Women: How to be the perfect victim of sexual violence

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

Written by Jessica Eaton

03/02/2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And frankly, that narrative sickens me.

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

The perfect sexual violence victim:

⁃ Young, single, innocent female

⁃ Not from particular backgrounds

⁃ White

⁃ No criminal record

⁃ Not intoxicated

⁃ Doesn’t know the offender

⁃ Not wearing provocative clothing

⁃ Not sexually active

⁃ Never reported rape before

⁃ Tried to fight off the offender

⁃ Reported straight away to police

⁃ Had DNA evidence to provide

⁃ Had physical injuries from attack

⁃ Offender used extreme violence

⁃ Offender used a weapon

⁃ Offender is male or in a group

⁃ Situation was unfamiliar

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

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

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

So why is all of this so important?

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

In 2016, I interviewed Sasha*.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She said to me:

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

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

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

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

Written by Jessica Eaton

Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

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

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

Written by Jessica Eaton

17th January 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case Study 1: Dina

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

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

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

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

Case Study 2: Rachel

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

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

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

Case Study 3: Lisa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do I advise them?

Well, it’s simple really:

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

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

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

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

Jessica Eaton 

http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

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

What if our parenting tactics are mirroring abuser tactics?

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

Jessica Eaton

17/12/2018

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

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

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

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

Know what else is common?

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

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

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

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

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

Are we normalising abusive relationships in our parenting?

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

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

Physical assault and violence

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

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

Shouting at children

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

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

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

Name calling

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

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

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

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

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

Threats: empty and real

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rewarding children when they do what you want

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

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

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

Child of 8 years old who hates vegetables

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

Child of 12 years old who is being groomed

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

Child of 14 years old who is being groomed

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

See how it’s exactly the same?

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

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

Final thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jessica Eaton

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

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

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

2018: My year in review video is here

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

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

25th November 2018

Jessica Eaton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah. I know. Depressing, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, the point I am making is this:

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

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

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

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

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

Uhuh. Hell no.

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

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

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

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

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

Weird, huh?

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

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

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

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

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

Nah fuck that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jessica Eaton

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

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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