If you haven’t heard of Jessica Eaton and her fantastic work with VictimFocus, prepare to be inspired. Our latest partner for OSS Membership has a pretty impressive story to tell; and has been using her personal experience and passion for change to revolutionise the world of sexual violence. A self-declared feminist with an issue with the status quo for mental health, sexual violence, victim blaming and more; this is a woman on a mission. This mission is an impressive development within the social work sector – one which we’re excited to now bring to our membership. Jessica is offering a 30% discount to all OSS Members on her resources and e-learning; and we’re really pleased to be able to help the practitioners in our social work community access this extra level of support. We’ve been fans of Jessica’s for a while now, and we’ve finally got the chance to sit down and find out more about her as a champion for change and her work with VictimFocus.
Tell us a bit about your background
“I grew up on a council estate in Stoke on Trent and had my fair share of trauma and disadvantage. I was working two part time jobs at 14 years old and was very academic at school. On top of the other abuse and trauma I had going on in my life, school was too much to process every day on top of two part time jobs. When I was 16, I was forced to leave home and shortly after, I was pregnant from rape. At the time, I didn’t know that was what had happened and so I continued with the pregnancy despite the violence and abuse escalating as I got further into the pregnancy. The day I gave birth, I was 17 years old and I suddenly realised I was in charge of a life. A situation that I had never acknowledged to be dangerous and abusive suddenly became clear and I knew I had to run away.
When the baby was 5 months old, I managed to escape and report everything to the police. I had nothing. No support, no job, no money, no protection. I ran away to another area of the UK when I was 18 and my baby was 1 year old and decided to start a new life in a place where no one knew me. It was really tough, and I struggled with trauma responses for a long time. I met my husband and we had another son. We’ve been married for 9 years this year. When I was 20 years old, I rediscovered my yearning for education and books – and I decided to take the plunge and enrol in university. My husband supported me 100% and said he would look after the boys whilst I studied. With no A-levels and no knowledge of what a university was, I wasn’t sure I would be accepted, but I was. I also offered my time to Victim Support, to volunteer in the witness and victim service. And to be honest, that was the beginning of my career.
I worked my way up in Victim Support to become Service Delivery Manager for 2 crown courts and 4 magistrates courts at 21 years old before moving into Rape Centre management with 30 volunteers and staff therapists. At 24 I went to work in child sexual exploitation and abuse and started to write training, research and resources. At 25, I graduated from my Psychology Degree at university and was accepted on to a PhD in Forensic Psychology where I had proposed that I wanted to focus on the psychology of victim blaming and self-blame of women and girls. I was accepted into the cohort, which meant graduating and immediately beginning a PhD. All this time, I was working full time in sexual violence and abuse settings. After a few years working in CSE and CSA, I decided that I felt conflicted. I could see the victim blaming of the children and I could see how the misperceptions of victims of sexual and domestic violence were destroying our services, processes, policies, justice system and practice. I decided to resign from my job and set up VictimFocus to give me the creative space and control to tackle these issues all over the world. VictimFocus grew exponentially and I opened a resources store, an E-learning academy, a consultancy business and a grant fund. Now at 28 years old, I have finished my PhD, VictimFocus Academy just opened for enrolment and writing this, and seeing it in black and white on paper, it feels quite surreal. I have now written many published studies and articles, I have written ‘The Little Orange Book: Learning about abuse from the voice of the child’ with my close friend and colleague Claire Paterson-Young. I have worked all over the world and my work is becoming highly influential everywhere from the UN to grassroots charities. I successfully campaigned for the withdrawal of CSE films depicting the abuse of children. I am currently making two feature length films about my work which air on major channels in the UK in 2019 and 2020. I have built something special and I am excited about sharing my vision for better practice and support of victims of trauma, abuse and violence.”
How did the “notorious” blog come about?
“Ah the blog. In 2016, I decided to write about issues that annoyed me. Mainly victim blaming in the media and in our practice. Each month, I would sit and type out a blog (*rant) and share it on my social media accounts. I really was not prepared for the response, and the first blog I ever wrote was shared 6000 times. I was a little scared. I had no idea my ideas could reach so far around the world. I continued to blog about the things no one was talking about including the following:
- Why we diagnosed young girls with personality disorders after being raped
- Why we showed children films of children being raped and called it ‘prevention work’
- The way the media would portray sexual violence and abuse
- The racism in CSE and the way South Asian Men were being scapegoated for CSE when we knew the majority of offenders were white guys
The blog just grew and grew.
The first year it had 16,000 reads, the second year it had 37,000 reads and the third year it had 1.2 million reads. This year, it’s only the 14th January and it has already had 120,000 reads. People come to the blog for all sorts of reasons. To read my articles, to argue in the comments, to get information, to share them with friends, to use them in lectures and education and even to use them to train professionals. It became notorious when I started using it to publish the real experiences of children who had been harmed by CSE films and I got into a LOT of hot water. I knew it was the right thing to campaign against so I continued to do it no matter how much abuse I was getting for speaking the truth. The blog also became notorious when I started writing more about my visions for feminism and my love for radical feminism. Overall though, thousands of people write to me about the blog, hundreds every week – and knowing my work is read by millions is terrifying and amazing in equal measure.”
What does Victim Focus aim to do?
“VictimFocus has a core aim. To focus on the experiences and lives of victims and to challenge the victim blaming and self-blame of victims of abuse, trauma and violence.
To do this, VictimFocus engages in many different influential routes including training of professionals, primary research, free YouTube videos, blogs, E-learning, speeches, activism, social media posts, books and resources. I deliver training and lectures all over the world. I have over 100 organisations signed up to the VictimFocus Charter on which they have pledged to combat and challenge victim blaming in their own practice, case notes and service designs. My work is being used all over the world to challenge victim blaming. Of course, as part of this mission, it overlaps into other areas. For example, I have invested in studies and free resources to challenge the perception of women and girls pregnant from rape and abuse, men and women having good sex after rape and abuse, the exploitation of survivors, better CSE practice and risk assessment, human rights of girls who are sexually exploited and a whole host of work on victim blaming of women and girls. The overall motto of VictimFocus is Challenge, Change, Influence.”
Why did you choose to focus on victim blaming and self-blame for your PhD?
“After the years I spent in the criminal justice system, working in the courts and with police and then in rape centres, I was sick to death of victims being blamed for the actions and choices of sex offenders and child abusers. I decided I had to find a better way to understand and communicate this to professionals and the public so we could all stop causing so much damage and harm – even with good intentions.”
How do you feel that resources such as the sexism & misogyny flash cards help practitioners?
“I think we have a huge misogyny issue in our practice, risk assessments, policies and even in the way girls and boys see the roles of girls and women in society. Sexual violence is a gendered problem. Globally, girls and women live in a society that oppresses them, mutilates them, rapes them, forces them into child marriages, abuses and controls them.
However, people often think that misogyny only affects girls, but it actually harms boys too. For example, the fact that we force boys into masculine gender roles where they feel they can’t talk to us is a product of misogyny, a hatred of feminine traits and females. Society has a hatred of feminine traits and femaleness, so they tell boys ‘don’t be a girl!’ or ‘stop crying like a little girl!’ and ‘man up!’. This is misogyny on show and its impacting boys and girls right now.
The cards are the first step to helping practitioners to talk to children, adults and adolescents about the sexist and misogynistic views in society and how they harm everyone. They will also help girls and women to see how they are being forced into behaving and feeling in certain ways by a society that objectifies and oppresses them. So, for example, if you are working with a teenage girl who is being sexually exploited but she cannot see that the way she is treated by men is actually abusive and misogynistic, these cards will help that conversation along. All of my flashcard resources are about scaffolding difficult conversations with some cute and funny cartoons to help you.”
How has your interest in feminism and forensic psychology fuelled your work with VictimFocus?
“I think I have a unique and challenging way of looking at abuse, violence and trauma because of my radical feminist approaches and my knowledge of forensic psychology and the psychology of sexual violence. It means I have a way of looking at the world that sees the systems that oppress us all, the way we are manipulated, coerced, deceived, marketed to and influenced by many different levels of misogyny, racism, classism and sexism. This changes the way I work, the way I approach problems and the way I teach. It means that my materials, resources and teaching is always critical, challenging and sometimes uncomfortable for people who are not used to talking about the way our society and big institutions are harming us or selling us lies about who we are, who we can be and how we can help other humans.”
How will the new VictimFocus learning academy offer unique development opportunities for practitioners?
“The VictimFocus Academy fills a huge gap in the field: affordable, high quality, evidence-based training and education for professionals. I wondered, ‘what if I made high quality, peer reviewed, evidence based training and then made it free or very cheap? What if I made it available to anyone? What if I made it accessible and interesting? What if I lifted all of the barriers that are stopping us from moving forwards?
So, I did.
The VictimFocus Academy provides exceptionally high quality, evidence based, peer reviewed, interactive learning online from anywhere in the world all at your own pace. The topics are cutting edge and unique. Some of them are exclusive to VictimFocus Academy and are not available anywhere else, because they are based on the research and work I have been investing in. The modules are £39.99 each or you can buy unlimited access for one year to all of the VictimFocus Academy courses for £99.99.
And your OSS Members code applies a 30% discount to all resources and e-learning.
Practitioners are doing hard jobs and they are somehow expected to be experts in everything with little to no training once in the job. I am absolutely determined to stop this undervaluing of our practitioners. They need excellent training and they need it to be cheap and flexible.”
Why are you keen to be involved in OSS Membership?
“I want everyone to know what is available to them in a time where resources are being cut left right and centre. If your department or organisations cannot pay for training, you can get it from VictimFocus at very affordable rates and you will definitely learn lots of new information, evidence, research and new ways of working.”
Find out more about OSS Membership
If Jessica’s words have made you want to access the brilliant VictimFocus resources or e-learning courses, then check out One Stop Social Membership where you’ll receive 30% discount on all of these, other books, e-books and much more!