by Laura Mundy
Recently, I worked for a short time at Mankind Counselling in Brighton & Hove, UK. They are a charity providing counselling for men who have experienced sexual violence, abuse and assault.
At Mankind, the average age of men coming forward to seek help is 43 years old, and yet the majority of these men suffered abuse during childhood. This means men live with the effects of abuse for decades before speaking out.
It’s estimated that 12% of rapes in the UK are against men. Yet many choose not to come forward, either to report the crime or seek the support they need. Furthermore, 94% of those who use rape crises centres are female, one of many indicators that male survivors are not getting the support they need. Why is this happening?
1. Lack of awareness and understanding
When I started at Mankind Counselling, the statistics that I was exposed to in my induction days really shocked me. One in six men worldwide will experience sexual abuse in their lifetime. One in six. That accounts for 17,000 men and boys in my city of Brighton & Hove alone.
The stigma surrounding male sexual abuse both from a survivor’s point of view and that of society makes it very difficult to address.
Pandora’s Project, a survivors non-profit said:
“The preconceptions that prevail in society make it harder for males to be seen as the victims of sexual crime. Myths and incorrect assumptions propagated by both survivors and non-survivors lead to a veil of silence, driven ultimately by fear about how others will see you, as well as how you see yourself.”
The result is that there is alarmingly insufficient awareness about male survivors, and limited opportunities for men to speak out and seek help.
2. Survivor support materials aren’t specific to men
England and Wales police crime figures show there were 3,580 incidents of rape or sexual assault against men in 2014, but Survivors UK support service believe that only 2-3% of men report abuse. Those who come forward cite not knowing where to turn as a major reason for staying quiet.
19-year-old Dean who was raped by a fellow school pupil, told BBC Newsbeat that he thought he would “be seen as the criminal” if he turned to police:
“The lack of conversation about it, means people don’t know what to do.”
Dean stayed silent for four years before finding the courage to tell his family and friends about the attack and agreed there’s not enough support for female rape victims, but even less so for men.
“I know there would be so many people who would benefit from just knowing there was help and support out there.”
3. The unbelievable belief that men cannot be raped
Whilst following the support organisation Survivors UK on Facebook, I came across a provocative ad. The intended message was that those close to survivors, like family and friends, are indirectly affected when a man is raped too, and that the organisation can also offer them support as well.
But sadly, the statement was misunderstood, with many commenting ‘when you say male rape, you mean people who have been raped by men, right?’ or ‘does male rape mean male attackers or victims?’
These comments, facetious or not, are a worrying indicator of wider attitudes and elude to victim shaming statements such as ‘How can a man be raped?’ ‘Surely he had the strength to fight them off?’ This victim shaming is divisive, dangerous and ultimately creates further stigma around male rape.
4. The taboo that a man’s masculinity is compromised if he is raped
Survivors UK’s CEO Michael May recognises that reporting an experience to police is particularly hard for men. “Police are one of the major alpha male representations in our society, so we’re essentially asking someone who has been robbed of masculinity to go to the biggest man in the room to talk about it,” he says.
The 2015 report ‘Silent Suffering: Supporting The Male Survivors Of Sexual Assault‘ commissioned by the Greater London Authority also found that many men are concerned their sexuality will become the focus of the investigation when speaking up about their ordeal.
May told the Huffington Post:
“Society is generally afraid to see men as victims. From infancy males are told that they should strive to be resilient, self-sufficient, protectors, dominant in sexual interactions and able to defend themselves.”
He adds: “An experience of rape or sexual abuse contravenes all of these masculine expectations. It leaves the survivor feeling ‘less than a man’ and society feeling that without a firm, inviolate masculine ideal – so safety is fundamentally compromised.”
5. The assumption that the perpetrator or the victim is male and gay
Michael May summarised the struggle male survivors face: “From infancy we’re told that your role is to penetrate, so if you’re raped and you’re penetrated, what does that make you: a woman? Gay?”
But this is far from a ‘gay issue’. The ‘Silent Suffering’ report states that 60% of victims of male rape or sexual assault are heterosexual and research suggests most men who rape men identify as heterosexual.
In the eyes of UK law, women are legally unable to rape as rape is defined as non-consensual intercourse by a man with a person i.e. penetration by a penis of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person. But any gender can be victims of sexual assault and any gender can be the perpetrator.
If a man ejaculates or gets an erection during the assault, he could be left questioning whether the crime was indeed a crime. But experts stress that any physical reaction on the part of the victim is, of course, purely physical and due to stimulation rather than enjoyment.
6. Lack of exposure of male survivor organisations
I had never heard of Mankind Counselling, despite it being in my city of Brighton & Hove for 16 years and being 10 minutes’ walk from my house. Mankind is one of only 20 organisations throughout the UK that are able to provide services for men who have suffered sexual violence.
However, of £1,292,666 of funding allocated by the Mayor of London in 2014 for specialist support services for victims of sexual assault, only 2.5% was allocated specifically to services for men and boys, and Survivors UK faced an 100% axe of government funding in April last year.
Without specialist support services, how can men recover?
These reasons show how poor societal attitudes and a severe lack of resources perpetuate the fear among men of disclosing and seeking support for sexual abuse. I hope that this also highlights how society can learn to create a more supportive and understanding environment for men, why should anyone suffer silently?
Survivors UK talk to thousands of people in London every year, if you want to talk more about male rape visit www.survivorsuk.org for support, or for Brighton, visit Mankind’s website http://www.mankindcounselling.org.uk for more information.