Silencing the whistleblower: Reactions to the truth in the field of abuse 

Silencing the whistleblower: Reactions to the truth in the field of abuse
By Jessica Eaton

 

This blog is sometimes a way for me to share my thoughts and experiences. I did it in the ‘whataboutery’ blog that went super-duper-viral and I need to do it in this one. 

We need to talk about telling the truth in our field of abuse and violence – and what happens when we tell the truth. I have made the decision to commission work into this area of research through my company, VictimFocus, because the topic quite frankly baffles me and I think any improvement will benefit us all in the long run. We desperately need to understand why we silence whistleblowers after we expressly tell them to tell the truth. 
So why do we hate truth tellers so much and who do we seek to silence whistleblowers in our own field? 

How can the field of abuse and safeguarding engage in the cognitive dissonance required to convince victims and perpetrators to ‘tell the truth’ or to ‘disclose what really happened’ when the entire field is characterised by cover ups, liars and the silencing of whistleblowers?

No, not just the silencing. That’s too neutral. The demonisation of whistleblowers.

My first full time job in this field was in Victim Support, as a manager of the vulnerable and intimidated witness programme. Whilst the criminal justice system revealed itself to me to be a game of snakes and ladders in which no victim ever wins – I didn’t come across any cover ups or abuse of people in VS. 

However, the criminal justice system I worked within taught me that there were many abuses of vulnerable and traumatised people that went unchallenged. There were bad practices aplenty and professionals had eventually become so desensitised that they couldn’t even see why something might be harmful or bad practice. It was the norm. It was one of the reasons I left, and decided to never go back to colluding with the CJS again. 

(Edit: the first time I ever had to whistleblow was not actually work related. I whistleblew on a nursery where I found a baby bleeding heavily alone in a room. I reported to OFSTED and the local authority and police. A week later I was put in hospital by the manager and a group of others. Turned out the police officers were family members of the nursery manager and they were in on it.) 

However, the first time I had to whistleblow at work, I didn’t really think about it. I just sort of did it. I didn’t expect what was going to happen to me at all. I was in a job as a manager in a rape centre. In short, my CEO at the time told me that she had covered up a case of sexual abuse of three children and was going to go and amend some records, and put another professional’s name on it to protect herself from action. She said it casually like I was going to reply ‘Yeah okay, cool.’ 

I think my face must have been a picture because I still remember the look on her face when she realised I was not going to allow her to do that – to the children or to the other professional, who was one of my staff. We stood and argued about it and she asked me who on earth I thought I was to challenge her decision making. I told her I would report her to the police and safeguarding board and gave her the final option of telling the truth. 

She didn’t. I reported her the same night. I knew she was going to make life difficult for me but there were three very young children at imminent risk from a registered sex offender and I was horrified that she would do this – not only to the children but to our committed staff member she was going to frame. 

When I told the staff member, she was absolutely horrified and could not believe that our CEO was going to change records and put her name on what she had done. She left shortly after and I don’t blame her.

However, the next time I was in work, I was taken into a room with the CEO and the board members of our charity and told I was being sacked for gross misconduct and had ten minutes to leave the premises and was given a letter from their solicitors threatening me to sign a gagging order. I asked them what the gross misconduct was and they said they didn’t have to tell me. I asked them for a proper investigation and hearing and they said no. I knew straight away by looking at the CEO’s face that this was retaliation because I had reported her.

 
I was young, poor and had no idea what on earth to do. I tried to seek free limited legal advice and the solicitors told me to sign the order, leave the job and look for somewhere else to work. The gag was for two years so I couldn’t speak openly about it until around 2015. I am still baffled as to why the board above the CEO chose to protect her over the children – and why I was punished so harshly for doing the right thing. 

However, if I had my time again, I would do it exactly the same way. The only difference is, I wouldn’t have signed the gagging order and I would have told them to shove it up their arse. I have never signed another and I never will. 

I was actually extremely lucky that I had already been applying for new jobs when this happened, as I used to have a personal policy of always looking for new jobs even if I was happy, especially if they would increase my experience or knowledge base by challenging me. The day after I signed that gag, I got a phone call telling me I had been shortlisted for a job as a trainer in child sexual exploitation (CSE) prevention. A few days later, I was told I had got the job. I was unemployed for about 6 days. Phew. I was extremely lucky that this happened as I had 2 very small children and my husband was working part time. We would have collapsed without a wage. 

I did have to negotiate a very tricky conversation with my new manager when they asked whether they could speak to my previous CEO for a reference. I was terrified that they wouldn’t believe me. However, they did believe me and I was okay. Another ‘phew’ moment. You see, every moment after you stick your neck out to whistleblow is ridden with anxiety. 

I went to work in the new job as the trainer and writer in CSE and was very successful, being promoted to manager of the national programme quickly and being given a national team of trainers. I had supportive management and CEO. 

However, twice I was asked to attend meetings about telling the truth. The first one was because national organisation in CSE, the NWG, didn’t want their charity name in an article I had written about CSE toolkits being invalid and having no evidence base (even though they had developed said toolkit and called it the NWG toolkit, so it was pretty difficult not to mention them). I had written that they were responsible for developing one of the first CSE toolkits that was then rolled out by them without any testing. Sure, it doesn’t look great for them but it is the truth. 

The second was when a local authority had complained that I kept writing about CSE toolkits being bad practice and they wanted me to shut up because it was raising questions amongst their staff. 

Further, I was contacted by a CSE lead in the West Midlands who kept asking to meet me but wouldn’t tell me why. I was reluctant but eventually agreed to meet her in 2016. Once at the meeting, she said to me ‘You know, being this direct with people is not going to make you very popular. You are not going to have any friends left in this field if you keep criticising CSE toolkits.’ I laughed at her and said, ‘You’re talking to the wrong person, love. I’m not here for popularity.’ It turned out that she had met me solely to tell me that they were developing a new CSE toolkit and that they were sick of me speaking out about them. I challenged her as to whether they would put it through rigorous testing or whether they would commission experts in psychometric or risk assessment to develop and test it but of course the answer was no. No one wanted to test the toolkits because they knew full well they didn’t work. 

I eventually came to the conclusion that the only way I could challenge bad practice like this without someone trying to threaten me with my job or report me to my boss, would be to have no job and no boss. 

So I left my job and set up my own company to do the work I wanted to do, in the way I wanted to do it. I set VictimFocus up. It meant I could challenge poor practice and issues in safeguarding without the worry of an employer hanging over my head. 
I started to wonder why no one wanted to hear the truth about CSE risk toolkits and why local authorities and national influential charities in CSE would be more concerned about their name than their practice being right for children. At the time, I didn’t see the CSE toolkits controversy as whistleblowing but now I can see why it had riled so many people. 

The reality of the only toolkit in the country being a load of made-up rubbish with no validation, no evidence and no rigour, being used to make decisions about the lives of children is pretty scandalous. They don’t want to admit or face what they have done and they don’t want the responsibility of changing it. 

When Brown et al. (2016;2017) published their work showing the flaws in the CSE risk indicators and toolkits, I thought people would finally bin them – but even their work would be swept under the rug and as we approach the end of 2018, every local authority in the UK are still using them. For my part in the CSE toolkits critique, I ended up with a reputation for being ‘controversial’ and ‘too challenging’. People called me ‘overly-critical’ and ‘trouble.’ 

Then it was the CSE films. And oh, the backlash I got for challenging the use of rape films with children. Films that depicted the graphic rape and abuse of children, being shown to hundreds of thousands of UK children in order to ‘educate them’. I challenged them, naively thinking that people would see what was wrong with this unethical and unevidenced practice and would see the light, so to speak. How wrong I was!

Psychologists got it right away. Feminists got it right away. Women’s organisations got it right away. But the field of safeguarding and abuse didn’t get what was wrong with the films for over a year. Not only did people not get it, people hated me talking about it. I was harassed for months. I was no-platformed. I was ridiculed. I was attacked. I was bullied. By people I didn’t even know. People who made the films, used the films or were emotionally invested in using the films. Speaking out against the use of these films with children was a nightmare. Professionals grouped together and rejected any evidence of children being harmed, cutting themselves after watching them, bed wetting or having panic attacks. 

Instead of these professionals taking a step back and considering that I might be raising a valid issue, I was positioned as ‘attacking’ people and trying to harm people’s careers.

Thankfully however, there is a positive outcome to this one and a few weeks ago Barnardos announced that they would no longer be using CSE films with children, or any materials that might traumatise or harm children. Barnardos Directors are a lot more reflective and are moving towards much better evidence based working than some other organisations and had already started taking action to stop the use of films in their services. 

Being able to look back on the #nomoreCSEfilms campaign, I am glad I did it and I am glad I whistleblew on this practice but the way I was treated was disgusting and exhausting. 

Even now, the NWG have been consulting on my work in secret, not inviting me to meetings because of my views and then putting out consultation documents that don’t even cite or reference my work. Even when challenged a few weeks back, they chose not to tell me the truth about the meetings about my CSE films work because they knew I would speak out. This is the second issue in which the NWG has kept silent or tried to shut me up as a national specialist in CSE. Rather than encouraging open debate and discussion, their approach is to shut down the discussion and then pull it back into their organisation and pretend they have the solutions to it. 

This pattern has continued throughout my career. Most recently I have whistleblown on a commissioner after I found serious safeguarding and safety concerns were being ignored and their service users were at imminent risk of death and injury and that’s gone down like a lead balloon. 

Recently I spoke out against Tommy Robinson wanting to speak to children who had been sexually exploited despite him having absolutely no training, experience, regulations or ethics. 

Both decisions to speak out have caused me unimaginable shit and I have gained absolutely nothing from doing so. 

In relation mainly to the CSE films, I was then harassed and bullied by Dr Gozna of Leicester University for 7 months (someone I didn’t even know and had to google who she was as I had never heard of her) and by my own university department when they decided to use the fact that they had read a magazine interview I gave in which I said I had a baby from rape against me to try to prove in some perverse way that I was not fit to do my job. 

And yet it is me who is being framed as ‘unprofessional and unreasonable’ by speaking out against them and taking action against them (which I won in July and September 2018). 

Personally, I would be more concerned about these psychologists holding such discriminatory views of victims of rape than protecting them from action. I wouldn’t refer anyone to any of them. And I certainly wouldn’t recommend they performed research with women with histories of abuse or rape. Their views revealed that their interest in violence and trauma is just that: an interest. Empathy for real victims stops at their office door. 

Unfortunately for ALL of them, they picked the wrong person to try to silence and bully. 

And this is not just about me and my experiences. Far from it. This is common for hundreds of whistleblowers. People who whistleblow on local authorities, police forces, prisons, mental health units, children’s homes and politicians are quickly discredited and shut down. They are demonised. They are positioned as liars, trouble causers, fantasists and attention seekers. Their lives are ruined, their careers are stolen. They lose their jobs, their homes, their reputation, their income, their friends, their colleagues and their futures. They are reported to the police or their regulatory bodies. 

You don’t need to look far to find examples of these people. Their stories are terrifying. They are often people who discover something by accident or in the course of their work and report it in good faith, believing that the system works and the issue will be investigated. Sadly, they quickly find out that not only will their complaints or safeguarding concerns not be investigated, but they will also face serious consequences for daring to speak out. There are so many people who have reported the abuse of people, policies, corruption, exploitation and illegal activity who have had their entire team turn on them in an instant the second they told the truth. 

So, I have some questions that need to be answered:

Why do we bring up our children to tell the truth as a positive action and then spend our whole lives punishing them, and others for telling the truth?

How can we encourage children and adults who have been subjected to abuse to tell the truth or to tell us their disclosures, if we aren’t prepared to tell the truth ourselves?

Why should victims and survivors trust us with their secrets, their disclosures and their abuse, if we don’t even trust each other?

If we want our practice to improve and we truly want the best for victims and survivors, why are we so scared of criticism of our practice?

Would we rather protect our ego and reputation, even if it means ignoring bad practice and the harm of vulnerable people?

Why should any professional support mandatory reporting laws if they know it means that they will be treated like a traitor for whistleblowing? If they will not be supported and protected, why should we force them to whistleblow at all?

 

Provocative questions, I am sure. But we need to keep speaking out.

Massive respect for the truth tellers and the whistleblowers everywhere. Love to you.

 

Written by Jessica Eaton

 

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

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

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton and @victimfocus

Detecting the frauds in sexual violence activism 

Detecting the frauds in sexual violence activism
Written by Jessica Eaton

 

Sexual violence, child sexual exploitation, rape, child sexual abuse, ritual abuse, sexual assault and sexual harassment are having their day in the limelight. Kinda.
Where once we had total silence, we now have media coverage. News headlines, TV interviews, specialist documentaries, books, magazine stories, public speakers, social media campaigners and inquiries. Great, right?

Well, not really. I mean, aside from the fact that the news headlines are sensationalist stereotyping of victims, the TV interviews can be pretty dire, the magazine stories are quite frankly disgusting attempts to sexualise abuse and some of the spokespeople for sexual violence are frauds.

This blog is a short guide for victims and survivors, loved ones, professionals and activists to pick out the fakes amongst the people who truly care about ending sexual violence and standing up against rape culture.

These are the top seven characteristics that set my radar off about people who claim to care about sexual violence, abuse and trauma:

 

People who are only concerned about sexual violence perpetrated by one group, or against one group of people

Beware of anyone who is only interested in one group of victims or survivors (or perpetrators). It is really concerning to see that people who hate particular groups of people are able to hide that by pretending that they care about sexual abuse and violence. For example, if someone only ever talks about white victims of sexual abuse and tries to claim there is no evidence of abuse of Black and Asian victims, your alarm bells should be going off. If you feel they accept evidence about the abuse of one group of people but always question it when it comes to another group, that’s not good.

It works the opposite way around too, beware of people or organisations who spend most of their time asking, ‘what about the…?’ (usually men, but occasionally other groups) every time someone tries to have a conversation about another group. An example of this is when women’s organisations campaign about the global oppression of women and receive hundreds of comments and messages ignoring the content of their campaign entirely, calling them misandrists and asking ‘what about men?’ Another example of this which plagues FGM activists are the people who claim to care about FGM, but constantly comment ‘what about circumcision?’

These people are not helping our causes. Whether they only care about the Muslim rapists, only care about the white victims, or spend their time derailing other campaigns to ask us to focus on other groups instead of the ones we are helping – they set my fraud radar off. If they cared about sexual violence, they would care about sexual violence of all perpetrators, all victims, and they would understand that campaigns that are specific to a sex, type or group are not exclusionary or discriminatory.

 

People and organisations who pop up out of nowhere, proclaim to be experts or call themselves ‘thought leaders’

This has been bothering me for a couple of years now and everyone needs to be alert to this problem. More and more companies, organisations and individuals have popped up out of nowhere with no histories, limited or no training, no specialisms and no credibility – but claim to speak for victims or claim to be ‘thought leaders’, ‘experts’ or ‘specialists’.

Some examples, so you know what I mean: the likes of G4S suddenly deciding they were experts in sexual violence and competing for tenders for SARCs and sexual violence support services. Companies with no history setting themselves up as CSE specialist residential units. Individuals reading a book and then writing training on the neuroscience of abuse victims. Companies reading some reports and then advertising themselves as expert consultants in CSE.

An example of this is the sudden influx of so-called experts in ‘county lines’. As far as I am concerned, anyone who even used the term ‘county lines’ seriously, is probably not the expert they claim they are; as ‘county lines’ is a buzzword term for serious criminal exploitation of children and young people and the term hides the harm done to those children. However, in the past year I have seen everything from training companies to drama companies popping up as experts in ‘county lines’ and selling their wares.

Further, look out for conferences and conferencing companies who make a tonne of money from exploiting speakers and survivors to speak for them for free, but charge you £350 a ticket to their conference event about sexual abuse or domestic abuse. These companies have no interest in the topic area whatsoever and when you look at their past events, they choose current issues that they can make big money from and they approach big names to sell lots of tickets whilst convincing the speakers that it is good for the cause or good for their exposure.

 

People who throw oppressed groups under the bus at the first sign of difficulty

Massive red flags. Beware anyone who claims to care about a group of people and then distances from that group as soon as things get difficult or controversial. For example, individuals who claim to support victims of abuse but then wash their hands of them when they say something challenging. Another example is the amount of people claiming to care about the rights of women and girls who dump them and distance themselves from women and girls issues the first time they are challenged about why they ‘don’t care about other groups’.

We all come under pressure in this field. They will be challenged and they are naïve if they think otherwise. They might be asked why they don’t campaign for other groups. Or why they care about your cause so much but not another. But if they throw the cause they claimed to care about so much, right under the bus, at the first time someone challenges their dedication – that tells you all you need to know.

This field requires a firm hand and a steady foot, that once that foot has gone down, it is down. Beware flakey people. Flakey people are useless in this movement, and tend to put their own reputation or kudos above the cause. They will dump the groups or the cause quickly if it means protecting or preserving themselves. Huge red flag.

 

People who claim to care about sexual violence but also use sexual violence, abuse and rape myths to discredit or attack people

Unfortunately, I see more and more of this as time goes on. Professionals do it. Public do it. Allies do it. It’s horrible to see and it never gets easier. Whether it is people working in abuse and trauma calling someone ‘mentally ill’ or a ‘psycho’ – or whether it is someone who claims to care about sexual violence calling a victim or survivor a ‘fantasist’ or ‘liar’; these people set my radar off. I’ve seen professionals distance diagnose survivors and victims as dangerous, mentally ill or unstable. I’ve seen allies make a judgement about whether they think someone is telling the truth about being abused without ever meeting them. They reveal their true colours the second they open their mouths and say something like this. No one who truly cares about victims and survivors of sexual violence would attack victims or survivors, no matter how pissed off they were.

With more and more public cases, I see comments like ‘I really care about sexual abuse but she is clearly a liar’ or ‘When people like this lie about being raped, they make it harder for real victims’. This is particularly true for the people who claim to care about sexual violence and abuse, but then wish rape and abuse on people. No one who cares about sexual violence would ever make remarks like that to anyone. In addition, beware anyone who jokes about rape, claims that certain people could never be raped because of what they look like or uses the word and the concept of rape in a casual way.

 

People who tell their own story of sexual abuse and violence, but attack or discredit others for doing the same thing

There’s way too much of this but I feel it is self-explanatory. Beware anyone who publicly or privately tells of their own sexual traumas, but attacks, discredits or disbelieves someone else for doing the same thing. Massive cognitive dissonance going on there – either that or they are so entitled that they believe they are able to tell their stories or abuse or trauma but no one else’s experiences are as important or as real as their own. Either way. RED FLAG!

 

People who proclaim to believe all victims, except when the perpetrator is someone they like or respect

This one is huge. You will probably know someone who has done this. The ones who claim to care about rape, sexual violence and abuse right up until the moment when their favourite footballer rapes a woman, or their favourite singer abuses babies. The ones who claim they believe all women until their respected politician is accused of sexual harassment. The ones who claim they care about sexual abuse of children until they find out one of their friends or family members is an abuser.

The ones that switch to victim blaming and rape myths the second the perpetrator is revealed as someone they know or like. These people should be raising alarms for you and they have no place in our movements. We all have to accept that the prevalence of sexual violence is very high, and that sex offenders are not the slimy, creepy old guy with the jam jars and the rain mack that stands outside of primary schools looking like the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. However, lots of people are not ready to support victims when the perpetrator is someone they respect or like, and that my friends, is a big problem.

(And that’s me speaking as someone who found out last year that someone I used to respect and like had filmed himself raping his own infant children and put it on the internet. I can’t just pretend he didn’t do it. I can’t convince myself that he’s a ‘nice guy who made a mistake.’)

 

People who get off on seeing themselves as a rescuer of oppressed or traumatised groups

 

These people don’t just raise my alarm bells, they make me shiver. I think you will know the ones I mean. The ones who seem to revel in the misery of others and see themselves as the fixer and rescuer of oppressed or traumatised people. They tell stories in which they are the hero. They give speeches or write blogs in which they solved all of someone’s problems by giving them advice or listening to them. They see themselves as the perfect ally and tell everyone else to do the same thing. They take photos and videos of themselves helping vulnerable people or traumatised children and claim it is for ‘awareness raising’. They post constant updates about how much their clients and services users love them and tell people that victims and survivors owe their lives to them.

Steer well clear of these people. They are not in our movement for the good of the world or the good of victims and survivors as autonomous, individual human beings – they are there to lap up praise and to feed their own ego.

The most recent person like this that alarmed me was actually working with homeless people. I had noticed that he kept putting up really inappropriate videos and photos of him helping homeless men and it appeared staged. A few weeks later, he put up a photo of a homeless man we support kissing his hand whilst he gave him food – sort of like ‘the hand of god’ image. I was nearly sick. A month or two later, I saw that he had uploaded photos of him and a homeless woman standing on top of her decimated belongings, that had been set on fire in an arson attack. He was posing, really happy and sort of ‘look at me, I rescued this person’ and she was absolutely devastated and looked like she had been crying for hours. The photo was her stood on the burnt wreckage of her tent, all of her clothes and her belongings from a refuge. I reported this person but nothing has been done.

Keep away from anyone who gives you the uneasy feeling that they are doing their work with victims and survivors to feed their own sense of importance or in an attempt to heal their own traumas by working directly with victims and survivors of trauma. Go with your gut and trust yourself.

 

Final thoughts

People who work in sexual violence, abuse or trauma are not all saints. We are all humans. Some of us are here for one reason, some of us are here for another. Some people are undoubtedly here for bad reasons – whether deliberate or not. Some people in our cause will do great harm to others – and to the cause. Some people are actually not remotely interested in the rights or wellbeing of victims and survivors. Just because someone shouts loud and claims to care about victims of abuse and violence does not mean they do when push comes to shove.

All that glitters is not gold.

 

Jessica Eaton

 6th October 2018

Visit her website: http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet about this blog: @JessicaE13Eaton