SurvivorsUK is the longest established UK service supporting male victims of sexual violence. Since its inception in 1986, the organisation has offered national helpline and London-based counselling and group therapy services to both male survivors and those who care for them.
The recent GLA Conservative report "Silent Suffering - Supporting the Male Victims of Sexual Assault" estimated that based on four years of actual reports from male complainants (26,483), the likely number of male victims in the same four-year period was more than 670,000. This clearly indicates that male survivors are among the least likely to report or come forward for help. In part, that’s because there are few places that they can go — there are only four male specialist services in the UK. But the larger issue is that as a society we inadvertently act to silence them.
Rape and sexual abuse are devastating experiences for anyone who has experienced them, regardless of their sex, sexual identity or gender will face many of the same challenges and barriers. Shame, guilt and trauma are also inevitably thrown into the mix.
However, male survivors experience some unique challenges that act as additional barriers to engagement and help-seeking.
One of the biggest challenges faced by male survivors is society’s projection that men should be able to withstand and endure terrible circumstances. From infancy, males are told that they should strive to be masculine, i.e. resilient, self-sufficient, dominant in sexual interactions and able to defend both themselves and those relying on them for protection. An experience of rape or sexual abuse contravenes all of these expectations. In essence, it leaves the survivor feeling ‘less than a man'.
The rape and sexual abuse of men and boys continue to be difficult and under-discussed phenomena. Until we are able to embrace this difficult conversation on a public level and to shatter some of the myths that surround these crimes, that is unlikely to change. It’s the work of a lifetime but for the 670,000 male survivors cited in the GLA report and the estimated three million plus male victims of child sexual abuse in the UK, it’s work that we all have to start right now.
Michael May is a team member at SurvivorsUK.