I listed every instance of male violence I have been subjected to from birth to 30.

17th March 2021

My name is Jessica. I am 30 years old. That’s me in the picture. I decided to try to write down every memory I have of being subjected to male violence since I was born.

I am a chartered psychologist with a PhD in forensic psychology. I grew up in a working class town on a council estate in a pretty regular family.

In this blog, I am simply going to list every instance I can remember of harassment, assault, abuse, threats, violence, rape and harm from men and boys.

The purpose of this personal post is not for sympathy or for support.

The purpose of this post is to show that I am 100% sure that if every woman I knew sat down and thought about every instance of male violence they were ever subjected to, they would have a long list. Our lists would look different and also very similar. Whether it’s catcalling or sexual abuse, women and girls live every day trying to protect themselves from male violence in ways that men have never even had to consider.

Having written this list, I’ve realised that even as I’ve aged and moved into safeguarding and academia, male violence is still prevalent. You’ll notice that the perpetrators change from strangers on the street to men in my field of work.

It goes without saying that this is very uncomfortable to read. The sheer scale of it will be difficult for many of you. Please consider this a serious content and trigger warning for male violence.

Every experience of male violence I have ever had by 30 years old

9 years old: An older boy at my new school put his hand up my skirt

9 years old: Same older boy threw coins at me on the playground and told me to suck his dick whilst I sat on the floor crying

11 years old: Male family member threw me up against cupboard and broke my wrist because I ducked his drunk punch and he was furious

11 years old: Fireman who lived on our road exposed himself to me and my friend

11 years old: Fireman seriously sexually assaulted me behind garages a few weeks later

11 years old: Family friend tried to sexually assault me in living room whilst parents were in kitchen – shouted for parents

12 years old: 16yo boy pressured me to give him oral sex several times (usually I was given drugs)

12 years old: 16yo boy and 19yo man gave me drugs and made me take clothes off

12 years old: Same 16 yo boy raped me and then mocked me for crying in pain – told everyone I was pathetic/frigid

12 years old: Catcalled from moving car on way to the summer fayre

12 years old: Groomed and sexually abused daily by 25 year old man on our street for 6 months

12 years old: Boy threw me to the floor at a party

13 years old: Builder working on our house sexually harasses me every day for a week

13 years old: In family pub with parents when a man stabbed another man in the eye right in front of me. This caused a brawl where 10-15 men smashed the pub up whilst I was trapped on the floor. I collapsed from the shock/trauma. Family member dragged me unconscious to safety through broken glass and furniture causing injury to my legs and arms. Woke up with paramedics.

13 years old: Music teacher said he liked my legs in tights – reported but no action

13 years old: Waiter on family holiday sexually threatens me and harasses me for 2 weeks solid until we went home

13 years old: Given alcohol and drugs by older boys and men frequently

13 years old: Picked up by men in cars and given drugs and alcohol with other girls

13 years old: Beginning of 5 year ‘relationship’ with abuser and rapist (one of the older boys in the group)

13-15 years old: A lot of emotional abuse and control, isolation, drugs, alcohol, controlling friends, checking my phone etc

14 years old: Regularly sexually assaulted by club bouncers who let underage girls in, if you stood still whilst they sexually assault you at the door

14 years old: Boy at school put a cigarette out on my hand and held me there until it burned deeper ‘as a joke’

14-16 years old: Regularly catcalled and followed by men on the way to school and on the way home

14 years old: Attacked by local man in alleyway, strangled me and threatened me (the next year, he went on to be convicted of attempted murder of another local schoolgirl who he attacked her with meat cleaver at the summer fayre)

14 years old: Taken to middle of nowhere in pyjamas and no shoes and left there in the night by abuser. Walked home alone, barefoot.

14 years old: Sexual images of me were shared with a large group of adult men

15 years old: Pushed out of moving car

15 years old: Suckerpunched and knocked out by 28 year old man in front of other men at a car rally as ‘a joke’

15 years old: Thrown in front of a moving car in city centre by abuser. Driver performs emergency stop before running me over. Driver didn’t dare get out to help me.

16 years old: Beaten up regularly by abuser (he was 18-19 years old by now)

16 years old: Raped whilst abuser pressed large scissors to the side of my neck

16 years old: Abuser pins me to wall and strangled me until I gave him my debit card with my wages. Two of his friends watch and say nothing.

16 years old: Drugged by abuser and other 28 year old man and then raped whilst unconscious by both men

16 years old: In his car with abuser, when 28 year old man deliberately ran his ex girlfriend over and left her in street. Threatened to never tell anyone what I saw.

16 years old: Forced to clean oven with sharp knife held across my throat by abuser

16 years old: Pushed down stairs by abuser, miscarried pregnancy, first ever hospital attendance

16 years old: Abuser took all my clothes and shoes, put them all in bath of bleach so I couldn’t dress or leave house

16 years old: Abuser snapped mobile phone in half and destroyed all childhood items and photo albums

16 years old: Abuser threw glass vase at me and then dragged me through broken glass and cut my legs open with the glass

16-18 years old: Abuser regularly smashed entire house up and then made me clean it up in front of him

16 years old: Area manager at work tried to pay me to have sex with him at a conference, when I refused and told him he was disgusting, he sacked me

16 years old: Abuser steals my bank card and spends my whole month salary in strip club in one night

17 years old: Pregnant again by abuser within a few months

17 years old: Forced to perform sex acts whilst pregnant whilst being called fat, ugly, disgusting etc.

17 years old: Abuser drove car into oncoming traffic to try to kill me and unborn baby

17 years old: Frequent threats to kill me and unborn baby

17 years old: Raped a few days after baby is born, all episiotomy stitches ripped out causing severe bleeding and injury – treatment needed but didn’t disclose to nurses

17 years old: Items thrown at me

17 years old: Regularly raped post-partum

17 years old: When baby cries in night, abuser keeps jug of water next to bed and pours it over my face whilst I sleep to wake me up and make me see to baby and feed/change

17 years old: Regularly catcalled whilst pushing pram on walks with baby

17 years old: Spat at in street for being ‘disgusting teen mum’

18 years old: Punched in back of the head and head butted oven door due to impact

18 years old: Abuser threw water over me whilst I was using electrical appliance to try to electrocute me

18 years old: Tell abuser it is over

18 years old: Abuser attacks me a couple of weeks later, headbutts me, throws me over dining table whilst holding baby, disclocated my shoulder, throws large set of keys at my head, I ring 999 whilst lying on the floor (first police contact)

18 years old: Abuser charged with 13 sexual and violent offences, denies them all

18 years old: Whilst on bail, abuser sends 47 death threats detailing the ways he will kill me and what he will do with my body – police ignore

18 years old: Abuser kicks front door in to come in a attempt to kill me – police ignore

18 years old: Abuser sits most nights and throws stones at my bedroom window to intimidate me and stop me sleeping – police ignore and tell me to ‘stop tattle taling on him’

18 years old: Abuser texts me at night telling me what I am wearing or what I am watching on TV as he is hiding in garden or looking through windows. Calls to police almost every night. Police attend once, find him in garden. He tells them he is a police officer and they BELIEVE HIM. I tell them he is lying and he works in construction. They warn me not to report him again.

18 years old: Abuser convinces everyone that I am mentally ill

18 years old: Abuser turns up drunk to my place of work and abuses my managers and me – police ignore it

18 years old: Abuser and friend call my place of work and maliciously report that I have been selling credit card details to men in pubs. Luckily my manager recognised their voices from the incident earlier in the month. My computer was still investigated. Was found to be malicious.

18 years old: Abuser given access to baby. Abuser turns up at my place of work, abandons baby in car park, throws nappies and food all over work car park and leaves. Security at my workplace bring me my baby and my things whilst I am at work in call centre having watched him on CCTV – police ignore it

18 years old: Abuser reports to social services that I am incapable of caring for my baby and that I am addicted to heroin – social services investigate and then NFA as malicious

18 years old: Abuser goes to give bouquets of flowers to my parents and grandparents and tells them he’s innocent and I’m mentally ill

18 years old: Abuser stalks me everywhere, follows me in his car as I walk with pram – police ignore it

18 years old: Abuser threatens suicide regularly

18 years old: Abuser gets hold of me and whispers that he enjoyed every rape and every time he beat me up – laughs at me that he will never be convicted

18 years old: Abuser sends me song lyrics and songs about abusing or killing me and how much he misses hurting me every day

18 years old: Abuser claims he’s been falsely accused and is being alienated from his child deliberately – pretty much everyone believes him and many people try to convince me to drop charges and to give him access to baby

18 years old: Taxi driver helped me in with baby and grocery shopping and then locked my door behind him and tried to rape me in the kitchen – screamed and fought until he left. Reported to taxi company, local authority licensing and police but NFA.

18 years old: Man in stag do in bar ripped my shirt open as I walked past and then punched me in the jaw for saying I wasn’t interested in him

18 years old: Guy I knew from school deliberately put his cigarette out on my leg whilst I was talking to him and held me there whilst it burned

18 years old: Went to bank to ask for overdraft but bank manager said no. I cried and explained I had been abused and was struggling etc. He was kind. Text me 20 mins later saying he would give me rent money and overdraft in cash if I would sleep with him.

18 years old: Left area due to death threats and safety concerns

19 years old: Abuser pays man at Royal Mail to give him my mail redirection address – Royal Mail investigate and give him a written warning

19 years old: Abuser sends group of men to my new address to attack me

19 years old: Abuser abducts baby and disappears – call police but they say it’s not a crime

19 years old: Abuser stalks my social media and creates fake accounts to send abuse and threats – Police say it’s not a crime

19 years old: Abuser calls and texts frequently during police investigation with abuse and threats, police ignore every single report and tell me to call Samaritans

19 years old: Catcalled walking up a hill with pram by two men in van

19 years old: Catcalled walking past petrol station by 4 men in convertible

19 years old: Threatened in a bar for telling man I wasn’t interested in him

22 years old: A man verbally abused me for telling him I wasn’t interested in him and called me a ‘fat ugly slag’ moments after saying he wanted to fuck me

22 years old: Two men drinking on the steps of the town hall shouted sexually abusive comments at me as I got into my car after a meeting

23 years old: I am assaulted for reporting a safeguarding concern. I have stitches in my face and gums. Police officer on duty attends my address, threatens to ‘smash my face in’ if I continued with a complaint against his family member for ABH – says he knows everything about me etc. Another office is present with him and blocks my exit from room whilst other officer threatens me to drop charges

23 years old: Report officer to police force who tell me it never happened even though I had names and badge numbers

24 years old: Male ex partner throws mug full of hot tea at me

24 years old: Sent dick pic by male professional on LinkedIn

24 years old: Male ex partner throws me to floor in argument and then leaves the house

25 years old: Man in a bar bit me on the shoulder for saying I wasn’t interested in him

25 years old: Man drove up to me and screamed abuse at me whilst I sat in my parked car waiting to pick my kids up from school. Then he drove off.

25 years old: Man on internet sends me pics of myself that he has wanked over and cut my head off in each pic

25-26 years old: Stalked and harassed for almost 2 years by male professional in safeguarding whom I’ve never met or spoken to who disagrees with my work

26 years old: Sexually assaulted and pinned to wall by male stranger in a bar who wouldn’t take no for an answer

26 years old: Male academic sent me abuse because he doesn’t agree with my views and then tagged loads of pro- paedophile accounts to give me more abuse which lasted weeks

27 years old: Tommy Robinson tagged me in a post which went viral and encouraged his followers to abuse me. Received upwards of 5000 threats including death and rape threats. All of my accounts were trolled for about 3 weeks.

27 years old: Male professional in safeguarding threatened to kill me for reporting him to police for harassment after he stole my work and sold the documents on. Shared a public image of me from a holiday and claimed I had privately sent it to him.

27 years old: Sent sexual messages by a Priest on LinkedIn

27 years old: Hotel staff member helps me to my room with laptop and bags. Sits on bed and refuses to leave. Tried to come on to me. Wouldn’t leave my bed. Shouted for help.

28 years old: Male ex partner opened back doors to my vehicle and started throwing my belongings on the driveway, punched my vehicle and then opened the door to my moving vehicle as I drove into the road and tried to pull me out of the driver seat

29 years old: Trolled by MRA and alt-right movement when my book was published. Received over 10,000 abusive messages, rape and death threats over 5 day period. Reported to police, initial response was that it was my own fault for being a public figure.

29 years old: MRA activists hack my computer – police take it for investigation

29 years old: Man sends explicit threat about injuries he wanted to cause to me with weapons

29 years old: Man in Canada writes violent, abusive and homophobic articles about me for alt-right magazine

30 years old: A man stole my holiday photos and sold them online, pretending to be me posing as a sex worker for men. One of the men who bought images of me decided to tell me what had happened.

25-present: Due to being in public eye, I receive on average 3 threatening or abusive emails or messages from men per week

Okay. So that’s everything I can think of for now.

That’s 108 incidents I can remember after 2 hours of thinking and writing.

In terms of how many actual crimes have been committed in acts of male violence towards me since I was born, it’s probably thousands.

I’m not alone here. I’m not an outlier. I don’t believe there are any women who have never been abused, groped, catcalled, harassed, raped, assaulted, threatened or harmed by men and boys. Male violence is just too common for that to be possible. Even women who have been lucky enough to have never been raped or abused will definitely have been sexually harassed, sent inappropriate messages or catcalled as a girl. For example, a recent study in the UK found that 97% of women 18-25 have been sexually harassed. That’s a huge number. That’s almost every woman.

We need to have this conversation, and we need to have it now. Or yesterday. Or in the 1960s when feminists highlighted it, and were ignored and ridiculed.

One of the interests I have in this topic is that all of the academic theories of ‘revictimisation’ suggest that male violence only happens to women and girls who are vulnerable or precipitate the crime in some way.

I am of the opinion that if all women say down and completed this written exercise, they would each have so many experiences of male violence, that the theories of revictimisation would cease to make sense. Instead of repeat victimisation of women and girls being something about the individual woman or girl, we would find that male violence is so common in our communities that it’s hard NOT to be a victim of male violence.

Being female in a patriarchy is our so-called vulnerability.

If you wanted to do this exercise yourself, please don’t feel that you have to share it or share the number of incidents you can remember. It’s not useful for everyone and it can be very traumatic for those who are not ready or able to think about the scale of male violence committed against them.

However, if you have read this and think it might be useful, you can do it privately and whilst practising self-care. Sometimes it can help to see a timeline or the sheer scale of what you have been subjected to in your life as a woman.

Thank you for reading.

Written by Dr Jessica Taylor

@drjesstaylor

Email jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Transforming public perceptions of male violence against women and girls

Featured

Dr Jessica Taylor

@DrJessTaylor

15th March 2021

It only happens to naïve women and the women with low self-esteem.

It only happens to women who wear revealing clothes and have no self-respect.

It only happens to young women and girls. 

It only happens to women who were abused in childhood.

It only happens to poor, disadvantaged women, the uneducated and disempowered women.

It only happens in developing countries. 

Women lie about male violence. 

Women use disclosures and reports as revenge against their exes.

Women exaggerate how common male violence is. 

Women ask for it and want to be treated like objects by men.

Women say no when they really mean yes.

This list could take up my entire blog, and psychologists, feminists and activists have been trying to draw our attention to the way women and girls are perceived and portrayed since the 1960s.

The most important thing to note about all these harmful myths about women subjected to male violence is that they serve one main purpose: to erase the offender from their own crimes and decisions. Instead, the focus is switched back to the woman and everything about her comes under scrutiny. Whether it is her body shape or her sexuality, her character and behaviour is highly likely to be criticised and blamed for being subjected to male violence.

These widely embedded views impact our justice system, mental health systems, education provisions and social care services. My research on this topic showed that views which seek to blame women and girls for male violence committed against them has reached so many different levels and corners of society that we have a real problem on our hands.

Male violence against women is minimised, ignored, glorified, sexualised and excused. Women are positioned as mentally ill, liars and seductresses who lead men on, or cause them to commit acts of violence.

These views need urgent change. We need to completely transform the way we think and talk about women and girls subjected to male violence. 

To that end, I want to talk to you about what I believe to be the 5 most harmful views about women and girls which need to be transformed, and I want to tell you what I have been doing for the last 11 years to try to transform these views, to varying levels of success.

The five beliefs I will discuss are:

1. The abuse, exploitation and murder of women and girls is rare;

2. Women and girls are asking for it;

3. Women and girls should take responsibility to protect themselves from male violence;

4. Women and girls exaggerate or lie about abuse and violence;

5. Women and girls are respected and supported when they disclose their experiences.

In 2014, after a long day managing a rape and domestic abuse centre, I nipped to my local shop to get some bread. The woman who always served me on the counter noticed that I looked particularly tired and troubled. She asked me if I was okay, and I responded that I had had a difficult day at work. She asked the question I often dread being asked in public, ‘What is it that you do then?’

I tried to dodge the question by saying that I managed a charity, but she probed and eventually I told her that I worked in a rape and domestic abuse centre in our town. 

The woman gave me the most extraordinary look. It wasn’tsadness, or pity, or shock – it looked like confusion. She laughed. And then she said the words:

“Well! You mustn’t be very busy then, must you?”

I stared at her, thinking of the 357-strong waiting list we had for counselling and support services. 

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“Well, you know, all that rape and abuse stuff, it doesn’t happen around here does it? You can’t be very busy…”

And that was when I realised she was being serious. She genuinely believed that my job must be very quiet because rape and abuse of women and girls was so rare. I nodded at her, and let her continue her shift thinking that I ran this empty, quiet, unneeded rape centre in a town where the abuse of women and girls never happens. Where me and my counsellors just sit around and play dominoes for want of something to do.

It reminded me, after several years immersed in this type of work, that there were people out there who genuinely believed that the abuse and rape of women and girls was a rare occurrence in the world. 

Instead of being rare, male violence against women is actually very common. 

30-50% of women have been victims of domestic violence by male partners and ex partners (CSEW, 2017) and 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused in the UK before the age of 12 (NSPCC, 2017). 1 in 5 women will be raped or experience an attempted rape and 1 in 3 women will be subjected to physical sexual violence in her lifespan according to the CDC (2015). This week, the UN and ONS released data stating that 97% of 1000 women have been harassed.

Further, 3 women per week were killed by men in the UK in 2019, representing a 14-year high. 66% of those women were killed by their partners and exes in their own homes, with others being killed by male family members, acquaintances, and strangers (Femicide Census, 2020).

Every year, millions of women and girls are trafficked across the world for sex and estimates suggest that between 60 and 100 million women are missing from the global population due to sex-selective abortion, female infanticide and deliberate neglect of female newborn babies (Watts and Zimmerman, 2002).

In my own study which will be published this summer, we collected data about women’s experiences of male violence from 4636 women and found using a new methodology that 78% of women were sexually assaulted at least once in childhood, and 46% of all women were sexually assaulted more than 3 times. 92% of women reported that they were catcalled in the street in childhood by men.

Only 6% of the women had ever reported any crimes committed against them in childhood to the police.

In adulthood, out of 4636 women, 83% reported that they had been sexually assaulted with 52% of women reporting that they had been sexually assaulted more than 3 times. 

The reality is that in studies and meta-analyses across the world, violence committed against women and girls by men is actually very common. 

And what about belief that women and girls are asking for it?

Research has now spanned several decades (from as far back as the 1960s) to explore why we are so likely to believe in rape myths such as that women and girls ‘ask for it’. Back in the 1960s, around 50% of the public believed that women and girls ask to be raped by the way they act or the way they dress. But have we really made any progress?

In 2017, The Fawcett Society surveyed over 8000 people in the British public and found that 34% of women and 36% of men believed that women are always partially or totally to blame for rape. My own research found that victim blaming of women and girls depends on the way we perceive the woman or girl, and on the type of offence they were subjected to. There were certain types of offences against women and girls which caused high levels of victim blaming, for example, when it came to questions where I asked men and women about ‘asking for it’, 58% of the general public sample assigned at least some blame to the woman. 

The third harmful belief that needs total transformation is that women and girls should do more to protect themselves from male violence.

This might be the one that annoys me the most, especially as entire industries have popped up to exploit this belief. Now we have anti-rape knickers, anti-rape trousers and anti-rape bras (I cannot explain to you how those work, I’ve been trying to figure it out, but I got nowhere). There are even anti-rape jewellery companies now, who have essentially designed and sold little rings with a blade that pops out in case women are attacked by men, and anti-rape necklaces with a blade that pops out, and I’m pretty sure they are illegal.

Add that to the rape self-defence classes and the rape alarms, pepper spray and relentless advice to women and girls not to use the tube, use headphones, wear their hair in a ponytail, use taxis, walk home alone, jog in the park, walk in the dark, eat, sleep or breathe without protecting themselves from male violence – and we have a real culture of placing the responsibility on women and girls instead of on male offenders. 

In my own study, 80% of participants assigned blame to the women who had been subjected to male violence where I described the woman as unable to say no or trapped in a situation or assault that she could not escape. 

I included offences against women which used manipulation, blackmail and intimidation. These features appear to have elicited high levels of blame from the participant group with over 75% of items resulting in high victim blaming of women. The issue appears to be about the woman’s agency and lack of power in the sexual offence, which increased the amount she was blamed; because she did not ‘assert herself’ or stop the offences, she was blamed by the participants.

The belief here presents many problems, and puts us on a pathway to individualising male violence, not into the individual offender, but into the individual woman or girl. Instead of stopping offenders from abusing, oppressing, assaulting and murdering women and girls, we are giving strong public messages that women and girls should make changes to their lives, appearances, experiences and social lives in order to avoid men who want to hurt them. 

In 2017, I interviewed a woman who had been raped multiple times. She told me that she wished people talked about the rape of women in the same way they talked about terrorism. I asked her what she meant, and she told me that when women are raped, they condemn the woman, but when terrorists commit acts of violence, they condemn the terrorist. 

I thought about that conversation for months. I couldn’t get it out of my head. 

She was right.

When innocent women are targeted and attacked by violent offenders, we tell women ‘don’t go there, don’t do that, don’t put yourself at risk’. But when innocent people are targeted by a terrorist attack, we make clear, public statements that our lives will not change, we will not live in fear, we will not change our behaviours or characters, and that we will challenge, condemn and convict terrorist offenders. There is a clear difference. 

It often makes me wonder why any woman would want to live in a world like this. A world in which male violence is seen as so acceptable and so normalised that they should have to walk down the street with their keys poking between their fingers or pretending to be on the phone to try to protect themselves from male violence. 

A world in which women and girls are chatted up by men and boys, and no matter how many times she says no, it is taken as ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’. A world in which women and girls have learned that the only way to stop a man or boy harassing them is to say they have a boyfriend, because the fact that she is already owned by another male is the only thing that might protect her from another violent male. 

Think about the state of that world for our women and girls. We need urgent transformation. We need urgent change. 

As if we needed more bad news, what about the fourth harmful belief – that women and girls exaggerate or lie about abuse and violence committed against them?

Similar to some of the other beliefs about women and girls, the belief that they lie about being subjected to male violence is a tale as old as time. As old in fact, as The Bible.

There are several examples of women being positioned as lying about rape in The Bible, but two clear examples include a story of a woman who lies about being raped by a male servant who is then punished for crimes he never committed, as a warning to women that they will be held responsible for the harm of men who they lie about.

The second example comes from the Old Testament, which suggested that women who are raped outside of city walls should be punished for leaving the city walls, and women who are raped inside of city walls should be punished for lying about it, as the argument is that if they were truly raped inside of city walls, everyone would have heard her screaming for help and would have rescued her.

Whilst these examples come from texts that are hundreds, maybe thousands of years old, not much has really changed here in 2021. 

There is still a strong belief that women lie about being raped and abused by men, with research showing that 38% of soap storylines about rape depict a woman lying about being raped (APA, 2007). The media has a huge role to play in this. Despite false rape allegations being very rare (around 2% according to Lonsway et al., 2007), the media tends to overreport on cases where there are accusations of false rape allegations and this influences the public to believe that women and girls often lie about being raped. In 1980, Burt found that half of men and women from a community sample believed that women lie about being raped and almost thirty years later, Kahlor and Morrison (2007) found that participants believed that an average of 19% of sexual assault and rape reports by women were false.

The final harmful belief that needs urgent change, is that we have made progress.

Professionals, academics and members of the public say this to me frequently. They tell me how much better it is for women and girls now, and that women and girls are believed, respected and supported when they report male violence.

I have lost count of the times I have been told, “It’s not like that anymore!” when I have been criticising our national and international responses to the abuse and oppression of women and girls. 

It’s as if we decided that if we tell ourselves enough times that things are better, our practice has improved and that we’ve made huge progress, it will become true. But it isn’t becoming true at all. 

Women and girls are still faced with serious barriers to justice around the world. Whether it’s the rape clause in tax credits, the police being able to mine your mobile phone data and social media accounts when you report abuse, the lowest conviction rate for rape the UK has ever seen, the messages from police telling women and girls that they should keep themselves safer or the victim blaming of little girls who have been trafficked, raped and drugged by gangs of men – where is the progress?

Research has shown that when women and girls do report their abuses and rapes to the police, over 73% of them blame themselves after being questioned (Campbell et al., 2009). When women and girls tell their families that they have been abused by men, 78% of them experience their loved ones turning against them (Reyea and Ullman, 2015). The reporting rate of rape and sexual violence reduces every year according to the Crime Survey England and Wales. 

This final point brings me to what I’ve been doing for many years now, attempting to cause cultural, systemic and psychological change in our professional and public spheres.

I’m just like thousands of other women; I’ve had enough of this. I have worked in the criminal justice system, rape centres, domestic abuse support, child sexual exploitation and anti-human trafficking and these portrayals of women and girls need to be changed urgently.

My work, along with the work of many other dedicated activists, female leaders and academics have consistently and robustly challenged victim blaming, rape myths and misogyny in our social systems. But transformation isn’t easy. It is especially difficult, when people do not see the need for change, or believe that what they are doing is righteous or justified. 

I have worked with organisations who blame girls for being raped, and tell me that the girls brought it on themselves, and need ‘a good shock to the system’. I have worked with police sergeants who have told me that 12 year old rape and trafficking victims are ‘easy’ and ‘slags’.

I have worked with youth hostel managers who have told me that when girls lie about their age to get social media accounts, they deserve to be raped. I have dealt with cover up after cover up.

I have challenged professionals who thought that showing videos of girls being raped to teenage girls would make them ‘protect themselves from sexual exploitation’. I have worked with police teams who tell women that it will be their fault if their rapist attacks another woman, if they do not give good evidence in court for prosecution. I have worked with professionals who believe that women who have been abused and raped should not be allowed to have their own children.

Transformation is hard work. It requires critical reflection, humility, an examination of your own biases and of the cultures and systems you exist within. It means that you have to work through your own stuff – and work out how much of it you are projecting on to others. Sometimes, it means acknowledging that you have worked or lived in a way which has harmed women and girls in profound ways, and that you need to do something to take responsibility for that. 

The same is true of systems. It means that organisations, governments, authorities, charities and companies must examine their own role in the way they have portrayed and treated women and girls when they have been subjected to male violence. They must explore their own strategies, policies, staff training, measurement tools, organisational cultures and belief systems. 

I have been challenging some of the most powerful structures in our country for years about this, and it causes a range of responses.

One of the first things I had to do to be able to effectively challenge is resign from my job, something I never expected to have to do. As soon as I started to challenge the wrongdoing and unethical treatment of women and girls, people came after my job and started to write to my employers. I was very lucky that my employer stood by me, but I knew from that day on, that I had to go it alone.

I figured that they couldn’t come after my job, if I was self-employed. Who would give me the P45?

With that out of the way, I could concentrate on working with willing (and unwilling) professionals and organisations to explore their practice, challenge their beliefs about women and girls and encourage them to reframe everything they do. No small ask. 

To finish this blog, I want to tell you two more stories. One of them highlights how resistant we are to changing the way we think and talk about women and girls subjected to male violence, and the next shows how capable of transformation we really are, when we just take a step back and think.

In 2018, I had been working on a contract for 18 months with an authority who had approached me to retrain and rewrite their materials about the sexual abuse and exploitation of girls in the UK.

My job was to rewrite and then deliver the materials to 600 professionals who worked every day with girls who were sexually abused, trafficked and exploited. I had been doing this every month for 18 months when one of my professional students approached me.

“Have you seen the email that went around?” He sort of stumbled over his words in a lowered voice and looked over his shoulder.

I hadn’t seen an email. 

“They’ve sent an email out to everyone saying to ignore your training and materials, because they are causing too much challenge.”

I was shocked. We had spent months causing serious organisational change, which had included empowering hundreds of social workers to challenge the victim blaming and abuse of girls they were working with. 

“They said that too many of us were challenging decisions about the girls, and that everyone kept citing your work and your training. They have sent an email to say that we are to ignore everything we learn today, and that they are going to be stopping your training.”

He was right, and that is exactly what they did. 

They never replied to my calls or emails to explain why they had chosen to stop systemic change, and to tell their professionals to ignore their new skills and knowledge. The woman I had worked closely with at the authority resigned soon after, and told me that she couldn’t continue to work there knowing what they had done. 

The issue here was that the authority had not planned for the way successful systemic change causes complete cultural change – and when they had got exactly what they had asked for, they were not ready for hundreds of educated, critical thinkers making better decisions and challenging poor practice. Instead of empowering transformation, they shut it down. 

By contrast, while I was writing this blog, a woman from an organisation I worked with recently called me. She called for a catch up and as we were finishing the conversation, she rushed to add something.

“By the way, the team you worked with on their misogyny towards the girls they are working with went away from your sessions and realised that they were wrong. They apologised to all of the girls and took responsibility.”

I was gobsmacked. This team had been controlling what girls wore, and telling them that wearing vest tops, shorts or skirts was ‘asking for it’ and ‘dressing inappropriately’. I challenged them and they were not at all comfortable with needing to change. They were certainly not ready for change. One of them even made a comment that they would prefer the advice of a male academic than me. 

To hear that they had not only apologised to the girls but had removed all clothing rules and empowered the girls to wear whatever they wanted, was such a sweet shock – and a reminder that transformation is possible, and it is within our reach. 

So, what can we all do to cause transformation?

Be braver. 

Think critically about the world around us, and why so many of our systems seek to blame women.

Acknowledge the reality of male violence against women, and talk about it.

Challenge the messages and beliefs which place responsibility on women and girls for the violence of men who harm them.

Hold systems to account, and challenge them to be better. 

Believe women, support women and stand up for their rights. 

Transformation is possible – but more importantly, it is absolutely vital.

Written by Dr Jessica Taylor

15th March 2021

Email jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Buy Why Women Are Blamed for Everything on Kindle, Hardback or Paperback: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-Women-Blamed-Everything-Victim-Blaming/dp/1472135482/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=why+women+are+blamed+for+everything&qid=1615654143&sprefix=why+women&sr=8-1

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