7 lessons from a year of fighting victim blaming in sexual violence

Content Warning for discussion of sexual violence, abuse and victim blaming.

Written by Jessica Eaton | VictimFocus | Tweet @JessicaE13Eaton

So today marks the end of my first financial year in business with VictimFocus. Just over a year ago, I resigned from my full time job and decided to take on victim blaming and poor practice in sexual violence, alone. In a way, I took on a real complex mixture of work. I work at the sensitive intersection of forensic psychology, radical feminism, anti-psychiatry and children’s rights.  I am a researcher, a writer, a speaker, a student, an activist and an individual – which is already complicated enough without being a young female striking out on her own. Being a female in business or leadership presents unique challenges, whether you are a hairdresser or an accountant. But what happens when you’re under 30 years old, female and starting up a business with the sole purpose of challenging systemic oppression, blame and harm?

I’ll tell you what happens: A lot of good and a lot of bad.

I am going to share some key lessons I have learned from the last 12 months in business, activism, feminism, social media and research.

  1. Victim blaming is very ‘in’ right now 

One of the reasons I decided to create VictimFocus and to dedicate my career and my PhD to understanding and reducing victim blaming is because I already knew that it was very common. Years of working in the criminal justice system and then rape centres in the UK had taught me that it didn’t really matter whether the victim was a 9 year old girl or a 90 year old man, they were all blamed and they all had some issues around self-blame.

However, being able to spend an entire year dedicated only to victim blaming, on top of the three years I have spent doing the PhD meant that victim blaming was not only appearing to me as ‘common’ but it was beginning to appear as all encompassing. Not just that, but, dare I say it, quite fashionable. The mass media run headlines that say ‘Woman drank 10 jagerbombs on the night she was raped and murdered’, daytime TV run public polls asking ‘Can a woman be to blame for rape?’ and social media is filled with threads, articles and groups that blame, hate and ridicule victims of sexual violence. In 2017, The Fawcett Society found that 34% of women and 38% of men felt that a woman who was raped was completely or partially to blame for what happened to her. However, it is probably higher. Especially considering we have to consider the level of SDR (socially desirable responses) will be in that data, in which people have given the answers they *know* they should say.

Victim blaming is in the movement pushing women to take self defence classes to fight off a rapist. It’s in the new concealed weapons in jewellery and bracelets for joggers. It’s in the anti-rape knickers being sold on the internet. It’s in the police posters telling women not to drink too much over an image of an unconscious woman with her knickers around her ankles. It’s in the hundreds of episodes of NCIS in which 100% of episodes in the first 10 seasons, blamed the victim of sexual violence (Magestro, 2015). It’s in the field of CSE, in which children are shown films of children being raped and murdered as a ‘preventative measure’ so the children will learn to ‘spot the signs’ and ‘reduce abuse’. It’s in the courts, where we allow defence barristers to rip destroy victims in front of the jury and the gallery, asking them whether they wanted it, whether they enjoyed it, what they were wearing, why they didn’t tell anyone and whether they are doing this for compensation or lawsuits. It’s in the children’s courts, where children who have been sexually exploited are being removed from safe families and placed hundreds of miles from home instead of us tackling the offenders. It’s in academia, where we search endlessly for characteristics and life experiences that we think ’cause’ sexual offenders to target and rape their victims. It’s in the medical model of mental health, in which we tell women and girls who have been raped and abused that they have personality disorders.

We have a serious, global problem here. Victim blaming changes perceptions of child and adult victims which change the tone and outcomes of media reporting, interventions, therapeutic support, family support, justice, reporting rates and a whole host of things.

        2. Victim blaming is not getting less common, it’s getting more acceptable 

This one is a very important lesson to learn, because it means we won’t get swept along with the ‘We are so much better than we used to be’ crowd. I remember reading some research at the beginning of my PhD that said that victim blaming and rape myth acceptance was reducing and had already reduced significantly. What I read didn’t ring true. Maybe for that sample, or that study – but out here in the real world, it didn’t seem to be reducing at all. However, I did say to my supervisor: “I think victim blaming is just evolving. People are getting savvy to these psychometric measures and studies.” They know they are not supposed to answer ‘strongly agree’ to ‘Women who wear slutty clothes deserve to get raped’. They know that. But when you give people scenarios, media cuttings, vignettes or case studies, victim blaming doesn’t reduce at all. In fact, it is frequent. (See McMahon & Farmer, 2010 for a great review of this).

What I have learned this year is that the language of professionals and the public is evolving to become more socially acceptable, but their blaming isn’t reducing.

Handy victim-blaming swap table

2018-03-30 (1)

See what I mean? Victim blaming is not reducing, its just getting more socially acceptable and more palatable to hear. Victim blaming is being re-framed as concern for the individual’s behaviours. Where there was once insulting accusations and crass words, there is now arguments about how the victim should take responsibility for their own safety. This applies to children as well as adults at the moment – something I am changing.

I have a great example from the Stuebenville Case, too. A comment was made to the press that the 12 year old victim ‘should have known’ she would be raped and questioned ‘why she was hanging around with older boys anyway’. There were also some other comments about her ‘looking older than 12’ before going on to say that they hope she can learn from this mistake and change her behaviours in future. This type of victim blaming is now extremely common and I am seeing it on a daily basis.

It doesn’t matter that it sounds nicer. It is still blaming victims of sexual violence for sexual violence. It still erases the actions and decisions of the offender.

     3. Challenging victim blaming gets mixed, but strong responses 

Ha. That might be an understatement. Those of you who have heard me speak or have worked with me know that I often joke that I am the official National Pain in the Arse. I have learned this year that some people are ready for my work and some people wish I would just fuck off and live in a cave with no access to civilisation or technology. I’m not talking about trolls on twitter or the guys that send me pictures of their dicks (that has it’s own special section under number five). I am talking about professionals in my field. I am talking about people who are actively working in psychology and child abuse. People who listen to my arguments and then twist them into Strawman responses so they don’t have to reflect on the mistakes we have made over the years.

I often say to my friends that when I set off on this journey 12 months ago, I was very naive. I genuinely thought that if I said ‘this resource blames children, we need to change it’ or if I said ‘this assessment actually places the responsibility of being abused on the victim’ – that professionals and organisations in the field would care about that, and then change their practice to make sure they were not doing any further harm to victims of sexual violence. Sadly, this has not been my experience.

However, that said, the few voices who attempt to fight against my movement and my work are drowned out by the hundreds of thousands of people who read this blog and the tens of thousands who follow and engage with me on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and … real life. The last year has taught me that the majority of the field is absolutely ready for a revolution against victim blaming. Practitioners on the front line are sick of children, women and men being blamed for being raped and abused. Professionals are tired of their client’s cases being NFA’d because they had a drink, were wearing a playsuit or because they have a learning disability. Activists are disgusted with the victim blaming in the media. Workers are horrified that they might have caused harm by using victim-blaming CSE films with children. The field has embraced my work in a way I never thought possible.

Huge decisions have been made because of my work this year – companies, charities, local authorities, individuals, universities, students, volunteers, families – they have all made decisions to change their responses to sexual violence and abuse and contacted me to discuss it.

     4. Authenticity and integrity is vital in activism and feminism 

This year has seen a real attack on feminism – and on females. This year has also seen my own work attacked and criticised with no real counter-arguments. Not just my work, but my character, my appearance, my own life history and my personal circumstances have been relentlessly attacked by so-called ‘professionals’ in my own field. This year has resulted in the sacking and no-platforming of brilliant females in politics, science, education and writing.

This year in business and in activism as a feminist and as role model, has taught me that authenticity and integrity to who I am and what I stand for is the most important value I have. Authenticity is really important to me.

At some point, I had to make a decision as to whether I hid who I truly was, my life history and my experiences – and presented myself as this uber-professional speaker and writer who knows her stuff – or whether I paid homage to my roots and who I really am and what I have really experienced.

After much deliberation and worrying, I decided that I should be proud of who I am and where I come from. I should be proud of every swear and every scar. Thousands of people relate to me because they can communicate with me. Some people don’t like me being authentic and talking openly about stuff – but I don’t particularly care what they think. Live authentically or not at all. I have a responsibility to be a role model to tens of thousands of people now – and I will not spend that time faking who I am and trying to escape my roots to appear to be ‘better’.

This year, I began to love my roots more. I spent years trying to escape the clutches of poverty, teen pregnancy, drugs, violence, abuse, harm and stigma from the council estate. Now, I realise it is my biggest asset. I began to love my working class roots this year. I love every swear word that comes out of my mouth. I love every word I mispronounce. I love every tattoo on my body. I love the fear I get when a police car drives up my street. I love the values and experiences because they have given me the exact foundation I need to be a brilliant psychologist and activist.

I learned this year that standing up for what you believe in can be a fucking nightmare sometimes, but integrity has to be rock solid to achieve change when it comes to oppression and harm in society. I learned that my commissioners and my followers can see my integrity and can hear my authenticity and that is why this movement is working. I would like to also take this opportunity to show my solidarity with the women in the radical feminism movements who are standing up and speaking truth to power. Love you.

      5. Social media is a cruel mistress

Aye social media has nearly done me in this year. The upshot of people joining a movement and feeling your work is that thousands and thousands of strangers contact you every single day. I get around 54.5k impressions on my twitter alone per day. I get over 30k readers of this blog every month. I get around 250 emails a day to my email inbox and probably another 100 per day to my social media pages.

Challenging victim blaming of women and girls gets me some serious shit on social media. I went through a period of time where I was getting rape and death threats every day. Dick pics every day. A guy sent me gifs of a woman being beaten and raped. Another guy sent me gifs of porn from different sock accounts. Someone put all my contact details on an MRA forum and I was inundated with messages on every platform telling me that I was ugly, fat, disgusting, evil – everything you can think of from MRAs telling me that they would rape me to make me less gay (I’m not gay) right the way through to the MRAs sending me pictures of myself where they had cut my head off and said that that was the only way they were able to rape me because my face was ruining their hard on.

My block and mute list is like a fucking census.

This year I really did see a side of humanity I have never seen before. I knew people could be vile because I had seen it happen to celebrities like Lily Allen – but I had never experienced it. It has made me really quite careful on social media now. I don’t announce where I will be speaking anymore and I don’t tag exactly where I am. I tweet where I have been once I have left. So instead of saying ‘Today I am at London Met teaching about victim blaming’ I say ‘Great day at London Met today, teaching about victim blaming’ and wait until I have left to say anything.

Sad to have to think about things like that. I dunno how celebs with millions of followers cope.

However, social media has also been absolutely amazing for my campaigns, my business, my book and for meeting brilliant people from all over the world. I am going to USA this year to lecture on psychology of victim blaming – the commissioner found me on social media. I have also been invited to keynotes, projects, boards and contracts from people who have followed me first on social media.

I have met and spoken to incredible people on social media this year and their brilliance far outshines the shit I have dealt with. Which brings me to my final two points.

     6. Self-care can be really hard 

On paper, I practice excellent self-care. I have massages every fortnight. I have three hours of clinical supervision per month with my amazing supervisor. Shout out to her (I have no idea how she hasn’t kicked me out yet). I also created a beautiful space for myself; a library and an office. I took on staff so I could share the load with someone else. I sleep in late (which sounds great but is really problematic cos… schoolrun). I book holidays where I sit on beaches and do fuck all or go snorkelling with my kids and husband. I am definitely trying to do the whole self-care thing. Most of the time it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

The speed my mind works at, and my work rate is a gift and a curse. I can generally write about 13k words a day and it will be decent first draft quality but would need good editing. I can solve problems quickly. My mind is bursting with ideas – so much so that I have had to learn to keep a separate diary of ideas and plans. That does seem to help.

However, when you have legit plans to take over the world you end up like The Brain from Pinky and The Brain and shit gets a bit wavy sometimes. Especially when you’re just trying to juggle your job, your PhD, your life, your kids, your marriage and then some arsehole sends you a picture of his dick or some jealous idiot tweets relentlessly about you for months.

This year I have learned that this field is amazing and also disturbing. There’s so much good but there is so much bad. Lots of people would prefer me to just report on the good and forget about the bad as if it is inevitable. But it isn’t inevitable. I was accused this year of ‘airing dirty laundry’ of the field on twitter. To that I say – wash ya damn laundry. Better yet, don’t let it get this dirty in the first place. Honestly, it’s like having a conversation with a teenager that keeps stuffing their dirty socks under their bed and then moaning that they don’t have any clean socks – and then when you find their dirty socks they say ‘Why are you snooping around in my room!!?’

 

      7. Support networks are super important

This year has been extra-special for me. The first year I have been in business on my own has been exceptionally successful and next year is almost fully booked now. However, its also been difficult, tiring and stressful.

There is no way I could have got through this year without the support networks I am building. I have such a range of people who support my work and me as an individual. My husband is amazing. That man. Someone give him a fucking medal. He is like Man 2.0 – and that’s coming from a radfem who refuses to celebrate men who do exactly what women do and then get massive praise. Considering I met my husband at a cash point queue in a city neither of us were from, we’ve done alright. I have so much respect for him and he has my back.

My kids are amazing – they are the next generation, so watch out. Even when I’m dead you’ll have two more to deal with. You lucky lot. No rest for the wicked yano.

My friends listen to me talk utter shit for hours to them. I have so many friends in my life, many of which I have met through work or activism but have become women I have on speed dial. Many of you don’t know each other, but I can tell you now that we are the funniest bunch of fuckers I have ever known. Someone needs to give us a TV show. Love you.

I have a huge network of support in the Radfem community and I honestly couldn’t be without you lot. You know who you are. I am so proud to know you and to have you as my friends, you absolute warriors. The strength you give to me is immeasurable.

I also have a wonderful support network in the anti-psychiatry and social-model of mental health communities, who remind me why we are fighting against the labelling and oppression of the working classes. Your work is inspirational and will go down on the right side of history.

Then I have this huge wider following of women and men, professionals and public, students and academics, parents and adult children from all over the world who write to me and talk to me about their work, their ideas, their problems and their aspirations.

This year, I have learned that a support network this strong means that shit can get thrown at me and I will just keep getting back up, sometimes because I am strong enough to do it myself and sometimes because I have the strength of thousands of people when I have all of you behind me.

And sometimes because some of you drag me back kicking and screaming and tell me to sort my shit out. Haha.

Thank you to everyone who has commissioned me, written to me, oublished my words, heard me speak, supported me and loved me in my first year of operation. Bring on next year, eh? This year was for practice.

Written by Jessica Eaton

Tweet: JessicaE13Eaton

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

 

10 thoughts on “7 lessons from a year of fighting victim blaming in sexual violence

    1. Just read your 7 lessons. I think you are awesome. You say they thing’s that we want to say but can’t. Victims needed a voice and that is Victim focus. You are so right about people just saying what they know they should say the PC response. The real responses are glaringly obvious Yes the most alarming is that these are our colleagues charged with assessing supporting and making decisions . I could say more however Roll on year 2 will suffice for now

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Since law school in 1988 when I learnt what the law of men has done to women I’ve been seething. Yet no one knew. I am so happy to have lived long enough to see some changes. Thank you for all that you are doing. Now that women can’t legitimately be excluded from society we will change the world. “ First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you. Then you win” Nelson Mandela.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I am an activist and child rape/sexist violence in home and workplace survivor. It is definitely getting worse. Porn and trans are removing human status of women, children and poc.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a safeguarding lead in a secondary school, and reading this blog has made me open my mind unbelievably wide. I will look at the way we deliver PSHE around CSE and see how we can inevitably improve our content.
    Keep up your fantastic work, your tenacity is admirable.
    Thank you.

    Like

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