‘Men only target vulnerable women’ & other myths

Featured

Dr Jessica Taylor

15th October 2020

Content warning for rape, abuse and blaming of women and girls.

One of the biggest lies we’ve ever been fed is that women and girls have an innate vulnerability which causes sex offenders, domestic violence offenders and child abusers to spot them and target them.

I write this blog to dispel this powerful myth, and to reassure millions of women and girls that it wasn’t their ‘vulnerability’ which led to them being beaten up, abused, raped or harmed.

I want to make this argument in six points:

⁃ The vulnerability myth is based on some very old, and very shit science

⁃ We like to deny our own vulnerability by calling other people ‘vulnerable’

⁃ We teach children that only ‘vulnerable’ kids get abused and harmed

⁃ We have an oversimplified understanding of abusers and offenders

⁃ We don’t know how to tackle the global epidemic of male violence

⁃ Vulnerability does not lead to other humans committing crime

The message which I hope to convey is that ‘vulnerability’ is not the cause or the source of the abuse that women and girls are subjected to. Further, we have leant on this explanation so heavily that services, programmes, interventions and policies are based upon it, despite it being incorrect.

The vulnerability myth is based on some very old, and very shit science

Calling women and girls ‘vulnerable’ is so commonplace now, you might not even notice it. You might not notice that when a woman or girl is abused, someone will point out her ‘vulnerabilities’. You might not notice that the conversation often becomes about her background, her personality, her childhood or her understanding.

The truth is that this process of seeking and assessing ‘vulnerabilities’ of women and girls who have been abused and harmed is deeply embedded into social care, psychology, mental health, counselling, policing, legislation, education, law and justice.

To understand how we got to a place where we pick apart the woman or girl and lay out her ‘vulnerabilities’ as reasons for being raped, trafficked, abused or traumatised – we have to look at some of the old theories which have continued to influence our thinking.

One such theory is almost 80 years old, and comes from positivist victimology.

Key theorists in victimology and criminology as far back as 1948 argued that only certain types of people became victims of crime and often brought it upon themselves.

Hans Von Hentig wrote in Time Magazine (1948):

‘Certain characteristics of law-abiding citizens arouse a counter reaction in the criminal. The inexperienced businessman, for example, invites embezzlement; the nagging wife is flirting with murder; the alcoholic is a natural for robbery. Thus, the victim becomes the tempter.’

As you can see from this example, it is theorised that victims ‘tempt’ and ‘arouse’ criminals to commit crimes by being vulnerable, inexperienced – or… a woman.

Spoiler alert: There is a lot of misogyny in vulnerability theories and research.

Later victimology theorists such as Benjamin Mendelsohn and Stephen Schafer also suggested that victims caused crime by being weak, vulnerable, female, old, disabled or young. All three theorists suggested that victims precipitate crime by provoking offenders. Whilst this sounds somewhat outdated, these perspectives are alive and well.

Many theories within psychology and criminology still rely on the assumption that women subjected to sexual and domestic violence either brought the offence on themselves, should have done something to protect themselves, should have behaved in a different way or that their vulnerabilities led to the offender targeting and attacking them.

Victim precipitation theory and research suggests that victims precipitate a crime by their behaviour, vulnerability, character or even the way they walk. This research is still ongoing, and only recently I spoke to an academic who was conducting research into which women were ‘vulnerable’ to being raped by their gait and style of walking.

The argument goes that if a woman or girl walks in a way which is not confident or assertive, she gives off some sort of signal to offenders that she is vulnerable and would therefore be a good target for rape or abuse.

Walking isn’t the only thing which academics have suggested to be a vulnerability in women and girls – everything from their appearance to their childhood has been explored in the literature for decades. There are thousands of articles and studies which seek to name the ‘vulnerability factors’ of women and girls, with the aim of reducing them by changing something about that woman or girl.

Interestingly, the same cannot be said for men who are raped and abused, they are not generally discussed as if they were ‘vulnerable’ to offenders or ‘giving off signals’ to be raped or abused.

It’s as if we see rape as a violent crime when committed against men, but as natural process of taking of an opportunity of a weak person, when rape is committed against women.

The reason that I reject this research and these theories entirely is simple: none of it is true, and if you look hard enough for correlations, you’ll find them no matter what they are.

If I looked hard enough, I bet I could find a correlation between which vegetables women eat and being subjected to violence or abuse by men. The reality is that violence against women and girls is so common, that you can often find correlations that don’t really exist, purely based on how common one of the variables is.

I, and thousands of other professionals, have been working with abused women and girls for decades. Those of us who have done these jobs know that we come across women and girls from every background imaginable. I’ve never seen a particular personality, character, appearance, walk or background that has formed any sort of pattern in the women I have supported.

I’ve supported everyone from female MPs to child victims of trafficking. I’ve worked with lawyers and police officers who were being raped and abused by their husbands at home. I’ve worked with social workers who work in safeguarding teams every day and live in fear of their partners. I’ve worked with women who were experts in martial arts who were raped and beaten up by men. I’ve discussed experiences of abuse and rape with women in the military and women who are now veterans.

Equally, I’ve worked with women who have been in care since they were toddlers. I’ve supported girls who have been trafficked around the country. I’ve worked with girls who have never known a safe place to live and have struggled to get a decent meal.

I can’t think of any ‘vulnerability’ that any of these women or girls had in common. They were a mixture of confident, nervous, strong, terrified, healthy, unwell, believed, ignored, extrovert, introvert, popular, lonely, religious, atheist, old, young, poor, rich, supported and isolated women and girls.

The only thing they had in common was that they were females in a patriarchy, and that means that statistically, they are at constant risk from male violence.

We like to deny our own vulnerability by calling other women ‘vulnerable’

You might be wondering why we go to such efforts to name the vulnerability in the woman or girl.

My work, and the work of many others, explores the concept of ‘denial of personal vulnerability’.

Simply put, this means that we are all vulnerable at some level, but we like to pretend we are not.

We are vulnerable not because of innate characteristics or behaviours, but purely due to how common abuse and rape is. At any given time, any of us could be attacked, assaulted, abused, threatened, groomed or even murdered. But to think in such terms would leave most of us anxious and terrified to live a normal life, so we instead tell ourselves that it would never happen to us, because we are not ‘vulnerable’ like those other women and girls who are raped and abused.

We tell ourselves that we would never be that stupid, never be that trusting, never drink that much, never date that guy, never go to that place. We tell ourselves that we would ‘see the signs’. We tell ourselves that the first time he laid his hands on us, we would be out of the door.

It’s all bullshit, of course. But we like to redirect our own feelings of personal vulnerability by pointing the finger at victims and then picking out their ‘vulnerabilities’. We then say ‘ahhh, that’s why she was raped, well, I would never do that, I would never let that happen to me.’

It’s a defence mechanism. A coping strategy for living in a patriarchy. We blame and name other women and girls as ‘vulnerable’ so we don’t ever have to face the fact that it could happen to us.

This is true even when academics write papers about ‘vulnerabilities’ of women and girls subjected to male violence. The difference is, they get to dress it up with big words, theories and titles so that we all nod and agree. It must be the vulnerabilities of the victims! Of course!

We teach children that only ‘vulnerable’ kids get abused and harmed

We invest a huge amount of time and effort into convincing each other that only the vulnerable will be abused, raped and harmed. This starts early, as early as primary school.

Children are taught in PSHE, assemblies and workshops that only the vulnerable children will be abused or groomed. Resources from everywhere from NSPCC to Barnardo’s have endorsed the myth that only the vulnerable children will be abused, and that if we remove their ‘vulnerabilities’ they will be safe from sex offenders and child abusers.

It’s again, all total rubbish. But that doesn’t stop us from showing children videos, resources and sessions which encourage them to identify the ‘vulnerability’ of the child who is raped and abused. It also doesn’t stop us from constructing entire vulnerability assessments in professional practice which erroneously attempt to identify which vulnerabilities of the child caused the abuse, so we can ‘solve’ them.

A common example of this is when professionals conclude that a girl has been exploited or raped because she didn’t ‘have enough education about consent and healthy relationships’.

This leads to plans around the child which suggest that increasing her knowledge of consent and abuse will protect her from the sex offender who is exploiting her, because once she has more knowledge, she will use the knowledge to defend herself and protect herself better.

This completely ignores the fact that even the most educated professionals who work in abuse every day, are still just as likely to be abused as anyone else. There has been no research which suggests that knowledge of abuse is protective. It is educative at best. This is because power dynamics and the choice to commit violent crime against women and girls has literally fuck all to do with the victim and has everything to do with the motivation and personal choices of the offender.

If we are to tackle this myth, we need to look at why we embed it from such an early age in girls and boys around the world.

We have an oversimplified understanding of abusers and offenders

One of them main issues we have is that whilst we like to scream ‘monster’ and ‘pervert’ and ‘paedo’ at offenders, we don’t actually get taught anything about these men. This leads to serious misunderstandings about offenders who commit domestic and sexual violence offences.

One such misunderstanding is that offenders carefully seek out and then deliberately target the most vulnerable women and girls in society.

This is very easily disproved, especially as direct qualitative research with sex offenders and domestic violence offenders shows that men who commit these crimes target their victims for hundreds of reasons, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with vulnerability.

In interviews, sex offenders have said that they targeted girls because they liked their hair, their tights, their body shape and their smile. Sex offenders report targeting children because they are confident and happy. Some talk about their specific sexual fantasies. Some only target girls of certain ages and ethnicities. Some sex offenders report not caring who their victims are at all, and will rape and abuse any child they can.

When it comes to online sex offending, there is plenty of evidence that sex offenders target children and adults randomly, based on whoever responds first and in a way they want. This means they can literally use a scattergun approach to attack and groom hundreds of victims per day, and never know anything about their so-called ‘vulnerabilities’.

In chat logs of sex offenders abusing children which were analysed by Kloess et al. (2017), most offenders never even asked for details about the child. They were not seeking vulnerabilities to exploit. They were targeting hundreds of different kids. They had very little in common.

With the abuse and grooming of adult women, the same can be said. It is seen as ‘common knowledge’ that abusers target vulnerable women – and yet, many offenders actually target assertive and confident women who spend the rest of their lives wondering how that man managed to grind them down and destroy their sense of self.

The reality is, for lots of misogynists, destroying confident and healthy women is part of the fun. It’s part of the kick they get out of belittling and humiliating her. Why would an offender always target vulnerable women, when they enjoy breaking down women and controlling them?

The vulnerability theory is just myth. It suggests that offenders don’t target or abuse ‘strong’ women, and that if you are a strong woman, it shouldn’t ever happen to you.

This is particularly true for Black women who are generally positioned as strong, aggressive matriarchs due to racism. So it’s even harder for Black women to be seen as victims of abuse and male violence, because we assume they are all ‘strong, assertive’ women who would never be targeted by abusers. There has been much written about this phenomenon, and it deserves a lot more attention. Especially as it exposes so fluently, the stereotypes we use to build the ‘perfect victim’, and what happens when you as a woman, sit outside of that perfect victim stereotype.

If you are not seen as vulnerable or weak, you can often be positioned as a liar or a malicious ex.

It’s almost as if we believe that all victims of male violence must be inherently vulnerable women and girls, and they are not vulnerable, they are not real victims.

We don’t know how to tackle the global epidemic of male violence

This is probably fairly obvious, but we don’t actually know how to (and there is very little appetite for) challenge and end global, systemic male violence.

We did get to a point where we started to take notice of the fact that 97-99% of all violent crime is committed by men globally, and that we had to do something about the way men and boys were being socialised and brought up to regard fighting, violence, sexual power, competition and bullying as masculine traits to aim for.

However, more recently, we have seemingly gone backwards. When we talk about male violence or male crime stats, we are shouted down and told we are misandrists and man-hating feminist bitches, (ironic, but okay).

It seems that if we cannot even publicly address decades of solid evidence and statistics, we definitely cannot work towards tackling male violence yet. As much as I would love to see that for the good of our entire species, you can lead a horse to water but you cannot force it to drink.

Everyone knows the reality of violent crime, but many are reluctant to do anything with it.

We’ve now moved away from holding men responsible (again) and gone back towards positivist theories of victim precipitation and vulnerability.

Vulnerability in one human does not lead to other humans committing crime

My final message has to be the clearest.

It does not matter how vulnerable a woman or girl is, it never ever ‘causes’ another human with free will to choose to abuse, rape or kill them.

Absolutely nothing inside that victim has any power or effect on the choice-making of an offender.

They are capable and competent adults who make active choices to harm women and girls for one reason:

Because they want to.

You don’t need any other theories. Offenders do it, ultimately, because they want to. That’s why they are able to keep their cool with their boss, or their best mate, or some dickhead they play footy with – but ‘lose their cool’ with their girlfriend at home or abuse little girls.

This isn’t about vulnerability of the woman or girl, it’s about a choice that is made by a misogynistic, violent offender who wants to abuse and harm women and girls (and in some cases, children in general rather than just girls).

Let me explain something to everyone reading this blog:

If vulnerabilities lead to some sort of human arousal or temptation in us to exploit or abuse or kill weaker humans, we would all do it (or at least the majority of us). And yet, not only do the majority of humans not commit these crimes, but women hardly commit any.

Globally, women are only responsible for around 2% of violent crime. So does this mean that victim precipitation theory only applies to male offenders and female victims?

If the vulnerability theories were real, that would mean that if you came across a drunk woman, accidentally separated from her friends and lost in the high street, you would think ‘she’s vulnerable and alone, I could do something to her right now!’

But you don’t, do you?

Most of us have never had a thought like that in our lives.

You might instead see her and think ‘shit, she’s alone, is she okay?’

Or you might approach her and ask her if she’s safe, and where her friends are. You might ring an ambulance or police if needed. You might help her back to somewhere safe like a taxi rank or a bar where her friends were.

That’s because you made a CHOICE.

100 people could walk past her and the majority would see all of her so-called ‘vulnerabilities’ and either try to help her or not stop at all.

And yet a handful may stop and make a choice to harm her, rape her, rob her or kill her.

Her ‘vulnerabilities’ had nothing to do with it. It is all about the active choice making of the offender.

It is ALWAYS the choice of the offender.

Vulnerability of women is just a myth used to distract us from the real cause of male violence: men.

Written by Dr Jessica Taylor

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Misogyny in the family courts

Dr Jessica Taylor

21/09/2020

Everyone who works with women who have been subjected to domestic abuse, or children who have been subjected to sexual abuse, will know how volatile, unpredictable and misogynistic our family court system can be.

I am going to use this space to explore some of the most common narratives and problems that arise for women and girls in the family courts, and I encourage all professionals working in this field to consider what will be presented here. It won’t be comfortable reading, and I fully expect people to try to tell me that these cases aren’t real, and this isn’t happening.

Each year, thousands of women write to me about their terrifying experiences of the family court system. Despite every woman being an individual, and residing everywhere from Essex to Sydney, the story is the same.

And if I have learned anything from working with and for women in need in the last ten years, it’s to watch out for patterns, especially when they span countries, languages and cultures.

As it happens, the way women and girls are pathologised in the family court systems is one of those patterns, and one that worries me greatly. I am, thankfully, not the only person to notice this or to be fighting against this, and recently the UK family court system has been lobbied to commit to reform and exploration of its practices. Campaigns by feminist activists such as #thecourtsaid have repeatedly highlighted the dangerous and abusive decisions of the family courts.

In this blog, I will highlight the most common issues that women are facing and how they are used to create an adversarial, misogynistic system that disbelieves, gaslights and destroys women step by step.

Believe me when I say that this is starting to look like a blueprint. I have been talking with women from around the world recently, and their cases are almost identical. The tactics and language used are the same. The injustices are the same and the risks to children are the same.

I hope by writing this, that more women will become aware of how common this is, and process the trauma, guilt and blame of these distressing court cases.

Women who report abuse are quickly reframed as crazy, jealous exes

Every single report I have read so far has either directly or indirectly described mum as emotionally unstable, jealous of new partners, delusional or has issues with the ex that they seem to be taking out by manipulating the court process or by coaching their children.

Reports seem to read that when women start new relationships after divorce or relationship breakdown, they are unstable and promiscuous, but when the male ex starts a new relationship, it’s taken as evidence that he is stable and settled down.

Often, women face an assumption that they are in the family court system because they are angry that their abusive ex has a new partner. Every woman I’ve spoken with so far has barely even mentioned the new partner, and indeed in some cases, I couldn’t even tell you if there was one. And yet, the way they are being portrayed is that they can’t let go of their ex, and that the court case is a waste of everyone’s time, because she cannot accept the end of the relationship.

What is interesting about this, is that in all of the cases I have discussed this year with women, the woman actually ended the relationship and left due to abuse. Some went to refuges, some went to family, some found other accommodation. All of them left because they realised they were being abused, or because their children disclosed sexual abuse.

None of them want to be with their ex, but it’s amazing how credible male ex boyfriends and husbands seem to be, when they accuse the woman of being ‘jealous’ that he’s moved on. Mud sticks, and professionals around her soon begin to make comments or write reports which include these inaccurate assumptions. This is particularly dangerous where children have disclosed abuse, and then the family court hearings become more and more focused on mum’s ‘agenda’ and ‘motivation’ instead of what the children have said.

No one seems to be taking young girls seriously when they disclose sexual abuse

The way that young girls are being dismissed by professionals ranging from social workers to paediatricians is worrying me greatly, and is the motivation behind this blog post.

The first thing that seems to happen is that the girl discloses randomly, during play or non-related conversation about something that a (usually) male family member has done to her.

Language is usually infantile and mixed up. This is completely normal. The girl describes the abuse in a way that would be clear to any experienced professional that there is something seriously wrong.

Examples include:

⁃ Daddy pokes me in my privates and my bum

⁃ Daddy checks my vagina all the time

⁃ Daddy takes pictures of my bum

⁃ I don’t like it when the yoghurt comes out of dad’s wee thing

As you can see, these real examples clearly show that the child is not coached or influenced. Some children draw pictures of their abuse or of male genitals. Some children write stories or poems about abuse and rape.

In addition to these clear signs of abuse, we also see girls with injuries and genital irritation such as scratches, marks, itching, soreness and spots. Even when this is happening, mothers are being told that it’s normal and that there is no need for tests or examinations.

This completely ignores all of our evidence base in child sexual abuse, which clearly states that these disclosures plus any kind of physical symptoms in small children are clear signs of sexual abuse.

So why are these signs and disclosures from girls being ignored in the family courts? Why are professionals suggesting that girls are making this up, or don’t know what they are talking about? Why are we so sure that she isn’t being abused, that we will continue contact with sexually abusive parents and ignore her disclosures?

This is the opposite of all of our safeguarding evidence and policies. What is the point of having these policies and child safeguarding legislation if we then ignore it during hearings and investigations?

Character assassination is par for the course; and no one seems to care

Reports and hearings often become obsessed with the character assassination of the mother – and become less and less focussed on the well-being and disclosures of the children.

This is something I’ve noticed more and more over the last few years, and now seems commonplace.

Even where children have disclosed and reported to the police, the reports become about the fact that mum was abused as a child or is on benefits. It has absolutely nothing to do with the abuse of the children, any yet the mum of the children finds herself defending her life choices, childhood, personality and background whilst trying to get everyone to re-focus on the disclosures made by the children.

When this happens, the hearings start to become an adversarial process about which parent is ‘telling the truth’, and which is ‘credible’ – rather than addressing the fact that a child has repeatedly described sexual abuse.

There’s a lot of dodgy psychiatry and psychology going on, with no real process to challenge poor practice

It concerns me how many women are diagnosed or labelled with disorders and psychiatric conditions after meeting a psychologist for 2 hours during an assessment. I have read several reports in which women have been labelled, accused and diagnosed after one short interview, whilst they were under severe stress and worrying about their child being abused.

Despite this, these reports are taken seriously and can be used to make important decisions.

As an example, one woman had reported that her child was disclosing abuse by dad, and so they were all assessed. On the psychometrics and assessment, the mum and dad scored the same, but mum was diagnosed and labelled, whereas dad received a glowing report. Interestingly, I noticed that on one subscale created to detect social desirable responding (where people ‘fake good’), the Dad (who was accused of sexually abusing children) scored much higher than the mum, but mum was accused of faking good with the psychologist and Dad was described as friendly and stable.

It was as if the scales were being completely ignored whilst the psychologist wrote a biased report based purely on their own opinion. When this was challenged, mum was accused of being delusional and emotionally unstable. The more mum protested, the more it was used against her to ‘prove’ she was unstable.

In short, mum was trapped. The more she criticised the report, the more she was pathologised using shitty psychology and psychiatry.

This example seems to be common, and I’ve come across similar cases over and over again. It worries me how little time is used to ‘assess’ the family, and the kind of comments that seem to be acceptable.

I’ve read some reports that are nothing short of libel, based on absolutely nothing and are difficult to get overturned or corrected. Conversely, I’ve read reports about Dad, whom the child has disclosed is sexually abusing them, in which they are described as nothing short of a saint among men. It’s very disconcerting reading the reports about a family, in which a fellow professional has written such a biased report, and the disclosures of the child have been almost completely dismissed.

Further, judges have been found to make awful comments, including one who argued that a woman whose daughter had disclosed repeated sexual abuse by her dad, was accused over being overprotective of her daughter because she had historical miscarriages over a decade earlier.

It raises the question of who regulates and manages these hearings and processes, and what rights do women have to challenge and change inaccurate, misogynistic and biased comments, judgments and reports.

Parental alienation seems to be the trump card for abusive men

Not just confined to the depths of MRA twitter and Facebook groups, parental alienation is now being used frequently in cases where children have disclosed abuse.

Even in cases where children have clearly described sexual abuse by dad, the dad is able to argue that the mother is committed parental alienation by stopping the child from seeing him.

This is extremely problematic, especially as most people would agree that if a child has disclosed sexual abuse, the safest thing we can do is keep the child away from the potential abuser to instantly reduce the risk to the child. However, I have now spoken to several women who have been threatened with action, or accused of parental alienation, for stating that they will not allow their children to have unsupervised contact with a parent who the child is saying, has sexually assaulted or raped them.

Most of the women I spoke to were terrified of the accusation of parental alienation, and in cases where this had been used against mum, it often worked – and Dad was granted access even when the child was disclosing sexual assaults.

It is clear that real parental alienation does happen in some cases – but choosing to stop contact when a child spontaneously discloses serious sexual abuse is surely common sense, and not an act of parental alienation.

One woman I spoke to was threatened by a judge that if she didn’t support contact with her ex husband, (who had convictions for DV and the child was reporting had sexually abused her), that he would award full custody to Dad as a way to punish/control her.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this, either.

Something is seriously wrong with our system.

Evidence is not being gathered correctly or quickly enough when children are at risk from abuse

As if there were not enough issues already, one of the things that has really started to worry me over the last few years is how long children are being left after a series of serious disclosures without any interviews, examinations or referrals.

We already know that on average, children disclose 7 times before someone takes it seriously (according to an NSPCC, 2014 study).

However, I keep coming across cases in which children have disclosed sexual abuse and have even told adults that their genitals hurt – and no one has seen them for weeks, sometimes over a month.

Further than that, some children who disclose recent rape or sexual abuse have not been referred for tests or examination for several weeks, sometimes as long as two months, by which time all DNA evidence would be gone, and some injuries would arguably have healed.

This is counter to all of our knowledge and practice wisdom in child sexual abuse, and yet, it seems common when it comes to family court cases.

I have also come across poor practice in which children have disclosed serious sexual abuse, and the way we have dealt with it is to send uniformed officers into their houses, or taken children to police station evidence suites where the child has instantly stopped talking and has refused to speak about anything.

Rather than us acknowledging that our process has scared the child, we have then suggested that the child has not been abused or there is ‘no evidence’.

Even where parents have attempted to record their child’s disclosures in the moment, evidence is being ignored. Professionals are telling mums that they cannot do anything to protect children as young as 3 years old unless the child gives a full and specific disclosure of the sexual offences, which is also incorrect and does not align with safeguarding practice.

Decades of research evidence is being totally ignored

What this all amounts to, is that thousands of papers, reports and theories are being actively ignored in cases where women and girls disclose abuse.

Whether it’s evidence and theories about how to support children to disclose, or evidence based lists of symptoms and signs of sexual abuse – so much is being ignored.

Research clearly gives us lists of things to look out for in children who might be being sexually abused, and despite many of these signs being present in these cases, children are being ignored. Research also defines the different ways in which small children attempt to disclose abuse that they don’t understand, which ranges from verbal disclosures through to behavioural disclosures – and yet I have never read a report which includes this evidence base.

Research on offenders seems to be being ignored too. Men with previous convictions for sexual abuse or accessing child sexual abuse imagery have been given unsupervised access to children because professionals have argued that his own children are not at risk.

An example of this from around 2015 includes a man who had several convictions for sexual abuse of children online, and accessing child abuse imagery. A social worker approached me for advice because she was so concerned about his three children. Safeguarding concerns had been raised about the three small children, the youngest of which was 2 years old. Dad was known to download and hoard sexually abusive images of infants.

It baffled the social worker that the judge had argued that Dad was not a risk to his own children, but only to children on the Internet!

The judge had suggested that the children have locks on their bedroom doors and be given education about keeping themselves safe. Dad was given unsupervised access to the children.

I do think, having written this story out, that you need literally zero knowledge of safeguarding or sex offender research to know that this was a stupid decision which put the children at significant risk of sexual offences.

What is the point of academics, students. authorities and professionals conducting decades of research if we ignore all of it in real world application?

Final thoughts

I’m sorry that this blog is so negative and so concerning. I acknowledge that many professionals will feel wholly uncomfortable with such a critical view of family court systems around the world. It is not to say that all cases are like the ones discussed here, but it is my opinion that even one case this poor is a failure to protect children from abuse. One case is too many cases.

It is not acceptable for anyone to respond to this blog by suggesting that these cases are worst case scenarios, rare and therefore irrelevant. I am not hugely involved in this field (I am not a caseholder, I am not a lawyer, I am not a social worker), and yet I can give hundreds of real examples of this kind of practice towards women and girls in the family courts.

I wrote this blog for one main reason:

Women need to know that their case was not a one-off. They need to know that they are not to blame, and that they are one of thousands of women who have been labelled and gaslit in the family court system. So many women contact me to talk about their cases and experiences, and they have no idea that this happens to other women, too.

We need to raise awareness of the way women and girls are being treated – and then we need to work together to reform the family courts.

Dr Jessica Taylor

Why grooming is so hard to spot: The truth

Why grooming is so hard to spot: The truth

Dr Jessica Taylor

30 June 2020

Disclaimer: I give permission for this article to be used in training courses and education, as long as my name is clearly referenced as the author. This article contains important information that can be used to influence practice, so please do use it where you can.

Content Warning: Contains discussion of grooming techniques and tactics

Over the past 10 years or so, there has been increasing interest in teaching children and women to ‘spot the signs’ of grooming. This article will explain why this approach doesn’t work, and why grooming should be reframed as a common, normal human behaviour that we all engage in.

I know, sounds horrible doesn’t it?

But if you take the time to read this article, you will see grooming in a completely different way, not only in your own life but in the lives of others you care about or work with.

My key points will be:

1. We have defined ‘grooming’ to be too narrow

2. Grooming happens constantly, to all of us, and by all of us

3. Professionals are expert groomers

4. Victims of abuse need to know that grooming is common and constant

5. Grooming is hard to ‘spot’ because we are all socialised to accept grooming in everyday life – it is unfair to expect women and children to be able to do this

Okay. Let’s get into this.

1. We have defined ‘grooming’ to be too narrow

When I say ‘grooming’, I know what image that conjures up for most people. They think, sexual abuse. They think CSE. They think gangs of men abusing girls. They think of kids being groomed online. They think of women being manipulated into abuse.

When I say ‘grooming’, they think of a slow, careful, manipulative process in which a sex offender learns more and more about their victim, builds a relationship with them, asks them questions and then sexually abuses or attacks them.

The Oxford Dictionary defines grooming as ‘the action by a paedophile of preparing a child for a meeting, especially via an Internet chat room, with the intention of committing a sexual offence.’

The NSPCC defines it as, ‘when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them. Children and young people who are groomed can be sexually abused, exploited or trafficked.’

The truth is, these narrow stereotypes of grooming are blinding us all from seeing the reality of how broad grooming really is.

Grooming is not specific to sexual offences at all. It’s not even specific to crime.

You can be groomed into a cult.

You can be groomed into terrorism.

You can be groomed into political ideology.

You can be groomed into domestic abuse.

You can be groomed into bullying culture.

You can be groomed into taking drugs or drinking.

You can be groomed into religion.

You can be groomed into changing your worldview or believing conspiracy theories.

You can be groomed into thinking you are mentally ill.

You can be groomed into eating disorders and body dysmorphia.

You can be groomed into hating yourself.

You can be groomed to be racist, homophobic, misogynistic or xenophobic.

As you can see, the process of grooming is about the manipulation, persuasion and control of humans. It is not specific to sexual offences at all.

By narrowly defining it, we have put our own blinkers on. We ignore the way grooming is utilised all around us. We then start to believe that grooming only happens to the most vulnerable, and that we can teach them how to spot the signs and how to stop it happening to them. But it rarely works.

2. Grooming happens constantly, to all of us, and by all of us

Some of you may be surprised to learn that you have been groomed. Statistically, many of us have been abused, so we will have been groomed by an abuser. However, the rest of us have been groomed in other ways that we have not noticed or understood.

Further, most of us have groomed another person into doing something we wanted them to do.

To understand why grooming is so hard to spot, you have to take a huge step back and look at grooming in society on a daily basis. As I go through this section, try to reframe your definition of grooming using my definition:

‘Something that someone does to someone else to convince, persuade, manipulate or control them into doing something that they want them to do (either positively or negatively).’

Grooming has been used to manipulate you every single day since you were born. You were groomed into behaving and thinking the way you do. Your social norms, beliefs, attitudes and world views were all given to you by adults with an agenda. Your parents, carers and families taught you their beliefs and behaviours. They taught you they were normal. Even if they weren’t.

Then you went to nursery or school, where the staff team groomed you into some very strange human behaviours such as going into a building where all children are dressed exactly the same way as you, sitting on the floor in silence, sitting with your legs crossed for no reason, putting your finger on your lips to show you are quiet, putting your hand up before speaking, responding to bells and buzzers to move or eat or take a break.

None of these are normal, natural human behaviours. We did not evolve to respond to bells or buzzers. We did not evolve to sit cross legged with 29 other kids dressed in the same clothes, with fingers on our lips, listening to one person explain punctuation marks. We do not actually have to raise our hand before we can physically speak. You don’t actually have to ask for permission to go to the toilet, you could have just stood up and walked out when they refused you permission to go to pee or change your sanitary pad. But you didn’t, did you?

None of these ‘rules’ are real.

They are norms, beliefs and behaviours that we are groomed to accept and take part in, using positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.

You were groomed for your entire childhood, by everyone around you. No one escaped this process.

You are groomed into buying things you don’t even need by marketing, advertisements and product placement. You are groomed into wanting to look a certain way by fashion and pop culture. You are groomed into dieting at certain times of the year. You are groomed into buying certain stereotypical products at certain times of the year or for certain special days. You are groomed into believing that you can become rich and successful if you just ‘work harder’. You are groomed to believe that governments, authorities and big companies care about you and your family. You are groomed into upgrading your mobile phone when there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

There is constant pressure to groom you in society – to market, to profit, to manipulate, to control, to silence, to persuade, to abuse you.

This is why you can’t spot the signs of grooming. Because it is happening to you 24/7. Because society is built on grooming and groomers.

Even you have groomed someone, at some point. If you have kids, you’ve definitely done a lot of grooming. If you are religious and encourage others to believe in your faith, you’ve groomed people. If you ever persuaded someone to do something you wanted them to do (positive or negative), you groomed them. If you have sold products to people that they didn’t really need, you groomed them. If you ever convinced someone to join a club, go to do something, change something about themselves or engage in something new, you groomed them to do so.

Grooming is a common human behaviour. It is not only sex offenders who can build a rapport, persuade, manipulate and coerce someone into doing something. Most of us are capable of it. Most of us do it every day.

If you’re in a long term relationship (or have been), consider what you did or what your partner did to ‘groom’ you.

Did they buy you gifts? Flatter you? Pay attention to you? Ask you questions about yourself? Tell you that you are special? Tell you that they would never want anyone else? Did they listen to you and centre you? Did they sacrifice things for you? Did they help you or were they there for you at times of trouble? Did they tell you they would never hurt you?

Yes, they did.

Did you do any of these things as part of your relationship building?

Yes. Of course you did.

You both successfully convinced another human that you are their best option as a partner, and that you are trustworthy, safe, loving and that the relationship is worth investing in, exclusively.

3. Professionals are expert groomers

It’s not just us who are capable of grooming and need to acknowledge what we do and why it’s so difficult to spot.

Professionals are expert groomers.

(Note: Whenever I say this in a speech or in training, professionals look with absolute horror and disgust at me. A couple have walked out. Some people sit with their arms crossed, glaring at me. This concept makes everyone uncomfortable. I’m aware of that. Keep reading.)

Social workers, police officers, counsellors, psychologists, care staff, teachers etc.

We are all expert groomers. We literally go to work to groom humans into doing things we want them to do. The social worker grooms families into doing something. The police officer grooms victims into doing something. The counsellor grooms their client into trusting them to disclose their worries. The care staff groom the child or adult into letting them bathe them, care for them and live with them.

Professionals are skilled manipulators. We call it ‘building rapport’. All professionals who I know, call it by that name.

They say ‘Well, we firstly focus on ‘building rapport because none of this works if you don’t have good rapport with the person.’

And I say, ‘How do you do that?’

They reply, ‘We build their trust in us. We ask them questions about themselves, find out about them. We tell them we are here to help them. We remind them that we care about them. We tell them they can trust us. We offer them help when they need it most. We build their self esteem by paying them compliments and using positive reinforcement. We take them places they like to go. We treat the kids to Macdonald’s…’

And at that point I say, ‘So, you groom them, then?’

To which I usually get either a nervous laugh or a look of utter horror.

I spend significant amounts of my time showing professionals and leaders that their ‘rapport building’ process is the same process that a perpetrator uses to abuse and groom victims. All of those things that professionals tell me they do to ‘build rapport’ are used to ‘groom’ victims into abuse, rape, trafficking, exploitation, extremism, bullying, racism, cults, belief systems. It’s all the same shit.

I’ve spoken to professionals who also accept that they manipulate families into doing things that they don’t want to do (for example, pressuring victims to engage in a criminal prosecution process or threatening action if a mum doesn’t report her husband for domestic abuse).

These are all forms of grooming.

Why is it important for professionals to acknowledge what they are doing?

Because we trigger our clients. We mirror the perps. We make our clients feel unsafe. We cause them to back away from us.

And then we flip it on them, and say ‘they are too hard to work with’ or ‘they won’t engage’ or ‘they won’t trust any of us’.

Sound familiar, fellow professionals?

Of course it does, this is par for the course. Professionals moaning that their ‘rapport building’ didn’t work, or that they have spent months ‘building rapport’ with a child or family and they still won’t disclose or report.

Like that’s a bad thing.

The truth is, lots of victims of grooming and abuse begin to feel unsafe when professionals use similar tactics to ‘build rapport’ with them. They trigger, they disengage, but they don’t know why.

They might say things like, ‘What’s in it for you? Why are you being so nice to me? Why do you keep pretending you care about us? What do you get out of this?’

This is actually massive progress for that person. They can feel you grooming them. They don’t like it. They are questioning your motives and agenda. They are wondering why you are putting so much effort into building rapport with them.

I teach professionals that you should start to see this as positive. This is a person beginning to process what grooming feels like – and beginning to critically analyse grooming behaviours. They don’t trust you, because you mirror the abuser. They haven’t figured that out yet, because grooming is so socially embedded and normalised, that they will rarely pinpoint exactly what is making them uncomfortable. But that’s what is happening there. The brain remembers the feeling. Remembers the betrayal and the manipulation.

Which brings me to my next point.

4. Victims of abuse need to know that grooming is common and constant

No matter who they are, or what age they are, people who have been subjected to any form of abuse or oppression – need to know what I’ve just taught you about grooming in society.

They need to know that they are subjected to grooming at all levels of society, at all times, by all people. They need to understand that grooming makes the world go round.

Why?

I have one main reason for arguing this point:

Because it reduces self-blame.

You see, we have created a disgusting narrative that victims of abuse ‘should have seen the signs’. We create national campaigns and we issue guidance about ‘how to spot the signs of grooming’. We do this, even to 5 year old kids.

We create ‘programmes of work’ with children, adolescents and adult victims about ‘keeping themselves safe by learning to spot the signs of grooming and exiting the abuse’.

What a load of shit.

How is this possible in a world in which grooming is a 24/7 experience?

It causes feelings of self blame, because in effect, we are blaming victims for not spotting the signs of grooming and not ‘protecting themselves’ from it.

Many victims of abuse question themselves and ask, ‘How didn’t I spot it? Why didn’t I know? How could I be so stupid?’

You’re not stupid, you’re normal.

Not even professionals can spot groomers. Not even the police. None of us can. We miss millions of them every year, even when the evidence is staring us in the face.

Professionals are no better at spotting the signs of grooming than the general public are, hence why professionals are just as likely to be in abusive relationships as anyone else. They are literally going to work, telling victims to ‘spot the signs’ and then going home to an abusive partner who subjects them to abuse every day and they can’t see it themselves. That’s normal.

We have professionals within our own teams who are abusing clients – and can we see it? Nope. When it comes out we all say, ‘Oh my word! What a shock. We would never have suspected them!’

Uhuh, so we can’t spot it, but we think 10 year old Kacy can, if she just does this worksheet and watches this video. Got it.

Further, even if you can see that you are being groomed, that doesn’t mean you have the power to escape, does it?

We have to have this conversation with everyone, because people need to know that it was never their fault that they couldn’t ‘spot the signs’ of grooming. No one can. It’s a myth.

5. Grooming is hard to ‘spot’ because we are all socialised to accept grooming in everyday life – it is unfair to expect children and women to be able to do this

My final point is about the huge injustice in expecting people (mainly women and children) to be able to spot the signs of grooming and then exit that process as if there is no power dynamic.

As this article has shown, grooming is embedded into the fabric of society. It’s not just common, it’s integral to several systems of control, marketing and authority.

We are all groomed to do things (things we might want, and things we might not want). We are groomed to do things that are not in our best interests. We are groomed to spend our money on things we don’t need. We are groomed into relationships. We are groomed into power structures. We are groomed into belief systems and world views. We are groomed into behaviours and norms that make no sense or have no purpose.

It is wholly unfair to expect anyone to be able to spot grooming for abuse, when it simply mirrors every other grooming process in the world.

We are placing standards on to people that we can’t even live up to. I can’t spot the signs of abusers in my life and I’ve been doing this for 11 years. Anyone who claims to be able to ‘spot an offender’ is a liar, and has a dangerous level of self-confidence.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve have feelings about some perps and I turned out to be right, but there is no way it was anything more than chance. Statistically, we are all surrounded by abusers. We probably each know 10-20 abusers. You’ll probably never know who most of them are.

Every time I’ve got one right, I’ve probably missed others. That why I try to educate as many people as possible about the realities of grooming, and the myth that we can spot the signs.

And if we can’t spot the signs, why are we going into schools telling children to spot the signs? Why are we telling women and girls to spot the signs of a rapist or abuser? Why are we ‘teaching’ kids that that should have spotted the signs?

We should never expect victims of abuse and grooming to know what is happening to them, or expect them to be able to escape.

I believe that what I am saying about grooming should be taught and shared everywhere. We need to change the conversation about grooming – and look at it as a huge social behaviour that is exploited and used by many types of abusers and manipulators. Narrowly defining it as grooming kids online for sexual abuse is missing the point by a country mile. We can’t tackle something if we can’t even see the scale of it.

If you have any questions about this article, give me a shout.

Written by Dr Jessica Taylor

Tweet: @DrJessTaylor

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JessicaForenPsych

Buy my books: victimfocus-resources.com

Visit my website: victimfocus.org.uk

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Disclaimer: I give permission for this article to be used in training courses and education, as long as my name is clearly referenced as the author. This article contains important information that can be used to influence practice, so please do use it where you can.

Let’s talk about sex… and gender ideology

Dr Jessica Taylor

23 Feb 2020

I have been meaning to write about this for months. There is no doubt that it has become dangerous for women to write or speak about their views of gender, but that wasn’t what delayed this post.

What delayed this post was the sheer amount of information I would need to convey in this article to do the topic justice.

I am going to try to cover some main points relating to my stance on gender ideology. As a psychologist, an academic researcher, a lesbian and a woman who has worked in sexual and domestic violence with women and girls for over a decade, I have many perspectives and interests in this conversation.

Before I start, I would like to take the opportunity to state that I do not support any groups who mock, abuse or humiliate trans people. I refuse to support ‘feminists’ who are very clearly transphobic in its real sense, and use the guise of feminism to mock trans people and gender theory. However, I am certainly gender critical (in its real sense).

My main points will be:

1. The concept of gender is being wrongly discussed and defined which has confused millions of people

2. Telling children and adults that they are born in the wrong body is abusive and biologically impossible

3. You can’t challenge the gender role binary by upholding the gender role binary

4. Biological sex is real, important and remains a protected characteristic in law

5. Gender ideology has some repressive and homophobic ideas within it

6. Issues around gender present serious dilemmas for safeguarding

7. Gender ideology, like any other ideology, does not have to be accepted or supported by anyone else

The concept of gender is being wrongly discussed and defined which has confused millions of people

The word ‘sex’ has been used since the 15th century to mean the binary biological categories of mammals based on genetics and sex characteristics.

The WHO (2020) defines gender as ‘Gender refers to the roles, behaviours, activities, attributes and opportunities that any society considers appropriate for girls and boys, and women and men. Gender interacts with, but is different from, the binary categories of biological sex.’

My view is that there is no such thing as ‘gender’. I don’t believe gender is innate or biologically predisposed. I don’t believe it exists at all. As a radical feminist, I believe that the only way for all adults and children to be free from gender roles and gender is to eliminate it completely.

The word ‘gender’ has Latin and french origins. It meant ‘type’ or ‘kind’.

The term gender role was first used 1955 to mean ‘all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman.’

Stereotypes, basically.

In the 1960s and 1970s, second wave feminists such as Betty Friedan wrote about women’s gender roles being used to keep them in the kitchen and as slaves to men at home. Her book ‘The Feminine Mystique’ about the feminine gender role stereotypes was an extremely influential book for women who felt oppressed in the gender role expected of them.

During the 1970s, academic journals started to use ‘learned sex roles’ interchangeably with ‘innate gender roles’. However, by the 1980s the academic consensus was that sex was innate but gender roles were learned. From then onwards, gender (or gender roles) have been known to be socially constructed norms based on notions of masculinity and femininity.

The concept of ‘gender’ as we know it now actually comes from the phrase/concept ‘gender role stereotypes’ which was first written about and criticised in the 60s by second wave feminists. Gender role stereotypes were originally defined as a set of behaviours and characteristics that were socially constructed to relate to the roles of men and women. Women were described with and defined by a set of these ‘rules’ and so were men.

Women were feminine, quiet, pretty, submissive, content, polite, domesticated, kind, natural caregivers with no need for a career, education, opinion or ambition. They wore dresses and skirts, they wore make up, had long hair, wore high heels and existed to be looked at and adored by men. The gender role stereotype prescribed that women were heterosexual and wanted to be wives and mothers.

Men were masculine, strong, loud, dominant, aggressive, stoic, firm, goal-oriented with job roles, responsibilities, educations, opinions, the right to vote and the opportunities to progress. They wore trousers and suits, grew facial hair, never wore make up and existed to make money and protect their family. The gender role stereotype prescribed that men were heterosexual and wanted lots of sex with lots of women before eventually finding a wife and becoming a father to children (usually sons were desired) to continue their heir line.

These are gender role stereotypes. Anyone falling outside of those gender roles would be seen as weird, ill, mad or even possessed by demons – for a very long time. Women were routinely sectioned and tortured for being lesbian. Women who didn’t want to marry could be sent to asylums. Gay men could be tortured and killed. Women who didn’t conform to gender role stereotypes could be burned at the stake or sent for psychiatric treatment to make her more feminine and submissive to match the gender role she was pigeon-holed into.

The point of the critical discussion around gender roles was to argue that males and females could look, present, experience and explore life in many different ways without it being a disorder or an abnormality or a condition or a problem. For example, a girl could be masculine presenting, interested in things that society had constructed as ‘male’ or ‘masculine’ and it still doesn’t mean she’s a man or a boy – she’s a girl who loves stuff and wants stuff and experiences stuff that the world had told her is ‘man/boy’ stuff.

More recently, we have conflated biological sex with these gender roles. In academia, this started to happen in the 90s and 00s in certain disciplines. Instead of talking about gender roles and gender stereotypes, we are led to believe that gender is actually an expression of an innate identity or biological/neurochemical reality.

It’s as if no one can see how ultimately damaging this will be to society at large. Gender roles (now just shortened to ‘gender’ or extended to ‘gender identity’) are a set of sexist, misogynistic, homophobic social norms that are placed on humans to make them ‘fit’ into pre-agreed binary categories.

We have stopped talking about this definition of gender and instead been forced to accept a new definition of gender. A definition that many of us do not subscribe to.

Telling children and adults that they are born in the wrong body is abusive and biologically impossible

As someone who has worked with children and adults for over a decade, this narrative deeply worries me.

I don’t believe anyone can be ‘born into the wrong body’ and there is no scientific basis for this assertion. I note that no one has answered the question of where the ‘right’ body went during the gestation process or where the ‘wrong’ brain went as the baby developed inside of the female body. It is biologically impossible for a human female body to construct foetuses which contain ‘the wrong brain’ or ‘the wrong body’.

There is no such thing as a ‘wrong’ body or brain. We can definitely feel dysphoric, we can disassociate, we can become disconnected from our bodies – but we are never physically made out of the wrong body parts or brain parts. We are whole. We might not fit into the binary – but we are all whole people. Our bodies are not wrong, society is wrong.

What I do believe is that humans exist on a massive spectrum and society tries to fit them into feminine girls or masculine boys – most of us actually sit somewhere inbetween.

Until I was around 11 years old, I lived ‘like a boy’ and looked ‘like a boy’. I had short hair, I played on the boys football team, I only had boy mates, I refused anything pink, feminine, girly or maternal. I loved my brothers toys. I never wanted to be a mum. I was mistaken for a boy for years. People used to think my mum had two sons.

People used to say to her, in front of me: ‘oh boys will be boys!’ When me and my brother argued or play fought. My little sister was the most feminine, maternal, girly and cute little girl I knew. There was no mistaking that we were very different. She used to love playing with dolls and babies. I just didn’t get it. I’d much prefer playing with my brother’s cool toy that shot darts across the room.

I realised I was attracted to girls by 12 years old but thought it was a bit weird, ignored it and never told anyone. I had boyfriends and I think I did fancy them but not in the way I fancied the girls.

I hated my body and I hated my breasts. I used to slick all my hair back after a shower and wonder if it would be better if I was just born a boy. I used to wonder what my name could be if I was a boy. I never ever told anyone about this. By 13 I was well into puberty and had 30F breasts I could do nothing about. I hated dresses and skirts. I didn’t wear makeup and I didn’t care about learning to do hair or nails or anything (still don’t).

However, I definitely remember being sucked into ‘performing femininity’ because of comments from boys and men in my life. I definitely remember starting to self-sexualise and see myself as some sort of object/entertainment for men and boys.

I found feminism at 21 and learned that it was completely okay for me not to conform to notions of femininity. It was the first time that I realised it was normal to be a woman but not to conform. I loved learning about the way gender role norms expect women to speak, look, act, walk, exist in a certain way and suddenly lots of things started making sense to me. I realised that lots of the ways I felt about my body and myself were being pushed on to me by societal gender roles. This information was so liberating for me.

It wasn’t until I was 27 that I started to question if I was gay. I realised I was married to a man but I wasn’t attracted to him and I really just didn’t want to be around or with men. I started to dress more like how I wanted. Stopped trying to fit in. Stopped trying to conform. Found radfem and lesbian networks. Most of my friends are lesbian women, butch women and gender non conforming women. I hadn’t ever realised that I seemed to click much more with these women – they say you attract your clan. It seemed I did.

Last year I left my marriage to my husband and told my best friend I was in love with her. I have been openly lesbian for only about 9 months. In reality, it was much longer. Decades longer.

I often think that if I was born a decade later, I would be one of those girls being told I might be trans and I could live as a boy and bind my breasts and take hormones and so on.

I disagree with the entire concept of telling children or adults that just because they don’t conform to masculinity or femininity, or that they are gay or lesbian or gender non-conforming – they must be trans. They must be ‘born in the wrong body’.

Why can’t they just be male or female but with their own personality and look and style and ideas and beliefs?

You can’t challenge the gender role binary by upholding the gender role binary

One of the parts of this debate that makes the least sense is the concept of challenging binary notions of gender roles… by transing between two notions of gender roles.

Surely, the way to challenge the way society forces us into oppressive gender role stereotypes is to not conform to any of them.

Be the femme gay guy. Be the butch lesbian. Be the bisexual person who is completely ambiguous. Be femme one day and butch the next. Be whoever and whatever you feel. Present how you like when you like. Be a het guy who likes make up and dressing up. Be a het woman who hates all things feminine.

These are the ways to break the gender binary. Transcend it. Make gender irrelevant – that’s the thesis of radical feminism. Smash the patriarchy. Dismantle gender.

These aren’t just t-shirt slogans – they are fundamental aims of radical feminism.

However, we still have a gender binary. Even where people claim it is a spectrum, it really isn’t being talked about or perceived as a spectrum.

Why does a boy who doesn’t conform to masculine ideals need to trans to a girl? Why does a girl who hates femininity and feels more comfortable with masculine gender roles need to trans to be a boy?

Doesn’t that just support the binary? Doesn’t that just support the notion that you can either be masculine or feminine – but you can’t exist in between these categories?

‘If you don’t fit in one, you must be the other’ is literally a binary.

Society created gender roles of masculinity and femininity. And we force them on humans from birth. Not conforming to them doesn’t make us trans, it makes us human.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with girls or boys who don’t feel their ‘gender’ – I think the world is wrong. I think they should be allowed to be who they are without us telling them they must be a boy in a girls body or a girl in a boys body. Why should we medicate and mutilate them for not conforming to gender norms we have been trying to dismantle for decades?

Biological sex is real, important and remains a protected characteristic in law

It’s a very strange experience to watch the world of academia, wider society and the press try to perform the most incredible mental and linguistic gymnastics to pretend that sex is socially constructed the way gender roles are.

‘Sex observed at birth’?

‘Assigned male at birth?’

‘Cissexist’?

‘Cisgender’?

All these new words and phrases that are completely meaningless. Biological sex exists. If it didn’t, why do people even need hormone replacement therapies and hormone blockers?

If biological sex didn’t exist, why do all trans women start out as men before they identify as women? Why do they seek the same surgeries and the same medications? Why aren’t there any women who trans to become trans women? Sex has to exist for the transition to make sense.

Why do trans men need to bind female breast tissue but trans women seek breast augmentation? Why do trans women seek female hormones? Why do some trans people seek to have their biological genitals removed or changed? If sex was socially constructed, none of these things would need to happen for someone to transition to their identified gender. They could just do it. No surgery or hormones would be required if sex was socially constructed.

If biological sex is socially constructed, why do trans men need to take testosterone (male hormone) to cause changes to the body, whilst trans women need to take oestrogen (female hormone) to cause changes to the body?

Surely this demonstrates a biological basis of sex? If the correct sex hormones for each of the two biological sexes are used in transition processes, then surely this shows that biological sex exists and is not a social construct based in language and observations?

The reality is, sex is a biological, genetic, immutable fact. Gender roles are socially, historically and culturally specific. They are slightly different depending on time period, where you are in the world and what community you are in. Gender roles even change with social class. They are therefore not innate or biological in nature.

Whilst we are told ‘gender’ is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010, this is not actually quite right. Sex is the protected characteristic in EA2010. The other protected characteristic is ‘gender reassignment’ or ‘transsexual people’. Both of which are considered by some to be outdated language.

However, this is important because it differentiates biological sex and gender reassignment. The law rightly protects trans people from being discriminated against by employers, institutions, education settings, businesses etc.

However, the same is true on the basis of biological sex. The EA2010 sets out the rights for males and females to have single sex spaces such as wards, toilets, prisons, hospitals, refuges, mental health provisions, education settings etc.

It is important to understand that biological sex is a real, factual, objective category for mammals. There are significant differences between human males and human females that must not be ignored.

For example:

The leading cause of death in males under 35 is suicide. This is not the same for females. Males are more likely to die by suicide than females. This is actually more likely to be linked to the way we socialise males into the masculine gender role which can be quite harmful to their own mental health and general well-being.

1 in 3 females will be raped or attempted to be raped by males in their lifespan. This is not the same for males. The statistic for men is around 1 in 20. This is not based on reporting to the police or convictions – it is based on anonymous self-reporting and therefore cannot be simply explained by saying that males report less.

The most common cancer in females is breast cancer, but the most common cancer in males is lung cancer (Cancer Research, 2020). This is not socially constructed. This is a sex difference. Breast cancer does occur in males, but it is extremely rare in contrast to female breast cancer.

The leading cause of death in males is heart disease whilst the leading cause of death of females in dementia (Public Health England, 2017). This is a recent sex difference finding – as the leading cause of death in both males and females used to be heart disease. However, heart disease in females has fallen whilst dementia in females has risen. This is not socially constructed, this is a sex difference.

Females are at risk from female genital mutilation in many different countries in the world. Males are not at risk from FGM. This should not really be a contentious point but I know a number of incredible activists working in FGM who have been called transphobic for saying that FGM is only done to females.

Males commit 97-99% of all global crime according to FBI global crime statistics (2017). Females are hugely underrepresented in crime, except for fraud and financial crimes in which they tend to commit around the same amount of crimes as males.

Males are the most incarcerated sex in the world, making up over 98% of the prison population. Offender management and offender rehabilitation research and interventions have therefore been based on male offending and male socialisation. This is important because we are now beginning to find that interventions that have been developed and tested with males in prison do not work with females. Conversely, we know that interventions and therapies that work with females have little to no effect with males. This one is more complicated, because it is likely to be due to the interplay between biological sex differences and gender role stereotype and socialisation differences.

Both historically and presently, females are the only sex to get pregnant or ever give birth. This is important because blood changes when females become pregnant and carry babies. Lots of medical research has found that males cannot receive a blood transfusion from females who have had a baby, because blood from females who have been pregnant have a different immune system response to males. Research from a 10 year study showed that males who received blood from ever-pregnant females were 1.5 times more likely to die from the transfusion (Middleburg, 2017).

Biological sex is real. Reproductive sex is real. Everyone knows which sex to go to when they want a surrogate mother for a baby. There are currently zero surrogacy agencies exploiting male bodies. There’s a reason for that. No one is going to pay for a male in a developing country to carry their baby.

Even in our own privileged countries, trans people and pro-trans activists who want to have babies after transition still know which process to follow to have that baby. They know that they either need to preserve their ovum, keep their uterus, have IVF or commission a surrogate. These are all exclusively female issues. Trans men who want to have a baby may still be able to do so because they have a uterus and ovaries. Trans women who want to have a baby would need a female partner or a female surrogate mother. Biological sex is inescapable when it comes to reproduction. It is interesting to see that even people who claim biological sex is a spectrum or that biological sex is actually just socially constructed or ‘observed’ – still know how to make a baby.

These are just a few examples of sex differences off the top of my head.

Sex differences are apparent in literally every medical, psychological, criminological, sociological, developmental and neurological discipline.

Therefore, sex differences remain extremely important.

What happens when a transwoman is in a serious accident and needs a blood transfusion but has had all of their medical records changed to say they are female? What if the transfusion kills them?

What happens when a transman needs an urgent X-ray or operation and their documents all say they are ‘male’ – so no one checks to see if they could be pregnant before the procedure?

In my view, it is absolutely acceptable to talk about people wanting to present as feminine or masculine without claiming that biological sex doesn’t exist. People feel dysphoric when their sex doesn’t ‘match’ their gender roles – but that doesn’t mean their sex is wrong, it means our socially constructed notions of gender are too restrictive and oppressive to be useful anymore.

Gender ideology has some repressive and homophobic ideas within it

One of the concerns that is often raised about believing that gender role stereotypes are actually innate feelings of ‘gender’ – and that biological sex is offensive and irrelevant, is what this means for gay males and lesbian females.

If sex means nothing and should be deconstructed, what does the word ‘homosexual’ even mean?

If children who are gay, lesbian or gender non-conforming are being told they are actually the opposite sex but trapped in the wrong body and are actually straight – what does this mean for gay rights and the perception of gay people?

Well, I can tell you what it means. It means homophobia can get a huge second wind under the guise of gender progression. Almost like palatable, socially acceptable, modern homophobia all dressed up as something kind and positive.

Case in point: Iran

Iran has the second highest numbers of transwomen in the whole world. Unlikely finding in a conservative Muslim country? Not really.

Iran has adopted the belief that being trans is better than being a gay guy. Instead of being a gay man, he can trans to be a het woman. Problem solved. Gay is an ‘illness’ that needs to be cured by transition in Iran.

Being gay in Iran is still punishable by death – whereas transsexuality was made legal in 1987. This means that Iranian activists such as Shadi Amen are now starting to speak out about the way the government is encouraging men to trans to women in order to ‘cure them’.

Whilst this direct approach is not yet being taken in the UK, the underlying ideology does exist. We know that many children who express gender dysphoria will go on to be gay or lesbian adults. The danger here is that we are essentially seeing a new wave of conversion therapy of gay and non-conforming kids.

To me, this does not look progressive. This does not look like a step forward for humans.

The second part of homophobia within the gender ideology is the argument that lesbian same-sex attracted females should date males who identify as transwomen.

I am being deliberately specific in my language here because I am not seeing the same pressure on gay males to have sex with transmen. And I sure as hell can’t see the pressure on het males to have sex with transwomen.

The pressure sits solely with females, mainly lesbians but also het females who are being coerced into accepting their male partners who come out as trans. This is misogyny in action.

A pressure on same-sex attracted people to have sex with someone of the opposite sex who says they identify as a man or woman – is homophobic. It’s not only homophobic, but it really does challenge our notions of informed consent.

No one is entitled to sex with anyone else, no one has a right to sex.

So therefore, everyone has a right to be HUGELY picky about who they have consensual sex with. You literally have no right to sex with anyone who doesn’t want sex with you. It doesn’t matter even if they say something absolutely ridiculous like ‘I’m not attracted to people with blonde hair’ or ‘I would never date a guy who voted republican’ or even ‘I am just not attracted to short men’.

It doesn’t matter, because it’s their right to choose who they have sex with and when they have sex and how they have sex.

This right is extended to lesbians. Lesbians do not have to accept or date or have sex with males who identify as transwomen. Just like lesbians do not have to have sex with other lesbians they don’t fancy – but they certainly do not have to have sex with males. Even males who have transitioned. No one can ever make them do that and it would be homophobic to infer otherwise.

This is why there are entire activist groups and movements about lesbian erasure and the way lesbians are being silenced and removed from conversations and events. Groups like ‘Get the L Out’ are considered ‘hate groups’ for talking about the way lesbians are being erased.

They are considered to be lying or exaggerating – or accused of being plain old hateful.

But in fact, they are raising extremely important points in radical feminism, in lesbian rights and in human rights.

If biological sex is ignored, gender roles become enshrined in law as ‘real’ and ‘innate’ and lesbians are seen as hateful bigots for not having sex with males who say they are women – lesbianism ceases to exist linguistically and politically. Whilst actual lesbianism (females who are same sex attracted) will continue forever, it is homophobic and dangerous to keep suggesting that lesbian women should give over more and more space to males.

By definition, males cannot be lesbians. To suggest they can is homophobia.

There are other groups who support het women whose husbands of many years identify as transwomen and are then expected to support that process or even stay in a relationship with the father of their children whilst he rejects decades of his own life (and her life, and their kids lives) and instead begins to call himself by a new name, dresses in feminine clothing and seeks surgery.

Most people would agree that the woman does not need to accept, support or stay with the male who decides to transition to be a transwoman. However, lots of wives in this position have been accused of being transphobic, bigoted and hateful if they do not stay with the husband and become a faux ‘lesbian’ couple, referring to her husband as ‘she’ and pretending to the outside world that she is same-sex attracted. Either way, the het female in this situation cannot win.

Note how this part of the blog is not about the erasure of gay males or het males – because this isn’t happening (yet).

Issues around gender present serious dilemmas for safeguarding

Some of the safeguarding issues we need to consider here include some rather contentious topics. Just because they are contentious does not mean they are untouchable or not up for discussion.

The first is the link between gender dysphoria and trauma from child abuse.

Having worked in this field for over a decade now, I can tell you that questioning your sexuality and identity after rape and abuse is very common and normal. We’ve always worked with children and adults who experience this trauma response – it is nothing new to those of us doing this work.

It is fairly common for sexually abused girls to start to reject everything female and feminine about themselves, hate their breasts, hate their vulva, wish they were a boy, start harming parts of their bodies.

Equally, it is fairly common for sexually abused boys to start to question their sexuality, reject their own bodies, hate sexual arousal, wish they were a girl and start self harming.

A couple of years ago, I spoke out about the amount of UK social workers who had been contacting me and talking to me about children on their caseload who begin identifying as trans after being abused, exploited, trafficked and raped. Social workers I have spoken to are concerned that the ‘affirm, affirm, affirm’ approach to gender is stopping them from being able to work through the dysphoria with children who have been subjected to life changing abuse. It is absolutely vital that we acknowledge that gender and body dysphoria is a coping mechanism and normal trauma response to sexual abuse.

This does not mean that all trans people were sexually abused, of course.

But it does mean that children who start to hate their bodies and talk about wanting to be a boy or girl need support and compassion. We also need to check why this is happening and what it might mean. Further, this means that we cannot simply ‘affirm’ a gender identity of an abused or traumatised child who might be naturally responding to serious abuse they have been subjected to.

Children being transed by their parents is now happening at an earlier and earlier age, claiming that children fully understand the concepts of sex and gender – when most adults don’t even understand sex and gender.

Parents and practitioners argue that the child understands that their gender doesn’t match their sex and that they wish to transition, take puberty blockers and medically transition. I reject this notion completely.

Not many people have studied the concepts of gender roles or where the terms come from. Some people can’t even correctly discuss the differences between sex and gender without conflating them. I do not accept that children can do this and then make life changing medical decisions.

I believe this will eventually come full circle and we will be presented with thousands of adults who underwent medication, surgery and social transition by (sometimes) well-meaning adults – who then come back and question us about why we allowed them to do that at such a young age.

I believe we will face thousands of law suits and investigations into the medical transitioning of children and adolescents in the decades to come, where we have left those humans infertile, ill, injured and scarred.

Actually, this is already happening within the detransitioner movement.

Children should never be transed, encouraged to bind or use packers, to take medication or to have surgery – and yet more and more children are being referred for treatment in the UK under the NHS and many more are being ‘treated’ privately.

As someone who works heavily in the abuse and grooming of children, I also tried to speak out about the potential for sex offenders to groom trans kids online a couple of years ago. Instead of anyone taking that safeguarding risk seriously, I was subjected to a number of vexatious complaints. Thankfully, I wasn’t merely making these cases up as they claimed and it was easy to back up. Complaints were not upheld and I was okay.

However, the cases were real. Social workers were holding UK cases in which kids who identified as trans were going online, seeking support and being groomed by sex offenders who were sexually exploiting and abusing them. In all of the cases I was made aware of, the abusers were men who identified as transwomen.

I can’t go into too much detail because the cases are so specific, but they included the abduction of a trans child who met transwomen online in a support group. The transwomen groomed the child to believe their parents hated them and would never accept them, convinced them their parents were transphobes and then trafficked the child hundreds of miles where they raped them and kept them there for days.

Another case of a trans child who was groomed on the internet by older transwomen was being given wigs, make up and money for images and videos of sexual acts.

When I tried to talk about this, I was immediately shut down and accused of making up these real cases. The reality here is that males make up 97% of all sex offenders. Therefore, it is more likely that transwomen (males) will sexually offend against children than transmen (females) would. There is no evidence to suggest that males who identify as women offend in any different ways to males who do not identify as a different gender.

Sex offenders can be anyone, this includes trans people. This might make everyone uncomfortable but it’s true. People accused me of using the same old argument as ‘gay men are paedophiles’. However, I was talking about real cases held in the UK – and I was talking about them for a reason.

My reason was that in both of those cases, the social workers were being limited as to what they could and couldn’t say or do. This was because they were being told by authorities that there were fears about being seen as ‘transphobic’ if they spoke about or reported on cases where transwomen had been grooming trans kids online.

It reminded me very much of the way we all gingerly tip toed around Pakistani sex offenders abusing children because the police claimed they didn’t want to be seen as ‘racist’.

Just like most Pakistani men are not sex offenders, most trans people are not sex offenders. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be talking about these cases. In fact, the only common denominator in sex offending and domestic abuse is male offenders. Biological sex is the underpinning factor. Maleness. That’s why we call it male violence.

I know that if this blog reaches as many people as it usually does, there will be hundreds, maybe thousands of social workers, psychologists, therapists and doctors thinking about their own cases of children they are working with. I know there already many professionals in the UK who are questioning how best to support children who are exploring their identity and sexuality – without necessarily affirming anything, directing them anywhere or suggesting they are trans or born in the wrong body.

I would argue that in studies of trans adults and trans kids, there is significant trauma history and abuse history. This cannot be ignored and needs to be discussed.

Gender ideology, like any other ideology, does not have to be accepted or supported by anyone

My final point is fairly frank.

Ideologies exist, theories exist, perspectives exist.

We are not required to believe them, adopt them, accept them or conform to them.

I do not and will not respect racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic people or theories.

To an extent, we are not even required to respect them. For example, I do not and will not respect or support the perspective that paedophilia is a normal sexual orientation and that children can consent to sex. This is a common narrative in my field at the moment and it scares me to death.

Specifically, gender roles and gender identity are just theories and ideologies. We do not need to change the entire way we live, speak, write and legislate because we are being told to accept an ideology.

I think we’ve got the balance right with religions as ideologies. Religious people are protected in law, they cannot be discriminated against for their beliefs and they have rights to their own spaces. However, no one else has to believe their religion, accept their god, pray, speak about their religion, support their religion or change their language to validate their religion.

Millions of religious people live their lives knowing that millions of other religious and atheist people don’t accept or believe or validate their ideologies.

When religious ideologies attempt to force their ideologies on others through law and government, we call that oppressive totalitarianism. We actually go to war over that sort of stuff. We legislate against governments forcing ideologies on to people.

I find it interesting that we are not noticing the similarities in ideological totalitarianism here.

There are ways to protect trans people from harm, oppression, discrimination and abuse without forcing entire populations to accept gender theory and gender identity ideology.

I would never accept the persecution, oppression, abuse or harm of people with different ideologies and religions – just like I would never accept the persecution, oppression, abuse or harm of trans people (or people who believe gender ideology and gender theory).

If we can do it with multiple world religions that often conflict, we can definitely do it with gender ideology.

No one should be forced to change their language and thoughts to conform to a theorised ideology that isn’t even fully accepted in academia, let alone the vast complex world.

We can do this without oppressing and abusing trans people. We have to find a way through this raging debate that repositions gender as a theory and not as a reality that everyone else must validate.

Written by Dr Jessica Taylor

Social Immobility

Social Immobility

Dr Jessica Taylor

Before you even see me, you hear the way I drop my Ts

I mispronounce the words from books

And I laugh at the formalities

These halls don’t want me and I know I’m out of place

You explain the etiquette rules

And I try to hide the confusion on my face

Kanye said, ‘We wasn’t supposed to make it past 25’ I laugh and cry at those song lyrics

Cos I guess most of us are still alive

Josh died from drugs at 25 and Johnny was shot dead at 19 Mickey was inside by 21 and I was pregnant by 16

Kat had a baby from rape at 12 and Emily was stealing coke

We sold illegal CDs at school cos we were all so fuckin broke

Milli and Danny were both ran over by cars

And all the girls were touched up to allow them entry to the bars

Jess was stabbed at 17 and Weedy went missing when we were kids

Teachers told us we would never do anything, and some of us never did

The military recruited my mates at 16 and they went off to war

Scrawny lads risking their lives for £14K

Cos they know that’s a jackpot when you’re poor

We were all on drugs and drink by 13 and we dreamed of escape

We said we would grow up to be strippers and ballers

Whilst we were oppressed, abused and raped

But Laura ended up a teacher and Louise is now a lawyer

And Kim speaks three languages and works for a famous employer

Liam went from bottom set maths to a leader in education

Aimee is a midwife and Dan designs train stations

Alex is an artist and Jenny is a nurse

Becky escaped the YMCA, went to uni and got a first

Steph is a surgeon and I got my PhD

We are all the things they told us we could never be

And yet here I am in these halls, being told that I don’t belong

Told to tone it down, or change it up

My accent, my clothes and my upbringing is all wrong

I chat about my estate and the gulley and the weed

You don’t want someone like me teaching here And I was never supposed to get the PhD

I won’t hide where I’m from and I won’t forget where I was grown

That council estate where we all lived and died

Is carved on us like etchings into stone

I will stay where I am not welcome, and talk it to the youth

They cannot be what they cannot see

And they need to know the unashamed truth

#workingclassacademics

#councilestateacademics

Tweet: @DrJessTaylor

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Website: 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?

.

.

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton FRSA

18th May 2019

Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Special request blog: Why I chose to home educate my sons

Why I chose to home educate my sons

A special request blog

Jessica Eaton

Founder of VictimFocus, Research Psychologist, Founder of The Eaton Foundation

This is quite a different blog, and something I never planned to write. However, there are two reasons why I have decided to write about home education:

1. Lots of people keep asking me to write about this, to explain why my children do not attend school and to discuss how we educate the boys

2. It does feel like there is a current attack on home education in the U.K. at the moment and I don’t like the way it’s heading.

So this blog will work through a list of my most FAQ about home education. I will answer them honestly and openly, from my own perspective. The blog will also provide information to other parents who might be considering home education. Finally, I will provide an overview of an average week of education that our kids get up to, so you can get a feel for how it works in our house.

Please remember that home education is extremely varied. Some parents choose completely unstructured unschooling and some parents choose structured timetables with tutors and breaks. Lots of parents are anywhere in between those two, sometimes with a bit of both.

Our sons are 10 and 8 years old.

Frequently asked questions

Why did you choose to home educate?

There were a number of cumulative reasons that seemed to hit us all at once. But if we go back to when the kids were in reception, it really started to enter our consciousness there.

When our eldest son started reception, I remember exactly what I said and wrote in my diary – that I felt that I had committed him to the rat race, the same one I was fighting against and trying to get out of. I felt like I had lost control of his well-being and his upbringing, for it to be taken over by a school system that was under resourced and over stretched. A school system that was designed to create compliant factory workers that moved on the bell, sat in silence, all looked the same and spoke the same. It felt like a loss to me. I felt the same way when our second son went from nursery to reception.

Then there were a few things that bothered us both as parents. The kids coming home looking tired and bored. The kids never being able to tell us anything they had learned. The kids suddenly hating reading books. The kids avoiding homework. The kids becoming more and more concerned with peers and mates than actually learning anything. The kids hating school every day and begging for the weekend to come.

Then, when our eldest was in year 4 and our youngest was in year 2; they really started to change.

Our eldest is extremely bright but had basically given up. He was acting the clown at school, distracting other kids and no longer being challenged with any harder work. He was being reframed as troubled and naughty – but he was bored. He was also perceived as too old beyond his years and teachers didn’t like him having the same straight forward communication style as his mum and dad. I was once brought into school by a teacher who complained to me that my son had asked her how she was and how her weekend had been. In our house, that type of dialogue is normal, but she told me he needed to remember his place and to never speak to an adult in that manner. I laughed at her and told her he was being polite and friendly in the way he knew how. She said I had to tell him to stop acting older than he was.

I told her I would not do that.

Meanwhile, our younger son, whom we had always been told was a little slower and very withdrawn, was becoming extremely fearful, depressed and quiet.

At home, he was like a ninja tornado. But all of his teachers told me stories of him being as quiet as a mouse and never speaking all day long. Apparently this was a good thing because he was easy to manage. Teachers described him as a ‘pleasure’. I on the other hand, was gravely concerned by my child being so withdrawn at school. It didn’t match what we knew of him.

Then, at parents evening the teacher told me he was crying if he got anything wrong, crying if he was asked a question, crying if he was asked to read and crying if he didn’t get 100%. He never told me this, so I went to talk to him.

My then-7 year old son told me he was thick.

My heart shattered. My eyes welled up. My son thinks he’s thick? He’s seven!

We spoke to him for hours over a period of days. He told us he cried because he was so embarrassed that he got anything wrong and he wouldn’t get his name on the chart or he wouldn’t get golden time if he wasn’t perfect.

For me, that was the final straw. I had one kid losing the will to live with school cos it was too easy and one kid who was crying every day because he thought he was stupid.

We decided to remove them from the system. Both kids were being failed by a system that cannot tailor individual education easily – and uses such heavy positive reinforcement and assessments that they don’t notice how much it harms the kids who think they need to be perfect.

We talked about it solidly for two weeks. We talked about it alone, as parents. We talked about it as a family. We talked to each of the boys separately and together. Our eldest wanted to leave school immediately with no questions, but our youngest was petrified of leaving school, thinking he would be doing something wrong. However, right on the last day, he approached us both and said he had decided he didn’t want to go to school anymore because it made him feel stupid.

We deregistered the kids and decided we could do a better job.

In the first few weeks, we let them rest and get out of the habit of school. School is not the same as education. They needed to get completely out of the habit of ‘school’. It was June so we decided to keep them off all throughout summer to play and enjoy themselves, and begin proper structured education in the September.

Our eldest loved it immediately, but the first week for our youngest was one of the most heart breaking times I had ever had with him. Every task we gave him, no matter how small, he cried and told us he was too stupid. He told us he couldn’t do anything right. He wouldn’t try anything new. He needed constant love, positive regard and support in those first weeks.

However, sticking by him, encouraging him and showing him how well he was doing eventually paid off as his confidence grew. Within a few months, he was happy, confident, trying lots of new things and excelling far beyond anything we had ever seen him do at school. In fact, he completed the math curriculum for his year in a few months – something that he would never have done in the school setting or in his previous state of mind.

He now sings, performs, writes and works with such brilliant confidence in himself.

Home education has been amazing for our eldest too. He has gone from hating reading, hating drawing, hating learning and never sticking at anything – to being a promising young musician who has discovered he can literally play any tune he hears, he can write music and he can even compose. There’s no way we would have known that if he was in school, and he has an amazing guitar tutor who inspires him.

Home Ed has completely changed our kids.

Isn’t home ed illegal?

No. Absolutely not. Home education is elective. It might seem odd to the average working class person like me or you but think to yourself, how many celebs, royalty and politicians home educate or privately tutor their kids? Why does no one question whether that’s illegal? It’s almost as if the wealthy are seen as eligible and entitled to home educate but the working classes must be breaking a law.

It’s completely legal to choose to home educate.

Do the local authority come to your house to inspect you?

No they don’t. They can ask, but you don’t have to oblige. To be honest, if they pushed, I’d just let them meet us and the kids just to satisfy them that my kids aren’t feral. But from a personal and political perspective, I don’t think they should be able to inspect us and we have a right to a private life and to educate the kids in our own ways without interference. As long as the children are safe, healthy and getting an education; we are entitled to privacy.

I think there is an assumption that if kids aren’t in school, there must be something gravely wrong – either with the kids or the parents. This is simply because home education bucks the social norm, so it makes people anxious and suspicious. Unfortunately, there are still strong stereotypes around home education.

Don’t you have to be really intelligent to home educate?

A few people have asked me this, right before telling me that they are too dumb to teach their kids. The last person to say this to me was a children’s social worker who told me she always longed to home educate her children but fears she’s ‘too thick’.

The reality is, home education does not require you to be a genius in everything. Second, there are amazing resources, books and apps to help you. Third, do you really think your kids’ school teachers are geniuses of every topic? Don’t you think they have to read up on a topic or a mathematical method? Don’t you think they need to keep learning too?

Home education is just that, it’s family learning in a natural environment. The whole family learns when a family home educates. Learning becomes naturalistic. You end up having conversations about grammar on a sign at the garage. You find yourself talking about whale migration during dinner time.

You learn as parents, as you support your kids to learn. I’ve really enjoyed learning along with my kids in some topics I didn’t know much about.

People say to me ‘Yeah but you teach for a living and did a PhD, so you can Home educate’ or they say ‘you have to be a trained teacher to home educate’.

That’s not true. Home educators come from all walks of life, and you certainly do not need to be a teacher or have a doctorate.

Teaching your own kids on a one-to-one basis is completely different and so much easier than teaching 30 x 6-year-olds how to write in cursive!

Do your kids learn anything?

Haha. Yes. In fact, both of them have chosen to move up a year, because their current year became too easy and boring.

We have a really cool app called IXL which covers and analyses their maths and English skills against national curriculum. This is how they learned that they found their designated school year work far too easy. Our youngest has moved up two whole school years in Maths and one school year in English. Our eldest son has moved up one school year in both Maths and English.

They also regularly learn about biology, chemistry, physics, politics, history, geography, psychology, religion, cultures, music, literature, poetry… just all sorts.

As an example of recent tasks they have undertaken in Home Ed:

⁃ The boys watched Martin Luther King speeches and then wrote their own anti-racism speech

⁃ They used the internet to research how the criminal justice system works in different countries around the world

⁃ They researched famous rock musicians and wrote their biography

⁃ They created mind maps of all of the emotions they had ever felt and what triggered them

⁃ They watched The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas and then wrote a film review and a discussion about the persecution of Jewish people during the Holocaust

⁃ They created Mother’s Day cards

⁃ They went to climb trees and play on the park

⁃ They went indoor rock climbing each week

⁃ They went trampolining

⁃ They learned to bike ride safely and signal properly

⁃ They researched two different cookie recipes and then created a shopping list, bought the ingredients from the supermarket, followed the recipe on the internet and then taste tested which one was best after baking them

⁃ They watched a documentary about sharks and then designed an exhibition poster to invite people to learn about sharks

⁃ Our eldest learned to play three different guitars and is now playing famous songs confidently in different keys, and can tune and retune accordingly

⁃ Both kids have read Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses Book and have been writing and evaluating it as they go along

As you can see, it’s very varied. And honestly, I cannot say my kids would have progressed this much if they were at school.

Do your kids do exams?

One of the reasons we removed them was because we fundamentally disagreed with SATs, exam pressure and learning by rote. I have no interest in putting my children through arbitrary exams. However, purposeful exams and vocational qualifications will help them later in life, so they will probably study for GCSEs and A-Levels. I would not support them having to study and undertake 13 GCSEs like I did, though.

There is no sense whatsoever in forcing a kid to cram for months for 13 GCSEs that they will never remember, and most of which are not actually required to secure a place on an FE/HE course. For that reason, I would much rather support the boys to only study the topics they require and/or enjoy, than whacking in as many topics as possible.

I would also not support the exams all being done at one time. In any other setting, exams for different topics are not all done within a week or two. They are usually spread over modules, which can be months apart. It would be better for them to study and then take the maths GCSE, for example, and then study and prepare for another GCSE a few months later.

I know one thing, and that’s that if my degree or my PhD relied on me completing 13 exams at the very end of each course, I would have failed or done very very badly. Or passed out from the stress.

What is it like to home educate your own kids?

We both love it and don’t ever regret it. However, do not ever fall into the trap of thinking that home education is easier than sending your kids to school.

I’ve seen some comments that home educating parents are lazy or can’t be arsed to get their kids to school.

What I think those people seem to misunderstand is that it is EASIER to send your kids to school for 6 hours per day for the free childcare and the free education so you can work or rest or do housework. It is therefore HARDER to home educate and it requires much higher levels of effort and input on a day to day basis. Either from the parents or from tutors.

It would be much easier to just send our kids to school and have all that free time to ourselves to work or to rest. However, home educating parents choose to give up that freedom and childcare because they feel they can do a better job for their children.

Do you get sick of them being at home all the time and never getting a break?

We aren’t really like that as a family but I’m sure many home educating parents feel like that sometimes – and I’m sure we will one day.

I think we have the balance about right at the moment. We share all the home educating of the kids and we also have two tutors who come in a couple times of week. This means that sometimes I’m at home with the kids, sometimes it’s my husband, sometimes it’s a tutor or sometimes it’s a mixture of those people. Tutors mean the kids get different people teaching them with different approaches and talents and skills, too.

Do you have to follow a curriculum?

Home education is your own design. I designed a desired curriculum for the kids based on what I thought they would want and need. However, we chose to follow the national curriculum for Maths and English. Everything else is designed by us or guided by the kids.

Will your kids go to secondary school?

I hope not! Secondary schools are really struggling at the moment and a lot of them are a microcosm of abuse, harassment, bullying, racism and adolescent stress.

And this isn’t just my personal opinion, this is backed up by government reports, academic research, inquiries and committee reports.

I just don’t want my boys in that environment. I am also acutely aware of lad culture, gender roles, misogyny and a constant pressure to be ‘hard’. It’s so difficult to bring up healthy, happy, respectful young men if they are in that environment 30 hours per week. We are also very concerned by the way bullying seems to be being brushed off by some secondary schools as ‘not their problem’ – especially when it is happening online between students.

I mean, for me, it’s working in my job that has left me so certain that the boys won’t be going to secondary school. I’ve worked with kids who have been raped on campus. Kids who have self harmed because of relentless bullying. Kids who have become involved in gangs. Kids who have bought drugs at school. Kids who have been exploited, abused and blackmailed. Kids who have used sexual pics to threaten and blackmail other kids. Kids who have engaged in racism and joined far right groups. I even know two sets of parents who lost their secondary school kid to suicide because of bullying that was not being addressed by the school.

And don’t even start me on the absolute state of sex and relationships education.

Sorry, but no thanks. My job as a parent is to protect my kids and to give them the best life and best start possible.

What does an average week look like for your kids?

Okay so our kids only study Mon-Thurs. When kids are in school, they are in large groups of 25-30 and one teacher is trying to balance everyone’s needs whilst trying to teach them new information or skills. That is extremely difficult to do, and I teach adults!

So a lot of home education researchers argue that our children could learn what they learn in a school day in about an hour at home. This means that when you home educate, you tend to get a lot more done to a lot higher standard. So we don’t need the 5th day. And we only study 10am til about 2pm, unless they are busy or stuck into something, like today they just happened to be loving what they were doing and they didn’t stop until 16:50. Totally up to them if they choose to go over or to do additional learning each day. Sometimes they go to their rooms and do extra music practice or extra writing or extra coding on their apps.

So each day begins with Maths or English, and then late mornings and afternoons are topics and tutors. This could mean that on a Monday they do maths and then biology, but on the Tuesday they do English and chemistry. But on a Thursday they might do English and music practice.

There is no schedule in our house, it’s all very much based around what they fancy or what we fancy, as long as they have done their maths and English curriculum work beforehand.

Okay, so that’s everything I can think of for now. Maybe I’ll print this out and start giving it to the people who stare at us in the street or tell my kids they are ‘skiving’ lmfao.

Please don’t judge home educating parents as lazy, dangerous and abusive. Parents can be anyone and anything. Sending your kids to school doesn’t make you a better or safer parent, just as home educating your kids does not make you a worse or more dangerous parent.

For lots of home ed parents, the decision was long, considered, researched and quite nerve wracking! We have to trust ourselves that we are doing the best for our kids with no help. But parents have many reasons for taking this decision. Maybe their kids have ASD and they feel they are being failed. Maybe their kids are traumatised from abuse and school is too much for them. Maybe their kids have eating disorders and school is not the right environment. Maybe their kids are too bright for the system. Maybe their kids need extra support and help from one to one learning. Maybe their kids don’t suit classroom learning. Maybe the parents don’t agree with the education system.

We’re a very diverse bunch.

I hope this blog has answered your questions about why I home educate. I would like to take the opportunity to thank my husband and our two tutors for their amazing dedication and support of our kids.

Written by Jessica Eaton

03/04/2019

Www.victimfocus.org.uk

What if our parenting tactics are mirroring abuser tactics?

Parenting tactics that mirror abuse – a blog discussing common parenting tactics that mirror the tactics used in domestic and sexual violence.

Jessica Eaton

17/12/2018

Working in trauma and abuse often causes you to reflect on everyday, seemingly normal behaviours that replicate and reinforce abuse, control and violence. Sometimes you notice a behaviour in a family member, or you become intolerant to some forms of language. Sometimes you notice a behaviour or value you hold yourself, that you then have to confront and unpick.

This blog will be challenging for many. It was challenging for me to write. I’m a parent too, of two children who are growing up quickly. I’m not a perfect parent. I often joke that parenting is a lot like having a personal social experiment at home. A social experiment that you conduct for 18 years and see what you produce at the end of it.

When you become a parent, you have no idea what you’re doing. You go from being a single or couple of adults that can just about cook dinner and not poison yourselves, to being totally and utterly responsible for a tiny human life. At some point, that realisation hits us and we sit there thinking, ‘Oh shit. Can I do this?’

We all go at it from completely different angles. We all try lots of tactics. We read parenting books. We ask other parents. We copy our own parents. We ask google. We go on forums and ask for advice. We all find things that work and things that backfire. Parenting faux pas are common. Parenting mistakes are common. Parenting regrets are common.

Know what else is common?

Sexual and domestic abuse. Super common. As a human, you’re more likely to be abused and raped in a relationship than to have green eyes. Think of all the people you know (even yourself) who might have green eyes. Billions of people. Well, technically you are around 10 times more likely to be abused or raped in a relationship than have green eyes (Eaton and Paterson-Young, 2018) – and we see green eyes as pretty common, right? Yet we still think abuse is rare or something that people make up for attention. You don’t catch people saying ‘Woaaaah green eyes are so uncommon. You must be making it up. There’s no way you have green eyes.’

Anyway, abuse is common. Parenting is common. What have our parenting tactics got to do with abuse?

Well, I’ve been thinking and maybe it’s more related than we think.

I’m not talking about parents who actually abuse, rape or harm their children, I’m talking about the ones who don’t. Or the ones who think they don’t. The ones who are using accepted, socially normalised parenting styles that mirror abuse – without even knowing it. Loads of us. Maybe most of us.

What would that mean for us, as a population of parents, if we realised that some of our chosen tactics to bring our kids up, were actually mirroring sexual and domestic violence and abuse?

Are we normalising abusive relationships in our parenting?

Should we be surprised that children and young adults can’t identify abusers if we behave like them too?

Here are some behaviours and tactics commonly used by parents that mirror abuse.

Physical assault and violence

Okay well, let’s start with the obvious. Arguably some people will feel this is abuse anyway, and that’s justified. But what about the parents who tell you that kids just need a good smack to keep them in line? The parents who slap, pinch, grab, shove, smack and drag their children and adolescents are mimicking exactly what a violent abuser would do to them. How will these children know that they are in an abusive relationship when they are older, if we have always used these behaviours on them ourselves? If we have spent their whole childhoods hitting them every time we got angry and lost control, why would they ever leave an abusive partner who hit them when they got angry and lost control? How can we tell children that it’s not okay for their boyfriend or girlfriend to do that to them, but it’s okay for us to do it to them?

And how can we teach our children not to become violent abusers to their own children if we have role modelled that behaviour to them? How can we say to our children ‘do not hit that other child, that’s very naughty!’ if we hit our kids?

Shouting at children

Shouting at children is pretty accepted all over the world. Parents do it, carers do it, general public do it, teachers do it, police do it. Shouting at children is seen as some sort of right of an adult. Children are not allowed to shout at each other, or shout at adults, but we are allowed to shout at them.

Some people shout in childrens’ faces, shout in rage, shout in frustration – some even say they shout as some sort of ‘shock factor’ to ‘get through’ to children.

The reality is that we are teaching children and adolescents that if their partners or friends shout at them, that’s a sign that they are in an abusive relationship. However, why would they recognise shouting as abusive at all if they had spent years being shouted at by us? Would they think that people who love them shout at them? Would they think that shouting at their own children is normal? Would they think that shouting at someone is a good way to get their point across?

Name calling

With similar effect to physical violence and shouting – name calling is going to change the way the child understands themselves and their relationships. You might be wondering what I mean by name calling, as many parents would probably tell themselves they’ve never done it.

However, I’m talking about calling our kids ‘stupid’, ‘dumb’, ‘idiot’, ‘little shit’, ‘bad’, ‘a nuisance’, ‘waste of space’, ‘doing my head in’, ‘sick of the sight of you’, ‘thick’… and a lot more words and names that I know some people use about their kids and to their kids.

The issue here is that reading these terms in black and white will make you feel a bit sick. But how often do parents lose control of a situation and resort to name calling and shouting? Probably quite often. How many of us have said this or had this said to us? Loads of us.

And then how will those same children react when they find themselves in a relationship with a partner who tells them they’re stupid or a waste of space? What on earth makes us think that those same kids would identify and escape an abuser who mirrors the way their parents treat them?

But what about the more subtle things we do as parents? The threats, the grooming, the control? How might that mirror an abuser?

Threats: empty and real

Lots of abusive relationships contain threats. Some threats are empty and some are not. However, living under threat in a domestic or sexual violence situation is extremely stressful and traumatic. As an adolescent or adult, it might mean living with someone who constantly threatens to break your things, take your phone away, stop you from seeing your friends, telling your secrets, stop you from seeing your family or threatening to stop you from going out or doing something important to you.

It might even mean threatening to leave you, threatening to find someone else or threatening to report you for something. Some people know that the abuser is using empty threats to control – and some never really know if the threats are real or empty. Either way, they serve to control the victim and keep them in check. They utilise their favourite or most important things to threaten them with.

This got me thinking. We do a lot of this in parenting. How many parents threaten children with removing their favourite thing, stopping them from seeing their friends, stopping them from going to their clubs, taking away their most treasured possessions? How many parents threaten their kids with the police or a care home? How many parents threaten their teenagers with kicking them out or leaving them?

The reality is, parents are using empty and real threats against their children for control tactics. They are very common ways of parenting:

If you don’t do this, I’ll take away/ break/smash your xbox’

‘If you don’t behave at school, we will kick you out.’

‘If you don’t get better grades, we will stop you from seeing all of your friends.’

‘If you don’t eat all of those vegetables, I’ll tell your teacher how bad you are at home.’

People don’t realise how much these tactics mirror abuse. This is exactly what thousands of victims of domestic and sexual violence live through every day.

‘If you don’t do this for me, I’ll stop you from seeing your parents.’

‘If you don’t stop doing that, I will leave you.’

‘If you don’t do what I want, I’ll snap that phone in half.’

‘If you don’t do what I want, I will tell all your friends that you are a liar.’

It’s all the same tactic. It might be being used in a slightly different way, but it’s the same human mechanism being used. It’s the threat of something horrible to control another person. To keep them in fear of that horrible thing happening to them in order to make them do what we want them to do.

Obviously, the problem here is that we teach children to live in this context for years. And then for some strange reason, we expect children and adults to be able to recognise this an abusive behaviour when they are in a relationship. We tell them that anyone who threatens them to control them is abusing them… but it’s only what their parents and teachers have been doing to them for 18 years. So how come it’s okay for them to do it but not a new partner? Why would anyone see this behaviour as abnormal or abusive?

And how can we tell those same children NOT to use these tactics on each other in their relationships? Aren’t we supposed to role model healthy relationships?

Rewarding children when they do what you want

This final one is interesting, because it is seen as a positive parenting and professional technique to use with children and adolescents. However, we have to see the parallels between positive reinforcement using rewards and praise – and the grooming process in sexual and domestic abuse.

It doesn’t mean that positive reinforcement with our kids is wrong, but it does mean that years and years of controlling and raising our kids using rewards and praise primes them for relationships and grooming processes that use gifts, rewards and praise.

For example, if our kids don’t want to do something at all and we manipulate them by offering a gift or praise, that mirrors exactly what some abusers and offenders will do. Look:

Child of 8 years old who hates vegetables

‘If you eat all of these vegetables, I’ll give you a cookie. So you have to eat all of them. Then you will get a cookie for being so good.’

Child of 12 years old who is being groomed

‘If you try this vodka, I’ll buy you some new headphones. All you have to do is try this vodka. It’ll be fine. Then I’ll buy you those new headphones.’

Child of 14 years old who is being groomed

‘I’ll give you everything you want and need if you just touch me. All you gotta do is give me what I need and I’ll give you what you need.’

See how it’s exactly the same?

It’s identifying what the child or adolescent wants and then using it as an incentive to do things they don’t want to do. The agenda might be different (getting your kids to eat carrots versus trying to get a child drunk so you can abuse them) – but the tactic is the same.

And when the tactic is the same, and it’s been used every day for 18 years, why would we expect children to notice or identify this in the grooming process in child sexual abuse, domestic abuse or sexual violence as they get older?

Final thoughts

Millions of our children will be abused, raped or harmed in relationships. Millions of us already have been. There are charities, governments, experts, academics, activists and scientists trying to figure out why it’s so prevalent and why people cannot identify abuse. The same groups are still scratching their heads as to why children and adolescents can’t get themselves out of child abuse and child sexual exploitation.

One thing I always say when I’m teaching is that we need to stop seeing grooming and abuse as a monstrous, rare, sick thing that only a handful of humans do.

We have to start seeing grooming and abuse as a common extension of normal, every day tactics and mechanisms humans use to communicate and manipulate each other. The outcome might be different, but the tactics and approaches are all the same. And millions of people are abusing children using those normal, everyday tactics.

What if we are missing the point? What if we are expecting children (and therefore adults) to spot behaviours and tactics and approaches in abusers that are completely normal in parents and teachers?

What if we are laying the foundations for abuse and control from birth?

What if the way we talk to and manipulate our children in an effort to bring them up, is actually teaching them that abuse, control, threat and bribery is normal?

Aren’t abusers just using the exact same tactics as parents, carers and teachers that kids spend 24 hours a day with?

Isn’t it strange that we have such high expectations of children and adolescents to notice, recognise and act on behaviours and tactics that we tell them are abusive and manipulative – but have featured in their lives since birth?

Written by Jessica Eaton

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

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jessicaforenpsych

2018: My year in review video is here

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=v_hyqrkfOcs

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

Why being sexually exploited is nothing like playing on a motorway 

Why being sexually exploited is not the same as playing on a motorway.
By Jessica Eaton

You know it’s bad when you have to stand up in front of 40 experienced professionals and explain why being sexually exploited is absolutely nothing like playing on a motorway. 

I have this thing where my face reveals exactly what I’m thinking, even in professional environments. Those of you who know me will know how true that is. Gets me in lots of trouble and interesting conversations. 

So imagine my face when I am away working in London, explaining to a group of experienced professionals that children are never to blame for sexual exploitation; and a woman puts her hand up and says:
“I’m sorry but I totally disagree with you and I think what you are saying is irresponsible. You’re stood there trying to tell us that children are not to blame for being sexually exploited and you are saying that their behaviours do not lead to them being raped and abused but you are wrong. You are ignoring behaviours that children show that would make them more likely to be abused.”

I asked her to clarify what she meant and reiterated my position that no child is ever to blame for being sexually abused no matter what ‘behaviours’ they showed. 

“Sexual exploitation is like kids playing on a motorway. The kids running in and out of traffic on a motorway are much more likely to be ran over by a car than kids playing at home in the garden. If the kids playing on the motorway were hit by a car, you cannot argue that they are not to blame. Loads of kids that are sexually exploited do things that mean that we cannot argue that they are not to blame. If those kids weren’t on the motorway, they would be ran over. If the kids who are being sexually exploited didn’t do the things they do, they wouldn’t be exploited. It’s wrong to say that they are never to blame. They have to take responsibility for their actions. They need to be taught about their risk taking behaviours so they are not sexually exploited.”

I am not going to lie to you, my face must have been a picture. However, I have worked in sexual violence long enough to have heard this argument many, many times. I’ve heard it tied up with ribbons in fancy language about risk taking behaviours and neuropsychological development – but I have never heard it explained with such a confident analogy. 

My responsibility at this point, as a lecturer – as an expert – is to use this challenge as an opportunity to improve the understanding of the professional who used the motorways analogy – but also the ensure her and the other 39 professionals staring at me, waiting for an answer; do not blame children for sexual abuse.

“Hmmm interesting analogy.” I started.

“Whilst I agree with you that children playing on a motorway would be likely to get ran over, and would be much more likely to be ran over than children playing at home, I don’t agree with your analogy to CSE. Actually, I don’t see any logical comparison between your analogy and CSE at all.”

‘Pick your words carefully, Jessica. Use your airtime to teach and persuade’ I think.

“I would argue that the motorway is a constant, physical but non-motivated danger to humans. When children are playing on a dangerous road, drivers are not purposely, meticulously, carefully trying to run them over from miles away. The car is not motivated to hit them to achieve some sort of pleasure or satisfaction. The child is aware of the dangers of the motorway and understands the speed and velocity of a car travelling at 70mph. The child doesn’t want to be hit by the car and the child has not been groomed and manipulated by the driver to think that they want to be ran over and should enjoy being ran over. The child has not been bribed or blackmailed to be ran over using things they need or want. Do you agree that all of this is true?”

She nodded.

“Would you also agree that no matter how much you taught your children about the dangers of roads, the green cross code and how to stay safe; you still could not blame them if a dangerous driver who wanted to harm children swerved towards them, mounted the curb and ran them over?”

She nodded.

“Child sex offenders are not the physical, constant, non-motivated dangers like the motorway that you can tell kids not to play on. They are the dangerous driver who swerves, mounts the curb and runs over the child, who cannot predict it will happen and cannot protect themselves from the impact.” 

She nodded and the other delegates all began to comment, agree and discuss.

And that’s why being sexually exploited is not the same as playing on a motorway. 

Jessica Eaton

Www.victimfocus.org.uk 

Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

@Jessicae13Eaton