‘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.

3 reasons we need to talk about token resistance

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Director of VictimFocus

Senior Lecturer in Criminal Psychology

1 November 2019

What is token resistance?

‘Token resistance’ is the act of pretending to resist sexual advances when really, you want to say yes.

The term ‘token resistance’ has been used to describe the way women and girls supposedly ‘play hard to get’, ‘act coy’, or ‘play it cool’ when men or boys show them attention or proposition them.

Make no mistake, there is societal pressure on women and girls to do these things to appear chaste, innocent or hard to obtain. They are often advised to ‘play hard to get’ when men or boys they like ask them on a date, ask for their number or come on to them.

Key studies in psychology from the 1990s onwards have shown that both men and women are likely to consider a woman’s rejection of sexual advances to be ‘token resistance’. Studies have found that when women reject sexual advances with anything other than crying, shouting and fighting back – it can be seen as token resistance from a woman who ‘wants it really’.

This blog will outline three key reasons why we need to talk about token resistance and the impact this concept is having on the prevalence and perception of male violence against women and girls.

1. It is fucking everywhere

Token resistance really is everywhere. It features in soaps, music videos, films, stories, fairytales and music lyrics.

When I give speeches, I often joke that every single romantic comedy you have ever watched is based on the concept of token resistance.

(Warning: I’m about to ruin romcoms for you for the rest of your days)

However, whilst people always laugh along when I talk about the tragic storylines of pathetic men who find a single, outgoing woman and then harass her for 90 minutes until she ‘realises’ she wants to marry or fuck him – this really is no laughing matter.

Consider how many romantic comedies you have watched which begin with a single woman who is working in a new job, just moved to a new apartment, just broke up with a shitty ex. Starts okay, right?

But the storyline changes quickly with the introduction of a man who would like to date/marry/fuck the woman.

Annnnnnd literally the rest of the film plot is the story of a man who:

  • Turns up at the woman’s workplace
  • Calls her repeatedly
  • Leaves her hundreds of voicemails
  • Follows her to a park
  • Turns up at an airport to stop her from going on a once-in-a-lifetime journey
  • Writes letters to the woman
  • Sends her flowers
  • Engages in huge public romantic gestures until the woman gives in
  • Flies to the woman’s parents’ holiday home in France to ‘surprise her’
  • Learns a skill or joins a class/club to follow the woman
  • Stalks her location and turns up there
  • Contacts all of her friends and family to tell them how much he loves/wants her
  • Stops her wedding to a man she loves
  • Manipulates or lies to the woman
  • Pretends to be someone he is not to trick the woman

The list is fucking endless. Those of you who watch a lot of so-called ‘chick-flicks’ will be able to write a list as long as your arm.

I’m sorry to break it to you: but those behaviours are not romantic at all, they are harassment.

The real kicker is that once the ‘token resistance’ of the woman has been overcome (read: her ‘no’ is ignored and then she is ground down until she literally can’t take anymore) – the plot of the film usually shows the woman ‘realising’ that she does want the man and then finally saying ‘yes’.

Yes to the sex, yes to the marriage, yes to moving in with him, yes to being in a relationship with him or yes to abandoning her career and family to move across the world with him for some reason. YAY.

Token resistance features heavily in films. But it also features in music videos and music lyrics.

I mean, how can we forget the rapey lyrics of Robin Thicke when he said:

Tried to domesticate you/ But you’re an animal/ Baby, it’s in your nature/ Just let me liberate you/ I know you want it/ I know you want it/ I know you want it/ But you’re a good girl

Music video upon music video of men wooing, following, stalking and harassing women in which the woman is seen to be enjoying the attention.

Even fairytales contain copious amounts of token resistance in which traditional female characters reject or ignore the advances of male characters who then woo them or win them over until they marry at the end. Most first generation Disney films are about the conquest of a woman.

Token resistance is embedded into so much media and into so many accepted narratives about sex, love and dating that it is likely to be having an immense impact on society.

Arguably, it is.

2. It is teaching men and boys that no means yes, or maybe, or try again later

Humans learn much of their knowledge about love, sex, dating, romance and respect from other humans. Whether that’s their role models, parents and friends or from music, film, soaps and media depictions of relationships.

Token resistance is not just a concept taught to women and girls who are taught to be scared of being seen as ‘easy’. This concept is taught simultaneously to men and boys who wonder how to capture the attention of that woman or girl they fancy.

Whilst a girl may watch a scene of token resistance and think, ‘So that’s how I’m supposed to act when a boy asks me out!’

A boy may watch the same scene and think ‘So that’s what I’m supposed to do when a girl says she isn’t interested!’

Instead of teaching boys and men that no really does mean no, the constant depictions of token resistance teach boys and men that women and girls don’t really mean no.

In token resistance, no means:

  • Maybe
  • Yes
  • Later
  • Try again
  • Try harder
  • Say something else
  • Keep talking to me
  • I like you but I’m playing hard to get
  • I want it really

Feminists often discuss how we will ever change the rape culture which exists in our world. How do we reduce or eliminate sexual violence against women and girls? How do we get abusive men and boys to understand that no means no?

The reality is, with relentless messages that no means yes and that they should simply keep trying and do something else to ‘win’ that woman or girl – we will never tackle rape culture. Men and boys are being socialised to believe that no means ‘yes but I don’t want to appear easy’.

3. It is contributing to the victim blaming of women and girls

Token resistance is embedded into our society. This means that millions of men and women have been taught or indirectly socialised that women and girls saying ‘no’ sometimes means ‘yes’.

We have been exploring the psychology of victim blaming and rape supportive attitudes for several decades now. Part of this research has been to explore how much the general public believe in rape myths such as:

‘Women say no to sex even when they want it’

‘When women say no to sexual advances, they are just playing hard to get’

‘Rape happens when a woman doesn’t say ‘no’ clearly enough’

These common myths directly relate to token resistance – and this feeds into the increasing levels of victim blaming of women and girls subjected to sexual violence.

For example, in the recent USA literature there is much discussion about a concept known as ‘sexual assault refusal assertiveness’.

Wait for it. Yep. It’s as bad as you think.

Researchers have been arguing that the reason women and girls are raped and abused is because they have ‘low sexual assault refusal assertiveness’ and therefore require training and education which helps them to ‘refuse’ an assault better.

In my own research, I found the opposite. My interviews with women who had been raped demonstrated that they had said ‘no’ to men several times in many different ways. None of their refusals protected them from the offender. Some women told me they had told the offender ‘no’ several times, then pushed their hands away, then moved away from them and then tried to convince the offender not to hurt them and it still hadn’t worked. This was true for women in stranger rapes and in domestic violence.

Clearly, their ‘sexual assault refusal assertiveness’ skills were fine. The problem here was the offender. The offender did not care that they said no. Suggesting that women and girls who are raped or abused had ‘low sexual assault refusal skills’ is most definitely a form of victim blaming which comes from the concept of token resistance.

Another example of the way token resistance feeds into victim blaming of women and girls is in the courtroom.

I often say that in the courtroom, whilst there are technical rules on what is and is not allowed to be used against the victim or against the offender – the majority of the rules protect the latter. For instance, you cannot use the ‘bad character history’ of the offender even if he has raped 5 women before, because it can ‘bias the jury’. In order to use this against him in a trial, you must have significant reason and prior permission.

However, the same process does not occur for victims, in which literally anything to attack their character or their history is admissible. What she was wearing, how many people she’s slept with, what kind of knickers she was wearing, whether she watches porn, whether she was abused in childhood and even whether she’s ever told her GP that she has mental health needs – these factors can all be used against the victim without prior applications or protection from the court.

It is therefore no surprise that one of the best defences in rape and sexual assault trials is to admit the sexual act occurred, but to argue that she ‘wanted it’ or ‘lead him on’ or ‘asked for it’.

Many years ago, it would have been a valid defence to argue that the offence never occurred and the woman is making it up. However, with the development of evidence collection and investigation techniques, this defence is no longer wise. Instead, it makes sense to admit or partially admit the sexual contact, but the claim that the woman consented or didn’t say ‘no’.

Concepts of token resistance rear their head in the courtroom on a regular basis. Women are accused of wanting the sex, asking for it, leading the man on, not saying no clearly enough, giving mixed signals, flirting with the man or even saying no when she really meant ‘yes’.

What can we do to combat token resistance?

As such a heavily employed belief in our society, it will be hard to combat. However, I do think there are some simple and practical things we can do to create change as soon as possible:

1. Talk about it openly and with as many people as possible. Most people don’t even know this exists, but once you point it out to them, they can see it everywhere.

2. Stop teaching oversimplified lessons on consent. Yes, I know it’s nice to believe that all we have to do is teach kids that ‘no means no’ and they will never grow into rapists and abusers. But consent is so much more complicated and contextual than what we are teaching. Why aren’t we teaching children about token resistance and how harmful this is?

3. We could start to challenge media representations of women who ‘want it really’ and instead show depictions of men and boys who do take ‘no’ for an answer and move the fuck on with their lives

4. Talk to girls and women about the social pressure to say ‘no’ when they are interested in men and boys – due to the shame attached to having sexual desires and sexual interests. In reality, no always means no. Men and boys should take no for a no. But it might be worth talking to women and girls about the way society teaches them that they are supposed to be ‘up for sex’ but also coy, protective and hard to get.

5. Talk to men and boys about sexual harassment and the way that movies, stories, soaps and music encourage them to harass and stalk women and girls even when they have said no. Get them to think critically about the amount of media and social norms expect them to keep pursuing women and girls who don’t want them, and how to deal with rejection respectfully.

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Director of VictimFocus

Senior Lecturer in Criminal Psychology

Tweet: @Jessicae13eaton

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

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

Shop: http://www.victimfocus-resources.com

5 ways we are encouraged to blame women and girls for being raped and abused

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Dr Jessica Eaton

23 June 2019

Content warning: This article discusses sexual violence against women and girls and the ways they are blamed for being victims of male violence

Having spent 10 years working with women and girls subjected to sexual and domestic violence of all kinds, I have never had a case or a caseload in which the woman or girl was not being blamed for what someone else (usually a man) was doing to her. Sometimes she is blamed by her family, sometimes by her partner. Sometimes she is blamed by police or by social workers. Sometimes it’s the mental health team blaming her.

Victim blaming is the act of transferring the blame from the perpetrator (who is 100% to blame for sexual offences they commit) and moving that blame back to the victim of the sexual offences.

My interest in the psychology of victim blaming really started to grow about 7 years into my career when I noticed strong patterns in the ways victim blaming was being encouraged and communicated across all sectors I had worked in. I decided to do a PhD in forensic psychology to explore why victim blaming of women and girls was so common.

This article gives an introduction to 5 ways (out of thousands) we are encouraged to blame women and girls for sexual violence perpetrated against them, built on my own research and my new book which will be coming out in 2020.

Let’s look at the ways we blame women and girls when they are raped, abused, exploited, assaulted, harassed or stalked:

Blame her behaviour

One of the first things we are encouraged to do is called ‘behavioural blame’. This is where we are encouraged to examine the behaviour of the woman or girl to look for behaviours that might have ‘led’ to being raped or abused.

Behavioural blame may include blaming women and girls for drinking, going to an event, using a dating app, walking somewhere alone, working in a bar, going travelling around the world, getting the tube at night, wearing headphones, meeting new people at a party and so on until infinity.

The purpose of behavioural blame is to pinpoint the ‘behaviour’ of the victim which ‘led’ to being raped or abused so we can convince ourselves that we would never make the same ‘mistake’ and therefore this offence would never happen to us. This is about denial of personal vulnerability, and us searching for an answer as to why this happened to her.

The problem with this of course, is that the answer has been staring us in the face for millennia. The cause of rape is men who rape. The cause of sexual offences is sex offenders.

Behavioural blame therefore obscures the real reason for the offence and focusses our attention on the victim.

Behavioural blame often leads to behavioural modification, too. This is where the victim (and sometimes women and girls in general) are advised or told to change their behaviours to protect themselves from sexual violence.

In my own research, I found that women and girls who had been subjected to sexual violence had often been told by professionals or by people in their personal support network that they should change their behaviours so they are not raped or abused again.

Just in my one study, this resulted in women telling me that they had changed their lifestyles, stopped dancing, stopped dating, stopped wearing certain clothes, stopped going to bars, stopped drinking, closed down their social media accounts, stopped going to places of worship, quit their jobs, stopped hugging people, stopped walking home from work, stopped smiling at men and stopped making new friends.

However, lots of those women told me that their drastic behavioural changes failed to protect them and many of them had been assaulted, raped or abused again despite following the behaviour modification advice from professionals and family members.

This is completely unfair. This is encouraging women and girls to make their lives smaller and smaller, whilst blaming them for the actions of a sex offender.

Blame her character

When behavioural blame fails to explain a sexual offence against a woman or girl, we very quickly move on to ‘characterological blame’.

This means that when we can’t blame her behaviour, because maybe the circumstances of the rape or assault were such that we can’t find anything ‘wrong’ with her behaviours before, during or after the attack – we will be encouraged to examine her character.

Characterological blame can include blaming a woman or girl for being too confident, too naive, too trusting, too flirty, not assertive enough, too outgoing, too sexual, too ‘streetwise’, manipulative, deceitful, too clever, too stupid, too articulate, too scared, not scared enough, too emotional, not emotional enough and literally anything else they can use to attack her.

Research shows that attacking the character of the woman or girl and finding something that we believe ‘led’ to being raped or abused makes us feel better about ourselves and reaffirms our belief in a just world in which bad things only happen to inherently bad people.

Again, this type of blame obscures the real reason for the sexual offence (the sex offender) and instead encourages us to dig up dirt on the character of the victim – like this cancels out the offence or makes her deserving of rape and abuse.

Characterological blame is central to the defence in some trials, in which the evidence is so clear that the only thing left is to destroy the character of the victim to cause doubt in the minds of the jury. Whenever defence lawyers used this tactic in my courts, I always knew they had nothing left to give to the defence, so instead, they had taken to attacking the character of the girl or woman.

However, whilst this is a sneaky tactic, it often works. Juries are highly influenced by characterological blame of women and girls and I saw many trials take a nosedive at the point where the defence team started to attack the victim for their character and encouraged the jury to take this into account to decide their ‘credibility’.

Blame her sexuality

My research has recently shown that one of the main factors of victim blaming women and girls is to blame her sexuality.

What I mean by this is her choices, preferences, actions, history and experiences of sex.

In a general public sample study in UK, I deliberately manipulated some scenarios about sexual violence against women to contain sexually active women. I then asked participants whether they blamed the woman for being raped or abused.

In some items I mentioned that she had multiple sexual partners. In some I mentioned she was bisexual. In some I mentioned she used Tinder. In some I mentioned she had been having a sexual affair. In some I mentioned that she enjoyed a good sex life. In some I mentioned that she liked feeling sexy and desirable. In some I mentioned that she takes nudes of herself. In some I mentioned that she likes to dress sexily sometimes to make herself feel good.

Long story short – these items resulted in much higher victim blaming than other items in the study. Some of these items caused between 40-60% of the participants to blame her for being raped or abused by a man.

This finding is backed up by much research and real life examples of trials and investigations in which the sexual history or the sexual activity of the woman or girl is used against her to either drop charges, to drop an investigation or to use against her in court to position her as promiscuous.

Isn’t it interesting that in 10 years I’ve never heard of a case in which a man who was raped was asked how many people he has slept with and whether his ‘promiscuity’ led to being raped?

This is because research definitively shows that we have an issue with female sexuality. We love objectifying and dementalising women into the topless pin-up or the woman being penetrated by three blokes in the porn scene – but we don’t like it when women and girls around us are sexually active. Or worse. In control of their own sexuality in the way they want to be. Oh hell no.

Blame her situation

‘Situational blame’ is an intriguing approach to victim blaming which again, completely erases the offender from the offence. In this case, we are encouraged to blame the situation the woman or girl was in when the offence was committed.

I find this type of blame most common in child sexual exploitation practice (CSE) in the UK.

Situational blame may sound like people blaming parties, clubs, hotels, taxis, tubes, train stations, parks, gigs, schools, council estates or blocks of flats for sexual violence committed against women and girls instead of blaming the offender.

It often sounds like this:

‘Well you know, if she’s going to keep going to hang around on that park, she’s putting herself in a situation where she might get raped’.

Or it sounds like this:

‘That estate is like that though. It’s dangerous. If you live on that estate then you know what will happen.’

Or it can sound like this:

‘She lives in poverty and hasn’t got much else going for her so it’s obvious this was going to happen to her.’

In this type of blame, we are encouraged to blame the situation, the inanimate environment, the park or the stairwell.

What this does of course, is it ignores the offender as the cause of the offence.

You cannot be sexually assaulted by a park. You cannot be raped by a hotel.

You cannot be exploited by train station.

You cannot be sexually abused by poverty.

These are human actions. There has to be an offender for these offences to take place.

For example, last week a social worker told me that it was a teenage girl’s fault for being sexually exploited because she keeps hanging around the MacDonalds drive thru at 10pm at night and men keep picking her up in their cars and asking her to get in to give them head or have sex with them.

She claimed that MacDonalds was the dangerous situation that she kept ‘putting herself at risk’.

I argued back.

I said to her, ‘If I drove past her at the drive thru, would I ask her to get in my car and give me head? No. If you drove past her at the drive thru to get a burger, would you wind the window down and tell her she’s sexy? No. That night, it’s likely hundreds of adults drove right past her and her friends and didn’t even notice they were there. Families. Single women. Single men. Couples. Parents. MacDonalds therefore is not actually the dangerous situation you’re making it out to be. The danger comes from the ONE sex offender who winds the window down and asks her to get in his car. If he never went to MacDonalds that night, nothing would have happened to her. He chose to attack that child. He could have just driven past and ate his food. But he didn’t. The situation isn’t to blame, the offender is. Every time you blame MacDonalds drive thru for this offence, you excuse the perpetrator.’

See how that works?

Blame her appearance

This one is how we know misogyny is still alive and kicking. No one cares what men and boys were wearing when they were raped or abused. Similarly, no one cares what the man was wearing when he raped someone. No one cares what the victims of literally any other crime were wearing.

Except women and girls who are subjected to sexual violence. Then, clothing becomes central for some reason.

Was she wearing a low cut top? Was she wearing a short skirt? A push up bra? Lace knickers? A bikini? A backless dress? High heeled shoes? Knee high boots?

Apparently this is all relevant in blaming women and girls for sexual violence committed against them.

This is most curious, because the majority of all sexual offences against women and girls are committed by partners, ex-partners and family members and are usually committed within a residence. Therefore, the chances are that most women and girls are wearing pyjamas, comfortable everyday clothing, school uniforms, work uniforms, jeans, leggings, hoodies, slippers, trainers, sports bras, trackies and tee shirts when they are raped, abused or assaulted.

However, this doesn’t stop professionals from using clothing against women and girls. Even children are being blamed for their clothing choices.

Last year I worked with a local authority where their social workers felt strongly that girls wearing cropped tee shirts and showing their midriff were bringing CSE upon themselves and that took some serious work to challenge those beliefs.

In 2014, I was given access to case records of children being sexually abused and one of them said of a 12 year old girl who was being raped, ‘She prances around the house wearing knee high boots trying to seduce her Dad’.

In 2016, I read a missing person notification about a 13 year old girl who was being trafficked around the country; written by a police officer.

It stated that she must want it, because she had packed a small bag containing a change of underwear, a clean bra and make up.

Further, in many CSE risk toolkits used in local authorities and police forces all over the UK, there are items that ask what the child is wearing which include:

  • Sexualised dress
  • Wearing make up
  • Revealing clothing

This means that the common rape myth of ‘only girls and women who wear short skirts get raped’ has actually filtered right down into social work and police assessments, not only of women but of children who can’t even consent to sex.

Does it really matter if the 12 year old is wearing a crop top and shorts at the time she is raped? Really? Isn’t she a victim of serious crime anyway?

And to that end, even adult women should not be scrutinised on their clothing at the time of rape, abuse or assault. Why would her wearing a backless dress change the offence that was committed against her?

Unless of course we are claiming that the bodies and clothing of the woman are causing the offences. Which we are. Which is why this is still happening.

Interestingly, the appearance of the woman or girl can also influence a police investigation and a trial. In my PhD thesis, I wrote about research that has shown that body type and body shape of women and girls can change the outcome of sexual violence trials. For example, if the woman or girl is perceived to be overweight or unattractive, they are more likely for their case to be dropped or to be found not guilty in a court of law. Researchers argue that this is because there is still an assumption that ‘fat’ or ‘unattractive’ women and girls don’t get raped or abused because the offence is about sexual desire.

However, that doesn’t mean that other women and girls are going to get an easier time in court. Oh no.

Research has also found that if the woman or girl is slim and perceived to be very attractive, she also has a high chance of her case being dropped or found not guilty in court. This is because there is still a perception that the attractive woman or girl must have either wanted it, or led the offender on with their appearance, because he can’t help it.

Blaming the appearance of women and girls for sexual violence committed against them is related to sexual objectification.

Objectification and sexualisation of women and girls as constant walking sex objects for men and boys to use and abuse will encourage victim blaming. When we look at girls and women like this in our society, we will still see them as sex objects even when they are raped and abused. In fact, we are not likely to see certain sexual offences as ‘real rapes’ or ‘real assaults’ at all because we will be socialised to believe that women enjoy them or want them to happen. Therefore, our thinking about sexual violence becomes about the sexuality and sexual allure of the woman or girl – rather than thinking about sexual violence as a deliberate act of violence and oppression.

I’ve written about research that has shown that when we objectify women and girls, we also dementalise them. This means that we assume they have no thoughts and feelings of their own, as they are an object to crave and use, not an equal human being. Therefore, objectification will also result in an assumption that sexual violence against women isn’t that serious and women are exaggerating or lying about it.

This is not an exhaustive list of ways we blame women and girls

Far from it. This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I have found in my research and work.

If I was to continue writing this blog, I would include the way we blame women and girls for their reactions to sexual violence, their culture, their upbringing, their age, their ethnicity, their social class, their assertiveness, their mental health, their relationship status, their knowledge of sexual violence and hundreds of other issues which will be covered in my new book, ‘Why Women Are Blamed For Everything’ by Dr Jessica Eaton.

This will be available on pre-order at the end of 2019 and will be published in 2020.

The fact is, we have cooked up thousands of reasons as to why women and girls are the ones to blame for sexual violence. The evidence is solid, and we have been finding these reasons and factors for over 50 years in the academic literature. However, even books such as ‘Rape in Antiquity’ can teach us much about the way women and girls were subjected to sexual violence and then blamed for it centuries and millennia ago.

Victim blaming is nothing new. But it does need to end.

We will never tackle male violence across the world whilst we use women and girls as the scapegoats and excuses for millions of rapists, child abusers, paedophiles and sex offenders.

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Psychologist

Founder of VictimFocus

Published: 23 June 2019

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

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

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

7 reasons why I don’t support police checking victims’ mobile phones in sexual violence cases

7 reasons why I don’t support police checking victims’ mobile phones in sexual violence cases

Jessica Eaton

29/04/19

I have a good mind to just write the words:

BECAUSE IT IS VICTIM BLAMING

And then end the blog, to be honest with you.

Apparently, this is not exactly considered a great method of getting a point across or presenting a counter-argument so instead I will use this blog to present my key arguments against the police checking mobile phones of victims of rape and sexual violence.

I have worked in sexual violence for 10 years and this practice is nothing new. Today it hit the headlines that police would be using consent forms to ask victims of rape and sexual violence to hand over their mobile phones to check up to 7 years of evidence, media, messages, internet history and call logs when they report rape or sexual violence.

Media outlets have also reported that police have refused to take rape and sexual violence reports where the woman has refused to hand over her phone – resulting in viable cases being ignored and not investigated because the woman refused to give access to her data.

So let me tell you why I completely oppose this practice, and what I think it means for victims of sexual violence.

(Note: The majority of all sexual violence victims are women and girls based on national annual statistics and the perpetrators of all rapes are men based on the SOA 2003. Whilst perpetrators of other forms of sexual violence could be female, 97% of all sexual offences are committed by men. Therefore, this issue of checking phones of rape and sexual violence victims disproportionately AFFECTS women and girls and disproportionately PROTECTS male sex offenders from prosecution.)

Reason 1: This is a way to discredit the victim

Let’s be clear. This initiative is not to protect, support or help the victim of sexual violence in any way. I don’t care how many bows you tie around it, this is a way to discredit victims (mainly women and girls) so that the case is too weak to take forward and so no further action is taken.

The data from the phone could include call logs, internet history, text messages, locations, social media profiles, photos, videos, audio recordings, geodata, connections, friend requests, emails, journals, notes pages, files, dropbox, apps, internet shopping and even finance apps.

Just stop and think about how private this stuff is to you. That pic you took in the shower. That time you bought vagisil online. That time you googled gay porn. That time you spent ages looking at your ex’s Instagram. The messages you send to your best friend about how much you hate that bloke you work with who keeps being creepy. The social media accounts you follow. The tweets you posted about abortion rights. The time you recorded yourself trying to sing ‘Fighter’ by Christina Aguilera. The horrible messages you sent to your brother in a vile argument. That new dildo you bought from that online sex store.

Think about it. Think how this irrelevant shit could be used against you. This is what they want to find. Compromising information that can be used for Reason 2.

Reason 2: They are looking for characterological or behavioural ‘flaws’ that could undermine their case

The point of this invasive and unnecessary exercise is to look for evidence of things that undermine their case. Evidence of your character, behaviours, communication, the company you keep, who you talk to, the things you say online, the stuff you google, the selfies you take.

People reading this might think I’m overreacting or even over exaggerating here – but 10 years working in sexual violence has shown me that this has been happening for years. I’ve worked with women and children who have had iPads, phones and laptops removed to check for evidence when they were the victims of CSE, trafficking or rape. Some kids don’t get their phones back for years. I’ve worked with women who had their phones taken for evidence purposes to then have private information and data being used against them by the defence solicitors. I’ve interviewed women whose cases fell apart because they texted the rapist after the rape in a panic and then the police used that to argue she was lying.

One woman I interviewed texted the rapist a few hours later to say she was sorry. In the interview, she told me she apologised to him out of sheer panic and that she felt worthless and disgusting, and she had apologised to him for saying no repeatedly and not wanting sex which led to him raping her. She blamed herself, so she said sorry to him.

Unfortunately, that’s not how the police saw that message. That case was dropped.

Imagine a woman or girl is raped but the night before she was googling lingerie. Imagine a girl is messaging her best friend saying she cannot wait to have sex with her new boyfriend but the boyfriend then forces her to do things she didn’t want to do. Imagine a wife is sending messages to her abusive husband telling him she loves him, but he’s raping her every night when he gets drunk. Imagine a girl is being trafficked and she is on WhatsApp with the abusers who are telling her they will get her some weed if she gives them head and she agrees. Imagine a woman is sexually abused and Googles it for weeks before actually reporting to police and she is then questioned as to why she was googling all of the info about sexual abuse but not reporting.

Think about it. We already have cases in which children are being blamed for rape because they were wearing lacy underwear (Irish trial, 2018). Imagine that level of victim blaming and misogyny – but with all of the data on your smartphone.

Reason 3: Most (or none) of the data they will take from your phone and use against you is not even relevant to the case

This is important. Even in trials, lines of argument can be deemed inappropriate, evidence can be inadmissible, information can be hidden from a jury so as not to bias them etc.

So what strikes me as unfair about this practice is that the police are gaining data that is completely irrelevant to the offence. How is your photo album relevant to you being raped by your partner? How is your call log relevant to you being sexually harassed by that guy on the tube? How are your emails relevant to you being sexually abused in childhood?

This information is excessive and irrelevant. It would make much more sense if phones were only ever being taken in cases in which the phone contains the evidence (a video of the woman being sexually harassed on the tube, death threats from the ex-partner, call logs that prove the offender called the victim 68 times in the night he killed her, geodata that can prove the whereabouts of the girl when she was trafficked).

And of course, police will argue that this is precisely what they are looking for. But if the case doesn’t include technology and doesn’t require the confiscation and examination of the victims’ smartphone, why are they telling women they will drop sexual violence cases unless they hand over their phones?

Reason 4: Everyone is entitled to a private life

You know what? Even if you had googled ‘how to have good anal sex’ 15 minutes before you are anally raped by a man who ignored your boundaries, WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

Even if you took a picture of yourself naked and sent it to some guy who three weeks later drugged you at a party and sexually assaulted you, WHY DOES THAT MATTER?

Even if you had sent your boyfriend 12 messages telling him how much you loved him on the weekend he beat you up, WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

Everyone is entitled to a private life. None of this cancels out the crime of the perpetrator. Are we now sliding down a slippery slope of ‘oh well, she takes pictures of herself in her underwear so it can’t be rape’ or ‘oh she text him saying she loved him so it can’t really be domestic violence’? or ‘she likes watching porn so she can’t be a real victim of sex trafficking’?

Is that where we are?

2019? Hello?

Reason 5: One guy made a complaint against a woman and the whole fucking system changes but thousands of women suffer injustice and nothing changes for decades

Well, isn’t that just peachy?

One guy who is being held up as a victim of a ‘false rape allegation’ for which there is no evidence for, managed to kick the entire system into change within months whereas women’s rights and rape crisis organisations have been trying for decades for reform and achieved very little.

Let’s be clear, actual false allegations are appalling – but they are extremely rare and false rape allegations are one of the rarest types of false reports there are. Have a think how many people might falsely report their house was burgled for an insurance job. How many people falsely accuse people of harassment. How many people falsely report their phones or cars stolen. Where’s the outrage for those false reports? Where’s the massive systemic change? Do those victims of crime have to surrender their mobile phones too? To look for evidence?

How is it that women and girls have been being discriminated against, harmed, traumatised and blamed by the criminal justice system for decades and change is slower than a tired snail – but one guy kicks off about his case being mishandled and the entire system shifts?

Don’t worry, I know the answer to that question. We all do.

Reason 6: How come it’s so easy to manipulate innocent victims into handing over their phones but it takes us months or years for police to get hold of the phones of traffickers, rapists and child abusers?

In the same vein as reason 5 – if systemic and procedural change is this easy, can ANYONE explain to me why the professionals working in CSE, trafficking and child abuse are being told by police forces that there is nothing more they can do to disrupt perpetrators and that they can’t possibly seize phones and iPads without evidence or warrants?

How the hell have you managed to utilise tactics against victims that you can’t even use against child traffickers?

How have the police managed to convince other professions that change is slow and cumbersome, will take years and will be hard to achieve – when this has been turned around in a matter of months?

How has blackmail been signed off as a tactic against victims?

‘If you don’t give us your phone, we will not take this case forward.’

I mean, wow.

Don’t ever let me catch police tell us again that changing the systems and practice takes years and we all have to be patient. Nope.

Reason 7: There is nothing in law which states that the police can blackmail you into giving over your phone and you are entitled to representation and protection from crime anyway

Everyone in this country has a human right to protection from crime and harm. Remember that. You have a right to be able to access law enforcement and protection. You have a right to be able to report a crime. You have a right to transparent and fair justice systems.

Being blackmailed into handing over your mobile phone so they can look through the last 7 years of data when you aren’t even a suspect or offender is NOT part of those rights. You do not have to surrender your mobile phone and have your own private life inevitably used against you. Don’t do it. It’s not in your best interests and police should not be allowed to refuse to take a case of rape or sexual violence on just because you won’t let some office jockey pour through your texts and photos looking for evidence that undermines their case so they have an excuse to drop even more rape cases than they already do.

My final word on this is:

What message is this new practice giving to rapists and sex offenders who are targeting women and girls? What are they learning from this?

That their victims must consent to having years of their private data checked before being believed? That their victims must not only be brave enough to report (87% never do according to CSEW, 2017), but also should let the police investigate completely irrelevant sources of private data to check their credibility?

To the police, you’ve made a grave mistake and you need to rethink this before you do major damage to individuals, reporting rates and to your own force reputation and public trust.

Written by Jessica Eaton

Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @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

Why ‘CSE awareness’ will never prevent CSE

Written by Jessica Eaton   http://www.victimfocus.org.uk   @JessicaE13Eaton

 

Today, I read this sentence:

“Education of young people is the key to prevention of child sexual exploitation.”

Last week I read this sentence:

“It is imperative that young people receive education to enable them to make informed choices about the relationships they choose to form, to help them to recognise exploitation and abuse.”

‘CSE Awareness’

‘CSE prevention sessions’

‘CSE education’

‘Healthy relationships workshops’

‘CSE information workshops’

‘CSE sessions in schools’

I cannot stand this for a moment longer. This is your official warning that this blog is mainly a huge, well informed, accurately cited, evidence-based tantrum.

So, not dissimilar to the rest of my blogs, really.

Let me tell you why CSE awareness sessions with children will never prevent CSE. Let me tell you why those sentences I had the unfortunate experience of reading; are absolute rubbish. 

  1. Educating children about CSE is important, but it is NOT a preventative strategy.

It is ridiculous to assert that teaching children about sexual exploitation prevents them from being sexually exploited. Calling CSE awareness sessions ‘the key to prevention’ is a new level of victim blaming that my brain cannot even process right now without spiralling into swear words. If we teach children about crossing the road safely, does that mean we can say that we have prevented them from ever being injured by a drunk or careless driver? If we teach children about war and violence, does that mean we have prevented them from ever being a victim of war or violence? If we sit some kids down and tell them about racism and sexism, does that mean they are now magically protected from being racially abused or oppressed because of their sex? Nah. Didn’t think so. You know why educating those children will never protect them? Because…

2. CSE doesn’t occur because a child didn’t have enough knowledge about sex  

That’s right. This is where the ‘CSE sessions prevent CSE’ logic takes us. It leads us right down a path towards arguments that once you increase the knowledge of sex, abuse and violence with children, they will therefore have enough knowledge to somehow protect themselves from a sex offender. I know exactly what the rebuttal to my argument is because I’ve heard it a thousand times “But, but, if we teach children to recognise exploitative situations, they will recognise the signs and exit abuse…’ YEAH RIGHT, OKAY THEN. Gosh, how stupid we all have been. Here we are talking about the massive power imbalance there is in all forms of abuse and the answer all along was to educate children so they just get up, ignore the power imbalance, tell their abuser to eff off and wander into a police station. Simples. I can’t even begin to imagine how insulting that assertion is for victims and survivors of child abuse. Do not be surprised when defence solicitors and well-educated sex offenders start throwing your own logic back at you in court. “Is it not true that the child attended 3 sessions of CSE awareness raising, designed to prevent them from being sexually exploited and yet never chose to report my client? Is it not true that if the child was truly educated about sexual exploitation, they would have known they were being abused and told someone?” You just wait. How are you going to get out of that one? Actually, what about other forms of abuse, does education prevent others from being abused?

   3. Education doesn’t even prevent adults from being abused so why exactly are we using this strategy with children?

For those of you who have been raped or abused as adults, how do you feel about the theory that, had you just had better education about rape or abuse; you would have just left? Yeah, thought so. Arguing that education of social issues prevents victimisation ignores the power imbalances, ignores oppression, is completely inappropriate and amounts to victim blaming. Most adults in this generation have received hundreds of messages, watched hundreds of TV shows, read or heard hundreds of stories of rape and domestic abuse in their lifetime and yet – lo and behold – 1 in 3 women will experience sexual or domestic violence in their life time and in some areas and cultures, this rises to 2 in 3 (WHO (2013) cited by UN Women, 2017). What are we saying about these women? That they all lacked education? That the ‘key’ to ‘preventing’ their abuse was some awareness sessions? Clearly, this logic is hugely flawed. So, why are we applying this faulty logic to children experiencing CSE at the hands of adults?

4. Organisations and public figures gain profit or status by asserting that educating children with their resource prevents CSE

I know right, conspiracy theory stuff!? Not really.

We have no evidence whatsoever that educating children prevents CSE – because we have never tested it. We also have no evidence that any type of sex education or relationships education has any bearing on sexual experiences or relationship outcomes (Bovarnick and Scott, 2016), despite showing some tiny effects that it may increase knowledge. So, no evidence – and yet literally hundreds of CSE resources, CSE session plans, CSE awareness raising programmes, CSE lesson plans and CSE films are being knocked out and marketed in the field as ‘prevention’ tools – some of which are sold for hundreds of pounds.

Why would organisations or individuals do this? 1. It acts as a self-generation income stream for charities and SEOs in the field of CSE at a time of unstable funding. 2. The tools tend to come with heavy, unwarranted praise for how brilliant and innovative the person or group behind the resource are (building status) – despite it never being tested or shown to be effective. I have watched police forces, local authorities, charities and companies scramble to make endless films and resources in CSE and then continually show them as ‘best practice’ with no evidence whatsoever. They then win awards or pat each other on the back for being super-brilliant-excellent-CSE-solvers.

Those same people claim to be ‘child centred’ and ‘child-focussed’. Let me be clear – there is nothing child centred or child focussed about banging out some ill-thought out, stereotypical, narrow focussed, untested resource to use with children and then market it to schools and practitioners as a ‘preventative resource’. The only person at the centre of that strategy is yourselves – for status or for money.

Want some proof? Have a look at the evidence emerging from reports such as the Women and Equalities Committee Report (2016) which found that resources around sexting, sexual exploitation and grooming were being used in the classroom to teach children to blame the child in the film for being victimised and then asking plenary questions such as ‘how could the child have avoided this happening?’ or ‘what could the child have done differently?’ or ‘what do you think led to her being sexually exploited?’ We are actively teaching children to victim blame – and who knows the damage we are doing to the children in the room who are being exploited or abused? I can’t imagine the feeling of watching a resource about a child being raped and then answering plenary questions about what the child could have done differently whilst sitting there thinking ‘but that happened to me… maybe I should do something differently… maybe I am to blame…’ That report showed the impact of using those resources and yet we are still using them across the country and we are still claiming that they amount to best practice to ‘prevent’ CSE.

You might be reading this thinking: ‘This is all a bit far-fetched – professionals and organisations benefitting from making ineffective resources and CSE ‘preventative’ tools? Why would they do this? They can’t all be doing this knowingly?’ And you would be right.

    5. Humans like to find the solution to horrible things in the world, even if they are not correct. This makes humans feel safer and in control.

I have written extensively on this topic recently and will feature in upcoming publications I am preparing in the topic of victim blaming in sexual violence. Let’s break this down for a moment.

“CSE is current. CSE is common. CSE is ‘increasing’ (it’s not, but you know). CSE needs a solution. CSE is about risk. CSE is about vulnerability. We need to reduce those risks and vulnerabilities. CSE becomes about the child. Reduce the vulnerabilities of the child. Educate the child. The child now knows all about CSE. CSE is now prevented. Woohoo!”

This is obviously oversimplified but to be honest, it reads like almost every summary of every CSE resource I have ever read. But why would professionals believe this?

They believe this because it makes them feel in control and it makes them feel like they have a solution to offer to professionals and parents – rather than admitting that the risk is coming from the offender and any child can be targeted and abused, which is likely to make them feel incompetent, helpless or not in control. CSE is a well-publicised social issue and people are frantically searching for the ‘answer’ – essentially ignoring decades of research into CSA which shows that we still haven’t found the ‘answer’ to preventing child sexual abuse as a social issue.

Potentially arising from the way CSE evolved from the terms ‘child prostitution’ and ‘commerical exploitation’ and ‘abuse through prostitution’; children being sexually exploited are still perceived as having some agency and some role in their own abuse and a role in exiting that abuse. Leading on from this, children are now being seen as the solution to child sexual exploitation – change their behaviours, increase their knowledge – prevent CSE. This has meant that organisations and practitioners have erroneously moved further and further towards an educative response to CSE until we are in the position we are right now, with statements like ‘the education of young people about CSE is the key to preventing CSE’. We are now literally sat around tables discussing a child being exploited and trafficked and prescribing them six sessions of CSE awareness and healthy relationships lessons. A huge injustice. A massive facepalm.

The field feels as though it has arrived at a solution. Educate the children and the problem will reduce. Despite this definitely not being the answer, prevention is being focussed on the child and not on the sex offender, which brings me to my final point.

6. Sex offenders are the cause of CSE. Not children. You can educate as many children as you like – there will still be child sex offenders abusing them. 

This is the most important point. Educating children about sex, relationships and abuse is important but it will NOT prevent CSE. Telling children about sexual exploitation will not stop child sex offenders from targeting and raping children. The assertion that preventing sex offending is as easy as a 40 minute powerpoint presentation to a bunch of year 9 kids is appalling. This field is so focussed on presenting the ‘risk’ as being within the child that the risk of the sex offender is essentially ignored. We have decades of research on the theories, methods, risk management and processes of child sex offenders, why does this field ignore them?

Child sexual exploitation is not new. The models and indicators are not even evidence-based and literally mean nothing. We know SO much about child sex offenders already in forensic psychology and criminology and yet I am reading report after report in CSE saying things like ‘we do not know enough about the offenders of CSE’ and ‘disruption of CSE offenders is very difficult because we don’t know enough about them’? EH? Read a book. Psychologists and Criminologists have been banging this drum for MUCH longer than the field of social work and safeguarding – learn from them. Utilise existing research findings. You can’t truly ‘tackle CSE’ if you refuse to learn about sex offenders and to learn from experts in other fields.

For those who will read this and not take it upon themselves to go and learn about child sex offenders, I can offer you a spoiler: There are no studies that tell us that sex offenders never abuse children who went to a CSE awareness session at school. There are also no studies that show that CSE awareness sessions with children ‘prevent’ sex offenders from targeting children.

For the love of humanity, will you please stop saying that educating children about CSE prevents CSE?