they found their designated school year work far too easy. Our youngest has moved up two whole school years in Maths and one school year in English. Our eldest son has moved up one school year in both Maths and English.

They also regularly learn about biology, chemistry, physics, politics, history, geography, psychology, religion, cultures, music, literature, poetry… just all sorts.

As an example of recent tasks they have undertaken in Home Ed:

⁃ The boys watched Martin Luther King speeches and then wrote their own anti-racism speech

⁃ They used the internet to research how the criminal justice system works in different countries around the world

⁃ They researched famous rock musicians and wrote their biography

⁃ They created mind maps of all of the emotions they had ever felt and what triggered them

⁃ They watched The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas and then wrote a film review and a discussion about the persecution of Jewish people during the Holocaust

⁃ They created Mother’s Day cards

⁃ They went to climb trees and play on the park

⁃ They went indoor rock climbing each week

⁃ They went trampolining

⁃ They learned to bike ride safely and signal properly

⁃ They researched two different cookie recipes and then created a shopping list, bought the ingredients from the supermarket, followed the recipe on the internet and then taste tested which one was best after baking them

⁃ They watched a documentary about sharks and then designed an exhibition poster to invite people to learn about sharks

⁃ Our eldest learned to play three different guitars and is now playing famous songs confidently in different keys, and can tune and retune accordingly

⁃ Both kids have read Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses Book and have been writing and evaluating it as they go along

As you can see, it’s very varied. And honestly, I cannot say my kids would have progressed this much if they were at school.

Do your kids do exams?

One of the reasons we removed them was because we fundamentally disagreed with SATs, exam pressure and learning by rote. I have no interest in putting my children through arbitrary exams. However, purposeful exams and vocational qualifications will help them later in life, so they will probably study for GCSEs and A-Levels. I would not support them having to study and undertake 13 GCSEs like I did, though.

There is no sense whatsoever in forcing a kid to cram for months for 13 GCSEs that they will never remember, and most of which are not actually required to secure a place on an FE/HE course. For that reason, I would much rather support the boys to only study the topics they require and/or enjoy, than whacking in as many topics as possible.

I would also not support the exams all being done at one time. In any other setting, exams for different topics are not all done within a week or two. They are usually spread over modules, which can be months apart. It would be better for them to study and then take the maths GCSE, for example, and then study and prepare for another GCSE a few months later.

I know one thing, and that’s that if my degree or my PhD relied on me completing 13 exams at the very end of each course, I would have failed or done very very badly. Or passed out from the stress.

What is it like to home educate your own kids?

We both love it and don’t ever regret it. However, do not ever fall into the trap of thinking that home education is easier than sending your kids to school.

I’ve seen some comments that home educating parents are lazy or can’t be arsed to get their kids to school.

What I think those people seem to misunderstand is that it is EASIER to send your kids to school for 6 hours per day for the free childcare and the free education so you can work or rest or do housework. It is therefore HARDER to home educate and it requires much higher levels of effort and input on a day to day basis. Either from the parents or from tutors.

It would be much easier to just send our kids to school and have all that free time to ourselves to work or to rest. However, home educating parents choose to give up that freedom and childcare because they feel they can do a better job for their children.

Do you get sick of them being at home all the time and never getting a break?

We aren’t really like that as a family but I’m sure many home educating parents feel like that sometimes – and I’m sure we will one day.

I think we have the balance about right at the moment. We share all the home educating of the kids and we also have two tutors who come in a couple times of week. This means that sometimes I’m at home with the kids, sometimes it’s my husband, sometimes it’s a tutor or sometimes it’s a mixture of those people. Tutors mean the kids get different people teaching them with different approaches and talents and skills, too.

Do you have to follow a curriculum?

Home education is your own design. I designed a desired curriculum for the kids based on what I thought they would want and need. However, we chose to follow the national curriculum for Maths and English. Everything else is designed by us or guided by the kids.

Will your kids go to secondary school?

I hope not! Secondary schools are really struggling at the moment and a lot of them are a microcosm of abuse, harassment, bullying, racism and adolescent stress.

And this isn’t just my personal opinion, this is backed up by government reports, academic research, inquiries and committee reports.

I just don’t want my boys in that environment. I am also acutely aware of lad culture, gender roles, misogyny and a constant pressure to be ‘hard’. It’s so difficult to bring up healthy, happy, respectful young men if they are in that environment 30 hours per week. We are also very concerned by the way bullying seems to be being brushed off by some secondary schools as ‘not their problem’ – especially when it is happening online between students.

I mean, for me, it’s working in my job that has left me so certain that the boys won’t be going to secondary school. I’ve worked with kids who have been raped on campus. Kids who have self harmed because of relentless bullying. Kids who have become involved in gangs. Kids who have bought drugs at school. Kids who have been exploited, abused and blackmailed. Kids who have used sexual pics to threaten and blackmail other kids. Kids who have engaged in racism and joined far right groups. I even know two sets of parents who lost their secondary school kid to suicide because of bullying that was not being addressed by the school.

And don’t even start me on the absolute state of sex and relationships education.

Sorry, but no thanks. My job as a parent is to protect my kids and to give them the best life and best start possible.

What does an average week look like for your kids?

Okay so our kids only study Mon-Thurs. When kids are in school, they are in large groups of 25-30 and one teacher is trying to balance everyone’s needs whilst trying to teach them new information or skills. That is extremely difficult to do, and I teach adults!

So a lot of home education researchers argue that our children could learn what they learn in a school day in about an hour at home. This means that when you home educate, you tend to get a lot more done to a lot higher standard. So we don’t need the 5th day. And we only study 10am til about 2pm, unless they are busy or stuck into something, like today they just happened to be loving what they were doing and they didn’t stop until 16:50. Totally up to them if they choose to go over or to do additional learning each day. Sometimes they go to their rooms and do extra music practice or extra writing or extra coding on their apps.

So each day begins with Maths or English, and then late mornings and afternoons are topics and tutors. This could mean that on a Monday they do maths and then biology, but on the Tuesday they do English and chemistry. But on a Thursday they might do English and music practice.

There is no schedule in our house, it’s all very much based around what they fancy or what we fancy, as long as they have done their maths and English curriculum work beforehand.

Okay, so that’s everything I can think of for now. Maybe I’ll print this out and start giving it to the people who stare at us in the street or tell my kids they are ‘skiving’ lmfao.

Please don’t judge home educating parents as lazy, dangerous and abusive. Parents can be anyone and anything. Sending your kids to school doesn’t make you a better or safer parent, just as home educating your kids does not make you a worse or more dangerous parent.

For lots of home ed parents, the decision was long, considered, researched and quite nerve wracking! We have to trust ourselves that we are doing the best for our kids with no help. But parents have many reasons for taking this decision. Maybe their kids have ASD and they feel they are being failed. Maybe their kids are traumatised from abuse and school is too much for them. Maybe their kids have eating disorders and school is not the right environment. Maybe their kids are too bright for the system. Maybe their kids need extra support and help from one to one learning. Maybe their kids don’t suit classroom learning. Maybe the parents don’t agree with the education system.

We’re a very diverse bunch.

I hope this blog has answered your questions about why I home educate. I would like to take the opportunity to thank my husband and our two tutors for their amazing dedication and support of our kids.

Written by Jessica Eaton

03/04/2019

Www.victimfocus.org.uk