Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Victim-blaming as daytime entertainment on The Jeremy Kyle Show

I am a writer. I like to have the TV or radio on in the background as I write. This morning (12/11/15), I turned on my TV and was poised to start writing when I realised that The Jeremy Kyle show on. I was about to turn the channel over when I heard something in his voice. It was a particular vocal quality that women come to know: male hatred of female victims. So I watched.

The guest was a woman in her 30s who wanted to find out more about why Social Services had taken her off her parents when she was 3 1/2 and put her up for adoption. All she knew is that there had been a neglectful home and domestic abuse involved. Kyle was aggressively pushing the woman to be disgusted and furious towards her birth mother before she even met her, in some misguided way of supposedly being supportive. When the birth mother came out, to a wall of boos from the audience, she was a frail-looking older woman with long white hair. She held herself in the resigned, fearful way that victims of long-term abuse so often do. As soon as she sat down, Kyle started yelling at her, and continued in this vein for the whole segment, often with his face only inches away from hers, contorted with rage. The daughter was a very pleasant, polite woman and didn't seem to want to particularly rant and rave at her mother, which seemed to infuriate him. At one stage in his ranting at the mother, one of her younger daughters appeared at the edge of the stage on the verge of tears to defend her and beg him to stop treating her mother like that. A tirade of abuse, insults and shouts to "do one" was his response.

Straight away, it was totally obvious that this was not some callous, uncaring maternal failure who hadn't been bothered to look after her children. The poor woman's first husband had been a violent drunk who'd kept all the money for himself and his drink. She was left with nothing with which to feed and clothe her children and herself, and to keep her house decent. She spoke of how she had tried escaping more than once, only for her husband to find them, threaten them and drag them home. She spoke of her love for her children and how she had never stopped loving them, for her first 5 children had all been taken into care because of the hideous home life caused by her abusive husband. She spoke about how women don't always get a choice about not having children (I think we all know what she was alluding to). She spoke about how she had contacted Social Services to beg for information about her children and for her details to be passed onto them, to no avail. Her other daughter was eventually allowed on, to say that her mother, with extreme difficulty and risk to herself, had finally escaped her first husband, and she had met another man, who treated her properly, and they had 3 more children together, and that she had been a wonderful mother.

None of this mattered to Jeremy Kyle. Everything they spoke of just made him even more blaming and hateful. He kept egging the elder daughter on to blame and hate her mother. Together, Kyle and the daughter repeatedly yelled at her to explain 'why' she hadn't left her husband. No matter that she had no family, that he'd made sure she had no friends, that she had zero access to funds, and that he terrorised her into coming home from refuges, she could've done more, according to Kyle. She even asked what more she could've done, and he merely bellowed "MORE" at her. How helpful. He castigated her for not being able to feed and clothe her children adequately, or keep her home in a better state - again, her husband not allowing her access to money was no excuse. He even kept insisting that she could've got her daughter back from her adoptive parents, which is absolutely untrue. One thing he kept going on and on about was how come she "kept having children with him", why didn't she go on the pill, or "cross her legs", and so on. The fact that rape within marriage wasn't a crime back then in the UK obviously eluded him. At one stage, she quietly said something along the lines of "When you've got absolutely nothing and nobody in life, you want a child... ", which sent him into an apoplexy. There was also much made about her not having access to a laptop years ago when the daughter made contact on Facebook, and he dismissed her as a liar, because OAPs with no money obviously always have access to tech. She did not try to deny that her children had had a horrible start to life, or even argue that they shouldn't have been taken away. She merely wished the true picture to be made clear.

I have, for my sins, seen the show before. I have seen him treat men who have smoked crack in front of their toddler with respect for owning up to having a drug problem. I've seen him be more understanding towards men who slept with their girlfriend's sister whilst she was in hospital delivering their stillborn baby. And I've also seen him treat domestic abusers with less contempt, blaming and naked loathing than he did that humiliated, beaten-down woman in poor health, who was willing to put herself through Kyle's verbal abuse in order just to get to see the daughter she had never stopped thinking about.

I have never seen such naked, hateful victim-blaming of this level on tv before, certainly not delivered with such threatening, red-faced aggression. It was quite something, even for The Jeremy Kyle Show. If I had a victim-blaming bingo card, I would've been shouting "HOUSE" before the segment was even halfway through. He repeatedly and relentlessly came out with every victim-blaming trope and was so full of hatred for the victim. He didn't care about the older daughter, she was just a vehicle to allow him to spew misogyny at an older woman.

This show is very popular, and Kyle is, unfortunately, a well-respected person seen as a voice of reason and morality by a pretty large number of people. Other ITV shows, such as This Morning, watched by millions, tout him as a man who truly cares about people, who speaks the truth, who know how to help people, etc., as do plenty of magazines and tabloids. What he says, and how he says it, influences people - and he knows it. And what he says is that women are responsible for men's behaviour, that victims are disgusting, pathetic inadequates who choose to stay with an abuser so they can feel sorry for themselves and get away with not doing enough for their children, that there are no factors whatsoever that can excuse a woman 'letting' a man abuse her and place their children in poverty. She stayed, she returned, she got pregnant by him; in Kyle's world, she is scum, who caused, deserved and wanted all that a man did to her and her children. She is more responsible for what her children went though than her abuser, in Kyle's world.

Under the guise of helping one woman, Kyle has done damage to all women. People will watch this show, and no doubt others he has done and will do, and they will have their own misogynist, ignorant prejudices about victims confirmed, and not only that, they will now have the rhetorical tools with which to hate and blame and demean and dismiss victims and survivors, and a gauge as to how angry one can be with them (abuser-level, it would ironically seem).

All of this anger, blame, disgust, all of it firmly, squarely and directly focused on a woman beaten, and abused, and broken, and terrorised, and kept without access to money, kept pregnant, made to see her children go dirty and ragged and hungry and cowed despite all her efforts to shield and care for them. All this, and so much more, 'just happens' to women, apparently. There can be no naming the agent - men. There can be no understanding or analysis of the nature and effects of abuse, and social factors that might make it incredibly difficult or even impossible for women to leave abusers. The men might as well be poltergeists. There can only be blaming the victim.

I have written to ITV to complain about this episode, and I urge you to do so too. Jeremy Kyle would not be allowed to spew furious lies about and blame in that manner towards any other group, and rightly so. This can't keep being normalised and made entertainment. Women's suffering is not for consumption.

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