Lovely way to start the day as my first journal article has been published online in Qualitative Social Work. It’s open access – so anyone can read it. It’s based on my doctoral research, co-authored with my supervisor Dr Tom Clark, and looks at how people respond to adults disclosing childhood sexual abuse. Spoiler – not that well! It argues that from family to professionals people can respond by using techniques called neutralisation – denying that anyone was a victim (‘it was just experimenting’), that there wasn’t any harm done (‘it wasn’t that bad’) and appealing the wider loyalty (‘you’ll bring shame on the family’).
There is evidence that perpetrators use these arguments to justify what they want to do but this article argues that it is a much wider problem.
I’m so excited to share that our film ‘Flow,’ about disclosing childhood sexual abuse, will be screened at the University of Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind @FestivalMind. It will be chaired by Dr Michaela Rogers @MichaelaMRogers and Professor Parveen Ali @parveenazamali from The University of Sheffield Interpersonal Violence and Abuse Research (ShIVAR) network. I’ll be there too with filmmaker Chris Godwin More details here https://festivalofthemind.sheffield.ac.uk/2022/spiegeltent/flow/
In advance of the launch of our film Flow on the 20th September I was uploading it to YouTube and was asked if it is suitable for children. Of course I selected ‘no’ but it occurred to me that, as it is about childhood abuse, it is something kids experience all too often. I hope this film, available online from the 20th September, can go some way to changing that. I’ll post more about the launch soon but in the meantime here’s the trailer.
Filming started this week! The script is great and feels real thanks to the members of the steering group who have shared their experiences. It’s all very exciting.
As part of this project I’ve been creating training materials to go with the film and found this video by Seth Shelley. It talks about how men/boys deal with being abused when the cultural message is: ‘I’m either a man or I’m a victim.’* The implication being that if you are a victim, you’re not a man. The talk below is about that but it is worth anyone watching because it’s also about being heard, writing your own story and not being defined by others.
*Lisak D (1993) Men as victims: Challenging cultural myths. Journal of Traumatic Stress 6(4): 577–580. DOI: 10.1007/BF00974326.
I’m delighted to report, after much effort, I’ve got funding from Research England to create a short film. It is also supported by NHS England and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (Department of Health).
What really came out in my research was that poor reactions to talking about abuse can stop people trying to access help and I want to address that. This project has ethics approval from the University of Sheffield.
The film itself will be a drama inspired by experiences of adults who have tried to talk about childhood abuse to NHS clinicians. It will aim to improve responses and make it easier to access help. I’m working with Inner Eye Productions. Inner Eye are an award winning company with a track record for producing films that change behaviour. For examples of the type of films they produce please check out their website. NB: I haven’t watched a single one without getting teary so please be aware of that.
We have a very short timescale to get this done so I’m sure I’ll be able to update soon. In the meantime I’m ordering a directors chair!
There are people who dismiss poor responses to abuse in the past as ‘it was a long time ago, people didn’t know about it then’ or ‘things were different then.’
I thought I would do a series of blogs looking at the history of our awareness of CSA. We start with two of the earliest sets of laws ever found, both from the Middle East. In these laws an unmarried or betrothed girl was likely to be a child before the age of 11-14 as once a child reached sexual maturity they were married. In the Laws of Ur-Nammu from over 4000 years ago as well as the laws of the city of Eshnunna, from 4000 years ago, anyone who rapes a betrothed girl is assigned the death penalty. The Laws of Eshnunna also state that if a girl is unmarried and not yet betrothed the rapist must marry her. Clearly not an ideal solution! Both laws are based in the Patriarchal idea that a girl’s worth is in her virginity, once that is gone her value and, consequently, her marriage prospects are reduced.
The first specific law prohibiting incest was around 3,800 years ago in Babylon. King Hammurabi’s code was inspired by Shamash, God of Justice. In this legal guidance incest with female children is prohibited; ‘If a man have known his daughter, they shall expel that man from the city’ as is rape ‘If a man force the (betrothed) wife of another who has not known a male…that man shall be put to death and that woman shall go free.’
So 4000 years ago, they did know about it and they created laws against it.
Finkelstein, J. (1966) ‘Sex Offenses in Sumerian Laws’, Journal of the American Oriental Society1, 86(4), pp. 355–372.
Harper, R. F. (1904) The Code of Hammurabi King of Babylon about 2250 B.C. 2nd edn. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. doi: 10.1525/sp.2007.54.1.23.
There is an argument, recently repeated to me, that people who view obscene child abuse material do not go on to offend offline. Now clearly viewing such images IS an offence in itself and often means that you are watching a child being abused. However, the link between consuming such online content and carrying out what is termed ‘contact’ abuse has been under debate.
This article (warning it is quite graphic about the material viewed) outlines a recent survey of 5000 people carried out by a Finnish organisation called ‘Protect Children.’ They found that a third of people accessing such material do go on to attempt to contact a child so we really should not minimise the online behaviour of such offenders.
The theory of Flow is that when we do something absorbing and challenging it’s really good for our wellbeing. It reduces anxiety and raises self esteem.
In an effort to practice what I preach I’ve been making more time for art.
The idea is that these moment of flow can add together and help you feel more positive about life – raising your wellbeing over a longer period of time. You can reach a flow state in lots of ways: exercising, working, creating – whatever gets you so absorbed that time flies by.
In my research people listed all sorts of activities that gave them a sense of happiness and wellbeing including reading, writing, slam poetry, painting, dance, walking, playing musical instruments, running, meditation, gardening and design.
It doesn’t matter whether anyone else thinks you are any good at whatever you are doing – the point is the doing it and for many people who have been abused self expression and making your own choices is so important. Why not have a go today?
Flow: The Psychology of Happiness (2002) Mihayl Csikszentmihayli
Recently I read this article about tattooing as a way to reclaim your body and your autonomy. This resonated with me on a professional and personal level.
Young (1992) argues that for a person who has not experienced trauma, the physical environment is divided into ‘me’ and ‘not me.’ The physical boundary between ‘me’ and the outside world (not me) is at the site of the skin. Therefore, ‘me’ is embodied by the sensations and experiences in the body as well as the mind.
However, for someone who has experienced CSA ‘me’ is only in the mind, as they have learnt to expect little control over what occurs to the body. ‘Not me’ then extends to include the body. This can be worse if the body responded during abuse or if the child dissociated which extends this fissure between mind and body.
Our society pumps out a lot of messages about our bodies; how they should look, act, how we define them, treat them, etc. I think that this can be very negative for people who have experienced CSA because being told what to do with your body is exactly what happened in the first place!
Feeling safe is fundamental to re-establishing a sense of ownership over your body and I don’t think that these messages help at all.
Clearly as part of healing some sort of reconciliation with the body and an improved sense of ownership of it is desirable. Here’s where tattoo’s come in (obviously there are many other ways to achieve this too and if you don’t like tattoo’s that’s fine). Some of my research participants talked about using body modification and decoration to reclaim ownership of the body. Maxwell et al. (2019) also found that tattoos are valued by survivors of sexual trauma to embody their ownership of their body.
In many cultures tattoo’s have spiritual significance with many designs having different meanings. When I had my first tattoo, in my 40’s, my tattooist said that some people he saw their tattoo had deep meaning for them, whilst others it was just a random whim! For me my first, a triquetra, was a design with multiple meanings that I’d wanted since I was a teenager. My second tattoo I designed myself based on the north star. For me personally, my tattoos have been a way of saying that this is my body and I can do what I like with it – reclaiming the autonomy I lost.
Maxwell, D., Thomas, J. and Thomas, S. A. (2019) ‘Cathartic Ink: A Qualitative Examination of Tattoo Motivations for Survivors of Sexual Trauma’, Deviant Behavior. Routledge. doi: 10.1080/01639625.2019.1565524.
Young, L. (1992) ‘Sexual abuse and the problem of embodiment’, Child Abuse and Neglect, 16(1), pp. 89–100. doi: 10.1016/0145-2134(92)90010-O.
Beryl Cook ‘Two on a Stool’ Durham County Council (art.uk)