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

25th November 2018

Jessica Eaton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah. I know. Depressing, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, the point I am making is this:

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

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

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

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

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

Uhuh. Hell no.

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

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

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

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

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

Weird, huh?

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

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

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

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

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

Nah fuck that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jessica Eaton

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

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Detecting the frauds in sexual violence activism 

Detecting the frauds in sexual violence activism
Written by Jessica Eaton

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Final thoughts

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

All that glitters is not gold.

 

Jessica Eaton

 6th October 2018

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

Tweet about this blog: @JessicaE13Eaton

When rape myths are applied to children 

Written by Jessica Eaton

http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

20/09/2018

I remember knowing what rape myths were before I ever had a label for them. 

I remember arguing with people that short skirts didn’t cause rape and that women should be able to go out for a few beers without being blamed for being sexually assaulted. I remember the fury of reading headlines which described the clothing or the personality of a woman as the reason she was murdered and raped. I remember arguing with police that no physical injuries does not mean she made it up. I remember falling out with my oldest friend when she told me that women who stay in abusive relationships want to be abused and stay there because they enjoy it.

I’m talking maybe ten years ago or so. I knew those views were wrong. I knew they were harmful. I knew they were in some way linked to a hatred of women but I didn’t know how yet (ah naïve-little-not-yet-feminist-me).

What I don’t think I was prepared for however, was how rape myths were applied to children. I guess in my head, children weren’t blamed for rape because they were children, and who the bloody hell would blame a child for being raped? I guess I thought rape myths didn’t apply to children, because there would be no myths surrounding the culpability of a child, right?

Wrong.

My learning curve began when I left my jobs in the criminal justice system (rife with victim blaming) and rape centre management (working with women and men who had been blamed for abuse, rape and assaults) and moved into a job in a child sexual exploitation (CSE) and abuse charity in around 2014. 

I very quickly learned that rape myths were definitely being applied to children (mainly girls) – and that in a horrible way, it was much worse to hear these rape myths applied to children than when I had ever heard them applied to adults. Hearing defence lawyers, police, social workers, doctors, therapists and family members utilise rape myths to discredit or challenge someone who had been raped was bad enough for an adult, but I was shocked to hear rape myths being used with children who were not even old enough to consent to sex in our country.

To be clear, a ‘rape myth’ is generally defined as a set of incorrect beliefs about rape, victims of rape and offenders of rape, that are harmful to the victim. Examples of work on rape myths come from authors such as Payne, Lonsway and Fitzgerald (1999) who wrote the Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale (IRMAS), McMahon and Farmer (2011) who updated and retested the IRMAS recently and Gerger et al. (2013) who developed the Acceptance of Modern Myths About Sexual Aggression (AMMSA) scale. My own work will soon be added to this list in late 2018 and early 2019 as I publish pieces of work from my PhD on the psychology of victim blaming of women and girls.

Rape myths tend to be split into sub-categories (or sub-scales if we are talking in psychometrics) and measure the most common types of rape myths such as ‘she was asking for it’, ‘she enjoyed it’, ‘she lied about it’, ‘it wasn’t a real rape’ and so on. Below, I am going to discuss some of the rape myths actively used against children under the age of consent and children who are under the age of capacity (which should technically result in statutory rape charges with no judgement simply based on being under 13 years old).
Rape myths used against children in CSE

She dresses provocatively and shows too much skin

This one is the top of my list because ‘dresses provocatively’ and ‘sexualised dress’ are actual real risk indicators used by professionals all over the UK to ‘assess’ girls. I have talked and written about CSE risk toolkits not being fit for purpose, as have Brown et al. (2016;2017), but here we are most of the way through 2018 and they are still being used in almost every region of the UK. As part of the risk assessment process, professionals are asked to tick whether they feel the way the child dresses is a factor for why they are being, or may be raped. In the midst of constant arguments over girls’ school uniforms, showing their knees, collarbones and bra colours through their shirts, its pretty clear that female children are being sexualised by us as professionals. The rape myth that men rape women and girls because of what they are wearing has been fiercely fought by womens’ services, rape centres, charities and even Amnesty International (2005) – but it is being used to assess ‘risk’ of children being raped. Why?

She must enjoy it

This comes from my own anecdotal evidence and real case records I have read in the last few years. The one that stands out for me is a case from the midlands of a very young girl who was being sexually exploited and trafficked, in which a female police officer said to me, ‘we asked her repeatedly who was doing this to her and she wouldn’t tell us. In the end I told her that if she wouldn’t tell us who the perpetrators were, she must enjoy it.’ When I bit back and said, ‘maybe she was terrified, or under threat,’ I was looked at like I was confused or a bit naïve. The child we were discussing was under 13 years old and the force were using emotional blackmail to try to get her to disclose the names of the perpetrators. In the same case, the officers attempted to guilt trip the child into disclosing by telling her she would be to blame if other girls were raped by the same perpetrators. Clearly, this is a horrible example, but it is not a one-off. I have asked professionals to leave my classroom before for saying that some girls enjoy being sexually abused. We must begin to consider why professionals feel so comfortable expressing these views in a classroom setting. Where does that confidence come from?

She lies about being raped

Unfortunately, many of you will know this to be true. We know from the serious case reviews, from the research and from listening to victims and survivors from Oxford, Rotherham, Rochdale, Derby, Birmingham, Coventry and so on. Rather than assuming that children were not coming forward at all, it is important to remember that plenty of children disclosed to professionals but were not believed. It reminds me of one of the worst ‘found notification’ I have ever read in my entire career. I read it in 2015 and I have never seen anything like it. A found notification is a report written up and submitted by police officers when missing persons are found after a period of missing or absence. The child was being sexually exploited and trafficked around a region in the UK and after a few nights missing, the child was found by officers. She disclosed multiple rapes. The found notification written by the officer used the word ‘liar’ and ‘lying’ eleven times, and the officer expressed his view that the child was a ‘compulsive liar’ and that nothing she says should be believed. He even recorded on the found notification that he had advised the parents/carers to ignore any further rape allegations. Yeah. That’s real. 2015. He then signed the report off as ‘NFA’ (no further action) and in the concerns/safeguarding section he put ‘none’.

She brings it upon herself by the way she acts

Many of the rape myths used against adult women are about the way she acts. Was she drinking? Was she flirting? Was she too confident? Was she out with friends? Was she alone? Was she in a taxi? Was she walking somewhere? Too outgoing? Too trusting? Too opinionated? Too challenging? The list is ridiculously endless (I’ve written a huge literature review about this which will be included in my new book).

So how is this used against children in CSE? Well, in exactly the same way actually. Pretty much all of the above have been used against children. One that springs to mind immediately is from a local authority which allowed me to look through their CSE case records for victim blaming language in order to use those real examples to retrain the staff. We found a lot. One such entry was on a very young child’s file who was under 13 years old at the time of entry. She was being sexually abused by male family members and the social worker had written a large paragraph claiming the girl brings the sexual abuse on herself by ‘prancing around wearing high heeled shoes’ and by ‘sitting on the laps of her male family members’. When I was given permission to share this passage with social workers to train them, no one believed it was a real entry. One woman was so upset with me, she accused me of making the entries up for effect and refused to believe any professional would write such a thing. I had to get their manager to confirm that I had taken the records from real files with their assistance and permission.

I also remember an argument which led me to ask a professional to leave my classroom after she put her hand up and announced that any children who lied about their age on Facebook deserved to be raped for lying. I gave her the option to retract or rephrase or explain herself, but she simply said that children who lie about their age on Facebook who are then sexually exploited online or in contact, deserve everything they get for lying in the first place. I asked her again if she was absolutely sure she felt that way. She said yes.

Friends, I’m good but I’m no miracle worker. She was asked to leave.

She didn’t say no clearly enough

This one is subtler. We do see this being used in the courtroom if the child is over 16 years old and the defence can attempt a ‘consent’ argument for their client – but we technically should not see arguments about whether a child said no clearly enough or not, if they are under the legal age of sexual consent. However, when it comes to what is known in CSE as ‘direct work’, many children are prescribed sessions about consent and even programmes entitled ‘Yes means Yes, No means No.’ There is nothing wrong with teaching children about consent. There is however, a fundamental problem with teaching rape and abuse victims about consent after they have recently been raped – their consent was irrelevant.

What I mean by this, is that it wouldn’t have mattered if they said no fifty times, a rapist is a rapist, they don’t stop when someone withdraws consent. Rape is sex without consent. Teaching kids about consent a week after they were raped is a patronising, unethical, insensitive waste of time.

This has links to studies and programmes of an approach called ‘sexual refusal skills’ in which authors suggest that the reason women and girls are raped is because they haven’t developed good enough ‘sexual refusal skills’ to say no to rapists. Yah, I know. Bollocks, innit?

 

So, as you can see, I have learned over the years that rape myths are certainly being used against children. It doesn’t seem that even being too young to consent to sex can protect you from the misogyny and rape myths rife in our society. It really does come to something where I end up having to ‘facilitate’ arguments between professionals who are debating whether girls wearing belly tops will cause them to be raped. It’s so hard to continue to work in a field in which people are having serious conversations about whether girls are bringing sexual exploitation on themselves due to their personalities, characteristics or behaviours. Its exhausting to have to listen to people claim that 12-year-old girls lie about being trafficked and raped.

We must begin to see CSE through the lens of violence against women and girls. CSE still disproportionately affects girls and is disproportionately perpetrated by men. The rape myths are based in misogynistic views of girls and women and of the objectification of girls’ bodies. We must teach professionals about rape myths and the way they affect our practice, risk assessments, theories, decisions and policymaking. Rape myths are harmful to all victims, but we know the majority of these myths are a stick used to beat women and girls with. 

Even children aren’t safe from these harmful messages. If you work in a job where you can challenge rape myths, please do! 

Jessica Eaton is an international speaker, researcher and author in the psychology of sexual violence and victim blaming and the founder of her company, VictimFocus which is dedicated to challenging victim blaming and improving practice. 

Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Join the VictimFocus Charter for FREE at http://www.victimfocus.org.uk
 

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