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