I am often commissioned to give speeches or to teach about the ‘risks’ and ‘vulnerabilities’ of children who are sexually abused and exploited. Mainly because I oppose this approach and professionals are becoming increasingly curious as to what I can teach them about the fallacy that children have inherent vulnerabilities or take specific risks that would mean they are sexually abused by someone – otherwise known as ‘victim blaming’.
Professionals in the UK have been led to believe that hundreds of ‘indicators’ increase the chances of being sexually exploited and abused, which has led to children being positioned as both the problem and the solution in CSE and CSA. Interventions, campaigns and programmes of work focus on changing the child to make them less… ‘abusable’?
So whilst we are all sitting around tables discussing how we can make 13 year old Layla less ‘promiscuous’ and ‘take less risks’ – we ignore the fact that all of the risks and all of the danger comes from the sex offender, not Layla. Layla is a victim of serious crime. Layla doesn’t need to change.
So how does this argument link to chicken nuggets?
Yep. You read that right. A forensic psychologist lifted the lid on new techniques being used by sex offenders to crawl children’s profiles by creating facebook pages of popular foods that children like, in the hope that they join the page.
So, here I am, reading this recent news story about sex offenders posing as chicken nuggets online to groom children. And it made me think about how ridiculous some of our responses to CSE truly are, when you consider how we try to place responsibility and blame children for being abused by adults that are so intent on abusing them, they will literally pretend to be chicken nuggets. I started to think about how the field of CSE had reacted in knee-jerk fashion to cases of sexual offences in the past – and had developed interventions, models, programmes and risk assessments based on anecdotal cases like this.
So lets apply this scenario to our beloved ‘models of CSE’ (which have thankfully been well and truly debunked this year).
The models of CSE, advocated by multiple national charities, statutory agencies and police forces in the UK – are used to categorise the type of CSE the child is being targeted through. However, I have recently written about the fact that the models are not held up by any evidence, science or data whatsoever – and the authors managed to ignore decades of brilliant research on sex offender theory, methodology, grooming techniques and typologies. But people continue to use the models of CSE in their risk assessments and CSE training all over the UK. So, I’ve made them a new one.
I know, I know. Stupid right?
Well, I wish everyone thought that adding anecdotal evidence to incorrectly used venn diagrams was stupid but unfortunately, we have been working in CSE for over 8 years with these ‘models of CSE’ that make as much sense as the new ‘posing as chicken nuggets model’. Take the ‘boyfriend model’ for example. We are talking about adults who groom children to rape them and traffic them – and organisations named the model ‘boyfriend model’? A model which specifically positions a male offender, a female victim, a heteronormative stereotype of abuse that ignores female sex offenders, same sex abuse and male victims. A model that reframes the abuse as a relationship rather than a crime. Despite the model name being so problematic, no one changed it. And don’t even get me started on the ‘inappropriate relationship model’ of CSE –
“Aren’t they all inappropriate?” A social worker asked me once. I sighed and nodded.
The reality is, the models of CSE have as much evidence base as my ‘posing as chicken nuggets model’ – because the models of CSE have been based on anecdotes and general practice language as the field has tried to respond to the sexual exploitation of children. One of the major problems in CSE is that cases are being taken as the rule, generalised across all cases of sex offending and then all children (and all offenders) and being labelled and categorised and then responded to in the same way – ignoring the nuances of each case.
And what about the heavily-used ‘grooming line’? (Thankfully, another piece that has been debunked as oversimplified and not based in evidence).
How does posing as chicken nuggets online fit into the grooming line in which sex offenders are all homogeneous characters who target children, build a friendship with them, trick them into a relationship and then start sexually abusing them?
Clearly, it would be stupid to teach this to professionals all over the UK, to tell them that all sex offenders pose as chicken nuggets and all chicken nuggets should be suspected to be possible sex offenders. But the real grooming line HAS been used in this uniform way. Thousands of practitioners in social care have been trained using a grooming line which is so oversimplified, some practitioners do not know that most sex offenders do not actually spend months carefully grooming children to meet with them in dingy bus stations to abuse them. Some practitioners show confusion when I show them real cases of child sexual offences where the offender didn’t even bother grooming the child – and quickly threatened them or blackmailed them instead. Some practitioners still do not know that most sex offenders do not pose as children online, they are actually much more likely to be themselves and tell the children that they are adults.
The grooming line, which is as evidence based as my chicken nugget grooming line above, has influenced the understanding (read: misunderstanding) of sex offending throughout all of social care and even some police forces.
Not only practitioners, but thousands of children have been taught the ‘grooming line’, too – resulting in children (and young adults) completely misunderstanding grooming and manipulation. This is our fault. We have taught children faulty concepts, oversimplified models of grooming and then built resources and interventions around them. Not all sex offenders pose as chicken nuggets online – and not all sex offenders will slowly and carefully groom children, make them feel special, trick them into thinking they are in a relationship and then start harming them. The grooming line assumes all sex offenders groom children in the same way, and that the ‘harm’ comes at the end of the process, rather than acknowledging that the whole process is harm.
Finally, how on earth do we protect children from chicken-nugget-paedophiles?
With DVDs about chicken nuggety dangers, of course!
If I have learned anything from the field of CSE, it’s that all sex offending can be solved by showing children graphic films of sex offending. Because as I said earlier – children are seen as the problem and the solution in CSE. (See my #nomoreCSEfilms campaign for more details – that’s real, the nugget DVD is not).
When I mock up a DVD cover like the one for ‘Layla’s Nugget Story’ – it seems ridiculous doesn’t it? The blurb says ‘A film to raise awareness and help children protect themselves from sex offenders posing as chicken’.
The film shows the ‘story’ of Layla, who loves chicken nuggets. She’s just a normal 14 year old white girl (because all of the CSE films are about them) – but she loves nuggets. All of her friends love nuggets. They go to places where they can eat nuggets. She loves nuggets so much that one day, she found a facebook page devoted to chicken nuggets. She ‘liked’ the page. But little did she know… the page was actually a sex offender, posing as chicken nuggets online to steal her profile info and her selfies – so he can blackmail her with them into performing sex acts on webcam.
Silly Layla, she should have known that the chicken nugget facebook page was actually a sex offender. If only she had watched this DVD.
The DVD is shown to thousands of children, who are all now deemed at risk from chicken nugget facebook pages because… kids love nuggets and kids love facebook. The children watch the DVD in which Layla is sexually exploited, distressed and harmed by the chicken nugget offender. Practitioners stand around saying things like ‘this will help the children recognise the signs of chicken nugget offenders and help them to protect themselves from abuse’ and ‘kids these days, they need to know the harsh reality about the risks of chicken nuggets’. Practitioners tell each other that this will help the children protect themselves from chicken nugget offenders and nominate each other for awards for their ingenuity.
After the DVD, the kids are asked questions about what they could do differently in the future to make sure they are never targeted by chicken nugget sex offenders. Boys and girls put their hands up, and are praised for the following correct answers:
“I will never eat chicken nuggets again”
“I will never like a facebook page about fast food again”
“I will become a vegan”
“If my friends like a page on facebook that has fast food on it, I will tell a teacher”
“Layla shouldn’t have added the nuggets page in the first place, then none of this would have happened to her.”
“Layla should have told someone that the chicken nuggets were exploiting her, then someone could have helped her.”
I know – they all seem really stupid answers. They all blame Layla for what happened. They place responsibility on her to have known that a chicken nugget facebook page could be a sex offender.
But these answers are the types of answers we are expecting and praising when the real CSE films are shown to children in our schools and services. Children are asked plenary questions like ‘what would you do in this situation?’ and ‘what should she have done differently?’ or ‘what could she have done to keep herself safe from the abusers?’
Children are reward-oriented and suffer from adult-pleasing because we bring them up in a culture where they are supposed to please us and satisfy us at all times; even when we are talking utter bubbles. So, despite the fact that we are teaching thousands of children to blame the victims in the videos and develop a new, emboldened victim blaming culture in our next generation – they give us the answers they think we want to hear.
They know that practitioners do not want them to put their hand up and hear them say:
“Being sexually abused is never the victim’s fault and you shouldn’t be advocating victims to change their lives and behaviours so they don’t get abused – you should be changing the behaviours and attitudes of sex offenders and you should be improving the criminal justice system!”
So what the chicken nugget has this got to do with anything? Why the chicken nugget satire article?
Because I will not stand for anymore of this palatable, careful, professional, implicit, subtle victim blaming of children – where we come up with more and more models, theories and CSE films that place responsibility on the children to protect themselves from sex offenders. When I saw that sex offenders were creating facebook pages to pose as chicken nuggets, my mind wandered to how the field of CSE would respond to that…
Would they teach the kids to be wary of all chicken nuggets?
Would they make films about chicken nuggets and show them to thousands of children?
Would they create websites and posters about chicken nuggets?
Would they create new models and theories about chicken nugget sex offenders?
Would they add ‘likes chicken nuggets’ to the CSE risk assessment toolkits?
Would they develop resources about staying safe from chicken nuggets online?
Or would they finally come to the realisation that sex offenders will try anything they can think of to groom children (even posing as chicken nuggets) – and that children can never be expected to predict, preempt and protect themselves from sex offenders?
It is time we realised that children cannot influence or stop a sex offender who is abusing them.
(Layla’s Nugget Story and the Chicken Nugget Handbook is £294, it will totally help protect children from nugget-related-offences. Honest.)
Written by Jessica Eaton – Doctoral Researcher in Forensic Psychology of Victim Blaming