New Zealand gave me the strength to keep fighting

New Zealand gave me the strength to keep fighting

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton FRSA

18 May 2019

I am writing this blog in the final hours of the 27 hour flight home from beautiful New Zealand. I’ve been constantly reflecting and rethinking whilst I have been working in Auckland and Hamilton but this is the first time I’ve had the (albeit forced) time to sit down and write about the impact New Zealand has had on me.

Don’t worry, this isn’t about to turn into a travel blog. New Zealand is by far the most beautiful part of the world I have ever seen and I’ve taken thousands of photos, but it was the people who taught me to keep fighting. That’s what I want to write about in this blog.

But first, I need to explain some things for context.

I flew out to New Zealand the morning after I successfully passed my PhD Psychology Viva. I was extremely ill during the viva, owing to me having an allergic reaction less than 24 hours before my viva was due to take place. In reflection, pulling that viva off with only a small amount of minors was nothing short of divine intervention.

I had been studying my PhD part time around my family, full time job and building my business. Despite it normally taking 6+years, I completed the PhD in 3 years and 3 months which was stupid, don’t ever do that. Ever.

This meant I was working all day and then studying and writing all night and every weekend for years. During the PhD I also wrote The Little Orange Book with my wonderful friend Dr Claire Paterson-Young, I created four new flashcard resources, wrote three national evidence scopes, published three peer reviewed reports and delivered training and speeches to thousands of people.

To put it bluntly, I was fucking knackered. Physically knackered. But my brain was still going 100mph and loving every second of it.

That was until I was faced with numerous people (many of which I had never heard of before) who went out of their way to bully, discriminate against and attack me for years. Now, let’s not pretend I’m some shy, retiring fucking wallflower who doesn’t speak her mind or challenge the status quo.

But let’s also not pretend that I deserve to be told I am unfit to be a psychologist because I have a baby from a rape from when I was just a kid. Let’s not pretend that I deserved to read 110 pages of sickening emails about me sent by and to well-respected psychologists in my field. (Still not received an apology by the way!) Let’s not pretend I deserved to be falsely distance-diagnosed as ‘mentally ill’ by jealous academics whom I’ve never met or spoken to. (Still not received an explanation for that by the way!) Let’s not pretend I deserved to be stalked and harassed online for years. Let’s not pretend I deserve rape threats. Let’s not pretend I deserve being doxxed and my kids put at risk by professionals who don’t like my work. Let’s not pretend I deserved being no-platformed, conferences being cancelled, speeches being pulled and projects being cut because of who I am or what I stand for.

There have been years of personal attacks – about where I grew up, what I look like, how I speak, how I work, what topics I focus on and why I centre women and girls. I eventually learned how to use very strong filters on twitter which mean you lot can still see the abuse I get but I can’t see it at all, this cut out about 100 abusive and misogynistic tweets to me a day. They still happen but I can’t see them. I deleted LinkedIn because of the amount of misogynistic abuse I was getting from men in my field and men who don’t know their arse from their elbow, mansplaining my own research to me every single damn day.

In addition to this constant shit slinging from people who would never dare talk to me like this in real life – I have also experienced backlash from some charities, local authorities, police forces and individuals working in child sexual exploitation (CSE).

Generally, this is because I come at CSE from a critical feminist, social psychological, trauma-informed and anti-victim blaming stance – I tend to see the abuse and exploitation of children in a very different way to others.

I teach it in a much more critical way. I don’t teach professionals that children put themselves at risk. I don’t subscribe to the notion that only the ‘vulnerable’ children will be abused. I don’t use ACEs. I don’t advocate for shock tactics with any traumatised people. I don’t support the pathologising or medicalising of people subjected to abuse, oppression, trauma or violence.

I teach strengths-based, feminist, trauma-informed, anti-blaming and anti-psychiatric approaches to working in the most human way possible with children and adults who have been harmed by others.

This means that some people commission me repeatedly and know that their staff or delegates will be challenged and will learn a great deal about a different way of working and thinking – and some people wouldn’t commission me if they had a gun to their temple.

I can live with that. It’s not my job to please everyone. I’m not here for popularity. My aim is to reduce victim blaming in abuse, violence and oppression and to raise the bar in research and practice. I genuinely am not here to make friends or to kiss up to people who think they are running the game. (Despite this, I have strong networks all over the UK of women and men who love me and I love them. Love to all my radicals, trouble-causers and critical thinkers.)

So why is any of this relevant to my trip to New Zealand?

Because, in all honesty, I went there to teach and I was totally fucking burned out. I told a few friends and my husband that I was so exhausted from battling with professionals over the most basic stuff (e.g. children are never to blame for sexual abuse, children who have recently been raped should not be diagnosed with personality disorders, you can’t quantify abuse and trauma and use it to predict outcomes of humans).

I was so exhausted in fact, that I was worried that I didn’t have any energy left to battle anymore. I knew I was flying out to New Zealand to deliver advanced workshops to groups of experienced professionals and I just didn’t want to spend those days banging my head on yet another wall about why it can’t possibly be the 12-year-old’s fault that she was trafficked and raped.

I didn’t know what I would be faced with in New Zealand – but I knew I didn’t have the energy to battle the way the UK forces me to do. The looks. The whispers. The comments. The boycotts. The complaints. The delegates arguing back that some children ‘do put themselves at risk’ and that ‘some girls do ask for it though’.

Someone needs to do a PhD to explain why it’s such a hard task to convey the message that kids who are being abused and exploited are never to blame and deserve our unconditional compassion and support.

Imagine my shock when I delivered the following four workshops in NZ, to APPLAUSE:

Day 1: Trauma, abuse and gender role stereotypes

Day 2: Learning about abuse from the voices of real children

Day 3: Psychology of victim blaming and self blame of women and girls subjected to sexual

violence

Day 4: Critical perspectives of child sexual exploitation and abuse practice and theory

Not only did all professionals engage well, interrogate the evidence and debate in depth – they totally understood that children were never to blame for abuse. They already knew they wanted trauma-informed practice. They had already noticed the damage the medical model is doing to our abuse practice and support services. They already knew that CSE films were disgusting and unethical. They already understood why having separate definitions of CSE and CSA was causing problems and misunderstandings in social work and policing practice.

Each workshop finished with interesting debates, swapping of details, further conversations, gratitude and thanks.

I haven’t been received like that for years (except in feminist and critical thinking orgs and communities).

In those four days in two different regions of New Zealand, not one professional attempted to argue that children ‘put themselves at risk’ or that ‘some women are just inherently more vulnerable to being raped’ or ‘we can predict the outcomes of children from what has already happened to them in the past’.

No one said anything like that.

And that’s when it dawned on me.

If New Zealand professionals are listening to me saying the same shit I’ve been saying in the UK for years – and they don’t think it’s controversial, and they don’t sit there glaring at me, and they already have a better person-centred, trauma-informed foundation than many others I teach – then maybe it’s not me with the issue?

Maybe we have a cultural issue in the UK around the way we perceive, talk about, practice and theorise in abuse, violence and exploitation.

Let me be clear here, I’m one of the thickest-skinned people I know. When people are being shitty with me or are trying to pull me down, there’s always a voice in the back of my head that says, ‘This is nothing.’

However, years and years of ‘Jess is too controversial’ and ‘Jess is really critical’ and ‘Jess is just too challenging’ – had started to wear me down. I had started to wonder if the UK just was not ready for my work yet.

But New Zealand taught me to keep fighting. New Zealand professionals taught me that progress is possible and the ethos I am desperate to see in our work and research – already exists in other fields in other parts of the world.

At the end of one of my workshops, the professionals stood up and sang Maori thank you song, ‘Te Aroha’.

I burst into tears. The beauty of a room of people deciding to show gratitude in such a beautiful and traditional way was emotional enough, but the reason I started crying was because that was the moment that I realised my fight wasn’t going unnoticed and that I had to keep going.

I spoke to the delegates about how I was received in the UK and they thought I was joking.

I told them about the professionals who are set in boycotting my work, discrediting me, making fake profiles to bully me online so they don’t get caught by employers or police, stalking me on social media, trying to get me to retaliate to them every single day. I told them about the way academics attacked me for my childhood because they had nothing else to throw at me.

I told them that the week before I flew out to New Zealand, a group of professionals had deliberately refused to attend all-expenses-paid-for training course because I was too ‘challenging’ about the way our CSE and CSA practice was placing blame and responsibility on children who were being abused and oppressed. I told them that a venue had pulled out of my event that week too, citing that they could ‘no longer support’ my work. The event was about reducing victim blaming. So go figure.

As I was telling them, I realised how ridiculous I sounded. After these amazing, nourishing, humanistic workshops here in New Zealand, how would anyone believe that these exact workshops cause so much drama when delivered in the UK?

‘We thought the UK was way ahead of us in this stuff. We thought New Zealand was behind,’ they said to me.

No. No, one thousand times. Nope.

This raised some important issues:

What is stopping professionals from practicing true trauma-unformed practice in the UK and why are we content with the buzzword bullshit we are being sold at the moment?

What is it that makes professionals and organisations in the UK so uncomfortable when I say that NO CHILDREN can ever be to blame for rape, abuse, trafficking and oppression?

When will we all put our money where our mouths are? We talk a good game about this ‘trauma-informed, child-centred, anti-pathologising’ practice, but let’s be honest, it’s rare.

And if we are so committed to radical change in our abuse and support services, why does radical and critical work freak so many people out and cause organisations to shut down or silence speakers?

The UK either wants progress in this area or it doesn’t.

We can’t keep talking the talk if we aren’t prepared to walk the walk. I am so sick of hearing professionals tell me that ‘it’s really hard to change and it’s really difficult hearing that our practice might be harming children or blaming them.’

Know what’s harder?

Being a child or adult who is raped, exploited and trafficked around the UK and then being told by police or social workers or psychologists that it’s your fault or you put yourself at risk, or that you have to work on your own vulnerabilities to stop sex offenders from abusing you.

This narrative of ‘oh it’s so hard for us professionals to consider a new perspective’ is insulting to the amount of kids living through abuse, trauma, violence and oppression whilst we sit around the table arguing about how ‘hard’ it is for us to consider new emerging evidence and better ways of working.

I will no longer accept that excuse for poor practice and inaction. I no longer care that it is ‘so hard’ for professionals and researchers to consider new ways of working that don’t blame victims of abuse and trauma.

So thank you, New Zealand. Thank you to all of the professionals I met and taught. Thank you to Selena Needham for commissioning me.

I land in 50 minutes and my feet are hitting UK soil with a renewed sense of strength and fight that people had been trying to beat out of me for years.

Radical change and progress is possible.

Let’s go get em. Are you in?

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Written by Dr Jessica Eaton FRSA

18th May 2019

Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Special request blog: Why I chose to home educate my sons

Why I chose to home educate my sons

A special request blog

Jessica Eaton

Founder of VictimFocus, Research Psychologist, Founder of The Eaton Foundation

This is quite a different blog, and something I never planned to write. However, there are two reasons why I have decided to write about home education:

1. Lots of people keep asking me to write about this, to explain why my children do not attend school and to discuss how we educate the boys

2. It does feel like there is a current attack on home education in the U.K. at the moment and I don’t like the way it’s heading.

So this blog will work through a list of my most FAQ about home education. I will answer them honestly and openly, from my own perspective. The blog will also provide information to other parents who might be considering home education. Finally, I will provide an overview of an average week of education that our kids get up to, so you can get a feel for how it works in our house.

Please remember that home education is extremely varied. Some parents choose completely unstructured unschooling and some parents choose structured timetables with tutors and breaks. Lots of parents are anywhere in between those two, sometimes with a bit of both.

Our sons are 10 and 8 years old.

Frequently asked questions

Why did you choose to home educate?

There were a number of cumulative reasons that seemed to hit us all at once. But if we go back to when the kids were in reception, it really started to enter our consciousness there.

When our eldest son started reception, I remember exactly what I said and wrote in my diary – that I felt that I had committed him to the rat race, the same one I was fighting against and trying to get out of. I felt like I had lost control of his well-being and his upbringing, for it to be taken over by a school system that was under resourced and over stretched. A school system that was designed to create compliant factory workers that moved on the bell, sat in silence, all looked the same and spoke the same. It felt like a loss to me. I felt the same way when our second son went from nursery to reception.

Then there were a few things that bothered us both as parents. The kids coming home looking tired and bored. The kids never being able to tell us anything they had learned. The kids suddenly hating reading books. The kids avoiding homework. The kids becoming more and more concerned with peers and mates than actually learning anything. The kids hating school every day and begging for the weekend to come.

Then, when our eldest was in year 4 and our youngest was in year 2; they really started to change.

Our eldest is extremely bright but had basically given up. He was acting the clown at school, distracting other kids and no longer being challenged with any harder work. He was being reframed as troubled and naughty – but he was bored. He was also perceived as too old beyond his years and teachers didn’t like him having the same straight forward communication style as his mum and dad. I was once brought into school by a teacher who complained to me that my son had asked her how she was and how her weekend had been. In our house, that type of dialogue is normal, but she told me he needed to remember his place and to never speak to an adult in that manner. I laughed at her and told her he was being polite and friendly in the way he knew how. She said I had to tell him to stop acting older than he was.

I told her I would not do that.

Meanwhile, our younger son, whom we had always been told was a little slower and very withdrawn, was becoming extremely fearful, depressed and quiet.

At home, he was like a ninja tornado. But all of his teachers told me stories of him being as quiet as a mouse and never speaking all day long. Apparently this was a good thing because he was easy to manage. Teachers described him as a ‘pleasure’. I on the other hand, was gravely concerned by my child being so withdrawn at school. It didn’t match what we knew of him.

Then, at parents evening the teacher told me he was crying if he got anything wrong, crying if he was asked a question, crying if he was asked to read and crying if he didn’t get 100%. He never told me this, so I went to talk to him.

My then-7 year old son told me he was thick.

My heart shattered. My eyes welled up. My son thinks he’s thick? He’s seven!

We spoke to him for hours over a period of days. He told us he cried because he was so embarrassed that he got anything wrong and he wouldn’t get his name on the chart or he wouldn’t get golden time if he wasn’t perfect.

For me, that was the final straw. I had one kid losing the will to live with school cos it was too easy and one kid who was crying every day because he thought he was stupid.

We decided to remove them from the system. Both kids were being failed by a system that cannot tailor individual education easily – and uses such heavy positive reinforcement and assessments that they don’t notice how much it harms the kids who think they need to be perfect.

We talked about it solidly for two weeks. We talked about it alone, as parents. We talked about it as a family. We talked to each of the boys separately and together. Our eldest wanted to leave school immediately with no questions, but our youngest was petrified of leaving school, thinking he would be doing something wrong. However, right on the last day, he approached us both and said he had decided he didn’t want to go to school anymore because it made him feel stupid.

We deregistered the kids and decided we could do a better job.

In the first few weeks, we let them rest and get out of the habit of school. School is not the same as education. They needed to get completely out of the habit of ‘school’. It was June so we decided to keep them off all throughout summer to play and enjoy themselves, and begin proper structured education in the September.

Our eldest loved it immediately, but the first week for our youngest was one of the most heart breaking times I had ever had with him. Every task we gave him, no matter how small, he cried and told us he was too stupid. He told us he couldn’t do anything right. He wouldn’t try anything new. He needed constant love, positive regard and support in those first weeks.

However, sticking by him, encouraging him and showing him how well he was doing eventually paid off as his confidence grew. Within a few months, he was happy, confident, trying lots of new things and excelling far beyond anything we had ever seen him do at school. In fact, he completed the math curriculum for his year in a few months – something that he would never have done in the school setting or in his previous state of mind.

He now sings, performs, writes and works with such brilliant confidence in himself.

Home education has been amazing for our eldest too. He has gone from hating reading, hating drawing, hating learning and never sticking at anything – to being a promising young musician who has discovered he can literally play any tune he hears, he can write music and he can even compose. There’s no way we would have known that if he was in school, and he has an amazing guitar tutor who inspires him.

Home Ed has completely changed our kids.

Isn’t home ed illegal?

No. Absolutely not. Home education is elective. It might seem odd to the average working class person like me or you but think to yourself, how many celebs, royalty and politicians home educate or privately tutor their kids? Why does no one question whether that’s illegal? It’s almost as if the wealthy are seen as eligible and entitled to home educate but the working classes must be breaking a law.

It’s completely legal to choose to home educate.

Do the local authority come to your house to inspect you?

No they don’t. They can ask, but you don’t have to oblige. To be honest, if they pushed, I’d just let them meet us and the kids just to satisfy them that my kids aren’t feral. But from a personal and political perspective, I don’t think they should be able to inspect us and we have a right to a private life and to educate the kids in our own ways without interference. As long as the children are safe, healthy and getting an education; we are entitled to privacy.

I think there is an assumption that if kids aren’t in school, there must be something gravely wrong – either with the kids or the parents. This is simply because home education bucks the social norm, so it makes people anxious and suspicious. Unfortunately, there are still strong stereotypes around home education.

Don’t you have to be really intelligent to home educate?

A few people have asked me this, right before telling me that they are too dumb to teach their kids. The last person to say this to me was a children’s social worker who told me she always longed to home educate her children but fears she’s ‘too thick’.

The reality is, home education does not require you to be a genius in everything. Second, there are amazing resources, books and apps to help you. Third, do you really think your kids’ school teachers are geniuses of every topic? Don’t you think they have to read up on a topic or a mathematical method? Don’t you think they need to keep learning too?

Home education is just that, it’s family learning in a natural environment. The whole family learns when a family home educates. Learning becomes naturalistic. You end up having conversations about grammar on a sign at the garage. You find yourself talking about whale migration during dinner time.

You learn as parents, as you support your kids to learn. I’ve really enjoyed learning along with my kids in some topics I didn’t know much about.

People say to me ‘Yeah but you teach for a living and did a PhD, so you can Home educate’ or they say ‘you have to be a trained teacher to home educate’.

That’s not true. Home educators come from all walks of life, and you certainly do not need to be a teacher or have a doctorate.

Teaching your own kids on a one-to-one basis is completely different and so much easier than teaching 30 x 6-year-olds how to write in cursive!

Do your kids learn anything?

Haha. Yes. In fact, both of them have chosen to move up a year, because their current year became too easy and boring.

We have a really cool app called IXL which covers and analyses their maths and English skills against national curriculum. This is how they learned that they found their designated school year work far too easy. Our youngest has moved up two whole school years in Maths and one school year in English. Our eldest son has moved up one school year in both Maths and English.

They also regularly learn about biology, chemistry, physics, politics, history, geography, psychology, religion, cultures, music, literature, poetry… just all sorts.

As an example of recent tasks they have undertaken in Home Ed:

⁃ The boys watched Martin Luther King speeches and then wrote their own anti-racism speech

⁃ They used the internet to research how the criminal justice system works in different countries around the world

⁃ They researched famous rock musicians and wrote their biography

⁃ They created mind maps of all of the emotions they had ever felt and what triggered them

⁃ They watched The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas and then wrote a film review and a discussion about the persecution of Jewish people during the Holocaust

⁃ They created Mother’s Day cards

⁃ They went to climb trees and play on the park

⁃ They went indoor rock climbing each week

⁃ They went trampolining

⁃ They learned to bike ride safely and signal properly

⁃ They researched two different cookie recipes and then created a shopping list, bought the ingredients from the supermarket, followed the recipe on the internet and then taste tested which one was best after baking them

⁃ They watched a documentary about sharks and then designed an exhibition poster to invite people to learn about sharks

⁃ Our eldest learned to play three different guitars and is now playing famous songs confidently in different keys, and can tune and retune accordingly

⁃ Both kids have read Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses Book and have been writing and evaluating it as they go along

As you can see, it’s very varied. And honestly, I cannot say my kids would have progressed this much if they were at school.

Do your kids do exams?

One of the reasons we removed them was because we fundamentally disagreed with SATs, exam pressure and learning by rote. I have no interest in putting my children through arbitrary exams. However, purposeful exams and vocational qualifications will help them later in life, so they will probably study for GCSEs and A-Levels. I would not support them having to study and undertake 13 GCSEs like I did, though.

There is no sense whatsoever in forcing a kid to cram for months for 13 GCSEs that they will never remember, and most of which are not actually required to secure a place on an FE/HE course. For that reason, I would much rather support the boys to only study the topics they require and/or enjoy, than whacking in as many topics as possible.

I would also not support the exams all being done at one time. In any other setting, exams for different topics are not all done within a week or two. They are usually spread over modules, which can be months apart. It would be better for them to study and then take the maths GCSE, for example, and then study and prepare for another GCSE a few months later.

I know one thing, and that’s that if my degree or my PhD relied on me completing 13 exams at the very end of each course, I would have failed or done very very badly. Or passed out from the stress.

What is it like to home educate your own kids?

We both love it and don’t ever regret it. However, do not ever fall into the trap of thinking that home education is easier than sending your kids to school.

I’ve seen some comments that home educating parents are lazy or can’t be arsed to get their kids to school.

What I think those people seem to misunderstand is that it is EASIER to send your kids to school for 6 hours per day for the free childcare and the free education so you can work or rest or do housework. It is therefore HARDER to home educate and it requires much higher levels of effort and input on a day to day basis. Either from the parents or from tutors.

It would be much easier to just send our kids to school and have all that free time to ourselves to work or to rest. However, home educating parents choose to give up that freedom and childcare because they feel they can do a better job for their children.

Do you get sick of them being at home all the time and never getting a break?

We aren’t really like that as a family but I’m sure many home educating parents feel like that sometimes – and I’m sure we will one day.

I think we have the balance about right at the moment. We share all the home educating of the kids and we also have two tutors who come in a couple times of week. This means that sometimes I’m at home with the kids, sometimes it’s my husband, sometimes it’s a tutor or sometimes it’s a mixture of those people. Tutors mean the kids get different people teaching them with different approaches and talents and skills, too.

Do you have to follow a curriculum?

Home education is your own design. I designed a desired curriculum for the kids based on what I thought they would want and need. However, we chose to follow the national curriculum for Maths and English. Everything else is designed by us or guided by the kids.

Will your kids go to secondary school?

I hope not! Secondary schools are really struggling at the moment and a lot of them are a microcosm of abuse, harassment, bullying, racism and adolescent stress.

And this isn’t just my personal opinion, this is backed up by government reports, academic research, inquiries and committee reports.

I just don’t want my boys in that environment. I am also acutely aware of lad culture, gender roles, misogyny and a constant pressure to be ‘hard’. It’s so difficult to bring up healthy, happy, respectful young men if they are in that environment 30 hours per week. We are also very concerned by the way bullying seems to be being brushed off by some secondary schools as ‘not their problem’ – especially when it is happening online between students.

I mean, for me, it’s working in my job that has left me so certain that the boys won’t be going to secondary school. I’ve worked with kids who have been raped on campus. Kids who have self harmed because of relentless bullying. Kids who have become involved in gangs. Kids who have bought drugs at school. Kids who have been exploited, abused and blackmailed. Kids who have used sexual pics to threaten and blackmail other kids. Kids who have engaged in racism and joined far right groups. I even know two sets of parents who lost their secondary school kid to suicide because of bullying that was not being addressed by the school.

And don’t even start me on the absolute state of sex and relationships education.

Sorry, but no thanks. My job as a parent is to protect my kids and to give them the best life and best start possible.

What does an average week look like for your kids?

Okay so our kids only study Mon-Thurs. When kids are in school, they are in large groups of 25-30 and one teacher is trying to balance everyone’s needs whilst trying to teach them new information or skills. That is extremely difficult to do, and I teach adults!

So a lot of home education researchers argue that our children could learn what they learn in a school day in about an hour at home. This means that when you home educate, you tend to get a lot more done to a lot higher standard. So we don’t need the 5th day. And we only study 10am til about 2pm, unless they are busy or stuck into something, like today they just happened to be loving what they were doing and they didn’t stop until 16:50. Totally up to them if they choose to go over or to do additional learning each day. Sometimes they go to their rooms and do extra music practice or extra writing or extra coding on their apps.

So each day begins with Maths or English, and then late mornings and afternoons are topics and tutors. This could mean that on a Monday they do maths and then biology, but on the Tuesday they do English and chemistry. But on a Thursday they might do English and music practice.

There is no schedule in our house, it’s all very much based around what they fancy or what we fancy, as long as they have done their maths and English curriculum work beforehand.

Okay, so that’s everything I can think of for now. Maybe I’ll print this out and start giving it to the people who stare at us in the street or tell my kids they are ‘skiving’ lmfao.

Please don’t judge home educating parents as lazy, dangerous and abusive. Parents can be anyone and anything. Sending your kids to school doesn’t make you a better or safer parent, just as home educating your kids does not make you a worse or more dangerous parent.

For lots of home ed parents, the decision was long, considered, researched and quite nerve wracking! We have to trust ourselves that we are doing the best for our kids with no help. But parents have many reasons for taking this decision. Maybe their kids have ASD and they feel they are being failed. Maybe their kids are traumatised from abuse and school is too much for them. Maybe their kids have eating disorders and school is not the right environment. Maybe their kids are too bright for the system. Maybe their kids need extra support and help from one to one learning. Maybe their kids don’t suit classroom learning. Maybe the parents don’t agree with the education system.

We’re a very diverse bunch.

I hope this blog has answered your questions about why I home educate. I would like to take the opportunity to thank my husband and our two tutors for their amazing dedication and support of our kids.

Written by Jessica Eaton

03/04/2019

Www.victimfocus.org.uk

What if our parenting tactics are mirroring abuser tactics?

Parenting tactics that mirror abuse – a blog discussing common parenting tactics that mirror the tactics used in domestic and sexual violence.

Jessica Eaton

17/12/2018

Working in trauma and abuse often causes you to reflect on everyday, seemingly normal behaviours that replicate and reinforce abuse, control and violence. Sometimes you notice a behaviour in a family member, or you become intolerant to some forms of language. Sometimes you notice a behaviour or value you hold yourself, that you then have to confront and unpick.

This blog will be challenging for many. It was challenging for me to write. I’m a parent too, of two children who are growing up quickly. I’m not a perfect parent. I often joke that parenting is a lot like having a personal social experiment at home. A social experiment that you conduct for 18 years and see what you produce at the end of it.

When you become a parent, you have no idea what you’re doing. You go from being a single or couple of adults that can just about cook dinner and not poison yourselves, to being totally and utterly responsible for a tiny human life. At some point, that realisation hits us and we sit there thinking, ‘Oh shit. Can I do this?’

We all go at it from completely different angles. We all try lots of tactics. We read parenting books. We ask other parents. We copy our own parents. We ask google. We go on forums and ask for advice. We all find things that work and things that backfire. Parenting faux pas are common. Parenting mistakes are common. Parenting regrets are common.

Know what else is common?

Sexual and domestic abuse. Super common. As a human, you’re more likely to be abused and raped in a relationship than to have green eyes. Think of all the people you know (even yourself) who might have green eyes. Billions of people. Well, technically you are around 10 times more likely to be abused or raped in a relationship than have green eyes (Eaton and Paterson-Young, 2018) – and we see green eyes as pretty common, right? Yet we still think abuse is rare or something that people make up for attention. You don’t catch people saying ‘Woaaaah green eyes are so uncommon. You must be making it up. There’s no way you have green eyes.’

Anyway, abuse is common. Parenting is common. What have our parenting tactics got to do with abuse?

Well, I’ve been thinking and maybe it’s more related than we think.

I’m not talking about parents who actually abuse, rape or harm their children, I’m talking about the ones who don’t. Or the ones who think they don’t. The ones who are using accepted, socially normalised parenting styles that mirror abuse – without even knowing it. Loads of us. Maybe most of us.

What would that mean for us, as a population of parents, if we realised that some of our chosen tactics to bring our kids up, were actually mirroring sexual and domestic violence and abuse?

Are we normalising abusive relationships in our parenting?

Should we be surprised that children and young adults can’t identify abusers if we behave like them too?

Here are some behaviours and tactics commonly used by parents that mirror abuse.

Physical assault and violence

Okay well, let’s start with the obvious. Arguably some people will feel this is abuse anyway, and that’s justified. But what about the parents who tell you that kids just need a good smack to keep them in line? The parents who slap, pinch, grab, shove, smack and drag their children and adolescents are mimicking exactly what a violent abuser would do to them. How will these children know that they are in an abusive relationship when they are older, if we have always used these behaviours on them ourselves? If we have spent their whole childhoods hitting them every time we got angry and lost control, why would they ever leave an abusive partner who hit them when they got angry and lost control? How can we tell children that it’s not okay for their boyfriend or girlfriend to do that to them, but it’s okay for us to do it to them?

And how can we teach our children not to become violent abusers to their own children if we have role modelled that behaviour to them? How can we say to our children ‘do not hit that other child, that’s very naughty!’ if we hit our kids?

Shouting at children

Shouting at children is pretty accepted all over the world. Parents do it, carers do it, general public do it, teachers do it, police do it. Shouting at children is seen as some sort of right of an adult. Children are not allowed to shout at each other, or shout at adults, but we are allowed to shout at them.

Some people shout in childrens’ faces, shout in rage, shout in frustration – some even say they shout as some sort of ‘shock factor’ to ‘get through’ to children.

The reality is that we are teaching children and adolescents that if their partners or friends shout at them, that’s a sign that they are in an abusive relationship. However, why would they recognise shouting as abusive at all if they had spent years being shouted at by us? Would they think that people who love them shout at them? Would they think that shouting at their own children is normal? Would they think that shouting at someone is a good way to get their point across?

Name calling

With similar effect to physical violence and shouting – name calling is going to change the way the child understands themselves and their relationships. You might be wondering what I mean by name calling, as many parents would probably tell themselves they’ve never done it.

However, I’m talking about calling our kids ‘stupid’, ‘dumb’, ‘idiot’, ‘little shit’, ‘bad’, ‘a nuisance’, ‘waste of space’, ‘doing my head in’, ‘sick of the sight of you’, ‘thick’… and a lot more words and names that I know some people use about their kids and to their kids.

The issue here is that reading these terms in black and white will make you feel a bit sick. But how often do parents lose control of a situation and resort to name calling and shouting? Probably quite often. How many of us have said this or had this said to us? Loads of us.

And then how will those same children react when they find themselves in a relationship with a partner who tells them they’re stupid or a waste of space? What on earth makes us think that those same kids would identify and escape an abuser who mirrors the way their parents treat them?

But what about the more subtle things we do as parents? The threats, the grooming, the control? How might that mirror an abuser?

Threats: empty and real

Lots of abusive relationships contain threats. Some threats are empty and some are not. However, living under threat in a domestic or sexual violence situation is extremely stressful and traumatic. As an adolescent or adult, it might mean living with someone who constantly threatens to break your things, take your phone away, stop you from seeing your friends, telling your secrets, stop you from seeing your family or threatening to stop you from going out or doing something important to you.

It might even mean threatening to leave you, threatening to find someone else or threatening to report you for something. Some people know that the abuser is using empty threats to control – and some never really know if the threats are real or empty. Either way, they serve to control the victim and keep them in check. They utilise their favourite or most important things to threaten them with.

This got me thinking. We do a lot of this in parenting. How many parents threaten children with removing their favourite thing, stopping them from seeing their friends, stopping them from going to their clubs, taking away their most treasured possessions? How many parents threaten their kids with the police or a care home? How many parents threaten their teenagers with kicking them out or leaving them?

The reality is, parents are using empty and real threats against their children for control tactics. They are very common ways of parenting:

If you don’t do this, I’ll take away/ break/smash your xbox’

‘If you don’t behave at school, we will kick you out.’

‘If you don’t get better grades, we will stop you from seeing all of your friends.’

‘If you don’t eat all of those vegetables, I’ll tell your teacher how bad you are at home.’

People don’t realise how much these tactics mirror abuse. This is exactly what thousands of victims of domestic and sexual violence live through every day.

‘If you don’t do this for me, I’ll stop you from seeing your parents.’

‘If you don’t stop doing that, I will leave you.’

‘If you don’t do what I want, I’ll snap that phone in half.’

‘If you don’t do what I want, I will tell all your friends that you are a liar.’

It’s all the same tactic. It might be being used in a slightly different way, but it’s the same human mechanism being used. It’s the threat of something horrible to control another person. To keep them in fear of that horrible thing happening to them in order to make them do what we want them to do.

Obviously, the problem here is that we teach children to live in this context for years. And then for some strange reason, we expect children and adults to be able to recognise this an abusive behaviour when they are in a relationship. We tell them that anyone who threatens them to control them is abusing them… but it’s only what their parents and teachers have been doing to them for 18 years. So how come it’s okay for them to do it but not a new partner? Why would anyone see this behaviour as abnormal or abusive?

And how can we tell those same children NOT to use these tactics on each other in their relationships? Aren’t we supposed to role model healthy relationships?

Rewarding children when they do what you want

This final one is interesting, because it is seen as a positive parenting and professional technique to use with children and adolescents. However, we have to see the parallels between positive reinforcement using rewards and praise – and the grooming process in sexual and domestic abuse.

It doesn’t mean that positive reinforcement with our kids is wrong, but it does mean that years and years of controlling and raising our kids using rewards and praise primes them for relationships and grooming processes that use gifts, rewards and praise.

For example, if our kids don’t want to do something at all and we manipulate them by offering a gift or praise, that mirrors exactly what some abusers and offenders will do. Look:

Child of 8 years old who hates vegetables

‘If you eat all of these vegetables, I’ll give you a cookie. So you have to eat all of them. Then you will get a cookie for being so good.’

Child of 12 years old who is being groomed

‘If you try this vodka, I’ll buy you some new headphones. All you have to do is try this vodka. It’ll be fine. Then I’ll buy you those new headphones.’

Child of 14 years old who is being groomed

‘I’ll give you everything you want and need if you just touch me. All you gotta do is give me what I need and I’ll give you what you need.’

See how it’s exactly the same?

It’s identifying what the child or adolescent wants and then using it as an incentive to do things they don’t want to do. The agenda might be different (getting your kids to eat carrots versus trying to get a child drunk so you can abuse them) – but the tactic is the same.

And when the tactic is the same, and it’s been used every day for 18 years, why would we expect children to notice or identify this in the grooming process in child sexual abuse, domestic abuse or sexual violence as they get older?

Final thoughts

Millions of our children will be abused, raped or harmed in relationships. Millions of us already have been. There are charities, governments, experts, academics, activists and scientists trying to figure out why it’s so prevalent and why people cannot identify abuse. The same groups are still scratching their heads as to why children and adolescents can’t get themselves out of child abuse and child sexual exploitation.

One thing I always say when I’m teaching is that we need to stop seeing grooming and abuse as a monstrous, rare, sick thing that only a handful of humans do.

We have to start seeing grooming and abuse as a common extension of normal, every day tactics and mechanisms humans use to communicate and manipulate each other. The outcome might be different, but the tactics and approaches are all the same. And millions of people are abusing children using those normal, everyday tactics.

What if we are missing the point? What if we are expecting children (and therefore adults) to spot behaviours and tactics and approaches in abusers that are completely normal in parents and teachers?

What if we are laying the foundations for abuse and control from birth?

What if the way we talk to and manipulate our children in an effort to bring them up, is actually teaching them that abuse, control, threat and bribery is normal?

Aren’t abusers just using the exact same tactics as parents, carers and teachers that kids spend 24 hours a day with?

Isn’t it strange that we have such high expectations of children and adolescents to notice, recognise and act on behaviours and tactics that we tell them are abusive and manipulative – but have featured in their lives since birth?

Written by Jessica Eaton

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

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jessicaforenpsych

2018: My year in review video is here

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=v_hyqrkfOcs

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

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

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

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

I stood up and said to her:

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

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

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

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

I wake up.

Weird dream, I think. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me at around 13-14 years old

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

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

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

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

Fast forward to 2017…

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

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

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

“Jess?”

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

“Do I know you?” I asked. 

“I was your English teacher…”

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

We had a brief conversation before she interrupted:

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jessica Eaton

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

Www.victimfocus.org.uk 

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Why being sexually exploited is nothing like playing on a motorway 

Why being sexually exploited is not the same as playing on a motorway.
By Jessica Eaton

You know it’s bad when you have to stand up in front of 40 experienced professionals and explain why being sexually exploited is absolutely nothing like playing on a motorway. 

I have this thing where my face reveals exactly what I’m thinking, even in professional environments. Those of you who know me will know how true that is. Gets me in lots of trouble and interesting conversations. 

So imagine my face when I am away working in London, explaining to a group of experienced professionals that children are never to blame for sexual exploitation; and a woman puts her hand up and says:
“I’m sorry but I totally disagree with you and I think what you are saying is irresponsible. You’re stood there trying to tell us that children are not to blame for being sexually exploited and you are saying that their behaviours do not lead to them being raped and abused but you are wrong. You are ignoring behaviours that children show that would make them more likely to be abused.”

I asked her to clarify what she meant and reiterated my position that no child is ever to blame for being sexually abused no matter what ‘behaviours’ they showed. 

“Sexual exploitation is like kids playing on a motorway. The kids running in and out of traffic on a motorway are much more likely to be ran over by a car than kids playing at home in the garden. If the kids playing on the motorway were hit by a car, you cannot argue that they are not to blame. Loads of kids that are sexually exploited do things that mean that we cannot argue that they are not to blame. If those kids weren’t on the motorway, they would be ran over. If the kids who are being sexually exploited didn’t do the things they do, they wouldn’t be exploited. It’s wrong to say that they are never to blame. They have to take responsibility for their actions. They need to be taught about their risk taking behaviours so they are not sexually exploited.”

I am not going to lie to you, my face must have been a picture. However, I have worked in sexual violence long enough to have heard this argument many, many times. I’ve heard it tied up with ribbons in fancy language about risk taking behaviours and neuropsychological development – but I have never heard it explained with such a confident analogy. 

My responsibility at this point, as a lecturer – as an expert – is to use this challenge as an opportunity to improve the understanding of the professional who used the motorways analogy – but also the ensure her and the other 39 professionals staring at me, waiting for an answer; do not blame children for sexual abuse.

“Hmmm interesting analogy.” I started.

“Whilst I agree with you that children playing on a motorway would be likely to get ran over, and would be much more likely to be ran over than children playing at home, I don’t agree with your analogy to CSE. Actually, I don’t see any logical comparison between your analogy and CSE at all.”

‘Pick your words carefully, Jessica. Use your airtime to teach and persuade’ I think.

“I would argue that the motorway is a constant, physical but non-motivated danger to humans. When children are playing on a dangerous road, drivers are not purposely, meticulously, carefully trying to run them over from miles away. The car is not motivated to hit them to achieve some sort of pleasure or satisfaction. The child is aware of the dangers of the motorway and understands the speed and velocity of a car travelling at 70mph. The child doesn’t want to be hit by the car and the child has not been groomed and manipulated by the driver to think that they want to be ran over and should enjoy being ran over. The child has not been bribed or blackmailed to be ran over using things they need or want. Do you agree that all of this is true?”

She nodded.

“Would you also agree that no matter how much you taught your children about the dangers of roads, the green cross code and how to stay safe; you still could not blame them if a dangerous driver who wanted to harm children swerved towards them, mounted the curb and ran them over?”

She nodded.

“Child sex offenders are not the physical, constant, non-motivated dangers like the motorway that you can tell kids not to play on. They are the dangerous driver who swerves, mounts the curb and runs over the child, who cannot predict it will happen and cannot protect themselves from the impact.” 

She nodded and the other delegates all began to comment, agree and discuss.

And that’s why being sexually exploited is not the same as playing on a motorway. 

Jessica Eaton

Www.victimfocus.org.uk 

Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

@Jessicae13Eaton