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

‘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.

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

Email me: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @Jessicae13Eaton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Trauma after sexual violence 

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 Professionals are seemingly baffled by children showing aggressive, violent, ambivalent, withdrawn or anxious behaviours after sexual trauma.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

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

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

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

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

And how would this improve the outcomes for children? 

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

 

– they would be seen for their potential not their abuse 

2. The use of CSE resources with children 

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

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

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

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

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

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

And how would this improve outcomes for children? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And how would this improve the outcomes of children?

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

4. Removing children from non-abusive familial homes 

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

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

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

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

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

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

And how would this improve outcomes for the children?

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

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

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

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

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

That’s it. They just need you. 



Simple but true. 

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

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

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

Why being sexually exploited is nothing like playing on a motorway 

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 

Why ‘CSE awareness’ will never prevent CSE

Why ‘CSE awareness’ will never prevent CSE

Written by Jessica Eaton   http://www.victimfocus.org.uk   @JessicaE13Eaton

 

Today, I read this sentence:

“Education of young people is the key to prevention of child sexual exploitation.”

Last week I read this sentence:

“It is imperative that young people receive education to enable them to make informed choices about the relationships they choose to form, to help them to recognise exploitation and abuse.”

‘CSE Awareness’

‘CSE prevention sessions’

‘CSE education’

‘Healthy relationships workshops’

‘CSE information workshops’

‘CSE sessions in schools’

I cannot stand this for a moment longer. This is your official warning that this blog is mainly a huge, well informed, accurately cited, evidence-based tantrum.

So, not dissimilar to the rest of my blogs, really.

Let me tell you why CSE awareness sessions with children will never prevent CSE. Let me tell you why those sentences I had the unfortunate experience of reading; are absolute rubbish. 

  1. Educating children about CSE is important, but it is NOT a preventative strategy.

It is ridiculous to assert that teaching children about sexual exploitation prevents them from being sexually exploited. Calling CSE awareness sessions ‘the key to prevention’ is a new level of victim blaming that my brain cannot even process right now without spiralling into swear words. If we teach children about crossing the road safely, does that mean we can say that we have prevented them from ever being injured by a drunk or careless driver? If we teach children about war and violence, does that mean we have prevented them from ever being a victim of war or violence? If we sit some kids down and tell them about racism and sexism, does that mean they are now magically protected from being racially abused or oppressed because of their sex? Nah. Didn’t think so. You know why educating those children will never protect them? Because…

2. CSE doesn’t occur because a child didn’t have enough knowledge about sex  

That’s right. This is where the ‘CSE sessions prevent CSE’ logic takes us. It leads us right down a path towards arguments that once you increase the knowledge of sex, abuse and violence with children, they will therefore have enough knowledge to somehow protect themselves from a sex offender. I know exactly what the rebuttal to my argument is because I’ve heard it a thousand times “But, but, if we teach children to recognise exploitative situations, they will recognise the signs and exit abuse…’ YEAH RIGHT, OKAY THEN. Gosh, how stupid we all have been. Here we are talking about the massive power imbalance there is in all forms of abuse and the answer all along was to educate children so they just get up, ignore the power imbalance, tell their abuser to eff off and wander into a police station. Simples. I can’t even begin to imagine how insulting that assertion is for victims and survivors of child abuse. Do not be surprised when defence solicitors and well-educated sex offenders start throwing your own logic back at you in court. “Is it not true that the child attended 3 sessions of CSE awareness raising, designed to prevent them from being sexually exploited and yet never chose to report my client? Is it not true that if the child was truly educated about sexual exploitation, they would have known they were being abused and told someone?” You just wait. How are you going to get out of that one? Actually, what about other forms of abuse, does education prevent others from being abused?

   3. Education doesn’t even prevent adults from being abused so why exactly are we using this strategy with children?

For those of you who have been raped or abused as adults, how do you feel about the theory that, had you just had better education about rape or abuse; you would have just left? Yeah, thought so. Arguing that education of social issues prevents victimisation ignores the power imbalances, ignores oppression, is completely inappropriate and amounts to victim blaming. Most adults in this generation have received hundreds of messages, watched hundreds of TV shows, read or heard hundreds of stories of rape and domestic abuse in their lifetime and yet – lo and behold – 1 in 3 women will experience sexual or domestic violence in their life time and in some areas and cultures, this rises to 2 in 3 (WHO (2013) cited by UN Women, 2017). What are we saying about these women? That they all lacked education? That the ‘key’ to ‘preventing’ their abuse was some awareness sessions? Clearly, this logic is hugely flawed. So, why are we applying this faulty logic to children experiencing CSE at the hands of adults?

4. Organisations and public figures gain profit or status by asserting that educating children with their resource prevents CSE

I know right, conspiracy theory stuff!? Not really.

We have no evidence whatsoever that educating children prevents CSE – because we have never tested it. We also have no evidence that any type of sex education or relationships education has any bearing on sexual experiences or relationship outcomes (Bovarnick and Scott, 2016), despite showing some tiny effects that it may increase knowledge. So, no evidence – and yet literally hundreds of CSE resources, CSE session plans, CSE awareness raising programmes, CSE lesson plans and CSE films are being knocked out and marketed in the field as ‘prevention’ tools – some of which are sold for hundreds of pounds.

Why would organisations or individuals do this? 1. It acts as a self-generation income stream for charities and SEOs in the field of CSE at a time of unstable funding. 2. The tools tend to come with heavy, unwarranted praise for how brilliant and innovative the person or group behind the resource are (building status) – despite it never being tested or shown to be effective. I have watched police forces, local authorities, charities and companies scramble to make endless films and resources in CSE and then continually show them as ‘best practice’ with no evidence whatsoever. They then win awards or pat each other on the back for being super-brilliant-excellent-CSE-solvers.

Those same people claim to be ‘child centred’ and ‘child-focussed’. Let me be clear – there is nothing child centred or child focussed about banging out some ill-thought out, stereotypical, narrow focussed, untested resource to use with children and then market it to schools and practitioners as a ‘preventative resource’. The only person at the centre of that strategy is yourselves – for status or for money.

Want some proof? Have a look at the evidence emerging from reports such as the Women and Equalities Committee Report (2016) which found that resources around sexting, sexual exploitation and grooming were being used in the classroom to teach children to blame the child in the film for being victimised and then asking plenary questions such as ‘how could the child have avoided this happening?’ or ‘what could the child have done differently?’ or ‘what do you think led to her being sexually exploited?’ We are actively teaching children to victim blame – and who knows the damage we are doing to the children in the room who are being exploited or abused? I can’t imagine the feeling of watching a resource about a child being raped and then answering plenary questions about what the child could have done differently whilst sitting there thinking ‘but that happened to me… maybe I should do something differently… maybe I am to blame…’ That report showed the impact of using those resources and yet we are still using them across the country and we are still claiming that they amount to best practice to ‘prevent’ CSE.

You might be reading this thinking: ‘This is all a bit far-fetched – professionals and organisations benefitting from making ineffective resources and CSE ‘preventative’ tools? Why would they do this? They can’t all be doing this knowingly?’ And you would be right.

    5. Humans like to find the solution to horrible things in the world, even if they are not correct. This makes humans feel safer and in control.

I have written extensively on this topic recently and will feature in upcoming publications I am preparing in the topic of victim blaming in sexual violence. Let’s break this down for a moment.

“CSE is current. CSE is common. CSE is ‘increasing’ (it’s not, but you know). CSE needs a solution. CSE is about risk. CSE is about vulnerability. We need to reduce those risks and vulnerabilities. CSE becomes about the child. Reduce the vulnerabilities of the child. Educate the child. The child now knows all about CSE. CSE is now prevented. Woohoo!”

This is obviously oversimplified but to be honest, it reads like almost every summary of every CSE resource I have ever read. But why would professionals believe this?

They believe this because it makes them feel in control and it makes them feel like they have a solution to offer to professionals and parents – rather than admitting that the risk is coming from the offender and any child can be targeted and abused, which is likely to make them feel incompetent, helpless or not in control. CSE is a well-publicised social issue and people are frantically searching for the ‘answer’ – essentially ignoring decades of research into CSA which shows that we still haven’t found the ‘answer’ to preventing child sexual abuse as a social issue.

Potentially arising from the way CSE evolved from the terms ‘child prostitution’ and ‘commerical exploitation’ and ‘abuse through prostitution’; children being sexually exploited are still perceived as having some agency and some role in their own abuse and a role in exiting that abuse. Leading on from this, children are now being seen as the solution to child sexual exploitation – change their behaviours, increase their knowledge – prevent CSE. This has meant that organisations and practitioners have erroneously moved further and further towards an educative response to CSE until we are in the position we are right now, with statements like ‘the education of young people about CSE is the key to preventing CSE’. We are now literally sat around tables discussing a child being exploited and trafficked and prescribing them six sessions of CSE awareness and healthy relationships lessons. A huge injustice. A massive facepalm.

The field feels as though it has arrived at a solution. Educate the children and the problem will reduce. Despite this definitely not being the answer, prevention is being focussed on the child and not on the sex offender, which brings me to my final point.

6. Sex offenders are the cause of CSE. Not children. You can educate as many children as you like – there will still be child sex offenders abusing them. 

This is the most important point. Educating children about sex, relationships and abuse is important but it will NOT prevent CSE. Telling children about sexual exploitation will not stop child sex offenders from targeting and raping children. The assertion that preventing sex offending is as easy as a 40 minute powerpoint presentation to a bunch of year 9 kids is appalling. This field is so focussed on presenting the ‘risk’ as being within the child that the risk of the sex offender is essentially ignored. We have decades of research on the theories, methods, risk management and processes of child sex offenders, why does this field ignore them?

Child sexual exploitation is not new. The models and indicators are not even evidence-based and literally mean nothing. We know SO much about child sex offenders already in forensic psychology and criminology and yet I am reading report after report in CSE saying things like ‘we do not know enough about the offenders of CSE’ and ‘disruption of CSE offenders is very difficult because we don’t know enough about them’? EH? Read a book. Psychologists and Criminologists have been banging this drum for MUCH longer than the field of social work and safeguarding – learn from them. Utilise existing research findings. You can’t truly ‘tackle CSE’ if you refuse to learn about sex offenders and to learn from experts in other fields.

For those who will read this and not take it upon themselves to go and learn about child sex offenders, I can offer you a spoiler: There are no studies that tell us that sex offenders never abuse children who went to a CSE awareness session at school. There are also no studies that show that CSE awareness sessions with children ‘prevent’ sex offenders from targeting children.

For the love of humanity, will you please stop saying that educating children about CSE prevents CSE?

‘Take Responsibility’ – The New, Improved & More Socially Acceptable Way to Victim Blame

‘Take Responsibility’ – The New, Improved & More Socially Acceptable Way to Victim Blame

By Jessica Eaton

Twitter @JessicaE13Eaton 

It’s not okay to victim blame – but it’s more than okay to force women and girls to take responsibility for their rape or sexual assault. This article examines recent evidence and possible reasons for why this is happening. 


In my doctoral research in forensic psychology, in my job as a writer, speaker and training manager in CSE and sexual violence and in my general experience of being a woman in the world (an observant, highly critical woman at that) I am becoming acutely aware of a societal shift away from ‘victim blame’ towards ‘victim responsibility’ – and this is something I have designed a new psychometric measure in, which will be tested on thousands of people in the UK this Autumn. 
When I say acutely aware, what I mean is a feeling that every time I look at the news, see an advert or campaign, hear a broadcast, teach at an event or get into a conversation – I find myself listening to people who are victim blaming whilst denouncing victim blaming. 

What do I mean by this? Well, I can already tell as I am writing this that it sounds like waffle so I will give some examples I have seen or heard recently and then I will move on to more structured arguments:

“I’m not saying she’s to blame for being raped, but she shouldn’t have got into that car.”

“It’s always the perpetrator’s fault but if he hadn’t gone on the app in the first place, none of this would have happened to him, would it?”

“She’s not to blame for what happened to her, but she does need to take more responsibility for her choices that evening.”

“We advise all festival goers to stay aware. Please do not get so drunk that you end up a victim of crime.”

“Women need to take more responsibility. They need to know that if they dress like that, they are bound to get inappropriate comments!”

“The child needs help to make better decisions and to reduce their risk of child sexual exploitation.”

“She’s received 47 death threats from the perp so we have advised her to take the initiative to move out of the area and to change her number so he won’t be able to continue harassing her. She refuses to move so the abuse continues.”

What we have here are more intelligent, more socially acceptable and more subtle examples of victim blaming. However, whilst the principle remains the same (the shift of focus from the perp to the victim), the wording is slightly softened and changed to ‘responsibility’ or ‘decision making’. Some of these comments actually contradict themselves by claiming to understand that the perpetrator is always to blame, but then use ‘responsibility’ to equally blame the victim without sounding like they are blaming the victim. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have the rise of the socially desirable response.

This interests me so much because my research focus is victim blaming and the way women and girls learn to absorb these victim blaming messages from an early age which then leads to them blaming themselves when they experience sexual violence. I believe that as a general society, victim blaming is not reducing at all, it is merely becoming more insidious and cameoflaged by adapting the language used. People know that they shouldn’t victim blame, but they still feel the need to do it, so what do they do? They adapt. 

Examples of the shift from blame to responsibility:

Anti-rape wear by Defendables (and others)


Anti-rape wear is the ultimate shift from blame to responsibility. The slogan of Defendables on all of their marketing materials is:

“DEFENDABLES -DON’T BE A VICTIM

Anti-rape wear is generally marketed as underwear or other garments that are designed to lock (you’re thinking chastity belt aren’t you? Yeah, you’re not far off) so you don’t get raped. Genius, eh? All those millions of women who have experienced rape and sexual violence and all that was really needed was a pair of knickers that can’t be tugged, unlocked, cut off or ripped. 

AR Wear advise women that they can wear the knickers when they go running, travelling or on a first date. Excellent. 


However, there are a few problems with anti-rape wear. 

1. To prevent rape, you would have to wear these 24/7, 365 days a year 

The fact that these items are marketed for running at night, travelling alone and going on first dates just confirms that the designers and founders of these companies have no idea what they are talking about. With the large majority of rapes happening within the home of the victim and perpetrated by someone they knew well (family member, partner, friend or ex partner) – women would have to wear these for the rest of their lives in order to get protection from them. 

2. These knickers completely ignore wider sexual violence acts

So you’ve got your anti-rape knickers on, you’re safe, you’re confident. You are now protected from rape. Really? 

The sexual offences act 2003 defines rape as including oral sexual assault. What are we going to wear to prevent that? A Bane mask? (Sorry, Batman fans.)

But seriously, what about women being forced into sexual acts that do not require the penetration of their vagina? What about being touched? What about being coerced or threatened into taking the knickers off and unlocking them? What about being sweet-talked and groomed into not wearing them? 

This garment is designed based on the myth that all rapes and sexual assaults are random acts of severe violence perpetrated in unfamiliar environments by a stranger. Every other form of sexual act is ignored. The concept of grooming, threat and charm is ignored. 

3. “She should have been wearing her anti-rape knickers!”

In more direct and overt examples, victim blaming will most certainly increase if these garments ever became a serious trend. Imagine the ridiculous arguments in court, by police, from friends and family and the wider public when a woman gets raped and she wasn’t wearing her trusty anti-rape underwear. It’s just more pathetic excuses added to the arsenal of rape-deniers and victim-blamers everywhere. 

In more subtle blaming, the focus will shift to a woman’s responsibility to ensure she is prioritising her personal safety by wearing these knickers. It will be her duty to ensure she is taking adequate steps to reduce her risk of rape. Don’t drink. Don’t wear short skirts. Don’t live one hour of your life without your anti-rape knickers on. You fool. 

This is not a route we need to go down, ever. Anti-rape wear is not the answer to rape. It never has been and it never will be. Forcing women to take more precautions and more responsibility to prevent their own rape is ridiculous. What about women who have been with their partners for 12 years and then they begin to show abusive behaviours and start manipulating them, eventually leading to their partner raping or sexually assaulting them? What would be said to them? That they should have worn their anti-rape knickers for their whole relationship just on the off-chance? That she ‘should have seen the signs of abuse’ and bought anti-rape wear to protect herself? 

The fact that a lot of money, innovation and resource has been pumped into designing prototypes of knickers that imply that the burden of responsibility to prevent rape sits with the woman feels like a massive step backwards. 

Public safety campaigns aimed at potential victims 

Some excellent examples below contain messages that place an incredible amount of responsibility on the victim and even her friends – to ensure she is not raped. It feels as though our government and our public services have just resigned themselves to the fact that women and girls will continue to get raped so they have decided to target all of their messages and resources at women and girls rather than perpetrators. It’s a sorry state of affairs that teaches women that they are responsible for their rape, if they break any of the rules in the campaigns. 


I doubt that you will be surprised to see this one. The U.K. and USA especially have created solid links between alcohol and rape in recent years. Their reasoning is so frequent and confident that they make it sound as though it’s the alcohol that rapes women. It’s incredible really. 

This poster is implying that if you drink alcohol, you might get raped. More than that, it positions your choice to have a drink over the choice of the perpetrator to target you and rape you. 

This poster sends the message that if you were drunk when you got raped, you will have broken the golden rule and you will not be afforded any sympathy. Case in point: The Sun headline about India, who was raped and murdered. #2The coverage of the Brock Turner case in which the fact that the woman had been drinking was a massive focus. 

You had a responsibility not to drink and you did not uphold that responsibility – you will therefore come under heavy scrutiny from both men and women about why you were drinking in the first place.


Again, another example of subtle victim blaming in which the shift is based on the responsibility for personal safety and ‘looking after yourself’ and ‘making good decisions’. 

This poster by Essex Police clearly instructs women not to walk home alone. Well, what happens if they do walk home alone? Are they less deserving of justice? The answer to that, sadly, is yes. There is a high chance that people around them will question why they decided to walk home alone and why they didn’t reasonably predict that they would be raped or sexually assaulted. The focus will shift back to the ‘everyone is responsible for their own safety’ message, which is what this poster is based on. 

This is not crime prevention, this is victim blaming. However you dress it up. 


I really do not like this one. The poster depicts a woman with her knickers around her ankles with a bit of text aimed at her friends saying that she might get so drunk that she will make bad decisions. However, the large text overriding the poster says ‘she didn’t want to, but she couldn’t say no’. 

Well, in my opinion, she didn’t make a bad decision. Her decision was that she didn’t want to have sex. However, she was unable to communicate her decision due to being drunk. And when you are too drunk to convey your decision about sex…

(Say it all together now) 

That is rape. 

So why exactly has this police force reframed a very clear example of rape due to the person not having capacity to consent or communicate – as a ‘bad decision’ and then placed the responsibility on the friends? It’s astounding. 

There are hundreds of examples of these types of campaigns, resources and anti-rape wear garments and judging by the quick and critical response to most of them on social media, I would hope that a lot of these messages are being rejected – however, a critical look at academic research and professional practice in sexual violence has a slightly different story to tell. A story that ultimately suggests that the ‘take responsibility’ message is alive and well and unfortunately, increasing. 

Academic Research 

There are a string of studies into victim blaming that sparked my interest into whether victim blaming was becoming more intelligent and more subtle. Having recently conducted a very large literature review in victim blaming and self blame in sexual violence which led to me designing a new measure of victim blaming, I noticed something really important that I hope to test. 

In the 1980s, Martha Burt found that around half of all people surveyed blamed women for their rape, usually using reasoning like ‘they were asking for it’ or ‘they deserved it’ or ‘they brought it upon themselves by the way they were… (Insert reason here)’. As you can imagine, half is a pretty big claim. However, as someone who works in this field, I accepted that to be fairly accurate. However, in 2005 Amnesty International performed a very large survey or victim blaming and rape myth acceptance and found that the proportion of people who blamed women for their rape had dropped to a third. Many researchers hailed this as a true reduction in victim blaming and put it down to better education, rape prevention programmes and good campaigns around sexual violence. I was sceptical. 

My observations and criticisms were based around the survey items used to test people. They were so direct and so overtly sexist that I doubted whether even the most confident sexists would admit to agreeing to the items. Examples include items such as ‘if a woman acts like slut, she deserves to get raped’ and ‘rape is a common weapon that women use against men’. I argued that it was much more likely that people were just responding in a socially desirable manner and were therefore disagreeing with the most overt examples of victim blaming and were only agreeing to the items that were more subtly worded such as the items that talked about responsibility and casual factors that ‘led’ to the rape. I also had issues with language and wording of a lot of items due to the scales being written some decades ago and the way the general public speak having changed. 

I was delighted to find that McMahon (2010) had the exact same criticisms as I did and had done an excellent piece of research that asked university students to look at the IRMAS scale and to be honest about whether they thought people of their age group (18-25) would answer them honestly. The findings were really useful to researchers like me. They confirmed that many people would not like to be seen as agreeing to overt victim blaming but would be more likely to agree to the more subtle forms of victim blaming, which usually involve responsibility or cause rather than blame.  One item about women who deserve to be raped was completely dropped from the updated version of the scale because so many participants said that even if they believed that some women deserved to be raped, they knew that it was not socially acceptable to say it like that so they would not answer that question or would lie about their views. 

Once McMahon had amended the scale using updated language and the ideas from the participants, it was found that the proportion of people who blame women for their rape went back up to half. For me, this was good evidence of my argument that victim blaming was not reducing, it was evolving. 

The second issue I have been looking at is language around blame, responsibility, fault and cause. In every day language, we use them interchangeably. However, when it comes to sexual violence, it appears to me that people think they mean different things. This results in people saying ‘they are not to blame for being raped but they need to take more responsibility for their actions that caused it’. Most people would say ‘that’s still victim blaming’, but in the mind of the speaker, they are reasoning that blame, responsibility and cause are different concepts that do not lead to the same level of culpability. They are saying that you could be at fault, but not to blame. They are saying that you should be held responsible, but that it wasn’t your fault. They are saying that your actions caused it, but that the perpetrator is equally to blame. What!?

At the moment, other than the fact that people have started to realise that research in this area has seriously muddled up these terms, not much else has been achieved to unpick this web. I have built this into my new measure and will be excited to see how language plays a role. I will also be conducting interviews across the UK on this topic to see what we can learn about this mixed up set of concepts. One thing is fairly clear though, ‘blame’ seems to carry much more negative weight than ‘responsibility’ which means that professional practice has already started to adopt this approach (either consciously or unconsciously) and I can already see the effects. 

Professional Practice Example: Child Sexual Exploitation

I am going to use a fictitious but typical case study of a child who is being sexually exploited in the UK and then unpick some of the ways the ‘take responsibility’ message is harming professional practice with victims of sexual violence. 

  • The child is 14 years old 
  • They have a Facebook account through which they have been groomed repeatedly 
  • They have been sexually exploited by a number of peers and adults 
  • They are taken to hotels and pubs by perpetrators in nice cars 
  • They are in love with their main perpetrator and have no idea why everyone thinks they are being abused
  • They are being given drugs and alcohol regularly

This case would be classed as ‘high risk’ in the UK using the CSE risk assessment toolkits (I don’t have time to go into the serious flaws in those here but the fact that a child who is already being raped is classed as ‘high risk’ probably gives you a good idea of my main criticism).

The child and family would have a number of different agencies involved in an effort to keep them safe and to reduce their risk. 

The ‘take responsibility’ victim blaming message really takes hold here, and this is how:

“Parents need to take more responsibility for the safety of this child”

Whilst this seems fairly reasonable, because as parents, we are all legally responsible for the safety and wellbeing of our children; this is not quite what that statement means to parents of exploited children. This statement is used with parents even when they are trying absolutely everything in their power to keep their child safe but the perpetrators are just too powerful. The child climbs out of the bedroom window whilst they sleep. The perp pulls them out of school at dinner time. The perp threatens the child to ensure they run away and come back to the perp or the residence where the perpetrator are. In these situations, the power of the parents is limited. And yet, if the child continues to be exploited the child will inevitably be removed from the parents on the basis that they are failing in their responsibility to protect the child from harm. The local authority will seek to put the child in care which generally solves nothing, creates further trauma and vulnerabilities for the perp to exploit and ultimately, punishes the parents. 

This is victim blaming. 

Instead of focussing on the perp and the power of the perp, professionals are being taught and forced to focus on the responsibility of the parents. Rather than working with them, they eventually decide that the parenting is the source of the problem, in line with the traditional child protection model. 

Even the CPS have banned the criticism of the responsibility of parents in CSE cases in court – but it still happens regularly in frontline practice. The shift in language from ‘blame’ to ‘responsibility’ has meant that parents continue to be blamed, but in a more subtle manner.
The ‘take responsibility’ message to parents results in parents and carers feeling helpless, disengaged and blamed by professionals who are using standards of ‘responsibility’ unfairly against parents who cannot override the power of the perpetrator. Nor can the professionals, and yet there is no punishment or blame for that. It is common in this country to see children who are removed from parents under the explanation that they were failing to protect their children from external perpetrators of sexual abuse and exploitation – but then the children are put in care homes and foster placements who also struggle to protect them and in most cases, the risk actually increases. Yet there is no such equivalent process for the professionals who are now also failing to protect the child. Surely, when the child is removed from the parents and the CSE continues to worsen, isn’t that just evidence that the risk was never coming from the parenting or the lack of ‘responsibility’ of the parents themselves? Is it so hard to see that the risk comes from the perpetrators? 
“We need to help the child to make better decisions and to reduce their own risk

Nope, the children are not safe from the ‘take responsibility for your own abuse’ message either. The child in this case study would be told to complete work on ‘staying safe online’, ‘drug and alcohol awareness’ and ‘healthy and unhealthy relationships’ – in an attempt to engage the child in taking responsibility for their own safety and ultimately, for the actions of their perpetrators. The thought process behind this baffles me. 

We have a child in serious trauma, being sexually exploited, going missing and already deeply groomed by the perpetrators and the national response to that is to help the children take more responsibility for their own safety? That horse has bolted, my friends. Why are we even doing these pieces of work whilst they are in active exploitation and active complex trauma/crisis? We have perpetrators sexually abusing children and we get them to sit down and watch a DVD about sexting and tell them that they need to take more responsibility for their online behaviours – completely ignoring the actions and grooming methods of the perpetrator, whom is the true catalyst behind these risks. 

We can do all the ‘take responsibility’ work we like, but if the perp is still in the picture, we are actively and consistently perpetuating victim blaming by focussing on the responsibility of a child rather than putting all of our resources into the disruption of the perpetrator. 

Which brings my to my final point. You will notice that throughout this post, there has been no mention by the anti-rape wear companies, the police, the home office, the NHS or the professionals about the responsibility and decision making of the perpetrator. I get the distinct feeling that professionals and larger structures feel that it is just too hard to target perpetrators so they target victims. This in itself, could be construed as victim blaming. Moving to the ‘take responsibility for your own safety’ message might look more socially desirable than victim blaming and it might cost organisations less money than chasing perps but this approach will not reduce sexual violence and it will not empower people who have experienced rape and sexual assault. The focus MUST shift back to the perpetrator and their responsibility. 

Rather than ‘don’t get raped’ messages, we need ‘don’t rape’ messages.

Take responsibility = blaming the victim.

For more information about this article or my research, get in touch

JEE509@bham.ac.uk

Sexy Swimsuit Babies – Planting the Seed of Sexualisation 

Sexy Swimsuit Babies – Planting the Seed of Sexualisation 

Twitter: @Jessicae13Eaton

This is the epitome of sexualisation of children. BABIES in sexy swimsuits and bikinis, being taught to pose in a suggestive manner for marketing campaigns.



https://www.facebook.com/Stylisheve/posts/1485807524793157 


Everyone has to reject these types of images and marketing if we are ever going to protect our children from sexual abuse. 

When you look at these, you might think ‘Oh they’re so cute/trendy/fashionable/awesome!’ 

But look again: these are babies dressed as sexy women. Because that will sell more teeny, tiny swimsuits. 

Stylish Eve Images
Second, what kind of sex offender is directing/producing these adverts? You might think these are innocent but look at the body language and the poses of the babies. That wasn’t innocent, that was directed specifically to look as sexy as possible. 

Why is this so important?
Sexualisation of children affects everyone.

Girls & Women: It teaches them that the highest status they can be is sexy. It teaches them that looking good and being sexy and cute are the most important things in life. Research has recently found that girls start to self-sexualise from around 6 years old now. This means they see themselves through the male gaze. They look at themselves and assess how pretty or sexy they appear. They imagine what others think of the way they look. They copy sexualised dance moves and body language. They want to wear high heels and try on makeup. It reduces them to an object of sex before they even know what sex is.

I’m talking about padded bras for 9 year olds, knickers that say ‘CUTE’ or ‘GRRR’ across the ass and t-shirts that say ‘I ❤️ BOYS’ or ‘NAUGHTY BUT NICE’ across the chest being sold in mainstream stores. 

We have young girls as young as 5 years old copying Twerk dance moves in front of their TV and rolling their bodies with their tshirt looped through neck so it looks like a bikini top. They are moulded into the perfect targets for sexual abuse, domestic abuse and lifelong exploitation of their bodies and sexuality by the media, people around them and marketing strategies. 

Teenage girls and women become stuck walking a tightrope of being ‘sexy but not a slut’. The expectation is to look fabulous, wear makeup and heels, wear tight clothing, look sexy and attractive to boys/men and to sleep with boys/men when they ask but don’t look too sexy or wear clothes too tight or sleep with too many boys/men – because then they will be downgraded to a slut. They have breached the twisted norms of the gender role that has been constructed for them and they are now judged and outcast.

Women are positioned as submissive recipients of sex and desire – they should take it as a compliment when a man tries to touch them or rape them – because it means they are so sexy, the man can’t possibly help himself. It causes a life of walking through the streets with your car keys in your hand poking through your fingers, imagining how you would stab a potential attacker in the neck and run away. It’s being told that you should never get a taxi alone, never wear that skirt, don’t wear low cut clothing, don’t get too drunk, don’t go alone to certain places: because you will be used for sex. 

Sexual objectification dehumanises women. It dementalises us. A sex object doesn’t have feelings or thoughts or ideas or aspirations. A sex object is just there for sexual pleasure. This is why we still have people that assume rape is just sex and that women and girls can’t be harmed ‘that much’ by experiencing non-consensual sex or sex acts. 



Boys and Men: The issue here is that boys are taught that all of the above is normal and acceptable. They see constant images, videos and real life examples that reinforce that girls and women are just potential girlfriends or sex objects. What shape is their body? Are they pretty enough? Are they cute? Are they sexy? What do they wear? Would they fuck them? Are they ‘wifey material?’ 
Research from NSPCC has shown that over 30% of boys (and girls) in secondary school think it is completely acceptable to copy sex acts from porn in which the women is completely humiliated and degraded by the man. The example given was that the same percentage of children reported that they thought that a boy ejaculating on to their face with their eyes open was the way to ‘finish’ sex. 

Boys are taught that being mean to girls means they like them. Boys are shown that girls are there to be looked at. Young men and grown men lead a life in which they catcall women because they think it is acceptable to have a loud opinion on a woman’s body and that they have the right to shout it at them.

Through porn and through their own social sexualisation, boys are taught that gaining sex is the height of their worth. Have you lost your V yet? How many girls have you done it with? Have you ever done anal to a girl? Did she let you cum on her tits? Did you fuck her and chuck her? The girl or woman is always positioned as a mere receiver of these acts – as holes to be filled. The objectification and dehumanisation of women and girls from such an early age reinforces the power imbalance between male and female in society. Boys are taught to be emotionless, strong, powerful, smart and logical – whilst they recognise girls as sexy, cute, polite, ditzy and emotional. 

There is also a very important impact on boys and men that is hidden until something bad happens to them, too. Sexual violence can happen to anyone – but the sexualisation of girls and boys teaches that girls are the objects of sex and boys and the subjects of sex. So when a boy or man is sexually abused, they are significantly less likely to ever disclose to anyone – mainly because it breaches their own gendered norms in sex. There are also extra issues surrounding judgement from family and friends that they are gay, that they were too weak to fight off their abuser and that they are not really a ‘real man’ if they were abused. It teaches boys and men that sexual violence is a female issue because contrary to the rhetoric – what they are really being taught is that the root causes of sexual violence are the women and girls themselves: their behaviours, their clothes, their sexuality, their bodies. 

At worst, men (statistically) grow to be the largest population of sex offenders, paedophiles and traffickers in the world. At best, they grow up with a socially supportive entitlement to sex and sexual power that means that they often breach those boundaries of consent and respect for women because they don’t even know they are there. Recent research has shown that men only realised that a woman wasn’t interested in them once she had physically hit them or screamed. When women said no to sexual advances, ignored them, told them to back off, looked away, started to cry, froze or gently pushed them away – they continued to try to have sex with her. In addition, men consistently show higher levels of rape myth acceptance in which they agree with statements such as ‘most women lie about rape’, ‘when a woman says no, she doesn’t really mean it’ and ‘women enjoy being raped’ (Sleath, 2012). 

Why would we expect boys and men to treat girls and women with respect when it is us (the grown ups of the world) who are feeding them these messages about their gender and their roles in sex? 
The babies in the sexy swimsuits are just the beginning of this horrifying process of sexualisation that underpins all sexual and domestic abuse, trafficking and exploitation. 

The link I am making from early and continued sexualisation to sexual abuse and rape is two told: 

1. We are creating sex offenders. Perps that are moving through their own process of desensitisation, denial and acceptance of their sexual preferences towards rape or assault or children etc. are watching these same adverts, same videos, same films and shows. They are being taught that women love being catcalled, that girls are sexy before the age of consent, that forced sex is acceptable and even enjoyed by women. Society created sex offenders. We can try to place the problem within their brains all we like (mainly because this makes us feel safer and better about ourselves if we can pinpoint what is ‘wrong’ with a sex offender) – but we must not ignore the thousands of messages of sex and sexualisation that are pumped out every moment of every day. Many sex offenders when questioned don’t believe they did anything wrong. And we wonder why. 

2. Sexualisation of children and women primes them for victimisation. If children are growing up being sexualised from babies, when someone starts showing them sexual attention or sexually exploiting them as a child, they will not see that as dangerous or scary or abusive, they will see it as copying what they see on TV or in their idols music videos. When someone tells a 5 year old that they look ‘sexy’ we should be horrified and yet that comment is usually met with delight from the child and ‘aww’s’ from the other adults. Why would a child delight in being called sexy? Children who are already hypersexualised will be much easier for a perpetrator to groom and abuse because they are so familiar with sexualised behaviour, body language, dress, terminology but most of all: they already believe that their worth is based on sex – so when a perpetrator starts showing them porn or performing sex acts on them and telling them that they are special and sexy – it provides/increases the self worth based on sex that they are seeking due to the social sexualisation they have experienced since birth. 

Babies posing in sexy swimsuits are just the beginning. And to the parents of these babies, I say this:

If the photographer or director of these shoots thinks that dressing your baby in sexy swimsuits and having them pose in sexually suggestive manners is perfectly acceptable, imagine the things they are going to be ask your child to do at 5 years old, 15 years old and 18 years old. Think about what you are teaching your babies – before they can even spell their own name, they are being sexually exploited for their female form. You must protect them from this industry and stop images like this from being made. They cannot make these images if you are not giving consent. 

Twitter: @Jessicae13Eaton