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

25th November 2018

Jessica Eaton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah. I know. Depressing, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, the point I am making is this:

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

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

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

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

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

Uhuh. Hell no.

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

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

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

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

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

Weird, huh?

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

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

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

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

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

Nah fuck that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jessica Eaton

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

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Women and girls who have had babies from rape

Written by Jessica Eaton

14/11/2018

Content warning for discussion of children being conceived in rape, abuse and trafficking. There are no descriptions of sexual offences, but the article discusses the issues frankly.

It was a warm spring day in 2015 when I got the phone call from the Passport Office. I was at work and nipped outside to take the call. I listened and tried to take in what they were saying to me.

“Is there no way you can trace the biological father of your child?”

“Yes, ” I said, “But I am not going to. He’s a repeated, convicted offender of battery and sexual and domestic violence. He doesn’t know where we are anymore and I have been free of him for 6 years.”

“And you say you were raped? And you reported it to the police?”

“Yes.”

“So, could you get a letter from him, maybe? To approve the passport?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Could you find out where he is living and ask your family to go and get a letter from him?”

“No.”

“Do you know his parents or family members, would they convince him to write a letter for you?”

“Do you not get how dangerous this is? I ran away from my home town with my baby. I just want a normal life. I just want to go on holiday with my kids. You cannot possibly expect women who have been raped to find the rapist years later and ask for permission to go on holiday.”

I lowered my voice, aware that the windows of the office were open and people were likely to hear me having this argument. The conversation continued and I spent another 15 minutes crying, arguing and freaking out at the prospect of having to track down a rapist to ask his permission to go on holiday with a child he has had nothing to do with.

Fast forward to 2018 and I was on the phone again, this time to a colleague who also has a son from rape. We talked for hours on the phone and realised we were wrestling with all sorts of questions:

  • Do we ever tell them the truth? How? When? Why?
  • What will happen if we hide the truth but then they find out some other way?
  • How do you protect a child from a person they don’t know anything about?
  • What is in their best interests whilst protecting yourself as a victim of rape?
  • Why is there no support out there for us?
  • How do you get around the issues with birth certificates, PR and custody?
  • How many other women have children from rape and how are they coping?
  • Are any of us doing this right? Is there a right way at all?

Last year, I was privately commissioned to conduct anonymous research which explored the prevalence and experiences of women who became pregnant or had children from rape – and the prevalence and experiences of men and women who were born from rape. The study has remained private but will be being published with free open access under victimfocus soon.

What does the (limited) research teach us?

Well, a comprehensive literature review turned up very little. Most of the research in this area concentrates on rape during warfare. This led to me designing and conducting my own study – which would be one of the first of it’s kind. The findings of my first study present one of the first sets of results in the UK about the prevalence, experiences, stereotypes and myths about women who have children from rape.

One of the things that struck me was of the 315 people who took part, only 44% of participants said they had never known a woman or girl who had become pregnant or had a child from rape. Of the 56% who said they did, 111 people said they knew at least one woman or girl who became pregnant from rape or abuse, 72 people said they knew at least one woman or girl who had a termination after rape or abuse and 67 people said they knew at least one woman or girl who had a baby conceived in rape or abuse and brought them up herself.

However, despite this being so high, when participants were asked whether they had ever known someone in their lives who had been told they were conceived in rape or abuse, 88% of participants said they didn’t know anyone who this had happened to.

In addition, from the sample of 315 people, 7% of the females said they themselves had a child from rape and a further 8% of the females said they had become pregnant from rape but had a termination.

The rest of this particular study asked the 315 people ‘What do you think the public perception or opinion is on women who become pregnant from rape or abuse?’

The answers to this question were very important and guided my thinking as to what we do next. The majority of the participants wrote answers about women having abortions, hating their babies, damaging their children and resenting the baby. Less common answers also included people who wrote that women were probably lying about being pregnant from rape, that women didn’t have any support, that people would think negatively of the woman and the myth that it is impossible to become pregnant from a rape.

This demonstrated to me, that there was much work to be done. It is also worth noting however, that 87 participants mentioned that they thought women would be blamed for becoming pregnant from rape and 56 participants stated that they ‘had their sympathy’.

Extract 1:

‘My friend was still in school when she was raped and became pregnant. She was bullied horrendously by our peers and even some adults, unfortunately when it came out how she fell pregnant it seemed like she still deserved the snide remarks and comments. Like it was her own fault. Still a lot of stigma around shame and victim blaming that somehow the woman failed or was weak to allow it, that victims are forever ‘damaged goods’, inferior women.’

I then asked participants the same question again, but about the perception or public opinion of children born from rape or abuse. Again, the 315 participants were given space to write their thoughts before I analysed their responses using thematic analysis.

The answers to this question included very strong themes about the child having severe mental health issues, that the child would be pitied, and most worryingly, 90 participants wrote that the child would become a rapist themselves and ‘follow in the father’s footsteps’. Less common answers included discussions of children being taboo, shamed, judged, isolated, unloved, abused, unwanted and disgusting to the mother.

Extract 2:

‘It’s a tragedy – unfortunate – Lacking a father figure, potentially dangerous genes; mothered by a mother who might be traumatised/who might not be able to adequately protect herself or child. That they are born into a ‘broken’ family. The mother is not a good mother etc. Feel sorry for them, may expect them to inherit ‘bad’ genes from their father.’

Clearly, we have a very, very negative view of these mothers and their children. There were only a handful of participants who believed that children could be loved and supported by their mother, that they could grow up to be happy and healthy, and that the mother would do a good job.

The topic of women pregnant from rape, and children conceived in rape is uncharted territory. We are suddenly discussing something that is seen as even more taboo than rape, than FGM, than ritual abuse, than paedophilia, than snuff films. Plenty of research exists on all of those topics, and whilst they are undoubtedly taboo, there are years of reports, articles, research and support groups to be found. The same cannot be said for women who have had babies from rape.

The findings from the first study were a big mix of rape myths, misogyny, victim blaming, myths about children, myths about sex offending being inherited in genes and a number of other misunderstandings and stereotypes of women and children. The research in forensic psychology shows us that when people do not have personal experience or knowledge of a topic, they rely upon societal scripts and schemas to form an opinion or perspective. Their scripts and schemas often come from media, peers, culture, religion or societal norms.

Without any decent knowledge, facts or science, we have an entire population relying on fictional scripts and stereotypes. Would women or the children get the right support? Probably not.

So what can we do about this?

Well, as you will know, we are making a film with women who have had babies from rape and abuse.

I am also designing and preparing a range of resources, guides and even a new website which will host all of the information, research, advice and support in one place. This will launch in 2019. The website is already built, but I am still populating the pages with content and useful stuff.

The second thing I did was invested in further research. Launched in October 2018, I began a study with women who had become pregnant, had terminations or had a baby from rape, abuse or trafficking which has now had 110 submissions in the first two weeks. The study focuses less on prevalence data and more on the experiences and opinions of women, what they felt they needed, what it has been like to be pregnant or have a baby from rape and what we can do to support them better.

Another thing I have been doing is telephone discussions and interviews with women who have children from rape. These women have children aged in their thirties right through to young babies. I’ve spoken to women who were raped in a relationship, women who were being trafficked as children, women who were raped in care, women who had babies from sexual abuse by a family member and even women who became pregnant when men deliberately put holes in condoms or refused to let them take their contraceptive pill.

A message for women with children from rape

Right now, we don’t have many of the answers, but together we are building a body of stories, evidence, research, suggestions and advice so that this silence does not continue. Before I finish this blog, I have a message for the women who are reading this, having had pregnancies or babies from rape:

I have now spoken to or heard from over 600 women who have had babies or become pregnant from rape and abuse. What I can tell you with certainty is that we are all winging it. We are all different, unique individuals with varying circumstances. Some of us tell our kids. Some of us don’t. Some of us look at the child and see the rapist, some of us don’t. Some of us struggle with what happened every single day, some of us don’t. Some of us are facing custody battles with rapists who want access to children, some of us don’t even know where the rapist is. Some of us know our children have siblings because the rapist went on to rape others, or to have families of their own. Some of us have lied to our kids, some of us haven’t. Some of us are confident in what we are doing and some of us are shitting ourselves. Some of us reported to the police and some of us didn’t. Some of our families supported us and some of them ostracised us. Some of us remarried and have families, some of us didn’t. Some of us gave our kids up for adoption, some of us didn’t. Some of us decided to have a termination, some of us didn’t – and some of us didn’t even know we were pregnant until we were giving birth. Some of us are psychologists, police officers, social workers, writers, teachers, retail managers, artists, engineers, receptionists, athletes, TV presenters.

We are not one homogeneous group. Nor are our kids. We are a very diverse group from every corner of society. We are many. You are not alone. Nor are your children.

But despite us all being so different, we are all presented with the same problem: there is very little information or support out there for any of us.

I am committed to changing that over the next two years. Beginning June 2019, there will be research, reports, advice, support, professional training and education. We can change this silence, together.

 

Jessica Eaton

VictimFocus – Challenge, Change, Influence

http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk   |   Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

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
 

‘Beat the pussy up’ – the way we talk about sex with women

This blog contains a discussion of violent language to discuss sex, sexual violence and porn. It also contains the titles to real porn films that a lot of people may find disturbing. Please take care of yourself whilst reading this and seek support after reading if you need to. 

 

As a massive old skool (and sometimes new skool) RnB, Rap and Hip Hop fan, I often find myself experiencing some pretty serious cognitive dissonance to try to enjoy my music without yelling at the radio or crying into my crisps.

As a younger feminist, I used to tell myself that it was okay that women were called bitches and hoes because that’s the way that artist chose to express themselves (I know, I know, so progressive).

As I got older, I started to resent the use of the word ‘bitch’ in my once-favourite songs. I stopped listening to some artists because I couldn’t stand the way they spoke about women and sex. The next challenge was dealing with the rise of female artists using ‘bitch’ and ‘nasty hoe’ to describe themselves. I thought the rise of female MCs, rappers and writers would eliminate this constant woman-hating but it didn’t. Nicki, Cardi B, Lil Kim, Missy Elliott – they made me wanna two-step and cry at the same time.

(Edit: I would just like to add that misogynistic and rape-glorifying lyrics are found in Death Metal too so this issue clearly isn’t unique to my music preferences, but I have never listened to it so didn’t know until someone told me today! Here’s a link http://theconversation.com/death-metal-is-often-violent-and-misogynist-yet-it-brings-joy-and-empowerment-to-fans-91909 )

It is often the case in music that women sing about loving men and men sing about fucking women. And it’s this that I want to talk about.

I noticed recently that the range of ways men sing, rap and talk about having sex with women has become inherently violent. They aren’t talking about ‘getting jiggy’ or ‘having fun’ or ‘doing the deed’ – I mean, they are not even calling it sex anymore. Not only that, but they are not even naming or identifying the woman anymore.

I decided to sit and think about all the violent ways men describe having sex with women these days, and came up with this list in about 3 minutes. I am sure there are many more and people will contact me with others.

List of violent terms to describe having sex with women:

Hit that

Hurt that

Smash that

Smack that

Fuck that

Merc that

Destroy that

Crush that

Beat that pussy up

Beat it up

Ruin that

Bang that

Nail that

 

There are two main points here. The first is that sex is being described in very violent terms and the second is that the word ‘that’ is used in place of ‘her’ to objectify the woman they are talking about. These men aren’t saying ‘I would love to have sex with her’ or ‘I would shag her’ or even ‘I would fuck her’ – they are saying ‘I would fuck that’. ‘That’ is not a pronoun. ‘That’ is not a name. ‘That’ is used for objects. I’ll come back to this point.

The first point is the violence in the language. Hit. Destroy. Ruin. Bang. Beat up. Smash. Smack. Hurt. These are words that describe violence and injury. They don’t describe sex. They don’t describe the type of sex any woman wants to have.

When I started to search the terms I had heard and read, I easily found memes, articles, discussions and blogs using this language about women in a completely normalised way. Men saying to their friends ‘The girl next door, I would ruin that!’ or ‘She’s gonna get it hard. Beat that pussy up!’ The image of all of the guys saying they would rape the sleeping girl on the sofa. I found hundreds of song lyrics like the ones I have listened to.

Gucci Mane released a song called ‘Beat it up’ about having sex with women. So did Slim Thug. So did Chris Brown. And no, I’m not talking about one song they all featured on, I’m talking about three separately produced songs about ‘beating that pussy up’.

Here are the lyrics from Slim Thug:

Guess what? I’m fuckin tonight

Whether you know it or not, Ima beat that pussy right

Yeah I’m fuckin tonight, Ima beat it up

In song lyrics, R Kelly says he ‘beats the pussy up like Django’ and Lil Wayne says he ‘beat that pussy up like Emmett Till’.

Chris Brown says he fucks women back to sleep in ‘Back to sleep’. I don’t really know why he would want to make a woman he has sex with fall asleep but the song lyrics are creepy as shit:

Fuck you to sleep, wake you up again, I go so deep, beat it up again

Just let me rock, fuck you back to sleep, girl

Don’t say no, girl, don’t you talk

Just hold on tight to me, girl

Fuck you back to sleep, girl.

 

The issue here is that these influential men in our popular culture and music industry are openly using sexually violent references to having sex with women and then every day adults (and children) are singing along to Chris Brown riffin’ about the women he wakes up to make them have sex with him again when they are too tired. We are so oblivious to what we are listening to, this language quickly becomes the norm.

One article I found listed every artist they could find who referred to sex as ‘beating the pussy up’ and they found over 15 current male artists using that term in hit songs. Jay-Z to Lil Wayne – they were all describing sex as harming women.

 

After searching for evidence on each one of the terms I listed above, I found a website discussing what ‘destroy that’ and ‘ruin that’ meant and was surprised to find how open men were when talking about what they meant. I had thought that maybe it was being used semi-consciously by men who were using it in banter, but they were using it literally. One page defined it as ‘having sex with her so rough that you cause injuries, the more physical injuries the rougher it probably was’. One man said he used it with his friends to mean destroying or ruining a ‘nice girl’ by having very aggressive sex with her or by taking her virginity.

It reminded me of a film I watched (and use in my teaching) about mail order brides and the way white, wealthy guys were buying and sexually exploiting women as servile brides from deprived areas. There was this one guy who used military metaphors to discuss meeting and having sex with potential brides. He made my skin crawl.

He is sat in a dark club when he says to the camera:

“Uh, the search and destroy mission for today is to circulate, work the room, identify a target and go for it. If plan A doesn’t work, I retreat, rally the troops and then go out and then try plan B uhh to capture the target.”

He doesn’t even say woman. He doesn’t even talk about humans. He talks about destroying and identifying targets.

This links to the second point I wanted to make – that this language dehumanises and dementalizes women – it reduces them to their ‘pussy’ or their ‘ass’ that the men are going to ‘hurt’ or ‘hit’ or ‘crush’ or ‘beat that up’. They no longer converse about sex in human terms – they talk in metaphors and disconnected, dehumanised language. They refer to women as ‘that’ or they only talk about her body parts. She is there to be used, abused and hurt for their pleasure.

Where is this sexually violent language coming from?

Well, sorry to be the not-the-fun-kind-of-feminist, but its porn and societal misogyny. There is no doubt about where this is coming from. Work by people like Julia Long and Gail Dines has long told us that porn has become more and more violent, with Long (2012) arguing that over 90% of porn now features violence against women including hitting, slapping, kicking, choking, hurting, whipping and deliberately painful and extremely degrading sex acts.

You only have to look at the titles of porn films on Pornhub or X Videos to see the way they describe women in violent and degrading terms to see where this is coming from.

Here are some examples that are on porn sites today (18th May 2018):

‘Passed out slut letting me fuck her brains out’ (this film is of a clearly unconscious young girl being raped on Pornhub)

‘Unwanted painful anal’ (another allowed to stay on Pornhub despite clearly describing a rape)

‘Rip her up’ (the name of a series of videos in which women are raped)

‘Blonde babe gets brutally slapped and fucked’

‘Beauty humiliated and ruined – BRUTAL’

‘Teen gets anally destroyed – hear her real screams and crying’

‘Heavily pregnant teen used by men’ (Pornhub allows this!)

broken sexually

We must talk about the way that violent materials depicting the rape and abuse of women and teenage girls is becoming the norm. Actually not the norm, the goal. The harm of women is becoming glorified, not normalised. When women like Long, Dines, Bindel and Blac talk to us about violence in porn, they are not talking about a light tap, they are not taking anything out of context or exaggerating, they are talking about the sexualisation of choking women, beating women up, raping women on camera and hurting them so badly during sex acts that they cry out for help, pass out or scream in pain.

It hasn’t taken long, but this acceptance and arousal of sexual violence against women has slipped into common everyday language about sex with women. Role models in hip hop, rap and RnB are using this language in their hit songs. Children and adults are singing along to these lyrics. Hit that. Hurt it. Beat that pussy up. Smash that. Destroy that. Ruin it.

In a study conducted in 2006, Fischer and Greitmeyer found that men who listened to sexually aggressive and violent lyrics were more likely to choose for women to suffer painful situations than the men who had listened to normal music lyrics in a controlled study. In a follow up study, men listening to misogynistic lyrics were more likely to subject women to ice-water-treatment than men who did not listen to the misogynistic lyrics.

However, its incomplete to argue that these lyrics and language only affect men and boys – the reality is that these lyrics, language, imagery and porn affects women and girls too. They are also absorbing these messages as normal, and as shown by the work on hypersexualisation of girls by the APA in 2007, girls and women normalise and accept these sexually violent behaviours because they have been taught by society that they are supposed to enjoy them.

Adding sexually violent lyrics to some of the bestselling songs in the world is a clear method of normalising male violence against women and girls.

What can we do about this?

Parents and Carers of children and young people 

If you are a parent of an older child, there is absolutely no point in trying to protect them from these lyrics – they are everywhere! Instead, focus on bringing your children up to be critical thinkers and media-savvy. Teach them that everything they see in the media, music, advertising and news outlets are trying to manipulate them or sell something to them. Teach them clear and positive ways of talking about sex. Teach them to say ‘have sex with’ or ‘make love to’ or even ‘sleep with’. ANYTHING that isn’t negative or violent. Talk to them about the language – use the songs on the radio as an opportunity, a blessing in disguise and start to comment on the language. When something sexually aggressive or degrading comes on the TV, use co-viewing to start a debate or discussion about what you are seeing. Make a comment and ask their opinion. If you don’t teach your children about sex, the internet will. If you already watch a lot of porn, think about how different porn sex is to the real sex you’re having. Do you really want your sons or daughters thinking that porn sex is real? Do you really want your son choking teen girls? Do you really want your daughter to think that being forced to have anal is normal? If you don’t watch any porn and this blog has terrified the life out of you, have a bit of a search and see how quickly you come across violent porn. I bet it takes you less than 60 seconds of scrolling.

Professionals working with children and young people 

If you are a professional, you can do absolutely everything I have listed for parents and you can also make it your mission to educate other professionals about the way language is changing to encourage the normalisation of sexual violence towards women and girls – especially as you may be working with young people you can influence through your direct work, counselling, youth work or in school sessions. I deliver porn workshops to children and trust me, they know WAY more about porn than you think. I learn something new about porn every time I talk to kids about porn. Don’t think that when you deliver your porn workshops in school, you will be shocking those teens – you will be talking to a large majority that have not only watched porn but have been significantly influenced by it. Seriously, I’ve taught teenage girls who have told me that they thought that having pubic hair was disgusting and weird because none of the women in porn have any. If you can’t face workshops about porn, build some on song lyrics and music videos – you will get all the same discussions. Teach other professionals, talk about the impact of porn, consider it in your line of work and if you can, talk to young people about porn and violence.

Other adults in society 

If you are an adult in society but you don’t work with women or children or have any children of your own, you are still responsible for making our society safe for women and girls. We all are. Be aware of what you are listening to. Be aware of your language. Stop watching violent porn. Stop watching porn all together. Seek support if you feel you need help about the amount or the type of porn you are watching. If you are reading this and you know someone or you are someone who is turned on by violent porn, look for some support. If you want to affect change, get involved in anti-porn activism and help to change the world. Read up on the famous porn stars who have left the industry due to abuse, rape, drugging and injuries. Read their first-hand accounts of the violence and hatred in porn. Read Anti-Porn. Read Pornland. Read Porn Inc. Read about the abuse and rapes of Jenna Jameson and why she is now an anti-porn advocate. Educate yourself and seek to educate others. We already live in an extremely sexist world, we cannot let the language we use around sex become so inherently violent that the only way men and boys talk about sex with women and girls is to say to each other ‘Yeah man, I ruined her, I beat that shit up!’ If you hang out with friends like that, challenge them when they say it. If you are in a relationship where the sex always seems to be centred around hurting you or causing you pain, please seek help.

I don’t know about you, but I want my sex to be healthy, pleasurable, consensual and safe. I don’t want anyone to beat it up, hit it, nail it, destroy it or ruin it.

Boycott this language everywhere you hear it or see it.

 

Jessica Eaton

@JessicaE13Eaton

www.victimfocus.org.uk

Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

With special thanks to Suzzan Blac, Julie Bindel, Gail Dines and Julia Long for their tireless and selfless work in this subject.

 

If you have been affected by the content of this blog, please find some contacts you may find helpful below. If you don’t want to talk to a stranger or professional, talk to someone you love and trust. This topic is not easy to stomach sometimes and it is normal to be disturbed by sexual violence and abuse. Please don’t struggle alone.

Rape Crisis

Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2:30 and 7-9:30)

rapecrisis.org.uk

Victim Support

Supportline: 0808 168 9111

RASAC (Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre)

National Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2.30 & 7-9.30)

rasasc.org.uk

Women Against Rape

womenagainstrape.net

The Survivors Trust

Helpline: 0808 801 0818 thesurvivorstrust.org

Women’s Aid Federation

National Domestic Violence Helpline (24hrs): 0808 2000 247

 

Reductionism, neuroscience & CSE: The brand new bandwagon

Jessica Eaton

Its fast becoming my job to notice and write about some of the strange ways we respond to and seek to understand child sexual exploitation (CSE) (see: #nomoreCSEfilms for example). I have been working in sexual violence for nine years now but I have been involved in CSE work for the past three years. I work all over the UK with everyone from local authority leaders to frontline volunteers in charities – and I have noticed a discernible movement towards reductionist and neuroscientific explanations of child sexual trauma and child sexual exploitation. I want to talk about this because in my opinion, it is yet another turn in the wrong direction in CSE.

In this blog, I give some examples of neuromyths and reductionist arguments that are being used more frequently in the field of social care and child sexual exploitation. I will then explain why they are problematic and how they ignore complex social interactions.

But first…

Keywords:

Neuroscience: any or all of the sciences, such as neurochemistry and experimental psychology, which deal with the structure or function of the nervous system and brain

Reductionism: the theory that every complex human phenomenon, especially in biology or psychology, can be explained by analysing the simplest, most basic physical mechanisms that are in operation during the phenomenon. This includes but is not limited to brain cells, genes, neurotransmitters and neurochemicals.

Okay, so now we have got that out of the way, let normal service resume.

 

Example 1: Teenagers’ brains are addicted to risk taking and that’s why they keep putting themselves in situations where they get sexually exploited

One of the major problems with this type of statement is that it still blames children for being abused, but it is cloaked in neuroscience – so its sounds legit. This is a statement that I hear at least once a week from social workers, police and students. The most recent was when I was lecturing and a professional came to speak to me at the end of the lecture to ask me about this exact topic. I had finished a four-hour session with them about victim blaming and the way we erase the perpetrator from CSE practice by positioning the child as both the cause and the solution to abuse and exploitation.

She said to me ‘I totally get what you are saying about it not being the child’s fault that they are being abused but what about the fact that teenagers we work with are addicted to risk taking? We had someone come and give us a talk recently who said that adolescent brains are so addicted to the thrill of risk taking – that they do really dangerous things like get in cars with unknown adults and take drugs from them and have sex with them…’

This myth comes from misused and overgeneralised findings from neuroscience. Risk taking is individual. Some children take risks, some children don’t. Some adults take risks. Some adults don’t. Some risk taking is excellent and positive. Some risk taking is a learning experience. If indeed, the reason teenagers are sexually exploited is because their teenage brains are so addicted to risk taking – why exactly do adults still get sexually exploited all over the world? If we were to believe that adolescents were categorically different from adults (which is incorrect) then surely, abuse and exploitation statistics would drop dramatically at biological maturation? Surely once the child becomes a mature adult, their ‘risk taking’ would reduce or end?

In this example in CSE, ‘risk taking’ has been pathologized and then used to explain the actions of a sex offender. Not only that, but it positions the child as a ‘risk taker’ rather than a victim of a serious sexual offence perpetrated by a powerful adult. Ergo, this type of statement explaining sexual abuse and exploitation as some sort of neuropsychological issue with risk taking and endorphin release is just buzzword-intellectual-victim-blaming.

Moshman (2011) writes in ‘Adolescent Rationality and Development’ that risk taking is down to individual differences and that we have copious evidence that risk taking is not generalised to adolescents and is certainly not related to being sexually abused. So why are we making these leaps in CSE?

One answer could be that neuroscience can be rather seductive. Seduction by Reduction. Ooh, I quite like that. Seductive reductionism. Ooh, even better.

Rather than us having to explore and acknowledge the complex social interactions, environment, experiences, motivations, cultures and social norms that the child lives in – and rather than accepting that the child was not at all culpable for an adult targeting them and raping them – why not just blame their adolescent brain and do some work with them on ‘reducing their risk taking’? Beginning to see where this leads us?

 

Example 2: Boys don’t disclose their sexual abuse because they have differences in their ‘male brain’ that stop them from expressing emotions like girls

Can we just not? Really?

How we have managed to wilfully ignore gender role socialisation in statements like this is beyond me. I thought we had got past all of this ‘ladybrain’ ‘manbrain’ stuff. The issue with statements like this in our practice in CSE is that it gives us a massive cop out for why boys are being missed – and why they don’t feel able to disclose to us about experiencing childhood sexual abuse.

I urge professionals to reject any assertions of this nature. The key to why boys do not disclose or even acknowledge that they have been raped or abused lies in gender role socialisation and the way our society sexualises children. It has absolutely nothing to do with having a ‘manbrain’ – and to reduce a boy to some brain cells that cant express emotion is unbelievably oversimplified.

In a society where we see sex as a taboo, where kids don’t get sex education until they are 11-13 years old (and it’s shit when they do get it), where homophobia is rife, where we don’t talk to boys about being sexually abused, where we tell boys ‘don’t cry’ and ‘stop being a girl’ and ‘man up’, where all of our sexual abuse campaigns have pictures of girls on them, where we tell boys that they should love sex and desire, where we position men and boys as insatiable creatures of lust that cannot help themselves and should enjoy all sex…. How exactly have we got to a place where we think its progressive to teach professionals that the REAL reason boys don’t disclose their abuse to us is because their brain is missing something? Riiiight.

This reductionism to neuroscience has to stop. It is not improving practice, it is dumbing it down. We cannot understand the abuse and experiences of boys if we wilfully ignore gender role socialisation.

 

Example 3: Young peoples’ brains are irrational and worse at decision-making than adults’. That’s why they ignore our advice to stay safe from CSE.

Ahhh another one that comes up a lot these days. Who is it delivering this stuff to frontline workers? Why would you tell workers this rubbish?

The major issue for me here is that this explanation is way too comfy. Rather than getting professionals to think about why the child might not listen to them, or why the perpetrator can wield so much power over their victim that the child has no escape route at all – we are telling each other that the child’s immature brain is just too irrational and poor at decision making and that’s why they are still being sexually abused and exploited.

Nope. Wrong answer.

David Moshman (2011) argues that there is no evidence for a difference in irrational behaviours, emotional maturity or risk taking between adolescents and adults, with adults consistently being found to be as irrational as adolescents. Very young children are distinct from adults in terms of neuroscience and neuropsychological development, but adolescents are not. Maturity, decision making, risk taking and rationality tend to evolve in varied ways from the age of 10 or 11 onwards and Moshman strongly argues that many 14-year-old children function beyond the level of many 40-year-old adults. Whilst current practice in CSE is ascribing impulsivity, irrational behaviour, poor decision making and risk-taking behaviours to young people, Moshman (2011) argues there are no differences in these cognitive functions between adolescents and adults.

Not only this, but if we are to look at sexual violence as a global, cultural problem – why would we eventually settle at the explanation of brain immaturity and irrationality of children? I think that to tell victims of sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking that the reason they couldn’t escape their abuser is because they were irrational and poor decision makers, is first class victim blaming. Where is the role of the perpetrator and society in these reductionist arguments?

Abuse doesn’t reside in the brain of the child – someone else is doing this to them!

Second, if the reason children cannot leave their abuser is down to brain irrationality, maturity and decision-making abilities that will improve with age – why exactly to millions of adults experience sexually violent, abusive and dangerous relationships from which they cannot escape? What brain explanation do they have for that?

 

Example 4: The brain controls how children and young people react to a rape or sexual assault. They freeze during a sexual assault and don’t try to fight back because their brain isn’t mature enough to process what is happening to them and fight back.

Improving professional knowledge of trauma responses and normal behaviours during a sexual assault is very important to me – and to the work I do around the world. I was very disappointed to hear this exact statement from a professional recently and became concerned about the impact they are having on the field, if they are delivering messages like this.

The first thing that came to mind was that, if this statement is true, why do we know that 70% of all adults who experience a sexual assault or rape, also freeze? (Muller et al. 2017).

If the freeze response is due to lack of mature processing of what is happening to the child – why do adults also respond with a freeze response to danger and violence? Surely at adulthood, according to reductionist arguments of adolescence like this – the adolescent would grow up, become wiser and their brain would become more mature and then they would fight off the rapist or abuser… but we know this to be untrue.

This statement and statements like this reveal a really interesting social bias we have as adults: that we are better than, and wiser than, adolescents. Our practice and theory positions adolescents as a subgroup of humans that are irrational, risky, poor decision makers, naïve and immature whilst we position adulthood as the ultimate goal in rectifying those issues. As the adult population, we are writing and speaking as if all humans get wiser, more rational, less risky and better decision makers with age – and this is simply not true.

I mean, come on. I bet you can think of a number of adults right now who don’t fit that description. Yep. Thought so.

There are plenty of children and adolescents I would trust more with decision making and rational responses to social issues than say… Donald Trump.

 

Example 5: Young people and adults who have experienced sexual traumas and now have mental health issues, probably have genes that run in their family or a predisposition to depression/anxiety/personality disorder.

The latest example I saw of reductionism was yesterday. I read an article from a professional stating that depression can be reduced to genes that predispose people to mental health issues. This is yet another example of harsh reductionism of the psychology and human experience of trauma and environmental stresses.

There are those of us in the ‘trauma-informed approach’ movement that have been working hard to ensure that the public and professionals understand the social model of mental health and the way that oppression, trauma, environment and experiences cause trauma. In our movement, we do our best to ensure that the person is not pathologized, labelled or blamed for experiencing and trying to cope with traumas – and that the professionals place appropriate importance on the environmental factors causing the trauma and distress of the person. We argue that giving people medication for depression when they are living in a highly oppressive and hopeless environment is useless. Medicating people in traumatic or oppressive situations ignores the cause of the distress.

Blaming the trauma responses and coping mechanisms of young people and adults who have experienced rape and sexual abuse on genes is a step even further. This not only places the problem within the person, but it places the problem with the genes held in the DNA of the person. You don’t get much more reductionist than that. This type of argument completely ignores the cumulative and life changing traumas the people have lived through; and pathologizes their reactions to those traumas as ‘abnormal’.

 

Final thoughts

In this short blog, I have given real examples from CSE and CSA practice that show that professionals are being taught crude, reductionist neuroscientific explanations of trauma, abuse and human experience. It is not to say that neuroscience cannot give us incredible insights into the brain – but this is not the way to use it. Many of these statements are huge overgeneralisations or a wilfully misused in order to place blame on victims of sexual violence. Social care as a discipline and the large bodies of professionals working with children after abuse need to remain critical towards statements and assertions that claim that adolescents do certain things, respond in certain ways, don’t disclose or are more vulnerable to being sexually abused because of brain immaturity.

In the words of David Moshman:

‘All of these assumptions are false. Let me be clear: I am not just saying we do not have sufficient evidence to support some of these claims. I am saying we have plenty of evidence with regard to all of them, and the evidence shows them all to be false.’

 

Written by Jessica Eaton

30/04/2018

www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Email: Jessica@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