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

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

Jessica Eaton

28 Mar 2019

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

An open letter to women and girls around the world.

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

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

1. None of this was your fault

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are not to blame.

3. It is not your job to fix abusive men

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. You are not going crazy

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

Having nightmares about what he did? Normal.

Started eating junk food? Normal.

Started to get anxious about the little things? Normal.

Feeling unsure about your future? Normal.

Scared of repercussions? Normal.

Feeling tired all the time? Normal.

Questioning and second guessing yourself? Normal.

Not sleeping well? Normal.

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

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

5. Friends and family might let you down

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

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

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

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

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

6. You are stronger than you will ever know

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

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

7. Life is going to be different from now on

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

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

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

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

8. The shame is not yours to bear

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

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

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

9. Give yourself time and love

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

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

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

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

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

10. Learn who you are again

The final thing I would say to you is this:

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

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

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

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

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

Love to you,

Jessica x

Written by Jessica Eaton

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Web: Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Six times when misogynistic bullshit was sold to us as ‘empowering women’

Six times when misogynistic bullshit was sold to us as ‘empowering women’

Written by Jessica Taylor

25/02/2019

It’s one of those blogs. And it’s been one of those days. Hold tight.

We have to call time on misogynistic, sexist bullshit being peddled to women as ‘empowerment’. More and more companies, activists, organisations and even governments are latching on to the concept of ‘empowering women’ and then using that concept to flog their wares. Even worse, we’ve seen a move towards misogynistic, sexist, hate-filled language as a way of ‘empowering’ each other as women.

We need to stop. Step back. Take stock – and start to wonder why lots of approaches to ‘empowering women’ actually continue to oppress, objectify and exploit us all.

So here’s six examples of misogyny and sexism being sold to us as ‘empowering women’.

1.Empowering women through boudoir or lingerie photoshoots

This one has throughly annoyed me this week, and inspired this entire blog. So let’s unpick it. A woman has grown, been through the trials and experiences of being a woman in the world, maybe had kids, maybe had traumas, maybe had loss in her life, illness, miscarriage, abuse or operations.

Maybe all of that has worn her down, made her feel tired, unhealthy, unattractive, unworthy.

And what’s the answer to how she’s feeling and everything she’s lived through? By empowering her again. By building her back up. By helping her feel worth something again. And how should we achieve that?

Why, by encouraging her to take her clothes off for a photographer of course!

What more could she possibly need than pictures of herself in awkward poses in lingerie with stupid props to help her feel ‘empowered’ as a woman?

And this is literally the central issue with the boudoir and lingerie shoots as a way of ‘empowering women’. Why is this approach not applied to men? Poor 40 year old Barry, having a midlife crisis, recently lost his Dad, struggling with diabetes. You know what he needs to do? Strip down to a thong and let some bloke take pictures of him on a fluffy blanket.

Yeah, sounds fucking stupid, doesn’t it?

There is absolutely nothing empowering about the assumption that women will feel better and more powerful by being objectified and sexualised. This is literally the opposite of female empowerment.

2.Calling each other ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ is empowering

Oh, if I had a penny for every time I heard some woke youth saying ‘We call each other bitches, sluts and hoes, because we are taking back ownership of the words and it’s empowering us.’

Lemme tell you a little something about how language constructs reality:

If the oppressing class is still using those words to oppress you, you can’t take them back and use them to empower yourselves as the oppressed class. If men are using those words to construct you as less than them, as sex objects and dogs; you also using those words to describe yourself and your friends is COLLUDING with the oppression, not fighting it.

Women and girls being encouraged to call their friends ‘my bitches’ and ‘my hoes’ and telling each other ‘I’m a slut’ is not empowering at all. It’s constructing and describing your friends and yourself in the exact same way misogynistic men see you and perceive you. All we are doing by adopting this language is supporting and reinforcing our inferiority and objectification.

We are not ‘taking it back’ when the people using it against us are using it in exactly the same way we supposedly are. It’s one of the reasons you will never ever catch me using misogynistic slurs or female cuss words to talk to or to describe women. We’ve got enough shit on our plate without calling each other hoes and bitches. Don’t play into their hands.

As a bit of evidence that we have already played into the hands of the misogynists, there was a study in 2011 by McMahon and Farmer who asked undergraduate university students to help them to review a rape myth acceptance psychometric scale. One of the items, written in the 90s used to say:

Women who wear revealing clothing deserve to be raped

The undergraduate students told researchers that it wasn’t modern enough and that it needed to be changed to make it *more* socially acceptable in 2011. You know what they changed the item to?

Women who dress like sluts deserve to be raped

Because apparently, that language is *more* socially acceptable and recognisable than the original. Go figure.

3.Pole dancing and lap dancing for exercise and fitness empowers women

Ugh. Just no. It never manages to stop shocking me just how long the tentacles of the sex industry are. Women are looking to lose weight, get toned, feel good about themselves and build fitness.

So what should they do? Run? Swim? Cycle? Weight train?

Oh no, no, no. That’s man exercise. Of course, the way to ‘empower’ women during exercise is the make the exercise about sex. Then it’s super empowering and gets them fit at the same time. Bloody genius.

Years ago I used to work for a children’s charity, upstairs was a pole dancing fitness company that allowed children from the age of 8 years old to take part in pole dancing lessons. In the years I went to that office to go to work, I never forgot the misogyny, objectification and sexualisation of women (and girls’) fitness. Every day I walked up the steps to see the huge poster encouraging little girls and women to feel confident, sexy and empowered by learning to pole dance upstairs.

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but can you imagine ANYONE advising poor 40 year old Barry (from before) to take up pole dancing or lap dancing as a way to empower him again after all he’s been through?

There’s a reason for that. There’s a reason men’s interventions and approaches are not based around their sex appeal. Have a think. Keep reading.

4.Rape self defence classes are empowering to women

No they’re not. They’re a way of pushing the responsibility of rape and sexual assault back on to women and girls because no one has yet figured out how to stop sex offenders from relentlessly attacking women in some sort of genocidal madness we’ve been witnessing for centuries.

Rape self defence classes are the opposite of ‘empowering women’. They are directly saying to women: ‘Let us teach you how to fight off the inevitable sex offender who will probably attack you multiple times in your life because we live in such a misogynistic world, you are better off prepared for rape than just hoping men won’t rape you.’

Women have a 1 in 3 chance in the lifespan of being raped or attempted to be raped. Rape defence classes are the ultimate admission of a society who are no longer interested in stopping male violence against women. It’s also in many cases, futile. As most women and girls will tell you, the shock and trauma they go into during an attack will prevent them from fighting back (Moller et al., 2017). Further, even women who are martial arts experts, MMA cage fighters and in the military report freezing during a sexual assault or rape. Even further than that, the majority of all rapes and sexual assaults of women occur in a relationship with someone they love, and they often don’t even know they are being raped (because they have been fed the myth that rape is from a stranger attacking you in an unfamiliar environment at night time). If you don’t know you are being raped because your partner has guilt-tripped you, coerced you or blackmailed you, you won’t fight back.

Rape self defence classes don’t empower women, they force women to shoulder the responsibility for a massive global issue so no one has to deal with it on a systemic level.

Instead of it remaining a societal problem of male violence towards women, now it’s your problem and you need to learn self defence. Clever, eh?

5.Make-up and contouring empowers women

Last week, I read a national news article about a school holding contouring and make-up classes for girls who needed a confidence boost or empowerment. My blood boiled. Whilst I can see that approaches like this are well intentioned (ugh, all the worst shit is, isn’t it?), this is not the way we should be helping our young girls build their self-esteem and feelings of power.

Further, Julie Bindel recently wrote an article about the way make-up has been oppressing women for so long – and she quoted a statistic that 15% of women wake up before their husbands to go and ‘put on their face’, meaning their husbands and boyfriends had never seen them without make up. I’m sure you know a woman or girl who even sleeps in make up, I know I do. We’ve created a world in which women are supposed to look flawless at all times, even when they wake up.

So what’s the issue with make-up, contouring and cosmetics being sold to us as empowering?

Well, it’s not exactly empowering to sell products to women and girls to make their faces look artificial, is it? Make-up to make our noses look smaller, skin look browner, eyes look bigger, lips look bigger and shinier, skin look smoother, cheekbones look more defined, eyebrows look darker and thicker.

How exactly is making ourselves look nothing like ourselves ‘empowering’ us?

*throws major side-eye at Snapchat and Insta flawless filters*

6. ‘For her’ products to empower women.

So finally, the ‘for her’ products invented (or usually just turned pink) for our ‘empowerment’. Like the pink toolkits that hardware stores sell. You know what I mean, the pink hammer and the pink screwdriver set meant to empower us to do our own DIY with our pretty new tools. Or the ‘for her’ Bic pens for the ‘feminine hand with a manicure’. That’s right, Bic invented pens ‘for her’. Fuck knows what we were using before they made these. Feather and ink, I think.

And what about the ‘for her’ laptop created by Toshiba. It’s a laptop with less power, less memory and less capability – but it does have special keys for long fingernails and it even comes with horoscope software! I mean. Wow.

What more could we possibly need? We’ve got laptops for her so now we can finally use the internet and our computers. We have pens for her so we can finally write things. We even have toolkits for her so we can finally tighten that loose dining table chair with our new pink screwdriver kit. We are literally so empowered now.

Take away message from this blog:

Not all that glitters is gold, my sisters.

Empowering women is about us taking back actual power in the world. Leadership. Research. Money. Property. Politics.

Empowering women is not about us being further objectified, sexualised and discriminated against.

Empowered women are not those who are duped into calling their best friends ‘bitches’, whilst they all go to their empowering pole dancing class to get fit, buying their pink toolkits for a spot of DIY whilst they google rape self defence classes on their new ‘laptop for her’.

Wake up. We are being manipulated.

This year for International Women’s Day 2019, be on the look out for these sneaky, disingenuous approach to ‘empowering women’ and call them out where you find them.

Written by Jessica Eaton

Dedicated to challenging victim blaming and misogyny

You can get books, resources and e-learning on these topics from: Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet this: @JessicaE13Eaton

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Women: How to be the perfect victim of sexual violence

*content warning for discussion of sexual violence and victim blaming of women*

Written by Jessica Eaton

03/02/2019

Today, a friend sent me an article about a young woman who managed to fight off three men who had abducted her, robbed her and told her they were going to rape her. The article from Australia tells the story as if she did something small to escape the offenders and so I read on (with my ‘cynical’ face on, I might add). To my surprise, the article reports that the 20 year old threw herself out of a moving car to protect herself from being raped.

I mean. That’s no mean feat. Throwing yourself out of a moving car on a highway? Not exactly the small tip her mum told her, that the article described it to be. It’s also extremely dangerous and terrifying to throw yourself out of a moving car (been there, long story, couldn’t do it, ended up stuck in the situation).

So this blog is dedicated to the way the media drip feed us these stories of the ‘perfect rape victim’. You know. The ones who fight off the attacker. The ones who go straight to the police station with skin of the offender under her nails so they can test for DNA. The ones who never shower after the assault and walk straight to the clinic with the semen still in their underwear for testing.

The media like to hold these women and girls up as perfect victims, and lets be honest, their stories are rare, unrealistic, amazing and well… they are used to place us all in a hierarchy of ‘bad victim’ to ‘perfect victim’.

That’s right, we are in a victimhood hierarchy. I’ve built a new model of this in my PhD and it will be released in my new book, too. My research, and the research of countless others, backs up the concept that women and girls are placed into a hierarchy of victimhood in sexual violence in which only the ‘perfect’ victims are seen as traumatised, innocent and telling the truth.

So let’s look at another story from the media. In 2016, U.K. This Morning Programme featured an interview with a young woman who was a huge CSI fan.

One day, she was abducted near her own home as she was walking back into her house and raped by a man in a car. Because she had watched hundreds of episodes of crime dramas, she told This Morning that she suddenly remembered the importance of DNA. She pulled out her own hair during the rape and left it in his car. She dug her nails into his neck to get DNA under her finger nails. She spat on the floor of his car to leave her DNA in there too. The presenters hailed her as a genius and hero, and that her quick thinking has led to his conviction. They even asked her what advice she would give to others in her situation, suggesting of course, that other women and girls should do the same.

I remember watching this episode with interest. I remember thinking how many hundreds or thousands of cases of sexual assault and rape I have ever been involved in and that none of them had ever looked like this. I concluded that her behaviour during the rape was incredibly rare (albeit amazing) but that the millions of women in the U.K. watching or hearing this story would not recognise this as what happened when they were raped or abused.

In fact, the majority (71%) of victims of rape or sexual assault freeze and don’t move or make a noise at all (muller et al., 2017). Fighting back is actually relatively rare.

Not only that, but the majority of all rapes and sexual assaults occur at home, with a partner or ex partner, with no witnesses, with no proof, with someone you’ve had sex with before, with someone who is emotionally manipulative or threatening. It’s just not realistic to expect women and girls to be able to respond to sexual violence in these MacGyveresque ways.

And herein lies the problem. Both young women are being held up as perfect victims. They did all the things right. They fought them off. They risked their lives. They did ingenious and dangerous things to save themselves. They reported to police immediately. They had enough evidence to prosecute and prove their accounts.

And now their stories are used to encourage women to ‘do more’ or ‘do better’ during rape or sexual assault.

And frankly, that narrative sickens me.

The victimhood hierarchy looks a little like this (although in much more detail in my research and books):

The perfect sexual violence victim:

⁃ Young, single, innocent female

⁃ Not from particular backgrounds

⁃ White

⁃ No criminal record

⁃ Not intoxicated

⁃ Doesn’t know the offender

⁃ Not wearing provocative clothing

⁃ Not sexually active

⁃ Never reported rape before

⁃ Tried to fight off the offender

⁃ Reported straight away to police

⁃ Had DNA evidence to provide

⁃ Had physical injuries from attack

⁃ Offender used extreme violence

⁃ Offender used a weapon

⁃ Offender is male or in a group

⁃ Situation was unfamiliar

All of the above factors are supported by almost 30 years of research and the trends are not going anywhere. My own PhD work has also confirmed these to be correct in UK populations between 2016-2018.

Without this turning into a chapter of my work, you can guess what happens when the victim doesn’t hit this strict criteria.

The same thing also happens when the offender doesn’t hit the strict criteria (maybe the offender is a rich, popular, successful business man with a loving family, so he doesn’t fit the stereotype). Victims are also perceived as less credible in familiar environments with no witnesses (at home, in bed, in bathrooms etc.)

So why is all of this so important?

Well, because for most women and girls, they will never ever be the ‘perfect victim’ stereotype that they are expected to be by society, by their families and by police.

In 2016, I interviewed Sasha*.

Sasha was raped by a stranger on her way home from a works do in broad daylight on a busy street. She told me the offender literally came out of nowhere near a bush and attacked her near a bus stop. She said he didn’t speak a word of English and that she thought he was an immigrant.

After he attacked her, Sasha called 999 and asked for help. They sent a police car and she got in, shaken but confident the police would support her. She told me that she was adding it all up in her head. She was thinking ‘I was attacked by a stranger, in broad daylight, there were witnesses – they’ll definitely believe me.’

And that’s when she said something to me that has impacted my career and my work with women ever since:

“So you know, as a victim that’s as good as you’re gonna get isn’t it? It’s like a best case scenario rape.”

I knew exactly what she meant. She meant that she knew all the hierarchies she was in. She knew the stereotypes and she knew what she was going to be judged against and she had mapped it out in her head to check whether she would be believed.

However, her story took a turn for the worse once she was being interviewed. She told me they asked her why she smelled of alcohol and she told them she had just come from a works do with colleagues up the road. They asked her why she didn’t fight him off. They asked her about a rape she reported and retracted a year earlier. They asked her about her mental health record and some records they had about her being in crisis a few years ago.

She said to me:

“I sat there and suddenly realised that I wasn’t the perfect victim. I wasn’t going to be believed. The rape had all the right bits but I wasn’t credible.”

The police dropped her case and nothing happened. She told me she often wonders about trying to reopen it, but she now knows she has two reports of rape on her police file in which nothing was done.

The reality for many women and girls, is that from the moment they realise they are raped or abused, they are already adding up the factors in their head that they know will go against them. And research has shown, that not being perceived as the ‘perfect victim’ leads women and girls to make the decision not to report at all. However, this is actually a wise move, because research has also shown that police hold the same stereotypes and victim blaming attitudes about sexual violence victims as the general public and that their beliefs influence how they remember accounts of sexual violence and whether they believe the woman (Dawtry et al. 2019).

The expectation on women and girls to be the perfect victim of rape and sexual violence is destroying the justice system and until we address it, women and girls will always measure themselves against the societal stereotype of how they ‘should’ have acted or how they ‘should’ have reported sooner.

Written by Jessica Eaton

Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Buy Jessica’s Victim Blaming and Self Blame Education Flashcards here:

https://victimfocus-resources.com/search?q=Flashcards

Can we stop saying, ‘She could have been your daughter’?

25th November 2018

Jessica Eaton

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Why is it that we blame women and girls so much for sexual violence and abuse? And why is the retort so often, ‘She could have been your sister, mother, daughter or girlfriend!’

On face value that seems like a pretty logical sentiment, doesn’t it?

The approach of this sentiment is to gain empathy or understanding from the other person by encouraging them to imagine that the rape or abuse could have happened to their female family member. People would most likely assume that by using this retort, the person might think ‘Oh gosh, yes, I would hate it if that happened to my own daughter, maybe I need to re-evaluate why I blame women and girls for rape?’

The reality is a little bit murkier than that. The reality is less optimistic and less effective than that.

Here are my three reasons why we should stop using ‘She could have been your sister/daughter/mother’ as a response to victim blaming of women and girls:

1. Family members are not less likely to blame women and girls for rape than the general public

2. Language and construction of women as property of someone else is problematic

3. It will do nothing to stop the global, socially embedded narratives of victim blaming of women and girls

Families are not less likely to blame women and girls for rape than the general public

Yeah. I know. Depressing, isn’t it?

My research, and the research of others such as Sarah Ullman; has shown that, after a woman or girl is raped, families are not the powerhouse of support we think they are. In fact, when women and girls are raped or abused, the family is not likely to support them – and are highly likely to blame them or shame them. The older the girl gets after the age of 10 years old, the more the parents blame her for being raped or abused. The majority of women who disclose rape or abuse, still tend to disclose to family before authorities – but they tend to be disappointed by the response they get from family, whom they expected to support and protect them.

Based on this, why would telling someone to imagine it had happened to their sister/daughter/mother help their victim blaming – if they are just as likely to blame them anyway?

We are making an assumption that they would react differently in real life to this rape happening to their daughter or sister for example, whilst all of the research shows that they would be likely to blame or even disbelieve their female family member.

Clearly, this strategy is not going to work. If family members can’t even support or believe their own sisters, daughters and mothers – why would they believe a woman they read about in the press or some girl from school who was raped at a house party?

Language and construction of women as property of someone else is problematic

The second point I want to raise is more discursive. I want to talk about the way we only ever position women as important if they are connected to us or we have ownership of them.

The word ‘rape’ comes from the Latin word ‘rapere’ and the old french word ‘raper’ which meant ‘to seize goods or to take by force’. It was usually used for property, livestock, money and items, but became used to describe sexual offences against women, because women were constructed as property of either their fathers (if they were unmarried) or their husbands (if they were married). Another man ‘raping’ that woman was therefore a crime against the father or husband, not against the woman or girl. This line of thinking still exists today in many cultures but in different ways.

Anyway, the point I am making is this:

If rape is the act of seizing property owned by the family (the woman) then our response of ‘this could be your daughter/sister/mother’ is repositioning and confirming the woman or girl as property of the person you are appealing to. You are saying to them ‘This woman is connected to you, how does this make you feel?’

This is especially true for men. An example is when fathers become obsessed with monitoring or making comments about their adult daughter’s sex lives and sexual partners, threatening new men in her life not to touch or hurt their daughter. This is less about the wellbeing of the woman and more about the status and ownership by the father. That his status and his honour would be affected by another man ‘seizing’ his daughter or sister.

We also see a very strange pattern (it’s not strange to those of us who understand misogyny but anyway…) when we interview or survey men about prostitution, porn and lap dancing (Bindel, 2017).

Lots of men say they enjoy porn. They say that women should be free to choose whether they work in the sex industry. They say they believe women should be allowed or even empowered to be sex workers and lap dancers and strippers if they enjoy it. They think the sex industry is just great.

But what do you think happens when researchers ask them whether they would be as supportive if it was their sister, daughter or mother?

Uhuh. Hell no.

The comments change to negative, disparaging insults and threats. The same men who tell us they support women to work in the sex industry tell us that they would never allow their sister, daughter or mother to work in the industry. Note the word ‘allow’.

They talk about how disgusting and easy they would be. How they would have failed as a father or brother. How dishonourable it is. How it would make HIM feel to know his sister or daughter was working as a stripper or escort.

Even the men who actually tell us that they USE prostitutes and fully support the legalisation of prostitution, tell us they would never allow their own daughters and female family members to do it (Bindel, 2017).

So, it appears that when we ask people to ‘imagine it was your sister, daughter, mother’ – what we are really doing is appealing to their ownership and connection and control over their female family members and asking them to be angry that someone would ‘seize’ their female loved one.

All we have done here is repositioned the woman as property of her family and tried to get that person to stop blaming based on the logic in my first point, which we’ve established, doesn’t work. So we appeal to their ownership of the woman.

Weird, huh?

It will do nothing to stop the global, socially embedded narratives of victim blaming of women and girls

My final point is that – well, we are missing the point.

When we try to appeal to people by saying ‘she could have been your daughter, sister or mother!’ – we are not addressing victim blaming or shaming of women and girls who have been raped or abused.

We are not challenging their victim blaming, we are telling them to imagine the woman is someone they care about being raped.

We are saying to them ‘Look, I know you don’t care about this woman being raped, but imagine if it was someone you cared about!’

Nah fuck that.

We should be saying to them, ‘You SHOULD care about this woman or girl being raped. She doesn’t need to be related to you. She doesn’t need to be someone you knew or loved. She is a human being who was attacked. Sort your victim blaming shit out. She is not to blame. At all.’

Why should we use tactics to appeal to these people who victim blame women and girls that attempt to get them to pretend the victim is someone they love? Why can’t we just challenge their responses directly?

The more important question to me is, why would they ONLY care about rape if it was a woman in their family? Why does it need to be a woman they are connected to or feel ownership over for her rape to count as abhorrent?

Isn’t it funny how we never say this about murder? When a man or woman is murdered, people are generally horrified. They are shocked and appalled. They don’t need reminding that the person was a human being. We don’t have to say to them:

‘Now, now, I know you don’t care that they are dead because they weren’t related to you, but imagine if they were your mother or sister or daughter.’

No one needs to say that, because no one is making stupid ass comments like ‘Well if you’re going to go out dressed like that, you’re obviously going to attract a murderer’ or ‘He should have known that if he went out drinking, he was going to get shot in the restaurant’.

When it comes to sexual violence, some of us would try to respond to these victim blaming comments by trying to get the person to imagine it happened to their sister, daughter or mother.

And I’m saying – we need to have a think about why we feel the need to do this to gain empathy from victim blamers by getting them to imagine the victim is their female family member.

I’m more interested in why they are blaming any women for rape and abuse.

And I would be willing to bet that if they hold those views about ‘that girl who was raped at that party’ – they probably hold those views about their own sister, daughter or mother.

Written by Jessica Eaton

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

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

The Response to Sexual Harassment? “Don’t flatter yourself!”

Written by Jessica Eaton

Follow and share on twitter @Jessicae13Eaton 

Email: JEE509@bham.ac.uk


Today, I become completely enthralled by a 522 (and growing) comment thread on professional networking site, Linkedin. 

In this blog post, I am going to show you screenshots of real comments made by professionals from all different sectors, made in the last 48 hours. These comments are direct responses to a female CEO who uploaded a post about her weariness of the sexual harassment and inappropriate comments she receives in her Linkedin inbox. So why was I so enthralled by this growing stream of comments? 

Because those comments were the most incredible, public and professional display of victim blaming I have ever seen. 

So first of all, let’s have a look at the post that started this whole thing off:


I read this post from a very successful female CEO and Founder of a large company; and I empathised immediately. I could hear the frustration in her post, the capitalisation speaks volumes. This is a woman at the end of her tether. This is a woman who is sick of having to tell male professionals on LinkedIn that she is not interested and that LinkedIn is not for ‘romantic requests’ – which is considerably more polite than the way I would have written that post. 

I was about to scroll away until I noticed the large amount of comments and I clicked to open them up because I instantly wondered if it was hundreds of other successful women saying ‘me too!’ 

And don’t get me wrong, there were some women thanking her for being so honest. There were a handful of women admitting that they had the same problem. However, I did wonder whether the nature of the other hundreds of comments would deter a woman from admitting it happened to her too. 

The types of comments can be broadly split into 5 main themes: 

1. Men ridiculing her for ‘moaning about’ being sexually harassed by directly saying that she was exaggerating or calling her derogatory names

2. Men trivialising and laughing off her complaint 

3. Men telling her that she should be grateful for the compliments and that she needs to lighten up

4. Women normalising the harassment, telling her that she is attention seeking and should get over herself 

5. Women disclosing the same sort of harassment on LinkedIn and then being shut down 

I am going to work through these 5 main themes and explain why they have direct links to victim blaming in sexual violence. 

1. Men ridiculing her for ‘moaning about’ being sexually harassed by saying that she was exaggerating or by calling her derogatory names 

Example 1


Example 2


Example 3


Example 4


Analysis 

This was a very common type of comment. If that isn’t bad enough, all of the comments were provided by people with their full name, photograph and employer’s name right next to the abusive and sexist comments. 

The comments vary between outright name calling and comments that imply she is being rather too self-congratulatory about being sexually harassed so frequently. A few of the comments criticise the way she looks to minimise the possibility that this has really happened to her (almost suggesting she is lying or exaggerating). Some of the comments tell her that they no longer want her as a business connection or that they wouldn’t even meet her for a coffee because she is so ‘scary’, ‘nasty’ and ‘rude’. One man announced that he was disconnecting from her immediately if she was going to moan about sexual harrassment. 

So, how does this link to victim blaming in sexual violence? 

Each of the screenshots above give accurate examples of the ways women are blamed when they experience sexual violence (and of course we must ensure we are acknowledging sexual harassment as a form of sexual violence). When women disclose sexual violence, it is common for them to have their experience minimised or trivialised. When someone responds to a disclosure with the words ‘grow up you old hag’ and ‘dog’ and ‘I’m still confused why you are getting so much attention’ – they are telling her that she is worthless, her anger is not justified and that she does not fit their stereotype of a sexual harassment victim. If she is disclosing sexual harassment then she must be lying, exaggerating or confused. And if she is the type of woman to do that on linkedin, she is clearly a ‘nasty woman’ and she deserves instant and harsh consequences for lying/bragging/exaggerating about her sexual harassment. 

When a person responds with ‘don’t flatter yourself, love’ – it is very clear that they have read the disclosure of sexual harassment, looked at her photograph and then made a judgment call that she is not nearly attractive enough to be sexual harassed and is therefore taking these comments the wrong way in order to inflate her ego. This relates to victim blaming as there is ample research that shows that juries are more likely to find a sexual violence perpetrator guilty if the female victim is judged to be stereotypically ‘beautiful’ and that juries are more likely to blame the victim if she is overweight and stereotypically ‘unattractive’. 

There is even a comment rating her as a 7 out of 10 – again insinuating that she is just not attractive enough to be sexually harassed so is probably making it up. 

 Another saying that she has a ‘face like thunder’ and is therefore not attractive or smiley enough to be sexually harassed. (I can tell you now that her profile photograph is a professional head and shoulders shot with a neutral expression – maybe he thought she needed to ‘smile more’.) 

The final comment is a perfect example of victim blaming. Example 4 is a man who is going along the lines of ‘if you don’t want to be sexually harassed, don’t look nice, or ever be seen by men, they can’t help themselves…’

Solution: Live on an island. Forever. No men allowed. (Apparently)

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme: 

– Only gorgeous women get sexually harassed 

– Men cannot help themselves and women are responsible for dealing with that desire 

– Women often make up or exaggerate sexual violence 


2. Men trivialising and laughing off her complaint by implying that she is full of herself and overreacting 


Example 5


Example 6



Example 7




Analysis 

These types of comments were frequent throughout with many people liking them and agreeing with them over and over again. Most of these comments referred to her ‘huge ego’ that she has because she spoke about being sexually harassed. For some reason, this large, organic sample of professionals thought that talking about sexual harassment was ‘bragging’. 

What’s interesting here though, is that I noticed that these comments were more likely to have women agreeing with them than any other type of comment. Men would typically start the thread by commenting on the size of her ego for ‘assuming’ that men found her sexually attractive and then women were quickly drawn to these threads and became involved. One woman in particular was relentless for hours and repeatedly commented that the entire thing was to boost her own self worth and to increase the number of men looking at her profile and contacting her – sort of like pseudo-reverse-psychology I guess… 😳

So, why is this linked with victim blaming?

Well, overall, it fits very well with victim blaming messages that tell women that sexual violence isn’t that serious, isn’t that harmful and that sexual violence has been made into this big issue by us killjoy feminists who demand respect.  Comments like the ones above deliver two harmful messages: 

You are not worthy of being sexually harassed or of moaning about it and if you do disclose sexual harassment, it will not be taken seriously and you will look like a jumped up female who brags about strangers hitting on her.

Yeah. Right. 

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme: 

– Sexual violence isn’t that serious or harmful 

– Women shouldn’t talk about sex or sexual violence 


3. Men telling her that she should be grateful for the compliments and that she needs to lighten up


Example 8



Example 9



Analysis 

As you can see, some of these are very offensive and I found myself wondering how much harm they were doing as every second a new comment like this was added. The ‘be grateful’ theme was very common indeed, but exclusively put across by men. The messages ranged from polite but sexist comments telling her to lighten up, get a grip and enjoy the attention right the way through to horrid comments calling her names like the example above.

Either way, she ought to be happy, grateful and thankful for the sexual harassment and unwanted comments she keeps receiving. This has to be one of the most blatant examples of sexism I have seen recently. A woman discloses how frustrated she is with unwanted sexual contact from professionals in her field and a load of professionals in her field tell her that she should be enjoying it and to shut up. Appalling but real. These are real professionals on LinkedIn. I wonder if they behave like this in the workplace? 

So, how does this link to victim blaming? 

When women talk about sexual violence, it is the word ‘sexual’ that tends to stick in people’s minds. This (in addition to the fact that women are still seen as sexual objects with just one purpose) meant that sexual violence still gets categorised as ‘sex’ in the minds of many. The violence, the harassment, the assault: that tends to get lost. 

If a beautiful woman is being contacted by businessmen because she is so desirable – what on earth is she moaning about?! 

It doesn’t matter that the person is a stranger or even a business contact who thinks it is totally okay to comment on her body or ask her if they can take her out on a professional networking platform. It doesn’t matter that she is an intelligent, powerful, successful CEO – as long as she looks nice and they can message her out of the blue, stoked with the right to be able to say whatever they want to a woman whenever they want and not only should she be polite – but she must be grateful too. 

Unless you’re only a 7 out of 10 – and then you’re lying about it anyway. 

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme:

– Women often lie about sexual violence for attention 

– Women enjoy sexual violence 

– Sexual violence is not harmful, it’s just sex 

– Women secretly love being sexually harassed 

– Women make a fuss about sexual violence to save face and to pretend to be righteous 


4. Women normalising the harassment, telling her that she is attention seeking and should get over herself 


Example 10



Example 11



Example 12



Analysis 

Now, we move on to the theme dominated by women. In this theme we see women ridiculing her for being ‘up herself’, telling her to take it as a compliment and stop seeking attention and some advice from a woman at the end who seeks to normalise the inevitable abuse she is receiving. 

Again, very common in the comments. I guess most people would assume that women might have more empathy or relate to her more, but we can see that far from relating to her, they distanced themselves from her and joined in with the ridiculing and minimising. 

So why does this link with victim blaming? 

There is a theory in victim blaming called the ‘defensive attribution hypothesis’ which argued that people who identify as similar to the victim of sexual violence are much less likely to blame them. So for example a woman might think ‘Wow, I am a professional woman too – it just goes to show that it could happen to me too.’ This is the same theory that argues that female victims would be better with female supporters and that women victim blame less than men.

However, this is rarely the case. Women are just as likely to victim blame as men and this is something I have been examining in my PhD. There are also potential reasons for why this could be. The first would be that the women who leave comments like the ones above are engaging in some kind of ‘self-preservation’ tactic by ridiculing her and distancing from her experience, they can assure themselves that it won’t happen to them and it must be happening to her for a reason. 

The second, which accounts for the woman who normalises and minimises her sexual harassment, is that women have absorbed systemic sexism and patriarchy for so long that it has truly become normality for them. So when a man acts inappropriately towards them, they have learned that this is a normal, everyday occurrence and that they have no right to be so angry about it – because all women experience it. 

The third is that women have been taken in by the counter-arguments to sexual violence and they erroneously believe that sexual power and abuse is part of men’s nature, that it’s natural for men to be so sexually demanding and abusive and that they cannot help themselves. This results in women being taught to ‘protect themselves and ‘reduce risk’ in a society supposedly filled with men who cannot possibly control themselves – which is an insult to millions of men.

These potential reasons are possible because women and girls spend their entire lives submerged in a society that objectifies and dehumanises them. A society that tells them that they must be attractive at all times but not a ‘slut’ or a ‘show-off’. That they are so desirable that men cannot help but rape them. That their body is public property. That they need to smile more. That they need to just accept sexism for what it is and move on. 

Women who have been successfully socialised to believe that they are a walking, talking, non-thinking sex object to be commented on and conquered are not going to defend a woman who is experiencing sexual harassment as they will probably take on the views of the patriarchal society in which they have been moulded. 

Sadly, the comments that concern me the most are the ones telling her to get over herself and that she is attention seeking. I see these comments as a direct result of women being pitted against each other in terms of aesthetics. The media have been having a field day with this for decades (Field decade? Field era?)…

Women are pitted against each other in gossip magazines, in reality TV shows, in competitions and beauty pageants, in lads mags where they literally rate readers’ girlfriends, in women’s mags where they rate fashion and make up and hair, in music videos and films in which women compete for male attention or a relationship with a man who is playing them both. 

This is not an accident. When women are pitted against each other, they are much weaker as a community (and they make lots of money for companies profiting off their competition to look perfect). 

The comment ‘get over yourself’ could be seen as a woman saying to her ‘you’re not even that attractive’ or ‘you’re not worthy of this much attention’ or ‘you think a lot of yourself, don’t you?’ Those three words speak volumes. 

Why did a woman read the experience of constant sexual harassment of a female business connection and instantly respond with a flippant and derogatory remark? Is it because she felt threatened? Did she think ‘Why is she getting all of those messages from men? She must be bragging. I mean look at her, she’s not even that attractive!’ 

I see this as a direct result of pitting women against each other.

(Note: the relative beauty of the woman and the actual appearance is irrelevant here but the way she was quickly perceived as ‘not that attractive’ in many of these comments makes me wonder whether her assertive post suddenly made her seem less attractive to people who originally found her photos attractive until they realised she had an opinion). 

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme: 

– Women lie about sexual violence for attention 

– Men cannot help themselves 

– Women need to accept that sexual violence is a part of life 

– Women don’t have a right to talk about sexual violence 

– Sexual harassment isn’t that serious 


5. Women disclosing the same sort of harassment on LinkedIn and then being shut down 

Example 13



Analysis 

This was the rarest type of comment but, as I said at the beginning of this blog, I wonder if that’s because the comment thread was so hostile that many women read the thread but didn’t disclose the same sexual harassment as the original poster because they could see what they would be up against. The example above gives a flavour of the responses to women who did dare write ‘me too!’ 

The exact same levels of judgement are thrown at the women who disclose similar sexual harassment. 

Why is this linked to victim blaming? 

This one is slightly more obscure but is strongly linked to victim blaming of the self. Self-blame. We know that self-blame is very common in sexual violence and there are lots of reasons for this but one of them relates to the example above. Women are consumers of media, opinion and thoughts about women – and they absorb the messages from as early as the toddler years. They grow up listening to and watching stories of female lives, trauma, mental health issues, experiences and abuse where the women are picked apart, criticised and judged for why these things have happened to them.  Women learn that disclosure = judgement. 

Not only this, but they learn to blame themselves using the same victim blaming messages that they are expecting to be judged with at the point of disclosure. Was I drunk? Was I wearing a low cut top? Did I come across as a flirt? Should I have behaved differently? Is my story believable enough? 

When the answers to these questions are less than perfect, women are able to accurately predict the responses they may receive based on all of the responses and messages they have ever seen before. They may think ‘well, I guess what I said could have been misconstrued as flirting so I am probably to blame’. Once the self-blame sets in, victim blaming become so much more powerful because you have the social victim blaming coming from myths, gender roles and victim stereotypes, then you have the directed victim blaming about the character or behaviour of the woman and then you have this new layer: the woman themselves, employing these messages to blame herself and to agree with the victim blaming messages of herself and others because she knows that unless she is the ‘perfect victim’ (shown to be completely and utterly innocent) she will be judged by these values and she knows she will lose. Badly. 

Closing Comments

This blog was a reaction to a LinkedIn post by a successful female CEO and Founder. She has not only experienced significant sexual harassment in her private messages that led her to speak out about the nature of the professional networking platform but also paid a heavy price for thinking that people would agree and empathise with her. The comment thread (which is still growing at the time of writing) became a petri-dish of all different types and styles of victim blaming which I sought to expose and explain. The thread is shocking and probably triggering for many people, including people who have experienced sexual violence. It provided a window into the prevalence of victim blaming of women – but in a unique context: sexual harassment in a professional workplace environment. I did attempt to challenge some of the commenters but I became one of the women who got spectacularly shut down. 

Please call out sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace – and everywhere.

The screen shots were taken on the 5th November 2016. All names and photos have been (badly) removed to preserve anonymity of the poster and the commenters.