Work with women and girls? It’s time to reject psychiatry

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

14th September 2019

Is it that time again? Time to shake the field up again?

Seems so.

Diagnosing women and girls with personality disorders after they have been abused, traumatised, trafficked, raped, neglected or harmed – is disgraceful practice. It needs to end. We all need to lobby, campaign, influence and convince decision makers and leaders to reject personality disorders as quack science.

Yet, when I say this to social workers, nurses, family support workers, police officers and teachers – they look at me like I’ve grown two heads.

It’s the look of, ‘But, diagnosing them helps them, doesn’t it? We can get them the help they need if we can just get them the diagnosis. Right?’

You see, many professionals I teach or work with, have never even considered the trauma-informed approach to working with women and girls who have been traumatised. They have been taught traditionally, medically and oppressively. They don’t subscribe to the medical model because they have chosen it as their ideological approach – they subscribe to it because they had no idea there was an alternative.

To their credit, many of them listen intently as I explain the origins of psychiatry, the theories and models, the lack of evidence and the abuse of psychiatric diagnoses that has oppressed classes and groups for decades. Similarly, many of them realise that their practice has been misinformed or misled. Some of them have a feeling of confirmation when they attend my training – a feeling that they had never truly subscribed to the medical model of working with women and girls subjected to abuse, but they didn’t know the language, the theories or the evidence to back themselves up. They didn’t know how to fight against it.

As the years have passed, I have incorporated more and more trauma-informed, anti-psychiatry approaches into my work, training, research and speeches. The impact has been incredible. So many professionals are now able to see that diagnosing girls and women with personality disorders and psychosis after they have been abused is not only harmful, but will impact them for the rest of their lives.

And as I have said, this is not completely down to me – because so many frontline practitioners already felt very uncomfortable with our practice, anyway.

However, because so much mental health and abuse training is medical-model-dominant, they have never been taught an alternative explanation.

We need to provide alternative narratives to practitioners and we need to do it now.

My top 4 messages for frontline practitioners working with women and girls

  1. Learn the oppressive history of psychiatry

The medical model of mental health is so dominant that it is communicated as ‘the’ explanation of emotional and mental life. Many of us have been taught that mental health issues are genetic, neuropsychological/physiological, developmental or a combination of all. We are taught that medications can ‘balance people out’ or ‘help them prepare for therapy’. We are taught that some people need to be locked up and sedated for their own safety.

As of September 2019, 7.3 million British adults (1 in 6 adults) are taking antidepressants and a further 3.9 million British adults are taking anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines, Z drugs and gabapentinoids.

But this monopoly on our mental life didn’t happen overnight. Long before we started talking about ‘mental health’, we punished, killed, sacrificed, outcast and abused people who did not conform to our social norms of behaviour or character. Many feminists and historians now suggest that the death of up to 100,000 women who were murdered for being ‘witches’ between 1450 and 1750 were often women who were non-conforming, disabled, ill, intelligent, opinionated or had been abused and traumatised.

In the European Middle Ages, mental health started to become mixed with religion. When someone was not conforming or was traumatised, it was proposed that they were possessed by demons or satan. Most ‘treatments’ for mental health included religious ceremonies, exorcisms, torture or death of the person. In some cases, it was argued that the only way a demon could be stopped, would be to kill the ‘host’ person.

As time passed, mental health was proposed to be caused by imbalances of fluids in the body and brain. Excess bodily fluids such as bile, blood or choler were said to cause ‘hysteria’, ‘melancholia’ or ‘mania’. However, the religious approach to mental health continued for a long time. Quakers set up many asylums and developed religious conversion treatments to ‘cure’ mental health issues.

Lieberman (2015) puts it well, ‘The mentally ill were considered social deviants or moral misfits suffering divine punishment for some inexcusable transgression.’

Asylums multiplied across America and Europe during the 1700s and 1800s, and professionals from all different backgrounds became interested in working with the ‘mentally ill’. Asylums became sites of experimental research, surgery, treatment, torture and death of patients – on which the ‘science’ of psychiatry was built.

Psychiatric experiments, tortures and surgeries included everything from holding patients under freezing cold water until they ‘calmed down’ (read: passed out or drowned) to deliberately ‘releasing humors’ from the patient by bleeding them, blistering them, starving them or purging them. In 1927, Wagner-Jauregg won the Nobel Prize for ‘proving’ you could treat schizophrenia by injecting malaria-infected blood into people with the diagnosis.

By 1941, insulin shock therapy was rife. In this ‘treatment’ for ‘mental illness’, people were injected with extremely high doses of insulin to cause seizures and coma, claiming that when they came around, they would be cured of madness.

By the 1940s, electroconvulsive shock therapy (ECT) and frontal lobotomies were common. Whilst frontal lobotomies stopped being used by the 1980s (although this did mean that over 100,000 people were subjected to them), ECT is still used today. In fact, it is making something of a comeback – and now being used to ‘treat’ autism in some clinics in North America.

I have personally worked with children who have been subjected to ECT in the Midlands in the UK, after they were abused and raped. One girl I worked with in 2013 was completely wiped out by ECT sessions on the NHS, so much so that she used to come to my sessions and fall fast asleep on the sofa for hours, and then wake up confused and upset. She was being given ECT sessions for ‘depression’ because she had been sexually abused.

By 1955, psychiatric medications were a fairly common way of ‘treating’ madness. But it wasn’t for many more decades that we stopped using language like ‘hysteria’, ‘madness’, ‘retardation’ and ‘mental illness’. However, despite this seemingly positive shift in language, we are still using some of the same treatments, misconceptions and oppressive practices we have used throughout history. We have moved towards the term ‘mental health’ which we now equate with ‘physical health’ – but we still use oppressive, dangerous and abusive practices to ‘treat’ the natural, normal distress of traumatised people.

The language got nicer but the practice, well, it didn’t really evolve.

Throughout these years, the groups most significantly affected were Black people. Psychiatry is notoriously white, elitist and racist. Always has been. Still is. Racism was embedded into theory, practice and research. Psychiatrists believed that Black people had smaller brains than white people, were ‘naturally’ better at hard labour and slavery, were less psychologically developed and were more aggressive, emotionally unstable and violent. These beliefs still have an enormous impact on mental health practice, in which people still believe that Black people are more likely to have ‘mental health issues’, more likely to have ‘schizophrenia’ and are more likely to be violent or commit crime.

My questions to practitioners are:

Did you know all of this? Did you know that our modern psychiatric system is built on all this suffering, death, murder, oppression, racism, abuse and torture?

Have you really researched the history of the treatments and medications your clients are being prescribed?

Do you really understand and believe the labels your clients are being given?

  1. Borderline personality disorder (or EUPD) is misogynistic twaddle

Along with the racism and classism in the psychiatric systems, there is the harrowing misogyny. In 2019, women and girls are 7 times more likely to be diagnosed with BPD or EUPD than boys and men showing the same symptoms. Again, the origins of this oppression hark back to hundreds of years ago.

From the 18th century, ‘hysteria’ was classed as a women’s disease, linked to femininity and the female form. ‘Hysteria is the woman’s natural state’ (Laycock, 1840) and ‘A hysterical girl is a vampire who sucks the blood of the healthy people around her’ (Mitchell, 1885: 266).

Much of the BPD or EUPD diagnosis is based on gender role stereotypes and sexism. Women and girls are ideally polite, nice, happy, content, quiet, have no opinions or ambitions and live to serve others. ‘Difficult women’ are frequently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (Ussher, 2013). The typical borderline patient has been described as a ‘demanding, angry, aggressive woman’, who is labelled as ‘mentally disordered’ (Jimenez, 1997: 162, 163) for behaving in a way that is perfectly acceptable in a man. Research found that men’s sadness and anger was considered to be related to situational factors – such as ‘having a bad day’ – whereas sad or angry women were judged as ‘too emotional’ (Barrett and Bliss-Moreau, 2009).

Indeed, I always make the point of telling frontline practitioners that the diagnostic criteria from DSM II for ‘hysteria’ and the diagnostic criteria from DSM V for ‘borderline personality disorder’ are very similar. Hysteria has been described as the ‘wastebasket of mental health’ and BPD has been described as a ‘catch-all diagnosis’.

They are essentially the same diagnosis. They are both targeting women and girls. They are both built around gender role stereotypes. They both oppress traumatised and abused women. Where hysteria (or ‘wandering womb syndrome’) was said to be caused by women’s hormones and biology – BPD is said to be a disordered personality. Both innate, internal causes which need to be medicated, treated and dealt with.

The ‘symptoms’ or ‘diagnostic criteria’ of BPD are:

  • Fear of abandonment
  • Unstable or short relationships
  • Unclear or shifting/changing self-image
  • Impulsive, self-destructive behaviours
  • Self-harm
  • Mood swings lasting minutes or hours
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Intense anger
  • Feeling suspicious, paranoid or disassociating

Most people would agree with me when I say the following three things:

  1. Anyone who is traumatised by abuse or exploitation would hit enough of these criteria to be diagnosed with a personality disorder
  2. Most people at pretty much any point of major stress, would exhibit these behaviours as a normal response to distress and change
  3. These feelings are completely justified in traumatised and abused people – and therefore do not constitute a disorder or abnormality. These responses are normal.

We need to think much more critically about how many of the girls and women on our caseloads are being told that their responses are abnormal and are caused by personality disorders, rather than caused by the people who abused, oppressed, scared and harmed them. Why would we want to collude with the victim blaming and encouragement of self-blame of women and girls like this?

My questions for frontline practitioners working with women and girls are:

Did you know that BPD and EUPD were so closely related to hysteria and women’s ‘madness’?

Have you not ever wondered why so many of the teenage girls and young women you work with are being diagnosed with personality disorders after traumatic life experiences?

Have you ever considered how a woman or girl is ever supposed to move forward if she has been told that her personality is disordered?

  1. Psychiatric diagnosis will stay on her file for a long time

Many of our systems in the UK require a psychiatric diagnosis in order to get a service for the woman or girl we are working with. This means that girls might be diagnosed with a mental health issue before they are allowed access to a mental health service or counselling service. It may mean that a woman has to be diagnosed with a disorder before she is allowed to be referred to a service that can help her.

Psychiatric diagnosis has become the gatekeeper of therapeutic services. So much so, that even counsellors and psychotherapists are colluding with the psychiatric diagnosis of their own clients. Many practitioners are told that the best thing you can do for the girl is to get her the diagnoses she ‘needs’ so they can access funding, support or services.

This is very short-sighted.

One of the things that many practitioners are not warned about, is how long those psychiatric diagnoses will impact the girl (soon to be an adult woman in a completely different set of services). When teenage girls who have been sexually exploited, raped or abused get two or three psychiatric diagnoses, are medicated with antidepressants or mood stabilisers and are then kept on those drugs or treatments for the rest of their childhoods – what do you think is going to happen to them when they reach adulthood?

They will be miraculously cured, have their diagnoses removed and live a healthy, normal life?

For most of those girls, their diagnoses will impact them for a long time. They may be refused access to services, refused access to education, housing, occupations, college courses and volunteering opportunities. They may be told they are ‘too unstable’ to be involved in projects or to start therapies. They may even be flagged as having personality disorders to their local police force, ambulance crews, fire service and GP surgeries.

Many professionals I teach are unaware that the psychiatric diagnosis can be passed to emergency services who then use that information out of context to label the woman or girl as ‘high risk’. This may mean that ambulance crews are told they have mental health issues before they attend an address. It may even mean that they call for the police to support them. Further, it may mean that a GP is less likely to believe their symptoms or illnesses because they have been flagged as having a personality disorder.

These issues are serious and long-term. I have personally worked with and met many women and girls affected by this discrimination.

My questions for frontline practitioners are:

Did you know this happened to women and girls?

Would you still encourage them to get psychiatric diagnoses, if you knew this would define them for the years to come?

Wouldn’t it be better to support the girl/woman with the trauma and to talk to them about what it means rather than encouraging them to get a psychiatric label?

  1. Do everything you can to reject deficit models of working

The final thing I always teach practitioners to do, is to reject the deficit model of working with women and girls – or any humans to be honest. The deficit model, like the psychiatric model, is dominant in all our practice with children and adults. We have been taught that the pasts of girls can predict the futures of women. Professionals are taught to assess the past of the girls to enable them to predict their future – whether they will be abused again, whether they are at risk of CSE, whether they will be criminally exploited, whether they will end up ill, in prison, self-harm or suicidal.

Whilst it might be tempting to have some sort of algorithm that could predict the outcomes of women and girls, I prefer to teach practitioners that women and girls can overcome and work through everything and anything (with the right humanistic support). I prefer to teach them to work from a strengths-based model; to see all women and girls as whole humans with an entire future ahead of them. A future that is not defined by what someone else put them through.

Instead of seeing women and girls as traumatised, doomed or broken – I want practitioners to acknowledge their trauma, work in a trauma-informed way, but to see them as capable, intelligent, powerful humans with potential, skills, coping mechanisms and many values to give to the world.

Moving away from a deficit model means not only rejecting the diagnosis of women and girls as mad, mentally ill or hysterical – but rejecting the way we try to quantify, categorise and predict the future of oppressed and abused women and girls.

My question to practitioners:

Wouldn’t you rather see women and girls as potential lawyers, activists, musicians, scientists, teachers and artists than believing the deficit model that these women and girls will amount to nothing?

Around half of our own workforce were abused in childhood (Eaton and Holmes, 2017). If the deficit model was correct, how did we all get into these jobs? Wouldn’t most of us be completely ineffective?

If we believe the deficit model to be correct, why do any of us bother doing our jobs at all? Aren’t we all in this line of work because we believe that every human has the capacity to process their trauma and go on to live a fulfilling life after abuse?

Reject psychiatry for the good of the women and girls you work with 

For these reasons and so many more that I teach and write about, we must reject the psychiatric diagnosis of women and girls subjected to traumas. In fact, reject all psychiatric diagnosis. The evidence base for psychiatry is shameful, elitist, oppressive and dodgy as fuck. How this profession has continued to tout itself as a real science is beyond me. How millions of people are prescribed more and more drugs for human distress whilst we leave them in abuse, poverty, oppression and trauma disgusts me.

We can change practice and theory. We can refuse to diagnose women and girls with psychiatric conditions. We can challenge the concepts of personality disorders used to oppress and label women and girls who have been abused. We can stop referring people subjected to abuse into medical model services that will tell her she is mad and needs treatment. We can stop supporting deficit models of working in which we use numbers, calculations or assessments to predict the outcomes of women and girls who have been abused.

We can commit to research, read about and learn about the way psychiatry oppresses populations of people. We can learn about new models of trauma and mental health support such as the PTMF (Power, Threat, Meaning Framework).

I will leave you with this thought:

As the outspoken, difficult woman of the 16th century was castigated as a witch, and the same woman in the 19th century a hysteric, in the late 20th and 21st century, she is described as ‘borderline’ or as having premenstrual dysphoria disorder. – Ussher, 2013

In conclusion: Same shit, different era.

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Author of ‘The Reflective Journal for Practitioners Working in Trauma and Abuse’ £17.99

Author of ‘Why Women are Blamed for Everything’ Pre-order £17.99

Co-Author of ‘The Little Orange Book: Learning about abuse from the voice of the child’ £14.99

https://victimfocus-resources.com/

 Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Jessica Eaton granted a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts

Jessica Eaton granted a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA)

17th April 2019

Since the Enlightenment, The Royal Society of Arts has championed the sharing of powerful ideas, has carried out cutting-edge research and built networks and opportunities for people to collaborate.

The RSA believe that all human beings have creative capacities that, when understood and supported, can be mobilised to deliver a 21st century enlightenment. The 260-year old organisation believes that creative ideas can enrich social progress.

The fellowship is awarded to individuals who are recognised by a panel to have made significant contributions to social change.

Jessica Eaton was invited to become a fellow to recognise her contribution to the psychology of victim blaming of women, her work in mental health and her contribution to feminism.

At 28 years old, Jessica is the Founder and Chair of the first trauma-informed male mental health centre in the UK. Founded at 23 years old, she has won over £600,000 for the male mental health service which now supports hundreds of men per month.

In addition, she is the Founder of VictimFocus, an international research and consultancy organisation focussing on the rights and wellbeing of victims of trauma, violence and abuse. Her VictimFocus blog has 1.3 million readers per year and covers topics of feminism, women’s rights, victim blaming, child sexual exploitation and violence against women and girls. She conducts research on topics affecting women and girls, and has recently submitted a PhD in Psychology, specialising in the psychology of victim blaming and self blame of women subjected to sexual violence.

More recently, she set up VictimFocus Publications as an independent publisher to ensure free and accessible research, information and resources to improve the fields of abuse, violence and trauma. In the first year, the research and reports were downloaded over 20,000 times; providing free evidenced-based information to everyone interested in the topics. In June 2019, she will open VictimFocus Academy, which is a global E-learning platform dedicated to free and affordable education, open to all, on the topics of psychology, trauma, violence and abuse.

A statement from Jessica Eaton, on the award of the Fellowship:

‘I am absolutely blown away by this nomination and award of fellowship with the RSA. When I first got the email, I thought it was a prank! When you work in feminist psychology and women’s rights, it is so rare to be recognised like this. For a council estate, school drop-out teen mum like me, not much was expected from me, I guess. Now I have the privilege of undertaking work in psychology and the prevention of violence against women all over the world.

I always dreamt of creating change in the world but I could never have dreamt that sheer determination and self-belief would have got me here, from where I was. It’s the main reason I take the view in all of my work that humans are capable of brilliant, world-changing achievements – if only we platform them, listen to them and give them space to grow and flourish. Strengths-based, trauma-informed work is my absolute passion.

I have spent the last week learning all about my new fellowship and about how I can get involved with the RSA and the incredible network of fellows. I cannot wait to travel down to London to visit the RSA house and I hope to attend and then provide some workshops and seminars for other fellows. 

I would like to thank the RSA for recognising my work and my contribution to social change. Millions of people engage in my work and I have dedicated so much to the challenge and the change I want to see in the world. So, this one is for you, sisters. We will be heard.’

Fellows have access to the brightest new ideas, innovative projects, a diverse network of like-minded people, and a platform for social change. Past RSA Fellows include brilliant minds and change-makers like Marie Curie, Karl Marx and Stephen Hawking.

Jessica’s website is http://www.victimfocus.org.uk where you can download free videos, reports, research and resources.

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Dear men: Here are 5 things you can do to support your wife or girlfriend in a sexist world

Dear men: Here are 5 things you can do to support your wife or girlfriend in a sexist world

Written by Jessica Eaton

06/04/2019

 Content warning for discussion of sex, porn, violence and misogyny 

This blog is for all of the men who love women, who are in relationships with women they respect and care about. You see, being a decent bloke to your wife or girlfriend is great and all, but the woman you love lives in a society that is inherently sexist and misogynistic.

She lives in the same world as you, but the world doesn’t treat her the same way it treats you. That’s why I’ve put together some things you can do to support her in a society that hates her for being a woman.

Actually, before I start with the things you can do to support her, take a few moments to think about this. Were you really aware that the woman you love lives in such a misogynistic world? Have you noticed the way she is spoken to? The way she is treated? Has she ever told you about the way other men have treated her? The way she is talked over and ignored? The way the builders wolf-whistled her at 12 years old? The way she picks different routes home from work to stay safe? The way she texts her best friends to check they ‘get home safe’?

If you respect her and care for her, she is with you because she can feel that. However, her trust and love for you does not stop her from being oppressed, discriminated against and harassed out there in the world.

Here are some things you can do to support her in a sexist world:

1. Believe in and educate yourself about misogyny

If you love her, care about her and respect her – you need to make sure your eyes and ears are open to the misogyny and sexism she is battling every single day. Don’t convince yourself that sexism is over, and that women are treated as equals in society. Learn about the global oppression of women. Look around you and consider the way women are objectified, hypersexualised, discriminated against and blamed. Watch the way other men treat women around them. Listen to the way your peers talk about women and girls. Consider how many notions of ‘not being manly enough’ are based on the stereotypes of women. Have you ever been told not to cry like a girl? Been told to ‘stop being a woman’? Been called a ‘pussy’ for being scared? Been told you run or throw ‘like a girl’? Heard a man calling another man a ‘little bitch’? Have you ever noticed how many slurs are female?

Notice these aggressions all around you. Imagine what it is like to be the woman you love in a world in which being a woman is the worst thing you can be, and that’s why all the male slurs are about humiliating men for acting like a woman. The woman you love is being held up as an example of what men should never be. Think about that.

2. Don’t ‘not all men’ her when she tells you about the way a guy has treated her

I know its tempting or can even make you feel offended or defensive, but when she is talking about men treating her like shit, or the time she was assaulted, or her friend being raped – she does NOT need to hear you say ‘Yeah, but not all men are like that, babe.’

She already knows that. That’s why she’s with you.

So please, don’t tell her what she already knows. She knows not all men are rapists or abusers or wife beaters or paedophiles. She knows. But that doesn’t take away from what she is saying.

Lots of men feel personally attacked when women talk about male violence, but as long as you are not one of those men who are committing it, minimising it or encouraging it, then this isn’t about you. Listen to her, care about her view and her experiences. Condemn what the other man did to hurt her or hurt someone she knew.

Remember that she is in a relationship with you because she cares about, respects and loves you. That means she can sit and rage about the way some footballer is getting away with raping women and the women are being blamed – and it’s not about you. She doesn’t think it’s ‘all men’.

3. Do not stand by and allow men to disrespect her

Now obviously, as a man who loves and cares for your wife and girlfriend; I already know you wouldn’t let someone hurt or threaten her. But what about the microagressions she faces every day?

What about the way the man at the car garage won’t listen to her about there being something wrong with her car because she’s just a woman? Or the way the estate agent talks to you as you walk around a house viewing, as if your partner isn’t even there? Or the way your mates joke that you are a ‘walking bank’ and she’s probably out right now rinsing your credit cards? Or the way your family tell the women to get back in the kitchen and make the food? Or the way the bank manager only makes eye contact with you whilst talking about your joint mortgage?

These examples might sound small and petty but imagine being on the receiving end of them.

Imagine being side-lined, ignored and mocked like this. Furthermore, imagine a man treating her like this or talking to her like this, whilst you stand by, completely oblivious to how she is being made to feel.

Imagine the mechanic only speaking to her, because you are too stupid to understand. Imagine being shown around your new house by an agent who only ever asks her about the house, the mortgage and the deposit – because it can’t possibly be you with the money or the authority to rent or buy a house. Imagine her friends joking that you live off her money and you are some wasteman who uses up all her credit cards. Imagine going to the bank to discuss the mortgage and the bank manager literally ignoring your existence and only talking to your wife or girlfriend, because they assume she is the only one who understands and the only one making the money.

That’s what it feels like to be on the receiving end of this constant disrespect.

When you live in a sexist world, even if you respect and care about a woman – it doesn’t mean other men around you respect her. Lots of men around you will assume you have the same lack of respect for women as they do.

When these things happen to her, say something. You don’t have to be aggressive or confrontational, but don’t stand there and allow her to be disrespected by other men.

All it takes is a swift ‘Well, this is a joint decision so my partner needs this information too’ or ‘Why don’t you ask my wife what she thinks?’ or ‘Would you speak to her that way if she was a man?’ or ‘Actually, I agree with her, she’s right’ or ‘My girlfriend does not sponge off me, she makes her own money.’

Deliberately bring her into the conversation and keep referring back to her, to reposition her in the conversation.

4. For the love of women everywhere, please stop expecting her to act out things you saw in porn

It’s a slap in the face for a lot of people to realise that porn is misogynistic and sexist. It represents the true derogation, humiliation and objectification of women. If you’re a guy who watches porn and has maybe been watching it for 5, 10, 15 or maybe more than 20 years – you will notice how much more violent and degrading it has gotten.

The days of ‘the plumber who came to fix the pipe under the sink and then ended up having sex with the woman over the dining table’ have gone, my friends. Long gone. Now we have women being violently penetrated by groups of men. Women being beaten, strangled, hit, kicked, slapped, spat on, shouted at and called names. Women being forced to commit disgusting acts that no woman you love will ever want to copy. Women being fed drugs before, during and after porn shoots so they are so high they can’t feel the hours of pain that is required for these shoots. Women suffering internal injuries and irreparable anal prolapse because, guess what, the ass is not for sex.

The reality is, men in power are making porn that frames women in this way – and then men and boys think that is normal sex. Those of you who have had sex with women will know that real life sex is absolutely nothing like porn sex. And you need to remember that.

Two stories that might make you rethink this issue:

  1. My friend is a GP who reckons she now sees about 4-5 women with ‘fisting injuries’ per month from men who have tried to copy fisting from porn and have caused extremely serious tears in women’s vaginas. This is NOT okay. This is NOT healthy experimentation. Stop trying to copy porn. Porn is not real sex.
  2. My other friend is a therapist who sees men and boys who have watched so much unrealistic porn, that they can no longer get an erection or have sex with women they fancy. Some of those men say that the only way they can ejaculate is if they are having sex with their partner and watching porn on the laptop at the same time, next to them. She recently saw a guy who has a girlfriend that he really loves, but he just cannot get aroused by her healthy, natural body – because her body looks nothing like the women in porn. This is also NOT okay. This is the way men and boys are being manipulated by porn. These effects are seen in boys from the age of 14 years old. Think about that.

Porn, unfortunately, is not the harmless bit of fun it is made out to be. In fact, just take a few minutes to think about the things you thought women liked because you saw it in porn, only to be told by a woman in real life to stop it, that it hurt, that she didn’t want to do that or that she physically could not copy that from porn.

5. Challenge your peers when they are abusing, disrespecting or harming women

Women and girls have been trying to challenge men and boys for decades, but they are not the sex that holds the most authority and power in society. When women and girls stand up and challenge men and boys, they are often laughed at, ignored or shouted down.

However, when men start challenging each other and holding each other to account, shit will change.

You might be the good guy who has never hurt a woman, but do you laugh along with your mates whilst they tell rape jokes or call a woman they know a ‘fat slag’? Do you quietly shake your head when your mate chats up a woman who keeps telling him she is not interested? Do you intervene when you think your brother is abusing his girlfriend? Do you stop in the street to ask if a woman needs help when her drunk husband is yelling at her and the kids? Do you report your boss for treating your female colleagues like tea-maids?

Please, SAY SOMETHING.

Women who stand up and defend or protect themselves often fear repercussions or actual threats of violence. Women you know will tell you how dangerous it can be to tell a bloke you’re not interested in him, especially considering how many of them will turn on you at that point. Women who speak up at work against a sexist boss will probably find themselves fired or bullied to the point of resignation.

Showing support and challenging the misogynistic world we all live in doesn’t end with your own girlfriend or wife. What about the way your sisters, friends, mum, daughters, cousins, aunts, nieces and grandmothers are treated in the world? What about the way your female colleagues are treated at work?

Again, you don’t have to aggressively stop a man, but you can challenge him, talk to him, report him or find a way to protect the woman you are worried about. And if a woman discloses to you, listen to her and believe her.

If you see a man you know abusing his partner, threatening her, coercing her, manipulating her, bullying her, assaulting her or gaslighting her – please consider saying something or doing something. Don’t leave her to struggle on her own. Don’t stand by in silence. Don’t watch it happen whilst thinking, ‘It’s none of my business’.

If you have a mate who laughs as he says he has never done a single nappy for his baby because it’s ‘woman’s work’ – laugh at him and tell him he’s a father and he needs to sort his shit out.

If your brother can’t take no for an answer and is pestering the woman at the bar for the second time this evening, move him away from her and tell him she’s not interested.

If you have a boss at work who listens to the ideas of the men but seems to think women are naïve or stupid, keep highlighting the good work of your female colleagues and ALWAYS say when a good idea was from one of the women in the team. If you can sense a female colleague is being overlooked, simply say, ‘Have you thought about asking Maya? She’s really good at that, you know.’

Never allow men in your team to take the work or ideas from a woman and claim them as their own. And when a guy repeats the exact same thing a woman just said, literally say ‘Isn’t that what Amy just said? Didn’t she just say the exact same thing?’

Finally, one thing to everyone reading this. Please don’t use the comments under this blog to bring women down further – or to ridicule the men who care about women, sexism or misogyny. If anything, if you want to leave a comment, why don’t you suggest more ways that men can stand up for the women in their lives and challenge the misogyny we live in every single day?

If my ten-year-old son can recognise sexism and say to the guy at Volkswagen, ‘You wouldn’t talk to my Dad like that…’; then I firmly believe that men and boys can be encouraged to step in and challenge male violence and misogyny when they see it.

Written by Jessica Eaton

Founder of www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

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

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

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

Women and girls who have had babies from rape

Written by Jessica Eaton

14/11/2018

Content warning for discussion of children being conceived in rape, abuse and trafficking. There are no descriptions of sexual offences, but the article discusses the issues frankly.

It was a warm spring day in 2015 when I got the phone call from the Passport Office. I was at work and nipped outside to take the call. I listened and tried to take in what they were saying to me.

“Is there no way you can trace the biological father of your child?”

“Yes, ” I said, “But I am not going to. He’s a repeated, convicted offender of battery and sexual and domestic violence. He doesn’t know where we are anymore and I have been free of him for 6 years.”

“And you say you were raped? And you reported it to the police?”

“Yes.”

“So, could you get a letter from him, maybe? To approve the passport?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Could you find out where he is living and ask your family to go and get a letter from him?”

“No.”

“Do you know his parents or family members, would they convince him to write a letter for you?”

“Do you not get how dangerous this is? I ran away from my home town with my baby. I just want a normal life. I just want to go on holiday with my kids. You cannot possibly expect women who have been raped to find the rapist years later and ask for permission to go on holiday.”

I lowered my voice, aware that the windows of the office were open and people were likely to hear me having this argument. The conversation continued and I spent another 15 minutes crying, arguing and freaking out at the prospect of having to track down a rapist to ask his permission to go on holiday with a child he has had nothing to do with.

Fast forward to 2018 and I was on the phone again, this time to a colleague who also has a son from rape. We talked for hours on the phone and realised we were wrestling with all sorts of questions:

  • Do we ever tell them the truth? How? When? Why?
  • What will happen if we hide the truth but then they find out some other way?
  • How do you protect a child from a person they don’t know anything about?
  • What is in their best interests whilst protecting yourself as a victim of rape?
  • Why is there no support out there for us?
  • How do you get around the issues with birth certificates, PR and custody?
  • How many other women have children from rape and how are they coping?
  • Are any of us doing this right? Is there a right way at all?

Last year, I was privately commissioned to conduct anonymous research which explored the prevalence and experiences of women who became pregnant or had children from rape – and the prevalence and experiences of men and women who were born from rape. The study has remained private but will be being published with free open access under victimfocus soon.

What does the (limited) research teach us?

Well, a comprehensive literature review turned up very little. Most of the research in this area concentrates on rape during warfare. This led to me designing and conducting my own study – which would be one of the first of it’s kind. The findings of my first study present one of the first sets of results in the UK about the prevalence, experiences, stereotypes and myths about women who have children from rape.

One of the things that struck me was of the 315 people who took part, only 44% of participants said they had never known a woman or girl who had become pregnant or had a child from rape. Of the 56% who said they did, 111 people said they knew at least one woman or girl who became pregnant from rape or abuse, 72 people said they knew at least one woman or girl who had a termination after rape or abuse and 67 people said they knew at least one woman or girl who had a baby conceived in rape or abuse and brought them up herself.

However, despite this being so high, when participants were asked whether they had ever known someone in their lives who had been told they were conceived in rape or abuse, 88% of participants said they didn’t know anyone who this had happened to.

In addition, from the sample of 315 people, 7% of the females said they themselves had a child from rape and a further 8% of the females said they had become pregnant from rape but had a termination.

The rest of this particular study asked the 315 people ‘What do you think the public perception or opinion is on women who become pregnant from rape or abuse?’

The answers to this question were very important and guided my thinking as to what we do next. The majority of the participants wrote answers about women having abortions, hating their babies, damaging their children and resenting the baby. Less common answers also included people who wrote that women were probably lying about being pregnant from rape, that women didn’t have any support, that people would think negatively of the woman and the myth that it is impossible to become pregnant from a rape.

This demonstrated to me, that there was much work to be done. It is also worth noting however, that 87 participants mentioned that they thought women would be blamed for becoming pregnant from rape and 56 participants stated that they ‘had their sympathy’.

Extract 1:

‘My friend was still in school when she was raped and became pregnant. She was bullied horrendously by our peers and even some adults, unfortunately when it came out how she fell pregnant it seemed like she still deserved the snide remarks and comments. Like it was her own fault. Still a lot of stigma around shame and victim blaming that somehow the woman failed or was weak to allow it, that victims are forever ‘damaged goods’, inferior women.’

I then asked participants the same question again, but about the perception or public opinion of children born from rape or abuse. Again, the 315 participants were given space to write their thoughts before I analysed their responses using thematic analysis.

The answers to this question included very strong themes about the child having severe mental health issues, that the child would be pitied, and most worryingly, 90 participants wrote that the child would become a rapist themselves and ‘follow in the father’s footsteps’. Less common answers included discussions of children being taboo, shamed, judged, isolated, unloved, abused, unwanted and disgusting to the mother.

Extract 2:

‘It’s a tragedy – unfortunate – Lacking a father figure, potentially dangerous genes; mothered by a mother who might be traumatised/who might not be able to adequately protect herself or child. That they are born into a ‘broken’ family. The mother is not a good mother etc. Feel sorry for them, may expect them to inherit ‘bad’ genes from their father.’

Clearly, we have a very, very negative view of these mothers and their children. There were only a handful of participants who believed that children could be loved and supported by their mother, that they could grow up to be happy and healthy, and that the mother would do a good job.

The topic of women pregnant from rape, and children conceived in rape is uncharted territory. We are suddenly discussing something that is seen as even more taboo than rape, than FGM, than ritual abuse, than paedophilia, than snuff films. Plenty of research exists on all of those topics, and whilst they are undoubtedly taboo, there are years of reports, articles, research and support groups to be found. The same cannot be said for women who have had babies from rape.

The findings from the first study were a big mix of rape myths, misogyny, victim blaming, myths about children, myths about sex offending being inherited in genes and a number of other misunderstandings and stereotypes of women and children. The research in forensic psychology shows us that when people do not have personal experience or knowledge of a topic, they rely upon societal scripts and schemas to form an opinion or perspective. Their scripts and schemas often come from media, peers, culture, religion or societal norms.

Without any decent knowledge, facts or science, we have an entire population relying on fictional scripts and stereotypes. Would women or the children get the right support? Probably not.

So what can we do about this?

Well, as you will know, we are making a film with women who have had babies from rape and abuse.

I am also designing and preparing a range of resources, guides and even a new website which will host all of the information, research, advice and support in one place. This will launch in 2019. The website is already built, but I am still populating the pages with content and useful stuff.

The second thing I did was invested in further research. Launched in October 2018, I began a study with women who had become pregnant, had terminations or had a baby from rape, abuse or trafficking which has now had 110 submissions in the first two weeks. The study focuses less on prevalence data and more on the experiences and opinions of women, what they felt they needed, what it has been like to be pregnant or have a baby from rape and what we can do to support them better.

Another thing I have been doing is telephone discussions and interviews with women who have children from rape. These women have children aged in their thirties right through to young babies. I’ve spoken to women who were raped in a relationship, women who were being trafficked as children, women who were raped in care, women who had babies from sexual abuse by a family member and even women who became pregnant when men deliberately put holes in condoms or refused to let them take their contraceptive pill.

A message for women with children from rape

Right now, we don’t have many of the answers, but together we are building a body of stories, evidence, research, suggestions and advice so that this silence does not continue. Before I finish this blog, I have a message for the women who are reading this, having had pregnancies or babies from rape:

I have now spoken to or heard from over 600 women who have had babies or become pregnant from rape and abuse. What I can tell you with certainty is that we are all winging it. We are all different, unique individuals with varying circumstances. Some of us tell our kids. Some of us don’t. Some of us look at the child and see the rapist, some of us don’t. Some of us struggle with what happened every single day, some of us don’t. Some of us are facing custody battles with rapists who want access to children, some of us don’t even know where the rapist is. Some of us know our children have siblings because the rapist went on to rape others, or to have families of their own. Some of us have lied to our kids, some of us haven’t. Some of us are confident in what we are doing and some of us are shitting ourselves. Some of us reported to the police and some of us didn’t. Some of our families supported us and some of them ostracised us. Some of us remarried and have families, some of us didn’t. Some of us gave our kids up for adoption, some of us didn’t. Some of us decided to have a termination, some of us didn’t – and some of us didn’t even know we were pregnant until we were giving birth. Some of us are psychologists, police officers, social workers, writers, teachers, retail managers, artists, engineers, receptionists, athletes, TV presenters.

We are not one homogeneous group. Nor are our kids. We are a very diverse group from every corner of society. We are many. You are not alone. Nor are your children.

But despite us all being so different, we are all presented with the same problem: there is very little information or support out there for any of us.

I am committed to changing that over the next two years. Beginning June 2019, there will be research, reports, advice, support, professional training and education. We can change this silence, together.

 

Jessica Eaton

VictimFocus – Challenge, Change, Influence

http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk   |   Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton