All the things I want to say to women and girls who have been abused by men

All the things I want to say to women and girls who have been abused by men

Jessica Eaton

28 Mar 2019

Content warning for discussion of abuse, rape and harm of women by men

An open letter to women and girls around the world.

Whether you have been abused, are currently in an abusive or exploitative situation, have recently escaped abuse or are still processing abuse from years ago; this one is for you.

These are the things I would say to you if we were sat together having a drink and eating some cake.

1. None of this was your fault

The first thing I want to tell you is that you are not to blame for the actions, behaviours and choices of the abuser. Make this your mantra. You are never responsible or to blame for the actions of another adult who chose to harm you for their own gratification. Take zero percent of the blame. Accept zero responsibility.

Self blame is extremely common after abuse, trauma and violence. Women and girls are socialised from a very early age to blame themselves for male violence committed against them. From every level of society, you are taught that abuse happened to you because you were asking for it, because you are a bad person, because you are naive or vulnerable, because you make bad choices or even because of what you were wearing or where you were going. In some cases, you’re even expected to ‘know what was going to happen’, as if you have some crystal ball to your disposal.

Therefore, when we do become victims of abuse and violence, it’s common for us to blame ourselves using these very same reasons. For some of us, this causes a feeling of conflict in which we know deep down that we are not to blame, but we relentlessly question ourselves about what we could have done differently.

If I was sat with you now, I would be explaining to you all of the reasons why this was not your fault. I promise you, abuse is never ever your fault.

2. Abuse is all about the abuser, and nothing about you

This one is important. Abuse is not because of who you are, what you wore, how you act, what you do, where you go, who you met or where you are from. Abuse is because the abuser wanted it to happen. That’s literally it.

Abuse is the most selfish act someone could commit. They chose to harm you simply because they wanted to. Maybe it made them feel good. Maybe it made them feel powerful. Maybe they got aroused by it. Maybe they like hurting people. Maybe it made them feel important. Maybe they enjoy manipulating people (think puppet-master complex).

Abuse is all about the abuser. It’s all about them. It’s about their motivations, their choices, their methods and their own issues. All grooming processes are actually about the abuser and what they get from the process – not about you. That means that if the process was never about you, and it was all about them, you cannot possibly be to blame.

Abuse is caused by abusers. Start to see your abuser as a selfish, horrible person with issues that cause them to choose to harm others who trust them.

You are not to blame.

3. It is not your job to fix abusive men

How many times have I said this to women around me? Over food. Over cocktails. Over coffee. Hundreds, maybe.

I’ve said it to three women in my life just this month.

The reality is, no matter how much you love this guy, you are not on this earth to fix all of his problems, behaviours and flaws. You are not his mother – and it’s not even his mother’s job to fix him.

When you got into that relationship, it wasn’t so you could end up becoming his therapist, referee, problem solver, lender, cleaner, chef, fixer and rescuer. Was it?

His issues and his abusive behaviours are not for you to fix. It’s not fair for him to ask you to help him change. It’s not on you. His behaviours are his shit. His choices to harm and abuse you are all on him.

There is a dangerous myth that you can change men like this, that if you love them enough, you can change them. It’s sexist bollocks. Similarly, you are absolutely NOT responsible for him going on to harm or abuse other women or girls after you. Don’t ever let anyone put that one on you.

4. You are not going crazy

If we met, I would definitely be reminding you that all of your symptoms, experiences, thoughts and feelings about the abuse are totally normal and natural.

Having nightmares about what he did? Normal.

Started eating junk food? Normal.

Started to get anxious about the little things? Normal.

Feeling unsure about your future? Normal.

Scared of repercussions? Normal.

Feeling tired all the time? Normal.

Questioning and second guessing yourself? Normal.

Not sleeping well? Normal.

These feelings can be scary, worrisome or even overwhelming but they are totally normal during and after abuse. You’re not mentally ill. You’re not crazy. You’re not suddenly unwell. You’re not unstable.

You’re coping with or processing huge – or lots of smaller – traumas. Maybe it was rape, assaults, emotional abuse, trafficking or bullying. Your feelings will swing from one to the next. You might feel emotionally exhausted. This is all completely normal and natural. Abuse is such a distressing human experience – give yourself time to feel the feelings, listen to your body, think the thoughts, process the memories, rest more, eat well, drink water and do activities that make you feel good again.

5. Friends and family might let you down

A sad reality for a lot of women and girls subjected to abuse is that family and friends often let us down. Research shows that many of us will be blamed, judged, outcast or bullied by our families and friends when we disclose or report abuse.

Obviously, this doesn’t happen to everyone. However, it is extremely common – and being let down by a close friend or a family member can be devastating after disclosing abuse. This is often because, deep down, you expect family and friends to be there for you when you need them most. Having finally got up the courage to tell them what happened, the last thing you expect (or need) is for them to turn on you, to accuse you of lying or to say something horribly insensitive to you.

Also common is the ‘you should probably keep this quiet because it will impact the whole family’ type narrative. This is especially common when the abuser is a family member or parent.

What you need here, is a back-up support network. Maybe another friendship group, an online network, a Facebook group, a local support group, a counsellor, a helpline, a charity service or a rape centre. Whilst it is common to experience negative reactions from family and friends, you can find excellent support elsewhere if you need it. Please don’t suffer alone.

And don’t take negative reactions from family and friends to heart, it’s their shit, not yours. If they respond in a horrible way, it reflects on them, not you. I’m not saying forgive them and allow them to treat you like that in your moment of need, but I am saying ‘ignore their well meaning judgemental bullshit’.

6. You are stronger than you will ever know

This one is short but extremely important. You might feel weak and hurt now, but trust me, if you have lived through abuse, violence, assaults, rape, bullying, gaslighting and fear – you are so much stronger than millions of other people. You are incredible. If you have already lived through that and coped (in one way or another) you already have amazing skills, endurance and strength.

Don’t ever let anyone make you feel less than astounding. To live through what you experienced takes strength that some people will never ever know or need. You can do and become anything.

7. Life is going to be different from now on

Don’t panic. I don’t mean in a ‘waaaah your life is doomed’ type way. I mean in a ‘life will never be the same again, because you now have new life experiences and wisdom that will guide you.’

After you have lived through abuse, many things change. Some women look at the world differently. Some women become scared of men. Some women trigger from beards or certain aftershaves. Some women stop going out to clubs. Some women become finely tuned to notice perpetrators. Some women notice abusive men in their friend’s lives. Some women give their time to help other women. Some women change their whole appearance or pick a whole new career.

Abuse teaches you a lot about yourself and about other humans. You may also feel you learned a lot about services, professionals and justice systems. Abuse might change your worldview. Abuse might make you question things you have never thought to question before. Abuse might cause you to reflect on things that you always thought was normal until now.

You’re still you, but you’ve grown and you’ve changed through trauma. Don’t be scared by this. It’s okay. I promise.

8. The shame is not yours to bear

One thing a few women have talked to me about recently is a feeling of shame or embarrassment when other people find out their husband or boyfriend was abusive. They were worried what people would say about them or whether people would think they were stupid or lying.

I just want to tell you that the shame and the embarrassment sits squarely with the abuser, not you. You have nothing at all to feel guilty about, to be shamed for or to be embarrassed about. The fact that you made it out and escaped the abuser should make you so proud of yourself. Realise the strength you have and had to have every single day to deal with the abuser and their behaviour.

This is their shame and their shit, not yours. Don’t take on any of their shame. Brush it off and tell yourself that this is not your shame.

9. Give yourself time and love

This is one I should practice AND preach. As a victim of abuse myself, I wish I had given myself time and love. But then, I had no one to advise me and no one to talk to. But that’s one thing I wish I knew back then. I wish I had spent some time just being alone, spending money and time on myself, learning to love myself again and learning to be alone again.

I remember wanting to be fine again. Fixed. Happy. Normal. Confident. Perfect. I remember wanting to find a new partner again. I remember wanting to go out and meet lots of new people. I remember wanting to start a new job and move to a new area.

All of those things are fine – but did I really need to do them all within months of escaping years of abuse and trauma? Wouldn’t I have been better just slowing life right down and focusing on taking care of myself and my own wellbeing for a while?

That’s why I always advise women to take some time to love themselves and spend time on themselves. And I’m not talking about joining a gym, dropping 10lbs and taking selfies for insta. I’m talking about private, personal love and compassion for yourself. Listening to your instincts again. Loving who you are again. Looking in the mirror and recognising yourself again. Listening to your favourite music and singing in the shower again. Walking around a park in the sunshine. Reading a new book. Getting your hair done. Watching your favourite childhood films.

Don’t rush yourself, be kind and compassionate. Take time.

10. Learn who you are again

The final thing I would say to you is this:

Abuse changes you. It makes you smaller. It morphs you into what the abuser wants you to be. It makes you compliant, scared, worried, angry, self-hating and ashamed. When you’ve left an abusive situation, you can sometimes wonder who the hell you turned into. You can sometimes wonder who you are – and where the ‘old you’ went.

It will take time, but learn about who you are again. What do you truly enjoy doing? What makes you happy? What makes you sad? What food do you love? Where would you love to travel? What’s your favourite music? When was the last time you danced? When was the last time you laughed? What fulfils you? What excites you? What arouses you? What intrigues you? What motivates you?

Where do you see yourself now you are free of the abuser? What have you always wanted to do? What dreams did they stamp out of you? What did they stop you from doing? What can you now go and pursue?

After abuse, you might spend months or years learning who you really are – away from the control and power of an abuser. Go with the flow and try new things. Listen to your body.

Your life without the abuser is a huge adventure. Yeah, sometimes it is scary – but you are more than capable of dealing with the next chapter in your life.

Love to you,

Jessica x

Written by Jessica Eaton

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Web: Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Why you need to remain critical of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences)

Why you need to remain critical of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences)

Jessica Eaton

15th March 2019

Lots of people have been asking me why I am critical of the ‘ACEs’ movement. Before I explain why I remain wary of such an approach to human development, for the followers of this blog who don’t know much about ACEs, I will briefly explain it.

ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Essentially, adverse childhood experiences in your own life might include sexual or domestic abuse, neglect or physical abuse, emotional abuse, living with a parent who was in addiction, one of your parents going to prison, being frequently bullied, losing one of your parents to divorce, illness or suicide and so on.

The approach suggests that if you have multiple ACEs, you might require support, therapy, trauma-informed interventions and specialist provision. This is being used to build services, policies, strategies, research and interventions in the UK and around the world.

Many professionals, organisations, governments and universities are also embracing ACEs as the ‘explanation’ for mental health issues in adulthood, criminal behaviour, drug addiction, physical illness, disability, suicide attempts, self-harming and even – being raped. (Yeah you read that right, apparently its your ACEs that cause rape, now).

Maybe you are already beginning to smell a rat. If you are, good. If not, read on.

ACE has been widely used in research to try to understand the correlation between childhood trauma and poor outcomes. Whilst this is important, the way ACEs is being used already holds frightening potentials and actual impacts on traumatised groups.

Below, I will outline my main concerns about ACE approaches. But before I begin, please take a minute to calculate your own ACE score out of 10. It will help you to understand how damaging ACEs can be.

Calculate your ACE score

At any point prior to your 18th birthday:

Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?

If Yes, score 1 point

Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?

If Yes, score 1 point

Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?

If Yes, score 1 point

Did you often or very often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?

If Yes, score 1 point

Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?

If Yes, score 1 point

Were your parents ever separated or divorced?

If Yes, score 1 point

Was your mother or stepmother:

Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?

If Yes, score 1 point

Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?

If Yes, score 1 point

Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?

If Yes, score 1 point

Did a household member go to prison?

If Yes, score 1 point

Now add up your “Yes” answers. This is your ACE Score

 

For transparency, my ACE score is 7. According to all ACE studies, that is very high.

So now you know your score, you might like to know that if you score is 4 or higher, you are the target of the ACEs approach. Keep that in mind as you read on.

 

Reasons we need to remain critical of ACEs

ACEs is being used as a predictive model to forecast outcomes of abused and harmed children

 

My largest concern by far is the way ACEs is being used as a predictive model. That means, your score is being used to predict your potential, your outcomes, your lifestyle, your health, your wellbeing, your mental health and your criminality. Therefore, those of us with ACE scores over 4 are reportedly much more likely (and I’m talking stats between 400%-1222% more likely) to commit suicide, have Hepatitis, commit domestic violence, have heart disease, have liver failure and even *be* raped by someone.

ACEs is literally being used to crystal ball our outcomes – and the outcomes of children all over the world. These approaches pathologise and label children, arguing that those kids with the high ACE scores are destined for doom, drugs, prison, illness and early death.

Maybe you are reading this and thinking, ‘Well, that’s true isn’t it? Abused and traumatised children go on to have such poor outcomes.’

But do they? Do they really? Can we really generalise this much?

Let’s have a think about some basic logic and stats.

If 1 in 5 British adults said they were abused in childhood in the last CSEW (2017), why hasn’t our population literally collapsed under the weight of suicides, chronic illness, criminality and serious mental health issues? Why are there so many ‘successful’ people who were abused in childhood? Why are so many kids making it out of the ghetto and out of the council estates and being able to go to university, get careers, bring up their own kids and live a safe and happy life?

If ACEs was correct, are all of these success stories just ‘anomalies’? Are they all just the exception to the rule?

Okay, maybe they are.

But then can you explain why 51% of the children’s social work workforce were abused in childhood (Eaton and Holmes, 2017)? How can 51% of the UK social work workforce all be exceptions to the rule? How come so many abused and traumatised children can go to university, get a social work degree and work in child safeguarding and protection if they are so damaged by their ACEs?

The reality is, you cannot predict outcomes for humans. Humans are complex, weird and wonderful. Sometimes a kid who escapes trafficking and slavery goes on to become a lawyer and a national advocate – but ACEs would argue that this person should be ill, dead, on drugs or committing violent crime. However, you can also meet people with extremely low to zero ACEs scores (around 20-30% of the population) who have mental health issues, have attempted suicide, are addicted to drugs, are violent criminals or have become very unwell.

This stuff cannot be explained by the individual alone. Scoring systems will always fail us. Quantifying human experience and predicting human behaviour will never work. We are too unpredictable and too diverse.

 

ACEs is not strength-based, it is another predictive deficit model

I hear lots of people hailing ACEs as a ‘trauma informed approach’. However, true trauma-informed philosophies are strength based. This means that if you truly adopt a trauma-informed approach to your work or your understanding of human development and suffering, then you do not label that human with diagnoses or numbers based on what other people have done to them. You will notice of course, in the quiz above, that ACEs are largely things other people did to us, or we witnessed being done to others.

Trying to predict the outcomes of children based on harm committed towards them by a third party is NOT strengths based or trauma-informed.

The trauma-informed approach to trauma and suffering would be to support the human with the reactions, responses and consequences of being traumatised and harmed by others or by an event. We would not then use those events to predict their future. We would argue from a strengths-based, trauma-informed approach that no matter what shit that kid lived through, they are capable of anything. They could be a famous dancer, a genius engineer, a CEO of a company, a doctor, a politician or an author. We would argue that their ‘ACEs’ do not define them and cannot be used to predict their wellbeing, worth or behaviours.

ACEs is therefore a wolf in sheepskin clothes. It is a true deficit framework that calculates the horrible things that have happened to kids or been done to kids, in order to try to predict their futures, as if they are not changeable or recoverable.

Look back at your own life. Think about your ACE score. Are you doomed? Are you in prison? Do you have heart disease? Are you addicted to drugs? Are you beating your partner?

And EVEN IF YOU WERE ANY OF THESE THINGS – would it be because you were harmed in childhood, or are you the master of your own decisions and your own behaviours?

Should dangerous criminals be able to say ‘The reason I did it was because of my ACEs’?

Nah, didn’t think so.

 

ACEs is already being used in harmful and dangerous ways around the world

 

I will give you two examples of how ACEs is currently or has recently been used to harm victims and survivors of abuse. The first example comes from Australia. In recent news, insurance underwriters for life insurance and buildings insurance have started to use ACEs as a way to make decisions on policies and insurance decisions. That’s right. If your ACE score is too high, maybe you are uninsurable. See, ACEs positions you as a risk to that company. What if they insure your life for £500,000 and then you commit suicide with your 1222% change of suicide as put forward by the ACEs study?

The second example comes from a local authority in the UK who made me aware of how ACEs were being used before they found out and commissioners pulled the pilot. In one area of the UK, ACEs scores were being used on pregnant women when they went to antenatal classes or scans, to decide whether to begin pre-birth assessments to check their capability of being a safe mother. You read that right. Women were being asked to fill in an ACEs quiz the same to the one above, and if their score reached a threshold, they were referred to social care for an assessment on their capability to be a mother. This was pulled after 12 months and never spoken about again.

Those of you who support ACEs, had you considered what might happen if we started to label people with numbers based on their traumas? How those numbers might be used against them?

 

ACEs creates some serious cognitive dissonance in professionals

One of the most interesting things I have been doing over the last couple of years (and I encourage all professionals in teaching, training and leadership to do the same) is to get your entire team to privately fill in an ACE quiz to obtain their own score, and then to show them the predictions based on their score. About them being bad employees, skipping work, being unreliable, being ill all the time, being more likely to be in prison, more likely to be addicted to drugs, more likely to die young, more likely to beat their partner.

Let it sink in with them. Let them realise that they too, have high ACE scores. In an average room when I give a speech and I say these things, I watch the faces of the people who know what would have happened if someone had predicted their outcomes. I asked yesterday as I gave a speech in Canterbury, ‘What would someone say about you, if they knew your childhood? What would your score be? Where would they predict you would end up? Do you think they would have predicted you would be sat here listening to me give this speech? No, they wouldn’t.’

Therefore, professionals using ACEs need to be reminded that the ACEs theory applies to adults as it applies to children. If a room of 200 social workers and police can all have high ACEs and yet work in such high-risk, skilled jobs – what does this really say about ACEs?

Does it truly have the predictive power it claims to have?

How can professionals keep using it, making these comments about the outcomes of children, when they know they lived those same lives?

 

ACEs is not accepted by many psychologists, academics, victims and survivors

 

Finally, and thankfully, I am not the only person saying this. Many of us working in psychology, social work, criminology and even victims and survivors themselves – are very wary of the ACEs approach. For detailed, peer reviewed work, look up Professor Sue White and her co-authors. Also, look at the conferences that are springing up around the UK to challenge the way ACEs pathologises children and adults who have been abused. Third, look at organisations like Drop The Disorder (A Disorder for Everyone).

If you are concerned about the way ACEs can be used, you are not alone. Far from it.

 

My final words to you are these:

If you work in social care, policing, psychology, therapies, charities or any other helping profession – most of you came into this work because you believed that these kids were NOT doomed. You believed humans CAN change. You believed that with support, compassion and time, you could help humans to find their strengths and feet again. Deficits models work against you. Deficit models pose that these humans are a product of their trauma, and their outcomes are all affected because they are damaged for life.

I’m not standing for that pessimistic shit and nor should you.

 

Written by Jessica Eaton

15/03/2019

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton