Evil

Blake, William, 1757-1827; Satan Calling up His Legions
Blake, William; Satan Calling up His Legions; National Trust, Petworth House; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/satan-calling-up-his-legions-219773

It’s been a while since I blogged. I’ve been typing up interview transcripts – a long and complex job and investigating future possibilities – more of those in later blogs. Now the University teaching year has started I’ve been teaching seminars and covering my supervisor’s lectures about the sociology of evil. It’s really interesting stuff so I thought it’d be a good subject to blog about.

Different disciplines approach evil in differing ways. Theology views it as the great battle between good and evil. Psychologists and psychiatrists look for its origins in people’s childhood experiences and neuro-biologists scan brains for damaged or missing areas.

Sociologists ask a different question. What is evil for? Why do we use the term? Why do we describe some people or acts as evil and not others? Alexander (2001) argues that evil is used to highlight good – we talk about things being evil to make it clear what we, as a society, want people to do instead.

As an example, child sexual abuse is generally seen as an evil act. This highlights our horror at people hurting children because, as a society, we want children to be cared for. This is good – the abuse of children is extremely wrong and could definitely be described as evil. Society wants to underline that abuse is wrong.

There are, however, a few unintended problems with this. Firstly when we think of ‘evil’ people we imagine monstrous, almost bestial, people. The vast majority of abuse is carried out by family members or acquaintances, not demonic strangers, so most abusers appear completely normal. If we are looking for ‘evil’ are we ignoring what is happening in our community, street or even home? Does this mean we are more likely to dismiss or ignore accusations?

Secondly ‘evil’ is seen as something catching. So there is the idea that people who have been abused go on to be abusers – something that there isn’t very much evidence for.  This means that people who have been abused are scared from talking about it – so perpetrators get away with more crimes. It also means that families encourage children (and adults) to stay silent, to avoid the shame – but why would there be any shame unless there was this idea that people who have been abused are ‘tainted’ in some way?

So what do we do? I absolutely think that as a society we need to define what is acceptable and what is not. Abusing a child is not acceptable. It is utterly selfish to take what you want regardless of the harm done to another – particularly a child. But society needs to talk about it and learn about it. The label of evil, whilst an understandable way of expressing our horror at abuse, means that we don’t talk about it and we silence those who do want to talk about it. Openness is the key here. Silence allows abusers to get away with their crimes and prevents recovery for people who have experienced it.

Reference

Alexander, Jeffrey C. (2001) ‘Towards a Sociology of Evil’, in Maria Pia Lara (ed.)
Rethinking Evil: Contemporary Perspectives, pp. 153–72. Berkeley: University of
California Press.

 

 

Music to Process Trauma by…

One of the things I was interested in whilst doing my research was whether anyone else found music as important as I did in recovering. Quite a few people mentioned music but I thought I’d share the songs that meant a lot to me. It’s all about the lyrics.

Sometimes it’s about being angry….

Or, incidentally, when you need music to clean your house to. Metallica is good for both: cleaning and rage.

Sometimes you need reminding that you are strong.

Back in the day, before digital downloads a friend searched secondhand record shops to find me that single. That meant so much. I wasn’t alone. Which brings me to…

Something I’ve always aspired to be. Lately my favourite has been this one

Ultimately though every day is a new day and a new start. No one singer is more important to me than Nina.

And rinse and repeat. As I was frequently reminded throughout my research recovery is actually recovering – an ongoing, never ending process but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have moments, days or months or years of happiness. Do you have any music that speaks to you? Please share in the comments or on Twitter.

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!

 

 

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.

March 2018 Research Update

Patrick, James, 1938-2005; Sunset on Snow
Sunset on Snow by James Patrick. Kilmardinny Arts Centre

I’ve missed a month out but it only takes a tiny bit of snow here in the UK to send everything, including my life, haywire! I’m catching up with myself now (although more snow is due). I am contacting people who volunteered for interview about ten at a time so I don’t become overwhelmed. So if you haven’t heard from me yet you may still do. Thank you to everyone who has responded so far.

In the meantime I’ve been continuing with some side research I’m doing and keeping up with the news around child abuse. Interestingly they have combined recently with this story about Florida banning child marriage, something that is shockingly common in the USA. As you can see here half of the US states have exceptions to their laws which result in no minimum age for marriage and it does actually happen. Between 2000 and 2010 248,000 children were married, most to adults, not their peers. The UK also has an issue with child marriage, particularly forced marriage.

As part of my PhD research I’ve been looking at the laws around child sexual abuse including marriage and the age of consent for sex. I’ve been researching the circumstances around the UK Criminal Law Amendment Act in 1885 when the age of consent was raised (for girls only) from 12 to 16. Before 1885 sex or rape of a child under 10 was a felony and between 10-12 was only a misdemeanour – which I would suggest demonstrates an attitude towards older children that continues today – for example see this French case. Such stories in the news show me, as if I didn’t know, that there is much work to be done and I hope I can contribute.