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In this guest post, Cara Grayling tackles our victim-blaming culture

This article on how the manager of an NHS eating disorders clinic managed to get away with coercing several young women patients into “relationships” for 20 years states

The investigators blamed poor management, missed opportunities and the

reluctance of his victims to come forward as the reasons for Mr Britten

“grooming vulnerable patients”.

By “poor management” and “missed opportunities” they mean, I assume, that four other staff members knew about this.

What is to blame:

  • The culture of disbelief. Especially since the victims were young women with eating disorders – they have a mental illness and are therefore unlikely to be believed, because, you know, all women, especially ones with mental health problems, are crazy and delusional, or liars.
  • The masculine culture of entitlement that says men “have needs” and are entitled to do anything to have sex, including coerce and abuse.
  • Rape culture, that insisting men do the pursuing and “persuade” women to sleep with them.
  • The culture, especially bad in medical circles, that authority figures are always right and not to be questioned. (Which may explain why some of the staff members who knew about the abuse did not do anything. They may have feared for their jobs.)

Britten is described as a “predator”, but essentially he was just doing what our culture says that men do.

Who is not to blame:

The survivors, for not coming forward

They would have known that they were unlikely to be believed. That their abuser was respectable and nice men don’t do that, so they would be dismissed as fantasists or liars.

They were recovering from eating disorders, and so probably did not have the mental and emotional energy to go through the investigative process, which would inevitably scrutinise their character.

It’s probably not as if coming forward would have achieved anything, as most likely Britten would have been cleared. The women couldn’t have known there were other victims anyway, and even if they suspected it, couldn’t have known who they were.

Oh and can people stop the patronising “vulnerable” fetishisation? Surviving mental illness and this abusive relationship makes the survivors pretty strong and tough, actually.

The only purpose calling women vulnerable serves is to belittle those with mental health problems and portray them as weak victims.

This does not empower women in this position. What we need is for them to be able to say no to advances by overentitled, unprofessional, creeps and to report it. We need to believe women when they report misconduct, abuse, and rape. We need to stop believing that respectable, professional men would never abuse their power, and that women are liars. We need to stop blaming victims.