Turning away How & why do societies & communities deny, distance, and minimise child sexual abuse? And what can we do about it? Dr Elly Hanson ESTD-UK March 2019 How do people turn away from sexual abuse? What are the consequences of this? Why do people turn away? What are the implications of this understanding for us? How can we help to prevent turning away, & how might we respond to it when we come across it? Non-exhaustive hopefully some thought-provoking findings & reflections Not dystopian or utopian but reasonable grounds for hope Content of this talk may be triggering There are of course real false allegations and valid & legitimate grounds for withholding belief in a number of situations Focus on observers turning away, not victims & survivors (or
perpetrators) What can turning away involve? It didnt happen It doesnt happen very often Irrationally high thresholds for belief, typically underpinned by various discourses We cant see it and we wont look Everyday practices Societal structures It wasnt really abuse The victim was (at least somewhat) to blame Closely linked to victim-blame It doesnt involve people like me, or the kind of
people I admire It doesnt happen here and now Distancing, othering & objectifying It wasnt that bad Minimisation of impact For example, CSE seen as lifestyle choice Focus on victims behaviour, character, intentions Invalid distinctions between us and them and then and now It definitely didnt happen Irrationally high thresholds for belief
Discourses that have sustained high thresholds for belief Witchhunt Moral panic: satanic panic and societal hysteria People disclosing abuse fantasists driven by money & attention False memory syndrome and suggestive therapists Childrens suggestibility Often interact with one another Also always in flux with counter-narratives They each may describe some of what is going on in some situations the critical point is that they are, without basis, generalised beyond those situations to which they may be relevant to There is no evidence that any of these discourses accurately describe the majority of abuse disclosures & suspicions yet they are often argued with confidence & presented as fact Readily accessible facts are not pursued or checked Evidence of ideological, motivated position, versus truth-seeking
Spotlight: False memory syndrome Disclosures of child sexual abuse by adults are often a function of people recovering false recollections of abuse as a result of therapist suggestive styles and techniques False memory then applied to people even when there is no evidence of therapeutic suggestion or even memories being recovered in the context of therapy Largely based on laboratory experiments whose relevance to false memories of sexual abuse has arguably been overstated: Prevalence of an actual memory creation (belief, recollective experience & confidence) Similarity with real world therapy or other influence Applicability to distressing memories of repeated sexual abuse We conclude that susceptibility to false memories of childhood events appears more limited than has previously been suggested It cannot be concluded that false memories of childhood events possessing these characteristics are common, that they are easy to suggest or implant, or that the majority of individuals are susceptible to them
It wasnt that bad minimisation of impact Its a great shame and were all very sorry that your uncle touched you in that nasty place you get some of my sympathy but your self pity gets none of my sympathy. Self pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity. Get rid of it, because no ones going to like you if you feel sorry for yourself. Just grow up. Stephen Fry The medicalisation of distress the impact of abuse is reframed as discrete disorders primarily understood as biological dysfunctions This works to make invisible the impact of abuse A lack of curiosity about and interest in the impact, the We cant see it and we wont look Indicators of abuse routinely do not prompt exploration People avoid purposeful conversations with both children and adults Compounded by the child suggestibility discourse Asking children risks lies or false memories
Vicious spiral of its a rare problem and I dont need to think or ask about it It started happening when I was five. If somebody had known I used to go into school crying and they just used to think nothing about it and just having somebody recognise the signs maybe I never went and asked for help but no-one ever asked me There is more of a chance that somebody would admit to it if you asked them outright I think rather than waiting for them coming forward to you there wouldve been more of a chance I would have if somebody had just been like is this happening? [Young people said] professionals should have asked more questions to uncover the nature of their depression and self-harming behaviours which stemmed directly from the abuse they were experiencing Allnock & Miller (2013) Warrington et al (2017) We cant see it and we wont look Systems and processes that encourage children and adults to keep quiet and allow those tasked with protection and investigation to not listen. Notwithstanding some very positive steps forward, still the Justice System: Demands that victims are routinely abusively questionned in the interests of justice
Routinely withholds protection Is disinterested in acting on the testimony of witnesses or trusted recipients of disclosure (e.g. therapists) A recipe for How to put people off coming forward? Consequences Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced James Baldwin Vicious spirals: turning away beliefs and practices reduce disclosure and awareness of abuse, then low rates of disclosure and criminal conviction (illegitimately) reinforce distorted viewpoints Opportunities to reduce and stop abuse, and more effectively address its impact are lost In short turning away leads to more abuse and increased impact Why do people turn away? Individual instances of turning away can often be described & understood differently Much research, professional discourse and media understanding about
child sexual abuse has been characterised by a liberal optimism that nearly everyone wants the best for children, that most people sincerely seek facts and solutions in heated polarised debates, the answers may perhaps lie somewhere in the middle Nelson (2016) When we look at these instances as a whole, we notice a pattern of turning away, that is not tethered to rational thinking, ethics, and pursuit of truth This also true when we consider responses (or the lack thereof) to other forms of human suffering and injustice Taken together, we are left wondering about the deep motivations at play Why do people turn away? Perpetrators and profiteers (e.g. industries who act in ways conducive to abuse) peddle inaccuracies and myths that can be persuasive Acknowledging abuse is often psychologically costly In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything
in side his power to promote All It is very tempting to take the of the perpetrator. Perceived legitimacy and therefore existence of a status quo Patriarchal and sexist systems forgetting. If secrecy fails, the
perpetrator attacks the He the perpetrator is that the bystanderand do nothing. which gives certain groupsasks more power & ego processes credibility his victim. Ifdesire he cannot
silence her Perceived legitimacy and therefore existence of the current System Justification appeals to of the universal to see, hear, and speak Theory no systems
and structures more give ano sense of listens Terror Management Theory absolutely, he that tries to generally make sure one evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the
bystander to safety share the burden of Judith pain. Herman The victim demands action, Facing the existence and impact of various forms of child sexual abuse can threaten: Belief in a just world an illusion that also provides a sense of certainty and safety engagement, and remembering Just World Theory Judith Herman A justice system that promotes winning rather than truth incentivises efforts to turn away The pleasures of disbelief the ego boost of looking down on gullible others often tied
to(2013) wider forms of prejudice (e.g. contempt of the feminine) Salter Why do people turn away? Perpetrators and profiteers (e.g. industries who act in ways conducive to abuse) peddle inaccuracies and myths that can be persuasive Acknowledging abuse is often psychologically costly Facing the existence and impact of various forms of child sexual abuse can threaten: Perceived legitimacy and therefore existence of a status quo which gives certain groups more power & ego Patriarchal and sexist systems and processes Perceived legitimacy and therefore existence of the current systems and structures that more generally give a sense of safety System Justification Theory Terror Management Theory
Belief in a just world an illusion that also provides a sense of certainty and safety Just World Theory A justice system that promotes winning rather than truth incentivises efforts to turn away The pleasures of disbelief the ego boost of looking down on gullible others often tied to(2013) wider forms of prejudice (e.g. contempt of the feminine) Salter Threats to the legitimacy and existence of systems that give some more power & ego If sexual abuse of children (and women) is recognised as common,
then we may question the legitimacy of the power dynamics of adults / children, and women / men, and accompanying social norms, structures and processes If it is a minor issue then these power dynamics are seen as more acceptable and there is less impetus for challenge or change Michael Salter argues that cases of organised abuse are an important discursive site for a number of actors with ideological objections to the changes wrought by feminism and child protection by framing allegations of organised abuse as bizarre and beyond belief, they sought to reassert an older politics of disbelief that contests the notion that women and children are reliable witnesses Salter (2011) In accordance with motives for wider denialisms Our current post-truth times have prompted a renewed interest in truth, and how and why people seek to deny it Identification of Denialism: Constructions that seek to deny truths that would otherwise threaten the self-interests
that in late modern society are disavowed Denialism arises from being in an impossible bind: holding to desires, values, ideologies and morals that cannot be openly spoken of Climate change denial The average climate change denier is not a would-be environmentalist held back by unusually high scepticism of the methods of climate science What is behind it? A major motive appears to be valuing the lifestyle, money, power, agency, & progress of individuals alive now in wealthy, western societies, above others and above the natural world (i.e. narrowly focussed self-interest) Humans should not constrain their ambition and creativity for the sake of the natural world. On the contrary, we owe the enormous gains we have made to our success in bolstering our control over nature. If anything we need to take this process even further, rather than scaling back Businesses should not be distracted and hijacked by social and political activists seeking to change perceived shortcomings of society Let the seas rise. Let the wind blow. We can adapt. We are all going to die. Just not today. And in the meantime, I simply do not care about this issue
In short, truth threatens a status quo which suits me just fine. A system which incentivises discourses of denial and disbelief A fundamental mismatch in adversarial justice systems focussed on a battle of two sides (not primarily truth) Prosecution arguing a case for which there must be a strong basis no such requirement for the defence This creates an incentive for the development of denial and disbelief narratives lawyers and defence experts (as well as the accused) gain financially and reputationally from them The justice motive We are soldiers of an unpopular war and no one wants to see us on parade. We remind them of something that makes them uncomfortable. Were like burn victims Survivor of sexual abuse quoted in Easton (2013) In the 1960s and 70s, Melvin Lerner developed Just World Theory which argued that people have a fundamental need for justice, a desire to live in a just world If the world is a just place, then we can trust that if we do the right thing,
we will have a good life this supports us in striving for long-term goals, and ultimately contributes to a sense of safety So many people follow their desire for a just world with a working model that the world (or their world) is largely just and fair Increasing injustice: Desire for justice Wishfu l Thinkin g Acknowledgment of injustice Belief
that the world is just Hope that world can be fairer Increasing justice Attempts to prevent injustice Redress injustices through helping those affected Acceptance & priorization Hafer and Begue (2005) Hafer & Sutton (2016) Ellard et al. (2016) The world is fair Life is
fair to me Its fair in the hereand now There is justice in the end Victim blame & derogation Denial & disbelief Minimisati on Distancing We might promote strategies that increase justice not injustice by:
Availability of routes to help and actively (not cognitively) redress Self-efficacy Social norms around what is acceptable Societal systems that do routinely punish offenders and wider examples of justice seen to be done Reflection, feeling distress of injustice, and conscious decision to choose a different path The just world and victim blame & derogation Some of the strongest evidence for the belief in a just world and the ironies it can lead to comes from research into victim blame Studies have found that a stronger belief in a just world is related to blaming victims & survivors, and negatively evaluating them (often other options for redress are not compared) Priming people with justice threats can lead to victim blame or derogation The suffering of innocent victims leads some to blame or derogate What makes our tendency to blame victims for their own misery particularly tragic is the chilling discovery that it is caused by a basic, primitive, ethical motive Fernndez-Dols A further contributor to victim blame and judging them as less credible is need for closure a strong dislike of ambiguity and uncertainty
Hafer and Begue (2005) (2013) Hafer & Sutton (2016) Ellard et al. (2016) Esnard & Dumas Responding to attempts to turn away Peoples active turning away from sexual abuse can impact us in various ways. We may find ourselves: Intimidated Aggressively outraged Lost for words Turning away ourselves from this compounded injustice Fearful of countenancing their arguments & points responding in a polarised fashion These responses may reinforce turning away discourses and practices & enable them to grow in a vicious spiral Reflecting on turning away and where it comes from can enable us to respond differently Our responses will of course depend on our context, personal style etc
Alternative responses Open-minded, reflective, attention to nuance Turning the spotlight around: scepticism of the sceptical Curiosity and probing of evidence: conversations that are curious about and probe their claims rather than simply offer defence Could you provide me with the research for that claim? What contrary research are you aware of? Invite empathy and connection to those affected Explore the impact of high thresholds for belief Invite reflection on (some) motivations and explore other ways of meeting those needs Narratives that acknowledge injustice, offer the option of making peace with this together routes to strive for more justice Ultimate justice understandings may also be helpful More generally, how might we reduce turning away? How might we promote acknowledgment? A stance of reasoned hope, rooted in knowledge of our own power Hope is a gift you dont have to surrender, a power you dont have to give away. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of
both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement, pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. Anything could happen and whether we act or not has everything to do with it. Rebecca Solnit Raising awareness through a collective of voices Reduces opportunities for some turning away discourses to grow When drawing attention to injustice, provide people with ready and accessible options to help redress it Continuing the fight for justice to be done and to be seen to be done Our personal reflections on facing injustice The dialectic of acceptance and change Allowing space to face injustice and howl Facing injustice can grow our desire and energy to tackle it A focus on more justice in the widest sense of the word - and striving versus arriving A focus on the meaning in integrity beyond justice What you spend years building, someone may destroy overnight. Build anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. But give the best youve got anyway. Provide hope and inspiration for collective action to build collective power to achieve collective transformation, rooted in grief and rage but pointed towards vision and dreams Patrisse Cullors, on the mission of Black Lives Matter Thank you Questions or comments?
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