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

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

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

Silencing the whistleblower: Reactions to the truth in the field of abuse 

Silencing the whistleblower: Reactions to the truth in the field of abuse
By Jessica Eaton

 

This blog is sometimes a way for me to share my thoughts and experiences. I did it in the ‘whataboutery’ blog that went super-duper-viral and I need to do it in this one. 

We need to talk about telling the truth in our field of abuse and violence – and what happens when we tell the truth. I have made the decision to commission work into this area of research through my company, VictimFocus, because the topic quite frankly baffles me and I think any improvement will benefit us all in the long run. We desperately need to understand why we silence whistleblowers after we expressly tell them to tell the truth. 
So why do we hate truth tellers so much and who do we seek to silence whistleblowers in our own field? 

How can the field of abuse and safeguarding engage in the cognitive dissonance required to convince victims and perpetrators to ‘tell the truth’ or to ‘disclose what really happened’ when the entire field is characterised by cover ups, liars and the silencing of whistleblowers?

No, not just the silencing. That’s too neutral. The demonisation of whistleblowers.

My first full time job in this field was in Victim Support, as a manager of the vulnerable and intimidated witness programme. Whilst the criminal justice system revealed itself to me to be a game of snakes and ladders in which no victim ever wins – I didn’t come across any cover ups or abuse of people in VS. 

However, the criminal justice system I worked within taught me that there were many abuses of vulnerable and traumatised people that went unchallenged. There were bad practices aplenty and professionals had eventually become so desensitised that they couldn’t even see why something might be harmful or bad practice. It was the norm. It was one of the reasons I left, and decided to never go back to colluding with the CJS again. 

(Edit: the first time I ever had to whistleblow was not actually work related. I whistleblew on a nursery where I found a baby bleeding heavily alone in a room. I reported to OFSTED and the local authority and police. A week later I was put in hospital by the manager and a group of others. Turned out the police officers were family members of the nursery manager and they were in on it.) 

However, the first time I had to whistleblow at work, I didn’t really think about it. I just sort of did it. I didn’t expect what was going to happen to me at all. I was in a job as a manager in a rape centre. In short, my CEO at the time told me that she had covered up a case of sexual abuse of three children and was going to go and amend some records, and put another professional’s name on it to protect herself from action. She said it casually like I was going to reply ‘Yeah okay, cool.’ 

I think my face must have been a picture because I still remember the look on her face when she realised I was not going to allow her to do that – to the children or to the other professional, who was one of my staff. We stood and argued about it and she asked me who on earth I thought I was to challenge her decision making. I told her I would report her to the police and safeguarding board and gave her the final option of telling the truth. 

She didn’t. I reported her the same night. I knew she was going to make life difficult for me but there were three very young children at imminent risk from a registered sex offender and I was horrified that she would do this – not only to the children but to our committed staff member she was going to frame. 

When I told the staff member, she was absolutely horrified and could not believe that our CEO was going to change records and put her name on what she had done. She left shortly after and I don’t blame her.

However, the next time I was in work, I was taken into a room with the CEO and the board members of our charity and told I was being sacked for gross misconduct and had ten minutes to leave the premises and was given a letter from their solicitors threatening me to sign a gagging order. I asked them what the gross misconduct was and they said they didn’t have to tell me. I asked them for a proper investigation and hearing and they said no. I knew straight away by looking at the CEO’s face that this was retaliation because I had reported her.

 
I was young, poor and had no idea what on earth to do. I tried to seek free limited legal advice and the solicitors told me to sign the order, leave the job and look for somewhere else to work. The gag was for two years so I couldn’t speak openly about it until around 2015. I am still baffled as to why the board above the CEO chose to protect her over the children – and why I was punished so harshly for doing the right thing. 

However, if I had my time again, I would do it exactly the same way. The only difference is, I wouldn’t have signed the gagging order and I would have told them to shove it up their arse. I have never signed another and I never will. 

I was actually extremely lucky that I had already been applying for new jobs when this happened, as I used to have a personal policy of always looking for new jobs even if I was happy, especially if they would increase my experience or knowledge base by challenging me. The day after I signed that gag, I got a phone call telling me I had been shortlisted for a job as a trainer in child sexual exploitation (CSE) prevention. A few days later, I was told I had got the job. I was unemployed for about 6 days. Phew. I was extremely lucky that this happened as I had 2 very small children and my husband was working part time. We would have collapsed without a wage. 

I did have to negotiate a very tricky conversation with my new manager when they asked whether they could speak to my previous CEO for a reference. I was terrified that they wouldn’t believe me. However, they did believe me and I was okay. Another ‘phew’ moment. You see, every moment after you stick your neck out to whistleblow is ridden with anxiety. 

I went to work in the new job as the trainer and writer in CSE and was very successful, being promoted to manager of the national programme quickly and being given a national team of trainers. I had supportive management and CEO. 

However, twice I was asked to attend meetings about telling the truth. The first one was because national organisation in CSE, the NWG, didn’t want their charity name in an article I had written about CSE toolkits being invalid and having no evidence base (even though they had developed said toolkit and called it the NWG toolkit, so it was pretty difficult not to mention them). I had written that they were responsible for developing one of the first CSE toolkits that was then rolled out by them without any testing. Sure, it doesn’t look great for them but it is the truth. 

The second was when a local authority had complained that I kept writing about CSE toolkits being bad practice and they wanted me to shut up because it was raising questions amongst their staff. 

Further, I was contacted by a CSE lead in the West Midlands who kept asking to meet me but wouldn’t tell me why. I was reluctant but eventually agreed to meet her in 2016. Once at the meeting, she said to me ‘You know, being this direct with people is not going to make you very popular. You are not going to have any friends left in this field if you keep criticising CSE toolkits.’ I laughed at her and said, ‘You’re talking to the wrong person, love. I’m not here for popularity.’ It turned out that she had met me solely to tell me that they were developing a new CSE toolkit and that they were sick of me speaking out about them. I challenged her as to whether they would put it through rigorous testing or whether they would commission experts in psychometric or risk assessment to develop and test it but of course the answer was no. No one wanted to test the toolkits because they knew full well they didn’t work. 

I eventually came to the conclusion that the only way I could challenge bad practice like this without someone trying to threaten me with my job or report me to my boss, would be to have no job and no boss. 

So I left my job and set up my own company to do the work I wanted to do, in the way I wanted to do it. I set VictimFocus up. It meant I could challenge poor practice and issues in safeguarding without the worry of an employer hanging over my head. 
I started to wonder why no one wanted to hear the truth about CSE risk toolkits and why local authorities and national influential charities in CSE would be more concerned about their name than their practice being right for children. At the time, I didn’t see the CSE toolkits controversy as whistleblowing but now I can see why it had riled so many people. 

The reality of the only toolkit in the country being a load of made-up rubbish with no validation, no evidence and no rigour, being used to make decisions about the lives of children is pretty scandalous. They don’t want to admit or face what they have done and they don’t want the responsibility of changing it. 

When Brown et al. (2016;2017) published their work showing the flaws in the CSE risk indicators and toolkits, I thought people would finally bin them – but even their work would be swept under the rug and as we approach the end of 2018, every local authority in the UK are still using them. For my part in the CSE toolkits critique, I ended up with a reputation for being ‘controversial’ and ‘too challenging’. People called me ‘overly-critical’ and ‘trouble.’ 

Then it was the CSE films. And oh, the backlash I got for challenging the use of rape films with children. Films that depicted the graphic rape and abuse of children, being shown to hundreds of thousands of UK children in order to ‘educate them’. I challenged them, naively thinking that people would see what was wrong with this unethical and unevidenced practice and would see the light, so to speak. How wrong I was!

Psychologists got it right away. Feminists got it right away. Women’s organisations got it right away. But the field of safeguarding and abuse didn’t get what was wrong with the films for over a year. Not only did people not get it, people hated me talking about it. I was harassed for months. I was no-platformed. I was ridiculed. I was attacked. I was bullied. By people I didn’t even know. People who made the films, used the films or were emotionally invested in using the films. Speaking out against the use of these films with children was a nightmare. Professionals grouped together and rejected any evidence of children being harmed, cutting themselves after watching them, bed wetting or having panic attacks. 

Instead of these professionals taking a step back and considering that I might be raising a valid issue, I was positioned as ‘attacking’ people and trying to harm people’s careers.

Thankfully however, there is a positive outcome to this one and a few weeks ago Barnardos announced that they would no longer be using CSE films with children, or any materials that might traumatise or harm children. Barnardos Directors are a lot more reflective and are moving towards much better evidence based working than some other organisations and had already started taking action to stop the use of films in their services. 

Being able to look back on the #nomoreCSEfilms campaign, I am glad I did it and I am glad I whistleblew on this practice but the way I was treated was disgusting and exhausting. 

Even now, the NWG have been consulting on my work in secret, not inviting me to meetings because of my views and then putting out consultation documents that don’t even cite or reference my work. Even when challenged a few weeks back, they chose not to tell me the truth about the meetings about my CSE films work because they knew I would speak out. This is the second issue in which the NWG has kept silent or tried to shut me up as a national specialist in CSE. Rather than encouraging open debate and discussion, their approach is to shut down the discussion and then pull it back into their organisation and pretend they have the solutions to it. 

This pattern has continued throughout my career. Most recently I have whistleblown on a commissioner after I found serious safeguarding and safety concerns were being ignored and their service users were at imminent risk of death and injury and that’s gone down like a lead balloon. 

Recently I spoke out against Tommy Robinson wanting to speak to children who had been sexually exploited despite him having absolutely no training, experience, regulations or ethics. 

Both decisions to speak out have caused me unimaginable shit and I have gained absolutely nothing from doing so. 

In relation mainly to the CSE films, I was then harassed and bullied by Dr Gozna of Leicester University for 7 months (someone I didn’t even know and had to google who she was as I had never heard of her) and by my own university department when they decided to use the fact that they had read a magazine interview I gave in which I said I had a baby from rape against me to try to prove in some perverse way that I was not fit to do my job. 

And yet it is me who is being framed as ‘unprofessional and unreasonable’ by speaking out against them and taking action against them (which I won in July and September 2018). 

Personally, I would be more concerned about these psychologists holding such discriminatory views of victims of rape than protecting them from action. I wouldn’t refer anyone to any of them. And I certainly wouldn’t recommend they performed research with women with histories of abuse or rape. Their views revealed that their interest in violence and trauma is just that: an interest. Empathy for real victims stops at their office door. 

Unfortunately for ALL of them, they picked the wrong person to try to silence and bully. 

And this is not just about me and my experiences. Far from it. This is common for hundreds of whistleblowers. People who whistleblow on local authorities, police forces, prisons, mental health units, children’s homes and politicians are quickly discredited and shut down. They are demonised. They are positioned as liars, trouble causers, fantasists and attention seekers. Their lives are ruined, their careers are stolen. They lose their jobs, their homes, their reputation, their income, their friends, their colleagues and their futures. They are reported to the police or their regulatory bodies. 

You don’t need to look far to find examples of these people. Their stories are terrifying. They are often people who discover something by accident or in the course of their work and report it in good faith, believing that the system works and the issue will be investigated. Sadly, they quickly find out that not only will their complaints or safeguarding concerns not be investigated, but they will also face serious consequences for daring to speak out. There are so many people who have reported the abuse of people, policies, corruption, exploitation and illegal activity who have had their entire team turn on them in an instant the second they told the truth. 

So, I have some questions that need to be answered:

Why do we bring up our children to tell the truth as a positive action and then spend our whole lives punishing them, and others for telling the truth?

How can we encourage children and adults who have been subjected to abuse to tell the truth or to tell us their disclosures, if we aren’t prepared to tell the truth ourselves?

Why should victims and survivors trust us with their secrets, their disclosures and their abuse, if we don’t even trust each other?

If we want our practice to improve and we truly want the best for victims and survivors, why are we so scared of criticism of our practice?

Would we rather protect our ego and reputation, even if it means ignoring bad practice and the harm of vulnerable people?

Why should any professional support mandatory reporting laws if they know it means that they will be treated like a traitor for whistleblowing? If they will not be supported and protected, why should we force them to whistleblow at all?

 

Provocative questions, I am sure. But we need to keep speaking out.

Massive respect for the truth tellers and the whistleblowers everywhere. Love to you.

 

Written by Jessica Eaton

 

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

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

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton and @victimfocus

Detecting the frauds in sexual violence activism 

Detecting the frauds in sexual violence activism
Written by Jessica Eaton

 

Sexual violence, child sexual exploitation, rape, child sexual abuse, ritual abuse, sexual assault and sexual harassment are having their day in the limelight. Kinda.
Where once we had total silence, we now have media coverage. News headlines, TV interviews, specialist documentaries, books, magazine stories, public speakers, social media campaigners and inquiries. Great, right?

Well, not really. I mean, aside from the fact that the news headlines are sensationalist stereotyping of victims, the TV interviews can be pretty dire, the magazine stories are quite frankly disgusting attempts to sexualise abuse and some of the spokespeople for sexual violence are frauds.

This blog is a short guide for victims and survivors, loved ones, professionals and activists to pick out the fakes amongst the people who truly care about ending sexual violence and standing up against rape culture.

These are the top seven characteristics that set my radar off about people who claim to care about sexual violence, abuse and trauma:

 

People who are only concerned about sexual violence perpetrated by one group, or against one group of people

Beware of anyone who is only interested in one group of victims or survivors (or perpetrators). It is really concerning to see that people who hate particular groups of people are able to hide that by pretending that they care about sexual abuse and violence. For example, if someone only ever talks about white victims of sexual abuse and tries to claim there is no evidence of abuse of Black and Asian victims, your alarm bells should be going off. If you feel they accept evidence about the abuse of one group of people but always question it when it comes to another group, that’s not good.

It works the opposite way around too, beware of people or organisations who spend most of their time asking, ‘what about the…?’ (usually men, but occasionally other groups) every time someone tries to have a conversation about another group. An example of this is when women’s organisations campaign about the global oppression of women and receive hundreds of comments and messages ignoring the content of their campaign entirely, calling them misandrists and asking ‘what about men?’ Another example of this which plagues FGM activists are the people who claim to care about FGM, but constantly comment ‘what about circumcision?’

These people are not helping our causes. Whether they only care about the Muslim rapists, only care about the white victims, or spend their time derailing other campaigns to ask us to focus on other groups instead of the ones we are helping – they set my fraud radar off. If they cared about sexual violence, they would care about sexual violence of all perpetrators, all victims, and they would understand that campaigns that are specific to a sex, type or group are not exclusionary or discriminatory.

 

People and organisations who pop up out of nowhere, proclaim to be experts or call themselves ‘thought leaders’

This has been bothering me for a couple of years now and everyone needs to be alert to this problem. More and more companies, organisations and individuals have popped up out of nowhere with no histories, limited or no training, no specialisms and no credibility – but claim to speak for victims or claim to be ‘thought leaders’, ‘experts’ or ‘specialists’.

Some examples, so you know what I mean: the likes of G4S suddenly deciding they were experts in sexual violence and competing for tenders for SARCs and sexual violence support services. Companies with no history setting themselves up as CSE specialist residential units. Individuals reading a book and then writing training on the neuroscience of abuse victims. Companies reading some reports and then advertising themselves as expert consultants in CSE.

An example of this is the sudden influx of so-called experts in ‘county lines’. As far as I am concerned, anyone who even used the term ‘county lines’ seriously, is probably not the expert they claim they are; as ‘county lines’ is a buzzword term for serious criminal exploitation of children and young people and the term hides the harm done to those children. However, in the past year I have seen everything from training companies to drama companies popping up as experts in ‘county lines’ and selling their wares.

Further, look out for conferences and conferencing companies who make a tonne of money from exploiting speakers and survivors to speak for them for free, but charge you £350 a ticket to their conference event about sexual abuse or domestic abuse. These companies have no interest in the topic area whatsoever and when you look at their past events, they choose current issues that they can make big money from and they approach big names to sell lots of tickets whilst convincing the speakers that it is good for the cause or good for their exposure.

 

People who throw oppressed groups under the bus at the first sign of difficulty

Massive red flags. Beware anyone who claims to care about a group of people and then distances from that group as soon as things get difficult or controversial. For example, individuals who claim to support victims of abuse but then wash their hands of them when they say something challenging. Another example is the amount of people claiming to care about the rights of women and girls who dump them and distance themselves from women and girls issues the first time they are challenged about why they ‘don’t care about other groups’.

We all come under pressure in this field. They will be challenged and they are naïve if they think otherwise. They might be asked why they don’t campaign for other groups. Or why they care about your cause so much but not another. But if they throw the cause they claimed to care about so much, right under the bus, at the first time someone challenges their dedication – that tells you all you need to know.

This field requires a firm hand and a steady foot, that once that foot has gone down, it is down. Beware flakey people. Flakey people are useless in this movement, and tend to put their own reputation or kudos above the cause. They will dump the groups or the cause quickly if it means protecting or preserving themselves. Huge red flag.

 

People who claim to care about sexual violence but also use sexual violence, abuse and rape myths to discredit or attack people

Unfortunately, I see more and more of this as time goes on. Professionals do it. Public do it. Allies do it. It’s horrible to see and it never gets easier. Whether it is people working in abuse and trauma calling someone ‘mentally ill’ or a ‘psycho’ – or whether it is someone who claims to care about sexual violence calling a victim or survivor a ‘fantasist’ or ‘liar’; these people set my radar off. I’ve seen professionals distance diagnose survivors and victims as dangerous, mentally ill or unstable. I’ve seen allies make a judgement about whether they think someone is telling the truth about being abused without ever meeting them. They reveal their true colours the second they open their mouths and say something like this. No one who truly cares about victims and survivors of sexual violence would attack victims or survivors, no matter how pissed off they were.

With more and more public cases, I see comments like ‘I really care about sexual abuse but she is clearly a liar’ or ‘When people like this lie about being raped, they make it harder for real victims’. This is particularly true for the people who claim to care about sexual violence and abuse, but then wish rape and abuse on people. No one who cares about sexual violence would ever make remarks like that to anyone. In addition, beware anyone who jokes about rape, claims that certain people could never be raped because of what they look like or uses the word and the concept of rape in a casual way.

 

People who tell their own story of sexual abuse and violence, but attack or discredit others for doing the same thing

There’s way too much of this but I feel it is self-explanatory. Beware anyone who publicly or privately tells of their own sexual traumas, but attacks, discredits or disbelieves someone else for doing the same thing. Massive cognitive dissonance going on there – either that or they are so entitled that they believe they are able to tell their stories or abuse or trauma but no one else’s experiences are as important or as real as their own. Either way. RED FLAG!

 

People who proclaim to believe all victims, except when the perpetrator is someone they like or respect

This one is huge. You will probably know someone who has done this. The ones who claim to care about rape, sexual violence and abuse right up until the moment when their favourite footballer rapes a woman, or their favourite singer abuses babies. The ones who claim they believe all women until their respected politician is accused of sexual harassment. The ones who claim they care about sexual abuse of children until they find out one of their friends or family members is an abuser.

The ones that switch to victim blaming and rape myths the second the perpetrator is revealed as someone they know or like. These people should be raising alarms for you and they have no place in our movements. We all have to accept that the prevalence of sexual violence is very high, and that sex offenders are not the slimy, creepy old guy with the jam jars and the rain mack that stands outside of primary schools looking like the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. However, lots of people are not ready to support victims when the perpetrator is someone they respect or like, and that my friends, is a big problem.

(And that’s me speaking as someone who found out last year that someone I used to respect and like had filmed himself raping his own infant children and put it on the internet. I can’t just pretend he didn’t do it. I can’t convince myself that he’s a ‘nice guy who made a mistake.’)

 

People who get off on seeing themselves as a rescuer of oppressed or traumatised groups

 

These people don’t just raise my alarm bells, they make me shiver. I think you will know the ones I mean. The ones who seem to revel in the misery of others and see themselves as the fixer and rescuer of oppressed or traumatised people. They tell stories in which they are the hero. They give speeches or write blogs in which they solved all of someone’s problems by giving them advice or listening to them. They see themselves as the perfect ally and tell everyone else to do the same thing. They take photos and videos of themselves helping vulnerable people or traumatised children and claim it is for ‘awareness raising’. They post constant updates about how much their clients and services users love them and tell people that victims and survivors owe their lives to them.

Steer well clear of these people. They are not in our movement for the good of the world or the good of victims and survivors as autonomous, individual human beings – they are there to lap up praise and to feed their own ego.

The most recent person like this that alarmed me was actually working with homeless people. I had noticed that he kept putting up really inappropriate videos and photos of him helping homeless men and it appeared staged. A few weeks later, he put up a photo of a homeless man we support kissing his hand whilst he gave him food – sort of like ‘the hand of god’ image. I was nearly sick. A month or two later, I saw that he had uploaded photos of him and a homeless woman standing on top of her decimated belongings, that had been set on fire in an arson attack. He was posing, really happy and sort of ‘look at me, I rescued this person’ and she was absolutely devastated and looked like she had been crying for hours. The photo was her stood on the burnt wreckage of her tent, all of her clothes and her belongings from a refuge. I reported this person but nothing has been done.

Keep away from anyone who gives you the uneasy feeling that they are doing their work with victims and survivors to feed their own sense of importance or in an attempt to heal their own traumas by working directly with victims and survivors of trauma. Go with your gut and trust yourself.

 

Final thoughts

People who work in sexual violence, abuse or trauma are not all saints. We are all humans. Some of us are here for one reason, some of us are here for another. Some people are undoubtedly here for bad reasons – whether deliberate or not. Some people in our cause will do great harm to others – and to the cause. Some people are actually not remotely interested in the rights or wellbeing of victims and survivors. Just because someone shouts loud and claims to care about victims of abuse and violence does not mean they do when push comes to shove.

All that glitters is not gold.

 

Jessica Eaton

 6th October 2018

Visit her website: http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet about this blog: @JessicaE13Eaton