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

When rape myths are applied to children 

Written by Jessica Eaton

http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

20/09/2018

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

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

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

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

Wrong.

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

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

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

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

She dresses provocatively and shows too much skin

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

She must enjoy it

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

She lies about being raped

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

She brings it upon herself by the way she acts

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

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

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

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

She didn’t say no clearly enough

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

Why education will never stop rape

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Content warning: discussion of rape and abuse 
Written by Jessica Eaton – VictimFocus

05/07/2018

This blog is long overdue. I have been talking about this issue for about 18 months now but I am learning that the myth that rape and sexual violence comes from a lack of education is a strongly embedded myth in the UK (and maybe abroad but I only have limited experience working in other countries).

It doesn’t matter who I say it to, professionals recoil with horror when I tell them the following things:

  • Educating children about sexual abuse will not reduce sexual abuse
  • Educating women about rape will not stop them from being raped
  • Educating men about male rape will not reduce male rape
  • Awareness raising campaigns about sexual violence will not end sexual violence
  • Education about being sexually exploited will not change sexual exploitation
  • Educating children about being groomed online will not reduce grooming online

I said these things recently in a couple of national workshops, at a conference and in some meetings and the response is generally the same: shock, and then anger.

So I am writing this blog to set out the problems with assuming that education can solve rape, sexual violence and abuse – from both angles, by educating victims and by educating perpetrators. Education is clearly not the answer and yet we are ignoring all of the warning signs.

Before we go any further, I am NOT saying that education is useless or irrelevant. I write and teach sex and relationships ed myself. I even teach children about porn and sexual abuse. So, I am pro sex-ed from the earliest possible age.

However. And this is a HUGE HOWEVER.

I do not do my job, believing that educating those children, women or men – will protect them from a calculated and motivated sex offender. And herein lies the crux of this blog.

Here are my 5 main arguments of why education will never stop rape:

1. Education is not preventative or protective for victims

Education is a wonderful thing. We can teach children and adults about relationships, respect, sex, their bodies, their development, their identities and even teach them about their perspectives on the world.

We can teach them about abuse. We can teach them about rape. We can teach them all about domestic abuse and familial abuse. These are all great steps forward for a society that still regards abuse and sex as taboo.

However, we have taken a bit of a leap of logic over the past few years in a desperate bid to appear like we are doing something positive or to look like we have all the answers. We started to sell packages of education to each other and to victims of abuse and rape (child and adult) that assume that the REASON the child or adult was raped or abused, was because they couldn’t identify abusive behaviours and grooming tactics. Some companies and individuals got fat off the profit – some still are. They sell programmes to schools and tell the school that their work is ‘preventative education’ – to ‘reduce the risk of being abused’.

This is absolute bollocks. There is no way this can be proved – but also, this ignores the fact that it doesn’t matter how educated you are, if a sex offender can overpower you physically or psychologically, your education disappears. That’s why police officers and rape specialists can still experience rape. That’s why qualified social workers working in social care can still be in abusive relationships at home.

I once worked on a case of a very successful female solicitor who specialised in domestic and sexual violence. Her husband was an extremely dangerous abuser. He would lock her in the house and cut all the phone lines, smash her phone up, cut the electricity off, abuse her and keep her there for days with no contact with the outside world. Then he would blackmail her with her job and telling everyone about her, knowing it would ruin her career. At one point, he locked her in a place outside with nothing but a tent.

This woman was at the pinnacle of her career. She knew everything there was to know about domestic and sexual violence. But education and knowledge did not save her from such a dangerous and controlling abuser.

Think about it. Education is educative. It is not preventative or protective. Education will not protect any of us from a sex offender or an abuser in our inner circle.

 

2. Education has not solved a social problem or oppression yet

This is really important but this is also the point that annoys me the most. We often claim to be evidence based in our work – which would mean drawing on evidence from the past and from parallel issues. However, we don’t seem to do this much.

Education has attempted, and failed to solve lots of serious social issues and crime types. Education has not reduced the statistics of domestic abuse at all. Education and awareness campaigns has not reduced the statistics of women being murdered every week by their partners – in fact, in our age of wokeness and information, its gone up! Education has not reduced racism or war or genocide or terrorism or misogyny or… anything really.

Education has certainly raised our awareness of the issues. Maybe we can all converse about it. Maybe we know what FGM stands for and we know what radicalisation is now. But has that awareness translated into safety for humans around the world? Did we all have epiphanies with our new knowledge and stop harming each other? Nope.

This is arguably because these issues are not from lack of education. You don’t call an entire generation ‘cockroaches’ or ‘bad hombres’ because you need a bit more education. You don’t hold a child down whilst you abuse them because you missed the awareness raising in Coronation Street the other week. You don’t drive a truck into a group of Muslims because you didn’t have enough information about Islam.

Come on. Education is vital, but we have to stop pretending that it is the magic bullet.

 

3. Educating victims and then expecting them to protect themselves is victim blaming

This was the first time I think I ever blew my stack at work. It was when I realised that we were sitting children down who had been repeatedly raped and abused by adults and getting them to learn about consent and healthy relationships as a way to ‘reduce their CSE risk’. I couldn’t think of anything more damaging or patronising. It partially led to my #nomoreCSEfilms campaign – in which films of rape and abuse were being shown to children as an educative or preventative method.

In exactly the same way as the domestic abuse field had to learn that leaving a woman and her children to be raped and battered by an abusive partner whilst we taught her about keeping herself safe and what a healthy relationship looks like was completely inappropriate and a form of victim blaming; here we are in sexual violence.

We are investing left right and centre in sessions for school children about how to reduce their risk of being raped or abused. We are putting on workshops for women going to university. We are talking to girls before they transition up to secondary school. We are making police force campaign posters with images of unconscious women with their knickers around their ankles that say ‘Don’t drink too much tonight’.

We are heavily psychologically invested in telling victims what not to do, so they stay safe from a rapist or abuser. So heavily invested in fact that when activists or victims stand up and say ‘Why don’t you tell the rapist not to rape people instead?’ its either met with shock or it is laughed at as a stupid approach to sexual violence, because victims have a ‘responsibility to keep themselves safe’.

Someone said to me last week:

“If we know that a certain sex offender operates in a local venue, and we educate all the kids that the sex offender is there, they can protect themselves from that sex offender because they were educated. We can educate kids about where sex offenders hang around and how they will target them – so education does work.”

And I said:

“But 97% of rapes and sexual abuse occur at home with their significant others or family members as the perpetrators, so what are you gonna say to them? Don’t go home? Leave? How do you educate a child or adult to ‘keep themselves safe’ if their rapists lives at home with them? Can you educate them out of that situation?”

The reality is, education as a method has good intentions and we shouldn’t abandon it as a universal right to information and education – but telling children and adults who are already being harmed, raped, assaulted or abused that they can protect themselves once they have the education is a horrible form of victim blaming. It positions the victims as uneducated or unaware, and therefore reframes them as culpable because they ‘didn’t know enough’.

4. Educating sex offenders hasn’t worked out too well for us so far

The opposite argument to all of this, is that we should educate offenders – and potential offenders about sexual violence and consent so they don’t commit a crime (or any more crimes). Most people I teach come to this conclusion before really thinking it through. They assume that if teaching victims is negative, the positive outcomes must come from placing responsibility on the sex offender and educating them to stop raping and abusing children and adults.

I wish it was that simple. So did many others. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that thousands of people working in forensic psychology, prisons, CJS, criminology and psychiatry all thought the same. Much research and development was done over the past thirty years to look at education of sex offenders to look at things like sexual schemas, rape supportive beliefs, cognitive distortions and so on.

In 2016, the USA released a report that showed that the Sex Offender Treatment Programme actually increased sex offending in the men who went through it – and less than a year later, the UK released the same findings. The SOTP was dropped from every prison and community programme and we were back to square one. Why would an educative programme fail like this? Why would men who had committed sexual offences and then spent weeks in a SOTP become more dangerous?

The truth is, the SOTP was designed to be an individually tailored, one-to-one programme based on the offence and characteristics of the offender. When it was expanded and watered down by government and prisons, it turned into a classroom based group programme where lots of sex offenders spent time together talking about their offences, feelings, beliefs, thoughts and sexual schemas. Instead of education, we caused collusion. We caused normalisation and minimisation. The same has more recently been found in domestic abuse perpetrator programmes that have group elements.

Education is not the answer here, either.

Sex offenders who are motivated to harm others, will do so. They didn’t end up in prison for raping six children because they needed some education and some workshops. They did it because they wanted to and because they created an opportunity to do so. And so it becomes glaringly obvious that we have missed something vital in our calculations…

 

5. Sexual violence is so much more than a misunderstanding or ignorance of consent

Someone said to me last month:

“Most men in university who rape young women do it because they don’t understand consent and misunderstand when women say ‘no’.”

Yah. Sorry but I call major BS on that. Sexual violence is not a lack of education. It is not a low awareness. It is not misunderstanding or ignorance. It’s not that these people don’t know what ‘no’ means.

Sexual violence is a global social phenomena wrapped up in misogyny, hypersexualisation of society and children, economic factors, power struggles, porn culture, rape myths, weak laws and… individual motivations.

The uncomfortable truth is that our education cannot undo the damage our society has already done – and we cannot use education of individuals to change the way our entire society of millions of people have absorbed messages from porn, advertisement, patriarchy and the media.

The true way to combat sexual violence is to begin to reflect on the world we have created for ourselves. No point in blaming society when we ARE the society. It is us who allow porn to feature children, violence, rapes, torture, strangling, suffocation and abuse. It is us who allow our children to become sexualised by the media, by marketing and by popular culture. It is us who allow entire generations to be oppressed and harmed by a second powerful group. It is us who are so desperate for power over each other that the heady mix of sex and power gets mixed together to form an influential rape culture that is celebrated and accepted everywhere.

Education alone cannot solve these issues. We need drastic, human, individual and collective change. Educating children in a school hall or adults in a small group therapy about abuse and expecting them to be able to keep themselves safe – and then sending them off into that society we have created for them is WHY none of this is working. Educating sex offenders in prisons and community groups and then sending them off into that very same rape-supportive society we created for them is WHY none of this is working.

A message to professionals and commissioners:

Lots of professionals and commissioners are terrified when faced with the prospect that what they have been told to do won’t actually protect children or adults from sexual violence and to them, I say this:

  • Sometimes, you cannot fix a huge global issue like this – but you CAN fix the way you or your organisation responds to it. You might not be able to end sexual violence or abuse or CSE – but you can vastly improve the way you interact with victims and the services you deliver
  • Telling someone that the reason they were abused, raped or assaulted was because they didn’t know any better and that knowing more about abuse or rape could have stopped it from happening to them is abhorrent practice – make sure no one in your team says or believes that
  • Do we make daft promises like ‘We aim to end murder by 2020’ – no, we don’t. We know that won’t happen. But we are making massive promises like that in abuse and sexual violence. ‘We aim to end child abuse!’ ‘We aim to end CSE’. Good for you, but, you won’t. So stop chasing the impossible dream and focus on what you CAN do. Stop making promises we can’t keep. Stop selling products that don’t do what you say they do.
  • Stop commissioning education of victims as preventative or protective method. It’s patronising and it’s unethical. Focus on asking them what they need from you or your organisation. Support? Advice? Practical help? Someone to offload on? Someone to help them with a criminal trial?
  • Do not use education as an excuse to blame victims of sexual violence and rape. Education would likely not have made any difference to what a sex offender chose to do to them. The victim is not the problem here, the offender is.
  • When you are thinking about the problem of sexual violence, think bigger. Look around you. See adverts, music videos, porn, upskirting, forced marriage, laws, policies, campaigning, imagery, film plots… you live in a sexually violent society that celebrates forced sexual activity and the objectification of women and children
  • Remember that you can do a brilliant job of educating children, adults, professionals and even offenders – but to do so you must accept that you can’t predict or control sexual violence perpetrated by offenders you don’t even know.
  • Your education might have a positive impact on the people you are teaching, but please do not assume or expect it to protect them from rape or abuse – and don’t blame them if they are attacked after you educated them.
  • Outcomes measurement is important here – do not mix up your values and beliefs with true outcome measurement. If you educate 500 teenagers – the outcome is that you provided education to 500 teenagers. The outcome is not ‘we reduced the risk of 500 teenagers’ or ‘500 teenagers are now educated in sexual violence’ or ‘500 teenagers now better understand how to protect themselves’. You provided information, that is what you did.

 

Jessica Eaton is the founder of VictimFocus and the VictimFocus Charter to reduce victim blaming in professional workplaces and organisations. http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

My Post (1)

 

‘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

 

Comparing men & women: Who gets photoshopped the most? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the original image of the woman and the man

img_4772

Key differences for the woman: 

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

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

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

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

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

img_4756

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

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

img_4767
Key differences for the man:

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

img_4775

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

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

img_4750

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

bangladesh guy


What can this comparison teach us?



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here for the Male study: 

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

 

Written by Jessica Eaton

Tweet: @jessicae13eaton

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

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