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

The real reasons that women are oppressed by patriarchy

Dr Jessica Taylor

I’m starting to realise that women are oppressed because they are more powerful than men.

I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but consider that all oppression has a reason or a motivation. It all starts somewhere. Oppressors would not seek to control, denigrate and silence people who had no power in the first place, would they?

Men don’t oppress women because they think they are stupid, incompetent, weak or incapable – they oppress women because they know that we aren’t any of those things. They know that given the chance, we will change the world in several ways which will permanently dismantle male supremacy. And they don’t want that.

I am writing this blog post deliberately to spark conversation and thought about the systemic oppression of women and girls – and how this is only required because of the potential power of women and girls.

Women make up 51% of the population and yet, are disproportionately oppressed, abused, killed, trafficked, mutilated and raped by men in every country of the world. As scholars have pointed out before me, there are no rape-free societies. There are no areas of the world where women are not being raped by men. There are no areas of the world where women are not being abused and controlled by male partners. There are no areas of the world where girls and women are better off than men and boys, and in proportionate control of their lives, finances, education and governments.

We must consider why this is. Misogynists try to convince us that it is because we are weak, incapable, poor leaders, stupid or emotional.

I am here to argue that women have more potential and power than men in several important areas of human life, and that the patriarchy seeks to oppress and control us because rather than actually believing that we are weak, they recognise that we are strong.

Further, they are aware how much stronger we would be if we understood and utilised our power, so much of society is designed to keep women and girls from ever realising their own skill, knowledge or power.

The control of female sexuality

The patriarchy seeks to control female sexuality, sexual preferences, sexual acts and sexual consent for several reasons. In a majority heterosexual society (and one which forces compulsory heterosexuality on even those who are gay or bi) women are sought out for men’s sexual desires, sexual exploitation and sexual pleasure. This means that women and girls are required to conform to male-accepted beauty standards, submit to sex when requested, enjoy sex acts which harm or abuse them and believe that their sexual prowess is their most important quality.

Patriarchal control has achieved this by ensuring that women and girls self-sexualise from 7 years old (according to APA, 2007), that women and girls believe and employ rape myths towards themselves and other women, blame themselves (and blame other women and girls) for the sexual and domestic violence of men (Taylor, 2020).

Further, patriarchal norms mean that globally, millions of women are expected to give (or abstain from) sex, whenever men tell them to. This could be their fathers, brothers, husbands or men in their wider support networks. Millions of women and girls are subjected to FGM to remove parts of their sexual organs, including the clitoris, so that men can control their sexual activity, and so that female sexual pleasure is never experienced.

Women’s sexuality is powerful not because we are walking sex objects, but because it is something intensely private, personal and intimate to us all. We own our sexuality. We choose how to use our sexuality, if at all. We should have total control over who we are intimate with, when and why. Our pleasure and our sexual organs belong to us. If we really had full control of our sexuality, and were not manipulated to believe that being ‘sexy’ is important to our role in the world, men would not have control over our bodies, images, laws, lives, relationships and our sexual pleasure.

It should be so telling that female sexuality is directed, shaped and twisted to fit whatever men want from us at that time. Smaller waist? Thicker waist? No ass? Round ass? Big boobs? Small boobs? Showing your skin? Not showing your skin? Lots of make-up? The ‘natural’ look? We are simply tricked into believing that we have power over our sexuality and our appearance. It’s a facade.

It is important that the patriarchy continues to control women’s sexuality, in order for women and girls to never understand the power they have in a world where men desire control of their sexuality. It is equally important to patriarchy that the manipulation of women and girls continues, to hypersexualise them further and further, so they believe that being a sex object is empowering and glamourous – which plays right into men’s hands.

No one has to work very hard to control or manipulate women and girls who already view themselves as sex objects to be used, abused, controlled or enjoyed by men.

The control of female fertility

The patriarchy has long sought to control the reproductive power of women. They understand that they are not capable of the reproductive process without female bodies, hence why there is more and more experimental medical research exploring how to create wombs to gestate human babies in. And more and more fetishisation of female reproductive systems, periods, pregnancy, birth and motherhood.

Before men ever achieved scientific and ideological advances such as this, they were controlling the fertility of women in other ways. Rape has long been used to impregnate women and girls, and features in thousands of years of history, art and literature. Some evolutionary theorists even suggest that rape is the act of ensuring men’s genes continue (although this is highly contested, and I do not personally agree with that theory, as it ignores social and cultural reasons for rape).

Fast forward centuries as we have both forced pregnancies and forced abortions, men putting holes in condoms on purpose, patriarchal organisations protesting birth control and constant arguments about women’s right to choose what they do with their own fertility.

Women frequently tell stories of doctors refusing to sterilise them ‘in case their husband wants more children in the future’.

Further, society seems obsessed with women’s ability to create life and give birth – leading not only to the fascination and fetishisation of women’s bodies but also to hatred towards women who make a choice not to have children, and slurs towards menopausal women and women who cannot have children which mock them for being ‘barren’ and ‘dried up’. Lesbians will have heard these slurs too when they are mocked for not wanting or being able to have children via heterosexual sexual intercourse.

If that wasn’t enough, we have an entire industry of surrogacy which literally sells access to wombs for wealthy people – in which the majority of surrogates are women in less economically developed countries, being exploited for very little in poor conditions, to have babies for someone else who cannot or does not want to. Women’s fertility is not only controlled, but it has been commodified to the point that women are being used as paid-for containers, gestators and womb-havers.

The patriarchy seeks to control women’s fertility and reproduction because it is so powerful for the continuation of life. Oppressors are not interested in whether that is in the best interests of the babies or women, but will go to great lengths to debate and control fertility at every step. Whether it is men arguing whether women should be allowed to abort a foetus, or whether it is men arguing whether we should be allowed to sell wombs for surrogacy – notice again, that it is women’s unique power that they seek to exploit and oppress here. They cannot do these things for themselves, so they must control the power of women, instead.

Imagine how many industries, narratives and structures would collapse if women were able to take full control over their fertility without the pressure, obligation, expectation or oppression of patriarchy.

The control of women in government

Globally, women are not well represented in government or leadership. No matter how many men say that we have reached equality because of women like Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Clinton and Nicola Sturgeon being in senior leadership of governments and parties – these exceptions only prove the rule. The fact that men can name a handful of female leaders means that they are rare enough exceptions to be noticed in the first place. They are abnormal. They are different to the default setting: wealthy man.

In general, women are not in control of the world at any significant level, despite making up 51% of the global population. At least, we should expect to be half of all world power. The reality is much less equal. Women make up 8% of national leaders, and within that, 2% of world presidents. Women only make up around 4% of the Fortune 500 CEOs. In the UK in 2020, women make up 5% of the FTSE 100. That’s 5 female CEOs.

Depressingly, the country with the most female CEOs in the world only has 30% female CEOs (according to global stats, 30% of CEOs in Thailand are female, the highest representation in the world). That’s not even a third.

Often, when we discuss why this trend continues into 2020, we will be met with comments about women being poor leaders, not being interested in power and being busy with motherhood and childcare (another thing you could add to the previous section). Some people also suggest that female led countries and companies would be chaos, or incompetent. This is despite significant academic research which shows that there is less corruption and bribery in female led governments, as women are less likely to take bribes and allow corruption within their governments and institutions (Swamy et al. 2003).

During COVID-19, it has been repeatedly pointed out by academics and journalists that the countries responding to and recovering from the pandemic in the safest, most ethical and most effective ways are all ran by women. Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel, Sanna Marin and Tsai Ing Wen have all led their countries through COVID-19 with much lower infection and death rates than countries led by men. Some have pointed out that men were often seen to create narratives around COVID that positioned the virus as ‘the enemy’ and the pandemic as a ‘war’ or ‘battle’ to ‘win’ or ‘defeat’. In contrast, female leaders have been shown to take scientific evidence and medical advice, explore responses from other countries (including South Korea) and tried to reassure and support their populations.

This only presents more questions. If women are so competent, why don’t they feature in leadership more often? Why are they so discriminated against in the workplace? Why are there so many myths and stereotypes that women are hysterical, emotional wrecks who cannot lead a company or country?

Well, having thought about this more and more, I think it’s because women hold much more power, potential and capability than they realise. Interestingly, rather than the patriarchy believing women to be weak, stupid and incapable – the opposite must be true. They know that women are smart, honest, capable and strong leaders. And so, it is of vital importance to a patriarchy to continue to reframe women as poor thinkers and leaders, to keep them away from power.

The stereotypes and myths about female leaders are not there because the patriarchy believe them to be true, but because they need everyone else to believe them to be true, so they can maintain total power. They also need women and girls to believe that they would be poor leaders, and induce imposter syndrome as early as possible – so they never attempt to buck the trend and fight for power.

The control of women in justice and justice for women

In addition to the lack of women in government, we have a similar issue in justice. Whether that is criminal or civil law, legislation, investigations or independent inquiries – women are not equally represented and in some cases, are actively oppressed.

In a world in which 97% of crime is committed by men (according to international statistics collected by the FBI in 2017), it seems odd that men also make up the majority of lawmakers, judges, police chiefs, police commissioners, legislators and senators.

Women are hugely underrepresented in crime. Women make up just over half of the world population but commit 3% of the crime. When women are imprisoned, it is largely due to non-violent offences such as possession of drugs, non-payment of council tax and financial fraud.

However, more and more data is showing that crimes committed against women are going unpunished. We know that the current conviction rate of rape is just 0.2% in the UK, leading to the current inquiries lobbied for by the Centre for Women’s Justice. We know that the femicide rate is increasing. Women killed by males has increased significantly in 2020  (33%) but murders in which males kill other males have been dropping year on year.

In power, women make up 29% of court judges. Out of 41 police and crime commissioners, 6 are female. In law firms in the UK, only 17% of them have female partners.

So why the disparity here? What would happen if women were more in control of the justice systems? The pattern should be becoming clear by now, that keeping women out of power and influence is important for the upkeep of the patriarchy. Women are significantly underrepresented in the control of justice, despite being excellent when appointed to powerful roles. Female led prisons are some of the safest and well kept facilities in the UK, for example. This year, Pia Sinha was appointed to ‘Britain’s worst prison’ and has already transformed it, hitting national headlines for her work.

As part of the mission for sex equality and female liberation from patriarchy, women should be equal in all matters of governance, justice, politics and society. Women play such a small role in justice, and certainly don’t receive justice when they require it, either. Only 13% of women even bother reporting crimes to the UK police anymore (CSEW, 2017), and when research explores why that it, it is usually because women are scared of how they will be treated or the ways in which they will be blamed (Taylor, 2020).

What would happen if women were given half of the control of the justice systems? Maybe our approaches and procedures would change? Maybe women would get more justice? Maybe less women would die after calling the police 17 times and being ignored? Maybe girls would stop being blamed by judges, lawyers and police officers when they are being sexually abused and trafficked? There is a reason that women are being kept from positions of power in the justice systems, and it is not because the patriarchy deem us to be weak or incapable.

It is because they know that more women in the system would change that system. And why would the patriarchy want that? At present, men have a 0.2% conviction rate for rape and a 8% conviction rate for domestic violence (ONS, 2019). For perpetrators of male violence, those are pretty good odds, wouldn’t you say?

The control of women’s language and spaces

For anyone keeping their eye on the current issues engulfing the mission for women’s rights and female liberation, it will have become clear that the flavour of the month in misogyny is to control the language and spaces of women. This is nothing new. Dale Spender wrote about it in the 1980s in her book ‘Man Made Language’.

However, more and more women are noticing the way governments, institutions, law enforcement and media are changing, redefining and seeking to control the free speech of women, in particular. Whether it’s the pressure to redefine women, misspell it entirely – or erase ‘woman’ completely from professional and public discourse

One of the most effective ways of stopping women and girls from taking control of their lives is to limit their language and spaces to do so. If women cannot talk about female oppression anymore, they cannot challenge it or protest. If women cannot define themselves as class of humans that need rights, support and protection, then they will not be able to secure these things. This movement is deliberate. If the word ‘woman’ begins to mean nothing (anyone can define themselves into and out of it) then the laws, legislation and policies pertaining to the advancement and equality of women will mean nothing.

Oppression intersects. We understand this fairly well. But what we don’t seem to grasp is that oppressions all tend to work and and impact in fairly similar ways. Methods of control tend to be similar (dehumanisation, dementalisation, abuse, pathologisation, criminalisation, isolation, and stigmatisation).

How is it then, that we can see this happen to one oppressed group and totally understand that they need their own movements, their own language, their own leaders and their own spaces away from and separate from the oppressor – but we cannot apply this to females as a protected group as a sex? It’s as if we do not believe this applies to women.

How come we understand and are outraged when an oppressor attempts to co-opt or exploit the oppression of one group, but cannot or will not see it when it is happening to women and girls?

Controlling women’s language and the ways in which they can meet, organise and discuss issues which affect them should be seen as a serious red flag. I mean this in two ways. The first is that this is a red flag for an extremely misogynistic and patriarchal society that does not want women and girls to be able to organise alone.

But to return to the theme of female power, the second way this is a red flag is that it should signal to us about how powerful our organisation is.

If women meeting, organising and forming groups was so powerless, futile and pathetic – why is it an issue if we choose to do so? If the oppressor does not believe that those who he oppressed have any power at all, why would it matter if lots of them joined together to relate with each other and be in each other’s company? 

The only real answer here, is that the act of women and girls meeting, teaching, debating, learning, supporting and organising in female only spaces is considered dangerous – and you are only considered dangerous if you have power. Removing our language and spaces is an attack on women everywhere, but also a sure sign that they know how powerful we are when we work together and form alliances with other women.

Final thoughts

Take this writing and think about it. We are much more powerful than we think. As women and girls, we have had a lifetime of messages telling us that we are not clever enough, strong enough, big enough, capable enough, logical enough, rational enough… And it’s all been deliberate. It’s all been bullshit.

The entire time, women have always been smart, strong, capable, competent and influential – but we have been systematically and carefully oppressed, controlled, abused, distracted, sexualised, objectified, infantilised, silenced, threatened and mocked.

The only reason this is happening is because we hold so much power and we threaten patriarchal control.

Written by Dr Jessica Taylor

14/08/20

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Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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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.

To my radical feminist sisters

To my radical feminist sisters around the world,

I am writing this open letter to all of you to uplift you and to remind you of your strength. Our strength.

Dale Spender wrote in 1986 that with every wave of feminism, comes a backlash of misogyny. The first wave feminists who were killed, tortured, abused, humiliated, force fed and beaten, changed the world for women, forever. As their power grew, the backlash grew.

As women found each other, loved each other and stood together, men in the patriarchy created disgusting, ugly public caricatures of them as witches, barren, old, haggard and hated. The point of this strategy was two-fold: to break their spirits and to hold them up as an example to the other women – of what would happen to them if they dared to join the suffragettes. Women pushed on. They fought for us. They gained our voting rights and property rights. They did this at huge personal cost, and at the time, they were hated viscerally and openly.

In the second wave of radical feminism in the 1960s onwards, women joined arms once again. The second wavers, many of which are still here with us (love and respect to you all, we owe you incredible amounts), progressed and achieved more than we realise. Our second wave sisters gave us rape support centres, domestic violence refuges, women’s shelters, single sex spaces, equality law, changes in divorce and custody law, feminist consciousness raising, feminist groups and contraception. Women in the second wave threw light on the way women were being discriminated against in every aspect of their personal and public lives. They continued the work of the first wave, by publicly and intelligently criticising and challenging the male establishment. They did this despite constant portrayals as man-hating, controlling, abusive, ugly, childless lesbians.

As you can probably see, there is a pattern forming here.

Our current feminism is not much different. The old stereotypes of us are still raging on from 100 years ago. Men still mock us for being feminists and concerned with women’s rights. The memes look exactly like the old suffragette postcards. Shit has not changed one fuckin bit.

We have again made massive strides, although we are more divided these days. As radical feminists, our purpose is to remain dedicated to the liberation of all women and girls from oppression around the world. This means rejecting white, upper class feminism which confines feminism to big words and protected bookshelves of academics and philosophers. It means debating with and often disagreeing with, liberal feminism. It means calling out misogyny within feminism, and misogyny that parades as feminism. Over time, uneducated onlookers have become annoyed and confused. Women are expected to club together and be homogenous. The fact that our feminism differs so much is the source of much amusement to men who don’t understand a jot of feminism. Of course, women are all so simple, that we must all agree.

This also means that we need to stand our ground as the next wave of misogyny hits us and attempts to push us back. Feminism is taking a real battering at the moment. Women who comply with the abuse and ridicule of feminists are rewarded with temporary protection from misogyny. People who publicly attack women are congratulated and awarded.

With every wave of feminism, there is a wave of woman-hate. We are more powerful than we have ever been, we are more connected than we have ever been, more educated than we have ever been and better resourced than ever.

The backlash and the upsurge of misogyny is heavy because we are making such collective progress. Women have platforms. We are talking about rape, domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation, trafficking, femicide, FGM, harassment, pay gaps, rights, and gender role stereotypes. Society is listening. Society is watching. 

Every time we speak out, write a blog, make a video or sit on a panel, we influence another woman or girl to realise the strength she really has. The power she really has. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your influence as a strong female role model. Whatever position you take up as a radical feminist role model, you will change so many lives.

The misogyny will continue to hit us because we continue to push forward. We have bigger platforms than we have ever had. This means thousands of men have access to us, and can abuse us with ease. It is clear from the violence and abuse we are subjected to online, that the crimes committed against all of us every single day; are being ignored. Many of us are told that the abuse we are subjected to is simply a consequence of being ‘in the public eye’ or ‘having radical feminist views’.

It’s frankly amazing how people have conceptualised radical feminism over the years. We’ve been branded as the crazies. Likened to genocidal dictators, murderers and serial paedophiles. The character assassination continues. We scare them because we stand firm and because we are not ashamed of our commitment to women and girls’ rights.

It paints a bleak picture. Or does it?

Are you not surrounded by radical feminists? Are you not able to read this blog? Are you not able to meet with your sisters online?

Do you see the activism around you? The lobbying and arguing and campaigning and world-changing?

Every woman has the power to make a change, whether that is small or huge. We must continue to talk to girls about radical feminism, and the incredible progress we have made since our first wave sisters stuck their necks out. Don’t allow radical feminism to become a dirty phrase again. Don’t succumb to pressure. 

Do not throw women under the bus because it protects you for a little longer. Do not stay silent whilst your sisters around the world are oppressed and murdered. Do not laugh along as men abuse and oppress women, thinking, ‘That will never be me.’

Use your strength. Use your resources. Platform women and girls. Protect them, support them, influence them and inspire them. Be the woman you needed to look up to as a girl.

Radical feminists are hated for two reasons:

  1. We unapologetically centre women and girls in our feminism, and we have no interest in bending to the pressure of patriarchal values or norms
  2. We are women

That’s pretty much it. People will come up with many different bullshit reasons why we are such disgusting women, but every one of them smacks of the same shit thrown at our first wave and second wave sisters. Stop feeding into it. See it for what it is. It’s recycled misogyny from 100 years ago because they can’t think of anything else to say or do to us.

This is about collectively and individually reframing us as the old, haggard, witches, bitches, mad, hysterical, evil, childless lesbians who hate men and want them all to die. They have nothing else left. They personally attack us because they have nothing else.

This is what happens when women attempt to do something for each other – men are so entitled and so accustomed to being centred, that they cannot handle being sidelined for a bit whilst we focus on the oppression of women and girls. See it as nothing more than a tantrum. Whataboutery in all its pathetic beige, beardy, boring, repetitive ‘glory’.

Women can hate us too. I see them. I see them often. The ‘egalitarians’ who hate feminism. The ‘feminists’ who tell us to go kill ourselves, die in a fire or call for our resignations. The women who internalise misogyny, use it against themselves whilst attacking other women for the oppression they are subjected to. The women who rush to the aid of the NAMALT crew. It really is incredulous that those women would use all of the rights, powers, voices and platforms that they have because radical feminists gave it to them over the last 100 years – to bully and abuse radical feminists. Irony doesn’t even touch the sides of that one.

The deeper irony being, that we will all keep fighting for their rights, even if they hate us. Even if those women say they don’t need feminism. Even if they say they hate feminism. Even if they say they don’t want those rights. Even if we disagree with them. We have been protecting women and girls (even the ones we don’t like) for decades.

I know how hard it is right now. I see so many of you struggling, giving up, getting tired and being abused. I see you trying to thicken your skin to face another day talking about the most basic shit, because you know you will have another day of abuse and threats. I see society get more and more misogynistic every day. I watch as some of the world’s biggest abusers and misogynists run our countries, royalty and governments.

My sisters, you are the force that the world needs right now. Every time you take a stand, you do something brilliant. You are a raging fire.

Women’s anger is pathologised because it is so powerful. We do not use our power to commit millions of murders and rapes each year. We do not use our power for worldwide warfare and genocide. We do not use it to dick-measure with our nuclear weapons. We do not use it to exploit developing countries. We use it to change the world. We use it to challenge the system. We use it to support other women. We use it to relentlessly defend our human rights. We use it to write essays and blogs that start debates and conversations. We set up conferences and groups. We create charities and grassroots projects.

We are the powerhouse that the world ignores but always expects us to be there to look after the kids and clean up after the men.

I want to remind you that the shit being thrown at us is disgusting, violent and abusive because it has a purpose: to silence and intimidate the most powerful female voices we have.

What people seem to forget is that within our radical feminism, we are made up of some of the strongest women in the world. We are refugees and asylum seekers, we are single mothers, we are trafficking survivors, we are women fighting cancer, we are women who have been beaten, raped, abused, strangled, tortured, imprisoned and discriminated against. We are ex-sex workers and women who have escaped prostitution. We are lesbians. We are activists, we are lawyers, we are academics, we are police officers, we are social workers, we are politicians, we are writers and performers, we are business owners and consumers. We are politically and economically active. We are voters. We have all lived through shit that people cannot even begin to imagine. We are living, breathing and dying in this feminism.

They cannot extinguish the fire we have set alight. The only reason they seek to weaken us, is because they recognise our power.

Now, you need to recognise your power, too.

Get back up, focus on your feminism and your love of women and girls, and get back to work. There is so much to do. Do not allow the accusations of hatred and abuse blur your vision. We know we don’t hate minority groups. We know we do not engage in transphobia. We know we don’t abuse and hate those who are different to us. We know we do not align with or support right wing, racist, homophobic groups who proclaim to be feminists and radical thinkers. These accusations are set ups. Deliberate conflations to encourage the hatred of feminists.

Radical feminism is the liberation of women and girls from the global oppression that is the patriarchy. Gender role stereotypes have oppressed and harmed us for so long. We have been minimised, ignored, gaslit, abused, attacked and silenced for so long. Yet, we are still here running the rape centres, the shelters, the helplines, the support groups, the women’s services, the households, the families, the communities and the female-led companies.

But we will keep going.

Millions of women and girls rely upon the work we do, whether we do it silently, covertly or publicly and loudly.

In sisterhood,

Dr Jessica Taylor

Psychologist

VictimFocus 

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Website: www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @DrJessTaylor

Fbook: www.facebook.com/JessicaForenPsych

Let’s talk about sex… and gender ideology

Dr Jessica Taylor

23 Feb 2020

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

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

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

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

My main points will be:

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

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

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

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

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

6. Issues around gender present serious dilemmas for safeguarding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stereotypes, basically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Sex observed at birth’?

‘Assigned male at birth?’

‘Cissexist’?

‘Cisgender’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, sex differences remain extremely important.

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

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

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

Gender ideology has some repressive and homophobic ideas within it

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

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

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

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

Case in point: Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Issues around gender present serious dilemmas for safeguarding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actually, this is already happening within the detransitioner movement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My final point is fairly frank.

Ideologies exist, theories exist, perspectives exist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Dr Jessica Taylor

Council Estate Academics: Take Pride in Your Roots

Council Estate Academics: Take Pride in Your Roots

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

20 May 2019

I was desperate to escape my council estate. I used to dream of the day that I ran away and lived somewhere ‘nice’. I fantasised about becoming rich and successful so I could afford the things I needed to live. I hated that council estate so much by the time I was 18, that I continued to be ashamed and embarrassed of my roots until I was at least 26 years old.

Only a few years later, I see it as one of the most important and influential experiences I ever had. Living in poverty on a council estate in a deprived area made me who I am today. It made me.

Maybe you’re reading this as a fellow academic from a poor background. Maybe you’re reading this from your council house right now. Maybe you’ve never lived in poverty or on an estate and you’re reading this wondering how any of us could be ‘proud’ of our roots.

I want to share my 5 reasons for pride and the way my thinking has changed over the last few years; which has transformed my thinking from hating my roots to loving and respecting them.

I also want to explain how I went from telling myself that class doesn’t matter and doesn’t affect me, to truly understanding the way our perceived or real social class is affecting us every day – and affecting our research, career paths and experiences in academia.

1. Being brought up on a council estate provided me with experiences that I still draw upon to this day

Walking down to the shops and bumping into like eleventy people you know. Dragging your sofa out on to the front of your house in the summer and sitting in the street or front yard. Pointing your stereo out of the front room window and blasting music. Walking down the alleys you’re not supposed to walk down. Reading who is fucking who on the graffiti walls on the way to school. That shop that sold cigarettes to kids cos they had gone past caring. Sitting on the park til 1am talking about what you’re gonna do when you finally get rich or become a famous footballer. Turning up to school with the wrong uniform on and being ‘told’ to buy more like you had the money. The estate stray dog whom everyone loved and fed but no one knew who owned him. That bloke who always asked you for 20p for some extravagant lie about his dog being trapped on a train and he needs 20p to save his pretend dog, even though you knew it was for heroin. Sitting on the garages throwing stones at the ‘No Ball Games’ sign. Going round your friends’ houses and eating literally everything in the cupboards. Playing knock and run for hours. Hedge hopping. Getting chased by police for climbing on top of the school roof. White dog shit everywhere for some reason.

Yep. Growing up on a council estate sure gave us some life experiences. People say experience shapes us, and I totally believe that. We are an accumulation of everything we’ve ever seen, done, heard, felt, experienced and thought.

Growing up poor is hard. I’m not here to romanticise the shit we all went through. Like I said, I hated my estate. But I am definitely in a different place mentally, now.

See, as a psychologist, an academic – and as an activist in feminism, I need these past experiences every day.

I need to remember the feeling of hunger. I need to remember the danger. I need to remember the drugs, the drink and the stupid shit we did. I need to remember how normal it was for one of our mates to turn up covered in bruises. I need to remember how romantic we thought it was for that 21 year old bloke to pick that girl up from school every day. I need to remember how normal it was to sell a bit of weed to keep you going. I need to be able to remember the logic that caused me and my friends to carry knives and weapons in our socks or trackies.

I need to remember the good times too. I need to remember the hilarious laughter. I need to remember sledding down the snowy hills on a car bonnet some lad had nicked off his Dad’s car cos he heard it goes faster. I need to remember the long conversations about whether we believed in god or aliens or afterlife whilst sat on a slide and a swing at 1am. I need to remember the time when my mate got cut out of a baby swing by the fire service. I need to remember the long summer evenings spent around a £10 BBQ, next to a paddling pool full of beers to keep them cool. I need to remember the carnivals and the summer fayre. I need to remember the years we spent playing in the stream and in the woodlands. I need to remember the tarmac melting so you could shove your fingers in it and write your name with a rock.

We convince ourselves that we can leave our poor pasts behind and reinvent ourselves as these new, successful, educated, accomplished people.

But underneath it all, underneath your degree and your new accent and your code switching – aren’t you just the kid who used to stick transfer tattoos on your face and tell everyone your Dad was harder than my Dad?

The reality is, ignoring, denying or abandoning our roots will hurt our practice as academics and as professionals working in research, practice or policy. If we can’t even be true to who we are and where we are from, what fucking use are we to the people in need, who we are working with or conducting research with? If we are spending our days hiding our background or our dialect, why should communities believe us or trust us when we go to work with them or advocate for them?

And anyway, what example are we setting for kids and adults in poverty if we all pretend we ain’t from the same estates they are from? How will they ever see that we turned out alright if we hide who we are?

Use your experiences to connect with people. Remember who you are.

2. I understand and believe in the strength, potential and abilities of people in poverty and oppression

One of the things that hit me the hardest when working in practice and academia is the way communities and individuals in poverty or oppression are perceived as a bit stupid, unable to become anything and destined for a life of shit.

That’s not how I remember it. That’s not my truth and that’s not the truth of many council estate kids and adults I know.

There was a girl I grew up with whose family had never been able to own a car, so they had never left our town. Never been on holiday. Never even been 20 miles up the road. She’s a lawyer now.

There was a lad I grew up with who was constantly seen as thick. Bottom sets for everything, lived in poverty, never going anywhere. Works in education now and is easily one of the most successful people I know.

Another girl I grew up with on the estate lived a life similar to mine. Sexual exploitation. Drugs. Alcohol. Pregnant as a kid. She’s a very successful, bilingual professional working in technology now.

These aren’t one-offs. These aren’t tokenistic rags to riches stories. This shit happens all the time. Don’t get me wrong, some of the kids we grew up with are dead or in prison right now. We don’t all make it out alright.

But generally, these kids that we are sidelining and ‘predicting poor outcomes’ for, will go on to be happy, healthy, successful parents and/or employed people in thousands of different roles in our communities.

Second, it takes some serious ingenuity, intelligence and determination to grow up in poverty or whilst being oppressed for who you are. These people are some of the most equipped humans you could ever meet – they know how to navigate life and they know how to keep themselves fed, housed and alive by any means necessary.

By any means necessary.

Loads of us who grew up in situations like that, know what that sentence means.

People who are being oppressed or are living in poverty are just as capable and have just as much potential ahead of them as anyone else. The difference lies in the opportunities granted to them by society and authorities, not their abilities.

This realisation as I got older, has changed my practice, my thinking and my theories. It’s not that what I am saying is revolutionary or hadn’t been said before – but I had never thought it before. I was always told by teachers and others that us kids on the estate we ‘never going to be anything’ – and why wouldn’t we believe them?

If you make it out or up – or whatever you wanna call it, you have a responsibility to pull others up with you and to never allow people in your new circles to stereotype or derogate people in poverty or oppression.

3. The grass isn’t much greener on the other side

So many of us dreamed of the perfect life away from the estate. We fantasised about how nice everything would be once we had enough money to pay the bills. We imagined our nice new cars that worked. We dreamt of friends and family around our posh houses. We thought about all the amazing jobs we could do when we were big.

We told ourselves that anything HAS to be better than this shit hole.

Well, it’s not. Not really.

Money solves some of your problems, like being hungry or having debt collectors trying to force their way in to your house all the time. But it doesn’t necessarily give you the emotional and social things you wanted. The higher you climb, the more you’ll notice how cut throat it is. How individualistic everyone is. How materialistic everyone is. How people are comfortable fucking over the little guy to step up the ladder. How unfair the world is, even when you think you’ve ‘made it’ to the upper echelons. How much you will be discriminated against in the academic world once they figure out that you’re not one of them.

When you’re poor as fuck, you imagine that being wealthy or educated will solve all of your problems and you’ll be happy. That’s what society sells to us all. The dream of education, property and wealth. Until you’re so happy you look like the happy couples on the DFS advert on their new recliner sofa reading magazines or the people making amazing meals in the Magnet fitted kitchens you have only ever seen on TV (and promise yourself one day you will have a Magnet kitchen).

The grass is rarely greener on the other side, and as a person who grew up in poverty or being oppressed – you are not going to ‘fit right in’ in academia or in powerful institutions. This can often lead to people feeling alienated or outcast – as a number of people researching working class academics have learned.

Don’t try to be them. The grass is not greener. Be you.

4. To understand poverty, crime and oppression – you have to LIVE IT

I wouldn’t normally say something like this. I wouldn’t say ‘to understand rape and work in sexual violence, you have to be raped first’, for example.

However, there is something about poverty, crime and oppression that no one can ever understand until they have lived in those environments and situations. You cannot possibly imagine what it is like to have no food and no way of getting any food, if you have always been fed.

You have no idea what it feels like to be oppressed by a powerful group of people who see you as inferior and non-human, until you have been the oppressed people. You have no idea what it means to be forced to do things you don’t want to do because you owe someone money or someone is exploiting you.

You will never understand what it feels like to be told hundreds of times during childhood that you will never amount to anything and that your life is worthless and a drain on society until you have lived that shit every day until you even hate yourself and you are ashamed of where you live and who you are.

You will never understand the feeling of being told your benefits have been stopped or sanctioned and you are being left with no money for the next 3 months and no one gives a fuck if you live or die because you should just go out and get a job.

This means for us academics and professionals who HAVE lived through this stuff, we *should* have a much more sophisticated understanding of poverty, oppression and crime. I say ‘should’ because I know plenty of people from these backgrounds who seem to have wiped their own memory and deny their own upbringings and then use that denial and ignorance to judge people who are just like them.

But we should. We should have more understanding, more empathy and more awareness of societal pressures and contexts when we are working with people or conducting research. We should be using ecological models and contextual models. We should be using social models of theory. We should be looking at wider society, oppression and discrimination.

I’m not interested in rich, privileged white people telling poor, oppressed, disadvantaged, discriminated people how to ‘become more resilient’ or ‘get out of poverty’.

They have no place, no knowledge or experience to be advising any one of us.

5. Our backgrounds as an asset, not as a deficit

For lots of us in academia and other institutions, it can be seen as shameful or embarrassing to be ‘found out’ or ‘outed’ as poor, working class or from a disadvantaged background. This is not a reflection on us, this is a reflection on those academics, institutions and authorities.

I would argue that working class and council estate academic researchers have an incredible amount to bring to the table. Completely different life perspectives and experiences. Usually much more competent at communicating and connecting with communities and research participants. Often looking at the world from a different point of view, coloured by their own experiences of which they should not be ashamed of.

The interesting thing is, these people will be perceived as ‘less academic’ or ‘biased’ or ‘bringing their own stuff to work’.

But the same is not said about the professor who’s dad and grandad were professors, who lives in a £700k house, who brings fucking ‘cultured almonds’ to work in one of those expensive Tupperware things that they stewed overnight with porridge oats from Waitrose.

How come those academics are not seen as biased or bringing their own stuff to work? How come their life experiences aren’t seen as colouring their research or their conclusions?

We know why.

Because our backgrounds are seen as deficits that we had to overcome. And their backgrounds are seen as assets that supported their success and academic profile.

Well I disagree. I would much rather be working with a team of working class researchers who could connect with their participants and work in their best interests than be working with an elite team of well-cited researchers who ask me, ‘How do you actually work with and talk to people who have been exploited though? Don’t you get worried they might find you on Facebook? Don’t you worry they’ll find out that you have kids?’

All the stuff we have lived through, seen, heard, felt and experiences on our estates and in our lives – have led up to this work we do in academia. Never see your background as a deficit – learn to see it as an asset. A rare asset.

Final thoughts

Like millions of others, I was fed the myth that if I worked hard and went to university, I could escape my social class and I could move up the ladder in society. It’s bollocks, mate.

Yeah you can gain wealth, you can get your degree or your PhD. You can get that senior lecturer job. You can get that place on the course you always wanted.

But you can’t erase your memories. You can’t deny your roots. Most of us won’t be able to hide our accents or dialect for long (my tip: don’t bother, why should you?). You can’t pretend you have privilege you don’t have. You can’t imagine experiences you never had. You can’t pretend you know what that big word is. You can’t openly talk about how broke you are and how you can’t afford to attend the conference because you can’t afford the childcare.

I spent years running away from who I was, convincing myself I could reinvent myself so people would take me seriously. Only when the penny dropped at about 26 years old did I become the most powerful and authentic version of myself. No longer masking the accent or the colloquialisms. No longer hiding the tattoos. No longer trying to fit in. No longer hating my council estate.

Loving my council estate. Loving what it taught me and what it gave to me. Respecting the people I grew up with and their potentials and abilities instead of seeing us all as broken and poor. Loving my accent. Loving my dialect. Being patient with myself when I can’t pronounce a word I read in books. Fighting the corner of every person living in poverty and oppression – making sure they are not written off or stereotyped. Raising the issue of classism in our research, policies and practice.

Being damn proud of who I am, where I come from and what I can offer the world.

You can take the girl out of the council estate but you can’t take the council estate out of the girl.

Spaghetti hoops is a whole meal on it’s own. End of.

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Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

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

New Zealand gave me the strength to keep fighting

New Zealand gave me the strength to keep fighting

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton FRSA

18 May 2019

I am writing this blog in the final hours of the 27 hour flight home from beautiful New Zealand. I’ve been constantly reflecting and rethinking whilst I have been working in Auckland and Hamilton but this is the first time I’ve had the (albeit forced) time to sit down and write about the impact New Zealand has had on me.

Don’t worry, this isn’t about to turn into a travel blog. New Zealand is by far the most beautiful part of the world I have ever seen and I’ve taken thousands of photos, but it was the people who taught me to keep fighting. That’s what I want to write about in this blog.

But first, I need to explain some things for context.

I flew out to New Zealand the morning after I successfully passed my PhD Psychology Viva. I was extremely ill during the viva, owing to me having an allergic reaction less than 24 hours before my viva was due to take place. In reflection, pulling that viva off with only a small amount of minors was nothing short of divine intervention.

I had been studying my PhD part time around my family, full time job and building my business. Despite it normally taking 6+years, I completed the PhD in 3 years and 3 months which was stupid, don’t ever do that. Ever.

This meant I was working all day and then studying and writing all night and every weekend for years. During the PhD I also wrote The Little Orange Book with my wonderful friend Dr Claire Paterson-Young, I created four new flashcard resources, wrote three national evidence scopes, published three peer reviewed reports and delivered training and speeches to thousands of people.

To put it bluntly, I was fucking knackered. Physically knackered. But my brain was still going 100mph and loving every second of it.

That was until I was faced with numerous people (many of which I had never heard of before) who went out of their way to bully, discriminate against and attack me for years. Now, let’s not pretend I’m some shy, retiring fucking wallflower who doesn’t speak her mind or challenge the status quo.

But let’s also not pretend that I deserve to be told I am unfit to be a psychologist because I have a baby from a rape from when I was just a kid. Let’s not pretend that I deserved to read 110 pages of sickening emails about me sent by and to well-respected psychologists in my field. (Still not received an apology by the way!) Let’s not pretend I deserved to be falsely distance-diagnosed as ‘mentally ill’ by jealous academics whom I’ve never met or spoken to. (Still not received an explanation for that by the way!) Let’s not pretend I deserved to be stalked and harassed online for years. Let’s not pretend I deserve rape threats. Let’s not pretend I deserve being doxxed and my kids put at risk by professionals who don’t like my work. Let’s not pretend I deserved being no-platformed, conferences being cancelled, speeches being pulled and projects being cut because of who I am or what I stand for.

There have been years of personal attacks – about where I grew up, what I look like, how I speak, how I work, what topics I focus on and why I centre women and girls. I eventually learned how to use very strong filters on twitter which mean you lot can still see the abuse I get but I can’t see it at all, this cut out about 100 abusive and misogynistic tweets to me a day. They still happen but I can’t see them. I deleted LinkedIn because of the amount of misogynistic abuse I was getting from men in my field and men who don’t know their arse from their elbow, mansplaining my own research to me every single damn day.

In addition to this constant shit slinging from people who would never dare talk to me like this in real life – I have also experienced backlash from some charities, local authorities, police forces and individuals working in child sexual exploitation (CSE).

Generally, this is because I come at CSE from a critical feminist, social psychological, trauma-informed and anti-victim blaming stance – I tend to see the abuse and exploitation of children in a very different way to others.

I teach it in a much more critical way. I don’t teach professionals that children put themselves at risk. I don’t subscribe to the notion that only the ‘vulnerable’ children will be abused. I don’t use ACEs. I don’t advocate for shock tactics with any traumatised people. I don’t support the pathologising or medicalising of people subjected to abuse, oppression, trauma or violence.

I teach strengths-based, feminist, trauma-informed, anti-blaming and anti-psychiatric approaches to working in the most human way possible with children and adults who have been harmed by others.

This means that some people commission me repeatedly and know that their staff or delegates will be challenged and will learn a great deal about a different way of working and thinking – and some people wouldn’t commission me if they had a gun to their temple.

I can live with that. It’s not my job to please everyone. I’m not here for popularity. My aim is to reduce victim blaming in abuse, violence and oppression and to raise the bar in research and practice. I genuinely am not here to make friends or to kiss up to people who think they are running the game. (Despite this, I have strong networks all over the UK of women and men who love me and I love them. Love to all my radicals, trouble-causers and critical thinkers.)

So why is any of this relevant to my trip to New Zealand?

Because, in all honesty, I went there to teach and I was totally fucking burned out. I told a few friends and my husband that I was so exhausted from battling with professionals over the most basic stuff (e.g. children are never to blame for sexual abuse, children who have recently been raped should not be diagnosed with personality disorders, you can’t quantify abuse and trauma and use it to predict outcomes of humans).

I was so exhausted in fact, that I was worried that I didn’t have any energy left to battle anymore. I knew I was flying out to New Zealand to deliver advanced workshops to groups of experienced professionals and I just didn’t want to spend those days banging my head on yet another wall about why it can’t possibly be the 12-year-old’s fault that she was trafficked and raped.

I didn’t know what I would be faced with in New Zealand – but I knew I didn’t have the energy to battle the way the UK forces me to do. The looks. The whispers. The comments. The boycotts. The complaints. The delegates arguing back that some children ‘do put themselves at risk’ and that ‘some girls do ask for it though’.

Someone needs to do a PhD to explain why it’s such a hard task to convey the message that kids who are being abused and exploited are never to blame and deserve our unconditional compassion and support.

Imagine my shock when I delivered the following four workshops in NZ, to APPLAUSE:

Day 1: Trauma, abuse and gender role stereotypes

Day 2: Learning about abuse from the voices of real children

Day 3: Psychology of victim blaming and self blame of women and girls subjected to sexual

violence

Day 4: Critical perspectives of child sexual exploitation and abuse practice and theory

Not only did all professionals engage well, interrogate the evidence and debate in depth – they totally understood that children were never to blame for abuse. They already knew they wanted trauma-informed practice. They had already noticed the damage the medical model is doing to our abuse practice and support services. They already knew that CSE films were disgusting and unethical. They already understood why having separate definitions of CSE and CSA was causing problems and misunderstandings in social work and policing practice.

Each workshop finished with interesting debates, swapping of details, further conversations, gratitude and thanks.

I haven’t been received like that for years (except in feminist and critical thinking orgs and communities).

In those four days in two different regions of New Zealand, not one professional attempted to argue that children ‘put themselves at risk’ or that ‘some women are just inherently more vulnerable to being raped’ or ‘we can predict the outcomes of children from what has already happened to them in the past’.

No one said anything like that.

And that’s when it dawned on me.

If New Zealand professionals are listening to me saying the same shit I’ve been saying in the UK for years – and they don’t think it’s controversial, and they don’t sit there glaring at me, and they already have a better person-centred, trauma-informed foundation than many others I teach – then maybe it’s not me with the issue?

Maybe we have a cultural issue in the UK around the way we perceive, talk about, practice and theorise in abuse, violence and exploitation.

Let me be clear here, I’m one of the thickest-skinned people I know. When people are being shitty with me or are trying to pull me down, there’s always a voice in the back of my head that says, ‘This is nothing.’

However, years and years of ‘Jess is too controversial’ and ‘Jess is really critical’ and ‘Jess is just too challenging’ – had started to wear me down. I had started to wonder if the UK just was not ready for my work yet.

But New Zealand taught me to keep fighting. New Zealand professionals taught me that progress is possible and the ethos I am desperate to see in our work and research – already exists in other fields in other parts of the world.

At the end of one of my workshops, the professionals stood up and sang Maori thank you song, ‘Te Aroha’.

I burst into tears. The beauty of a room of people deciding to show gratitude in such a beautiful and traditional way was emotional enough, but the reason I started crying was because that was the moment that I realised my fight wasn’t going unnoticed and that I had to keep going.

I spoke to the delegates about how I was received in the UK and they thought I was joking.

I told them about the professionals who are set in boycotting my work, discrediting me, making fake profiles to bully me online so they don’t get caught by employers or police, stalking me on social media, trying to get me to retaliate to them every single day. I told them about the way academics attacked me for my childhood because they had nothing else to throw at me.

I told them that the week before I flew out to New Zealand, a group of professionals had deliberately refused to attend all-expenses-paid-for training course because I was too ‘challenging’ about the way our CSE and CSA practice was placing blame and responsibility on children who were being abused and oppressed. I told them that a venue had pulled out of my event that week too, citing that they could ‘no longer support’ my work. The event was about reducing victim blaming. So go figure.

As I was telling them, I realised how ridiculous I sounded. After these amazing, nourishing, humanistic workshops here in New Zealand, how would anyone believe that these exact workshops cause so much drama when delivered in the UK?

‘We thought the UK was way ahead of us in this stuff. We thought New Zealand was behind,’ they said to me.

No. No, one thousand times. Nope.

This raised some important issues:

What is stopping professionals from practicing true trauma-unformed practice in the UK and why are we content with the buzzword bullshit we are being sold at the moment?

What is it that makes professionals and organisations in the UK so uncomfortable when I say that NO CHILDREN can ever be to blame for rape, abuse, trafficking and oppression?

When will we all put our money where our mouths are? We talk a good game about this ‘trauma-informed, child-centred, anti-pathologising’ practice, but let’s be honest, it’s rare.

And if we are so committed to radical change in our abuse and support services, why does radical and critical work freak so many people out and cause organisations to shut down or silence speakers?

The UK either wants progress in this area or it doesn’t.

We can’t keep talking the talk if we aren’t prepared to walk the walk. I am so sick of hearing professionals tell me that ‘it’s really hard to change and it’s really difficult hearing that our practice might be harming children or blaming them.’

Know what’s harder?

Being a child or adult who is raped, exploited and trafficked around the UK and then being told by police or social workers or psychologists that it’s your fault or you put yourself at risk, or that you have to work on your own vulnerabilities to stop sex offenders from abusing you.

This narrative of ‘oh it’s so hard for us professionals to consider a new perspective’ is insulting to the amount of kids living through abuse, trauma, violence and oppression whilst we sit around the table arguing about how ‘hard’ it is for us to consider new emerging evidence and better ways of working.

I will no longer accept that excuse for poor practice and inaction. I no longer care that it is ‘so hard’ for professionals and researchers to consider new ways of working that don’t blame victims of abuse and trauma.

So thank you, New Zealand. Thank you to all of the professionals I met and taught. Thank you to Selena Needham for commissioning me.

I land in 50 minutes and my feet are hitting UK soil with a renewed sense of strength and fight that people had been trying to beat out of me for years.

Radical change and progress is possible.

Let’s go get em. Are you in?

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Written by Dr Jessica Eaton FRSA

18th May 2019

Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Silencing the whistleblower: Reactions to the truth in the field of abuse 

Silencing the whistleblower: Reactions to the truth in the field of abuse
By Jessica Eaton

 

This blog is sometimes a way for me to share my thoughts and experiences. I did it in the ‘whataboutery’ blog that went super-duper-viral and I need to do it in this one. 

We need to talk about telling the truth in our field of abuse and violence – and what happens when we tell the truth. I have made the decision to commission work into this area of research through my company, VictimFocus, because the topic quite frankly baffles me and I think any improvement will benefit us all in the long run. We desperately need to understand why we silence whistleblowers after we expressly tell them to tell the truth. 
So why do we hate truth tellers so much and who do we seek to silence whistleblowers in our own field? 

How can the field of abuse and safeguarding engage in the cognitive dissonance required to convince victims and perpetrators to ‘tell the truth’ or to ‘disclose what really happened’ when the entire field is characterised by cover ups, liars and the silencing of whistleblowers?

No, not just the silencing. That’s too neutral. The demonisation of whistleblowers.

My first full time job in this field was in Victim Support, as a manager of the vulnerable and intimidated witness programme. Whilst the criminal justice system revealed itself to me to be a game of snakes and ladders in which no victim ever wins – I didn’t come across any cover ups or abuse of people in VS. 

However, the criminal justice system I worked within taught me that there were many abuses of vulnerable and traumatised people that went unchallenged. There were bad practices aplenty and professionals had eventually become so desensitised that they couldn’t even see why something might be harmful or bad practice. It was the norm. It was one of the reasons I left, and decided to never go back to colluding with the CJS again. 

(Edit: the first time I ever had to whistleblow was not actually work related. I whistleblew on a nursery where I found a baby bleeding heavily alone in a room. I reported to OFSTED and the local authority and police. A week later I was put in hospital by the manager and a group of others. Turned out the police officers were family members of the nursery manager and they were in on it.) 

However, the first time I had to whistleblow at work, I didn’t really think about it. I just sort of did it. I didn’t expect what was going to happen to me at all. I was in a job as a manager in a rape centre. In short, my CEO at the time told me that she had covered up a case of sexual abuse of three children and was going to go and amend some records, and put another professional’s name on it to protect herself from action. She said it casually like I was going to reply ‘Yeah okay, cool.’ 

I think my face must have been a picture because I still remember the look on her face when she realised I was not going to allow her to do that – to the children or to the other professional, who was one of my staff. We stood and argued about it and she asked me who on earth I thought I was to challenge her decision making. I told her I would report her to the police and safeguarding board and gave her the final option of telling the truth. 

She didn’t. I reported her the same night. I knew she was going to make life difficult for me but there were three very young children at imminent risk from a registered sex offender and I was horrified that she would do this – not only to the children but to our committed staff member she was going to frame. 

When I told the staff member, she was absolutely horrified and could not believe that our CEO was going to change records and put her name on what she had done. She left shortly after and I don’t blame her.

However, the next time I was in work, I was taken into a room with the CEO and the board members of our charity and told I was being sacked for gross misconduct and had ten minutes to leave the premises and was given a letter from their solicitors threatening me to sign a gagging order. I asked them what the gross misconduct was and they said they didn’t have to tell me. I asked them for a proper investigation and hearing and they said no. I knew straight away by looking at the CEO’s face that this was retaliation because I had reported her.

 
I was young, poor and had no idea what on earth to do. I tried to seek free limited legal advice and the solicitors told me to sign the order, leave the job and look for somewhere else to work. The gag was for two years so I couldn’t speak openly about it until around 2015. I am still baffled as to why the board above the CEO chose to protect her over the children – and why I was punished so harshly for doing the right thing. 

However, if I had my time again, I would do it exactly the same way. The only difference is, I wouldn’t have signed the gagging order and I would have told them to shove it up their arse. I have never signed another and I never will. 

I was actually extremely lucky that I had already been applying for new jobs when this happened, as I used to have a personal policy of always looking for new jobs even if I was happy, especially if they would increase my experience or knowledge base by challenging me. The day after I signed that gag, I got a phone call telling me I had been shortlisted for a job as a trainer in child sexual exploitation (CSE) prevention. A few days later, I was told I had got the job. I was unemployed for about 6 days. Phew. I was extremely lucky that this happened as I had 2 very small children and my husband was working part time. We would have collapsed without a wage. 

I did have to negotiate a very tricky conversation with my new manager when they asked whether they could speak to my previous CEO for a reference. I was terrified that they wouldn’t believe me. However, they did believe me and I was okay. Another ‘phew’ moment. You see, every moment after you stick your neck out to whistleblow is ridden with anxiety. 

I went to work in the new job as the trainer and writer in CSE and was very successful, being promoted to manager of the national programme quickly and being given a national team of trainers. I had supportive management and CEO. 

However, twice I was asked to attend meetings about telling the truth. The first one was because national organisation in CSE, the NWG, didn’t want their charity name in an article I had written about CSE toolkits being invalid and having no evidence base (even though they had developed said toolkit and called it the NWG toolkit, so it was pretty difficult not to mention them). I had written that they were responsible for developing one of the first CSE toolkits that was then rolled out by them without any testing. Sure, it doesn’t look great for them but it is the truth. 

The second was when a local authority had complained that I kept writing about CSE toolkits being bad practice and they wanted me to shut up because it was raising questions amongst their staff. 

Further, I was contacted by a CSE lead in the West Midlands who kept asking to meet me but wouldn’t tell me why. I was reluctant but eventually agreed to meet her in 2016. Once at the meeting, she said to me ‘You know, being this direct with people is not going to make you very popular. You are not going to have any friends left in this field if you keep criticising CSE toolkits.’ I laughed at her and said, ‘You’re talking to the wrong person, love. I’m not here for popularity.’ It turned out that she had met me solely to tell me that they were developing a new CSE toolkit and that they were sick of me speaking out about them. I challenged her as to whether they would put it through rigorous testing or whether they would commission experts in psychometric or risk assessment to develop and test it but of course the answer was no. No one wanted to test the toolkits because they knew full well they didn’t work. 

I eventually came to the conclusion that the only way I could challenge bad practice like this without someone trying to threaten me with my job or report me to my boss, would be to have no job and no boss. 

So I left my job and set up my own company to do the work I wanted to do, in the way I wanted to do it. I set VictimFocus up. It meant I could challenge poor practice and issues in safeguarding without the worry of an employer hanging over my head. 
I started to wonder why no one wanted to hear the truth about CSE risk toolkits and why local authorities and national influential charities in CSE would be more concerned about their name than their practice being right for children. At the time, I didn’t see the CSE toolkits controversy as whistleblowing but now I can see why it had riled so many people. 

The reality of the only toolkit in the country being a load of made-up rubbish with no validation, no evidence and no rigour, being used to make decisions about the lives of children is pretty scandalous. They don’t want to admit or face what they have done and they don’t want the responsibility of changing it. 

When Brown et al. (2016;2017) published their work showing the flaws in the CSE risk indicators and toolkits, I thought people would finally bin them – but even their work would be swept under the rug and as we approach the end of 2018, every local authority in the UK are still using them. For my part in the CSE toolkits critique, I ended up with a reputation for being ‘controversial’ and ‘too challenging’. People called me ‘overly-critical’ and ‘trouble.’ 

Then it was the CSE films. And oh, the backlash I got for challenging the use of rape films with children. Films that depicted the graphic rape and abuse of children, being shown to hundreds of thousands of UK children in order to ‘educate them’. I challenged them, naively thinking that people would see what was wrong with this unethical and unevidenced practice and would see the light, so to speak. How wrong I was!

Psychologists got it right away. Feminists got it right away. Women’s organisations got it right away. But the field of safeguarding and abuse didn’t get what was wrong with the films for over a year. Not only did people not get it, people hated me talking about it. I was harassed for months. I was no-platformed. I was ridiculed. I was attacked. I was bullied. By people I didn’t even know. People who made the films, used the films or were emotionally invested in using the films. Speaking out against the use of these films with children was a nightmare. Professionals grouped together and rejected any evidence of children being harmed, cutting themselves after watching them, bed wetting or having panic attacks. 

Instead of these professionals taking a step back and considering that I might be raising a valid issue, I was positioned as ‘attacking’ people and trying to harm people’s careers.

Thankfully however, there is a positive outcome to this one and a few weeks ago Barnardos announced that they would no longer be using CSE films with children, or any materials that might traumatise or harm children. Barnardos Directors are a lot more reflective and are moving towards much better evidence based working than some other organisations and had already started taking action to stop the use of films in their services. 

Being able to look back on the #nomoreCSEfilms campaign, I am glad I did it and I am glad I whistleblew on this practice but the way I was treated was disgusting and exhausting. 

Even now, the NWG have been consulting on my work in secret, not inviting me to meetings because of my views and then putting out consultation documents that don’t even cite or reference my work. Even when challenged a few weeks back, they chose not to tell me the truth about the meetings about my CSE films work because they knew I would speak out. This is the second issue in which the NWG has kept silent or tried to shut me up as a national specialist in CSE. Rather than encouraging open debate and discussion, their approach is to shut down the discussion and then pull it back into their organisation and pretend they have the solutions to it. 

This pattern has continued throughout my career. Most recently I have whistleblown on a commissioner after I found serious safeguarding and safety concerns were being ignored and their service users were at imminent risk of death and injury and that’s gone down like a lead balloon. 

Recently I spoke out against Tommy Robinson wanting to speak to children who had been sexually exploited despite him having absolutely no training, experience, regulations or ethics. 

Both decisions to speak out have caused me unimaginable shit and I have gained absolutely nothing from doing so. 

In relation mainly to the CSE films, I was then harassed and bullied by Dr Gozna of Leicester University for 7 months (someone I didn’t even know and had to google who she was as I had never heard of her) and by my own university department when they decided to use the fact that they had read a magazine interview I gave in which I said I had a baby from rape against me to try to prove in some perverse way that I was not fit to do my job. 

And yet it is me who is being framed as ‘unprofessional and unreasonable’ by speaking out against them and taking action against them (which I won in July and September 2018). 

Personally, I would be more concerned about these psychologists holding such discriminatory views of victims of rape than protecting them from action. I wouldn’t refer anyone to any of them. And I certainly wouldn’t recommend they performed research with women with histories of abuse or rape. Their views revealed that their interest in violence and trauma is just that: an interest. Empathy for real victims stops at their office door. 

Unfortunately for ALL of them, they picked the wrong person to try to silence and bully. 

And this is not just about me and my experiences. Far from it. This is common for hundreds of whistleblowers. People who whistleblow on local authorities, police forces, prisons, mental health units, children’s homes and politicians are quickly discredited and shut down. They are demonised. They are positioned as liars, trouble causers, fantasists and attention seekers. Their lives are ruined, their careers are stolen. They lose their jobs, their homes, their reputation, their income, their friends, their colleagues and their futures. They are reported to the police or their regulatory bodies. 

You don’t need to look far to find examples of these people. Their stories are terrifying. They are often people who discover something by accident or in the course of their work and report it in good faith, believing that the system works and the issue will be investigated. Sadly, they quickly find out that not only will their complaints or safeguarding concerns not be investigated, but they will also face serious consequences for daring to speak out. There are so many people who have reported the abuse of people, policies, corruption, exploitation and illegal activity who have had their entire team turn on them in an instant the second they told the truth. 

So, I have some questions that need to be answered:

Why do we bring up our children to tell the truth as a positive action and then spend our whole lives punishing them, and others for telling the truth?

How can we encourage children and adults who have been subjected to abuse to tell the truth or to tell us their disclosures, if we aren’t prepared to tell the truth ourselves?

Why should victims and survivors trust us with their secrets, their disclosures and their abuse, if we don’t even trust each other?

If we want our practice to improve and we truly want the best for victims and survivors, why are we so scared of criticism of our practice?

Would we rather protect our ego and reputation, even if it means ignoring bad practice and the harm of vulnerable people?

Why should any professional support mandatory reporting laws if they know it means that they will be treated like a traitor for whistleblowing? If they will not be supported and protected, why should we force them to whistleblow at all?

 

Provocative questions, I am sure. But we need to keep speaking out.

Massive respect for the truth tellers and the whistleblowers everywhere. Love to you.

 

Written by Jessica Eaton

 

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

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

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

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton and @victimfocus