Everything you ever wanted to know about Jessica, plus some things you never thought to ask because you never wanted to know.
What made you focus on victim blaming as a specialism?
I think I knew what victim blaming was before I entered the criminal justice system as a professional but I don't think I had nay idea just how insidious and manipulative it had become. I was studying for my degree in Psychology whilst managing the Vulnerable and Intimidated Witness Programmes for five courts in the Midlands - and as you know, Bachelors Degrees are very generic in psychology, so I didn't learn anything about victim blaming, bias or victim psychology from my studies, it all came from being immersed in it every single day. On an average day, I might have been overseeing 5-6 serious crime trials including rape, trafficking, sexual abuse of children, manslaughter and homicide. Victim blaming was everywhere. What they were wearing, who they were with, how long it took them to report, whether the victim was credible, whether they had a learning disabilty, whether they had left the abuser fast enough, whether they had injuries, whether they had been drinking. It was a minefield. I really struggled with the blaming - I struggled even more with the fact that some defence lawyers hadn't really prepared a defence - they just stood and discredited the victims for days or weeks. Sometimes, the aim of the game was to make the victim look so unstable and so deceitful that the jury couldnt possibly believe them. I was working with those victims and the impact on them was crushing. I started to hear them blame themselves, and accept victim blaming as correct. It was then that I knew I had to do something - I was only 20 years old and was busy studying for the Bachelors degree but I decided I would do a PhD to explore why we blame victims and how we can stop it.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I actually have a piece of A4 lined paper in a box at home, which I wrote when I was 11 years old. It says on the front of it 'do not open until you are 18'. In the letter I wrote to my future self, I detailed what I was going to be when I grew up in gold glittery gel pen. I read it recently and smiled when I realised that I had written 'Top three jobs: 1. Psychologist 2. Primeminister 3. Social Worker'. I laughed because I wrote that just before my life got really difficult and went a bit wavy until I was 19 years old. I actually spent the next 8 years not even knowing whether I would make it past 19 - let alone planning to be a psychologist-social-worker-primeminister. I have no idea how I knew where I was heading at such a young age. Maybe I had seen the future. Maybe I do become PM (laughs).
Tell me what feminism means to you
There are two answers to this question. One is the 'definition' type answer and one is the 'personal' type answer.
Feminism for me, is about the liberation of females from oppression, control and hypersexualisation across the world. It is about females having opportunities, choices, freedoms and rights everywhere - and that's something we do not have at present and may not have for some time.
Personally, radical feminism is extremely important to me. That and working class issues. Feminism re-educated me from a perspective I was never taught about as a child or a young woman. I spent years reading emminent radical feminists and learned about everything from the way actresses are exploited and drug-addicted in the porn industry to the way women's reproductive rights were being controlled by the state. I started to see the way women and girls were objectified and hypersexualised to sell everything from Bic pens to Muller yoghurt. I am also part of an active and wonderful community of feminist activists, lawyers, doctors, charity workers, journalists, authors, teachers, scientists, bloggers and all-round-epic-females. That community means the world to me and is extremely supportive.
Three things you can't live without?
Umm. Well providing the basics were there (like oxgyen, water, warmth and food), I would say orange juice, an ipad and wifi. Orange Juice because I am a bit addicted to it having only drank OJ for the last 25 years and then I reckon everything else can be achieved with an ipad and wifi. You can contact people, listen to music, read books, draw pictures, take photos, make videos, write a diary, order some more stuff, keep an eye on Trump, call for help... What more do you need?
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I often wonder about this. It's too late now (laughs). Authenticity is really important to me. At some point, I had to make a decision as to whether I hid who I truly was, my life history and my experiences - and presented myself as this uber-professional speaker and writer who knows her stuff - or whether I paid homage to my roots and who I really am and what I have really experienced. After much deliberation and worrying, I decided that I should be proud of who I am and where I come from. I should be proud of every swear and every scar. Many people relate to me because they can communicate with me. Some people don't like me being authentic and talking openly about stuff - but I don't particularly care what they think. Live authentically or not at all. I have a responsiblity to be a role model to tens of thousands of people now - and I will not spend that time faking who I am and trying to escape my roots to appear to be 'better'. Nah.
Any favourite childhood books?
Oh wow yes. Okay, so The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. Noughts and Crosses Trilogy by Malorie Blackman. The Windsinger Trilogy by William Nicholson. Everything by Jacqueline Wilson. Everything by Louise Rennison. Actually, when you read that list, it tells you a lot about me! I have a real interest in social class and oppression which was probably sparked by Blackman and Nicholson as both of their trilogies explore class, racism, oppression and elitism. Those authors changed my life and I have bought all of their books for my own kids. Wilson and Rennison gave me the space to explore female issues through development. I could probably trace back most of my identities to these books actually. Scary that innit. Good job I wasn't a fan of horror and gore seeing as I was so impressionable (laughs).
If you could tell your younger self something, what would it be?
Ooh tough one. Ah man. No idea. I would reassure her that she was pretty awesome but I'm not sure I would tell her anything that would change anything for her because then maybe the future wouldnt be this bright for her and maybe she wouldn't grow up to be a national specialist pain in the arse. I might warn her about the perils of Apple Flavoured Mickey Finn. I might tell her not to drive 'borrowed' cars and race motorbikes around the estate. I would sit her down and tell her that university is not for 'saddos', as she told everyone. I would probably explain that credit cards are not free money too, seeing as she applied for them when she turned 18 and didnt realise that they had to be paid back. Aye, the good old days of naivety.
If you didnt do this for a living, what would you do instead?
I know this might sound a bit silly but I would write comedy. In fact, I have kinda earmarked some years of my life for writing comedy sketches and scripts. I absolutely love comedy and stand up, I love making people laugh when I give my own speeches. Look, I have all the attributes I need to be a comedy writer one day: I write good and I'm fucking hilarious (laughs)