‘I had my first ever panic attack watching a CSE film at school’ – another letter for #nomoreCSEfilms

‘I had my first ever panic attack watching a CSE film at school’ – another letter for #nomoreCSEfilms

Tonight, I received another letter from a young person harmed by CSE (child sexual exploitation) films and productions.

We have already heard from Faye* who was harmed by the unethical showing of CSE films after she was abused: https://victimfocus.wordpress.com/2018/01/08/i-was-shown-a-cse-film-after-i-was-raped-i-harmed-myself-that-night-another-letter-supporting-nomorecsefilms/ 

And we have heard the story of Kate, who was harmed by the unethical and blaming use of CSE resources: https://victimfocus.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/you-showed-me-a-cse-film-when-i-was-13-years-old-this-is-how-it-affected-me-a-letter-to-support-nomorecsefilms/ 

I am compiling evidence from all over the UK that the showing of films containing rape and abuse of children, to children and adolescents in their thousands – is abusive and oppressive practice. The campaign is under #nomoreCSEfilms on twitter and google searches.

I have said before, that whilst this campaign is incredibly important to me, it always gives me a hollow, sinking feeling to read accounts like the one in this blog. Like the ones that have gone before it. Like the 90 I have already collected. Like the one I received this weekend from the mother of an 11 year old girl who was traumatised by a film showing the rape of a child in school.

I implore professionals, parents and policy makers to stop this practice immediately and to stop the making, selling and buying of these products with immediate effect.

Please read this letter from Josie* and think about the harm we are doing to thousands of children.

***************************************************

Dear Jessica, 

So when I was little, I was abused and trafficked. It started when I was 5, and continued until I was in my late teens. It was violent and systematic. I never told anyone, and that is partly due to the CSE resources I was shown growing up.

 

The first time I ever saw a CSE resource, I was eleven. It was a drama production performed by a travelling company that came into schools. A young teenage girl was depicted as being groomed and eventually raped by an older man. I was so confused. We had never had a lesson on sex education, much less consent, and while I knew what was happening to me was wrong,  I had no idea how to explain it.

 

The atmosphere in the school hall we were shoved into could’ve been cut with a knife. They hadn’t singled any of us out as being ‘at risk’, but it definitely felt like it. I don’t think I breathed the whole time I was sat there. My eyes didn’t move from my lap, and my hands were red raw from wringing them so tightly, trying anything I could to distract from the scene unfolding in front of me. And I wasn’t the only one. Across the hall were other girls having the same trauma response. From those staring at the ground wanting it to swallow them up to others glancing from door to door looking for the closest exit. I didn’t meet anyone’s eye for fear that my dirty secret was about to be uncovered in front of my whole year.

That was the first time I had a panic attack. I wasn’t sure why at the time but I felt the need to run as far and as fast as possible. Things that I’d tried so hard to forget were flashing in front of my eyes.

 

Towards the end of the assembly, a well meaning teacher stood up and told us we now knew the signs to look out for, and with that, we’d been officially ‘educated’. She sent us off to our respective classes with a smile , but it felt like she was looking right into my soul.

 

The girls story in the play was different to mine, she had been given gifts and money where I only knew threats and violence, yet somehow it still felt like through her acting she was telling my story, and revealing it in front of everyone.

 

No one picked up on it though. A group of terrified little girls in a middle school hall, the ones who ran to the bathrooms and threw up straight after, who didn’t look anyone in the eye for the rest of the day. The ones who showered in scalding hot water trying to wash away shame and the ones who covered their bodies at every opportunity, hiding away deep wounds and old scars reading ‘whore’ that littered their skin.

 

I was eleven and this was already my life. No support was offered then, or any year thereafter, when we were sat down and made to watch a film of the same ilk. Some protested that we already knew it, and some of us hung our heads in shame, believing more and more with each viewing that we did know the signs, and consequently everything we were living and breathing and surviving each day was all our own fault.

 

Everything those films and productions and other resources told me, was not that I was brave or strong or clever for protecting a tiny spark of light, but that I was dirty and tarnished, that every one would think badly of me, and that it was all my fault. Those films may seek to educate on warning signs, but for someone already stuck in a cycle, they only ensured that I would never find a way out.

Josie*

To parents: This is happening in every local authority area in the country with children as young as eleven. You can withdraw your children for their own wellbeing. You can meet with the Headteacher to discuss this practice.

To professionals: This is not the impact we want on children, is it? When professionals told us to show these films, when companies and charities sold these films to us, when local authorities were told it would ‘help protect children’… was this the impact we wanted?

Please sign the petition, tell your colleagues, tell other parents, tell your children, write to your local schools and social care, write to your police and crime commissioners – please join the hundreds of people trying to stop this practice with me.

We cannot continue to show unethical, untested resources, films and drama productions to children. We are causing harm. This is no longer a matter of my professional opinion, this is a matter of real children, real harm, happening right now all over the country.

I have meetings with leading politicians in February and can confirm that three local authorities have already withdrawn ALL CSE FILMS from practice in their areas. We can do this if we work together.

Sign here: https://freeonlinesurveys.com/s/lHMraCPq#/0 

Watch my YouTube Series on #nomoreCSEfilms here: http://www.victimfocus.org.uk/nomorecsefilms/4594134271 

Written by Jessica Eaton

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

“I was shown a CSE film after I was raped. I harmed myself that night.” Another letter supporting #nomoreCSEfilms

“I was shown a CSE film after I was raped. I harmed myself that night.” Another letter supporting #nomoreCSEfilms

In summer 2017, I started the #nomoreCSEfilms campaign, to stop the use of traumatic, untested and unethical practices with children who have been sexually abused. This campaign is against the showing of films that depict the rape, abuse, grooming and murder of children as false ‘preventative’ methods and as ‘interventions’ and so-called ‘direct work’.

I now have over 200 signatures and professional accounts and 8 accounts from children harmed by CSE films. This rises every day.

I first started receiving letters in Autumn 2017. Letters from young adults. Letters from parents. Letters from professionals. I then spoke to 5 children who had been harmed by CSE films.

Here is one from Kate, now 22 years old who wrote to me in November 2017: https://victimfocus.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/you-showed-me-a-cse-film-when-i-was-13-years-old-this-is-how-it-affected-me-a-letter-to-support-nomorecsefilms/ 

This latest letter was sent to me through my website http://www.victimfocus.org.uk on the 7th January 2018. Nothing has been edited, except for her name and her location.

Hello Jessica, I have recently seen your campaign on Twitter #nomoreCSEfilms and would like to share my personal experience of this.

As a child I worked with an organisation in XXXX and was shown the film ‘Sick Party.’ I remember the worker coming to my home, she brought her laptop and set it up on the dining room table.

We began to watch the DVD. I remember it being approx half an hour long, during this time I became very upset and panicky. She paused the film several times so I could ‘compose myself until we could continue.’ At the end of the film I was extremely upset and the worker seemed shocked how upset I was. She ended my visit earlier to ‘leave me to calm down’ and said she’d come see me next week, then she left.

I vividly remember feeling so confused, embarrassed and ashamed. At that time what I had just seen made me feel so angry at myself that I’d not kept myself ‘safe.’ I felt stupid that I hadn’t ‘seen the signs.’ I know I self harmed that night, the shame felt unbearable.

Obviously as an adult I now know I am not to blame and that film should never have been shown to me, in my own home and I certainly should not have been left so upset. I wondered if you knew about other ‘tools’ being used?

I specifically remember being told I would see a worker for 6 weeks and each week we would have a specific ‘topic’ to work on. This was set in stone with no negotiation. It was a set plan they worked from with children they supported. One week, she brought some cards. Each card had a ‘scenario’ on it, I then had to match up whether I thought this was ‘Okay’ ‘maybe Okay’ or ‘not okay’.

One scenario that I remember was along the lines of ‘I’m going to take and send a nude photograph’ another was ‘I am going to meet an older man after school.’ The point of the exercise was to look at ways of ‘keeping myself safe in the future’ – like it was my responsibility as a child that had already been abused to prevent it happening again.

This same organisation documented in my notes on discharge that I was ‘low risk’ of future CSE as I had ‘built resilience in sessions’… ‘I now understood the dangers and can make more informed choices in the future.’ It also states that because I came from a good family home, that my parents both had good jobs and that I didn’t present as ‘over sexualised’ I was low risk.

Unfortunately my abuse continued. When I was 18 I was diagnosed with ‘personality disorder’ by the NHS – I was also referred back to the same organisation who had shown me the film for more support. They wouldn’t accept me on the grounds the workers are not ‘mental health qualified.’ They refused to offer me any support as they weren’t a ‘mental health service.’ I find this completely wrong – as my mental health issues ie. low confidence/self esteem were a direct result of the CSE.

 If my experience can help with your campaign in anyway please let me know. I really hope no other child has to feel the upset I felt on the day I saw that film, it fills me with disgust this is allowed to happen.

It’s been refreshing to share it with you, many thanks.

Faye*

I am sure that every practitioner, professional and policy maker in CSE would agree that the aim of direct work with children is not to make them feel silly, confused, embarrassed, ashamed, to blame – and then lead to self harming when you have left. These films are far too graphic, uninformed, based on anecdotal theory that showing children abuse will help them to understand what happened to them –  and finally, completely unethical.

I am disappointed to have to say that the film is still being used with children all over the UK. In fact, here is a photograph someone sent to me this week, to ask me whether this DVD is safe for children who have been sexually exploited. They had seen this poster and thought to contact me first, thankfully. I have highlighted in blue, the most concerning elements of the marketing.

sick party poster 2018aa

 

 

As you can see, the DVD is still being marketed as ‘essential viewing’ for children and young people. Essential viewing? For a child who has been raped and exploited? A ‘must have’ DVD if you work with young people?

The evidence is mounting. CSE films such as this one are unethical and untested. None of these films have an empirical basis and efficacy has never been tested. The films have never been evaluated and there is no data available to show us the impact of these films on children. Thousands of practitioners have been misled, and genuinely believe that showing a child a film of a child being abused and raped will help the child. I have set out advice and tips for those thinking of using or making a CSE film here: http://www.victimfocus.org.uk/blog/4593418266

I would like to take this space to thank Faye. Thank you for writing to me. I stand beside you and I completely agree that you should never have been shown this film, never have been assessed using completely untested CSE risk assessment toolkits on children to make decisions about their care and service provision (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321779703_We_need_to_talk_about_child_sexual_exploitation_CSE_toolkits)

I understand from talking to many people affected by CSE films, resources and risk assessment like this that the realisation that our professional practice harmed them, instead of helped them, is really difficult. They were told to trust us. They were told we were safe. They were told we wouldn’t blame or judge them.

I have said this before and I will say it again:

You can show these films to children now, and they might not protest. They might not understand. They might not have the power or strength to tell you to turn it off. They might not know they are having a panic attack. But one day, they will. Mark my words, one day, these children will be adults and they will look back on your practice. Please think about this.

Showing a DVD of a child being raped, after she/he has been raped – is child abuse.

This account from Faye is not unique or uncommon. Over 55,000 children were shown just one film in the Midlands in 2017 (Leicestershire Police) . Thousands of copies of Sick Party, My Dangerous Loverboy, Kayleighs Love Story and many others have been shown to tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of children across the UK.

This practice has to stop now. I’m not shutting up about this.

Dr Nina Burrowes, Professor Liz Kelly, Catherine Knibbs, Dr Alec Grant and 185 other professionals in the field of psychology, social care, psychotherapy and policing are ready to oppose this practice and reform the way we respond to victims of CSE.

Are you?

Sign the petition and watch my films here:  http://www.victimfocus.org.uk/nomorecsefilms/4594134271

 

Written by Jessica Eaton, with special thanks to Faye for her experiences.

@JessicaE13Eaton

http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

 

So you’re making a CSE resource? Tips on ethics, science, safety and agenda

So you’re making a CSE resource? Tips on ethics, science, safety and agenda

My #nomoreCSEfilms campaign went viral so fast.

(You can see it here: http://www.victimfocus.org.uk/blog/4593418266 )

I was really surprised. After years of inertia and people feeling that I was recklessly attacking CSE resources, here were 10,000 people who read and shared my letter about the way untested and unethical CSE films were harming children we were supposed to be helping. I have had hundreds of emails from people who are willing to work together to support this campaign. The emails come from regulatory bodies, government, directors, researchers, psychologists of all disciplines, trainee psychologists, lawyers, psychotherapists and even professional parents.

One email caught my eye. A professional contacted me to say that their organisation makes CSE resources and had read my letter and blogs. She wrote to me for advice about what they could do to make ethical and effective CSE resources for children. I wrote back – and thought that I should probably share these tips with everyone. As it stands, I do not currently support the use of ANY CSE films in current circulation. This is because not one single organisation has put their film and resource through empirical testing, psychological oversight, ethical review – and none can prove that their film works as an intervention, prevention or support mechanism. In fact, when I have challenged those organisations, I have been told I am being ‘too academic’ and ‘evidence is not needed’ before using these films with children.

So, this email from the professional who makes these films was a brilliant step forward, and I am happy to share my advice to her:

  • Do not show sexually violent, graphic or violent materials to children – ever
  • Do not ask children what they could have done differently (where the answers are a modification of the child’s behaviour or actions that would have ‘led’ to not being abused, which has no evidence base and is a form of victim blaming)
  • Do not show any CSE films to children who have been abused or traumatised – or are currently ‘at risk’ or being groomed for CSE/A
  • Any teaching or resources should be focussed on the actions, decisions or issues of the sex offender – not the child. Teach children that people who harm them do so because they want to, not because there is anything wrong with them
  • Steer clear of depicting ‘vulnerable’ children – many resources show a child who is having some sort of ‘problem’ which makes them ‘vulnerable’ to a sex offender. There is no evidence at present that vulnerabilities lead to being sexually exploited – and vulnerabilities are not a pre-requisite to being sexually abused. If you would like a thorough argument, please read the new CSE Evidence Review (Eaton and Holmes, 2017)
  • Also, steer clear of depicting stereotypical rape victims (white, female, teenage, socially confident, parties, hotels, boyfriends, taxis etc) – it does nothing for our cause and alienates children who don’t see themselves in the resource
  • Don’t show a linear grooming process where the perp is nice to them and makes them think they are in a relationship and then eventually harms them – grooming rarely works like that in real life and we are giving children a romanticised version of abuse. Not only this, but we are teaching children and professionals that the ‘harm’ of abuse comes at the ‘end’ of a linear grooming process, instead of teaching them that the entire process is harmful and manipulative.
  • Don’t show just one type of sex offender using one type of method – think outside of the box. Maybe the perp could be a woman who is recruiting girls to a fake modelling agency? Maybe she’s super glam and is sexually attracted to girls? Focus on her behaviour and actions – her words and her demeanour. You don’t need to show harm to children to get your point across. Maybe the perp is an old disabled man who tricks children into ‘helping’ him? (I have based this idea on a real case from Elliott, 1995). Maybe the perp is a young, talented sportsman who uses his fame or talent to abuse girls around him? Maybe the perp is a respected English teacher who abuses boys in her primary school class? Try to show the diversity of abusers and the techniques. Some sex offenders are just violent and threaten children. Some offenders will be very careful and charming and nice. Some mix it up. Some have completely different approaches. We are guilty of only ever showing one type of sex offender in CSE films and resources and it’s totally unrealistic.
  • Don’t show online abuse as some fat old ugly bloke posing as a teenager online to groom kids, the research does not support this at all – and it is causing a narrative in professionals all over the UK who think that online abuse is a sex offender who poses as children and then ‘tricks’ them into meeting them.
  • Avoid a misleading title full of buzzwords and sensation. Personally, I think that ‘Kayleigh’s Love Story’ is an insult to her and should have been boycotted the second it crept out of someone’s mouth. It’s not catchy or clever to call a video about a sexual homicide of a child a ‘love story’.
  • Do not sell, roll out or deliver a resource or film that has not been tested empirically and independently
  • In fact, only make a resource or film if you have sought an expert panel which includes child, clinical or forensic psychologists at a bare minimum. Go to your local universities and ask for a reviewing panel. Ask for ethical review. Go and get experts to be your critical friends and listen to them. There is way too much ‘consultancy’ going on around these CSE films and resources where professionals are telling the developers that the resource is unethical or incorrect and then the organisation ploughs ahead and releases it anyway. I know of at least two resources in the public domain that were opposed by experts but were released anyway by the organisation. What is the point of holding consultations if you ignore the experts you invited?
  • Accept that you might not get the answer you hoped for. When we test a new intervention, measure, resource or tool in psychology or social science – loads of them are found to be useless. Academics and experts know that their ideas might sound great but might not do what they think they do. That’s okay. Its part of your learning curve. You won’t get it right first time – but that’s okay too – as long as you don’t give it to anyone.
  • Don’t release anything until you have the data and empirical evidence that it (a) does no harm to children (b) is inclusive to as many children as possible with different versions for children with disabilities, language differences, cultural differences and so on and (c) actually helps children. If you can’t prove these things, it’s not good enough for our children and young people. Apply the standards you would to something being used on your own children or family members.
  • Be proud that your resource or intervention is going through a lengthy process of ethical review, empirical testing and expert critique. Stop rushing to sell knee-jerk crap and focus on bringing out excellent quality pieces of work. Trust me when I say that one piece of evidence-based work will outshine 1000 pieces of ‘knocked-up, half-arsed rubbish’ (quoting myself there, as someone reminded me of my infamous quote the other week). If you or your organisation can commit to a truly critical process of developing and testing a resource or intervention for children, you will leave a lasting legacy for your organisation and you will improve the lives of countless children. That’s what you are aiming for, right?
  • Once you have developed and validated something with expert teams and you are sure it is ethical – now it’s time to evaluate the effectiveness with larger samples of children. What is the effect of your resource? How does it work? How do you know? Does it work the same for all children? Does it work better for some over others? Why? Do children benefit from this? How? How long for? How do you know? Is there any difference between the children who have never seen your film/resource and the children you used it with? How do you know? How will you test this?
  • Evaluation is vital. There are so many CSE films and resources that make massive claims to reduce abuse, increase knowledge, protect children, enable them to spot the signs of abuse, escape abuse, realise what is happening to them – but no evidence and no empirical testing.
  • Only market your resource if you can prove what you say it does.
  • Publish your data and proof for other professionals to explore and feel reassured that it was ethical, valid and empirical.
  • Finally, ask yourselves this question: Why are you making this resource? Is it to make money? Is it to boost your reputation? Is it to showboat? Is it to launch it at an expensive conference? Is it to position yourselves as leaders in the field of CSE? Is it to sell to schools and local authorities for £200 each? Is it to tell people that your resource is the best and everyone should use it? Because if the answer is yes to any of those things, please don’t make it – we have enough of those.

If you were to use these tips, you would have a truly epic resource on your hands. Sadly, the reality is that some organisations will not follow these tips because they are scared that if experts reviewed and critiqued them, they would have to withdraw them or not release them at all. However, I am a firm believer that people who work with humans who have experienced trauma and abuse can literally make or break them in a session. A therapist, social worker, police officer, youth offending working, youth worker, counsellor, charity worker, support worker, teacher – can say something, do something or show a child something that will affect them for the rest of their lives – even when it is well intentioned or they have been taught that it is best practice.

We are all working with our next generation. We are working with thousands of children who have been harmed by adults who they loved or felt safe with at one point. We must not repeat that process of harm by being too lazy or arrogant to test and validate our work before using it with children. We have to be better than this. Children deserve more than this. Children deserve more than someone saying ‘Well, I’ve been in this job for 10 years and this is what is best for them.’

Nope. Evidence doesn’t work like that. Aim higher. Do no harm.

 

If you would like to add your name to the list of professionals who are against the use of untested resources and interventions in CSE being used with children, email me for a chat.

Written by Jessica Eaton

Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

@Jessicae13eaton

 

 

A letter to UK Psychologists: You have an urgent role to play in CSE

A letter to UK Psychologists: You have an urgent role to play in CSE

Child sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse has always been a central issue in psychology, with millions of adults reporting that they were sexually abused in childhood (BCS, 2016), a 5.7% conviction rate in sexual violence and a 2 in 3 chance of sexual revictimisation in the lifetime (Eaton, 2017). Many mental health issues, trauma responses, psychosomatic issues, coping mechanisms and experiences are related to early experiences of sexual abuse – our body of evidence is absolutely huge on this topic.

Child sexual exploitation has developed in a strange way – the field, which is dominated by politics, NGOs and statutory services, who have developed and implemented interventions, strategies and services with no evidence base whatsoever. It is extremely rare to find frontline workers who have been taught anything at all about the psychology of sex offending, the psychology of trauma responses, the psychology of abuse and harm – or any psychology at all. I have always found this odd, as I see CSE and CSA as issues of human psychology – whether that is the psychology of the offenders, the psychology of the victims or even the psychology of the society which reinforces sexual violence at every turn (something my own research focusses on).

Some might say that professionals such as social workers, police, youth workers, support workers and therapists working with children who have been sexually exploited and abused don’t need the expertise of psychologists or need to understand the psychology of this topic – but I beg to differ.

Out of all our skills as psychologists – whether you are clinical, forensic, developmental, academic, practice, research-focussed, social, counselling health, cognitive, neuro, educational or child-focussed – I think my favourite skill is the level of critical thinking and the seeking of evidence before we support or condemn an intervention, tool, theory or idea.

Psychologists, there are interventions being used with tens of thousands of children all over the UK which have never been tested, have no evidence base and are likely to be causing significant harm to children as young as 11 years old. We have to step up to the plate and do something about it.

Having spent 8 years working in sexual violence, with the last 3 years in CSE specifically – some of the interventions, assumptions and services I have seen in the UK concern me. Some teeter on illegal. I am often the only person in an organisation with psychological expertise and I quickly started to realise that I was seeing problems that others could not see. I was, and still am, seen as hyper-critical or even ‘aggressive’ and ‘unprofessional’, because I am pointing out that the interventions being used on children are not tested, not valid, not ethical and in some cases are clearly harming children and their families (please click this link to read the accounts of real children who were harmed by CSE resources https://victimfocus.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/please-stop-using-all-cse-resources-heres-why/ ).

Here is an extract from the blog in case you don’t have time to go to it:

Young Person 3: Did you lot see that drama thing that came round all the schools where the girl is convinced she’s gonna be a model but they rape her and sell her and lock her in a flat? I BEGGED them not to make me watch that. No one listened to me. I was terrified I was gonna have like a massive mental breakdown in a row in assembly sat on the floor with hundreds of people around me and I wouldn’t be able to get out. They made me watch it like 3 times and one time I was so upset they let me sit at the side of the hall in case I had another panic attack and then loads of people kept asking me why I was sitting there and whether it had happened to me and I was mortified.”

I need your support to campaign against these interventions being used with children. Last month, I presented a workshop on this topic at The British Psychological Society in London – and none of the psychologists I taught had heard of this intervention. I showed the films to them. They were horrified. Two of them rang their kids’ schools to find out whether their children had been shown the resources or were due to see them. Not only this, but many of them stayed behind to ask me how we could form a campaign to stop this practice. This letter is my response.

All over the UK, tens of thousands of children are being shown films containing the rape and sexual abuse of children, drugging of children, trafficking, grooming, bullying and physical violence (in the sector, they are called ‘CSE resources’ by practitioners and the sellers). The films are shown to children as young as 11 years old (and I have heard of children of 9 years old being shown them).

The underpinning assumption with these films are:

  • If children are shown videos of sexual abuse and exploitation, they will know what it is for future reference
  • If children know what sexual exploitation and abuse is, they will be able to protect themselves from sex offenders
  • If children know what sexual exploitation and abuse is, they will ‘spot the signs’ and escape an abuser quicker
  • If children watch the abuse and exploitation of other children, they will realise that it can happen to them
  • If children who have already been abused watch the films, they will understand better what happened to them
  • If children who are currently being sexually abused watch the films, they will leave the abuser

 

All of these assumptions are problematic – some are ridiculous. There is not one single drop of evidence for these assumptions and they completely ignore the power and responsibility of the sex offenders abusing the children. They place an enormous amount of responsibility and blame on children. The assumptions represent a complete misunderstanding of knowledge. Knowledge of abuse, relationships and sex is vital for all children and adults – but it will not protect a child from an adult who is sexually abusing them. Knowledge is irrelevant when a human is being abused, harmed, controlled and oppressed.

And yet, there are a number of active organisations making these films and selling them to schools, local authorities, police forces, probation, youth offending, youth prisons, charities and residential companies. Some of these films are marketed as ‘preventative’, some claim to ‘reduce abuse’ and enable children to ‘spot the signs before it is too late’.

The films are shown to children who are ‘at risk’ of CSE (don’t even get me started on how bad the risk assessment tools are in this field but it is in my latest evidence review Eaton and Holmes, 2017). The films are also shown to children who have recently been abused, recently been raped or assaulted, shown to entire assemblies of children, shown to class-size groups, shown in support groups and charities and shown 1:1 to children who are currently being trafficked and exploited. Basically, they are being used as a catch-all intervention. Practitioners are being taught that these films help children. And then they are convinced to buy them or download them for a cool £294.00 each. These films have become common practice, written into action plans, strategies, policies and strategic responses to CSE all over the UK. Practitioners who refuse to use these films for ethical reasons are often seen as problematic and the work is passed to another practitioner who will.

Just to be clear, here are some descriptions of real scenes from the films being used every day in the UK:

  • A child is given drugs and alcohol and sexually assaulted on a bench
  • A child is drugged until unconscious, trafficked, imprisoned in a dirty room and raped multiple times in different positions by multiple men
  • A child is carried unconscious to a bedroom where men pay to rape her
  • A child is raped, chased into a field and murdered with a brick to the head, the child’s parents identify her body in a morgue
  • A child is taken to a party, drugged and then raped by multiple people
  • A small child who is sexually abused by a man she met online ends the video by looking into the camera and saying ‘I thought I knew. I should have known.’
  • A child is given large quantities of alcohol and sexually assaulted on a sofa whilst limply trying to bat the man away
  • A small child being sexually abused and then taken to the police to give statements

 

I have watched adult professionals cry whilst watching these resources at conferences and training courses. I know professionals who refuse to watch some of them because it upsets or triggers them. We even give professionals trigger warnings before showing them in conferences – but we are showing them to children as a routine intervention. When children refuse to watch them, they are labelled as ‘refusing to engage’ or ‘hard to reach’.

In February 2017, I was teaching a workshop about the lack of evidence base in CSE practice when a social worker put her hand up and disclosed to the rest of the group that she had worked with a girl who had been raped and exploited repeatedly for months. The social worker had been told to show the girl a CSE film in which the teenage girl is trafficked and violently raped. She was told to keep showing the DVD to her until she ‘understands what she is doing’. The social worker was close to tears in my group as she told the room that she made that child watch the DVD 11 times because the CSE strategy group in the local authority had told her that she must keep showing it to her until she realised how ‘risky her behaviour is’ and ‘leaves the abusers’. The child was 14 years old. “What have I done?” She said as she held her head in her hands.

The rest of the group were not shocked. Far from it, they confessed to doing the same thing. They asked me ‘but if we don’t use these films, how else do we get through to them?’

In 2017, Leicestershire police made Kayleigh’s Love Story which depicts the sexual homicide of Kayleigh Haywood who was murdered in 2016. The video is extremely graphic and has never been empirically tested and yet many local authorities paid for this resource to be rolled out to thousands of children in schools all across the Midlands. The resource is used heavily in ‘CSE’ and ‘sexting’ – but what actually happened to Kayleigh was not a ‘love story’ and nor was it systematic abuse – it was a sexual homicide that occurred within 2 weeks of Kayleigh being approached by the offender. The video has gone on to win awards and all sorts of accolades – but it has never been tested for effect, trauma, impact or anything at all really.

There is also a legal issue here. I am worried that practitioners, local authorities and charities are breaking the law. I am sure that showing children sexually violent material is illegal. Even images of child abuse that imply or depict a child are illegal. I am also worried that the consistent, repeated exposure to sexually violent materials to children who don’t want to watch it or have been victims of sexual violence – constitutes abuse.

Even though I have been challenging this practice for two years, progress is extremely slow. But when I talk to psychologists about this, they immediately understand my concerns. Some psychologists have actually asked me for proof of these films because they didn’t believe they existed. I also have a lot of quiet support for this campaign – hundreds of practitioners feel the same way as I do, but they are trapped in a system that makes them use these films as interventions. They rarely speak out because they are worried about backlash. I know first-hand what the backlash is when you argue against these resources, because there is a monetary agenda here – and a larger culture of victim blaming in CSE that feeds these films.

When I spoke at the British Psychological Society, I realised that the reason psychologists don’t know about this problem is because they have been cut out of CSE and CSA services (and we all know the impact of removing Ed Psychs from schools) – which seem to sit squarely within charities, social care and policing. Due to this, people from charities, social care teams and policing teams have led on the CSE interventions without input from experts in the psychology of sex offending and trauma.

Psychologists are extremely rare in social care teams, extremely rare in police teams, extremely rare in charities and are almost unheard of in CSE strategy. Interventions and strategy has been developed and implemented without the oversight and expertise of psychologists, who could have advised on sex offender methodology, trauma of children, impact of abuse, sex offender risk assessment, the development and use of psychometrics, the use counselling skills and so on. The field of CSE has now developed its own subculture which rarely utilises empirical evidence from psychology and criminology – it publishes report after report and never cites research from outside of its own subculture. It is very rare to find CSE research and reports that talk about psychology, criminology, sex offender theory, psychology of trauma, victim psychology, social psychology and so on. This culture has resulted in a ‘reinventing the wheel’ process which has developed untested risk assessments, psychometric measures, outcome frameworks, interventions and techniques that go against everything we know.

Ultimately, it has led to a range of interventions, techniques and assumptions that are not in the best interests of children or their families.

Psychologists, I am writing to you for two reasons:

  1. To begin a campaign to stop the use of these CSE films with children
  2. To begin a discussion about the role of psychology in statutory and voluntary services, specifically those responding to child abuse

I propose the hashtag #nomoreCSEfilms

I have developed a petition on the .gov website which will go live next week – and I will add the link here.

If anyone has links to BPS and can share this to the senior management, please do.

If anyone has links to government, local authority directors and police and health commissioners, please share this letter.

If any psychologists reading this letter want to get involved in the campaign to improve CSE intervention practice and to end the use of these graphic materials with children, please email me jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

 

What if rape was responded to like terrorism? 

What if rape was responded to like terrorism? 

What if rape was responded to like terrorism, and terrorism was responded to like rape?




As someone who specialises in the psychology of victim blaming in sexual violence, I have found the responses and media coverage to terrorism quite perplexing. In this article, I am going to compare and contrast rape and terrorism – and then show what would happen if rape was responded to as terrorism and what would happen if terrorism was responded to like a rape. 

When a woman is raped, she is highly likely to be blamed by everyone from her own family to the support services supposedly helping her. She is also very likely to blame herself – either because she has been told it was her fault, or because she has grown up in a patriarchy that has taught her that rape is a trivial issue that women bring upon themselves, lie about and overreact to. 

She hears victim blaming messages like: 

“You should have known that would happen”

“What did you expect was going to happen?”

“Why didn’t you just leave him?”

“Why did you leave your friends on a night out, that’s stupid.”

“But what were you wearing?”

“You have to take responsibility for walking home alone.”

“You shouldn’t get into a taxi alone next time.”

“You should always get a lift from a trusted friend.”

“Don’t get too drunk this festive season, you need to keep yourself safe.”

Trust me when I say that the list goes on and on and on and fucking on. 

(I dealt with a case of a rape of a 16 year old girl once where she was head butted 10 times in the face and the defence barrister actually defended the rapist by trying to convince the jury that all of her injuries were self inflicted for attention – I have quite literally seen it all. Victim blaming is the name of the game.)

So, when a woman gets raped, everyone is very sure who the problem is. The problem is the woman. The woman must change. The woman must adapt. The woman must take responsibility. The woman must see what’s coming her way. The woman must defend herself better. The woman must make herself completely undesirable and unnoticeable so sex-crazed-men don’t accidentally rape her (#fuckoff). 

The man who raped her is completely erased from his own crime. The woman becomes the perp and the victim – she brought this on herself. She is under scrutiny. Her sex life is investigated. Her background. Her ethnicity. Her class. Her life. Her experiences. Her job. Her education. She is on trial, make no mistake. She is on trial. 

If anyone actually reports on the rapist, he gets a lovely write up about liking swimming and being a great guy – and the huge impact the rape allegation is having on him. 

The police do not rush to arrest anyone. The government does not ‘find’ millions in defence money to protect women. Officials don’t hold emergency meetings about the amount of women being killed and raped every day. 

But what about the terrorism narratives? 

What happens when a guy goes into a tube station and plants a bomb? What happens when a guy detonates a bomb at a concert? What happens when a guy drives into a crowd of innocents? How is it spoken about and what is the media coverage like? 

“We will not change our way of life!”

“We are not afraid of you!”

“You can’t control us!”

“They just want us to stop going out and stop having fun! We will not stop!”

“The world will keep going and we will not be deterred!”

“We cannot let this attack on innocent people change our way of life – we must act, dress, think and behave as normal!”

“I’m still coming in the tube every single day – I’m not scared. They can’t stop me!”

“I still go to gigs – I won’t change my behaviours because of their sick crimes.”

So, when a terrorist attack occurs, there is no victim blaming of the innocent victims. No one tells them to do something different or asks them why they were walking down that path when the car hit them. No one tells them to stop going to work on the tube incase it is bombed again. No one tells them all to take self defence classes and wear bomb proof clothing. No one tells them to stay home and hide. No one tells the victims that they wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place if they didn’t like Ariana Grande so much. Think about it.
 
The perp is absolutely vilified, in minutes of the crime happening (and don’t get me wrong, I see the intersection here with race and class) – but just look at the difference in motivation and reporting when a guy commits a terrorist attack or mass murder versus when a man rapes a number of women. He has every bad thing he ever did reported about him. The press raid his Facebook and talk to all of his family and friends to piece together how he could commit such a sick act as to harm innocent humans. The police swoop in fast as fuck and it’s ‘all systems go’. 

People call for the death sentence and better prevention approaches. People have huge meetings about how to keep innocent people safe in cities and at events. 

So what if a rape was reported like terrorism? 




“Good Evening. This is the 6 o’clock news. First, this breaking story. This week thousands of innocent women were brutally raped and abused all over the UK. Women who were just going about their day, going to work, looking after their children, exercising and sleeping in their beds – all targeted and attacked. The PM Theresa May has given a statement today committing millions of pounds in resources to stop the abuse and murder of women at the hands of men and has convened an emergency meeting with top officials to understand what went wrong. She finished her speech by saying that women must be able to go about their daily lives without fear of violence and death. Women should not have to change the way they live to stay safe. The public and celebrities from all over the world shared their hurt and condolences on social media. The families are all receiving the very best support at this difficult time. We will be following this story all week, as more and more women are named as victims of rape and male violence – stay with us for live updates throughout the night.”

And what if terrorism was reported like a rape? 




(You could argue here, there wouldn’t be a report. But for arguments sake, let’s pretend the media actually does report rape…)

“Good evening. This is the six o’clock news and tonight we have a number of headlines including the return of Garden Force, the latest from Donald Trump, a report on terrorism and we go live to the BAFTAs. 

A new report on terrorism has shown that at least 3 people per week are being murdered by terrorists and thousands per year, possibly in the region of 700,000, are being attacked by terrorists. Experts have been commenting on the new report with many saying that terrorism is a lot better than it used to be and the stats are only going up because people feel more confident to report it to the police thanks to the brilliant work of police forces to raise awareness of terrorism. A new charity which specialises in terrorism prevention has given a list of terrorist-proofing strategies to vulnerable potential victims and research has been commissioned into exploring what vulnerabilities lead to people being attacked by terrorists. One expert explained that people can stay safe by rarely leaving their house, working from home, never using public transport, never going abroad, always wearing bullet proof vests and never going to large public events of any kind. Pro-terrorist groups have started a campaign called #notallterrorists to put pressure on the anti-terrorist groups to stop talking about terrorism. 
And next up, Garden Force is set to return to our screens next year!”

I won’t stop until the rape and murder of women is responded to and reported like terrorism. 



I won’t stop until victim blaming of women and girls is seen as ridiculous as blaming innocent victims of a terror attack.



Written by Jessica Eaton
Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk 

Do you see young people for their potential or their problems? A personal essay. 

Do you see young people for their potential or their problems? A personal essay. 

I rarely post a personal piece but this one has some legs for wider conversation about strengths-based working and seeing the potential in a young person experiencing abuse. And you get to see some pictures of me in a NY cap, a chain and a hoodie from 2005 – win, win really, isn’t it? 

I had a dream last night that I was back in year 5 in middle school, which would make me 10 years old. I was being taught maths. I was not doing the task. I thought the task was rubbish so instead I was developing a funding bid for a research grant. At 10 years old. 

My old math teacher, Mrs Harrison, came along and started to yell at me in front of the whole class to make an example of me for not concentrating. She was waving my math book in the air and pointing to the fact that I hadn’t even written the date let alone the sums. 

I stood up and said to her:

“Listen Mrs Harrison, I grow up to be fucking brilliant at math and get a PhD that requires skills in statistical equations, psychometric data and being able to use SPSS until I’m blue in the face. Not only that but some day I’ll open a charity and run the whole thing myself including all accounting and finance, so I need to get really good at bid writing because one day I’ll win £500k for that charity. I end up more qualified than you and this task is just some worksheet you downloaded from the internet and doesn’t ‘teach’ me a thing for my future. I need to write this funding bid, alright?”

She tells me to go to the headteacher and laughs at the prospect that I will ever do those things. How could a 10 year old know that, anyway? 

A confused kid asks her ‘What is a PhD, Mrs Harrison?’ 

I walk to the office; annoyed that they can’t see my potential and they don’t believe that I will be any of those things. 

I wake up.

Weird dream, I think. 

But then I wonder how children would develop if they knew they had that potential – if we told them they were capable of anything? They don’t need to be able to ‘see’ their future like I could in the dream but I wonder what the effect would be if a school took on an ethos where the entire staff team used positive future statements about their abilities and ideas – rather than deficit statements like ‘if you don’t do well, you’ll never amount to anything’ and ‘if you don’t do well, you will never get a good job’… 

I wonder what would happen if education systems learned to harness individuality instead of stamping it out. 

The kid that’s always mouthy and has an opinion on everything? Direct them towards public speaking or making YouTube videos on social issues. The kid that is known as the class clown and makes hilarious quips you’re not supposed to laugh at – could they write comedy or sketches for the drama group? The kid that never stops talking about building huge structures on minecraft – could you start talking to them about architecture and challenge them to recreate important buildings in minecraft and then showcase their work? The kid that keeps showing videos of themselves doing stunts at the skatepark, could you show them to the year group and celebrate the skill and practice that’s gone into that? The kid that is always arguing with authority – can you set up a debate team and make them the team leader? The kid that’s always drawing and doodling when you’re talking, how can you harness that amazing artistic skill? 

I have a letter I wrote to myself when I was 10 years old which is at the bottom of my wardrobe in a box – it says ‘one day in the future, I’ll be a psychologist or a politician’ – where would that sense of future come from? 

When I was 13 I did a presentation to my class in which I wandered around as I spoke informally about the topic (I’ve just laughed as I remembered the bloody topic!! It was about the way no one expected a working class bin man to ever make anything of himself and yet he saved up for a yacht and retired to the riviera – it was based on the Deacon Blue song – ‘Dignity’).

I delivered my presentation the exact way I deliver my speeches now: as me – and I got a B because I didn’t stand still and spoke too informally. I knew I would be a public speaker there and then – I didn’t know what I would talk about, but I knew I would be someone on a stage talking about important things to important people. 

I always daydreamed of starting a revolution. I imagined tearing down the establishment and starting again. I imagined rising up out of poverty and making a difference. I imagined arguing in parliament. I imagined being the underdog. I imagined writing books that made people rethink the status quo. I imagined giving interviews and appearing on TV arguing for the rights of the oppressed and vulnerable. 

You know, I once wrote an essay for which I got an A*. The task was to write about a terrifying place. I had been put in isolation and wasn’t allowed to learn in class – I think I had the wrong item of uniform on or something equally as ridiculous. 

I wrote an essay about a building filled with hundreds of humans, managed by grey, tired, dehumanised people who forced the other humans to conform, that taught them skewed propaganda history, that made them all wear the same thing and do their hair the same way, that punished them for irrelevant and minor mistakes to keep them in line. I wrote about a place that everyone believed was good until you were inside and you slowly realised it was part of a bigger system to crush individuality and create workers for the system. I intricately described the isolation room I was in. Even the cracks in the ceiling and the worn carpet. I described my teachers in that essay – right down to hair colour and body language. I handed it in and scrawled ‘THIS PRISON’ on the top of my essay despite me just having sat and described my high school in perfect detail. I got an A* – I don’t think they ever worked it out. It was one of my more subtle acts of defiance – rather than scratching ‘Mr Gregory is a wanker’ and ‘Mr Murray the Masturbator’ in the science lab tables with a compass. The teachers were probably just relieved I had done the work and not ran off for a joint. 

Me at around 14 years old in full chav attire
And throughout all those years of harm in my childhood, why did those feelings that I would eventually be a voice – never really go away? Why was I still so convinced I could make it out of the town and be something? Was it arrogance? How was it that all of the trauma and harm hadn’t knocked it out of me? How did those feelings persists despite no one nurturing them? 

Indeed, one of the first things I did once I left Stoke and left the abuse was enrol on a degree. I remember feeling like I was ‘behind’ on the grand masterplan. I hadn’t been allowed to go to sixth form and I left school 11 months before GCSEs started. I wonder why I had this underlying sense that I needed to get ‘back on track’ and get back into education immediately? Looking back, it certainly wasn’t the logical priority at that point when I was having extreme responses to trauma I wasn’t processing and I was still being hunted down by the abuser I had ran away from. 

Sometimes I stand up in front of hundreds of people and give a speech, or I lecture them on victim blaming in society or some other psychological concept, sometimes I meet with politicians or give a TV interview or write a document – and internally, I disassociate for a few seconds and I marvel at the fact that someone like me is even allowed this platform. Sometimes I am able to take a few seconds to soak in that hundreds of faces are watching, hundreds of brains are engaging, hundreds of ears are listening – whilst I stand alone with a microphone and talk to them about science, evidence based practice and my own research in forensic psychology. I wonder whether they would still listen to this ‘expert’ if they saw me 10 years ago when I was smoking weed, binge drinking, being abused and raped, leaving home, learning how to handbrake turn and drift in stolen cars, riding motorbikes illegally and generally being a ‘troublecauser’ to the outside world. 

Me at around 14-15 years old
I was the stereotypical council estate abused girl who would end up on drugs, dead or in prostitution. Two of those came true. I came very close to death a number of times thanks to a cocktail of drugs, drink and some very dangerous people. There’s only so many times you can wake up face-down on a roundabout until you don’t wake up. 

Me at around 13-14 years old

By the time I was 12, teachers had stopped encouraging me or talking to me positively about my future. Even when I performed well academically – I got ‘You might have done well in your exam but your behaviour is appalling and you never look smart, you still don’t have the right shoes on, your tie is too short – you’re always swearing and you have no respect for the staff!’ 

At least two teachers told me that they had placed a bet in a sweepstake in the staff room that I would fail my GCSEs. I was a lost cause. A waste of time. A never-amount-to-anything. 

I left school waaaaay before GCSEs and I can honestly tell you that the only reason I turned up to take them in between my shifts at two jobs at 16 years old was to piss them all off that I came to my exams wearing jeans. I knew I could bluff through my GCSEs and it should be okay. 

Me – the week I left school and never went back – this was the last photo of me in uniform
I was pregnant when I got my results and furious when I opened the envelope – I got 12 Bs and B+ – not a single A. The teachers didn’t hang around me to celebrate or congratulate or commiserate. I got my envelope and I walked off. I remember scolding myself for mediocrity despite not actually attending school in almost a year and having worked til 12am the night before the exams in bars I wasn’t legally allowed to work in. Despite being in serious danger and being raped almost every day throughout that entire time period. I can honestly say that I was ashamed to look at my GCSE results until about a year ago when I realised that it was a goddamn miracle I even turned up to my GCSEs let alone get 12 Bs and B+… looking back now with all my experience and expertise – I haven’t the fucking foggiest how I did that. The tatty envelope is still in my wardrobe with the grades written on the front. I wonder if my teachers thought I had cheated?

Fast forward to 2017…

Me – delivering some of my PhD research at the Coventry IVA conference

I bumped into my old English teacher recently – when I went back to my home town and needed to nip into Sainsbury’s for a birthday card. I didn’t recognise her at all (which I tend to put down to trauma blocking stuff out) but she eyed me up for about 5 minutes. 

I asked this woman, “Excuse me? Do you know where the greetings card section is? I don’t know this store well and I can’t find a member of staff.”

“Jess?”

I stared at her. She looked familiar. How do I know this woman? 

“Do I know you?” I asked. 

“I was your English teacher…”

I clicked. Ah yes, I recognised her now. She had dyed her hair. 

We had a brief conversation before she interrupted:

“Sorry but you sound so posh and well spoken. You pronounce all of your words correctly. You’ve lost the stokie accent. Where did you end up?”

“I am a doctoral researcher in forensic psychology at UoB working for my PhD and run my own business – I specialise in sexual violence, feminism and mental health. I write guidance, research and I speak all over the country on the topic of child abuse. I am the founder of the first male mental health centre in the UK and we now see hundreds of vulnerable men a year for free.”

There was no mistaking the facial expressions: pure, unmasked shock. Then confusion. 

“You? How? Well, uh, I would never have had you down for that. You were, uh, always intelligent Jess but… you uh, didn’t seem the type to go on to do… uh, anything really… and then you got pregnant when you were, what 16? And that was it really….”

I smiled a knowing smile at her and thought, ‘That was just the beginning.’ 

Written by Jessica Eaton

Dedicated to impactful and ethical research, writing and speaking in forensic psychology, sexual violence, feminism and mental health. 

Www.victimfocus.org.uk 

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Critical thinking and parsimony will improve the field of CSE – here’s how… 

Critical thinking and parsimony will improve the field of CSE – here’s how… 

Critical thinking is the key to protecting children from child sexual exploitation.

It sounds so deceptively simple. Too simple. Parsimonious in fact. 

The law of parsimony is from science – the principle that something: an event, a behaviour or a problem can usually be explained with the simplest solution which makes the least amount of assumptions or inferences. 

Parsimony = The simplest answer which makes the least assumptions is the most powerful. 

Why does this relate to children being sexually exploited? Why does this relate to strategy, policy and protecting children? 

I am going to give you 4 brief examples of how parsimonious solutions and critical thinking would immediately improve the outcomes for children who are being or have been sexually exploited. 

1. Trauma after sexual violence 

As demonstrated by numerous serious case reviews, inquiries, reports and research in CSE, children’s trauma is not only misunderstood but in many cases it is completely ignored. Professionals are seemingly baffled by children showing aggressive, violent, ambivalent, withdrawn or anxious behaviours after sexual trauma. Children are hauled off to doctors and psychiatrists for assessment and diagnoses. Children are informed they have disorders, mental health issues and are referred for therapy to alter their behaviours and thoughts. Some children are even medicated for their newly developed psychiatric disorders. 

Organisations, companies and authorities sell us complicated therapies, frameworks and assessments to keep these troubled children under control. We attend training about these disorders and behavioural issues and we hear horror stories of children who will never recover and never be able to form ‘healthy attachments’ ever again. 

We have somehow become so wrapped up in the pseudo-complexity – telling ourselves and each other that these behaviours are so complex that we cannot solve them or help these children. 

The reality is nothing like this. The reality is that those behaviours have a very simple explanation, that makes no assumptions, that makes no great leaps to mental disorders or neuropsychological deficits – the child is traumatised by something horrible. 

For this field to move forward and improve its responses to children – it MUST embrace and advocate for trauma-informed responses in which the CSE is seen as the criminal act of committing extreme and life threatening injuries and crimes against a minor who then displays equally extreme – but perfectly logical – trauma responses. 

And how would this improve the outcomes for children? 

– they would learn about trauma responses and their own experiences, which would equip them with knowledge to understand their own feelings and experiences for the rest of their lives 
– they would not feel broken or disordered 
– they would not have a psychiatric diagnosis for life 
– they would be seen as a whole human being and not a collection of negative issues

 

– they would be seen for their potential not their abuse 

2. The use of CSE resources with children 

There is now a large selection of CSE resources, varying in quality and content but all based on the same set of assumptions: (a) that showing a child videos of child abuse will enable the child to identify abuse quicker or escape a sex offender who is already abusing them and (b) that showing a child videos of child abuse will ‘educate’ the child so that they can become ‘more resilient’ and ‘reduce their chances’ of being sexually abused. A lot of this is just marketing waffle to sell DVDs of child rape that would be illegal in any other context. 

So how can we apply critical thinking and the law of parsimony to this issue? 

At present, these resources are being used with thousands of children in the UK based on a set of assumptions and a complex set of anecdotal theories whereby the more the child ‘sees’ and ‘understands’ abuse, the less likely they are to be abused. But the law of parsimony would eliminate these assumptions. And it is only these assumptions that keep professionals using them. 

The reality is that the resources are not evidence based and this practice amounts to the mass showing of child abuse to children in large and small groups. If we remove the assumptions from this issue, we are left with a DVD that shows child rape with no evidence it works. 

Not only this, but we have ample evidence in psychology that showing children sexually violent materials has a negative not educative effect on them. Add this to the fact that, statistically, a sizeable proportion of a year group, class group or even a smaller group would have experienced child abuse: the risk of retraumatising victims and traumatising others is so real that if we were ever sued for this practice, the complainant would probably win. And so they should. 

Simple answer: stop using them. They don’t work, we have no evidence to back them up and there is already emerging evidence that they traumatise children. 

And how would this improve outcomes for children? 

– the children who have never been abused wouldn’t be traumatised by a shock tactic film 
– the children who have been abused wouldn’t be retraumatised by a shock tactic film 
– the culture of responsibility would reduce whereby children would not be held responsible for identifying and escaping sex offenders 
– the myths about education protecting children from sex offenders would disappear 
– resources would be developed and tested empirically by psychologists through ethical processes with peer review to keep children safe 
– professionals would be reempowered to talk to children about important issues and build human relationships whilst talking about the negative things in society instead of putting on a DVD 

3. Assessing children as ‘low, medium and high risk’ of CSE

This is a clear example of a simple concept that has been over complicated to the point where it no longer makes a jot of sense. I’m talking about labelling children who are already being abused ‘high risk of CSE’ and calling children who professionals suspect are being groomed as ‘low risk’. ‘Medium risk’ is redundant. It’s mind-numbingly stupid. 

Children are being assessed all over the UK with over 110 ‘CSE indicators’ of which only two have any evidence base whatsoever and we aren’t even sure which (if any) the correlational direction moves in. Does the indicator increase the likelihood of being sexually exploited or does being sexually exploited increase the likelihood of that indicator? Or does being sexually exploited lead to trauma behaviours that look like that indicator? We don’t know – but we use them anyway. 

The other 108 indicators are completely anecdotal and some are even based on rape myths and misogyny such as ‘overtly sexualised dress’, which is virtually impossible for boys to be labelled with. 

The CSE toolkits, screening tools or whatever buzzword is being used to describe them – are based on a pseudo-theory that the more indicators that are present, the higher the risk of the child and the more urgent and intensive the intervention must be. Whilst that sounds pretty logical, the entire procedure is flawed because the tools have no evidence base. If the tool we are using doesn’t work, the rest of the process is problematic. 

So how do we apply the law of parsimony to this problem? 

Well, first of all, bin the toolkits. They don’t work on boys, they don’t work on younger children, they don’t work for disabled children and they don’t work for children being solely abused online. That’s a LOT of children they don’t work for. In science we call that ‘poor validity’ and we scrub it all out and we start again. It is not ethical or even adequate to use or distribute a tool that has not been scientifically validated and knowingly misses huge chunks of the child population. 

Second, look for a solution that is simple and makes the least assumptions and used the least anecdotal evidence. The solution is surprisingly simple: we reempower our frontline workers, remind them that they are ALWAYS a thousand times more accurate than a knocked-up toolkit with no validity and we ask them to make a referral and conduct a needs assessment like they would for any other issue. Ask them to record their concerns and their evidence so far, ask them about this in context to the child’s whole life and history and then ask them what they think the best course of action is and what the child has expressed themselves. Done. 

Simple answer: listen to the child and listen to the frontline professionals who know the child and bin the pseudo-risk-assessments

And how would this improve the outcomes of children?

– they would not be assigned a redundant label that slows down response to abuse 
– they would not be assessed using a bogus tool with no evidence base 
– girls would not be tested against sexist indicators 
– boys would not be systematically missed or ignored by female-centric tools 
– cases of online sexual harm would be responded to quicker and with more resources 
– professionals would regain their expertise and sense of mastery that has been taken away by these tools 
– professional judgement and knowledge of the child would come first, meaning that the child would be treated as a whole human and not a CSE case 
– professionals would regain the confidence to escalate cases and challenge the processes that are failing children, thereby increasing positive outcomes for children 

4. Removing children from non-abusive familial homes 

One of the benefits of being a national specialist and consultant is that I have not only discussed, advised or worked with thousands of cases myself but I can see national patterns in the caseloads of hundreds of areas. I can see strategies, procedures, screening tools, commissioning processes and even worker morale – all over the UK. And one of the things that just won’t stop bothering me is the removal of children from non-abusive families where the sexual exploitation of the child by an external sex offender is becoming so dangerous and so serious that the local authority make the decision to take the child from their family and plop them in a residential or secure unit anywhere from one county away to half the country away. 

This is usually done when the sex offender has such a hold over the child that the parents are struggling to keep them safe and conversation eventually turns to ‘failure to protect’ and parenting issues. Not only is this a pristine example of victim blaming but it is unethical and dishonest of professionals to ignore the control and power of the sex offender and tell a non-abusive family that they are not good enough whilst simultaneously failing to protect the child and the family from a sex offender, themselves. 

The child is then placed wherever they are placed where they repeatedly tell us in research and reports that they feel they were punished and isolated from their loved ones as a consequence for being sexually abused and raped. The families are then put under unnecessary scrutiny whilst workers convince each other that the family home was too unsafe and the residential/secure unit is in the best interests of the child who now keeps going missing and cutting themselves because all they want to do is go home to their families or go home to the sex offender (who they still think loves them). The sex offender has these magic tools called a car and a smartphone which means the exploitation continues or evolves. Their behaviour is reported to escalate and the placement ‘breaks down’. The child is moved somewhere else. The behaviours escalate and the placement ‘breaks down’. 10 months and 5 placements later and the child is now showing serious trauma responses – not from the sexual violence because they haven’t even psychologically processed that yet – but from our practice. We have moved them from pillar to post for months because no one will accept that removing them from their family was the wrong thing to do and now this child is showing extremely disturbed behaviours and everyone is sat around scratching their heads as to why that might be. 

So what would we do if we applied the law of parsimony and the skill of critical thinking to this issue? Well, the answer is always the most simple one that makes the least assumptions: keep the child at home. 

If we have no evidence that the family are dangerous or harmful, that child should stay put and we should support the entire family unit as a group of victims of serious sexual violence and crime cause by an external sex offender. Even if the parents are struggling and are begging us for help because they don’t feel they can keep their child safe from the sex offenders – the answer is to dig in and to hold that family together and teach them how to support their child with sexual trauma. 

Simple: keep the children at home with their safe family and invest the massive amounts of money and resources that would have been used to put the child into care, into therapy, coaching, advice and practical support for the whole family including siblings.

And how would this improve outcomes for the children?

– they would not feel punished by removal from their families 
– their relationships with primary caregivers would not be destroyed 
– their families would learn all about trauma and sex offending to better support their children 
– the siblings would not experience the grief of losing a child from the home 
– the family would have access to wraparound, non-judgemental support 
– the child and family would not feel blamed or judged for the harm done by a sex offender 
– the recovery from sexual trauma will be better when supported by the primary caregiver

The reason CSE feels so complicated and so difficult to address is because we have created a monster. We created CSE. We pulled it away from CSA and we convinced ourselves it was different and special. We have overcomplicated it. We have developed tools that don’t work. We have disempowered experienced and skilful workers. We have ignored decades of research on sexual trauma and sex offenders. We have made up models and theories and constructs that make no sense. We have sold resources that will never do what we say they do. We have told parents it is their fault that their child was raped by someone they never knew existed. We have sold and trained each other in institutionalised practice and ‘best practice’ with no evidence base. 

It’s time to bump back down to earth, colleagues. 

You’re working with children who have been sexually abused and will spend years processing their trauma. 

They need your help, your empathy, your role modelling, your patience, your compassion, your wisdom and your full commitment to their journey through trauma and towards a happy, healthy life. 

That’s it. They just need you. 



Simple but true. 

PS – here’s a cool info graphic from the global digital citizen foundation about how you can challenge yourself to think more critically:

Jessica Eaton
Specialist researcher, writer and public speaker in forensic psychology, sexual violence and victim blaming 

Web: Www.victimfocus.org.uk
Tweet: @jessicae13eaton
Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk