Sometimes, when you have been saying something important for a long time, you yearn for validation. However, as I recently found out; sometimes that validation is much harder to hear than I thought it would be.
I have been warning professionals for years to stop using CSE resources with children who have experienced CSE for a number of obvious reasons which include inducing panic attacks and feelings of fear, retraumatising the child and teaching the child that they are to blame for what happened to them by using the resources to ‘teach them to do something differently in the future’.
Before I tell you where and how I got my validation, let me explain my core arguments against the use of CSE resources with children.
1. It’s not okay to show children films of children being raped
I know right? Shocker. Come on people, think about this logically and ethically. We sit around tables moaning that young people are watching Geordie Shore and brain-numbing, hypersexualised (and often violent) bollocks like that because of the ‘impact on the young person’ but we can’t see the hypocrisy in repeatedly showing them films of young people being groomed, intoxicated, raped and blackmailed? Where is your moral outrage then?
It is absolutely inappropriate to sit a child down who is being groomed or being sexually abused and make them watch films and resources in which other children are harmed in some half-arsed, non-valid and untested attempt to teach them about abuse or, god forbid, their ‘risk-taking behaviours’…
We have absolutely no evidence that this approach works and yet all over the UK, local authorities, LSCBs and education providers are commissioning teams and individuals to show films like Kayleigh’s Love Story, My Dangerous Loverboy, Sick Party, Exploited, Exposed, Think You Know (all of which I publicly opposed) to thousands of children, packed into assembly and sports halls hundreds at a time. No thought is given to the impact of showing harrowing materials to hundreds of children in large groups – and you know why? Because professionals are becoming obsessed with ‘shock-tactic’ education. I have heard professionals triumphantly announce that the children were shocked into silence and maybe now they will understand how their behaviours will lead to being abused.
Statistically, around 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 20 boys out of those kids have been or will be sexually abused in childhood. Professionals have shown them a film of a girl being raped in all different positions in a grubby locked shed or a girl getting her head smashed in with a brick after being groomed online and then they send them back to maths. Am I the only one who feels that this is abusive?
2. These resources are pretty much guaranteed to retraumatise victims
So, aside from the swathes of kids in assembly halls and classrooms being forced to watch these highly stereotypical and often inaccurate resources, there are individual children who have been recently raped, trafficked and seriously harmed; being prescribed six sessions of these resources with a misguided professional who thinks that it will make the child see the dangers and change their behaviours.
Most professionals have a basic understanding of trauma – the impact of and response to stressful and harmful events on a human. They understand that the things that were done to that child over a period of time will have a large impact on their life in a number of domains including physical and psychological health, social experience, economic role and mobility and interpersonal relationships. Most professionals also argue that children should not watch materials that contain extreme violence or sexually graphic content because it is inappropriate for them.
So if we add all of these things together:
Large impact on their life
Extreme violence in films
Sexually graphic materials
Then you generally get a CSE resource.
How is it that when the child has been harmed and abused, we would ignore all of the guidance, theories and boundaries in place to keep children safe from harm and do the exact opposite? Why would we choose this moment in time to show a child a film containing such traumatising scenes?
Why would we deliberately collect DVDs and resources filled with trauma triggers, scenes of abuse and rape, scripts containing manipulative and threatening adults and then show them to highly traumatised children?
Would you show a load of footage of earthquakes to a child who survived a serious natural disaster?
Would you sit a child down and get them to watch DVDs of graphic car accidents after they were involved in a car accident?
Would you force a child to watch footage of domestic violence after being admitted to a refuge with Mum because she was battered by Dad last week in front of the kids?
None of this makes any sense at all. And it may leave you wondering what the rationale is…
3. The undertone to these resources is to teach the children to change their behaviours so it won’t happen to them again
This is easily my biggest issue with these resources. They are actively marketed and described as being ‘preventative’ and used to ‘increase awareness’ or ‘reduce risk taking behaviours’ or ‘inform children of risks’. The plenary questions used in these resources tend to be along the lines of:
“What could the young person have done differently at that point?”
“If this was your friend, what would you tell them?”
“When should they have told an adult?”
“Why shouldn’t they have talked to a stranger online?”
“Why shouldn’t they have sent pictures of themselves to their girlfriend?”
These types of questions are seeking answers from children which frame the problem and the ‘mistake’ within the young person who is victimised by a sex offender in the film. Rather than teaching children that the sex offender had ultimate control and was targeting and manipulating the child so they never could realise what was about to happen, the plenary questions are looking for children to say that the young person should have told an adult, shouldn’t have spoken to a stranger online, shouldn’t have sent that picture. This, my friends, is a slippery slope.
We are raising a generation who are being trained, by us, to victim blame. Not just each other, but themselves. All we do with these resources is teach children that the decisions they made led to them being abused or harmed – which eliminates the powerful role of the child sex offender and places all of the responsibility on of the harm on the child.
So, where did this validation come from and why was it so hard to hear?
After years of people refusing to listen to what I am saying about resources, you would think validation from real young people would have been a brilliant moment. Instead, it was one of the saddest and angriest moments of my whole career.
Some of you might know that I have recently written a programme for young people who have been sexually exploited where I am teaching them how to public speak and how to train professionals all over the UK in how to respond to abused children. Last week, we were chatting in between exercises and their public speaking practice and they began talking about the way professionals use films and resources.
The conversation I watched between four young people of different sexes and ages is here:
YP1: You know what I hated? Those stupid films about girls being exploited that they made me watch over and over again. One social worker said to me that it would inform me about abuse and make me realise that my rapes weren’t as serious as the girl in the film. Felt like punching her. She kept saying it would inform me. So patronising.
YP2: Oh god yeah I remember them. Like that one where that girl goes to that party and they drug her up and rape her? I kept saying to them ‘why do I need to watch this? It’s already happened to me?’
YP3: Did you lot see that drama thing that came round all the schools where the girl is convinced she’s gonna be a model but they rape her and sell her and lock her in a flat? I BEGGED them not to make me watch that. No one listened to me. I was terrified I was gonna have like a massive mental breakdown in a row in assembly sat on the floor with hundreds of people around me and I wouldn’t be able to get out. They made me watch it like 3 times and one time I was so upset they let me sit at the side of the hall in case I had another panic attack and then loads of people kept asking me why I was sitting there and whether it had happened to me and I was mortified.
YP4: One time, when I was really down, yeah, I was sat down at school and told I had to watch three films about self harm and suicide and I really didn’t wanna watch them but they told me I had to so I did. Two of the films were about self harming cos the school knew I cut right, but the last one was about a girl who hanged herself and then it was like interviews with her family about the impact in had on them. It was so upsetting. Not gonna lie to you, I went home and cut really bad.
Is this the validation I wanted? Is this what I wanted to hear?
Is this the impact you were hoping to have on these kids?
This is my worst nightmare and this should be your worst nightmare too.
This is exactly what I was scared of.
Please, stop using these CSE resources with children.
YOU ARE YOUR GREATEST RESOURCE
YOUNG PEOPLE DON’T WANT CSE FILMS, THEY WANT YOU TO CARE ABOUT THEM AND LISTEN TO THEM.