When you write about misogyny, prepare for more misogyny. 

When you write about misogyny, prepare for more misogyny. 

I don’t usually write so personally but recently, it has been ROUGH. It’s in capital letters. That means it was proper rough. 

In the last two months, I have experienced four personal attacks, all of which were caused by talking about sex based oppression or sexual offending. I don’t know if anyone else gets this amount of abuse but I am writing about this to expose the misogyny of hundreds of people responding to my work and my thoughts. 

Two months ago

Around two months ago, I was watching a long conversation about gender politics and gender ideology when I came across a term I had never seen before ‘TERF’. I was confused. The tweets said ‘die TERF scum’ ‘all TERFs should be killed’ and so on. I clicked on trusty Google and searched for it.  ‘Trans exclusionary radical feminist’. I stared at the screen and still wanted more information. The same people preaching freedom of speech and freedom of thought were putting up relentless tweets telling these women to die, get killed, get raped. So I carefully composed some tweets asking what this term meant and why it should be seen as okay to send death threats to these women. 

Within an hour, I had received over 500 tweets, messages and comments saying the most vile and disgusting things to me. Some of them included rape threats and jokes about me being raped and killed. That I should have my head smashed in. That they wished they knew where I lived. That I should be struck off. I hadn’t actually said anything to them. I had asked about why the term was being used to justify violence online. 

I turned off the notifications and tried to retreat from the twittersphere for a while. I waited for it to blow over which took about 2 days. 

This was my first experience of being relentlessly bullied on twitter for days at a time and I was shocked that my naive question about threatening to kill women online had warranted such a massive response. Many would say I was lucky to have had a twitter account for so many years and only recently experienced such hatred. 

One month ago 

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I was excitedly analysing the data from my study on the blame of women who have experienced sexual violence. The study aimed to validate a world-first psychometric measure of victim blaming of women which I had invented as part of my PhD. Each one of the 670 participants answered a matrix of psychometric items on sexual violence and assigned blame to the woman or the man in each scenario. As it was the first time it was ever tested, I also gave each person the option to leave anonymous feedback or comments on the study, so I could learn from their experience of taking my study and their thoughts about the victim blaming of women…

“You sexist bitch”

“The academic is clearly a man-hater”

“The researcher has exaggerated the problem of sexual violence for her own gain”

“Feminazi”

“Clearly doesn’t care about male victims of sexual violence”

“This author wants everyone to believe that  all men commit sexual violence”

“Not all men are like this”

As sad as it sounds, I had expected these comments. Whenever I speak or write about women in the UK, there is always ‘whataboutery’ about men – like we cannot possibly focus one study on women only because men were not included. Like I cannot focus a study on male violence because it’s somehow discriminatory despite the majority of all violence (sexual or otherwise) is committed by men. I note that there is no similar uproar from women when a study is conducted about male victims of sexual violence or female sex offenders. In fact, the feminist movement wholly supports men who have experienced sexual violence – without the feminist movement, those men would still have no services at all.

But the one that really stood out was from Richard. 

“This study is a disgrace. My undergrad students can write better than you. You are clearly biased and sexist and should never have been allowed to study for a PhD. I hope your study fails and I hope you are taken off your PhD course. Good luck, you’ll need it. Love, Richard XXX :)”

I must reiterate that the entire study was anonymous. This man chose to include his name and imply his role as an academic supervisor. My study was shared all over the UK so I have no way of knowing who he is.

I was pretty gutted with some of the negative comments. Don’t get me wrong, I had hundreds of positive and amazing comments which will all form part of a separate publication – but the amount of people who were absolutely fuming that the study focussed on women was overwhelming. 

Personal comments claiming that I hated men also angered me because I founded the first male mental health centre in the UK and have been giving my time and expertise to our charity for 4 years, this year. I spoke to my psych colleagues about the abuse I had received and just decided to move on, chalk it up to experience.

(For those of you wondering, the scale has been proven to be valid and reliable and I am extremely excited to be writing the handbook at the moment ready for publication!) 

Three weeks ago 

It was maybe less than a week later that I spotted a conversation occurring on twitter between a group of men who self identified as paedophiles. Clearly intelligent men, having an in depth conversation about their sexual preference for small children. Twitter is a strange place at times, and creates space for all kinds of people to anonymously discuss many issues including those that would be classed as illegal or controversial. 

I watched in awe as they performed incredible mental acrobatics to convince each other that P should be added to LGB. They wanted their ‘sexuality’ recognised as ‘pedosexual’ and added to the other recognised sexualities. Perplexed, I tweeted about this phenomena and asked if anyone in the LGB community were taking it seriously. At first, the tweet attracted a few paedophiles who were fairly measured in their responses and were explaining their point of view. 

However, a few hours later, a couple of extremely aggressive people picked up the thread and did not leave me alone for three days solid. I blocked 42 people that weekend and every time I did, a new account would pop up and carry on the abuse. 

Not only this, but a very famous psychologist joined in, telling me I was full of shit, should have my PhD removed, made comments about my appearance and actually tagged more and more paedophiles  to get involved in the abuse. I was so shocked at his behaviour that I contacted a colleague who knew him to ask whether this was out of character for him (as I suspected it was a troll account). My colleague reassured me that it was not him and I confidently stated that the account was a troll and ignored him. However, from that moment, the abuse became much more personal and I had to block the vile and disgusting tweets within a few minutes. 

At this point, I was absolutely exhausted from the abuse – mainly because it was so quickly becoming about my appearance. 

One guy cut my head off of photos of me and sent me pictures of myself with no head and said he would fuck my body but my face ruined it for him. 

Another account sent me gifs of violent rapes and gifs of women being beaten and gang raped using a number of different accounts. 

Three days ago 

This week, the abuse began again. This time, I had written a quick tweet on the train about the way women were hypersexualised on the covers of men’s magazines to sell magazines, therefore objectifying them and dementalising them. 

It was shared thousands of times and then a large social media account retweeted it and wrote an article about it. I’ve had my notifications turned off ever since. Here is why: 

















So anyway, the list of vile tweets goes on. These are the ones I could screen shot before I finally turned off the notifications. 

I received just over 6000 notifications in one day. I can honestly say that by about 6pm, I was in such a distressed state that my hands were shaking, my heart rate was way too high and I was pretty sure I would be sick if I ate. I started with a painful headache and then had a series of severe panic attacks. 

I knew I couldn’t process this level of abuse earlier on in the week but now, I can. I’ve taken a few days to care for myself, spoke to some people, got support from people who care about me and then went back to the grindstone in my job as a self employed researcher, writer and public speaker in sexual violence and forensic psychology. 

There is a clear pattern, however.

If you are female and you talk about misogyny or sexism, you will receive misogynistic or sexist responses. The irony is deafening. 

The men on twitter who attacked me for talking about misogyny and the sexualisation of women responded with comments comparing me to other women, claiming I was lesbian, commenting on my attractiveness and how much sex I was getting (which they thought they had a lot of information about, for people I have never met). When I then pointed out that their responses were case in point, the responses became more personal and more aggressive. 

Today 

I don’t have anything clever to say. I don’t have any theories to draw upon in this blog,  although there are many – and it’s fairly clear what the greats (Brownmiller, Burt, Long, Gay, Bindel and others) would say about this pattern. I don’t have any words of wisdom, as I am currently depleted of all wisdom or useful musings. 

What I do have, is amounts of resilience that some people could only ever dream of.

What I do have is an annoying stokie accent that will keep travelling all over the world talking loudly about sexual violence and misogyny until my dying breath. 

What I do have is a defiant ambition to explore and then reduce victim blaming of women experiencing sexual violence.

What I do have is a sharp mind and a level of integrity that will be my legacy.

What I do have is a huge following of people who support my work and my voice. 

What I do have, is something to say. 

And they are going to listen.

I’m not going anywhere.
Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Why ‘CSE awareness’ will never prevent CSE

Why ‘CSE awareness’ will never prevent CSE

Written by Jessica Eaton   http://www.victimfocus.org.uk   @JessicaE13Eaton

 

Today, I read this sentence:

“Education of young people is the key to prevention of child sexual exploitation.”

Last week I read this sentence:

“It is imperative that young people receive education to enable them to make informed choices about the relationships they choose to form, to help them to recognise exploitation and abuse.”

‘CSE Awareness’

‘CSE prevention sessions’

‘CSE education’

‘Healthy relationships workshops’

‘CSE information workshops’

‘CSE sessions in schools’

I cannot stand this for a moment longer. This is your official warning that this blog is mainly a huge, well informed, accurately cited, evidence-based tantrum.

So, not dissimilar to the rest of my blogs, really.

Let me tell you why CSE awareness sessions with children will never prevent CSE. Let me tell you why those sentences I had the unfortunate experience of reading; are absolute rubbish. 

  1. Educating children about CSE is important, but it is NOT a preventative strategy.

It is ridiculous to assert that teaching children about sexual exploitation prevents them from being sexually exploited. Calling CSE awareness sessions ‘the key to prevention’ is a new level of victim blaming that my brain cannot even process right now without spiralling into swear words. If we teach children about crossing the road safely, does that mean we can say that we have prevented them from ever being injured by a drunk or careless driver? If we teach children about war and violence, does that mean we have prevented them from ever being a victim of war or violence? If we sit some kids down and tell them about racism and sexism, does that mean they are now magically protected from being racially abused or oppressed because of their sex? Nah. Didn’t think so. You know why educating those children will never protect them? Because…

2. CSE doesn’t occur because a child didn’t have enough knowledge about sex  

That’s right. This is where the ‘CSE sessions prevent CSE’ logic takes us. It leads us right down a path towards arguments that once you increase the knowledge of sex, abuse and violence with children, they will therefore have enough knowledge to somehow protect themselves from a sex offender. I know exactly what the rebuttal to my argument is because I’ve heard it a thousand times “But, but, if we teach children to recognise exploitative situations, they will recognise the signs and exit abuse…’ YEAH RIGHT, OKAY THEN. Gosh, how stupid we all have been. Here we are talking about the massive power imbalance there is in all forms of abuse and the answer all along was to educate children so they just get up, ignore the power imbalance, tell their abuser to eff off and wander into a police station. Simples. I can’t even begin to imagine how insulting that assertion is for victims and survivors of child abuse. Do not be surprised when defence solicitors and well-educated sex offenders start throwing your own logic back at you in court. “Is it not true that the child attended 3 sessions of CSE awareness raising, designed to prevent them from being sexually exploited and yet never chose to report my client? Is it not true that if the child was truly educated about sexual exploitation, they would have known they were being abused and told someone?” You just wait. How are you going to get out of that one? Actually, what about other forms of abuse, does education prevent others from being abused?

   3. Education doesn’t even prevent adults from being abused so why exactly are we using this strategy with children?

For those of you who have been raped or abused as adults, how do you feel about the theory that, had you just had better education about rape or abuse; you would have just left? Yeah, thought so. Arguing that education of social issues prevents victimisation ignores the power imbalances, ignores oppression, is completely inappropriate and amounts to victim blaming. Most adults in this generation have received hundreds of messages, watched hundreds of TV shows, read or heard hundreds of stories of rape and domestic abuse in their lifetime and yet – lo and behold – 1 in 3 women will experience sexual or domestic violence in their life time and in some areas and cultures, this rises to 2 in 3 (WHO (2013) cited by UN Women, 2017). What are we saying about these women? That they all lacked education? That the ‘key’ to ‘preventing’ their abuse was some awareness sessions? Clearly, this logic is hugely flawed. So, why are we applying this faulty logic to children experiencing CSE at the hands of adults?

4. Organisations and public figures gain profit or status by asserting that educating children with their resource prevents CSE

I know right, conspiracy theory stuff!? Not really.

We have no evidence whatsoever that educating children prevents CSE – because we have never tested it. We also have no evidence that any type of sex education or relationships education has any bearing on sexual experiences or relationship outcomes (Bovarnick and Scott, 2016), despite showing some tiny effects that it may increase knowledge. So, no evidence – and yet literally hundreds of CSE resources, CSE session plans, CSE awareness raising programmes, CSE lesson plans and CSE films are being knocked out and marketed in the field as ‘prevention’ tools – some of which are sold for hundreds of pounds.

Why would organisations or individuals do this? 1. It acts as a self-generation income stream for charities and SEOs in the field of CSE at a time of unstable funding. 2. The tools tend to come with heavy, unwarranted praise for how brilliant and innovative the person or group behind the resource are (building status) – despite it never being tested or shown to be effective. I have watched police forces, local authorities, charities and companies scramble to make endless films and resources in CSE and then continually show them as ‘best practice’ with no evidence whatsoever. They then win awards or pat each other on the back for being super-brilliant-excellent-CSE-solvers.

Those same people claim to be ‘child centred’ and ‘child-focussed’. Let me be clear – there is nothing child centred or child focussed about banging out some ill-thought out, stereotypical, narrow focussed, untested resource to use with children and then market it to schools and practitioners as a ‘preventative resource’. The only person at the centre of that strategy is yourselves – for status or for money.

Want some proof? Have a look at the evidence emerging from reports such as the Women and Equalities Committee Report (2016) which found that resources around sexting, sexual exploitation and grooming were being used in the classroom to teach children to blame the child in the film for being victimised and then asking plenary questions such as ‘how could the child have avoided this happening?’ or ‘what could the child have done differently?’ or ‘what do you think led to her being sexually exploited?’ We are actively teaching children to victim blame – and who knows the damage we are doing to the children in the room who are being exploited or abused? I can’t imagine the feeling of watching a resource about a child being raped and then answering plenary questions about what the child could have done differently whilst sitting there thinking ‘but that happened to me… maybe I should do something differently… maybe I am to blame…’ That report showed the impact of using those resources and yet we are still using them across the country and we are still claiming that they amount to best practice to ‘prevent’ CSE.

You might be reading this thinking: ‘This is all a bit far-fetched – professionals and organisations benefitting from making ineffective resources and CSE ‘preventative’ tools? Why would they do this? They can’t all be doing this knowingly?’ And you would be right.

    5. Humans like to find the solution to horrible things in the world, even if they are not correct. This makes humans feel safer and in control.

I have written extensively on this topic recently and will feature in upcoming publications I am preparing in the topic of victim blaming in sexual violence. Let’s break this down for a moment.

“CSE is current. CSE is common. CSE is ‘increasing’ (it’s not, but you know). CSE needs a solution. CSE is about risk. CSE is about vulnerability. We need to reduce those risks and vulnerabilities. CSE becomes about the child. Reduce the vulnerabilities of the child. Educate the child. The child now knows all about CSE. CSE is now prevented. Woohoo!”

This is obviously oversimplified but to be honest, it reads like almost every summary of every CSE resource I have ever read. But why would professionals believe this?

They believe this because it makes them feel in control and it makes them feel like they have a solution to offer to professionals and parents – rather than admitting that the risk is coming from the offender and any child can be targeted and abused, which is likely to make them feel incompetent, helpless or not in control. CSE is a well-publicised social issue and people are frantically searching for the ‘answer’ – essentially ignoring decades of research into CSA which shows that we still haven’t found the ‘answer’ to preventing child sexual abuse as a social issue.

Potentially arising from the way CSE evolved from the terms ‘child prostitution’ and ‘commerical exploitation’ and ‘abuse through prostitution’; children being sexually exploited are still perceived as having some agency and some role in their own abuse and a role in exiting that abuse. Leading on from this, children are now being seen as the solution to child sexual exploitation – change their behaviours, increase their knowledge – prevent CSE. This has meant that organisations and practitioners have erroneously moved further and further towards an educative response to CSE until we are in the position we are right now, with statements like ‘the education of young people about CSE is the key to preventing CSE’. We are now literally sat around tables discussing a child being exploited and trafficked and prescribing them six sessions of CSE awareness and healthy relationships lessons. A huge injustice. A massive facepalm.

The field feels as though it has arrived at a solution. Educate the children and the problem will reduce. Despite this definitely not being the answer, prevention is being focussed on the child and not on the sex offender, which brings me to my final point.

6. Sex offenders are the cause of CSE. Not children. You can educate as many children as you like – there will still be child sex offenders abusing them. 

This is the most important point. Educating children about sex, relationships and abuse is important but it will NOT prevent CSE. Telling children about sexual exploitation will not stop child sex offenders from targeting and raping children. The assertion that preventing sex offending is as easy as a 40 minute powerpoint presentation to a bunch of year 9 kids is appalling. This field is so focussed on presenting the ‘risk’ as being within the child that the risk of the sex offender is essentially ignored. We have decades of research on the theories, methods, risk management and processes of child sex offenders, why does this field ignore them?

Child sexual exploitation is not new. The models and indicators are not even evidence-based and literally mean nothing. We know SO much about child sex offenders already in forensic psychology and criminology and yet I am reading report after report in CSE saying things like ‘we do not know enough about the offenders of CSE’ and ‘disruption of CSE offenders is very difficult because we don’t know enough about them’? EH? Read a book. Psychologists and Criminologists have been banging this drum for MUCH longer than the field of social work and safeguarding – learn from them. Utilise existing research findings. You can’t truly ‘tackle CSE’ if you refuse to learn about sex offenders and to learn from experts in other fields.

For those who will read this and not take it upon themselves to go and learn about child sex offenders, I can offer you a spoiler: There are no studies that tell us that sex offenders never abuse children who went to a CSE awareness session at school. There are also no studies that show that CSE awareness sessions with children ‘prevent’ sex offenders from targeting children.

For the love of humanity, will you please stop saying that educating children about CSE prevents CSE?

“Some girls are just trouble, dear” – A short story about how the other half live.

“Some girls are just trouble, dear” – A short story about how the other half live.

Trigger warning: Child sexual abuse, trafficking, rape, trauma, neglect, gender based violence.

I wrote this poem at 00:35 one night last week whilst thinking about the way children experiencing significant traumas and abuse are brought up side-by-side with children in safe, loving and healthy environments.

You know the kids I mean. The kids at your school who never arrived on time, sometimes didn’t turn up for weeks. Sometimes they were excluded from school and then spent their entire lives hanging around the estate and the school gates. Sometimes they were getting in cars at the end of school with people you didn’t know. They were the ones your parents didn’t want you to hang around with, the bad eggs, the trouble causers, the bad influences, the wastes of space, the never-amount-to-nuthins.

I wrote this to explore how it feels to be those children. And what it must feel like to look upon the lives of others with awe, powerful jealousy and a feeling that they would never understand the stuff they did – even if they tried to explain why they are the way they are.

Those loved kids had never seen the stuff they’d seen. Those protected kids had never felt what they’d felt.

 

A day in her life

I wake up. She wakes up.
I’m tired from drinking til 1am. She slept soundly from 9pm.
I find my screwed up uniform. Her mother brings her ironed uniform.
We’ve got no hot water. She has a hot shower.

I put on too much makeup. She splashes her fresh face.
I straighten my dyed hair. She plaits her healthy hair.
I refuse to eat any breakfast. She is served porridge and fruit.
I forget to make some lunch. She is handed her packed lunch.
I walk out of the door. She walks out of the door.
I walk down to the gulley. She walks down her block paved driveway.
I read the vile graffiti on the wall. She reads ‘Great Expectations’ in the car.
I get asked to get my tits out. She gets asked what lessons she has.
I meet my friends and crash a smoke. She meets her friends and share a joke.

I am taken behind an old shop. She is walking into the school gates.
I am held close by an older guy. She is holding her English books.

I am humiliated and objectified. She is supported and personified.

I am worrying if I’m pregnant. She is wondering if she got an ‘A’ again.

I am falling asleep in class. She is raising her hand when asked.

I am borrowing money for food. She is eating her packed lunch.
I am skipping lessons to get a drink. She is being challenged to think.
I am under the tree that no one knows. She is safely at school in full view.
I am climbing into a dirty bed. She is trying to keep the equation in her head.
I am feeling drunk and bare. She is tying her tie with care.
I am writhing in premature adulthood. She is planning her 14th birthday party.
I am screaming at this guy out here. She is giggling with some guy in there.
I am fighting for him to get off me now. She is twiddling her pencil and laughing now.
I am disoriented and alone. She is getting ready to head home.
I am running through the estate. She is meandering with her mates.
I am wishing I had my damn shoes on. She is watching someone in the distance.

I am coming up the estate hill. She is watching a running shoeless girl.

I am looking over my shoulder. She is distracted from her conversation.

I am pulling my shoes on as I cross over. She is wondering why the girl has no shoes on.

I am staring at some bitch who is staring at me. She is watching the shoe-girl intently

I am embarrassed and cold and need to get home. She is tempted to take pics of this on her phone.

I yell over ‘what the fuck you looking at?’

She mumbles ‘nothing, sorry’.

I feel my face flush red and my eyes well up.

She pipes up ‘but why weren’t you at school?’ 

I yell back ‘the fuck has it got to do with you?’ 

She snaps ‘you look a right mess!’

I yell through tears ‘you know nothing about me, I couldn’t care less!’ 

She gawps at the shoe-girl, the never at school-girl.

I am jealous of the perfect-girl, the mummy’s-whole-world-girl.

She wonders what went wrong for her, why she always cries rape.

I wonder how she got so lucky in a life I am constantly trying to escape.

 

She continues to walk along the street. I pick the stones out of my feet.

She tells her mum of what she saw. I creep in and carefully close the back door.

She is told ‘some girls are just trouble, dear’. I am told ‘that fucking car turned up here!’

She finishes her meal, then does her homework so she can finally chill.

I get another death threat whilst googling where to get the morning after pill.

 

_________________________________________________________________________

This short story ‘A day in her life’ is not as far fetched as some might have us believe. Many children are living lives of horror, fear, abuse and violence, right alongside the children living lives of fun, learning and safety.

 

 

This blog may be reproduced and used in education and professional settings with the name of the blog and the name of the author.

If you do choose to reproduce, please reference:

Jessica Eaton – Victimfocus Blog, (2017)

I’m here to call out the psychiatric diagnosis of victims of sexual abuse and violence.

I’m here to call out the psychiatric diagnosis of victims of sexual abuse and violence.

It’s time to stop the practice of diagnosing humans with psychiatric labels and allow them to naturally experience distress, trauma and shock when they are abused and violated by another human being. 

I want to share with you the moment I realised that enough was enough.

In 2012, I took over a rape centre. The centre provided free counselling and group therapy for women, men and children who had experienced recent or non-recent abuse, sexual violence or rape. I trained and line managed around 35 psychotherapists and counsellors and some months we were working with caseloads of over 150 people. We only covered one town in the Midlands so that’s a very high caseload for a small organisation.

Previous to this job, I had managed crown and magistrates courts with responsibility for the VIWs (Vulnerable and Intimidated Witnesses) Programme. I had always worked with people who had experienced trauma from crime, which is a specific type of trauma. Trauma from crime is specific because it is a man-made trauma. It is a trauma caused by the actions and decisions of a fellow human being. It’s not like a natural disaster. Its not like a freak accident. The person copes significantly better with those types of traumas because, eventually, the person can allow themselves to believe that there was nothing they could have done to avoid it and it certainly wasn’t their fault – or anyone else’s fault. No one meant for the freak accident or natural disaster to happen. However, crime – now that’s a different story. Crime is perpetrated by humans. It includes decisions, choices, targets, perpetrators and victims. It leaves people with questions like ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why did they do that?’ and ‘Don’t they care about the impact it had on me?’ and ‘Did I do something to deserve that?’

It’s no wonder that victims of sexual abuse and violence – crimes meticulously planned, based in power and control to violate a human being – suffer such varied and severe emotional distress to what happened to them.

Within about six months of being in post at the rape centre, I noticed a worrying trend.

“Jess, my client has just been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder…” became a common conversation starter from my team. First it was one or two, then it was a handful, then it was ten, then it was thirty.

As I had responsibility for all face to face and telephone counselling and supervised every counsellor and psychotherapist in the centre, I was able to carefully analyse hundreds, maybe over a thousand cases of sexual abuse and rape that we held and realised that almost all of the women and girls referred into mental health teams in the NHS were quickly diagnosed with BPD and medicated. I specifically say ‘women and girls’ because in the rape centre I worked in, I saw very few men and teenage boys with a BPD diagnosis despite them experiencing very similar histories and emotional responses.

I was still very early on in my career and hadn’t yet started to specialise in forensic psychology or feminism but even back then, at 22 years old,  I was horrified by what I was seeing. People who had been abused and raped, who were 100% entitled to be traumatised and struggling with life were being told that they had something fundamentally wrong with their personality. If you could freeze-frame my life at that exact moment and zoom in on the face I was pulling – you would be able to pinpoint the moment I realised that women and girls were being diagnosed with disorders instead of being allowed to be in emotional distress. It felt scarily familiar to ‘hysteria’ diagnoses.

Clients were attending the centre with higher and higher dosages of medication. One 18 year old woman was sexually abused throughout her childhood and had been medicated with three rounds of electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). I remember reading her file and discussing this with her as she had attended one of my groups and she told me that the ECT made her feel like a zombie. I also remember listening to her and thinking ‘I didn’t even know we were using ECT with children in the UK!’ and spent the rest of the evening at home googling it.

A couple of years later, I was chatting to a woman I met whilst in the third year of my degree. We were talking about life and relationships and she started to talk about her relationships breaking down and how she longed to settle in a healthy relationship but had gone round and round the cycle of abuse for nearly twenty years. As always, I didn’t offer any perspective or theory but listened carefully. However, whilst listening to her story I did recognise her life journey as incredibly similar. Eerily familiar…

And that’s when she said it:

“I will never really settle down with anyone because I have this thing called BPD. Its a personality disorder. My CPN told me that’s why all of my relationships are abusive. I attract wrong ‘uns. I always wondered whether it was because I was abused as a teenager but when they told me I had BPD, I was so relieved. I realised that I had a mental health issue and that’s why people keep abusing me…”

I wasn’t at work. I wasn’t duty bound. I was talking to this woman in a personal capacity. I toyed with my ethical duties. I decided to stick my neck out.

“Kaci*, do you truly believe that? That there is something wrong with your personality? I think you are brilliant. But isn’t it possible that you were right all along? That you were experiencing emotional distress from the abuse you experienced as a teenager? And that’s totally okay. You can struggle. You can struggle for years if you need to. Other people abusing you in your relationships was never your fault – even if you were struggling. Don’t you feel its a little unfair to tell you that you have something fundamentally disordered about your personality?”

I immediately regretted it.

She stared at me, open mouthed, tears in her eyes.

“I’m so sorry, Kaci*. I didn’t mean to…”

“No, I’m not upset at you. But you just said exactly what I’ve been trying to say to the mental health teams for years! You are the first person to ever say this to me…”

And I have been saying it ever since.

 

Borderline Personality Disorder has a pretty (shall we say… inclusive?) set of criteria, meaning that most of us who have ever experienced a period of distress would fill enough criteria for a diagnosis. In fact, if I am having a particularly shitty time, I can honestly admit that I fulfil most of these.

Criteria for BPD (not all are required for diagnosis):

  • Feelings of anger or irritability at minor issues
  • Risk taking behaviours or engaging in activities without personal regard
  • Acting impulsively
  • Self harming during emotional distress
  • Feelings of being down or depressed
  • Fears of rejection of not being loved
  • Intense feelings of anxiety and fear
  • Emotions easily changeable and unstable
  • Relationships with mistrust and neediness
  • Hypersensitivity to emotions and situations
  • Change or instability in life goals or direction
  • Issues with body image
  • Issues with self-identity

In fact, a piece of research by Middleton (2013) showed that people who have experienced a complex trauma such as sexual abuse, neglect, rapes or exploitation, on average, would have enough ‘symptoms’ to be diagnosed with between 10 and 12 disorders at any one time. You read that right.

Add this to the fact that we are still not 100% sure how psychoactive medications work and we are now much more aware that antidepressants are not the magic cure-all we once thought they were; and we now have hundreds of thousands of people who have experienced sexual abuse and violence being told that there is something fundamentally wrong with them whilst being told to take more and more medications and sedatives to numb their feelings. Their completely valid feelings.

I am here to call out the psychiatric diagnosis of sexual abuse and violence victims. 

Whether its unqualified, knee-jerk front line professionals telling parents or children that they think they have ‘anxiety disorder’ or ‘PTSD’ or qualified, established CPNs and Psychiatrists telling people who have recently been raped or remembered significant histories of abuse and trauma – I’m here to ask you: What is your obsession with pigeon holing people and telling them that there is something ‘disordered’ about their psychology?

Why can’t we just accept that the ongoing, malicious, violent and abusive grooming and violation of children and adults, often by people they trusted most, is possibly one of the most harmful things they could ever go through? Why can’t we create space for people to react and respond and cope in the way they need to without labelling them? Why can’t we support them through their ‘extreme’ responses to extreme harm?

Instead of saying:

“You are showing symptoms of BPD. That’s why you are feeling like this. Not the abuse. You have a personality disorder. Here are some pills that will mask the feelings.”

Why can’t we simply say:

“You have seen and experienced things that have changed your life. Those people hurt you and they have scared you. They have changed the way you react to certain environments and feelings. They have heightened your senses and your emotions. And you know what? That’s totally normal and totally understandable. You are entitled to respond like this. Is there anything I can do to help you to cope with these feelings and thoughts? What do you need right now? What helps and what hinders you?”

Is this response really that unreasonable and unrealistic?

 

 

Jessica Eaton is an independent national specialist writer, speaker and researcher in sexual violence, forensic psychology and mental health. 

Twitter @JessicaE13Eaton

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

 

 

 

Let’s talk about sex… and porn and abuse. To children. Right now.

Let’s talk about sex… and porn and abuse. To children. Right now.

Talking about sex, porn and abuse with year 10 and 11 children

One of the most common responses to CSE in the UK is the delivery of ‘awareness raising sessions’ with children in schools. Frequently this includes a specialist team, organisation or charity coming into school to deliver this work with groups of children ranging from a handful right up to assemblies filled with hundreds of students. I am clear in my message that sex and relationships, bodies and respect need to be talked about from the earliest age possible. Despite widespread agreement on this principle, there are still worries about removing the innocence of children and discussing ‘taboo’ topics. This article will discuss some key approaches to consider when you are delivering sessions to secondary school children, starting with some important evidence that suggests that what we are already delivering could be improved.

Research and Reports

The latest report from the Equality and Women Committee 2016 presented concerning findings about the sexual harassment, sexual violence and insidious sexism in our schools. When the board appealed for experts and practitioners to discuss the approaches to awareness raising sessions, the evidence mirrored the practice we see all over the UK. Awareness raising sessions, DVDs and resources were based on shock tactics, fear, shame and fault-finding. When we consider the films, clips, resources and workshops currently delivered to children and young people, this argument appears justified. Whether it is films that depict the rape of a child in multiple positions, a clip that tells children they will be put on the sex offenders register for taking images of themselves or a resource that teaches young people that if they just stopped some of their behaviours, they would be safe from perpetrators. The second point made by the report is that these sessions are being delivered to targeted groups of girls to ‘help the girls protect themselves from sexual violence’ but that the same sessions are not being delivered to the rest of the girls – or the boys at all. We are all responsible for the reduction of rape culture in our society, so why do we continue to target teenage girls? The final point which will be discussed in more detail later on in the article, is that the sessions have been shown to encourage victim blaming of peers due to building sessions in which children are asked ‘what could that young person have done differently?’ or ‘why did this happen to them?’ The report found that these types of discussions elicited victim blaming responses such as ‘well, it wouldn’t have happened to her if she didn’t…’ or ‘it was his own fault because he…’

And we can all agree, that this is not what we set out to do when we arrive to deliver sessions with young people. So, what can we do to improve this practice?

 

  1. Preparation is key

 

Whether we have been asked to deliver to 4 children in a small class room with their pastoral team on hand or whether we have been given 30 minutes to talk to 300 children in a huge assembly hall; we can make initial judgements and decisions in our preparation to ensure that the session is effective and, above all, safe. When it comes to safety, it is important that we consider the histories, experiences and emotional wellbeing of the young people we will be delivering to. Professionals don’t need reams of details but before they deliver the session, they must ask whether any children are known to be currently at risk of abuse, currently experiencing abuse or have a history of abuse. Statistically, in any room of children 1 in 5 of will be sexually abused by the age of 12 (NSPCC, 2012) – so when a professional is delivering a session on abuse, healthy relationships, consent and equality, they may well be teaching children who are suffering from trauma. By gaining the information about the abuse and trauma histories of the children in your audience, we can make informed decisions about whether our resources, worksheets or discussions will be safe and ethical for that group of children. Without this information, we risk re-traumatising, patronising or triggering children who have experienced abuse. In addition, it is important to develop the session environment to be voluntary to attend and free to leave at any time to promote self-care and autonomy in a sensitive topic. To achieve effective sessions, it is important that we also explore the needs of the children in the audience to ensure that our materials are relatable, culturally appropriate and understandable for all children. This means making sure that you ask questions about impairments, language barriers, learning disabilities and cultural differences of the children in your audience before you develop the session. If the school or youth organisation provide information relating to additional needs or differences; it is likely that standard resources will be unsuitable. It is not appropriate or effective to simply ‘slow down’ or ‘simplify’ existing resources or films when a child has additional barriers to understanding the topics. It is probably best to postpone the session until support from specialists has been secured, safe and effective resources have been gathered and evaluated and you have met with the professionals or parents to thoroughly discuss how you can make the sessions as accessible and valuable as possible. Without this level of preparation, sessions can be confusing, irrelevant, patronising, traumatic, dangerous and unethical.

  1. A Feminist Approach

I have recently built a new set of workshops for year 10 and 11 which are based on feminist principles: the workshops avoided terms such as ‘unhealthy relationships’ ‘abuse’ ‘sexting’ ‘risk taking’ and ‘online safety’. Instead, the workshops covered communication forms, human behaviours, grooming, emotions and feelings, respect and equality, gender roles, pornography, digital sexual violence and how to set and enforce boundaries in relationships, friendships and communication online and offline. All of these topics were framed within the dynamics of a patriarchal society, oppression and objectification of women and understanding the pressure that gender roles place upon girls and boys to treat each other in particular ways. I didn’t talk to them about ‘protecting themselves from sexual violence’ or ‘changing their risky behaviours to prevent their abuse’ – I created exciting and interactive exercises to explore why girls were expected to control the sexual desire of boys, why girls were being blamed when their images were being shared and how porn and popular media was skewing their ideas of real sex and real relationships. Delivering these workshops from this perspective led to insightful discussions, debates and questions from the young people who slowly began to criticise the mass media, porn culture and the insidious sexism that meant that whilst they were labelled a ‘slag’ for being exploited or sexually harassed, their perpetrators were ‘high-fived’ or seen as ‘boys just being boys’. The sessions worked to empower the students to question the status quo and to challenge the language they employ to describe themselves and other young people.

            3. We’ve heard it all before, Miss!

 

One of the reasons I built the sessions differently was confirmed when I asked the young people what they already knew about ‘online safety’, ‘staying safe’, ‘sexting’ and ‘consent’ . The response was loud and clear: “We’ve heard it all before, Miss! It’s been hammered home over and over again. We just switch off and stop listening to you lot. We hear the messages but we do it anyway, this is our life.” This response was not the response of ‘problem children’ who simply couldn’t be reached – this was the response of a diverse group of young people who had been receiving the same kind of ‘awareness raising sessions’ for years – mainly consisting of fear mongering, shock tactics, stereotypical explanations of abuse and unrealistic, abstinence messages that had advised them not to talk to people on the internet, not to meet new people, not to give out their mobile numbers, not to take images of themselves, not to have sex before 16 years old and not to put their information on their social network profiles. After years of these ‘do not’ sessions, sat in front of us was a group of young people who had learned to switch off from us. The session began with rolled eyes and scepticism, a feeling that I could teach them nothing new and that I was about to spend 2 days patronising and boring them to death. This should deliver a strong message to us as professionals: we need to up our game and change our tack. Pronto! In a society where large proportions of children are watching porn by the age of ten (NSPCC, 2016) and where children are regularly receiving unwanted nudes and hundreds of friend requests from strangers – the time has come to realise that some of our messages are now outdated; not only outdated, but no longer culturally relevant to this generation. In a time where their entire lives, self-worth and popularity are based on friend lists, likes, retweets and comments on their photos and extreme porn is sent around for ‘laughs’ – it’s no longer adequate to advise them not to be on these sites or to stop sharing their information, our new aims have to be about sculpting children into critical and intelligent consumers of mass media, sexual imagery and the world of social media. We need to create activists and critics that will go on to challenge their peers and of course, themselves.

          4. Grooming is so much more than sexual abuse

 

I decided to redesign our teaching approaches around the topic of ‘grooming’. Rather than framing grooming around sexual exploitation and meeting strangers from the internet, I developed and delivered exercises about all the different forms of grooming in the world, whom does what to whom, why they would do it, what are perpetrators attempting to achieve and the methods that different perpetrators employ to achieve trust, rapport, loyalty and secrecy. I pulled away from linear models of grooming and instead introduced young people to all different examples of grooming that occur over different time periods and communication methods. I gave thought-provoking examples which got them arguing – such as ‘is it grooming if a young woman builds a relationship and then marries a very old and poorly man with thousands of pounds in the bank, knowing she will inherit the fortune?’ Our debates quickly showed that students had a knowledge of grooming that ranged from zero through to highly stereotypical examples of grooming in which they found it very difficult to see women as groomers at all. Linking this struggle back to patriarchy and gender roles allowed them to understand that women have been positioned as safe, nurturing and caring – whereas men have been positioned as unsafe, sexual and powerful. Breaking down gender stereotypes instantly broadened their understanding of grooming and perpetrators.

 

          5. Porn, sex and all the gory details

 

In the sessions, I trialled some interactive new session plans and debate exercises around the porn they have watched, the messages they have already absorbed – and importantly – the reframing of porn as a form of oppression of women for the enjoyment of men. This session got graphic quickly. I learned that young people had seen a lot of porn – whether they were tagged in it, sent it, searched for it, forced to watch it or heard about extreme porn that their mates had been watching – their knowledge of porn and extreme sex acts was staggering. I spent time unpacking the power imbalances in porn – the way the camera angle is always shot for the male viewer, the way the actresses are exploited and pressured into sex acts they didn’t want to do, the way that producers offer drugs and alcohol to nervous young actresses and the high rates of chlamydia within the industry. We debated whether we felt rough sex was acceptable or unacceptable and why the porn and glamour modelling industries have been found to target vulnerable underage girls in poverty. We talked about how many young people think extreme sex acts are the norm – the students engaged in loud and messy discussion in small groups who were swearing, gasping and challenging myths, biases and prejudice in their own thoughts. Not for the faint-hearted – but clearly vital to their burning curiosity about porn and sex. Without a doubt, this part of the session was the most successful and produced the most ‘penny-drop’ moments of the entire course, with young people remarking that they didn’t know about the use of drugs on set, the exploitation of women, the rife sexually transmitted diseases, the sexual injuries or the abuse. They didn’t realise that some porn scenes take over 40 takes to get right and possibly most importantly, they had no concept that porn actors and actresses were paid to look like they were enjoying sex acts that hurt or humiliated them. Since porn culture, sexualised imagery and objectification of women is seriously affecting boys and girls in our schools – it is imperative that any session that covers abuse, grooming or online sexual communication also covers the elephant in the room: porn culture.

            6. Do we perpetuate victim blaming?

 

The report from the Equality and Women’s Committee links victim blaming to the responses professionals are providing to the sexual harassment, exploitation and assaults of girls in schools. The report argued that the examples of campaigns and resources that show a girl sending nudes and then having them shared all over her school encouraged and perpetuated victim blaming and slut shaming rather than focussing on the person who shared the images in revenge, in spite, for banter or for ‘rates’. Materials and questions were causing children to conclude that the girl shouldn’t have taken the images in the first place, that the young person shouldn’t have been on Facebook in the first place, that children were to blame for their sexual exploitation and abuse. Whilst I built the sessions to avoid this type of prejudice against victims, I found that young people were naturally moving towards victim-blaming conclusions whereby they convince themselves that the boy or girl in the case study made ‘poor decisions’, ‘were just stupid’ or ‘asked for it’ – and then loudly convincing themselves that it would never happen to them. This kind of self-preservation victim blaming is very common in children and adults – but it is taught and reinforced by professionals delivering sessions like these. I responded to these comments by ‘putting the shoe on the other foot’ and by refocussing the blame back on the person who chose to manipulate, threaten or expose the victim. I reinforced the message that, whilst we don’t advocate the sharing of nudes, they are never to blame if someone they trusted shared their images or videos.

Conclusions

We have to make a quick move away from authoritative awareness raising sessions that seek to ‘reduce risk of CSE’ by ‘increasing awareness of CSE’. We have no evidence that this is the case, yet. What we do know, is that boys and girls need feminism. What we do know, is that boys and girls watch a tonne of porn and are getting their sex ed from oppressive, filmed, fake sex. What we do know, is that young people are already taking photos and making videos of themselves and sharing them – threats of putting them on the sex offenders register are not working (surprise, surprise). It’s time to embrace feminist SRE and start talking to young people about the things they are already seeing, the things they are already doing and the things they are already talking about. Frank, open, sweary, real. No threats. No shame. No finger pointing. No blame culture.

Adults: We are the creators of taboo. We are the breakers of taboo.

Children: They are our next generation of adults.

Let’s teach them about real sex and real life in real terms.

Written by @JessicaE13Eaton

http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

The Response to Sexual Harassment? “Don’t flatter yourself!”

The Response to Sexual Harassment? “Don’t flatter yourself!”

Written by Jessica Eaton

Follow and share on twitter @Jessicae13Eaton 

Email: JEE509@bham.ac.uk


Today, I become completely enthralled by a 522 (and growing) comment thread on professional networking site, Linkedin. 

In this blog post, I am going to show you screenshots of real comments made by professionals from all different sectors, made in the last 48 hours. These comments are direct responses to a female CEO who uploaded a post about her weariness of the sexual harassment and inappropriate comments she receives in her Linkedin inbox. So why was I so enthralled by this growing stream of comments? 

Because those comments were the most incredible, public and professional display of victim blaming I have ever seen. 

So first of all, let’s have a look at the post that started this whole thing off:


I read this post from a very successful female CEO and Founder of a large company; and I empathised immediately. I could hear the frustration in her post, the capitalisation speaks volumes. This is a woman at the end of her tether. This is a woman who is sick of having to tell male professionals on LinkedIn that she is not interested and that LinkedIn is not for ‘romantic requests’ – which is considerably more polite than the way I would have written that post. 

I was about to scroll away until I noticed the large amount of comments and I clicked to open them up because I instantly wondered if it was hundreds of other successful women saying ‘me too!’ 

And don’t get me wrong, there were some women thanking her for being so honest. There were a handful of women admitting that they had the same problem. However, I did wonder whether the nature of the other hundreds of comments would deter a woman from admitting it happened to her too. 

The types of comments can be broadly split into 5 main themes: 

1. Men ridiculing her for ‘moaning about’ being sexually harassed by directly saying that she was exaggerating or calling her derogatory names

2. Men trivialising and laughing off her complaint 

3. Men telling her that she should be grateful for the compliments and that she needs to lighten up

4. Women normalising the harassment, telling her that she is attention seeking and should get over herself 

5. Women disclosing the same sort of harassment on LinkedIn and then being shut down 

I am going to work through these 5 main themes and explain why they have direct links to victim blaming in sexual violence. 

1. Men ridiculing her for ‘moaning about’ being sexually harassed by saying that she was exaggerating or by calling her derogatory names 

Example 1


Example 2


Example 3


Example 4


Analysis 

This was a very common type of comment. If that isn’t bad enough, all of the comments were provided by people with their full name, photograph and employer’s name right next to the abusive and sexist comments. 

The comments vary between outright name calling and comments that imply she is being rather too self-congratulatory about being sexually harassed so frequently. A few of the comments criticise the way she looks to minimise the possibility that this has really happened to her (almost suggesting she is lying or exaggerating). Some of the comments tell her that they no longer want her as a business connection or that they wouldn’t even meet her for a coffee because she is so ‘scary’, ‘nasty’ and ‘rude’. One man announced that he was disconnecting from her immediately if she was going to moan about sexual harrassment. 

So, how does this link to victim blaming in sexual violence? 

Each of the screenshots above give accurate examples of the ways women are blamed when they experience sexual violence (and of course we must ensure we are acknowledging sexual harassment as a form of sexual violence). When women disclose sexual violence, it is common for them to have their experience minimised or trivialised. When someone responds to a disclosure with the words ‘grow up you old hag’ and ‘dog’ and ‘I’m still confused why you are getting so much attention’ – they are telling her that she is worthless, her anger is not justified and that she does not fit their stereotype of a sexual harassment victim. If she is disclosing sexual harassment then she must be lying, exaggerating or confused. And if she is the type of woman to do that on linkedin, she is clearly a ‘nasty woman’ and she deserves instant and harsh consequences for lying/bragging/exaggerating about her sexual harassment. 

When a person responds with ‘don’t flatter yourself, love’ – it is very clear that they have read the disclosure of sexual harassment, looked at her photograph and then made a judgment call that she is not nearly attractive enough to be sexual harassed and is therefore taking these comments the wrong way in order to inflate her ego. This relates to victim blaming as there is ample research that shows that juries are more likely to find a sexual violence perpetrator guilty if the female victim is judged to be stereotypically ‘beautiful’ and that juries are more likely to blame the victim if she is overweight and stereotypically ‘unattractive’. 

There is even a comment rating her as a 7 out of 10 – again insinuating that she is just not attractive enough to be sexually harassed so is probably making it up. 

 Another saying that she has a ‘face like thunder’ and is therefore not attractive or smiley enough to be sexually harassed. (I can tell you now that her profile photograph is a professional head and shoulders shot with a neutral expression – maybe he thought she needed to ‘smile more’.) 

The final comment is a perfect example of victim blaming. Example 4 is a man who is going along the lines of ‘if you don’t want to be sexually harassed, don’t look nice, or ever be seen by men, they can’t help themselves…’

Solution: Live on an island. Forever. No men allowed. (Apparently)

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme: 

– Only gorgeous women get sexually harassed 

– Men cannot help themselves and women are responsible for dealing with that desire 

– Women often make up or exaggerate sexual violence 


2. Men trivialising and laughing off her complaint by implying that she is full of herself and overreacting 


Example 5


Example 6



Example 7




Analysis 

These types of comments were frequent throughout with many people liking them and agreeing with them over and over again. Most of these comments referred to her ‘huge ego’ that she has because she spoke about being sexually harassed. For some reason, this large, organic sample of professionals thought that talking about sexual harassment was ‘bragging’. 

What’s interesting here though, is that I noticed that these comments were more likely to have women agreeing with them than any other type of comment. Men would typically start the thread by commenting on the size of her ego for ‘assuming’ that men found her sexually attractive and then women were quickly drawn to these threads and became involved. One woman in particular was relentless for hours and repeatedly commented that the entire thing was to boost her own self worth and to increase the number of men looking at her profile and contacting her – sort of like pseudo-reverse-psychology I guess… 😳

So, why is this linked with victim blaming?

Well, overall, it fits very well with victim blaming messages that tell women that sexual violence isn’t that serious, isn’t that harmful and that sexual violence has been made into this big issue by us killjoy feminists who demand respect.  Comments like the ones above deliver two harmful messages: 

You are not worthy of being sexually harassed or of moaning about it and if you do disclose sexual harassment, it will not be taken seriously and you will look like a jumped up female who brags about strangers hitting on her.

Yeah. Right. 

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme: 

– Sexual violence isn’t that serious or harmful 

– Women shouldn’t talk about sex or sexual violence 


3. Men telling her that she should be grateful for the compliments and that she needs to lighten up


Example 8



Example 9



Analysis 

As you can see, some of these are very offensive and I found myself wondering how much harm they were doing as every second a new comment like this was added. The ‘be grateful’ theme was very common indeed, but exclusively put across by men. The messages ranged from polite but sexist comments telling her to lighten up, get a grip and enjoy the attention right the way through to horrid comments calling her names like the example above.

Either way, she ought to be happy, grateful and thankful for the sexual harassment and unwanted comments she keeps receiving. This has to be one of the most blatant examples of sexism I have seen recently. A woman discloses how frustrated she is with unwanted sexual contact from professionals in her field and a load of professionals in her field tell her that she should be enjoying it and to shut up. Appalling but real. These are real professionals on LinkedIn. I wonder if they behave like this in the workplace? 

So, how does this link to victim blaming? 

When women talk about sexual violence, it is the word ‘sexual’ that tends to stick in people’s minds. This (in addition to the fact that women are still seen as sexual objects with just one purpose) meant that sexual violence still gets categorised as ‘sex’ in the minds of many. The violence, the harassment, the assault: that tends to get lost. 

If a beautiful woman is being contacted by businessmen because she is so desirable – what on earth is she moaning about?! 

It doesn’t matter that the person is a stranger or even a business contact who thinks it is totally okay to comment on her body or ask her if they can take her out on a professional networking platform. It doesn’t matter that she is an intelligent, powerful, successful CEO – as long as she looks nice and they can message her out of the blue, stoked with the right to be able to say whatever they want to a woman whenever they want and not only should she be polite – but she must be grateful too. 

Unless you’re only a 7 out of 10 – and then you’re lying about it anyway. 

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme:

– Women often lie about sexual violence for attention 

– Women enjoy sexual violence 

– Sexual violence is not harmful, it’s just sex 

– Women secretly love being sexually harassed 

– Women make a fuss about sexual violence to save face and to pretend to be righteous 


4. Women normalising the harassment, telling her that she is attention seeking and should get over herself 


Example 10



Example 11



Example 12



Analysis 

Now, we move on to the theme dominated by women. In this theme we see women ridiculing her for being ‘up herself’, telling her to take it as a compliment and stop seeking attention and some advice from a woman at the end who seeks to normalise the inevitable abuse she is receiving. 

Again, very common in the comments. I guess most people would assume that women might have more empathy or relate to her more, but we can see that far from relating to her, they distanced themselves from her and joined in with the ridiculing and minimising. 

So why does this link with victim blaming? 

There is a theory in victim blaming called the ‘defensive attribution hypothesis’ which argued that people who identify as similar to the victim of sexual violence are much less likely to blame them. So for example a woman might think ‘Wow, I am a professional woman too – it just goes to show that it could happen to me too.’ This is the same theory that argues that female victims would be better with female supporters and that women victim blame less than men.

However, this is rarely the case. Women are just as likely to victim blame as men and this is something I have been examining in my PhD. There are also potential reasons for why this could be. The first would be that the women who leave comments like the ones above are engaging in some kind of ‘self-preservation’ tactic by ridiculing her and distancing from her experience, they can assure themselves that it won’t happen to them and it must be happening to her for a reason. 

The second, which accounts for the woman who normalises and minimises her sexual harassment, is that women have absorbed systemic sexism and patriarchy for so long that it has truly become normality for them. So when a man acts inappropriately towards them, they have learned that this is a normal, everyday occurrence and that they have no right to be so angry about it – because all women experience it. 

The third is that women have been taken in by the counter-arguments to sexual violence and they erroneously believe that sexual power and abuse is part of men’s nature, that it’s natural for men to be so sexually demanding and abusive and that they cannot help themselves. This results in women being taught to ‘protect themselves and ‘reduce risk’ in a society supposedly filled with men who cannot possibly control themselves – which is an insult to millions of men.

These potential reasons are possible because women and girls spend their entire lives submerged in a society that objectifies and dehumanises them. A society that tells them that they must be attractive at all times but not a ‘slut’ or a ‘show-off’. That they are so desirable that men cannot help but rape them. That their body is public property. That they need to smile more. That they need to just accept sexism for what it is and move on. 

Women who have been successfully socialised to believe that they are a walking, talking, non-thinking sex object to be commented on and conquered are not going to defend a woman who is experiencing sexual harassment as they will probably take on the views of the patriarchal society in which they have been moulded. 

Sadly, the comments that concern me the most are the ones telling her to get over herself and that she is attention seeking. I see these comments as a direct result of women being pitted against each other in terms of aesthetics. The media have been having a field day with this for decades (Field decade? Field era?)…

Women are pitted against each other in gossip magazines, in reality TV shows, in competitions and beauty pageants, in lads mags where they literally rate readers’ girlfriends, in women’s mags where they rate fashion and make up and hair, in music videos and films in which women compete for male attention or a relationship with a man who is playing them both. 

This is not an accident. When women are pitted against each other, they are much weaker as a community (and they make lots of money for companies profiting off their competition to look perfect). 

The comment ‘get over yourself’ could be seen as a woman saying to her ‘you’re not even that attractive’ or ‘you’re not worthy of this much attention’ or ‘you think a lot of yourself, don’t you?’ Those three words speak volumes. 

Why did a woman read the experience of constant sexual harassment of a female business connection and instantly respond with a flippant and derogatory remark? Is it because she felt threatened? Did she think ‘Why is she getting all of those messages from men? She must be bragging. I mean look at her, she’s not even that attractive!’ 

I see this as a direct result of pitting women against each other.

(Note: the relative beauty of the woman and the actual appearance is irrelevant here but the way she was quickly perceived as ‘not that attractive’ in many of these comments makes me wonder whether her assertive post suddenly made her seem less attractive to people who originally found her photos attractive until they realised she had an opinion). 

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme: 

– Women lie about sexual violence for attention 

– Men cannot help themselves 

– Women need to accept that sexual violence is a part of life 

– Women don’t have a right to talk about sexual violence 

– Sexual harassment isn’t that serious 


5. Women disclosing the same sort of harassment on LinkedIn and then being shut down 

Example 13



Analysis 

This was the rarest type of comment but, as I said at the beginning of this blog, I wonder if that’s because the comment thread was so hostile that many women read the thread but didn’t disclose the same sexual harassment as the original poster because they could see what they would be up against. The example above gives a flavour of the responses to women who did dare write ‘me too!’ 

The exact same levels of judgement are thrown at the women who disclose similar sexual harassment. 

Why is this linked to victim blaming? 

This one is slightly more obscure but is strongly linked to victim blaming of the self. Self-blame. We know that self-blame is very common in sexual violence and there are lots of reasons for this but one of them relates to the example above. Women are consumers of media, opinion and thoughts about women – and they absorb the messages from as early as the toddler years. They grow up listening to and watching stories of female lives, trauma, mental health issues, experiences and abuse where the women are picked apart, criticised and judged for why these things have happened to them.  Women learn that disclosure = judgement. 

Not only this, but they learn to blame themselves using the same victim blaming messages that they are expecting to be judged with at the point of disclosure. Was I drunk? Was I wearing a low cut top? Did I come across as a flirt? Should I have behaved differently? Is my story believable enough? 

When the answers to these questions are less than perfect, women are able to accurately predict the responses they may receive based on all of the responses and messages they have ever seen before. They may think ‘well, I guess what I said could have been misconstrued as flirting so I am probably to blame’. Once the self-blame sets in, victim blaming become so much more powerful because you have the social victim blaming coming from myths, gender roles and victim stereotypes, then you have the directed victim blaming about the character or behaviour of the woman and then you have this new layer: the woman themselves, employing these messages to blame herself and to agree with the victim blaming messages of herself and others because she knows that unless she is the ‘perfect victim’ (shown to be completely and utterly innocent) she will be judged by these values and she knows she will lose. Badly. 

Closing Comments

This blog was a reaction to a LinkedIn post by a successful female CEO and Founder. She has not only experienced significant sexual harassment in her private messages that led her to speak out about the nature of the professional networking platform but also paid a heavy price for thinking that people would agree and empathise with her. The comment thread (which is still growing at the time of writing) became a petri-dish of all different types and styles of victim blaming which I sought to expose and explain. The thread is shocking and probably triggering for many people, including people who have experienced sexual violence. It provided a window into the prevalence of victim blaming of women – but in a unique context: sexual harassment in a professional workplace environment. I did attempt to challenge some of the commenters but I became one of the women who got spectacularly shut down. 

Please call out sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace – and everywhere.

The screen shots were taken on the 5th November 2016. All names and photos have been (badly) removed to preserve anonymity of the poster and the commenters. 

‘Take Responsibility’ – The New, Improved & More Socially Acceptable Way to Victim Blame

‘Take Responsibility’ – The New, Improved & More Socially Acceptable Way to Victim Blame

By Jessica Eaton

Twitter @JessicaE13Eaton 

It’s not okay to victim blame – but it’s more than okay to force women and girls to take responsibility for their rape or sexual assault. This article examines recent evidence and possible reasons for why this is happening. 


In my doctoral research in forensic psychology, in my job as a writer, speaker and training manager in CSE and sexual violence and in my general experience of being a woman in the world (an observant, highly critical woman at that) I am becoming acutely aware of a societal shift away from ‘victim blame’ towards ‘victim responsibility’ – and this is something I have designed a new psychometric measure in, which will be tested on thousands of people in the UK this Autumn. 
When I say acutely aware, what I mean is a feeling that every time I look at the news, see an advert or campaign, hear a broadcast, teach at an event or get into a conversation – I find myself listening to people who are victim blaming whilst denouncing victim blaming. 

What do I mean by this? Well, I can already tell as I am writing this that it sounds like waffle so I will give some examples I have seen or heard recently and then I will move on to more structured arguments:

“I’m not saying she’s to blame for being raped, but she shouldn’t have got into that car.”

“It’s always the perpetrator’s fault but if he hadn’t gone on the app in the first place, none of this would have happened to him, would it?”

“She’s not to blame for what happened to her, but she does need to take more responsibility for her choices that evening.”

“We advise all festival goers to stay aware. Please do not get so drunk that you end up a victim of crime.”

“Women need to take more responsibility. They need to know that if they dress like that, they are bound to get inappropriate comments!”

“The child needs help to make better decisions and to reduce their risk of child sexual exploitation.”

“She’s received 47 death threats from the perp so we have advised her to take the initiative to move out of the area and to change her number so he won’t be able to continue harassing her. She refuses to move so the abuse continues.”

What we have here are more intelligent, more socially acceptable and more subtle examples of victim blaming. However, whilst the principle remains the same (the shift of focus from the perp to the victim), the wording is slightly softened and changed to ‘responsibility’ or ‘decision making’. Some of these comments actually contradict themselves by claiming to understand that the perpetrator is always to blame, but then use ‘responsibility’ to equally blame the victim without sounding like they are blaming the victim. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have the rise of the socially desirable response.

This interests me so much because my research focus is victim blaming and the way women and girls learn to absorb these victim blaming messages from an early age which then leads to them blaming themselves when they experience sexual violence. I believe that as a general society, victim blaming is not reducing at all, it is merely becoming more insidious and cameoflaged by adapting the language used. People know that they shouldn’t victim blame, but they still feel the need to do it, so what do they do? They adapt. 

Examples of the shift from blame to responsibility:

Anti-rape wear by Defendables (and others)


Anti-rape wear is the ultimate shift from blame to responsibility. The slogan of Defendables on all of their marketing materials is:

“DEFENDABLES -DON’T BE A VICTIM

Anti-rape wear is generally marketed as underwear or other garments that are designed to lock (you’re thinking chastity belt aren’t you? Yeah, you’re not far off) so you don’t get raped. Genius, eh? All those millions of women who have experienced rape and sexual violence and all that was really needed was a pair of knickers that can’t be tugged, unlocked, cut off or ripped. 

AR Wear advise women that they can wear the knickers when they go running, travelling or on a first date. Excellent. 


However, there are a few problems with anti-rape wear. 

1. To prevent rape, you would have to wear these 24/7, 365 days a year 

The fact that these items are marketed for running at night, travelling alone and going on first dates just confirms that the designers and founders of these companies have no idea what they are talking about. With the large majority of rapes happening within the home of the victim and perpetrated by someone they knew well (family member, partner, friend or ex partner) – women would have to wear these for the rest of their lives in order to get protection from them. 

2. These knickers completely ignore wider sexual violence acts

So you’ve got your anti-rape knickers on, you’re safe, you’re confident. You are now protected from rape. Really? 

The sexual offences act 2003 defines rape as including oral sexual assault. What are we going to wear to prevent that? A Bane mask? (Sorry, Batman fans.)

But seriously, what about women being forced into sexual acts that do not require the penetration of their vagina? What about being touched? What about being coerced or threatened into taking the knickers off and unlocking them? What about being sweet-talked and groomed into not wearing them? 

This garment is designed based on the myth that all rapes and sexual assaults are random acts of severe violence perpetrated in unfamiliar environments by a stranger. Every other form of sexual act is ignored. The concept of grooming, threat and charm is ignored. 

3. “She should have been wearing her anti-rape knickers!”

In more direct and overt examples, victim blaming will most certainly increase if these garments ever became a serious trend. Imagine the ridiculous arguments in court, by police, from friends and family and the wider public when a woman gets raped and she wasn’t wearing her trusty anti-rape underwear. It’s just more pathetic excuses added to the arsenal of rape-deniers and victim-blamers everywhere. 

In more subtle blaming, the focus will shift to a woman’s responsibility to ensure she is prioritising her personal safety by wearing these knickers. It will be her duty to ensure she is taking adequate steps to reduce her risk of rape. Don’t drink. Don’t wear short skirts. Don’t live one hour of your life without your anti-rape knickers on. You fool. 

This is not a route we need to go down, ever. Anti-rape wear is not the answer to rape. It never has been and it never will be. Forcing women to take more precautions and more responsibility to prevent their own rape is ridiculous. What about women who have been with their partners for 12 years and then they begin to show abusive behaviours and start manipulating them, eventually leading to their partner raping or sexually assaulting them? What would be said to them? That they should have worn their anti-rape knickers for their whole relationship just on the off-chance? That she ‘should have seen the signs of abuse’ and bought anti-rape wear to protect herself? 

The fact that a lot of money, innovation and resource has been pumped into designing prototypes of knickers that imply that the burden of responsibility to prevent rape sits with the woman feels like a massive step backwards. 

Public safety campaigns aimed at potential victims 

Some excellent examples below contain messages that place an incredible amount of responsibility on the victim and even her friends – to ensure she is not raped. It feels as though our government and our public services have just resigned themselves to the fact that women and girls will continue to get raped so they have decided to target all of their messages and resources at women and girls rather than perpetrators. It’s a sorry state of affairs that teaches women that they are responsible for their rape, if they break any of the rules in the campaigns. 


I doubt that you will be surprised to see this one. The U.K. and USA especially have created solid links between alcohol and rape in recent years. Their reasoning is so frequent and confident that they make it sound as though it’s the alcohol that rapes women. It’s incredible really. 

This poster is implying that if you drink alcohol, you might get raped. More than that, it positions your choice to have a drink over the choice of the perpetrator to target you and rape you. 

This poster sends the message that if you were drunk when you got raped, you will have broken the golden rule and you will not be afforded any sympathy. Case in point: The Sun headline about India, who was raped and murdered. #2The coverage of the Brock Turner case in which the fact that the woman had been drinking was a massive focus. 

You had a responsibility not to drink and you did not uphold that responsibility – you will therefore come under heavy scrutiny from both men and women about why you were drinking in the first place.


Again, another example of subtle victim blaming in which the shift is based on the responsibility for personal safety and ‘looking after yourself’ and ‘making good decisions’. 

This poster by Essex Police clearly instructs women not to walk home alone. Well, what happens if they do walk home alone? Are they less deserving of justice? The answer to that, sadly, is yes. There is a high chance that people around them will question why they decided to walk home alone and why they didn’t reasonably predict that they would be raped or sexually assaulted. The focus will shift back to the ‘everyone is responsible for their own safety’ message, which is what this poster is based on. 

This is not crime prevention, this is victim blaming. However you dress it up. 


I really do not like this one. The poster depicts a woman with her knickers around her ankles with a bit of text aimed at her friends saying that she might get so drunk that she will make bad decisions. However, the large text overriding the poster says ‘she didn’t want to, but she couldn’t say no’. 

Well, in my opinion, she didn’t make a bad decision. Her decision was that she didn’t want to have sex. However, she was unable to communicate her decision due to being drunk. And when you are too drunk to convey your decision about sex…

(Say it all together now) 

That is rape. 

So why exactly has this police force reframed a very clear example of rape due to the person not having capacity to consent or communicate – as a ‘bad decision’ and then placed the responsibility on the friends? It’s astounding. 

There are hundreds of examples of these types of campaigns, resources and anti-rape wear garments and judging by the quick and critical response to most of them on social media, I would hope that a lot of these messages are being rejected – however, a critical look at academic research and professional practice in sexual violence has a slightly different story to tell. A story that ultimately suggests that the ‘take responsibility’ message is alive and well and unfortunately, increasing. 

Academic Research 

There are a string of studies into victim blaming that sparked my interest into whether victim blaming was becoming more intelligent and more subtle. Having recently conducted a very large literature review in victim blaming and self blame in sexual violence which led to me designing a new measure of victim blaming, I noticed something really important that I hope to test. 

In the 1980s, Martha Burt found that around half of all people surveyed blamed women for their rape, usually using reasoning like ‘they were asking for it’ or ‘they deserved it’ or ‘they brought it upon themselves by the way they were… (Insert reason here)’. As you can imagine, half is a pretty big claim. However, as someone who works in this field, I accepted that to be fairly accurate. However, in 2005 Amnesty International performed a very large survey or victim blaming and rape myth acceptance and found that the proportion of people who blamed women for their rape had dropped to a third. Many researchers hailed this as a true reduction in victim blaming and put it down to better education, rape prevention programmes and good campaigns around sexual violence. I was sceptical. 

My observations and criticisms were based around the survey items used to test people. They were so direct and so overtly sexist that I doubted whether even the most confident sexists would admit to agreeing to the items. Examples include items such as ‘if a woman acts like slut, she deserves to get raped’ and ‘rape is a common weapon that women use against men’. I argued that it was much more likely that people were just responding in a socially desirable manner and were therefore disagreeing with the most overt examples of victim blaming and were only agreeing to the items that were more subtly worded such as the items that talked about responsibility and casual factors that ‘led’ to the rape. I also had issues with language and wording of a lot of items due to the scales being written some decades ago and the way the general public speak having changed. 

I was delighted to find that McMahon (2010) had the exact same criticisms as I did and had done an excellent piece of research that asked university students to look at the IRMAS scale and to be honest about whether they thought people of their age group (18-25) would answer them honestly. The findings were really useful to researchers like me. They confirmed that many people would not like to be seen as agreeing to overt victim blaming but would be more likely to agree to the more subtle forms of victim blaming, which usually involve responsibility or cause rather than blame.  One item about women who deserve to be raped was completely dropped from the updated version of the scale because so many participants said that even if they believed that some women deserved to be raped, they knew that it was not socially acceptable to say it like that so they would not answer that question or would lie about their views. 

Once McMahon had amended the scale using updated language and the ideas from the participants, it was found that the proportion of people who blame women for their rape went back up to half. For me, this was good evidence of my argument that victim blaming was not reducing, it was evolving. 

The second issue I have been looking at is language around blame, responsibility, fault and cause. In every day language, we use them interchangeably. However, when it comes to sexual violence, it appears to me that people think they mean different things. This results in people saying ‘they are not to blame for being raped but they need to take more responsibility for their actions that caused it’. Most people would say ‘that’s still victim blaming’, but in the mind of the speaker, they are reasoning that blame, responsibility and cause are different concepts that do not lead to the same level of culpability. They are saying that you could be at fault, but not to blame. They are saying that you should be held responsible, but that it wasn’t your fault. They are saying that your actions caused it, but that the perpetrator is equally to blame. What!?

At the moment, other than the fact that people have started to realise that research in this area has seriously muddled up these terms, not much else has been achieved to unpick this web. I have built this into my new measure and will be excited to see how language plays a role. I will also be conducting interviews across the UK on this topic to see what we can learn about this mixed up set of concepts. One thing is fairly clear though, ‘blame’ seems to carry much more negative weight than ‘responsibility’ which means that professional practice has already started to adopt this approach (either consciously or unconsciously) and I can already see the effects. 

Professional Practice Example: Child Sexual Exploitation

I am going to use a fictitious but typical case study of a child who is being sexually exploited in the UK and then unpick some of the ways the ‘take responsibility’ message is harming professional practice with victims of sexual violence. 

  • The child is 14 years old 
  • They have a Facebook account through which they have been groomed repeatedly 
  • They have been sexually exploited by a number of peers and adults 
  • They are taken to hotels and pubs by perpetrators in nice cars 
  • They are in love with their main perpetrator and have no idea why everyone thinks they are being abused
  • They are being given drugs and alcohol regularly

This case would be classed as ‘high risk’ in the UK using the CSE risk assessment toolkits (I don’t have time to go into the serious flaws in those here but the fact that a child who is already being raped is classed as ‘high risk’ probably gives you a good idea of my main criticism).

The child and family would have a number of different agencies involved in an effort to keep them safe and to reduce their risk. 

The ‘take responsibility’ victim blaming message really takes hold here, and this is how:

“Parents need to take more responsibility for the safety of this child”

Whilst this seems fairly reasonable, because as parents, we are all legally responsible for the safety and wellbeing of our children; this is not quite what that statement means to parents of exploited children. This statement is used with parents even when they are trying absolutely everything in their power to keep their child safe but the perpetrators are just too powerful. The child climbs out of the bedroom window whilst they sleep. The perp pulls them out of school at dinner time. The perp threatens the child to ensure they run away and come back to the perp or the residence where the perpetrator are. In these situations, the power of the parents is limited. And yet, if the child continues to be exploited the child will inevitably be removed from the parents on the basis that they are failing in their responsibility to protect the child from harm. The local authority will seek to put the child in care which generally solves nothing, creates further trauma and vulnerabilities for the perp to exploit and ultimately, punishes the parents. 

This is victim blaming. 

Instead of focussing on the perp and the power of the perp, professionals are being taught and forced to focus on the responsibility of the parents. Rather than working with them, they eventually decide that the parenting is the source of the problem, in line with the traditional child protection model. 

Even the CPS have banned the criticism of the responsibility of parents in CSE cases in court – but it still happens regularly in frontline practice. The shift in language from ‘blame’ to ‘responsibility’ has meant that parents continue to be blamed, but in a more subtle manner.
The ‘take responsibility’ message to parents results in parents and carers feeling helpless, disengaged and blamed by professionals who are using standards of ‘responsibility’ unfairly against parents who cannot override the power of the perpetrator. Nor can the professionals, and yet there is no punishment or blame for that. It is common in this country to see children who are removed from parents under the explanation that they were failing to protect their children from external perpetrators of sexual abuse and exploitation – but then the children are put in care homes and foster placements who also struggle to protect them and in most cases, the risk actually increases. Yet there is no such equivalent process for the professionals who are now also failing to protect the child. Surely, when the child is removed from the parents and the CSE continues to worsen, isn’t that just evidence that the risk was never coming from the parenting or the lack of ‘responsibility’ of the parents themselves? Is it so hard to see that the risk comes from the perpetrators? 
“We need to help the child to make better decisions and to reduce their own risk

Nope, the children are not safe from the ‘take responsibility for your own abuse’ message either. The child in this case study would be told to complete work on ‘staying safe online’, ‘drug and alcohol awareness’ and ‘healthy and unhealthy relationships’ – in an attempt to engage the child in taking responsibility for their own safety and ultimately, for the actions of their perpetrators. The thought process behind this baffles me. 

We have a child in serious trauma, being sexually exploited, going missing and already deeply groomed by the perpetrators and the national response to that is to help the children take more responsibility for their own safety? That horse has bolted, my friends. Why are we even doing these pieces of work whilst they are in active exploitation and active complex trauma/crisis? We have perpetrators sexually abusing children and we get them to sit down and watch a DVD about sexting and tell them that they need to take more responsibility for their online behaviours – completely ignoring the actions and grooming methods of the perpetrator, whom is the true catalyst behind these risks. 

We can do all the ‘take responsibility’ work we like, but if the perp is still in the picture, we are actively and consistently perpetuating victim blaming by focussing on the responsibility of a child rather than putting all of our resources into the disruption of the perpetrator. 

Which brings my to my final point. You will notice that throughout this post, there has been no mention by the anti-rape wear companies, the police, the home office, the NHS or the professionals about the responsibility and decision making of the perpetrator. I get the distinct feeling that professionals and larger structures feel that it is just too hard to target perpetrators so they target victims. This in itself, could be construed as victim blaming. Moving to the ‘take responsibility for your own safety’ message might look more socially desirable than victim blaming and it might cost organisations less money than chasing perps but this approach will not reduce sexual violence and it will not empower people who have experienced rape and sexual assault. The focus MUST shift back to the perpetrator and their responsibility. 

Rather than ‘don’t get raped’ messages, we need ‘don’t rape’ messages.

Take responsibility = blaming the victim.

For more information about this article or my research, get in touch

JEE509@bham.ac.uk