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

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

Jessica Eaton

15th March 2019

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

ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calculate your ACE score

At any point prior to your 18th birthday:

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

If Yes, score 1 point

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

If Yes, score 1 point

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

If Yes, score 1 point

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

If Yes, score 1 point

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

If Yes, score 1 point

Were your parents ever separated or divorced?

If Yes, score 1 point

Was your mother or stepmother:

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

If Yes, score 1 point

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

If Yes, score 1 point

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

If Yes, score 1 point

Did a household member go to prison?

If Yes, score 1 point

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

 

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

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

 

Reasons we need to remain critical of ACEs

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, maybe they are.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nah, didn’t think so.

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

ACEs creates some serious cognitive dissonance in professionals

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

My final words to you are these:

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

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

 

Written by Jessica Eaton

15/03/2019

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Six times when misogynistic bullshit was sold to us as ‘empowering women’

Six times when misogynistic bullshit was sold to us as ‘empowering women’

Written by Jessica Eaton

25/02/2019

It’s one of those blogs. And it’s been one of those days. Hold tight.

We have to call time on misogynistic, sexist bullshit being peddled to women as ‘empowerment’. More and more companies, activists, organisations and even governments are latching on to the concept of ‘empowering women’ and then using that concept to flog their wares. Even worse, we’ve seen a move towards misogynistic, sexist, hate-filled language as a way of ‘empowering’ each other as women.

We need to stop. Step back. Take stock – and start to wonder why lots of approaches to ‘empowering women’ actually continue to oppress, objectify and exploit us all.

So here’s six examples of misogyny and sexism being sold to us as ‘empowering women’.

1. Empowering women through boudoir or lingerie photoshoots

This one has throughly annoyed me this week, and inspired this entire blog. So let’s unpick it. A woman has grown, been through the trials and experiences of being a woman in the world, maybe had kids, maybe had traumas, maybe had loss in her life, illness, miscarriage, abuse or operations.

Maybe all of that has worn her down, made her feel tired, unhealthy, unattractive, unworthy.

And what’s the answer to how she’s feeling and everything she’s lived through? By empowering her again. By building her back up. By helping her feel worth something again. And how should we achieve that?

Why, by encouraging her to take her clothes off for a photographer of course!

What more could she possibly need than pictures of herself in awkward poses in lingerie with stupid props to help her feel ‘empowered’ as a woman?

And this is literally the central issue with the boudoir and lingerie shoots as a way of ‘empowering women’. Why is this approach not applied to men? Poor 40 year old Barry, having a midlife crisis, recently lost his Dad, struggling with diabetes. You know what he needs to do? Strip down to a thong and let some bloke take pictures of him on a fluffy blanket.

Yeah, sounds fucking stupid, doesn’t it?

There is absolutely nothing empowering about the assumption that women will feel better and more powerful by being objectified and sexualised. This is literally the opposite of female empowerment.

2. Calling each other ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ is empowering

Oh, if I had a penny for every time I heard some woke youth saying ‘We call each other bitches, sluts and hoes, because we are taking back ownership of the words and it’s empowering us.’

Lemme tell you a little something about how language constructs reality:

If the oppressing class is still using those words to oppress you, you can’t take them back and use them to empower yourselves as the oppressed class. If men are using those words to construct you as less than them, as sex objects and dogs; you also using those words to describe yourself and your friends is COLLUDING with the oppression, not fighting it.

Women and girls being encouraged to call their friends ‘my bitches’ and ‘my hoes’ and telling each other ‘I’m a slut’ is not empowering at all. It’s constructing and describing your friends and yourself in the exact same way misogynistic men see you and perceive you. All we are doing by adopting this language is supporting and reinforcing our inferiority and objectification.

We are not ‘taking it back’ when the people using it against us are using it in exactly the same way we supposedly are. It’s one of the reasons you will never ever catch me using misogynistic slurs or female cuss words to talk to or to describe women. We’ve got enough shit on our plate without calling each other hoes and bitches. Don’t play into their hands.

As a bit of evidence that we have already played into the hands of the misogynists, there was a study in 2011 by McMahon and Farmer who asked undergraduate university students to help them to review a rape myth acceptance psychometric scale. One of the items, written in the 90s used to say:

Women who wear revealing clothing deserve to be raped

The undergraduate students told researchers that it wasn’t modern enough and that it needed to be changed to make it *more* socially acceptable in 2011. You know what they changed the item to?

Women who dress like sluts deserve to be raped

Because apparently, that language is *more* socially acceptable and recognisable than the original. Go figure.

3. Pole dancing and lap dancing for exercise and fitness empowers women

Ugh. Just no. It never manages to stop shocking me just how long the tentacles of the sex industry are. Women are looking to lose weight, get toned, feel good about themselves and build fitness.

So what should they do? Run? Swim? Cycle? Weight train?

Oh no, no, no. That’s man exercise. Of course, the way to ‘empower’ women during exercise is the make the exercise about sex. Then it’s super empowering and gets them fit at the same time. Bloody genius.

Years ago I used to work for a children’s charity, upstairs was a pole dancing fitness company that allowed children from the age of 8 years old to take part in pole dancing lessons. In the years I went to that office to go to work, I never forgot the misogyny, objectification and sexualisation of women (and girls’) fitness. Every day I walked up the steps to see the huge poster encouraging little girls and women to feel confident, sexy and empowered by learning to pole dance upstairs.

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but can you imagine ANYONE advising poor 40 year old Barry (from before) to take up pole dancing or lap dancing as a way to empower him again after all he’s been through?

There’s a reason for that. There’s a reason men’s interventions and approaches are not based around their sex appeal. Have a think. Keep reading.

4. Rape self defence classes are empowering to women

No they’re not. They’re a way of pushing the responsibility of rape and sexual assault back on to women and girls because no one has yet figured out how to stop sex offenders from relentlessly attacking women in some sort of genocidal madness we’ve been witnessing for centuries.

Rape self defence classes are the opposite of ‘empowering women’. They are directly saying to women: ‘Let us teach you how to fight off the inevitable sex offender who will probably attack you multiple times in your life because we live in such a misogynistic world, you are better off prepared for rape than just hoping men won’t rape you.’

Women have a 1 in 3 chance in the lifespan of being raped or attempted to be raped. Rape defence classes are the ultimate admission of a society who are no longer interested in stopping male violence against women. It’s also in many cases, futile. As most women and girls will tell you, the shock and trauma they go into during an attack will prevent them from fighting back (Moller et al., 2017). Further, even women who are martial arts experts, MMA cage fighters and in the military report freezing during a sexual assault or rape. Even further than that, the majority of all rapes and sexual assaults of women occur in a relationship with someone they love, and they often don’t even know they are being raped (because they have been fed the myth that rape is from a stranger attacking you in an unfamiliar environment at night time). If you don’t know you are being raped because your partner has guilt-tripped you, coerced you or blackmailed you, you won’t fight back.

Rape self defence classes don’t empower women, they force women to shoulder the responsibility for a massive global issue so no one has to deal with it on a systemic level.

Instead of it remaining a societal problem of male violence towards women, now it’s your problem and you need to learn self defence. Clever, eh?

5. Make-up and contouring empowers women

Last week, I read a national news article about a school holding contouring and make-up classes for girls who needed a confidence boost or empowerment. My blood boiled. Whilst I can see that approaches like this are well intentioned (ugh, all the worst shit is, isn’t it?), this is not the way we should be helping our young girls build their self-esteem and feelings of power.

Further, Julie Bindel recently wrote an article about the way make-up has been oppressing women for so long – and she quoted a statistic that 15% of women wake up before their husbands to go and ‘put on their face’, meaning their husbands and boyfriends had never seen them without make up. I’m sure you know a woman or girl who even sleeps in make up, I know I do. We’ve created a world in which women are supposed to look flawless at all times, even when they wake up.

So what’s the issue with make-up, contouring and cosmetics being sold to us as empowering?

Well, it’s not exactly empowering to sell products to women and girls to make their faces look artificial, is it? Make-up to make our noses look smaller, skin look browner, eyes look bigger, lips look bigger and shinier, skin look smoother, cheekbones look more defined, eyebrows look darker and thicker.

How exactly is making ourselves look nothing like ourselves ‘empowering’ us?

*throws major side-eye at Snapchat and Insta flawless filters*

6. ‘For her’ products to empower women.

So finally, the ‘for her’ products invented (or usually just turned pink) for our ‘empowerment’. Like the pink toolkits that hardware stores sell. You know what I mean, the pink hammer and the pink screwdriver set meant to empower us to do our own DIY with our pretty new tools. Or the ‘for her’ Bic pens for the ‘feminine hand with a manicure’. That’s right, Bic invented pens ‘for her’. Fuck knows what we were using before they made these. Feather and ink, I think.

And what about the ‘for her’ laptop created by Toshiba. It’s a laptop with less power, less memory and less capability – but it does have special keys for long fingernails and it even comes with horoscope software! I mean. Wow.

What more could we possibly need? We’ve got laptops for her so now we can finally use the internet and our computers. We have pens for her so we can finally write things. We even have toolkits for her so we can finally tighten that loose dining table chair with our new pink screwdriver kit. We are literally so empowered now.

Take away message from this blog:

Not all that glitters is gold, my sisters.

Empowering women is about us taking back actual power in the world. Leadership. Research. Money. Property. Politics.

Empowering women is not about us being further objectified, sexualised and discriminated against.

Empowered women are not those who are duped into calling their best friends ‘bitches’, whilst they all go to their empowering pole dancing class to get fit, buying their pink toolkits for a spot of DIY whilst they google rape self defence classes on their new ‘laptop for her’.

Wake up. We are being manipulated.

This year for International Women’s Day 2019, be on the look out for these sneaky, disingenuous approach to ‘empowering women’ and call them out where you find them.

Written by Jessica Eaton

Dedicated to challenging victim blaming and misogyny

You can get books, resources and e-learning on these topics from: Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet this: @JessicaE13Eaton

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Women: How to be the perfect victim of sexual violence

*content warning for discussion of sexual violence and victim blaming of women*

Written by Jessica Eaton

03/02/2019

Today, a friend sent me an article about a young woman who managed to fight off three men who had abducted her, robbed her and told her they were going to rape her. The article from Australia tells the story as if she did something small to escape the offenders and so I read on (with my ‘cynical’ face on, I might add). To my surprise, the article reports that the 20 year old threw herself out of a moving car to protect herself from being raped.

I mean. That’s no mean feat. Throwing yourself out of a moving car on a highway? Not exactly the small tip her mum told her, that the article described it to be. It’s also extremely dangerous and terrifying to throw yourself out of a moving car (been there, long story, couldn’t do it, ended up stuck in the situation).

So this blog is dedicated to the way the media drip feed us these stories of the ‘perfect rape victim’. You know. The ones who fight off the attacker. The ones who go straight to the police station with skin of the offender under her nails so they can test for DNA. The ones who never shower after the assault and walk straight to the clinic with the semen still in their underwear for testing.

The media like to hold these women and girls up as perfect victims, and lets be honest, their stories are rare, unrealistic, amazing and well… they are used to place us all in a hierarchy of ‘bad victim’ to ‘perfect victim’.

That’s right, we are in a victimhood hierarchy. I’ve built a new model of this in my PhD and it will be released in my new book, too. My research, and the research of countless others, backs up the concept that women and girls are placed into a hierarchy of victimhood in sexual violence in which only the ‘perfect’ victims are seen as traumatised, innocent and telling the truth.

So let’s look at another story from the media. In 2016, U.K. This Morning Programme featured an interview with a young woman who was a huge CSI fan.

One day, she was abducted near her own home as she was walking back into her house and raped by a man in a car. Because she had watched hundreds of episodes of crime dramas, she told This Morning that she suddenly remembered the importance of DNA. She pulled out her own hair during the rape and left it in his car. She dug her nails into his neck to get DNA under her finger nails. She spat on the floor of his car to leave her DNA in there too. The presenters hailed her as a genius and hero, and that her quick thinking has led to his conviction. They even asked her what advice she would give to others in her situation, suggesting of course, that other women and girls should do the same.

I remember watching this episode with interest. I remember thinking how many hundreds or thousands of cases of sexual assault and rape I have ever been involved in and that none of them had ever looked like this. I concluded that her behaviour during the rape was incredibly rare (albeit amazing) but that the millions of women in the U.K. watching or hearing this story would not recognise this as what happened when they were raped or abused.

In fact, the majority (71%) of victims of rape or sexual assault freeze and don’t move or make a noise at all (muller et al., 2017). Fighting back is actually relatively rare.

Not only that, but the majority of all rapes and sexual assaults occur at home, with a partner or ex partner, with no witnesses, with no proof, with someone you’ve had sex with before, with someone who is emotionally manipulative or threatening. It’s just not realistic to expect women and girls to be able to respond to sexual violence in these MacGyveresque ways.

And herein lies the problem. Both young women are being held up as perfect victims. They did all the things right. They fought them off. They risked their lives. They did ingenious and dangerous things to save themselves. They reported to police immediately. They had enough evidence to prosecute and prove their accounts.

And now their stories are used to encourage women to ‘do more’ or ‘do better’ during rape or sexual assault.

And frankly, that narrative sickens me.

The victimhood hierarchy looks a little like this (although in much more detail in my research and books):

The perfect sexual violence victim:

⁃ Young, single, innocent female

⁃ Not from particular backgrounds

⁃ White

⁃ No criminal record

⁃ Not intoxicated

⁃ Doesn’t know the offender

⁃ Not wearing provocative clothing

⁃ Not sexually active

⁃ Never reported rape before

⁃ Tried to fight off the offender

⁃ Reported straight away to police

⁃ Had DNA evidence to provide

⁃ Had physical injuries from attack

⁃ Offender used extreme violence

⁃ Offender used a weapon

⁃ Offender is male or in a group

⁃ Situation was unfamiliar

All of the above factors are supported by almost 30 years of research and the trends are not going anywhere. My own PhD work has also confirmed these to be correct in UK populations between 2016-2018.

Without this turning into a chapter of my work, you can guess what happens when the victim doesn’t hit this strict criteria.

The same thing also happens when the offender doesn’t hit the strict criteria (maybe the offender is a rich, popular, successful business man with a loving family, so he doesn’t fit the stereotype). Victims are also perceived as less credible in familiar environments with no witnesses (at home, in bed, in bathrooms etc.)

So why is all of this so important?

Well, because for most women and girls, they will never ever be the ‘perfect victim’ stereotype that they are expected to be by society, by their families and by police.

In 2016, I interviewed Sasha*.

Sasha was raped by a stranger on her way home from a works do in broad daylight on a busy street. She told me the offender literally came out of nowhere near a bush and attacked her near a bus stop. She said he didn’t speak a word of English and that she thought he was an immigrant.

After he attacked her, Sasha called 999 and asked for help. They sent a police car and she got in, shaken but confident the police would support her. She told me that she was adding it all up in her head. She was thinking ‘I was attacked by a stranger, in broad daylight, there were witnesses – they’ll definitely believe me.’

And that’s when she said something to me that has impacted my career and my work with women ever since:

“So you know, as a victim that’s as good as you’re gonna get isn’t it? It’s like a best case scenario rape.”

I knew exactly what she meant. She meant that she knew all the hierarchies she was in. She knew the stereotypes and she knew what she was going to be judged against and she had mapped it out in her head to check whether she would be believed.

However, her story took a turn for the worse once she was being interviewed. She told me they asked her why she smelled of alcohol and she told them she had just come from a works do with colleagues up the road. They asked her why she didn’t fight him off. They asked her about a rape she reported and retracted a year earlier. They asked her about her mental health record and some records they had about her being in crisis a few years ago.

She said to me:

“I sat there and suddenly realised that I wasn’t the perfect victim. I wasn’t going to be believed. The rape had all the right bits but I wasn’t credible.”

The police dropped her case and nothing happened. She told me she often wonders about trying to reopen it, but she now knows she has two reports of rape on her police file in which nothing was done.

The reality for many women and girls, is that from the moment they realise they are raped or abused, they are already adding up the factors in their head that they know will go against them. And research has shown, that not being perceived as the ‘perfect victim’ leads women and girls to make the decision not to report at all. However, this is actually a wise move, because research has also shown that police hold the same stereotypes and victim blaming attitudes about sexual violence victims as the general public and that their beliefs influence how they remember accounts of sexual violence and whether they believe the woman (Dawtry et al. 2019).

The expectation on women and girls to be the perfect victim of rape and sexual violence is destroying the justice system and until we address it, women and girls will always measure themselves against the societal stereotype of how they ‘should’ have acted or how they ‘should’ have reported sooner.

Written by Jessica Eaton

Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Buy Jessica’s Victim Blaming and Self Blame Education Flashcards here:

https://victimfocus-resources.com/search?q=Flashcards

Why I stopped encouraging women to disclose to police or doctors after rape

Written by Jessica Eaton

17th January 2019

Aye. Not shy of a controversial topic or two on this blog, are we?

It’s true. Over the years, I stopped encouraging women to talk to their doctor or to the police if they had been raped. When women asked me what to do, I stopped advising them to report to the police and I stopped advising them to go to their GP for support. I want to talk about why I made this decision and why I still do not encourage women to report to police or disclose to doctors that they have been raped or sexually assaulted.

Some people might be surprised to read this. Others who know me well, know what’s coming in this blog:

We have to talk about the way disclosure and reporting sexual violence can make the situation much worse for women.

This year, I have been working in sexual and domestic abuse for nine years. That includes years spent managing vulnerable and intimidated witness programmes for sexual, domestic and physical violence trials, manslaughter, trafficking and homicide cases. In addition to another few years managing rape centre services for women and men. And a few more years working in child sexual exploitation.

Over the years, I noticed the same pattern emerging everywhere: we were advising women to disclose and to tell people what had happened to them, but they were not benefiting from that disclosure. In fact, lots of women I worked with were negatively impacted by disclosing or reporting rape.

Those of you who work in these services will know what I mean:

– Women who report to the police only to be questioned for hours about what they were wearing, why they were drinking and whether they were telling the truth
– Women who report to the police to be asked why the didn’t report sooner
– Women who report to the police, initially believing they were not to blame, leaving the station convinced it was her own fault
– Women who try to report to the police but are told their evidence was not good enough or that their complaint would go nowhere
– Women who reported to the police but had their case NFA’d (no further action) because she was not ‘credible’ enough
– Women who reported to the police but were told they were not reliable enough because they have autism, mental health issues or addictions
– Women who go to their doctor to disclose abuse or rape and are met with a GP who has absolutely no idea what to say to them because no one has trained them in how to support a disclosure
– Women who go to their doctor about trauma responses to abuse or rape and get told they have mental health issues and are prescribed anti-depressants with no other assessment
– Women who tell their doctor that they were raped or abused and are asked intrusive and judgemental questions
– Women who disclose to their doctor that they are having flashbacks or trauma responses to abuse and are told they need to ‘get over it’

The reality is, in the UK, when a woman is raped or abused, we hear the same two ‘routes’ to care advised over and over again: “You must report it to the police” and “I’m sorry you feel that way, have you spoken to your GP?”

But what if those two routes are causing further harm? What if the people in those routes don’t have the right training to be the first response to rape and abuse disclosures? What if our systems are not set up for women and are instead penalising them for disclosure?

What if women were better off not reporting the rape at all? What if women were better off not speaking to a GP about sexual trauma?

Case Study 1: Dina

Dina was sexually abused by her parents for many years but has only recently come to understand what happened to her. She is a 36 year old female with two kids and a husband. She has been feeling low, distant, erratic and having a number of physical and psychological symptoms of trauma. She talks to her friends who tell her to go to her GP for help. She goes to the GP after weeks of building up the courage. When she gets to see her GP, she uncomfortably tells them how she is feeling and some of the thoughts she has been having. The GP looks disturbed and asks her why she has only just remembered. The GP asks Dina why she has never told anyone before. Dina doesn’t know what to say. The GP asks her some standard questions about her low mood and suggests that she is suffering from anxiety and depression and prescribes 25mg Sertraline. Dina leaves the surgery to get the prescription and goes home.

Do not be fooled. This case study is so common, people reading this blog will identify with it straight away. This is an example of the way trauma is medicalised and trivialised by untrained and unsupported medical practitioners who have not had decent, trauma-informed training. Women are often labelled, medicated and sent on their way. Sometimes, if severe, they will be referred to a mental health team who will further label and medicate them. True trauma-informed approaches that would look deeply at the sexual trauma, the memories and the context of her symptoms is lacking in the UK, so thousands of victims of sexual trauma will simply be told they are mentally ill and medicated for many years with no access to decent support or therapy.

In this case, was this really the best outcome we could have provided for Dina? No.

There was no discussion of the memories, the trauma, the responses, the fact that her feelings are normal. There was no explanation of the psychosomatic and physiological manifestations of trauma that would have helped her understand why her body and brain are feeling different now she has remembered the abuse. Instead, she is labelled and medicated with a standard dosage of a massively over prescribed anti-depressant and sent on her way.

Case Study 2: Rachel

Rachel was told to seek support from the local mental health team for her feelings and thoughts after she was raped. She spoke to a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) a few times over a period of weeks. This week she has been told they think she has borderline personality disorder. Rachel was sure that her feelings were because she was raped by her ex-partner, but this professional has just explained to her that she actually has a personality disorder that is making her think and feel differently about herself and others. Rachel is now flagged at her GP surgery, by the police and by the A&E department as having a personality disorder which means people are less likely to believe her and more likely to assume her reports or behaviours are due to, or affected by, a personality disorder. She is likely to struggle to ever get the incorrect diagnosis removed and it may affect her employment, education and opportunities in the future as it is so stigmatising.

Again, extremely common. Women and girls are 7 times more likely to be diagnosed with BPD than boys and men (Ussher, 2013). Also, it is a very common catch-all diagnosis for women with histories of abuse and trauma. Borderline personality disorder and the newer ’emotionally unstable personality disorder’ are well known to practitioners working with women and girls who have been abused or raped, because they often have been diagnosed with these terms instead of trauma. In fact, you may be interested to know that the criteria for BPD and EUPD is very similar to the old criteria from DSM II for ‘hysteria’ (Ussher, 2013). That’s right. Personality disorder in women has the same criteria as a sexist old diagnosis of ‘hysteria’. Hysterical women. Crazy, mad, angry women with mental health illnesses caused by their crazy wombs.

With Rachel, our professional or personal advice was for her to speak to the mental health team in her locality – but was that really in her best interests? Did Rachel need support or a psychiatric diagnosis? Why did we tell her to go to the mental health team in the first place? Isn’t trauma after rape normal?

Case Study 3: Lisa

Lisa was raped on her way home from drinks with work colleagues. It was around 7:45pm and she was in familiar streets walking home. She says that a man came out of nowhere and attacked her, dragging her up the street before pushing her over. She says there must have been witnesses because the street was full of people walking home in the light summer evening. After she was raped and the man ran away, she rang 999 and waited for the officers. She was feeling hopeful, because she had been raped before when she was a teenager and because that happened in a relationship with no witnesses and no evidence, the case was closed. She thought, this time, she would definitely be taken seriously and she knew it was not her fault. The police arrived and took her to the station and to the SARC for examination. It was when she was giving her interview that the officers asked her questions that made her question herself. They asked her if she had been drinking because she smelled of wine. They asked her why she was walking home alone after drinking. They told her they knew she had reported rape before and ‘it had come to nothing’. They asked her why she couldn’t remember what he was wearing. They asked her why she didn’t fight him off or scream for help. Lisa explained she had mental health issues she was currently seeking help for and then realised that was making her sound even less credible. Lisa started to cry and realised, she was not the ‘credible’ victim she thought she was. The case was NFA’d three weeks later and nothing was done to apprehend the offender.

As much as this might read like a ‘worse case scenario’ for women reporting rape, it really isn’t. It’s common. It’s happening everywhere. Women are scrutinised from the moment they report. Everything is considered: their behaviour, their character, their mental health, their background, their criminal history, their sexual activity, their story, their intoxication, their appearance and their body language. We know this to be true. We know the research has been telling us consistently for the past 40 years that women who report rape to the police blame themselves more and wish they hadn’t reported at all (Campbell et al, 2009; Ullman, 2004; Eaton, forthcoming). We also know that only around 13% of people (men and women) who are raped ever report to police (CSEW, 2017).

We know that the research explains this trend clearly: victims are measuring themselves against rape myths and stereotypes to consider whether they will be believed or not (Campbell et al., 2009; Sleath, 2011). Even research from University of Bedfordshire (2015) showed that girls who had been sexually exploited in childhood who were encouraged to report and then go through a criminal prosecution process in court had worse outcomes, worse mental health and much higher rates of trauma. So why do we keep telling women to report to police?

When the CSEW is reporting that 510,000 women were sexually assaulted or raped in 2017 but only 2991 offenders were convicted – that gives women a 0.5% prospect of conviction of the person who sexually assaulted or raped them. So why do we keep putting women and girls through the process of questioning, interviews, evidence collection, trial, waiting and agonising for sometimes 12-18 months? Is this in their best interests? Is reporting to the police really the best thing for them as a victim? No. It isn’t. Is it good for society? Supposedly, but if the conviction rate is anything to go by, then no. Will it protect others from being raped? Probably not.

So I got to the point after working with hundreds, maybe thousands of women and girls who have been raped (and the thousands of women and girls who write to me about their experiences of this too) – where I just stopped encouraging women to report to police or disclose to the GP. And trust me when I say, I know I am going to get backlash for coming out and publicly saying this. I know people are going to argue that I am being irresponsible.

But riddle me this, if women disclosing to their GP is resulting in them being stigmatised, labelled and medicated instead of being supported – and reporting to the police is causing women to blame themselves or become more traumatised than before – in whose interest is this advice?

What if we started being honest with women when they were raped?

What if we told them that if they went to their GP and disclosed rape, exploitation or abuse, there is a high chance they will be met by someone who has no training in how to support them, has no idea how to explain sexual trauma to them and is likely to either medicate them or refer them to a mental health team who will medicate them too?

What if we told women the truth about what happens when they report a rape, how it might make them feel, how waiting 12 months for a trial date might impact their lives, how being made to relive their experiences 18 months later in a courtroom when they were just starting to feel okay again, might affect them? What if we told them about the conviction rate? What if we told them about the way justice actually feels when an offender gets a suspended sentence but you live with the memories of the rape forever?

What if we suggested something else entirely? What if we actually advised women and girls based on what was in their best interests?

Not our best interests. Not the state’s. Not the professional’s. Their best interests. The interests of the woman.

I no longer advise women to report to the police and I no longer advise women to go to their doctor. Neither are supporting female victims in the way they should, and the evidence is consistently showing us that these routes cause further trauma.

So what do I advise them?

Well, it’s simple really:

– Seek out women’s centres and specialist, third sector rape and sexual violence services
– Use helplines to talk anonymously and confidentially about how you feel without having to commit to a service
– Seek free mental health support from third sector organisations and research them to check they use approaches you agree with
– Report anonymously to Crimestoppers if you would like to
– Read lots of reports and research to inform yourself before making a decision to report to the police about abuse or rape
– Seek advice from experienced women’s centres and sexual violence services about reporting without any pressure or bias
– Make a decision based on what is best for you, and do not think about anyone else. Be selfish. Do what you want to do.
– You are not responsible for the offender’s actions or next victims, reporting them is highly unlikely to stop them from abusing others long term
– Decide whether you are ready to disclose at all, there is no pressure and no rush. Talk to people you trust and who love you and care about you
– Seek trauma-informed advice and therapy to learn about your body and brain after sexual trauma without being diagnosed as mentally ill
– Talk to other survivors and victims if you would like to, to learn and to find some common ground with others
– Use reflective techniques to process your memories and feelings such as writing, art, singing, reading and learning
– Look after yourself and do something nice for yourself every day
– If you do want to report, seek support and don’t go alone
– If you do want to go to your Doctor about concerning health symptoms you need advice with, take someone with you and prepare what you are going to say and what answers you want and don’t want. You are in control of your health. If you do not want a medical response (medication and diagnosis), tell your GP you are looking for therapy or support and ask for referrals or signposting.

In reality, there are many more routes to recovery and support than two systems that are failing women right now. Until the services are staffed by people who are fully trained and until responses to women with sexual traumas are reformed and redesigned to stop scrutinising, medicating and blaming women for rape, women are better off avoiding them all together.

There are better, more woman-centred, trauma-informed, strengths based approaches out there.

Let’s put victims first, not systems. What’s in their best interests? Can we do better?

Jessica Eaton 

http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

*Short, tongue in cheek disclosure: Yes, I know this happens to men too. Yes, I know there are some great police officers. Yes, I know you might have a great GP. No, your anecdote does not trump years of research and real experiences of women and girls.

I analysed the searches people used to read my blog and it’s not good news for women 

I analysed the searches people used to read my blog and it’s not good news for women

By Jessica Eaton

27th December 2018

Content warning for sexual violence and search terms by abusive and violent people

In 2018, my blog had just over one million views. I write about victim blaming, psychology of sexual violence, child sexual abuse and trauma for the most part. I’ve also written some very popular blogs about feminism and whataboutery.

My wordpress account collects search term data where available and I have been intrigued to see what people write in Google to end up reading my blogs. I did promise everyone that I would perform a basic thematic analysis on the dataset and show you the findings. Well, here we are. It’s pretty bad.

First some stats:

Out of one million views, the majority came from facebook, Twitter and other social networks and forums such as Mumsnet.

75,347 of them came directly from search engines using search terms and keywords

Of these, 28,236 were not available or unknown

Leaving 47,111 search terms I can analyse

I removed just under 4000 search terms that deliberately looked for my work containing my name or a copied and pasted link to my blog

Therefore, I had around 43k search terms left to group into broad themes.
The results are below, and paint a pretty depressing picture for women, girls and feminism – but as I will explain, provide some hope and direction for 2019.


Theme 1: Questions about whether women and men can be equal



Examples of searches:

Are men and women equal

Are women equal to men

Men and women can never be equal

Can men and women be equally successful

Do women want equality or feminism

Men and women are not equal

Why do women want equality

Women are not oppressed

Girls and man can never be equal

Women are not equal to men

What men have that women don’t

How women should behave right in society

Women should not be given equal rights

Men don’t want to work with women

Boys are more moral than girls in society

This theme was the largest of all of the themes, and provided evidence that thousands of people are looking for answers online about whether women can be equal to men. This is a contentious issue and the phrasing differed depending on the person. This theme suggested to me that we have much work to do in order to talk about and achieve equality (more like equity) of the sexes. Clearly people want to talk about and learn about this so maybe we should create resources, programmes, books, lessons and materials about this?


Theme 2: People sure do hate feminism and feminists 

Examples of searches:

Feminism is evil

I hate feminism

I hate feminists

Feminism is the belief that women are better than men

Feminists are unfair against men

Women cannot acknowledge men

Girls who don’t like feminism

Why men end up hating women

Feminists shut down talk about men’s issues

Why women are not held accountable

In 2018, guys can’t even talk to women

Feminism is bad

Stay away from feminists

Feminism is wrong

Refusing feminism

Why feminism is bad

How can feminists love men

Why people hate feminism

Feminists think women are better

Why I hate feminists

Men don’t want a feminist

How to change a girl so she is not a feminist

How to get my girlfriend to stop being a feminist

The world does not need feminists

Crazy feminists

Could women wage war against men

Are women becoming a threat to us men

Why men don’t want females to rule

Women will become just as bad as men

Feminism is shit

Is feminism destroying men

Female supremacy is close

Sick of feminists

Lies feminists tell

This theme is interesting because it contained so much information we can use to understand people’s fear of feminism. There is the tired stereotype of feminists being evil man hating women, but there are also men actively trying to dissuade their female partners away from feminism – to the point where they are googling how to stop their wives and girlfriends from being feminist. Eek.

There is also the confusion caused by the man-hating stereotype that has left many people confused as to how feminists are marrying men and having families (this one cracks me up on the regular but we have to take this seriously because it means people genuinely can’t believe that feminists can love their male friends, partners, colleagues, family members etc).

The final issue is the fear that feminism will lead to a world in which women treat men the way men currently treat women. Now that’s some interesting shit. How can you possibly claim women are not oppressed or that women are equal and simultaneously be worried that women might one day treat you the way you treated them? Hmm?

Theme 3: Curiosity about feminism

Examples of searches:

Things feminists say

What women think about feminism

What do feminists think of domestic abuse against men?

Is it good or bad thing to be a feminist?

Feminism is it right or wrong?

What do women want in feminism?

How to safely explain you’re feminist to a man

Can a man be a feminist?

Do feminist think all men are rapists?

Why is feminism important?

Why should I become radical feminist?

Should I stop talking to a guy who hates feminism?

Why aren’t there any old feminist?

Do feminists fight for men too?

Did any feminist ever help men’s issues?

Why do people hate feminism?

If I become a feminist, do I need to hate men?

Do women realise that feminism isn’t working?

How does a feminist find love with a man?

Are there any movements that can dismantle feminism?

This theme presents opportunity. Don’t be put off by some of the questions, they all present opportunities for us to educate and talk to people so feminism is not misconstrued or deliberately twisted. There are lots of common misconceptions here that we can write blogs, give speeches, make videos and talk about.

The one thing that did worry me was the amount of women who were searching how to tell their boyfriend or partner or male relative that they were feminist, whilst being concerned about their own safety. These women are clearly worried about violence or consequences of being ‘outed’ as a feminist and that means in some families and relationships, feminism and women’s rights are not welcome at all.

Theme 4: Porn, child abuse imagery and sexual violence 

Example searches:

Chicken nugget sex

Use my pussy

Skool pussy

Beat that pussy up

Beat women sex

Women who like to be beaten and fucked

Sex where I can beat the woman

Sex with big mum

Film a rape

Kim kardashian nude photos

Extension pussy

Sex with chicken live videos

Girls who like their pussy beat

Beat up a girl and fuck her

Pakistani rapes white girl porn

Women who like being raped

Women who have had babies being fucked

Young teens in tight slutty bathing suits

Pregnant women porn

Rape porn sex

Young care giver porn

Raped college girlfriends

Stories of very young girls first time

Terrorists forcing women to fuck porn

Terrorist rapes girl porn

A man beating a lady up and fucking her

Beaten woman having sex porn

Porn video of woman getting the shit kicked out of her

XXX cse porn

Little girl in sexy swim suit raped sex videos

Raping a 15 year old girl video

Sexually abuse my daughter film

Rape virginity child pain

Chubby little girls in swimsuits porn

Well, what can I say after that list? We have some serious issues here. Clearly a real arousal from violence against women and young girls with many searches for beating and raping women and girls. This is nothing new. Gail Dines, Julia Long, Suzan Blac, Julie Bindel and even NSPCC and Barnardo’s have been warming of this trend for a long time. Violence is now in the majority of all porn. The torture, beating and raping of women and girls has become normalised.

What it does make me wonder is why so many people searching for such horrendous abuse imagery and porn end up clicking on my blog instead and reading my work. I can’t imagine that’s what they set out to do. Maybe that’s why I get so many angry blog comments from men.


Theme 5: Misogyny

Examples of searches:

I hate being a woman

I hate female bodies

I’m a girl but I don’t want to be a woman

I don’t want to be a woman anymore

Women get the shittiest end of everything

Being a man must be easier than being female

Proof that women are shit

Women cause most of worlds problems

Women are evil

Women don’t deserve rights

Women are inferior to men

Can a slut truly escape her past

I hate women in power

The problem with women these days

Without male authority women fall apart

Women secretly like being treated bad

Women have become evil

Women are worthless

Why women lead men on

Women should serve men

Women have annoying personalities

This one was quite a sad finding. Especially the amount of women who just didn’t want to be women anymore because they couldn’t stand it. We’ve been talking about this trend all year and I’m sad my findings support it, but women and girls just don’t want to put up with misogyny anymore and some hate being women and girls.

However, it’s not hard to see why when you add theme 4 and the other search terms from theme 5. Who the hell would want to be a female in this world with these beliefs and values about us?


Theme 6: People need answers and women need support 

Example searches:

Can you educate people to stop rape?

I was raped

Rape education

Should I I ever say rape?

Should I get raped or abused?

Can CSA cause bpd?

Why did woman faint during rape?

Borderline personality disorder caused by abusive relationships

Did being raped cause my bpd?

Pains a rape victim might go through

Reducing rape incidents

Why is rape a crime?

Why does sex hurt me after molestation?

Sexual trauma symptoms

Muscle soreness after rape

How do I stop rape thoughts?

My abusive husband watches men rape me what do I do?

Women with bpd make false sexual assault reports

Why do girls with bpd always cry rape?

Other women who have survived rape

I cannot do the things my husband wants me to do in bed

Why do I hypersexualise after rape?

Physical injuries after I was raped

Medical problems after sexual assault

Feel dirty and see myself as object after rape

This theme was made up of the thousands of people seeking answers to a range of questions. Those questions reveal issues we need to address. The first is around borderline personality disorder and why it is being linked to rape. I know my answer to that is that many women and girls who are told they have BPD are usually suffering from trauma from abuse, oppression or violence and BPD is a sexist, catch-all diagnosis. However, there were a lot of people asking very derogatory questions about women and girls with BPD diagnoses that suggested people believe they lie about abuse and rape. That needs addressing very robustly.

There were a lot of people who found my blog by seeking advice or information about rape, abuse or sex. This means that we need to increase the amount of accessible information about more niches issues around these topics to accompany the huge collection of general information we already host on topics such as abuse, rape and violence.

Final words

The search terms used to find my blog fit into six broad themes. They suggest that misogyny, sexual violence and a hatred of feminism is rising – but that there are still thousands of people seeking advice, answers, information and support about rape, violence, sex and feminism that we can continue to help – whilst we come together to fight the obvious, powerful hatred of women and women’s rights.

2019 is not going to be easy, but we have so much to work towards and we are definitely capable of reaching millions of people worldwide to provide the information people need to understand feminism, sexual violence, misogyny and trauma.

Written by Jessica Eaton

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

What if our parenting tactics are mirroring abuser tactics?

Parenting tactics that mirror abuse – a blog discussing common parenting tactics that mirror the tactics used in domestic and sexual violence.

Jessica Eaton

17/12/2018

Working in trauma and abuse often causes you to reflect on everyday, seemingly normal behaviours that replicate and reinforce abuse, control and violence. Sometimes you notice a behaviour in a family member, or you become intolerant to some forms of language. Sometimes you notice a behaviour or value you hold yourself, that you then have to confront and unpick.

This blog will be challenging for many. It was challenging for me to write. I’m a parent too, of two children who are growing up quickly. I’m not a perfect parent. I often joke that parenting is a lot like having a personal social experiment at home. A social experiment that you conduct for 18 years and see what you produce at the end of it.

When you become a parent, you have no idea what you’re doing. You go from being a single or couple of adults that can just about cook dinner and not poison yourselves, to being totally and utterly responsible for a tiny human life. At some point, that realisation hits us and we sit there thinking, ‘Oh shit. Can I do this?’

We all go at it from completely different angles. We all try lots of tactics. We read parenting books. We ask other parents. We copy our own parents. We ask google. We go on forums and ask for advice. We all find things that work and things that backfire. Parenting faux pas are common. Parenting mistakes are common. Parenting regrets are common.

Know what else is common?

Sexual and domestic abuse. Super common. As a human, you’re more likely to be abused and raped in a relationship than to have green eyes. Think of all the people you know (even yourself) who might have green eyes. Billions of people. Well, technically you are around 10 times more likely to be abused or raped in a relationship than have green eyes (Eaton and Paterson-Young, 2018) – and we see green eyes as pretty common, right? Yet we still think abuse is rare or something that people make up for attention. You don’t catch people saying ‘Woaaaah green eyes are so uncommon. You must be making it up. There’s no way you have green eyes.’

Anyway, abuse is common. Parenting is common. What have our parenting tactics got to do with abuse?

Well, I’ve been thinking and maybe it’s more related than we think.

I’m not talking about parents who actually abuse, rape or harm their children, I’m talking about the ones who don’t. Or the ones who think they don’t. The ones who are using accepted, socially normalised parenting styles that mirror abuse – without even knowing it. Loads of us. Maybe most of us.

What would that mean for us, as a population of parents, if we realised that some of our chosen tactics to bring our kids up, were actually mirroring sexual and domestic violence and abuse?

Are we normalising abusive relationships in our parenting?

Should we be surprised that children and young adults can’t identify abusers if we behave like them too?

Here are some behaviours and tactics commonly used by parents that mirror abuse.

Physical assault and violence

Okay well, let’s start with the obvious. Arguably some people will feel this is abuse anyway, and that’s justified. But what about the parents who tell you that kids just need a good smack to keep them in line? The parents who slap, pinch, grab, shove, smack and drag their children and adolescents are mimicking exactly what a violent abuser would do to them. How will these children know that they are in an abusive relationship when they are older, if we have always used these behaviours on them ourselves? If we have spent their whole childhoods hitting them every time we got angry and lost control, why would they ever leave an abusive partner who hit them when they got angry and lost control? How can we tell children that it’s not okay for their boyfriend or girlfriend to do that to them, but it’s okay for us to do it to them?

And how can we teach our children not to become violent abusers to their own children if we have role modelled that behaviour to them? How can we say to our children ‘do not hit that other child, that’s very naughty!’ if we hit our kids?

Shouting at children

Shouting at children is pretty accepted all over the world. Parents do it, carers do it, general public do it, teachers do it, police do it. Shouting at children is seen as some sort of right of an adult. Children are not allowed to shout at each other, or shout at adults, but we are allowed to shout at them.

Some people shout in childrens’ faces, shout in rage, shout in frustration – some even say they shout as some sort of ‘shock factor’ to ‘get through’ to children.

The reality is that we are teaching children and adolescents that if their partners or friends shout at them, that’s a sign that they are in an abusive relationship. However, why would they recognise shouting as abusive at all if they had spent years being shouted at by us? Would they think that people who love them shout at them? Would they think that shouting at their own children is normal? Would they think that shouting at someone is a good way to get their point across?

Name calling

With similar effect to physical violence and shouting – name calling is going to change the way the child understands themselves and their relationships. You might be wondering what I mean by name calling, as many parents would probably tell themselves they’ve never done it.

However, I’m talking about calling our kids ‘stupid’, ‘dumb’, ‘idiot’, ‘little shit’, ‘bad’, ‘a nuisance’, ‘waste of space’, ‘doing my head in’, ‘sick of the sight of you’, ‘thick’… and a lot more words and names that I know some people use about their kids and to their kids.

The issue here is that reading these terms in black and white will make you feel a bit sick. But how often do parents lose control of a situation and resort to name calling and shouting? Probably quite often. How many of us have said this or had this said to us? Loads of us.

And then how will those same children react when they find themselves in a relationship with a partner who tells them they’re stupid or a waste of space? What on earth makes us think that those same kids would identify and escape an abuser who mirrors the way their parents treat them?

But what about the more subtle things we do as parents? The threats, the grooming, the control? How might that mirror an abuser?

Threats: empty and real

Lots of abusive relationships contain threats. Some threats are empty and some are not. However, living under threat in a domestic or sexual violence situation is extremely stressful and traumatic. As an adolescent or adult, it might mean living with someone who constantly threatens to break your things, take your phone away, stop you from seeing your friends, telling your secrets, stop you from seeing your family or threatening to stop you from going out or doing something important to you.

It might even mean threatening to leave you, threatening to find someone else or threatening to report you for something. Some people know that the abuser is using empty threats to control – and some never really know if the threats are real or empty. Either way, they serve to control the victim and keep them in check. They utilise their favourite or most important things to threaten them with.

This got me thinking. We do a lot of this in parenting. How many parents threaten children with removing their favourite thing, stopping them from seeing their friends, stopping them from going to their clubs, taking away their most treasured possessions? How many parents threaten their kids with the police or a care home? How many parents threaten their teenagers with kicking them out or leaving them?

The reality is, parents are using empty and real threats against their children for control tactics. They are very common ways of parenting:

If you don’t do this, I’ll take away/ break/smash your xbox’

‘If you don’t behave at school, we will kick you out.’

‘If you don’t get better grades, we will stop you from seeing all of your friends.’

‘If you don’t eat all of those vegetables, I’ll tell your teacher how bad you are at home.’

People don’t realise how much these tactics mirror abuse. This is exactly what thousands of victims of domestic and sexual violence live through every day.

‘If you don’t do this for me, I’ll stop you from seeing your parents.’

‘If you don’t stop doing that, I will leave you.’

‘If you don’t do what I want, I’ll snap that phone in half.’

‘If you don’t do what I want, I will tell all your friends that you are a liar.’

It’s all the same tactic. It might be being used in a slightly different way, but it’s the same human mechanism being used. It’s the threat of something horrible to control another person. To keep them in fear of that horrible thing happening to them in order to make them do what we want them to do.

Obviously, the problem here is that we teach children to live in this context for years. And then for some strange reason, we expect children and adults to be able to recognise this an abusive behaviour when they are in a relationship. We tell them that anyone who threatens them to control them is abusing them… but it’s only what their parents and teachers have been doing to them for 18 years. So how come it’s okay for them to do it but not a new partner? Why would anyone see this behaviour as abnormal or abusive?

And how can we tell those same children NOT to use these tactics on each other in their relationships? Aren’t we supposed to role model healthy relationships?

Rewarding children when they do what you want

This final one is interesting, because it is seen as a positive parenting and professional technique to use with children and adolescents. However, we have to see the parallels between positive reinforcement using rewards and praise – and the grooming process in sexual and domestic abuse.

It doesn’t mean that positive reinforcement with our kids is wrong, but it does mean that years and years of controlling and raising our kids using rewards and praise primes them for relationships and grooming processes that use gifts, rewards and praise.

For example, if our kids don’t want to do something at all and we manipulate them by offering a gift or praise, that mirrors exactly what some abusers and offenders will do. Look:

Child of 8 years old who hates vegetables

‘If you eat all of these vegetables, I’ll give you a cookie. So you have to eat all of them. Then you will get a cookie for being so good.’

Child of 12 years old who is being groomed

‘If you try this vodka, I’ll buy you some new headphones. All you have to do is try this vodka. It’ll be fine. Then I’ll buy you those new headphones.’

Child of 14 years old who is being groomed

‘I’ll give you everything you want and need if you just touch me. All you gotta do is give me what I need and I’ll give you what you need.’

See how it’s exactly the same?

It’s identifying what the child or adolescent wants and then using it as an incentive to do things they don’t want to do. The agenda might be different (getting your kids to eat carrots versus trying to get a child drunk so you can abuse them) – but the tactic is the same.

And when the tactic is the same, and it’s been used every day for 18 years, why would we expect children to notice or identify this in the grooming process in child sexual abuse, domestic abuse or sexual violence as they get older?

Final thoughts

Millions of our children will be abused, raped or harmed in relationships. Millions of us already have been. There are charities, governments, experts, academics, activists and scientists trying to figure out why it’s so prevalent and why people cannot identify abuse. The same groups are still scratching their heads as to why children and adolescents can’t get themselves out of child abuse and child sexual exploitation.

One thing I always say when I’m teaching is that we need to stop seeing grooming and abuse as a monstrous, rare, sick thing that only a handful of humans do.

We have to start seeing grooming and abuse as a common extension of normal, every day tactics and mechanisms humans use to communicate and manipulate each other. The outcome might be different, but the tactics and approaches are all the same. And millions of people are abusing children using those normal, everyday tactics.

What if we are missing the point? What if we are expecting children (and therefore adults) to spot behaviours and tactics and approaches in abusers that are completely normal in parents and teachers?

What if we are laying the foundations for abuse and control from birth?

What if the way we talk to and manipulate our children in an effort to bring them up, is actually teaching them that abuse, control, threat and bribery is normal?

Aren’t abusers just using the exact same tactics as parents, carers and teachers that kids spend 24 hours a day with?

Isn’t it strange that we have such high expectations of children and adolescents to notice, recognise and act on behaviours and tactics that we tell them are abusive and manipulative – but have featured in their lives since birth?

Written by Jessica Eaton

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

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

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

2018: My year in review video is here

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=v_hyqrkfOcs

Can we stop saying, ‘She could have been your daughter’?

25th November 2018

Jessica Eaton

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Why is it that we blame women and girls so much for sexual violence and abuse? And why is the retort so often, ‘She could have been your sister, mother, daughter or girlfriend!’

On face value that seems like a pretty logical sentiment, doesn’t it?

The approach of this sentiment is to gain empathy or understanding from the other person by encouraging them to imagine that the rape or abuse could have happened to their female family member. People would most likely assume that by using this retort, the person might think ‘Oh gosh, yes, I would hate it if that happened to my own daughter, maybe I need to re-evaluate why I blame women and girls for rape?’

The reality is a little bit murkier than that. The reality is less optimistic and less effective than that.

Here are my three reasons why we should stop using ‘She could have been your sister/daughter/mother’ as a response to victim blaming of women and girls:

1. Family members are not less likely to blame women and girls for rape than the general public

2. Language and construction of women as property of someone else is problematic

3. It will do nothing to stop the global, socially embedded narratives of victim blaming of women and girls

Families are not less likely to blame women and girls for rape than the general public

Yeah. I know. Depressing, isn’t it?

My research, and the research of others such as Sarah Ullman; has shown that, after a woman or girl is raped, families are not the powerhouse of support we think they are. In fact, when women and girls are raped or abused, the family is not likely to support them – and are highly likely to blame them or shame them. The older the girl gets after the age of 10 years old, the more the parents blame her for being raped or abused. The majority of women who disclose rape or abuse, still tend to disclose to family before authorities – but they tend to be disappointed by the response they get from family, whom they expected to support and protect them.

Based on this, why would telling someone to imagine it had happened to their sister/daughter/mother help their victim blaming – if they are just as likely to blame them anyway?

We are making an assumption that they would react differently in real life to this rape happening to their daughter or sister for example, whilst all of the research shows that they would be likely to blame or even disbelieve their female family member.

Clearly, this strategy is not going to work. If family members can’t even support or believe their own sisters, daughters and mothers – why would they believe a woman they read about in the press or some girl from school who was raped at a house party?

Language and construction of women as property of someone else is problematic

The second point I want to raise is more discursive. I want to talk about the way we only ever position women as important if they are connected to us or we have ownership of them.

The word ‘rape’ comes from the Latin word ‘rapere’ and the old french word ‘raper’ which meant ‘to seize goods or to take by force’. It was usually used for property, livestock, money and items, but became used to describe sexual offences against women, because women were constructed as property of either their fathers (if they were unmarried) or their husbands (if they were married). Another man ‘raping’ that woman was therefore a crime against the father or husband, not against the woman or girl. This line of thinking still exists today in many cultures but in different ways.

Anyway, the point I am making is this:

If rape is the act of seizing property owned by the family (the woman) then our response of ‘this could be your daughter/sister/mother’ is repositioning and confirming the woman or girl as property of the person you are appealing to. You are saying to them ‘This woman is connected to you, how does this make you feel?’

This is especially true for men. An example is when fathers become obsessed with monitoring or making comments about their adult daughter’s sex lives and sexual partners, threatening new men in her life not to touch or hurt their daughter. This is less about the wellbeing of the woman and more about the status and ownership by the father. That his status and his honour would be affected by another man ‘seizing’ his daughter or sister.

We also see a very strange pattern (it’s not strange to those of us who understand misogyny but anyway…) when we interview or survey men about prostitution, porn and lap dancing (Bindel, 2017).

Lots of men say they enjoy porn. They say that women should be free to choose whether they work in the sex industry. They say they believe women should be allowed or even empowered to be sex workers and lap dancers and strippers if they enjoy it. They think the sex industry is just great.

But what do you think happens when researchers ask them whether they would be as supportive if it was their sister, daughter or mother?

Uhuh. Hell no.

The comments change to negative, disparaging insults and threats. The same men who tell us they support women to work in the sex industry tell us that they would never allow their sister, daughter or mother to work in the industry. Note the word ‘allow’.

They talk about how disgusting and easy they would be. How they would have failed as a father or brother. How dishonourable it is. How it would make HIM feel to know his sister or daughter was working as a stripper or escort.

Even the men who actually tell us that they USE prostitutes and fully support the legalisation of prostitution, tell us they would never allow their own daughters and female family members to do it (Bindel, 2017).

So, it appears that when we ask people to ‘imagine it was your sister, daughter, mother’ – what we are really doing is appealing to their ownership and connection and control over their female family members and asking them to be angry that someone would ‘seize’ their female loved one.

All we have done here is repositioned the woman as property of her family and tried to get that person to stop blaming based on the logic in my first point, which we’ve established, doesn’t work. So we appeal to their ownership of the woman.

Weird, huh?

It will do nothing to stop the global, socially embedded narratives of victim blaming of women and girls

My final point is that – well, we are missing the point.

When we try to appeal to people by saying ‘she could have been your daughter, sister or mother!’ – we are not addressing victim blaming or shaming of women and girls who have been raped or abused.

We are not challenging their victim blaming, we are telling them to imagine the woman is someone they care about being raped.

We are saying to them ‘Look, I know you don’t care about this woman being raped, but imagine if it was someone you cared about!’

Nah fuck that.

We should be saying to them, ‘You SHOULD care about this woman or girl being raped. She doesn’t need to be related to you. She doesn’t need to be someone you knew or loved. She is a human being who was attacked. Sort your victim blaming shit out. She is not to blame. At all.’

Why should we use tactics to appeal to these people who victim blame women and girls that attempt to get them to pretend the victim is someone they love? Why can’t we just challenge their responses directly?

The more important question to me is, why would they ONLY care about rape if it was a woman in their family? Why does it need to be a woman they are connected to or feel ownership over for her rape to count as abhorrent?

Isn’t it funny how we never say this about murder? When a man or woman is murdered, people are generally horrified. They are shocked and appalled. They don’t need reminding that the person was a human being. We don’t have to say to them:

‘Now, now, I know you don’t care that they are dead because they weren’t related to you, but imagine if they were your mother or sister or daughter.’

No one needs to say that, because no one is making stupid ass comments like ‘Well if you’re going to go out dressed like that, you’re obviously going to attract a murderer’ or ‘He should have known that if he went out drinking, he was going to get shot in the restaurant’.

When it comes to sexual violence, some of us would try to respond to these victim blaming comments by trying to get the person to imagine it happened to their sister, daughter or mother.

And I’m saying – we need to have a think about why we feel the need to do this to gain empathy from victim blamers by getting them to imagine the victim is their female family member.

I’m more interested in why they are blaming any women for rape and abuse.

And I would be willing to bet that if they hold those views about ‘that girl who was raped at that party’ – they probably hold those views about their own sister, daughter or mother.

Written by Jessica Eaton

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

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk