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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Jessica, 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Josie*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jessica Eaton

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

How to protect children from chicken nugget related sex offences

I am often commissioned to give speeches or to teach about the ‘risks’ and ‘vulnerabilities’ of children who are sexually abused and exploited. Mainly because I oppose this approach and professionals are becoming increasingly curious as to what I can teach them about the fallacy that children have inherent vulnerabilities or take specific risks that would mean they are sexually abused by someone – otherwise known as ‘victim blaming’.

Professionals in the UK have been led to believe that hundreds of ‘indicators’ increase the chances of being sexually exploited and abused, which has led to children being positioned as both the problem and the solution in CSE and CSA. Interventions, campaigns and programmes of work focus on changing the child to make them less… ‘abusable’?

So whilst we are all sitting around tables discussing how we can make 13 year old Layla less ‘promiscuous’ and ‘take less risks’ – we ignore the fact that all of the risks and all of the danger comes from the sex offender, not Layla. Layla is a victim of serious crime. Layla doesn’t need to change.

So how does this argument link to chicken nuggets?

Well:

2017-12-08 (2)

Yep. You read that right. A forensic psychologist lifted the lid on new techniques being used by sex offenders to crawl children’s profiles by creating facebook pages of popular foods that children like, in the hope that they join the page.

So, here I am, reading this recent news story about sex offenders posing as chicken nuggets online to groom children. And it made me think about how ridiculous some of our responses to CSE truly are, when you consider how we try to place responsibility and blame children for being abused by adults that are so intent on abusing them, they will literally pretend to be chicken nuggets. I started to think about how the field of CSE had reacted in knee-jerk fashion to cases of sexual offences in the past – and had developed interventions, models, programmes and risk assessments based on anecdotal cases like this.

So lets apply this scenario to our beloved ‘models of CSE’ (which have thankfully been well and truly debunked this year).

The models of CSE, advocated by multiple national charities, statutory agencies and police forces in the UK – are used to categorise the type of CSE the child is being targeted through. However, I have recently written about the fact that the models are not held up by any evidence, science or data whatsoever – and the authors managed to ignore decades of brilliant research on sex offender theory, methodology, grooming techniques and typologies. But people continue to use the models of CSE in their risk assessments and CSE training all over the UK. So, I’ve made them a new one.

2017-12-08 (3)

I know, I know. Stupid right?

Well, I wish everyone thought that adding anecdotal evidence to incorrectly used venn diagrams was stupid but unfortunately, we have been working in CSE for over 8 years with these ‘models of CSE’ that make as much sense as the new ‘posing as chicken nuggets model’. Take the ‘boyfriend model’ for example. We are talking about adults who groom children to rape them and traffic them – and organisations named the model ‘boyfriend model’? A model which specifically positions a male offender, a female victim, a heteronormative stereotype of abuse that ignores female sex offenders, same sex abuse and male victims. A model that reframes the abuse as a relationship rather than a crime. Despite the model name being so problematic, no one changed it. And don’t even get me started on the ‘inappropriate relationship model’ of CSE –

“Aren’t they all inappropriate?” A social worker asked me once. I sighed and nodded.

The reality is, the models of CSE have as much evidence base as my ‘posing as chicken nuggets model’ – because the models of CSE have been based on anecdotes and general practice language as the field has tried to respond to the sexual exploitation of children. One of the major problems in CSE is that cases are being taken as the rule, generalised across all cases of sex offending and then all children (and all offenders) and being labelled and categorised and then responded to in the same way – ignoring the nuances of each case.

And what about the heavily-used ‘grooming line’? (Thankfully, another piece that has been debunked as oversimplified and not based in evidence).

How does posing as chicken nuggets online fit into the grooming line in which sex offenders are all homogeneous characters who target children, build a friendship with them, trick them into a relationship and then start sexually abusing them?

This maybe?

2017-12-08 (5)

Clearly, it would be stupid to teach this to professionals all over the UK, to tell them that all sex offenders pose as chicken nuggets and all chicken nuggets should be suspected to be possible sex offenders. But the real grooming line HAS been used in this uniform way. Thousands of practitioners in social care have been trained using a grooming line which is so oversimplified, some practitioners do not know that most sex offenders do not actually spend months carefully grooming children to meet with them in dingy bus stations to abuse them. Some practitioners show confusion when I show them real cases of child sexual offences where the offender didn’t even bother grooming the child – and quickly threatened them or blackmailed them instead. Some practitioners still do not know that most sex offenders do not pose as children online, they are actually much more likely to be themselves and tell the children that they are adults.

The grooming line, which is as evidence based as my chicken nugget grooming line above, has influenced the understanding (read: misunderstanding) of sex offending throughout all of social care and even some police forces.

Not only practitioners, but thousands of children have been taught the ‘grooming line’, too – resulting in children (and young adults) completely misunderstanding grooming and manipulation. This is our fault. We have taught children faulty concepts, oversimplified models of grooming and then built resources and interventions around them. Not all sex offenders pose as chicken nuggets online – and not all sex offenders will slowly and carefully groom children, make them feel special, trick them into thinking they are in a relationship and then start harming them. The grooming line assumes all sex offenders groom children in the same way, and that the ‘harm’ comes at the end of the process, rather than acknowledging that the whole process is harm.

Finally, how on earth do we protect children from chicken-nugget-paedophiles? 

With DVDs about chicken nuggety dangers, of course!

2017-12-08 (6)

If I have learned anything from the field of CSE, it’s that all sex offending can be solved by showing children graphic films of sex offending. Because as I said earlier – children are seen as the problem and the solution in CSE. (See my #nomoreCSEfilms campaign for more details – that’s real, the nugget DVD is not).

When I mock up a DVD cover like the one for ‘Layla’s Nugget Story’ – it seems ridiculous doesn’t it? The blurb says ‘A film to raise awareness and help children protect themselves from sex offenders posing as chicken’.

The film shows the ‘story’ of Layla, who loves chicken nuggets. She’s just a normal 14 year old white girl (because all of the CSE films are about them) – but she loves nuggets. All of her friends love nuggets. They go to places where they can eat nuggets. She loves nuggets so much that one day, she found a facebook page devoted to chicken nuggets. She ‘liked’ the page. But little did she know… the page was actually a sex offender, posing as chicken nuggets online to steal her profile info and her selfies – so he can blackmail her with them into performing sex acts on webcam.

Silly Layla, she should have known that the chicken nugget facebook page was actually a sex offender. If only she had watched this DVD.

The DVD is shown to thousands of children, who are all now deemed at risk from chicken nugget facebook pages because… kids love nuggets and kids love facebook. The children watch the DVD in which Layla is sexually exploited, distressed and harmed by the chicken nugget offender. Practitioners stand around saying things like ‘this will help the children recognise the signs of chicken nugget offenders and help them to protect themselves from abuse’ and ‘kids these days, they need to know the harsh reality about the risks of chicken nuggets’. Practitioners tell each other that this will help the children protect themselves from chicken nugget offenders and nominate each other for awards for their ingenuity.

After the DVD, the kids are asked questions about what they could do differently in the future to make sure they are never targeted by chicken nugget sex offenders. Boys and girls put their hands up, and are praised for the following correct answers:

“I will never eat chicken nuggets again”

“I will never like a facebook page about fast food again”

“I will become a vegan”

“If my friends like a page on facebook that has fast food on it, I will tell a teacher”

“Layla shouldn’t have added the nuggets page in the first place, then none of this would have happened to her.”

“Layla should have told someone that the chicken nuggets were exploiting her, then someone could have helped her.”

I know – they all seem really stupid answers. They all blame Layla for what happened. They place responsibility on her to have known that a chicken nugget facebook page could be a sex offender.

But these answers are the types of answers we are expecting and praising when the real CSE films are shown to children in our schools and services. Children are asked plenary questions like ‘what would you do in this situation?’ and ‘what should she have done differently?’ or ‘what could she have done to keep herself safe from the abusers?’

Children are reward-oriented and suffer from adult-pleasing because we bring them up in a culture where they are supposed to please us and satisfy us at all times; even when we are talking utter bubbles. So, despite the fact that we are teaching thousands of children to blame the victims in the videos and develop a new, emboldened victim blaming culture in our next generation – they give us the answers they think we want to hear.

They know that practitioners do not want them to put their hand up and hear them say:

“Being sexually abused is never the victim’s fault and you shouldn’t be advocating victims to change their lives and behaviours so they don’t get abused – you should be changing the behaviours and attitudes of sex offenders and you should be improving the criminal justice system!”

So what the chicken nugget has this got to do with anything? Why the chicken nugget satire article?

Because I will not stand for anymore of this palatable, careful, professional, implicit, subtle victim blaming of children – where we come up with more and more models, theories and CSE films that place responsibility on the children to protect themselves from sex offenders. When I saw that sex offenders were creating facebook pages to pose as chicken nuggets, my mind wandered to how the field of CSE would respond to that…

Would they teach the kids to be wary of all chicken nuggets?

Would they make films about chicken nuggets and show them to thousands of children?

Would they create websites and posters about chicken nuggets?

Would they create new models and theories about chicken nugget sex offenders?

Would they add ‘likes chicken nuggets’ to the CSE risk assessment toolkits?

Would they develop resources about staying safe from chicken nuggets online?

Or would they finally come to the realisation that sex offenders will try anything they can think of to groom children (even posing as chicken nuggets) – and that children can never be expected to predict, preempt and protect themselves from sex offenders?

It is time we realised that children cannot influence or stop a sex offender who is abusing them. 

 (Layla’s Nugget Story and the Chicken Nugget Handbook is £294, it will totally help protect children from nugget-related-offences. Honest.)

Written by Jessica Eaton – Doctoral Researcher in Forensic Psychology of Victim Blaming

http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

‘You showed me a CSE film when I was 13 years old… this is how it affected me’ – A letter for #nomoreCSEfilms

Last week I started the #nomoreCSEfilms campaign – and there are plenty of people who think that I am exaggerating the impact that these films have on children who have been sexually exploited or abused.

What is a CSE film anyway? 

It’s a series of films being used in the UK depicting the rape, abuse and murder of children. These films are sold to schools, local authorities and charities to show to children who have been abused and raped – or to show to hundreds of children in assemblies or classrooms as a ‘preventative measure’. 

Obviously this is extremely traumatising and unethical and I strongly oppose this practice. 

I got an email from a parent – a professional parent – whose child was sexually assaulted and was told to show her CSE films. The child was traumatised by the films and asked her mum why she would show these films to her, knowing what she had been through.

But this blog is about, and dedicated to Kate.

Kate is anonymous but has written this letter to us all. Please read and take this seriously. This is just one child, now an adult, who has been affected by our practice.

My name is Kate, and I recently turned 22 years old. When I was 13 years old I was shown CSE videos like the ones detailed in Jessica Eaton’s letter, and I would like you to know how that did and still does affect me.

Up until 12 years old I was a very happy child. Then one evening I was walking home down a quiet side alley when some older boys I recognised stopped me and offered me money in exchange for sex. They started grabbing at me, and I only remember flashes of what happened next. After that I would often ‘zone out’ and lose chunks of time, which is when my school began to notice something wasn’t right. It took a lot for me to talk to them but ultimately, nothing happened. Shortly after, I started getting harassed by other boys at my school. They would follow me, wait outside my house, throw things at me and touch me in ways I knew they shouldn’t. At first I reported them to my school, and in some cases they were dealt with, but over time I stopped. One teacher had called me annoying, and another had asked out right if I had been raped by ‘a man’, as I was over reacting for it to be anything else. I felt like I had become ‘a problem’.

I always thought it was a coincidence that I was shown the CSE resources, but having read about the same thing happening to so many other children I now think perhaps it wasn’t.

Can I tell you what it feels like to sit in a class full of children and be shown videos depicting the most traumatic experience of your life? It feels like your heart is going to thump out of your chest and that you will tremble until you cease to exist. It feels like the world could collapse in on you and that you could explode all at the same time. You’re panicking, and you want to scream and cry but you can’t because then everyone would know what you are. What happened to you.

Afterwards you made me stand up and read a poem to the class about how I could stop it happening to me, when I knew it already had. At 13 years old I stood up and recited from your videos how I could have stopped my own assaults, if only I had thought. Or not walked alone. Or not been so god damn inviting with my female body. I was so sure everyone in that room would see the guilt written on my skin. I felt utterly humiliated.

Everyone in the class read their poems, and it felt like a chorus amplifying my wrongness. It was a competition. I didn’t win.

Your videos taught me that the thoughts inside my head were true. That somehow I’d invited it because of the way I looked or acted or was. That the people around me, my friends, my family and my mum, would be disgusted by and disappointed in me. That they’d whisper and point and think about all the ways I could have prevented it. If only I had known. If only I had told someone sooner. All I had to do was realise what was happening and tell someone. But you see I had realised, and I had told someone. And those videos were what I got. I went into that class feeling dirty and ashamed and left convinced I was right to.

Those videos didn’t make me aware that what happened to me was wrong. I already knew that.

Those videos didn’t make the harassment and assaults stop. If anything, they helped them continue.

So you see, there is no logic in your CSE videos. And I guess I’ll never know why you showed me those films. Maybe you didn’t know what else to do. Maybe you thought I would find a way to make sure it didn’t happen again. If you wanted to shut me up, it worked. Instead of talking I scratched at my skin, trying to stop the aching, bursting feeling inside my chest. Sometimes I would lie powerless on my bed, overwhelmed by the gnawing feeling that I was worthless because I let it happen to me. Sometimes I still do. Every time I wanted to tell someone memories of those videos convinced me otherwise. It took me 9 years to tell someone after you.

Please stop showing children those videos. They hurt more than you can know, and they stop us asking for the help that we so desperately need. It was your job to make it stop, that responsibility never should have sat with me. I needed you to tell me that it wasn’t my fault, to give me the space to be angry and in pain but still be safe and protected.

Please stop using those CSE videos. You’re better than that. I know you are.

Kate – 12/11/2017

Please share this letter, use it in training, read it out at conferences, read it to other professionals, use it in university modules. We ARE getting this wrong. We ARE doing harm. We ARE using untested, unethical resources with children. We ARE teaching children to blame themselves and change their behaviours after abuse.

This has to end, NOW.

Kate, thank you so much for submitting your account to my campaign. Huge respect to you.

Link to the original campaign letter: http://www.victimfocus.org.uk/blog/4593418266
Link to my YouTube series about CSE films and the petition: 

http://www.victimfocus.org.uk/nomorecsefilms/4594134271 

Email me: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @Jessicae13Eaton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The underpinning assumption with these films are:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psychologists, I am writing to you for two reasons:

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

I propose the hashtag #nomoreCSEfilms

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

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

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

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

 

Here’s why the decision to strip Zara Holland of her title perpetuates victim blaming of women who are sexually assaulted 

Written by: @Jessicae13Eaton

This week saw Miss GB, Zara Holland, stripped of her title for having sex on the (apparently) popular TV show, Love Island. 

The official statement read: “Following recent actions within ITV2 show ‘Love Island’ it is with deep regret that we, the Miss Great Britain Organisation, have to announce that Zara Holland has formally been de-crowned as Miss Great Britain.”
“As an organisation we have not taken this decision lightly, we are close to all of our winners and wherever possibly stand by them during their rein. That said, we feel we have no choice but to make this decision under the circumstances.
“The feedback we have received from pageant insiders and members of the general public is such that we cannot promote Zara as a positive role model moving forward.
“We wholly understand that everyone makes mistakes, but Zara, as an ambassador for Miss Great Britain, simply did not uphold the responsibility expected of the title.”

This blog post will discuss why the move to remove her title as a beauty pageant winner is hypocritical at best and reinforcing victim blaming of women who are sexually assaulted or raped at worst. 



#1 She won her title for being desirable and now she’s lost it for the same reason

One of the most ironic issues the decision raises is that an entire culture and community of beauty queens, pageant fans and judges who have pushed, helped or forced girls and women through this process to be more and more desirable and sexy and attractive to win a competition based solely on desirability are now shunning Zara because what she did was perceived as ‘irresponsible’ and she is now a ‘negative role model’. How they have come to this conclusion without realising how hypocritical they sound, truly escapes me. 

I am attempting to consider the logic behind this decision. So, it’s literally your bread and butter to have women wearing as little as possible, in the highest heels possible, in the most make up possible, with the biggest hair and best nail possible, parading around a stage, posing for sexual images, competing with each other for the best bikini body and the best figure, best skin, to be the most desirable, have the most sex appeal and the most ‘beauty’ (ignoring a holistic definition of beauty completely) – but it’s not okay for her to have consensual sex with a man on a dating program because that would make her a bad role model? 

Where exactly are the beauty pageant boards drawing the line here? So judging women on a stage solely based on a male-centric definition of desirability and then having them parade around like prize cattle would make her a great role model, but demonstrating the same sexuality you have been exploiting for years makes her a bad role model?

Ah, I get it. The answer to this is #2.

#2 It reinforces the age old sexist notion that women should be ‘sexy but not a slut’ 

It has become very clear that the message we are all receiving from society at large (mainly perpetuated by the media and then absorbed and relayed by both men and women) is that we need to be sexy – but not a slut. We should aim to be seen as desirable and sexy and attractive to men – but not too desirable or sexy or attractive because then we cross some invisible line created by the patriarchy that means we no longer conform to the rigid gender roles and we will now be judged for whatever we do. 

The other way of explaining this is that we are allowed to ‘look’ sexual and ‘illustrate’ sexuality – but we are not allowed to ‘be’ sexual and ‘demonstrate’ sexuality. You have likely had a conversation in which you say ‘I want to look sexy but not too sexy’ or ‘I love this dress but do you think it makes me look a bit slutty?’ 

In my opinion, one of the most concerning factors is that people seem to think it is men that are doing all of the judging and controlling of women’s sexuality but that isn’t quite true anymore. It certainly started out that way when we look at the history of the genders and both of their roles in society over the centuries – but men don’t need to be the driving force of sexism and control of women’s sexuality anymore. They have a new ally. 

Our sexuality has been created, maintained and controlled for so long that we now employ these absorbed messages about how a woman ‘should’ behave and then beat each other (and ourselves) over the head with them. 

There are women blasting Zara for ‘being a slag’ or ‘letting herself down’ or ‘acting like a slut’ and my personal favourite: ‘she should have kept her knickers on then, the tart’ (all taken from comments left under news articles on Zara Holland dated 22/06/2016). 

It’s pretty safe to say that patriarchy and sexism has succeeded in playing divide and conquer with us as a gender and we now wage war on each other rather than work together to support each other when we are victims of this type of judgement about our sexuality.

What perplexes me more is that the beauty pageant board (and the general public that are chastising her now) seemed to have no problem with the tonnes of lingerie shoots, bikini shoots and sexualised poses directed to her in her photo and promo shoots. It’s as if they have drawn the line at actual, physical sex but everything up to that is fine. It’s okay to ask her to pose in lingerie and bikinis in sexualised positions that scream sex appeal but god forbid she actually has real sex. 

Which brings me nicely to #3. 

#3 It demonises the normal, consensual sexual appetite of women 

So, she had sex on TV. It’s not the first time that has happened on a reality TV show. You know what though? She didn’t have sex with herself, on her own. She had sex with a willing and consenting adult partner. They flirted and found each other attractive and they both wanted to show that attraction by touching each other and being sexually intimate with each other and for it to feel pleasurable. I was worried I was missing something here, because I didn’t really see the problem with this. 

I shouldn’t have worried however, because lots of people have made it clear what their problem is with her having sex with someone on TV and some of those comments are above. The word ‘slag’ and ‘slut’ tend to be used when people are talking about females who are seen as overly sexual or overly sexually active. 

‘Overly’. Like there’s a limit. Didn’t you know there was a limit to the amount and types of sex you can have? Silly you. Of course there is! You’re a woman. Duh. 

So the first issue seems to be that people are finding it irresponsible, disrespectful and uncomfortable that she has chosen to have sex with someone for pleasure and wasn’t scared to do it on the TV show (which by the way is pretty much about people hooking up on an island called Love Island). We have to consider our responses to this. Why do so many people have a problem with this? Why are so many people aiming their problem at Zara and not at the guy she slept with? I’m pretty sure he was just as involved as she was. He’s being virtually high fived by a tonne of people on social networks whilst she is being demonised for partaking in the same sex act. 

Is this because sex is seen as a male act that is done to women? Well, unfortunately, the answer to this is yes. Porn, and increasingly, the mainstream media is overwhelmed with scenes in which women are depicted as submissive sex objects used for the pleasure of men. The pleasure of the woman is only really depicted whilst a man is slamming into her from behind or cumming all over her face (not to judge here, but I’m not that sure that all women tend to orgasm from having cum splatter all over their face the way they do in porn). The rest of the pleasure and servitude is shown from the perspective of the man who uses and abuses the body of the woman throughout the scene. Sex becomes about the woman serving the man and delivering pleasure to him. It’s easy to see how the sexuality of women is owned, policed and controlled by men when a very large proportion of the sexual materials in the world are created and produced via the male perspective. 

What the board are saying in their statement is: “You can perform our rigid version of sexuality when we want you to and how we want you to, but you are not to perform your own version of your own sexuality at any time because we will find that to be highly offensive behaviour.” 

Zara having control of her own sexuality and sexual activity really pushes against this rigid expectation of how she should perform sex (coy, submissive and when she is expected to). 

#4 It allows people to reframe her as unworthy and unable to be respected as a woman 

Zara has swiftly been repositioned as an irresponsible woman and a poor role model by the board of the beauty pageant and unfortunately, the general public have blindly followed this viewpoint. By having sex when she wanted to and controlling her own sexuality, she is now no longer conforming to their twisted boundaries of an acceptable and desirable woman. She has crossed the line. She has gone past sexy and into the realms of slutdom. She can’t be Miss GB anymore because she is no longer just looking sexualised and being looked at, but is acting sexualised and being touched by someone. This is somehow unnacceptable. Her sexuality is for them, not for her. 

The board apparently imposed a contract on Zara that she could only go on Love Island if she agreed not to partake in any sexual acts in order to uphold her title. Again, who are they to police her sexual activity based on the fact that she is a ‘beauty queen’? 

She has gone from being a well known and famous beauty queen to being labelled a slag or slut for having consensual sex with one person. If we compared that to men who have been in positions of power or authority or fame, I cannot think of a comparable example in which a man has had his role or title stripped of him for having consensual sex with an adult. I mean, we struggle to strip their titles and roles from them when they have non-consensual sex with children let alone adults. Usually because the same thing happens, the sexual behaviour of the women or girls are demonised. 

#5 How all of the above relates to the victim blaming of women and girls who have been sexually assaulted or raped 

To summarise and pull these (ranty) ideas together, I am going to link them to victim blaming. Victim blaming happens when a woman or girl is blamed for someone else choosing to target and abuse, assault and rape her. This is alarmingly common and embedded. Despite the need to focus on the behaviour and choices of the perpetrator, the focus is shifted back to the behaviour and choices of the woman or girl so she can be blamed for why it happened to her. 

Why would the act of de-throning Miss GB have links to victim blaming? 

Well, if we go back through our points, we have that a woman is supposed to be desirable but not too desirable otherwise she has broken her gender role norms and is acting like a slut. We also have that her sexuality and sexual desirability is not owned or policed by her and it is seen as irresponsible and disrespectful for her to own her sexuality and make her own sexual choices. We have talked about the way women are depicted as submissive sex objects for the pleasure of men to look at or to touch or to have sex with. 

And when you put all of these things together and then add in the fact that if a woman ever steps outside of these very strict expectations of her dress, her character, her sexuality and her behaviour; she is quickly demonised, outed as a bad example or poor role model and made to feel shame and guilt about her actions, we have fertile ground for victim blaming to be planted and to grow quickly. 

Twitter: @Jessicae13Eaton

Email: Jee509@bham.ac.uk 

Rape Apathy – The Real Responses to Research in Sexual Violence

Follow me on Twitter @jessicae13eaton 

Today was the first day I have ever presented my research to hundreds of people whom are not in my field and have no knowledge of sexual violence or psychology. 

The title of my research is ‘Things I ‘Should’ Have Done Differently: Exploring the effect of victim blaming and self blame in rape and sexual violence’. I am conducting this research for my PhD in Forensic Psychology, but most of all, this is my lifelong passion. 

Jessica Eaton, Jun2016
I want to tell you the stories of the people I met and observed today to propose that the real reason we are making such slow and painful progress towards appropriate, sensitive and respectful responses to people who have experienced rape is what I am going to call ‘rape apathy’. Never have I ever seen it so clearly as today. I have been in this field for 7 years and it has never been this blindingly obvious. Maybe that’s because I am usually speaking to hundreds of people who have come to hear me speak about victim blaming and sexual violence – so in a way, I’m preaching to the converted. I drove home in awe of the apathy of the majority – and inspired by the empathy of one woman in particular, who I will introduce you to later on in this article. 

The ones who screwed up their faces and walked away 

This was probably one of the most common reactions from academics, students and the general public today. I was stood next to my research poster ready to explain and answer any questions. These people stood a few feet back from me. These people approached me with a relaxed face, sometimes chatting to their friends. They sometimes smiled at me and then looked from my face to the title of my research. I could see them reading the title, taking in the words and the topic at hand: women who have been blamed for being raped and sexually assaulted and have then absorbed this blame from family, friends, authorities and society – and have blamed themselves. These people all seemed to pull the same face. They screwed their nose up, they pursed their lips and they narrowed their eyebrows. It was a strange mixture of looking disgusted by the topic and perplexed as to why I would give years of my life to this cause. These people usually continued to stare at my research with the screwed up face and then stare at me, still with my optimistic smile on my face, and then walk away or look purposefully at the researcher next to me, who was presenting her research findings on proteins in plants.

The ones who read the title aloud, looked at me and walked away

These people interested me, too. They meandered around the conference and engaged in animated conversation with other researchers and then they arrived at me. I smiled, shook their hand and introduced myself. They did exactly as the heading suggests. They read the title aloud to themselves (sometimes to their friends or colleagues) and their voices changed as they got through the words in the title. One woman’s voice rose more and more until the words ‘rape’ and ‘sexual violence’ were almost said in an intonation that expressed complete disbelief. Most people read it aloud until they got to the words ‘rape’ and ‘sexual violence ‘ and suddenly hushed their voices into a quiet growl with a grimace. What happened next was quite unnerving. They looked at me as if to assess me – and then they immediately walked away before I could say anything. What were they looking for? It was an inquisitive look. Were they wondering why I had chosen this topic? Were they wondering if I had been raped? Were they asking themselves why I thought this was an appropriate topic for a huge A1 research poster? All I know is that all of these people took one look at me and walked away without even saying goodbye or gesturing towards me at all. 

 

The ones who saw my presentation, put their heads down, avoided eye contact and quickly walked past

There were lots of these ones. I watched them like I watched everyone else. They were confident people, good conversationalists, knowledgable and interested in the array of research topics on offer today. They walked towards me and started to read my huge poster from afar, but within a few seconds, I knew that they were not going to engage with me at all. These people put their heads down, looked at their watch, became incredibly interested in their pen or their phone or their badge or their nails and avoided every single attempt I made to make eye contact or even verbal contact. I was so desperate to engage these people that I even said hello to a few with the hope of reassuring them that I was approachable and personable despite the difficult subject matter. None of it worked. They picked up their pace and got away from me and the subject of rape and sexual assault as quickly as they could without breaking into a jog. 

The ones who said my research wasn’t real science and was a waste of their time 

There were only two people that fit this category today but their response concerned me. Both were male academics in an unrelated field but this should not be a reason for their behaviour. Lots of men talked to me today. Lots of people from other fields talked to me today. But from these two men, I learned that my research was not real science, was not worthwhile and didn’t even merit actual conversation to my face. 

I was stood next to my poster when they approached me. I was expecting them to engage with me as they were stood less than three feet from me. Their bodies were turned towards me and they were both looking at my poster. I smiled at both of them and attempted to make eye contact but neither looked directly at me. Suddenly, they began to speak:

Guy on the right: I mean, this isn’t even real science 

Guy on the left: It’s about ‘sexual violence’ (said in a strange growling low voice)

Guy on the right: It would be more worthwhile if it was about archeology or something 

Guy on the left: And we are supposed to actually talk to this presenter about the research? 

Guy on the right: Apparently… 

Then they both looked at one another knowingly and walked away, probably to seek out ‘real science’ or a ‘worthwhile’ research project. I was clearly not regarded as interesting or knowledgeable enough to ask a question of me or to even gesture towards me in any way. I was just the woman who was wasting their time with the research about sexual violence.

On balance, I don’t believe this to be down to gender. This was demonstrated to me a few moments later when a woman approached me and explained that she was looking for PhD researchers to present their research at a series of seminars for retired academics she was arranging. She then glanced over my shoulder at my research. She very sharply told me that she wouldn’t be interested in my research because:

“Let’s face it, no one wants to hear you talk about sexual violence!”

And there you have it, folks: Rape Apathy. 

No one wants to look at the poster. 

No one wants to engage with me about the topic of victim blaming of women who have been raped and sexually assaulted. 

No one wants to make eye contact with the woman who talks about rape. 

No one wants to hear about the way I will explore the experiences and champion the voices of women who have been blamed for being targeted and attacked by sex offenders. 

No one wants to hear me talk about sexual violence. 

So, why do people exhibit such obvious apathy towards rape and sexual violence? 

1. Because it doesn’t affect me 

Like many of the important issues in society, the ones that understand the importance the most are those that have personal connection to the topic. LGBTQI people understand the importance of having their voices heard in policy and research because they know the feeling of marginalisation. Black people understand the importance of statistics that continually show the tiny percentage of black professors in academia. Women who have been sexually assaulted or raped understand why I am holding the issue of victim blaming and self blame up as a serious societal problem.

So what about those people who have never been touched by sexual violence? Whilst being careful not to generalise, it’s fairly safe to say that people with no history or understanding of sexual assault or rape can successfully distance themselves from my research because they don’t feel it relates to them in any way. What does my research have to offer them? What can I possibly tell them? Why do they even need to know about rape and sexual assault? Why would they want to think about it? 

If they feel that they are in some way immune to rape and sexual assault, not only are they wrong but they are likely to fall into the trap of #2.

2. Because it only happens to certain kinds of people

One of the most common reasons why we are getting nowhere fast is because humans have developed impressive cognitive biases that can help them to feel safe from horrid things that could happen to them. If humans accepted that at any given moment, life changing and horrible things could happen to them, it’s pretty safe to say that we would be in a constant state of anxiety and defence. The best way to combat this reality is to find a way to pinpoint ‘types of people’ that are raped and sexually assaulted and then mentally differentiate themselves from those ‘types of people’. Indeed, this is one of the most important underpinning factors of the rape stereotypes. It could be ‘women that wear revealing clothes’ or ‘women that get drunk in nightclubs’ or ‘women who stay in abusive relationships’ or ‘women from the rough estate’ or ‘women in poverty’ or ‘women who cheat on their husbands’. 

Whatever the irrelevant and illogical category placed upon the ‘type of woman’ who is raped or sexually assaulted – the purpose is to enable people to use that category to blame the woman and then announce that it would never happen to them because they are not (insert type of woman here). Society are not ready to accept that rape and sexual assault happens to men, women and children through absolutely no fault of their own – the world is random and unfair. 

Whilst this ‘it only happens to certain types of women’ rationale continues, we will never make the progress we need because there will be a large portion of the population who could be standing arm in arm with us that are instead stood at the sidelines reassuring themselves that they will never become a victim.

So this is pretty disappointing, right? 

But let me tell you about one last person. 

Here she is. 

The woman that lifted my spirits today. The woman who stood and spoke to me with equal enthusiasm and reminded me that there are people with huge empathy and understanding for women who have experienced victim blaming and self blame after rape and sexual assault. 

The one who made the sign to encourage more people to speak to me

After a day of confused looks, walking away, ignoring me, undermining me and being too uncomfortable to talk to me, a man said to me:

“Hang on, my wife would love your research. Let me go and find her for you.”

A few moments later, she arrived. I introduced myself and we shook hands. She looked at my research title and she beamed. She smiled. She kept looking at my diagram and my research studies. She asked me to explain my theories and my studies and we had a conversation that lasted well over 30 minutes. After a while she said:

“May I ask you something? Have you had many people stop and talk to you today?”

“Honestly? Not really. I think people may be a little intimidated by the topic… Plus, I’m kind of at a weird angle so I don’t think people know I’m here…” I admitted. 

She shook her head, “I’m going to do something about this! You watch!”

I suddenly felt anxious. What was she going to do? 

The photo above is what I spotted a few moments later. The woman went off to find paper and a pen and was stood at the back of the conference hall scribbling away. I watched her with interest. After a few more moments, she came back to me flapping her piece of paper that she had folded into a makeshift arrow. 

IMPORTANT RESEARCH THIS WAY! SEXUAL VIOLENCE! >>>>>

“Look, I’ve made you this sign. I’m going to stick it up over here so everyone knows to come and talk to you. I’m going to send people to speak to you. More people must understand the experiences of women who have been sexually assaulted and raped. There are hundreds of people here and your message is important!” She explained passionately whilst attempting to stick the sign to the notice board behind me. 

Her sign and her personal referrals must have worked because I quickly became unindated with people wanting to hear about my research. At one point, I had a crowd of 8 people huddled around listening to my poster presentation in a tiny space. Through the huddle popped the woman, again. 

“I’m so proud of you and your research. I’m going home now but I’ve brought you a drink…” She smiled as she passed me the cup. 

Despite the large number of people who did not engage with me today for the reasons discussed above, I appreciate ‘the one who made the sign’ and she was a perfect, passionate and timely reminder that there are others in the world who see the importance of breaking down victim blaming of women who have experienced rape and sexual violence. Now our challenge is to help the others I met today to understand this importance and help us to champion it in their communities alongside us. 

A picture of my poster from today: 


Contact: jee509@bham.ac.uk

Twitter: @jessicae13Eaton