Why I don’t want women to become ‘equal to men’

Written by Jessica Eaton

04 August 2018

 

We need to stop saying that women want to be equal to men – or that we are striving for women to be seen as the ‘same as men in society’.

 

After many a frustrating conversation with people who have somehow managed to mix up egalitarianism, equalism and feminism, this blog feels timely.

There’s only so many times we should have to explain that feminism is NOT a movement to make women equal to men. Feminism undoubtedly means different things to different people, but can we stop watering it down now? The dumbing down of feminism has gone too far in the third wave. I have heard feminism defined as everything from ‘the belief that all people are equal’ to ‘feminists believe that women should be the same as men in society.’ What? Nah.

Feminism is not ‘for the equality of all people’. Feminism is not ‘the belief that women should be treated the same as men.’ Feminism is not ‘the movement to make women equal to men in society.’ Feminism is not equalism.

Feminism is the liberation of women and girls all over the world from the patriarchy and misogyny that continues to harm and oppress them as a class of people. Feminism centres women unflinchingly and unapologetically. Feminism is the conversation about women’s issues in the world; without having to add some tokenistic sentence at the end acknowledging that men also experience some things too. Yah, we know. But we are talking about women right now, so hush.

The problem with saying that we are working towards women becoming equal to men is that it frames men and male cultures as being the optimum culture or the ideal goal that women should reach to become equal.

I’m here to say: what a crock of shit.

For women to be valid, whole human beings in society – feminism has got to move beyond this notion that women are striving for what men already have. I don’t want anything men already have. None of it. It’s a mess.

If we take modern men and male experiences as the ‘goal’ level for women to achieve in personal life and society, what would success look like?

  • Would success mean that women’s suicide rates rise to the same levels as the male suicide rate because as women reach ‘equality’ they must follow the patriarchal value of eradicating ‘feminine’ emotions and expressions, including talking about their feelings and seeking help?

 

  • Would success mean that women’s cancer mortality rates rise to the same rates as men because as women finally reach the almighty peak of maleness, they also stop seeking help for medical issues because of embarrassment, and just like men do now; they begin waiting until a health problem has become unbearable before they seek help, meaning cancer has usually spread and is more complex to treat?

 

  • Would success mean that women significantly increase their rates of violent crime and interpersonal violence to match that of men around the world?

 

  • Would success mean that women increase their murders of their partners and ex partners by at least 200% to match the rates of women killed by male partners and ex partners each year?

 

  • Would success mean that women increase their rates of sexual violence, trafficking and exploitation of men and boys at an unprecedented rate never before seen in history to achieve ‘equality with men’?

 

  • Would success mean that women become the most likely group to die in gun and knife violence with other women all over the world?

 

  • Would success mean that women working in aid roles begin abusing, sexually assaulting and sexually exploiting boys in deprived areas to match the male role model we currently have?

 

  • Would success mean women in power developing regimes in which baby boys were murdered or aborted because no one wanted a son?

 

  • Would success mean that women must begin carrying out many more terrorist acts and mass murders all over the world, especially school shootings – to claim equality with the men?

 

Is this what we mean by ‘feminism is the movement to make women equal to men’? Or when we say this, do we just mean the ‘good’ bits like higher salaries and more power in society?

It’s not. This is the stuff of nightmares. No one wants this. Even people who claim to hate feminism and claim that women should be equal to men in all arenas don’t REALLY want to see this level of sex equality. No one wants this in the world. No one wants women to step up to match what men already have.

I don’t think we’ve thought through this whole ‘we want women to be equal to men’ thing. I don’t think we have realised that we have framed male issues and experiences as the goal we are all supposedly striving for, and what that would actually mean for us all. All sorts of people hark on about how women finally being ‘the same as men’ in society would mean that we were respected, paid higher wages and would be safer. It’s bollocks.

The reality is, we cannot assume that what men in have society is the standard we should be striving for as women. Men are miserable and harmed daily by the patriarchy – they just haven’t figured it out yet. Men’s rights activists kick off on twitter about male suicide rates but don’t look into the way male gender role stereotypes they support; are harming them every day. Campaigns argue that men and boys are also victims of rape and that is absolutely true – but do not admit that the vast majority of perpetrators of those crimes are men. Activists argue that men are significantly more likely to be killed in violence than women which is also correct – but the fact that more than 97% of violence and murders are committed by men seems to escape them. I’ve even seen campaigns from men’s rights activists arguing that family courts are biased against fathers and men – and there is some truth in that claim – but to them I say this:

The laws about family court weren’t written by women. The legislation about children remaining with their mothers was not signed off by women. The majority of all judges are men. Legislators were men. Policymakers were men. The research that the majority of family court attachment and bonding theory was based on came from JOHN Bowlby. A man. A lot of the legislation and policies were developed in a time where men were the breadwinners and women were the childrearers. It made sense to the men in power that women should take care of the babies and men should go out and do important man things. Nowadays, MRAs are positioning that as ‘reverse sexism’ – but actually, its a legacy from the patriarchy. The assumption that you wouldn’t want to play an active part in your kids’ lives, dreamt up, supported by, signed off by and judged by your fellow patriarchal family court judge. Think about it. Women were not in influential positions at the time these systems were being developed. Women did not orchestrate these patriarchal systems. Men did.

All of the things wrong with society at present (and all of the things that even MRAs hate about society), were created by, funded by, legislated by, demanded by, invented by and sold by men. Therefore, why should feminism support a movement of women ‘becoming equal to men’? In fact, why should we be using male experience and cultures around the world as a blueprint at all?

There is something important to be said here. Feminism is the movement towards liberation of women and girls from the oppression and control of the patriarchy – but actually, the real change will come for the world when we rise up and dismantle the patriarchy together. The destruction of patriarchal and misogynistic values benefits everyone.

As a woman who is proudly radical feminist, is a specialist in the psychology of sexual violence against women and girls – but is also the Chair and Founder of the first male mental health and wellbeing centre in the UK, serving around 150 men per month – I can see that the patriarchy is killing all of us.

Men come into our centre having been abused, neglected, sexually exploited, having suffered with mental health issues and lived in misery for decades and they sit in front of us and say ‘I thought I should just shut up and put up – be a real man and not ask for help.’ Men so harmed by gender role stereotypes that they cry in therapy and then apologise for crying because it means they are not a ‘real man’.

The best way I have found to explain it to people is that the patriarchy harms men, but oppresses women. Often times, men hear us talk about the patriarchy oppressing, killing and dehumanising women – and when we say ‘patriarchy’ they hear ‘all men’. Hence the annoying phrase NAMALT (not all men are like that!).

My view, is that if men could detach themselves from the patriarchy and see how it harms them and makes them miserable, they would stop fighting against feminism as a movement. However, and this is important, it does mean that we have to actively challenge the warped current wave of liberal feminism which oftentimes completely contradicts itself and props up the patriarchy in a number of concerning ways. Not least by claiming that these gender role stereotypes are real, innate qualities and not social constructs that harm us all.

To explain how the patriarchal values of our world harm men and women, I’ve made this handy table:

(You can zoom in on this image if it displays too small)

2018-08-04

The point is this:

Men are not the blueprint.

The current epidemic of male violence cannot be the standard we all strive for. Men are coerced into, are propping up and are being harmed by patriarchal values. They don’t have it right. We should not be trying to emulate that. We should not be striving to become equal with men in their patriarchal misery – we should be challenging and dismantling the patriarchy and its global values until we can revolt.

True change in the world will only come with revolution. Revolution is not possible if we perceive male privilege and male experience as the ‘goal’ women should be working towards in the world. We don’t want to be the ‘same as men’. Why would be want to replicate a broken system? Why would we work towards total misery and increased violence?

I don’t know about you, but my vision for women is not that we become more violent, more misogynistic, more miserable, less able to speak about our emotions, less able to seek help, more likely to bully each other for ‘feminine traits’ and so confused that we begin celebrating the same toxic masculinity that is harming us every day.

That’s not my feminism. That’s not my vision for us all.

Imagine for a second, if we did dismantle the patriarchal beliefs and cultures centuries of male power have created for us. A world where men can show their emotions without worrying that someone will call them the ultimate insult: a woman. A society where women are not objectified as sex toys to be used up and thrown away when they get older or imperfect. A world in which teenage boys are not having to visit therapists and doctors about their erectile dysfunction and addiction to porn. A society in which rape isn’t a constant threat to women and girls all over the world – and a joke told about men in prison. A life in which men can participate and enjoy parenthood in equality with the mothers of their children because they believe their role is just as important. A workplace where a pregnant woman isn’t managed out of her job because she is perceived as unreliable – but where a man whose wife is pregnant is promoted for becoming a ‘responsible family man’. A world where women can become the main breadwinners and not make men feel insecure about it. A community where men can stay at home with the kids admiring the tenacity of the mother of his kids who rakes in the cash in a job she loves.

A world where the patriarchy no longer controls women, kills female babies because they were unwanted, hacks off vulva and clitoris of women, revels in porn, excuses everything with rape myths, positions ‘woman’ as the ultimate insult to men, sells women’s bodies and denies women the right to healthcare and advice about their own reproductive systems.

True feminism is revolution. Feminism is the liberation of women from the values and systems of the patriarchy. Feminism is the movement to challenge and dismantle the patriarchy, raising new generations of humans that do not fall into the same tropes we have. Feminism is not about centring men in our discussions or our events – but feminism will inevitably support men to be healthier and happier.

I don’t want to be ‘equal to men’. I want to rip up the blueprint and smash up the patriarchy and start again with our new generations. I want us all to take a step back, breathe and realise that the patriarchy harms all of us, and claiming that feminism is about women working towards being ‘the same as men’ in society is us moving in the wrong direction. And yet, the patriarchy in power are scared of women becoming more networked and more influential – because they know it will dilute the power of the patriarch.

With all the harm done to men by the patriarchy, I find myself asking men – what are you clinging on to it for? What is it about feminism that scares you? What is it about femininity that makes you feel so insecure? What do you stand to lose if we one day break down the patriarchal powers in the world?

Once we can answer those questions honestly and with integrity, we can take the first steps to breaking down the patriarchy and the patriarchal values, myths and messages being communicated all over the world.

 

Written by Jessica Eaton

Founder of VictimFocus http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet @JessicaE13Eaton

Email Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

I’m leading the heathen uprising – Jessica Eaton 

Written by Jessica Eaton 

21 June 2018 

 

I’m leading the heathen uprising

We’re the kids with a solution

Our experiences are synchronising

Come join my revolution

 

The underclass can be the thunderclass

Come make a noise with me

 

I’m influencing our women and girls

We’re the females with a voice

Time to shake up and show the world

My revolution is no longer a choice

 

The pussyclass can be the pushyclass

Come get aggressive with me

 

I’m corrupting the corrupt system

We are the motormouth youth

We all know why you missed them

My revolution knows the truth

 

The youngerclass can be the hungerclass

Come get food for thought with me

 

I’m bringing them from the estates

We are demanding back control

We won’t fall for your news clickbaits

My revolution is for the prole

 

The nowhereclass can be the fanfareclass

Come write a symphony with me

 

I’m shouting louder for the survivors

We’re the ones that they call broken

We support him and revive her

My revolution is outspoken

 

The silencedclass can be the diamondclass

Come shine your light with me

 

I’m leading the heathen uprising

We’re the millions with the solution

No more compromising

We need a revolution

Come join my revolution

Become the revolution

***

I wrote this in a few minutes this morning whilst thinking about the way I can be perceived and written about. I was also thinking about how the masses are positioned as powerless against dominant narratives and ideologies. The way they are silenced and the way they are minimised because their perspectives are not valued. The way their community leaders are discounted as ‘not real leaders’.

I’m me. I know myself and I know who I am, what I am, how I am and why I am. I love myself through and through – and that’s no mean feat. I couldn’t have said that to you a few years back, when I was doubting myself and wondering who I was and where my life would end up. But the more confident I got in who I was and what I am here to do, the more problems people had with me. It made me realise that they preferred me when I was less sure of myself. They preferred me when I kept my words in my mouth. They preferred me when I second-guessed myself and assumed everyone else could do a better job than me. They preferred me when I avoided the difficult points because it made their life easier. They preferred me when I wrote an essay fourteen times and then deleted it because I told myself I would never be good enough.

In the words of one of my radfem friends, I have had ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ thrown at me to try to shut me up. I actually can’t think of something that has not been said about me yet. All the normal sexist shit a vocal woman would get. Plus some other personal stuff when they had ran out of ammo.

‘You’re too critical, you need to be nicer.’

‘If you challenge people, you won’t have any friends left.’

‘You’re aggressive and nasty.’

‘You’re fat/ugly/disgusting/you’re hair is shit/*insert appearance based insult here*’

‘You’re common.’

‘You need to learn to be more diplomatic.’

‘You lie about your career experience, you’re only 27, you cannot have done those things.’

‘You’re not good enough to do this.’

‘You are a know it all.’

‘You don’t even have your PhD yet, you shouldn’t be giving speeches.’

‘You are emotionally unstable.’

‘You’re proud that you’re from a council estate.’

‘You bring the field into disrepute by talking about your real life.’

‘You can’t challenge police and authorities as an academic, you have to do it behind closed doors.’

‘Activism and academia don’t mix.’

‘You’re covered in tattoos.’

‘You swear too much to be a professional.’

‘She was raped as a child and had a baby, so she can’t be a good professional.’

I’ve literally heard it all. And you know what? All this says much more about them than it does about me. You know what else? 30,000 readers of this blog a month and 11,000 followers on twitter, thousands of views on YouTube and over 1800 followers on facebook with thousands of downloads of my reports every year and a diary that means I am fully booked until next year means I’m doing something right.

I don’t have to conform to be a good leader or role model. I don’t have to be a smiley, pretty, well-dressed, clear-skinned, diplomatic, well-spoken, perfect-history fucking automaton to make a good point about a social issue. I don’t need to be all of those things to know the solution to a problem. I don’t need to be an academic poster-child chasing a postdoc to be an expert in my own right.

This point is important to me and important to the poem. To have your point heard, you have to be a certain kind of person in our messed up world. You can’t be young. You can’t be black. You can’t be female. You can’t be from an ethnic minority group. You can’t have mental health issues or trauma histories. You can’t be disabled. You can’t be gay or lesbian and bi. You can’t be a survivor. You can’t be poor. You can’t be an immigrant. You can’t be too old either. In fact, as long as you aren’t one of those things, you can pretty much say and do what the fuck you like without much judgement. But if you do rise up and talk or act – and you are one or many of those things, you will be judged on those characteristics, and not what you say or do. We have powerful rich white men and women in power who can do and say whatever they like, then turn on a sixpence, then lie about it or deny it, then pay someone to make it all go away with a news story scandal that will distract the masses from what they said or did.

We cannot allow this to continue. We must create a society where diverse voices are heard and what they say is not equated to their characteristics or experiences. ‘Oh you’re just saying that because you’re lesbian.’ ‘Oh you only raise this point because you’re black.’ ‘You are only doing this because you’re on benefits.’ Every time we do this, we minimise the power of the masses. This in-fighting leads us nowhere.

The poem talks about groups of people in poverty, our youth generation, our women and girls, our huge population of adults and children who have suffered abuse and neglect and our communities in deprived areas with less opportunity. Those groups are not exclusive.

There is a quote I love which says ‘the people don’t know their true power’

Image result for the people dont know their true power

And the reason I love it so much is because it is true. It reminds me that if we were ever organised and strong enough to turn our backs on certain ideologies, narratives, systems, governments, organisations or individuals – they would have no power left. At present, the people are effectively controlled, oppressed, minimised, silenced, humiliated, stigmatised and divided to ensure that they never work together to rise up and change their own world. Whilst they are busy in-fighting, they can’t organise.

We know that people are being oppressed. We know that families are relying on foodbanks. We know that women and girls are being raped. We know that the youth are being demonised and failed by us. We know that academia and access to higher education is becoming more and more elite. We know that the right wing media position people on benefits as lazy and useless in society. We know that hatred of immigrants and ethnic minority groups is deliberately spread in the media. We know that the working classes are being convinced that they are ‘middle class’ so they don’t identify with those people who are struggling. We know that our institutions and our authorities are racist and classist. We know that ‘working hard’ is not enough. We know that our society is based on a hierarchy where white rich men are the winners at every event.

But what do we do about it?

The internet has given us the platform to revolt, to campaign, to protest, to get involved in activism. Right now, our media use is becoming more and more monitored and policed. It is likely that we will eventually move towards models used in other countries where the internet and electronic communication is heavily policed and censored.

Before that happens, we need to work together to change what we don’t like. We have to call out the truth. We have to support the whistleblowers. We have to lift each other up in challenge. We have to allow space for the controversial points. We have to have the difficult arguments. We have to organise together. We have to empower our youth. We have to uncover our hidden communities and give them a platform. We have to teach others to become media-critical. We have to hold abusers to account. We have to demand our human rights are observed.

Embrace your unconventional leaders in your own lives and fields of work. Who inspires you to become better? Who inspires you to revolt? Who makes you feel capable of change? Who empowers you to change something that bothers you? Who makes you rethink your whole position? Who makes you feel worth something more?

Those are your true leaders.

Comparing men & women: Who gets photoshopped the most? 

Written by Jessica Eaton | VictimFocus | 08/05/2018

Whataboutery is alive and kicking. You know that, I know that – I wrote a whole blog about whataboutery when we attempt to talk about women’s issues. Read by over 500,000 people, it’s one of my most successful blogs and is still being read around 1000 times a day. People clearly resonate with the observations I made that when we talk about issues affecting women, the ‘what about men?’ and ‘this issue affects men just as much as women!’ comments come out in full force.

The issue with this is that it attempts to create a gender neutral explanation for women’s issues. Sometimes it even attempts to transform sex-based oppression of women into a men’s issue.

Even when we know that a social issue or form of discrimination disproportionately affects women more than men, there are deliberate attempts to move this issue away from women and make it about ‘people’ (men and women). This ignores misogyny, patriarchy and the extra pressures on women and girls to conform to the strict gender role norm they are supposed to perform every day.

One of the examples of women’s issues that frequently receive ‘whataboutery’ is body image and sexualisation of women in the media. I remember posting about the way women are hypersexualised and photoshopped in the media and receiving hundreds of comments (and abuse cos, you know, female on the internet). All of the shitty comments were men telling me that men were also hypersexualised and photoshopped in the media and that the pressure to have a perfect body was as severe as it is for women.

I thought about what I call the ‘hench movement’ which is this recent obsession with men becoming as muscly, ripped and massive as possible. I thought – ‘maybe the guys sending me these comments are right’ (obviously they could have made their point without the abuse but heyho). I started to think that maybe the pressure on women had spread to men – and not content with mind-fucking 51% of the population for decades to make money; the media, fashion and beauty industry had finally gone after the other 49% of the market.

Maybe men were being photoshopped and hypersexualised just as much as women these days? 

That’s why today, I was so intrigued to find a new social media experiment in which a group of researchers sent a photo of an average guy to contacts all over the world and asked them to photoshop him into the perfect male body. I was even more intrigued by this because around two years ago, the same experiment was done with the picture of a woman. The results of the experiment with the picture of the woman were pretty depressing and I instantly clicked on the link to see what the world had done with the picture of the man this year.

I was surprised with what I found, so I have compiled the results here from BOTH experiments to show the ideal body of both men and women all over the world – and how much more sexualised and photoshopped the women are when directly compared to the men.

The results finally put to bed the argument that body image pressure, hypersexualisation and photoshopping is as bad for men as it is for women. It doesn’t just put it to bed, it destroys this myth.

Here is the original image of the woman and the man

img_4772

Key differences for the woman: 

The woman is made significantly (sometimes fatally) thinner in every single photo except one. I mean seriously, some of them are really really really thin.

img_4773
The woman is made much more sexualised than the man in every single photo – some people didn’t even like her white underwear and gave her some sexier lingerie. Interestingly, the man’s underwear was not changed at all except for in Bangladesh where they changed it to more traditional wear. No one put him in speedos or thongs. Shoes were also altered for the women – to make them sexier. No one put any shoes on the man.

img_4774
The legs of the woman are made longer and thinner in almost every image – whilst the legs of the man are left alone.

The arms of the woman are made thinner in almost every image – whilst the arms of the man remain the same in all but 4 images, in which case they are made bigger.

The body ideals of the woman are so much less obtainable than those of the man in almost every photo – I mean, to get a body like some of these female images, you would need so much cosmetic surgery and body sculpting…

img_4756

The woman has her breasts and cleavage made bigger in every single photo – Uhuh. Not a surprise exactly. What interests me about this is that big breasts are clearly from porn culture – something evident all over the world. Some countries only made her breasts slightly bigger but no one made them smaller.

img_4758
The woman has a new thigh gap in every photo but one – and some thigh gaps are terrifyingly big. None of the men were given a thigh gap, although you could argue that was because of his pose.

img_4767
Key differences for the man:

The man’s body is almost left as original in over half of the images, in some images I had to look really closely to see what differences had been made

img_4775

Clearly, having a six pack and looking like action man is NOT the standard body ideal for men around the world, with only 4 countries selecting this as an ideal body.
The man is left with an overhanging belly in 6 of the images, something absolutely not permitted in the images of the woman. The woman is brutally made thinner but the man is allowed an untoned stomach in just under half of the images.

img_4741
The man is allowed body hair, which will come as no surprise to anyone. Only one country removed the body hair from the image of the man – US. Who interestingly were one of the only countries to change his hair and give him a six pack.

img_4750

The hair of the man just doesn’t seem to be an issue for most countries, who left his hair alone. In contrast to the image of the woman, which had the hair changed in 83% of the images. None of the images of women made her hair cropped or shorter in anyway.

bangladesh guy


What can this comparison teach us?



Photoshopping and hypersexualisation of women’s bodies around the world is savage.

Photoshopping and hypersexualisation of men’s bodies around the world definitely happens but nowhere near the level of women. Even when explicitly instructed to photoshop the bodies of the man and the woman to make the ‘perfect body’ – much less was altered on the man. Based on these images from these two studies, I would argue that in a lot of cases it’s much more sympathetic and realistic than what is done to women’s images.

The man was mostly allowed to keep body hair, body fat, his own underwear, his own hair, his own arms and his own legs. The woman was brutally photoshopped until unrecognisable in most countries.

The argument that photoshopping and hypersexualisation of men’s bodies is ‘just as bad’ as women is pretty much debunked here. It’s time to stop this neutralisation of women’s issues in society. Men have lots of sex-specific social issues and we need to talk about them – but trying to make women’s issues gender-neutral or even male-centric is not the way forward.

Please use these images and blogs like this one to start media critical conversations with children and young people. We have to build critical thinking and media critical views into younger generations to ensure they understand how unrealistic and harmful body ideals are.

For the original images and studies please click here for the female study: 

https://petapixel.com/2015/08/15/one-woman-photoshopped-by-18-countries-beauty-standards-revealed/

And here for the Male study: 

http://www.dailyfeed.co.uk/2018/04/this-guy-had-his-body-photoshopped-in-16-countries-to-show-the-global-beauty-standards/?utm_source=VT&utm_medium=Facebook&utm_campaign=photoshoppedman1joeukheaderbidding

 

Written by Jessica Eaton

Tweet: @jessicae13eaton

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

7 lessons from a year of fighting victim blaming in sexual violence

Content Warning for discussion of sexual violence, abuse and victim blaming.

Written by Jessica Eaton | VictimFocus | Tweet @JessicaE13Eaton

So today marks the end of my first financial year in business with VictimFocus. Just over a year ago, I resigned from my full time job and decided to take on victim blaming and poor practice in sexual violence, alone. In a way, I took on a real complex mixture of work. I work at the sensitive intersection of forensic psychology, radical feminism, anti-psychiatry and children’s rights.  I am a researcher, a writer, a speaker, a student, an activist and an individual – which is already complicated enough without being a young female striking out on her own. Being a female in business or leadership presents unique challenges, whether you are a hairdresser or an accountant. But what happens when you’re under 30 years old, female and starting up a business with the sole purpose of challenging systemic oppression, blame and harm?

I’ll tell you what happens: A lot of good and a lot of bad.

I am going to share some key lessons I have learned from the last 12 months in business, activism, feminism, social media and research.

  1. Victim blaming is very ‘in’ right now 

One of the reasons I decided to create VictimFocus and to dedicate my career and my PhD to understanding and reducing victim blaming is because I already knew that it was very common. Years of working in the criminal justice system and then rape centres in the UK had taught me that it didn’t really matter whether the victim was a 9 year old girl or a 90 year old man, they were all blamed and they all had some issues around self-blame.

However, being able to spend an entire year dedicated only to victim blaming, on top of the three years I have spent doing the PhD meant that victim blaming was not only appearing to me as ‘common’ but it was beginning to appear as all encompassing. Not just that, but, dare I say it, quite fashionable. The mass media run headlines that say ‘Woman drank 10 jagerbombs on the night she was raped and murdered’, daytime TV run public polls asking ‘Can a woman be to blame for rape?’ and social media is filled with threads, articles and groups that blame, hate and ridicule victims of sexual violence. In 2017, The Fawcett Society found that 34% of women and 38% of men felt that a woman who was raped was completely or partially to blame for what happened to her. However, it is probably higher. Especially considering we have to consider the level of SDR (socially desirable responses) will be in that data, in which people have given the answers they *know* they should say.

Victim blaming is in the movement pushing women to take self defence classes to fight off a rapist. It’s in the new concealed weapons in jewellery and bracelets for joggers. It’s in the anti-rape knickers being sold on the internet. It’s in the police posters telling women not to drink too much over an image of an unconscious woman with her knickers around her ankles. It’s in the hundreds of episodes of NCIS in which 100% of episodes in the first 10 seasons, blamed the victim of sexual violence (Magestro, 2015). It’s in the field of CSE, in which children are shown films of children being raped and murdered as a ‘preventative measure’ so the children will learn to ‘spot the signs’ and ‘reduce abuse’. It’s in the courts, where we allow defence barristers to rip destroy victims in front of the jury and the gallery, asking them whether they wanted it, whether they enjoyed it, what they were wearing, why they didn’t tell anyone and whether they are doing this for compensation or lawsuits. It’s in the children’s courts, where children who have been sexually exploited are being removed from safe families and placed hundreds of miles from home instead of us tackling the offenders. It’s in academia, where we search endlessly for characteristics and life experiences that we think ’cause’ sexual offenders to target and rape their victims. It’s in the medical model of mental health, in which we tell women and girls who have been raped and abused that they have personality disorders.

We have a serious, global problem here. Victim blaming changes perceptions of child and adult victims which change the tone and outcomes of media reporting, interventions, therapeutic support, family support, justice, reporting rates and a whole host of things.

        2. Victim blaming is not getting less common, it’s getting more acceptable 

This one is a very important lesson to learn, because it means we won’t get swept along with the ‘We are so much better than we used to be’ crowd. I remember reading some research at the beginning of my PhD that said that victim blaming and rape myth acceptance was reducing and had already reduced significantly. What I read didn’t ring true. Maybe for that sample, or that study – but out here in the real world, it didn’t seem to be reducing at all. However, I did say to my supervisor: “I think victim blaming is just evolving. People are getting savvy to these psychometric measures and studies.” They know they are not supposed to answer ‘strongly agree’ to ‘Women who wear slutty clothes deserve to get raped’. They know that. But when you give people scenarios, media cuttings, vignettes or case studies, victim blaming doesn’t reduce at all. In fact, it is frequent. (See McMahon & Farmer, 2010 for a great review of this).

What I have learned this year is that the language of professionals and the public is evolving to become more socially acceptable, but their blaming isn’t reducing.

Handy victim-blaming swap table

2018-03-30 (1)

See what I mean? Victim blaming is not reducing, its just getting more socially acceptable and more palatable to hear. Victim blaming is being re-framed as concern for the individual’s behaviours. Where there was once insulting accusations and crass words, there is now arguments about how the victim should take responsibility for their own safety. This applies to children as well as adults at the moment – something I am changing.

I have a great example from the Stuebenville Case, too. A comment was made to the press that the 12 year old victim ‘should have known’ she would be raped and questioned ‘why she was hanging around with older boys anyway’. There were also some other comments about her ‘looking older than 12’ before going on to say that they hope she can learn from this mistake and change her behaviours in future. This type of victim blaming is now extremely common and I am seeing it on a daily basis.

It doesn’t matter that it sounds nicer. It is still blaming victims of sexual violence for sexual violence. It still erases the actions and decisions of the offender.

     3. Challenging victim blaming gets mixed, but strong responses 

Ha. That might be an understatement. Those of you who have heard me speak or have worked with me know that I often joke that I am the official National Pain in the Arse. I have learned this year that some people are ready for my work and some people wish I would just fuck off and live in a cave with no access to civilisation or technology. I’m not talking about trolls on twitter or the guys that send me pictures of their dicks (that has it’s own special section under number five). I am talking about professionals in my field. I am talking about people who are actively working in psychology and child abuse. People who listen to my arguments and then twist them into Strawman responses so they don’t have to reflect on the mistakes we have made over the years.

I often say to my friends that when I set off on this journey 12 months ago, I was very naive. I genuinely thought that if I said ‘this resource blames children, we need to change it’ or if I said ‘this assessment actually places the responsibility of being abused on the victim’ – that professionals and organisations in the field would care about that, and then change their practice to make sure they were not doing any further harm to victims of sexual violence. Sadly, this has not been my experience.

However, that said, the few voices who attempt to fight against my movement and my work are drowned out by the hundreds of thousands of people who read this blog and the tens of thousands who follow and engage with me on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and … real life. The last year has taught me that the majority of the field is absolutely ready for a revolution against victim blaming. Practitioners on the front line are sick of children, women and men being blamed for being raped and abused. Professionals are tired of their client’s cases being NFA’d because they had a drink, were wearing a playsuit or because they have a learning disability. Activists are disgusted with the victim blaming in the media. Workers are horrified that they might have caused harm by using victim-blaming CSE films with children. The field has embraced my work in a way I never thought possible.

Huge decisions have been made because of my work this year – companies, charities, local authorities, individuals, universities, students, volunteers, families – they have all made decisions to change their responses to sexual violence and abuse and contacted me to discuss it.

     4. Authenticity and integrity is vital in activism and feminism 

This year has seen a real attack on feminism – and on females. This year has also seen my own work attacked and criticised with no real counter-arguments. Not just my work, but my character, my appearance, my own life history and my personal circumstances have been relentlessly attacked by so-called ‘professionals’ in my own field. This year has resulted in the sacking and no-platforming of brilliant females in politics, science, education and writing.

This year in business and in activism as a feminist and as role model, has taught me that authenticity and integrity to who I am and what I stand for is the most important value I have. Authenticity is really important to me.

At some point, I had to make a decision as to whether I hid who I truly was, my life history and my experiences – and presented myself as this uber-professional speaker and writer who knows her stuff – or whether I paid homage to my roots and who I really am and what I have really experienced.

After much deliberation and worrying, I decided that I should be proud of who I am and where I come from. I should be proud of every swear and every scar. Thousands of people relate to me because they can communicate with me. Some people don’t like me being authentic and talking openly about stuff – but I don’t particularly care what they think. Live authentically or not at all. I have a responsibility to be a role model to tens of thousands of people now – and I will not spend that time faking who I am and trying to escape my roots to appear to be ‘better’.

This year, I began to love my roots more. I spent years trying to escape the clutches of poverty, teen pregnancy, drugs, violence, abuse, harm and stigma from the council estate. Now, I realise it is my biggest asset. I began to love my working class roots this year. I love every swear word that comes out of my mouth. I love every word I mispronounce. I love every tattoo on my body. I love the fear I get when a police car drives up my street. I love the values and experiences because they have given me the exact foundation I need to be a brilliant psychologist and activist.

I learned this year that standing up for what you believe in can be a fucking nightmare sometimes, but integrity has to be rock solid to achieve change when it comes to oppression and harm in society. I learned that my commissioners and my followers can see my integrity and can hear my authenticity and that is why this movement is working. I would like to also take this opportunity to show my solidarity with the women in the radical feminism movements who are standing up and speaking truth to power. Love you.

      5. Social media is a cruel mistress

Aye social media has nearly done me in this year. The upshot of people joining a movement and feeling your work is that thousands and thousands of strangers contact you every single day. I get around 54.5k impressions on my twitter alone per day. I get over 30k readers of this blog every month. I get around 250 emails a day to my email inbox and probably another 100 per day to my social media pages.

Challenging victim blaming of women and girls gets me some serious shit on social media. I went through a period of time where I was getting rape and death threats every day. Dick pics every day. A guy sent me gifs of a woman being beaten and raped. Another guy sent me gifs of porn from different sock accounts. Someone put all my contact details on an MRA forum and I was inundated with messages on every platform telling me that I was ugly, fat, disgusting, evil – everything you can think of from MRAs telling me that they would rape me to make me less gay (I’m not gay) right the way through to the MRAs sending me pictures of myself where they had cut my head off and said that that was the only way they were able to rape me because my face was ruining their hard on.

My block and mute list is like a fucking census.

This year I really did see a side of humanity I have never seen before. I knew people could be vile because I had seen it happen to celebrities like Lily Allen – but I had never experienced it. It has made me really quite careful on social media now. I don’t announce where I will be speaking anymore and I don’t tag exactly where I am. I tweet where I have been once I have left. So instead of saying ‘Today I am at London Met teaching about victim blaming’ I say ‘Great day at London Met today, teaching about victim blaming’ and wait until I have left to say anything.

Sad to have to think about things like that. I dunno how celebs with millions of followers cope.

However, social media has also been absolutely amazing for my campaigns, my business, my book and for meeting brilliant people from all over the world. I am going to USA this year to lecture on psychology of victim blaming – the commissioner found me on social media. I have also been invited to keynotes, projects, boards and contracts from people who have followed me first on social media.

I have met and spoken to incredible people on social media this year and their brilliance far outshines the shit I have dealt with. Which brings me to my final two points.

     6. Self-care can be really hard 

On paper, I practice excellent self-care. I have massages every fortnight. I have three hours of clinical supervision per month with my amazing supervisor. Shout out to her (I have no idea how she hasn’t kicked me out yet). I also created a beautiful space for myself; a library and an office. I took on staff so I could share the load with someone else. I sleep in late (which sounds great but is really problematic cos… schoolrun). I book holidays where I sit on beaches and do fuck all or go snorkelling with my kids and husband. I am definitely trying to do the whole self-care thing. Most of the time it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

The speed my mind works at, and my work rate is a gift and a curse. I can generally write about 13k words a day and it will be decent first draft quality but would need good editing. I can solve problems quickly. My mind is bursting with ideas – so much so that I have had to learn to keep a separate diary of ideas and plans. That does seem to help.

However, when you have legit plans to take over the world you end up like The Brain from Pinky and The Brain and shit gets a bit wavy sometimes. Especially when you’re just trying to juggle your job, your PhD, your life, your kids, your marriage and then some arsehole sends you a picture of his dick or some jealous idiot tweets relentlessly about you for months.

This year I have learned that this field is amazing and also disturbing. There’s so much good but there is so much bad. Lots of people would prefer me to just report on the good and forget about the bad as if it is inevitable. But it isn’t inevitable. I was accused this year of ‘airing dirty laundry’ of the field on twitter. To that I say – wash ya damn laundry. Better yet, don’t let it get this dirty in the first place. Honestly, it’s like having a conversation with a teenager that keeps stuffing their dirty socks under their bed and then moaning that they don’t have any clean socks – and then when you find their dirty socks they say ‘Why are you snooping around in my room!!?’

 

      7. Support networks are super important

This year has been extra-special for me. The first year I have been in business on my own has been exceptionally successful and next year is almost fully booked now. However, its also been difficult, tiring and stressful.

There is no way I could have got through this year without the support networks I am building. I have such a range of people who support my work and me as an individual. My husband is amazing. That man. Someone give him a fucking medal. He is like Man 2.0 – and that’s coming from a radfem who refuses to celebrate men who do exactly what women do and then get massive praise. Considering I met my husband at a cash point queue in a city neither of us were from, we’ve done alright. I have so much respect for him and he has my back.

My kids are amazing – they are the next generation, so watch out. Even when I’m dead you’ll have two more to deal with. You lucky lot. No rest for the wicked yano.

My friends listen to me talk utter shit for hours to them. I have so many friends in my life, many of which I have met through work or activism but have become women I have on speed dial. Many of you don’t know each other, but I can tell you now that we are the funniest bunch of fuckers I have ever known. Someone needs to give us a TV show. Love you.

I have a huge network of support in the Radfem community and I honestly couldn’t be without you lot. You know who you are. I am so proud to know you and to have you as my friends, you absolute warriors. The strength you give to me is immeasurable.

I also have a wonderful support network in the anti-psychiatry and social-model of mental health communities, who remind me why we are fighting against the labelling and oppression of the working classes. Your work is inspirational and will go down on the right side of history.

Then I have this huge wider following of women and men, professionals and public, students and academics, parents and adult children from all over the world who write to me and talk to me about their work, their ideas, their problems and their aspirations.

This year, I have learned that a support network this strong means that shit can get thrown at me and I will just keep getting back up, sometimes because I am strong enough to do it myself and sometimes because I have the strength of thousands of people when I have all of you behind me.

And sometimes because some of you drag me back kicking and screaming and tell me to sort my shit out. Haha.

Thank you to everyone who has commissioned me, written to me, oublished my words, heard me speak, supported me and loved me in my first year of operation. Bring on next year, eh? This year was for practice.

Written by Jessica Eaton

Tweet: JessicaE13Eaton

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

 

#CSEDay18 Blog – How the field of CSE has changed in the last 12 months and where it’s going next 

Content warning for discussion of child sexual abuse, rape, assault and victim blaming 


Last year I typed out the words ‘The entire field of child sexual exploitation (CSE) is underpinned by victim blaming’ and tweeted it. Like everything that comes out of my brain in this field, some loved it and some didn’t.

For #CSEDay18 – I am writing this blog. It’s for the thousands of people who follow my work and are helping to change the field (Yeah, you rock! Keep fighting!). It’s for the observers and readers who never contact me but read every word I say, go away and have a think (Thank you for reading and thinking!). It’s even for the people who read my blogs and then spend months trying to discredit me and my work (You probably won’t like this blog either).

This blog is about highlighting what has been achieved by encouraging the field to become more self-critical and more evidence based than ever before. Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees but the field has made serious progress in the last 12 months and shit’s starting to get exciting and innovative!
I’m a one-woman-whirlwind because something had to be done. I’m not the type to collude with, or observe bad practice or harm. Some people really like that and some people don’t. It doesn’t really matter if people like it or not. We have to put all that aside – because this is about stopping the blaming of children who are sexually abused and exploited.

So in one year, what has been achieved – and where is this movement going next?

 

1. Influencing the withdrawal of CSE risk assessment toolkits 
I remember how pissed off people were when I started talking about CSE toolkits not working. When I started pointing out that it’s technically impossible for a boy to score as a high as a girl because the tools are female centric and that black and Asian kids are not identified using these tools, based on white teens. When I started saying that the categories made no sense and the indicators were evidence of harm already occurring to the child. However, we are a year on and people are really starting to get behind this now. Everywhere I go in the UK, more and more local authorities and national charities are realising that the tools don’t work – not only do they not actually work as they say they do but they blame children for being sexually exploited, abused, raped and trafficked by adults. Whether it’s ticking a box that says ‘sexualised dress’ as a ‘factor’ for CSE or whether it’s calling a child ‘high risk’ after she’s already been raped – it’s a mess. We have to face it. None of it makes a jot of sense and more and more influential organisations and individuals are spreading the word that we should not be using these tools. Lots of areas are ready to withdraw them for good and I am working with certain senior organisations to help everyone to withdraw them safely.

And loud and clear for the people creating and rolling out these tools with no empirical, independent evaluation – you should know better and you have the money to do better; so do better.

 

2. #nomoreCSEfilms campaign 
That’s right, if I hadn’t pissed off enough people, then I accidentally created the #nomoreCSEfilms campaign (because I didn’t understand how to use hashtags and then everyone else started tweeting it lmfao) which led to hundreds of people writing to me about their experiences of harm from CSE films. Even though I had spent years being totally confused about why anyone would show a film of a child being raped to a child who has been raped, I had never had the chance to safely ask children about it. Plenty of professionals were telling the field that children thought watching child rape was really helpful (not surprising that these are the people still trying to sell and share these ‘resources’). One day last year, I listened to a completely organic conversation between children of different ages and sexes as they discussed their experiences of being made to watch films and drama that impacted them negatively. Very negatively. Even resulting in self harm and panic attacks.
That was enough for me. The first rule of our jobs is ‘do no harm’. These films had never been tested, evaluated or had any ethical approval and yet were (and still are in some cases) being used with tens of thousands of children.
Thankfully, the campaign really took off and influenced thousands of practitioners and organisations to withdraw all use of CSE films with immediate effect – to protect children from the potential of any further harm. Local authorities, police forces, national charities, residential units, private companies all wrote to me or called me in to help them stop using these resources with children. Two production/drama companies even commissioned me to help them rewrite and edit their work so they could make sure their resources were not harming children and were being tested properly before use. The CSE films report ‘Can I tell you what it feels like?’ was read by thousands of people and sparked at least 4 MSc dissertations and 2 PhDs to my knowledge. Thanks to thousands of my followers, to professionals in my networks and to people I have never even met – we have made such an impact this year that very soon, showing children a film of child abuse as an ‘intervention’ or ‘preventative’ method will be a thing of the past. Like frontal lobotomies of traumatised and oppressed people. We look back on it and think ‘what the fuck were we thinking?’ CSE films will forever go down in history as one of those things and soon, no child will be shown films of child rape, abuse and murder as an intervention.

 

3. CSE is CSA 

Yep, another way of pissing off people who claim to be specialists in CSE is to remind them that CSE is actually just CSA and that describing CSE as an ‘exchange’ is just victim blaming. Nice, subtle, hygienic, palatable victim blaming. I started to question why CSE was defined differently to CSA when I was sitting discussing cases with people from around the country – and they all sounded a lot like child sexual abuse – and yet they didn’t seem to see the overlap. In fact, I noticed that CSE was being used instead of ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault’ or ‘grooming’ or ‘abuse’ or ‘online abuse’ …and the acronym was becoming meaningless. What really peaked me was when I asked professionals what the difference between CSE and CSA was and all they could give me was media stereotypes about massive Asian gangs and teenage white girls. Not only that, but I watched over the years as experienced and skilled social workers were told they weren’t ‘specialist’ enough to do direct work in CSE and they had to pass it to the ‘specialist CSE team’ (who had been given 2 days of CSE training and gripped their CSE films and CSE toolkits for dear life because they were shit scared as well). What happens when you create a new form of abuse, that’s actually a very well researched and documented form of abuse and tell everyone it’s new and it’s on the rise?
Well, you get mass panic and then you get vultures swooping in and claiming to have all the answers having never actually read anything from the 4-5 decades of child sexual abuse literature we already have. You get people reinventing the wheel. You get politicians saying that we need to invest money into understanding CSE whilst completely ignoring CSA. You get people deskilling social workers and then selling their skills back to them with resources and training that’s based on anecdotes.
When I struck out on my own, I made sure that I was always reminding everyone from the general public to the heads of authorities that CSE is CSA and that by overcomplicating it, we had caused a victim stereotype in CSE that meant we were missing thousands of cases and mishandling the ones we already had. Not only this, but intrafamilial CSA became a thing of the past – everyone stopped talking about it. To the point where I now have authorities calling me to say that their staff have had 6 years of constant input on CSE and are now failing intrafamilial abuse victims as they’ve had no training or resources in CSA for years. Now, a year on – more and more authorities and national charities are moving back to CSA. I know the organisations who have set themselves up to be the font of all knowledge in CSE are reading this and are probably somewhere between furious and shitting it but this HAS to be what is best for children, even if you have to change your services or eat a bit of humble pie. Loads of services are already doing it and have done it very well actually – so what’s the point in insisting that CSE is a separate and different phenomena to CSA?

 

4. ‘Risks’ and ‘vulnerabilities’ in CSE are just more victim blaming of children 
This one takes longer to unlearn and I am just finishing some of my most influential work on this. I must also say that it was RiP Director Dez Holmes who first believed in me when I said ‘I don’t think vulnerabilities or risks cause CSE, I think sex offenders cause CSE. Assessing risks and vulnerabilities of the child simply detracts from the fact that an adult is abusing them. I don’t think the evidence does actually show us that these vulnerabilities or risks lead to CSE.’ Dez and RiP as an organisation are extremely person-centred and evidence based and I was taken seriously. That’s how it ended up in the published revised evidence scope. That’s how it started influencing hundreds of organisations this year and last year.

However, it’s not easy to unpick embedded learning about risk and vulnerability. Many practitioners are taught that the child is targeted by a sex offender because of their vulnerabilities or risk taking behaviours and that by changing the child, changing their characteristics, personalities, behaviours and vulnerabilities, the sex offender will not abuse them. If you think that sounds a bit fluffy that’s because you’re right. Sex offenders who are abusing children do not stop abusing children because you’ve stopped the child wearing the ‘sexualised dress’ you didn’t like (which is usually crop tops and skinny jeans these days. Sounds like rape myths to me but hey-ho…)

The fact is, children can have ten vulnerabilities and still not be abused by anyone. Conversely, children can have zero vulnerabilities and still be abused. This theory that vulnerabilities somehow lead to CSE holds no water and yet we use it to judge children and their parents. All of our interventions are based on this deficit model of the child causing their own abuse.

Thankfully, this year is different and more and more organisations and practitioners are beginning to understand that the only person to blame for CSE and CSA is the sex offender. It does not matter how ‘vulnerable’ that child was, it was never ever their fault or their responsibility.

 

5. Trauma informed practice over educative responses to CSE
Over the years, standard practice responses to CSE have been raising awareness and then teaching the child about grooming, consent, healthy relationships, e-safety and some other useless shit you don’t want to hear about if you’re being abused every day.
I know that sounds harsh but we have to be more self critical. So many practitioners are being told to show children resources or teach them about E-safety and are then pulling their hair out because none of it is working the the child is still being sexually abused every day. If you were being trafficked and raped, given drugs or threatened not to tell – do you really think a professional sitting you down and telling you about consent or e-safety would change all of that for you? Even if you sat there and thought ‘oh shit, what’s happening to me isn’t consensual’ – how would you have the power to escape the abuser? Just because you now know that what is happening to you is wrong doesn’t make you powerful enough to leave abuse. After all, you’re a kid.

 
The problem is, that in CSE, education has been seen as the magic bullet. ‘If you educate children on CSE and grooming, they will be able to spot the signs and protect themselves from abuse.’ STOP. Stop and say that sentence to yourself again. No. It’s wrong. It’s victim blaming. Education is brilliant, I support sex and relationships education from the earliest age possible – but I’m also realistic enough to know that education won’t protect a child from a sex offender who is determined to manipulate them. You can’t put that level of responsibility on a child. It’s victim blaming.

 

All over the UK, specialist commissioned CSE services are paid to deliver 6-8 weeks of direct work with children who are at ‘medium-high risk’ of CSE (roughly translates to: already being abused, see other blogs for more detail). Those 6-8 sessions are educative in nature and the majority of all CSE victims receive little to zero therapeutic support in their processing of the sexual violence or their recovery long term.

 
When children disengage from the educative sessions, they are seen as problematic and can end up in trouble – sometimes even blamed for going back to the abuser. When children start acting out or start self harming – they are seen as mentally ill or disordered. When children withdraw from school and friends because of the impact of repeated rapes, we get all confused about why they hate school all of a sudden.
There has been very little trauma informed work in CSE at all over the years – and children have been penalised and diagnosed with psychiatric disorders simply for showing completely understandable trauma responses to extreme distress.

 
Last year I started to really push the messages about trauma, social models of mental health, anti-labelling and understanding sexual trauma in children. Hundreds of organisations and professionals have now changed their entire ethos of working with children – having gained vital knowledge and empathy for children who are showing extreme behaviours – which they now understand to be coping mechanisms or the expression of extreme distress – rather than behavioural problems or disorders.
This is a massive leap forward and there are influential organisations and large national charities now changing their practice towards a completely trauma informed, child centred way of working.

 

So there you have it – one year makes a massive difference. 

 
#CSEDay18 will come and go but people like me and others in this movement will stay. The people who follow and agree with my work will stay. We are more than people realise. I’m the mouthy one doing all the speeches and the writing but thousands of people stand behind me. We will keep fighting the blaming of children who have been sexually abused. We will keep challenging untested and unethical practices with children. We will spread the word about trauma informed working. We will stop the use of prescriptive, untested risk assessments on children. We will challenge the victim stereotypes and the perpetrator myths.

Change should not be viewed as scary or challenging – it should be viewed as growth and evolution. We have made some huge mistakes in CSE but they are fairly easy to put right. We will make mistakes in the future too – and then we will be reminded by someone that there are better ways of working and we will stop, think, and then improve. Our theories, knowledge and practice will keep changing and keep developing over time. Now is not the time to stay static, clinging to old, untested ways of working. Children deserve the highest quality and the most evidence based way of working that we can possibly give to them – ways of working in which their needs and their potential is put first.

It’s been almost a year since I wrote that tweet and after a busy year, we are getting somewhere. Momentum is huge. Potential is enormous. Maybe next year I will write to you and tell you that the victim blaming of children who have been sexually abused is almost completely wiped out of professional practice, the toolkits are in the bin, CSE films got banned and children have access to ongoing therapeutic support.


Where is this movement going next? Who knows? 

(Okay that’s a lie, I know exactly where it’s going and it’s fucking epic.) 

 

Written by Jessica Eaton

Tweet @Jessicae13Eaton

Email jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

#IWD2018 – Are women victims, survivors, none or both… and does rape really make us stronger?

CW: rape, mental health, trauma, violence

Written by Jessica Eaton and Anon

8th March 2018 – International Women’s Day

 

I would like to dedicate this special edition blog to all of the women and girls who never felt like a survivor, who don’t like the word victim and are searching for a way to understand who they are and how they feel after sexual violence. To the women and girls who live with the effects of abuse and rape, navigating their way through the narratives of how a female ‘should’ behave and ‘should’ recover after sexual violence. Love to you all.

I would also like to express my admiration for the young woman who wrote the letter to me, and the woman who supported her to do so. I hope I have done a good job presenting your pertinent questions and your rage. Rage on. 

 

How important is the label of ‘survivor’? What about ‘victim’? What about the narrative that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’? What about the message women are given, that being raped or abused somehow makes them a better person in the long run, having lived through and ‘survived’ such traumas?

These are not neutral words and phrases, they are laden with meaning, politics, promise, religion, belief and culture. People from one side claim that we should be using the word ‘survivor’ – people from another side claim that we should be recognising victimhood. The battle of linguistics and empowerment after male violence rages on.

For International Women’s day, I am privileged to present and discuss the outstanding writing of a young woman who wrote a letter to me (below) on the 28th January 2018.

I was checking my emails back in January when I came across an email from this young woman, who had been raped and abused; she asked me to read her writing and whether I would publish it for her. As I read, I became enthralled, as I am sure you will. Her writing is clear, her thoughts are punchy. She argues about some things I have been wrestling with in my own writing and in my own PhD. What does our language tell us about women who are raped? What does it tell us about the man who raped her?

For a long time now, I have felt uncomfortable with both ‘survivor’ and ‘victim’. When I started to write up my PhD, I wondered what word I should use. Rather than taking a guess, I started to search the literature for explorations of linguistics in rape and sexual violence.

There is considerable debate around the way that women are described following sexual violence.

Are they a ‘rape victim’ or are they a ‘rape survivor’?

‘Rape victim’ is generally argued to be disempowering, static and negative for the recovery of the woman (Hockett & Saucier, 2015) and focusses wholly on the negative experience and consequences. Campaigners and academics proposed that changing the language to ‘rape survivor’ empowers the woman, is more future-focussed and elicits less blame responses than ‘victim’.

However, the reality is that the experiences and psychological state of women after rape cannot be contained within the dichotomy of ‘victim or survivor’ – trauma, and humans, are much more complex than these two labels.

For example, work by Maria Lugones (2003) in line with the feminist humanist perspective, argued that women often identified as one of the labels, the other, both or neither. It often changes throughout their lives, too.

When I speak about this, I often teach professionals that they should not attempt to define women. They should not tell a woman who feels like a victim of her rapist that she is a survivor. They should not tell a woman who feels like a survivor of sexual trauma, that she is a victim. There is also no continuum a woman should move across – she doesn’t start off as a victim and then become a survivor – this is simply untrue.

And yet, here are just some examples I found online:

Women spend decades processing and exploring what happened to them. They may well feel like a victim for years, then eventually start to identify with the word ‘survivor’ – but what happens when the ‘survivor’ starts being triggered by something new, or has nightmares again? What happens when she suddenly feels like a ‘victim’ again? Has she somehow gone backwards in our expectations of her recovery? Is she failing?

What about the women who strongly argue that they are victims of repeated, serious crimes. Trafficking. FGM. Rapes. Child abuse. Exploitation. They argue that they don’t feel like a survivor, because their traumas have changed their lives forever. Are they lesser because they don’t feel like a survivor? What if they never feel like a survivor? What’s wrong with that?

And what about the narrative around the rape making her stronger? Making her a better person? Making her more resilient? Where does that leave her? This is something the young woman wrote to me in January. Was the rape a gift? Was the rape bestowed upon her?

How does that position the guy who raped her? She writes to me:

What does this tale of perseverance say to our rapist? That his dick made us stronger? That we have him to thank for our fortitude and our survivor mentality? That he has somehow bestowed upon us the ability to transcend adversity and find tranquility. That the grit and courage we so powerfully embody wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t raped us?

And she is right. What does this mean? Even in rape, he is positioned as the giver of resilience and newly found courage. She has every right to be so angry at this narrative that women are fed. Are we supposed to thank male violence for making us who we are today? Are we supposed to be grateful that women are raped and abused, because it made them stronger?

In her letter to me, this tenacious young woman talks about trauma recovery too. She questions the rhetoric of traumas making us bolder and better in the future and the assumption that everyone moves towards recovery, in some sort of linear fashion, through some imaginary stages. It reminds me of all of the ‘stages of recovery’ models. The ‘stages of grief’ models. The ‘stages of recovery from abuse’ models. Why do they all go in a line? Why are they all so straight and pretty and simple? Why are women supposed to move from one, to the other, to the other, nice and steady? From denial, to anger, to sadness, to blah blah blah all the way to acceptance and then to survivor. Survivor is the goal isn’t it? Can’t be a victim, must be a survivor. Can’t stay angry too long, must get to acceptance of your abuse. And all the arrows on those models flow in one direction – forward. Never backwards, or sideways, or a massive scribble. We can’t possibly flow those ways, because then we are failing in trauma recovery.

And what happens to the women who struggle? Rightly so. What happens to the women who are too scared to get back into a relationship? The women who are too scared to go to the shops alone? The women who have flashbacks during sex? Well, we know what is happening to those women – they are told they are mentally ill or have personality disorders. They are known as ‘troubled’ or ‘unstable’. Scores of women and girls with long sexual trauma and abuse histories are being told that their personality is disordered or they have a mental health issue because they are not recovering in line with our white, western, elitist, medicalised models. Their traumas took too long for the models. Their trauma recovery time limit expired, didn’t it?

So, enough of my thoughts. Read the words of this brilliant young woman and think about the way we are fed social norms of ‘survivor’ and ‘recovery’ – and the way we are taught that living through rapes and abuse make us better women.

****

Dear Jessica

I am not thinking of one time, or one person. I am thinking of hundreds of times, and god knows how many people. How many men. How many… Rapists.                

 Mute. That is the best way to describe it. It feels like someone is strangling me from the inside. All of those people that treated me like a ‘thing’ have their hands clenched round my voice, round my neck, gripping tightly. Gut-wrenching and head spinning; it feels like the air inside my body has gone.

It feels like you have been thrown into a whole new dimension. Everything is the same, but nothing is the same. Things keep moving, people keep living but you have stopped. You don’t keep going.

You’re just there. You see things, people and yourself in a very different way. You can’t get back to ‘normal’ because you have lost your normal. Normal meant trusting, normal meant not being harmed. You now know it can happen to you – this world doesn’t feel safe. I don’t feel safe.

 I kept quiet. My voice vanished. I learnt to blend into the background. To be invisible. I did not learn to do this at the hands of the many who decided to harm me, those who decided I was worth nothing. But I got lost in the system, I was let down by the system. I spoke. With my voice feeling crushed, I shared the fact I was a victim. I felt vulnerable, but I did speak. I wasn’t believed. I was questioned. I was blamed. That added to another hand around my neck, clenching my voice tighter, persuading me to stay silent. My worth was confirmed. I was nothing and no one felt that I deserved help.

 My voice is becoming less restrained, as I learn that I can talk, I am believed and that I deserve help. But I am defined by nearly 20 years of abuse, 20 years of being told I am nothing. 

As a “victim” we are forced to define our pain. We get told to “heal” and this great weight of pressure is forced upon our shoulders to “move forward” and “let go of the past”. I have been told to survive. In fact, “survivor” has become the preferred label to describe our plight. A line has been drawn in the sand and we must choose, I am either a victim, drowning in this assumed weakness and frailty, or a survivor; proudly thriving in my newfound strength. But I cannot be both.

 Society has spoon-fed us the false assumption that we will all reclaim our trauma and go on to lead stronger, braver, bolder lives than we would have if we weren’t raped. Society is quick to encourage us to embrace the resolute tenacity of a survivor. It forgets that we’ve been bruised, beaten and penetrated, in every way a person can be. It forgets that healing takes time and that this isn’t just a heartache or a loss. “You are resilient”, they say. “You will rise from the ashes of your pain with more power than you ever knew you had”…

 Wrong.

 What does this tale of perseverance say to our rapist? That his dick made us stronger? That we have him to thank for our fortitude and our survivor mentality? That he has somehow bestowed upon us the ability to transcend adversity and find tranquility. That the grit and courage we so powerfully embody wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t raped us?

 What does it say to the victims who don’t feel whole and healed? To those who still wake up screaming in the middle of the night plagued by memories of their abuse. To those triggered by a sound or a smell or place. What does this jargon say to those who remain broken beyond repair, to those who haven’t publicly rebounded and come out the other side “proud of who they are.”

The unfortunate reality is that healing doesn’t have a distinguishable end. Healing is irreconcilable pain. It is instability and loss and grief and fear. It is shame so deep it pulls on every single part of your body, pushing every muscle down until you feel so small that you simply want to scrunch up as tight as possible and stay there – completely and utterly still. It is trauma that sleeps under your skin, only to manifest in ways you could never imagine, in ways that will stay with you your entire life.

Fear will follow you everywhere. Going for a smear test? Never happening. Even going to the Dr’s alone is a task that now appears unbearable. Changing in the changing rooms, feeling exposed – it feels sickening. Laying on your bed and waking in the night to see you’re in the exact position that you experienced the hurt. You panic. Scrunch up tight. Close your eyes and scream in your head that you would do anything, ANYTHING for this to simply vanish. Your trust in the world has been stolen.

Rape is not a singular thing, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it will never just be “something that happened”.

Written 28 January 2018 – Name protected

Thank you so much for reading.

In Solidarity, Jessica and Anon

@JessicaE13Eaton

From Broadband to Sex: The problem with teaching women to ‘Just Say No!’

Content warning for sexual assault, rape, victim blaming and awkward metaphors.

 

Since when did sexual propositions use the same techniques as the guy who tries to sell broadband to me as I walk through the high street?

You know the ones. I dread walking past them.

“Oh no. It’s those people who are going to try to sell me broadband… steer clear… steer clear…” I think frantically. Look busy. Look distracted. Stare at a shop window. Pretend to be on the…

“Hello there, miss! Have you got a moment to talk about your broadband?”

Oh shit, they got me. I blush and feel guilty that I don’t want to talk to them about broadband. I already have broadband. I am on my way to work. I don’t have time to talk about broadband right now. I wouldn’t buy it from a guy in the street anyway.

“Um I’m not interested at this time, thank you.” I mutter, embarrassed. I try to keep walking but he blocks my way. I know it won’t work.

He grins a big fake smile at me, “How do you know? You’ve not seen the deal yet!!”

Shit, I think.  “Please, I’m really not interested…” I pause and think of a reason why I am not interested, “Uhhh, I already have broadband!”

This one never works but I always try it.

“Ahhh I bet our broadband is better! We can double your speed!”

I can feel myself getting flustered and annoyed. I just want to get to work on time but he’s blocking my direction and walking in front of me whilst trying to hook me in.

I try again, “I’m really not interested, I’m really sorry. I just need to hurry as I need to get to work for 9am…”

He is not remotely concerned; he presses on.

“Ah that’s okay, this will only take 2 minutes. Will you give me two minutes? I can convince you in two minutes!”

This is getting awkward now. I need to leave, and he won’t stop talking to me.

“No, I am sorry, but I don’t have two minutes,” I reply, looking down at my feet in embarrassment and trying to edge away.

“Okay darling, one minute? I can do it in one minute if you like?”

Now I’m angry and I look him in the eye, “Look, I’ve told you a number of times. I’m not interested!”

His salesman smile drops into a frown. A frustrated frown.

“Whatever!” He snaps at me and walks off, clearly furious.

You might be thinking how familiar that sounds. You might also be thinking why I am talking about the broadband-guy in a blog about victim blaming.

Well, it occurred to me that we have a serious problem with women being able to say ‘No’  – and then not having to give a reason. This blog will explore the connotations and techniques of women not being able to assert that they just don’t want attention or sex.

It is extremely common for women to experience harassment, abuse or violence when they say ‘No’ to a relationship, unwanted attention or sex. 65% of women report experiencing street harassment from men, 23% had been sexually touched by someone in the street and 20% had been followed (stopstreetharassment.org, 2016). In 2017, a BBC survey revealed that over half of women had been sexually harassed by men in their workplace. Another example of violence when faced with a female saying ‘No’ is sexual assault and rape. RAINN report that 1 in 6 women report experiencing rape or attempted rape.

We also know this because women can usually reel off many instances of this happening to them, without even trying. I can guarantee that the thousands of women who read my blog have personal experiences of trying to say no, and their refusal being ignored.

I can think of some now, right off the top of my head:

  • In 2013 I was in a bar with my friend when a guy kept trying to touch me and put his arms around my waist. I didn’t know him, and I kept telling him to leave me alone. He ignored me and eventually I lost my temper and yelled at him to stop touching me so he grabbed me and bit my shoulder until I dropped to the floor. I think he ran off because when I managed to get up, he was gone.
  • In 2014, I was walking through my town centre when a man started telling me I was beautiful and sexy. I told him repeatedly that I wasn’t interested and asked him to go away. I told him I was married and so on. He didn’t care. Eventually, he got the message and responded by yelling at the top of his voice ‘I’m not interested in you, get away from me you dirty fat slag!’
  • In 2017, I was sexually attacked by a man I had never met on the night I celebrated creating the BOWSVA psychometric measure (irony, right?). I had gone out for dinner and wine with another academic to celebrate my results and months of hard work. A guy in his late forties kept hitting on me and I just asked him to leave me alone. Out of nowhere it seemed, he grabbed me and started to sexually assault me. He was so strong and I was so small compared to him. Whilst he assaulted me, he told me it was his birthday and he was entitled to me.

I know women reading this will be nodding, I know they will be thinking – yep, sounds familiar.

So, lets explore why ‘No’ doesn’t mean ‘No’. Then, we will discuss why this leads to victim blaming of women who experience sexual violence and abuse.

  1. Accept the damn compliment!

The first stage of sexual harassment is usually complimentary. Completely unwanted, but complimentary. You’re gorgeous. You’re sexy. You’re wonderful. You give them a hard on. Real romantic stuff like that. It’s quite common for women to become embarrassed and thank the guy. ‘Oh, thanks…’ or even just give an awkward smile.

‘Smile at the creep, maybe he will leave me alone. Keep walking. Don’t look back…’

So why do women do that? Why do women who receive completely unwanted comments about their bodies or their looks, thank the harasser or smile at them?

There are two main answers. The first is that women are taught that their looks are their greatest asset and that being complimented on having a sexually attractive body by Mr. Random is the pinnacle of female success. Therefore, a woman who is told by a passer-by that she’s hot or sexy, must accept that compliment, and be happy about it. In a hypersexualised society where sex sells and women are sold – this is the gold standard. Men just falling over themselves to tell you that they would ‘give you one’ is seen as evidence that you must be stunning, and you can’t expect men to be able to keep quiet when you are that tantalising. Can you?

The second answer is that women and girls are socialised into their gender role to be nice and polite, even when someone is being a complete bellend. Women who assert themselves are often called ‘aggressive’ or ‘bossy’, for example. Women are expected to be well mannered, ‘nice’ and pleasant to everyone at all times. Stepping out of that gender role box will result in her being reframed as an angry bitch.

  1. Apologising that you are not interested in them

Linked to the ‘nice, polite woman’ gender role stereotype, we have the awkward and embarrassed mutters of ‘I’m really sorry, but I’m not interested’ or ‘I’m really sorry but, no thank you.’ I’m struggling to understand why we are sorry… why are we sorry for them? Are we sorry for them? What are women apologising for when they say sorry to a guy like this:

“Eh up sexy, what’s your name then? Want a drink?”

“Ummm, I’m really sorry.. but.. I’m not interested.”

The answer? Women apologise in advance for saying no. Women are apologising for contradicting male entitlement. The man who has approached her in this way expects her to be flattered, to take the compliment, to want the drink. Women know that saying ‘no’ is risky business, so they apologise before they say no. They convey apologies for not being interested in the man, despite the fact that they don’t owe them a thing. Not even an apology. Or a response.

  1. Apologising again, and then saying ‘I have a boyfriend/I am married!’

This one is really important. This one is a real kicker. When some men hear ‘No’ and continue to persist, the next stage is to use this line. Some women say it because it is true. Some women say it when it is not true. But why do they say it to men who persist? And more concerningly, why does it often work?

“Oh come on, don’t you want a drink? You’re gorgeous!”

“Umm, sorry but I have a boyfriend…”

The depressing answer to this is wrapped up in ownership of females and male competition. When a woman says ‘no’, it is rarely enough for a man to stop harassing or pursuing her, and the woman knows that. But when a woman replies that she is ‘taken’ by a boyfriend or husband, many men accept that she ‘belongs’ to another man – and the ‘no’ becomes validated. Interestingly, I know lesbian women who are in relationships or married to other women who also say that they have a boyfriend or husband because they have learned that revealing that they are gay and have a female partner just makes the situation worse. Some lesbians have learned that the ‘male ownership’ lie works – and men leave them alone. You know, rather than asking them for a threesome.

Think about it. If you are a woman, how many times have you used this line of refusal when your first three ‘no’s didn’t work? If you are a man, how many times have women told you that they have a boyfriend or husband to stop you from sexually pursuing them? Why was the presence (real or imagined) of another man, the factor that made you realise that she wasn’t interested?

Why was an imaginary boyfriend or husband more authoritative than her first three ‘no’s?

  1. I’m better/fitter/nicer/richer than him!

However, what happens when ‘I’m sorry but I have a boyfriend/husband’ doesn’t work? Personally, I have been married for 8 years and I know I have used this hundreds of times to stop a man who was making me uncomfortable (before I became acutely aware that this was sort of like saying ‘another man already owns me so…’). I remember one guy who completely destroyed my ‘I’m married’ response to his sexual advances by saying ‘So am I!’

At that point I just stared at his wedding ring and thought, ‘Married professional, in your forties, probably have children with her, she’s probably at work or at home – and you’re here trying to convince me to have sex with you. You charmer.’

I remember trying to joke with him that if we are both married then we are both committed to other people and that he shouldn’t be hitting on me at all. He told me that his wife would never find out and that he would be better in bed than my husband. He told me he was successful and probably richer than my husband too. Then he tried to put his hand up my skirt.

So why the competition? It literally becomes an ego fight with your husband or boyfriend – that they can be better than him. Again, women are put into a position where ‘no’ means nothing. They have already said no repeatedly, then they have tried to assert that they are in a relationship and now a man is trying to convince them that they are a better man than the one they are already with. But why do they do this? Well…

  1. Persistence pays off!

Oh do I hate chick flicks. (Insert gif of me burning all chick flick DVDs). I don’t even know why they are called chick flicks. We should rename them ‘sexual harassment’ flicks’. We have a massive pop culture of teaching men and boys that when women are not interested in them, just try harder. When a woman knocks you back, she wants you really. When a girl tells you she’s taken, just try harder to be better than the guy she is with. If she ignores you, turn up at her house a few times. If she avoids you, follow her to places and make grand gestures. If she dumps you, just call her a few hundred times and turn up at her door with massive bunches of flowers until she realises that she does want you after all.

Chick flicks are just hundreds of hours of men trying to ‘woo’ women who are not interested in them. The plots are generally based on this simple formula:

  • Woman
  • Man
  • Man likes woman
  • Woman does not like or does not know man exists
  • 85 minutes of man ‘persisting’ or ‘trying to win her over’
  • Woman is harassed into loving the man
  • Woman suddenly has epiphany at the end of the film and realises that this was the man she wanted all along, even if throughout the film, he has been a complete dong.

How are women supposed to be able to say ‘no’ safely when we have created an expectation that men are supposed to persist and keep trying until she realises that she really wants him? ‘No’ becomes meaningless if persistence is king.

  1. When women say no, what they really mean is ‘yes’

The outcome of all of these examples and gender role stereotypes, is that women only say no so as not to appear ‘easy’. They say no, but really, they mean ‘persuade me!’

In the literature in forensic psychology, and certainly in my own work, we call this ‘token resistance’ – the concept that the woman is resisting sex or attention as a tokenistic gesture to show that she is not easy or ‘playing hard to get’ instead of actually meaning ‘no’. Garcia (1999) found that women were only perceived as ‘really resisting’ when they showed serious displays of distress such as crying or trying to slap the man – not only this, but the females in the scenarios who asserted themselves in these ways were rated much more negatively by both men and women than the women who did not. Many other types of sexual refusal in the scenarios were perceived as ‘token resistance’. Therefore, there became a dichotomy in which women who say ‘no’ gently and carefully or in a socially acceptable way within their gender role were perceived as engaging in ‘token resistance’ but the women who asserted themselves by shouting, crying or slapping the man in the scenario were rated negatively for asserting themselves in that way.

Ergo, women who say ‘no’ cannot win.

 

Why is this linked to victim blaming?

I have recently finished writing a large literature review of victim blaming and one of the sections I have written is on ‘sexual refusal’ – the ability and opportunity to say ‘no’ to sex or sexual advances. I explored a curious set of articles that discussed or tested women’s ‘sexual refusal skills’ and I even found that women and girls in universities and colleges were being trained in ‘sexual refusal’ – which is still a common feature of assertiveness training and date rape prevention training (Kitzinger & Frith, 1999). There have been further studies as recent as 2011, that have examined how ‘effective’ women’s refusals are when they have already been a victim of rape or sexual violence (Yeater et al., 2011). I found a number of theories that argued that women who are repeatedly revictimised, raped or abused have ‘poor sexual refusal skills’.

I wrote in my own literature review that some of the conclusions about ‘sexual refusal’ and women’s ‘ability to say no’ sounded a lot like victim blaming. In one blog, I have just briefly demonstrated how hard it is to have your ‘no’ taken seriously by a determined man in a society that champions his persistence to get you in bed, even when you have told him eleven times that you don’t want to. I wondered, as I wrote, why there is so much emphasis on women building better sexual refusal skills and more and more campaigns that teach women and girls to ‘just say no!’

Women are saying no. They are saying no once, twice, fifteen, fifty times. Saying ‘no’ is not the problem here. It’s the receipt of the ‘no’ by the man who cannot take it – that is the problem.

Telling women to ‘just say no’ better is victim blaming.

Just like the broadband-guy, who couldn’t take no for an answer, who persisted and made me feel embarrassed and harassed in the street – we have created a space where women can certainly try to say no, but it doesn’t mean anything. That’s why #metoo went viral. That’s why millions of women identified with it. That’s why hundreds of women have been sexually harassed in Hollywood.

‘It’s a compliment!’ – they’ve got us smiling and thanking guys that tell us we have great tits.

‘Sorry, but I’m not interested’ – they’ve got us apologising for not wanting sexual advances.

‘Sorry, but I’m married’ – they’ve got us apologising that we already belong to another man.

Men who do this, here is a handy cut-out-and-keep table for you to understand what women mean when they say no:

What women say What women mean
‘I’m not interested’ I’m not interested
‘No’ No
‘Uhh thanks’ Shit, that was awkward
‘I have a boyfriend/husband/partner’ I’m not interested, and I am hoping this new tactic makes you go away
‘I’m sorry but…’ Oh god, I hope he doesn’t get angry that I’m about to say no to him
‘Leave me alone’ Leave me alone
‘Stop touching me’ Stop touching me

 

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

My new book, ‘The Little Orange Book’ is being released on the 25th September, click here to register your interest in the book or the launch event http://www.victimfocus.org.uk/the-little-orange-book/4594022624