Council Estate Academics: Take Pride in Your Roots

Council Estate Academics: Take Pride in Your Roots

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

20 May 2019

I was desperate to escape my council estate. I used to dream of the day that I ran away and lived somewhere ‘nice’. I fantasised about becoming rich and successful so I could afford the things I needed to live. I hated that council estate so much by the time I was 18, that I continued to be ashamed and embarrassed of my roots until I was at least 26 years old.

Only a few years later, I see it as one of the most important and influential experiences I ever had. Living in poverty on a council estate in a deprived area made me who I am today. It made me.

Maybe you’re reading this as a fellow academic from a poor background. Maybe you’re reading this from your council house right now. Maybe you’ve never lived in poverty or on an estate and you’re reading this wondering how any of us could be ‘proud’ of our roots.

I want to share my 5 reasons for pride and the way my thinking has changed over the last few years; which has transformed my thinking from hating my roots to loving and respecting them.

I also want to explain how I went from telling myself that class doesn’t matter and doesn’t affect me, to truly understanding the way our perceived or real social class is affecting us every day – and affecting our research, career paths and experiences in academia.

1. Being brought up on a council estate provided me with experiences that I still draw upon to this day

Walking down to the shops and bumping into like eleventy people you know. Dragging your sofa out on to the front of your house in the summer and sitting in the street or front yard. Pointing your stereo out of the front room window and blasting music. Walking down the alleys you’re not supposed to walk down. Reading who is fucking who on the graffiti walls on the way to school. That shop that sold cigarettes to kids cos they had gone past caring. Sitting on the park til 1am talking about what you’re gonna do when you finally get rich or become a famous footballer. Turning up to school with the wrong uniform on and being ‘told’ to buy more like you had the money. The estate stray dog whom everyone loved and fed but no one knew who owned him. That bloke who always asked you for 20p for some extravagant lie about his dog being trapped on a train and he needs 20p to save his pretend dog, even though you knew it was for heroin. Sitting on the garages throwing stones at the ‘No Ball Games’ sign. Going round your friends’ houses and eating literally everything in the cupboards. Playing knock and run for hours. Hedge hopping. Getting chased by police for climbing on top of the school roof. White dog shit everywhere for some reason.

Yep. Growing up on a council estate sure gave us some life experiences. People say experience shapes us, and I totally believe that. We are an accumulation of everything we’ve ever seen, done, heard, felt, experienced and thought.

Growing up poor is hard. I’m not here to romanticise the shit we all went through. Like I said, I hated my estate. But I am definitely in a different place mentally, now.

See, as a psychologist, an academic – and as an activist in feminism, I need these past experiences every day.

I need to remember the feeling of hunger. I need to remember the danger. I need to remember the drugs, the drink and the stupid shit we did. I need to remember how normal it was for one of our mates to turn up covered in bruises. I need to remember how romantic we thought it was for that 21 year old bloke to pick that girl up from school every day. I need to remember how normal it was to sell a bit of weed to keep you going. I need to be able to remember the logic that caused me and my friends to carry knives and weapons in our socks or trackies.

I need to remember the good times too. I need to remember the hilarious laughter. I need to remember sledding down the snowy hills on a car bonnet some lad had nicked off his Dad’s car cos he heard it goes faster. I need to remember the long conversations about whether we believed in god or aliens or afterlife whilst sat on a slide and a swing at 1am. I need to remember the time when my mate got cut out of a baby swing by the fire service. I need to remember the long summer evenings spent around a £10 BBQ, next to a paddling pool full of beers to keep them cool. I need to remember the carnivals and the summer fayre. I need to remember the years we spent playing in the stream and in the woodlands. I need to remember the tarmac melting so you could shove your fingers in it and write your name with a rock.

We convince ourselves that we can leave our poor pasts behind and reinvent ourselves as these new, successful, educated, accomplished people.

But underneath it all, underneath your degree and your new accent and your code switching – aren’t you just the kid who used to stick transfer tattoos on your face and tell everyone your Dad was harder than my Dad?

The reality is, ignoring, denying or abandoning our roots will hurt our practice as academics and as professionals working in research, practice or policy. If we can’t even be true to who we are and where we are from, what fucking use are we to the people in need, who we are working with or conducting research with? If we are spending our days hiding our background or our dialect, why should communities believe us or trust us when we go to work with them or advocate for them?

And anyway, what example are we setting for kids and adults in poverty if we all pretend we ain’t from the same estates they are from? How will they ever see that we turned out alright if we hide who we are?

Use your experiences to connect with people. Remember who you are.

2. I understand and believe in the strength, potential and abilities of people in poverty and oppression

One of the things that hit me the hardest when working in practice and academia is the way communities and individuals in poverty or oppression are perceived as a bit stupid, unable to become anything and destined for a life of shit.

That’s not how I remember it. That’s not my truth and that’s not the truth of many council estate kids and adults I know.

There was a girl I grew up with whose family had never been able to own a car, so they had never left our town. Never been on holiday. Never even been 20 miles up the road. She’s a lawyer now.

There was a lad I grew up with who was constantly seen as thick. Bottom sets for everything, lived in poverty, never going anywhere. Works in education now and is easily one of the most successful people I know.

Another girl I grew up with on the estate lived a life similar to mine. Sexual exploitation. Drugs. Alcohol. Pregnant as a kid. She’s a very successful, bilingual professional working in technology now.

These aren’t one-offs. These aren’t tokenistic rags to riches stories. This shit happens all the time. Don’t get me wrong, some of the kids we grew up with are dead or in prison right now. We don’t all make it out alright.

But generally, these kids that we are sidelining and ‘predicting poor outcomes’ for, will go on to be happy, healthy, successful parents and/or employed people in thousands of different roles in our communities.

Second, it takes some serious ingenuity, intelligence and determination to grow up in poverty or whilst being oppressed for who you are. These people are some of the most equipped humans you could ever meet – they know how to navigate life and they know how to keep themselves fed, housed and alive by any means necessary.

By any means necessary.

Loads of us who grew up in situations like that, know what that sentence means.

People who are being oppressed or are living in poverty are just as capable and have just as much potential ahead of them as anyone else. The difference lies in the opportunities granted to them by society and authorities, not their abilities.

This realisation as I got older, has changed my practice, my thinking and my theories. It’s not that what I am saying is revolutionary or hadn’t been said before – but I had never thought it before. I was always told by teachers and others that us kids on the estate we ‘never going to be anything’ – and why wouldn’t we believe them?

If you make it out or up – or whatever you wanna call it, you have a responsibility to pull others up with you and to never allow people in your new circles to stereotype or derogate people in poverty or oppression.

3. The grass isn’t much greener on the other side

So many of us dreamed of the perfect life away from the estate. We fantasised about how nice everything would be once we had enough money to pay the bills. We imagined our nice new cars that worked. We dreamt of friends and family around our posh houses. We thought about all the amazing jobs we could do when we were big.

We told ourselves that anything HAS to be better than this shit hole.

Well, it’s not. Not really.

Money solves some of your problems, like being hungry or having debt collectors trying to force their way in to your house all the time. But it doesn’t necessarily give you the emotional and social things you wanted. The higher you climb, the more you’ll notice how cut throat it is. How individualistic everyone is. How materialistic everyone is. How people are comfortable fucking over the little guy to step up the ladder. How unfair the world is, even when you think you’ve ‘made it’ to the upper echelons. How much you will be discriminated against in the academic world once they figure out that you’re not one of them.

When you’re poor as fuck, you imagine that being wealthy or educated will solve all of your problems and you’ll be happy. That’s what society sells to us all. The dream of education, property and wealth. Until you’re so happy you look like the happy couples on the DFS advert on their new recliner sofa reading magazines or the people making amazing meals in the Magnet fitted kitchens you have only ever seen on TV (and promise yourself one day you will have a Magnet kitchen).

The grass is rarely greener on the other side, and as a person who grew up in poverty or being oppressed – you are not going to ‘fit right in’ in academia or in powerful institutions. This can often lead to people feeling alienated or outcast – as a number of people researching working class academics have learned.

Don’t try to be them. The grass is not greener. Be you.

4. To understand poverty, crime and oppression – you have to LIVE IT

I wouldn’t normally say something like this. I wouldn’t say ‘to understand rape and work in sexual violence, you have to be raped first’, for example.

However, there is something about poverty, crime and oppression that no one can ever understand until they have lived in those environments and situations. You cannot possibly imagine what it is like to have no food and no way of getting any food, if you have always been fed.

You have no idea what it feels like to be oppressed by a powerful group of people who see you as inferior and non-human, until you have been the oppressed people. You have no idea what it means to be forced to do things you don’t want to do because you owe someone money or someone is exploiting you.

You will never understand what it feels like to be told hundreds of times during childhood that you will never amount to anything and that your life is worthless and a drain on society until you have lived that shit every day until you even hate yourself and you are ashamed of where you live and who you are.

You will never understand the feeling of being told your benefits have been stopped or sanctioned and you are being left with no money for the next 3 months and no one gives a fuck if you live or die because you should just go out and get a job.

This means for us academics and professionals who HAVE lived through this stuff, we *should* have a much more sophisticated understanding of poverty, oppression and crime. I say ‘should’ because I know plenty of people from these backgrounds who seem to have wiped their own memory and deny their own upbringings and then use that denial and ignorance to judge people who are just like them.

But we should. We should have more understanding, more empathy and more awareness of societal pressures and contexts when we are working with people or conducting research. We should be using ecological models and contextual models. We should be using social models of theory. We should be looking at wider society, oppression and discrimination.

I’m not interested in rich, privileged white people telling poor, oppressed, disadvantaged, discriminated people how to ‘become more resilient’ or ‘get out of poverty’.

They have no place, no knowledge or experience to be advising any one of us.

5. Our backgrounds as an asset, not as a deficit

For lots of us in academia and other institutions, it can be seen as shameful or embarrassing to be ‘found out’ or ‘outed’ as poor, working class or from a disadvantaged background. This is not a reflection on us, this is a reflection on those academics, institutions and authorities.

I would argue that working class and council estate academic researchers have an incredible amount to bring to the table. Completely different life perspectives and experiences. Usually much more competent at communicating and connecting with communities and research participants. Often looking at the world from a different point of view, coloured by their own experiences of which they should not be ashamed of.

The interesting thing is, these people will be perceived as ‘less academic’ or ‘biased’ or ‘bringing their own stuff to work’.

But the same is not said about the professor who’s dad and grandad were professors, who lives in a £700k house, who brings fucking ‘cultured almonds’ to work in one of those expensive Tupperware things that they stewed overnight with porridge oats from Waitrose.

How come those academics are not seen as biased or bringing their own stuff to work? How come their life experiences aren’t seen as colouring their research or their conclusions?

We know why.

Because our backgrounds are seen as deficits that we had to overcome. And their backgrounds are seen as assets that supported their success and academic profile.

Well I disagree. I would much rather be working with a team of working class researchers who could connect with their participants and work in their best interests than be working with an elite team of well-cited researchers who ask me, ‘How do you actually work with and talk to people who have been exploited though? Don’t you get worried they might find you on Facebook? Don’t you worry they’ll find out that you have kids?’

All the stuff we have lived through, seen, heard, felt and experiences on our estates and in our lives – have led up to this work we do in academia. Never see your background as a deficit – learn to see it as an asset. A rare asset.

Final thoughts

Like millions of others, I was fed the myth that if I worked hard and went to university, I could escape my social class and I could move up the ladder in society. It’s bollocks, mate.

Yeah you can gain wealth, you can get your degree or your PhD. You can get that senior lecturer job. You can get that place on the course you always wanted.

But you can’t erase your memories. You can’t deny your roots. Most of us won’t be able to hide our accents or dialect for long (my tip: don’t bother, why should you?). You can’t pretend you have privilege you don’t have. You can’t imagine experiences you never had. You can’t pretend you know what that big word is. You can’t openly talk about how broke you are and how you can’t afford to attend the conference because you can’t afford the childcare.

I spent years running away from who I was, convincing myself I could reinvent myself so people would take me seriously. Only when the penny dropped at about 26 years old did I become the most powerful and authentic version of myself. No longer masking the accent or the colloquialisms. No longer hiding the tattoos. No longer trying to fit in. No longer hating my council estate.

Loving my council estate. Loving what it taught me and what it gave to me. Respecting the people I grew up with and their potentials and abilities instead of seeing us all as broken and poor. Loving my accent. Loving my dialect. Being patient with myself when I can’t pronounce a word I read in books. Fighting the corner of every person living in poverty and oppression – making sure they are not written off or stereotyped. Raising the issue of classism in our research, policies and practice.

Being damn proud of who I am, where I come from and what I can offer the world.

You can take the girl out of the council estate but you can’t take the council estate out of the girl.

Spaghetti hoops is a whole meal on it’s own. End of.

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Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

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

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

All the things I want to say to women and girls who have been abused by men

All the things I want to say to women and girls who have been abused by men

Jessica Eaton

28 Mar 2019

Content warning for discussion of abuse, rape and harm of women by men

An open letter to women and girls around the world.

Whether you have been abused, are currently in an abusive or exploitative situation, have recently escaped abuse or are still processing abuse from years ago; this one is for you.

These are the things I would say to you if we were sat together having a drink and eating some cake.

1. None of this was your fault

The first thing I want to tell you is that you are not to blame for the actions, behaviours and choices of the abuser. Make this your mantra. You are never responsible or to blame for the actions of another adult who chose to harm you for their own gratification. Take zero percent of the blame. Accept zero responsibility.

Self blame is extremely common after abuse, trauma and violence. Women and girls are socialised from a very early age to blame themselves for male violence committed against them. From every level of society, you are taught that abuse happened to you because you were asking for it, because you are a bad person, because you are naive or vulnerable, because you make bad choices or even because of what you were wearing or where you were going. In some cases, you’re even expected to ‘know what was going to happen’, as if you have some crystal ball to your disposal.

Therefore, when we do become victims of abuse and violence, it’s common for us to blame ourselves using these very same reasons. For some of us, this causes a feeling of conflict in which we know deep down that we are not to blame, but we relentlessly question ourselves about what we could have done differently.

If I was sat with you now, I would be explaining to you all of the reasons why this was not your fault. I promise you, abuse is never ever your fault.

2. Abuse is all about the abuser, and nothing about you

This one is important. Abuse is not because of who you are, what you wore, how you act, what you do, where you go, who you met or where you are from. Abuse is because the abuser wanted it to happen. That’s literally it.

Abuse is the most selfish act someone could commit. They chose to harm you simply because they wanted to. Maybe it made them feel good. Maybe it made them feel powerful. Maybe they got aroused by it. Maybe they like hurting people. Maybe it made them feel important. Maybe they enjoy manipulating people (think puppet-master complex).

Abuse is all about the abuser. It’s all about them. It’s about their motivations, their choices, their methods and their own issues. All grooming processes are actually about the abuser and what they get from the process – not about you. That means that if the process was never about you, and it was all about them, you cannot possibly be to blame.

Abuse is caused by abusers. Start to see your abuser as a selfish, horrible person with issues that cause them to choose to harm others who trust them.

You are not to blame.

3. It is not your job to fix abusive men

How many times have I said this to women around me? Over food. Over cocktails. Over coffee. Hundreds, maybe.

I’ve said it to three women in my life just this month.

The reality is, no matter how much you love this guy, you are not on this earth to fix all of his problems, behaviours and flaws. You are not his mother – and it’s not even his mother’s job to fix him.

When you got into that relationship, it wasn’t so you could end up becoming his therapist, referee, problem solver, lender, cleaner, chef, fixer and rescuer. Was it?

His issues and his abusive behaviours are not for you to fix. It’s not fair for him to ask you to help him change. It’s not on you. His behaviours are his shit. His choices to harm and abuse you are all on him.

There is a dangerous myth that you can change men like this, that if you love them enough, you can change them. It’s sexist bollocks. Similarly, you are absolutely NOT responsible for him going on to harm or abuse other women or girls after you. Don’t ever let anyone put that one on you.

4. You are not going crazy

If we met, I would definitely be reminding you that all of your symptoms, experiences, thoughts and feelings about the abuse are totally normal and natural.

Having nightmares about what he did? Normal.

Started eating junk food? Normal.

Started to get anxious about the little things? Normal.

Feeling unsure about your future? Normal.

Scared of repercussions? Normal.

Feeling tired all the time? Normal.

Questioning and second guessing yourself? Normal.

Not sleeping well? Normal.

These feelings can be scary, worrisome or even overwhelming but they are totally normal during and after abuse. You’re not mentally ill. You’re not crazy. You’re not suddenly unwell. You’re not unstable.

You’re coping with or processing huge – or lots of smaller – traumas. Maybe it was rape, assaults, emotional abuse, trafficking or bullying. Your feelings will swing from one to the next. You might feel emotionally exhausted. This is all completely normal and natural. Abuse is such a distressing human experience – give yourself time to feel the feelings, listen to your body, think the thoughts, process the memories, rest more, eat well, drink water and do activities that make you feel good again.

5. Friends and family might let you down

A sad reality for a lot of women and girls subjected to abuse is that family and friends often let us down. Research shows that many of us will be blamed, judged, outcast or bullied by our families and friends when we disclose or report abuse.

Obviously, this doesn’t happen to everyone. However, it is extremely common – and being let down by a close friend or a family member can be devastating after disclosing abuse. This is often because, deep down, you expect family and friends to be there for you when you need them most. Having finally got up the courage to tell them what happened, the last thing you expect (or need) is for them to turn on you, to accuse you of lying or to say something horribly insensitive to you.

Also common is the ‘you should probably keep this quiet because it will impact the whole family’ type narrative. This is especially common when the abuser is a family member or parent.

What you need here, is a back-up support network. Maybe another friendship group, an online network, a Facebook group, a local support group, a counsellor, a helpline, a charity service or a rape centre. Whilst it is common to experience negative reactions from family and friends, you can find excellent support elsewhere if you need it. Please don’t suffer alone.

And don’t take negative reactions from family and friends to heart, it’s their shit, not yours. If they respond in a horrible way, it reflects on them, not you. I’m not saying forgive them and allow them to treat you like that in your moment of need, but I am saying ‘ignore their well meaning judgemental bullshit’.

6. You are stronger than you will ever know

This one is short but extremely important. You might feel weak and hurt now, but trust me, if you have lived through abuse, violence, assaults, rape, bullying, gaslighting and fear – you are so much stronger than millions of other people. You are incredible. If you have already lived through that and coped (in one way or another) you already have amazing skills, endurance and strength.

Don’t ever let anyone make you feel less than astounding. To live through what you experienced takes strength that some people will never ever know or need. You can do and become anything.

7. Life is going to be different from now on

Don’t panic. I don’t mean in a ‘waaaah your life is doomed’ type way. I mean in a ‘life will never be the same again, because you now have new life experiences and wisdom that will guide you.’

After you have lived through abuse, many things change. Some women look at the world differently. Some women become scared of men. Some women trigger from beards or certain aftershaves. Some women stop going out to clubs. Some women become finely tuned to notice perpetrators. Some women notice abusive men in their friend’s lives. Some women give their time to help other women. Some women change their whole appearance or pick a whole new career.

Abuse teaches you a lot about yourself and about other humans. You may also feel you learned a lot about services, professionals and justice systems. Abuse might change your worldview. Abuse might make you question things you have never thought to question before. Abuse might cause you to reflect on things that you always thought was normal until now.

You’re still you, but you’ve grown and you’ve changed through trauma. Don’t be scared by this. It’s okay. I promise.

8. The shame is not yours to bear

One thing a few women have talked to me about recently is a feeling of shame or embarrassment when other people find out their husband or boyfriend was abusive. They were worried what people would say about them or whether people would think they were stupid or lying.

I just want to tell you that the shame and the embarrassment sits squarely with the abuser, not you. You have nothing at all to feel guilty about, to be shamed for or to be embarrassed about. The fact that you made it out and escaped the abuser should make you so proud of yourself. Realise the strength you have and had to have every single day to deal with the abuser and their behaviour.

This is their shame and their shit, not yours. Don’t take on any of their shame. Brush it off and tell yourself that this is not your shame.

9. Give yourself time and love

This is one I should practice AND preach. As a victim of abuse myself, I wish I had given myself time and love. But then, I had no one to advise me and no one to talk to. But that’s one thing I wish I knew back then. I wish I had spent some time just being alone, spending money and time on myself, learning to love myself again and learning to be alone again.

I remember wanting to be fine again. Fixed. Happy. Normal. Confident. Perfect. I remember wanting to find a new partner again. I remember wanting to go out and meet lots of new people. I remember wanting to start a new job and move to a new area.

All of those things are fine – but did I really need to do them all within months of escaping years of abuse and trauma? Wouldn’t I have been better just slowing life right down and focusing on taking care of myself and my own wellbeing for a while?

That’s why I always advise women to take some time to love themselves and spend time on themselves. And I’m not talking about joining a gym, dropping 10lbs and taking selfies for insta. I’m talking about private, personal love and compassion for yourself. Listening to your instincts again. Loving who you are again. Looking in the mirror and recognising yourself again. Listening to your favourite music and singing in the shower again. Walking around a park in the sunshine. Reading a new book. Getting your hair done. Watching your favourite childhood films.

Don’t rush yourself, be kind and compassionate. Take time.

10. Learn who you are again

The final thing I would say to you is this:

Abuse changes you. It makes you smaller. It morphs you into what the abuser wants you to be. It makes you compliant, scared, worried, angry, self-hating and ashamed. When you’ve left an abusive situation, you can sometimes wonder who the hell you turned into. You can sometimes wonder who you are – and where the ‘old you’ went.

It will take time, but learn about who you are again. What do you truly enjoy doing? What makes you happy? What makes you sad? What food do you love? Where would you love to travel? What’s your favourite music? When was the last time you danced? When was the last time you laughed? What fulfils you? What excites you? What arouses you? What intrigues you? What motivates you?

Where do you see yourself now you are free of the abuser? What have you always wanted to do? What dreams did they stamp out of you? What did they stop you from doing? What can you now go and pursue?

After abuse, you might spend months or years learning who you really are – away from the control and power of an abuser. Go with the flow and try new things. Listen to your body.

Your life without the abuser is a huge adventure. Yeah, sometimes it is scary – but you are more than capable of dealing with the next chapter in your life.

Love to you,

Jessica x

Written by Jessica Eaton

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Web: Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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