May 2018 Research Update

Time to Listen Wilhemena Barns Graham
‘A Time to Listen’ by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham 

I’ve reached an important point in my research – the data gathering bit is finished and next I will analyse it all. There are 141 survey responses and 21 interviews. I will transcribe every interview (those that were recorded) which is taking me 5 hours/ish for each hour recorded. I’m aiming to get that done by the end of June. Thank you so much to everyone who took part.

It has struck me, whilst doing these interviews, what fascinating, wise and intelligent people my research participants are. There is a phenomenon called ‘post traumatic growth’ – which is not to suggest that trauma is a good thing because it’s not – but that trauma can lead to wisdom and a different perspective on life. I’m not ignoring the negative effects of course and that will all be part of the thesis, as well as the need for properly funded mental health services – but it is really clear to me the difference between the traditional idea of what an abuse ‘victim/survivor’ looks and acts like, and the people I have been talking to. That’s the difference between a stereotype and reality.

I have also been working on, with my supervisor, an academic article which is due for submission at the start of next month, based on people’s comments about #metoo and the perpetrators of abuse. Whilst writing the article I came across the quote above from Maya Angelou and it really sums up the point of the article as well as what people have been telling me over the last 5 months. I found the painting on Art.uk and it is entitled ‘A Time to Listen’ – let’s hope it is!

 

 

1 in 6

I found this a very moving video – and SO important.

I’m interviewing men who have experienced abuse at the moment and this video really brings home that it can happen to anyone, is so destructive – and that we need to work together to end it.

It’s not just fight or flight…

Smith, Thomas Stuart; Study of a Rabbit; The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/study-of-a-rabbit-127657
Study of a Rabbit, Thomas Stuart Smith

Recently a group of men who gang raped a woman in Pamplona had their conviction reduced from rape to sexual assault, despite the fact that they raped their victim. There is no question about this as they filmed it on their phones. The reason why their convictions were downgraded was because the victim didn’t fight, but was ‘passive or neutral’ according to the police reports. This has lead to many demonstrations and anger over this apparent judgement of the victims behaviour.

It also ignores the fact that there is another response to violent attack than fight or flight – there is also freeze or ‘tonic immobility’ to give it its formal name. Ignoring, for now, the fact that this victim blaming attitude goes right back at least as far as the Bible (read Deuteronomy 22:23-27) let’s look at the evidence for this third reaction to fear and violence.

Like in animals there is evidence that humans can sometimes freeze when faced with danger, literally be unable to move. Moller (2017) et al, interviewed 298 women who had been victims of a sexual assault. Of those 70% reported significant tonic immobility and 48% reported extreme tonic immobility – so nearly half could not move at all during the assault. They also found that the women who had experienced this were more likely to develop c-PTSD and/or severe depression.

So it looks as though the ‘freeze’ reflex is very common and I’d argue it may even be more common in children where, even more so than adults, fight or flight may not be options.

Going back to the Pamplona case it did inspire the nuns of Hondarribia to send out the following message.

Db7vebEXkAAXTmu

Amen.

 

References

Möller, A., Söndergaard, H.P. & Helström, L., 2017. Tonic immobility during sexual assault – a common reaction predicting post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 96(8), pp.932–938.

 

 

 

Research Update April 2018. Victorian government corruption and Catholic Saints

Gadsden, Judith; Field of Flowers
Field of Flowers, Judith Gadson

I’m right in the middle of fieldwork at the moment, which means that I am arranging interviews and then actually doing them. The next job is transcribing them, typing out everything that was said, which takes much longer than you’d think! I’m also applying to talk at some conferences and I’m going to submit an abstract to a journal to see if I can get the research published. If accepted the article wouldn’t be published until next year so you have to start planning ahead really early on!

I’ve just done a presentation for the Sheffield Gender History group about my PhD side project. As part of background reading about laws relating to childhood sexual abuse I read about the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, which aimed to raise the age of consent to 16 for girls. The author of the paper, Gorham, commented that MPs were reluctant to pass this law because they might fall foul of it themselves, as many visited brothels owned by a woman called Mrs Jeffries. So I’ve have been investigating Mrs Jeffries and her connections to MPs and other VIPs of 1885. This is what my talk was about and I’m hoping to turn it into an article in due course.

Another talk, which I’m due to give in June at a Gendered Emotions in History conference, is about the different emotions reported by male and female participants in my survey and if there are any parallels between them and historical examples. I’ve been reading about Francesca Bussa, who was married at 12 or 13 in 1397 and after the wedding night refused to speak or eat. She only recovered after being inspired to do good works but continued to punish herself shockingly throughout her life; eating only 1 meal a day, whipping and torturing herself. She cut off her own hair and complained of being tormented by demons. She also did some amazing things – performed miracles, opened her home to the sick and founded a monastery for women. In the end she was canonised and is now known as Saint Frances. I don’t want to minimise her significance to Catholics but there is a clear link between her early marriage and the onset of symptoms of self harm. Many female participants in my research have described a sense of disconnection between the body and mind, which I think has parallels with the story of Saint Frances.

As you can probably tell I am doing lots of things at the moment! Luckily the PhD gives you time to explore different avenues and decide which are the most fruitful.

References

Bell, R.M., 1985. Holy Anorexia, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gorham, D., 1978. The “Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon” Re-examined: Child Prostitution and the Idea of Childhood in Late-Victorian England. Victorian Studies, 21(3), pp.353–379.

January 2018 Research Update

Letter/Letter Writing by Lisa Milroy. Credit: Imperial College Healthcare Charity Art Collection
Letter/Letter Writing by Lisa Milroy. Credit: Imperial College Healthcare Charity Art Collection

 

I wanted to keep everyone up to date as to where I am in my research. The survey is going to close on the 1st of February, so if you do want to fill it in now is the time. As of now I’ve had 133 responses and I’m in the process of analysing these. My next step is to develop questions and start interviews. I really want to thank everyone who has taken the time to fill in the survey. Your responses have been fascinating and so helpful.

About Interviews

88 people have volunteered for interviews, which is 66% of people who filled in the survey. That’s an amazing response and I’m so grateful. It shows me that people do want to talk about this subject and contribute to positive steps forward for all victims and survivors.

Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to interview everyone who has volunteered as I simply cannot do justice to that many interviews in the time that I have. I am aiming to do about 25 interviews and will be contacting people in February to see if they are still interested. If you are no longer interested, that’s absolutely fine. The email will have the subject title ‘Survey Response.’

As people have responded from around the world I will offer interviews via Skype, Messenger, email, telephone or face to face  (if near to Sheffield, UK) – it will be the interviewee’s choice, not mine. All verbal interviews will be recorded, with your permission, to ensure that I can report your opinions and experiences correctly. All interviews will be anonymous. I will be using pseudonyms for contributors so you will get the opportunity to choose yours, if you want to.

It’s worth stating again that I do not want to focus interviews on the abuse people have experienced but the recovery journey afterwards. There may be specific things mentioned in survey responses that I’d like to hear more about, which I will mention in my email. You can then choose if you want to talk about them or not.

I’m so pleased at the success of my research so far and I will do my best to do justice to the information you have shared with me.

Do the Abused become Abusers?

Short answer: Not in general, no. Long answer follows below.

Billingham, Roy, b.1944; Anger, Frustration, Acceptance
Anger, Frustration, Acceptance by Roy Billingham,  Photo credit: St George’s Hospital

Most studies into offending get their data by asking child abuse offenders if they experienced sexual abuse as children (CSA), with many reporting that they did. It has been pointed out that their word is not necessarily reliable and they may have other reasons for stating this.

Not many studies look at abuse victims and survivors in general. A recent Dutch study by de Jong and Dennison (2017) looked at the history of offending amongst 943 child abuse victims, comparing them with 1439 of their siblings, over a 30 year period. They also compared these with a control group of 645 randomly chosen people. So this is not a small scale study.

They found that victims of CSA are at a higher risk of being convicted of a crime, in general, than the control group. Looking at child abuse convictions specifically they found that some CSA victims did have higher rates of convictions but so did their (non victim?) siblings.

What does that mean? It suggests that it is the family environment and experiences, or even genetics, that creates offenders, not the experience of CSA. A question here is whether the siblings were also abused but their abuse was not part of the original court case. de Jong and Dennison looked again at the data excluding convictions for incest and found higher rates of violent offending, traffic crimes and drugs offences for victims but again no higher rates of CSA offending.

If you look at it by gender they found a small but not statistically significant (so it could just be by chance) rise in CSA offences in women who were victims of CSA and no rise in offences by men who had experienced CSA. This last point is very interesting as the majority of convicted abusers are men but there is no evidence, in this study, that abuse creates abusers.

What this study also highlights are the higher risks of criminal behaviour for people who have experienced CSA and this is important too. I believe this is proof that we need better support and information for victims and survivors to help them in their recovery. Society in general will benefit, from reduced crime rates and happier people, as well as the individual themselves.

REFERENCES:

de Jong, R and Dennison,S (2017) Recorded offending among child sexual abuse victims: A 30-year follow-up. Child Abuse & Neglect 72, 75-84.