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.
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.
6th October 2018
Visit her website: http://www.victimfocus.org.uk
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