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RTC Reviews UK government statement on male survivors - part two

Identification and Reporting

It may be difficult for men to identify themselves as victims or survivors of crimes of this nature.This is partly due to the covert nature of the abuse. As children, they may have been told not to tell or risk further harm as a consequence. There are also notions of shame and harmful gender norms: boys don’t cry, so take it on the chin and man up. This is toxic. By telling men to suppress their feelings, we dismiss their experiences and diminish their self-worth. They fear they won’t be believed. Research indicates that as many as 1 in 5 men took 31 years to disclose their experience of sexual abuse. Hence, reporting may only take place when the survivor is in crisis.

The report reveals there has been an increase in reporting. The National Male Survivor Helpline has also seen a 1700% increase in calls after a Coronation Street storyline about a male rape survivor. There seems to be a link between high profile cases promoting cultural change and starting life-saving conversations.

Police are also recording more reports from male survivors. However, Data from SafeLives Insights collected in the three year period up until March 2018 showed that 4.7% of their male clients were as likely to report domestic abuse to the police as their female counterparts. So, getting survivors to report in the first place is difficult, as is what happens next. “A notable difference however was that male victims and survivors were more likely to access services through a referral from the police compared to female victims and survivors.” That said, members of the LGBT community may struggle to access these services in particular. “Services are primarily designed with heterosexual women in mind,” gay, bisexual and trans men may not know that they can also use them. Generally, lack of visibility or awareness of LGBT issues is exclusionary. LGBT people may fear homophobia or transphobia when accessing support, so they keep quiet. It is also vital to consider the experiences of individuals who are racially or otherwise minoritized. Can we really say Black Lives Matter if Black people struggle to access support more than their white counterparts?

Last but by no means least, the Crown Prosecution Services is also tackling the issue. In a statement, it said it has met with national men’s groups and will work to ensure that its response is more tailored towards aiding male victims. it intends to work with third-parties to “dispel societal myths”, work closely with men’s groups “to increase confidence in reporting” and “Explore issues that may arise because of multiple forms of discrimination such as that faced by BAME or LGBT victims.”

Let’s hope they follow through.

Government recommendations:

As part of its statement, the government made 12 commitments. Here, we’ll have a look at a handful of them.

The government promises £500,000 apiece to support organisations, LGBT support organisations and Survivors Manchester. It will also give “£24m over the next three years to vital services.” This will be a lifeline for survivors and the organisations themselves. Charities such as Galop and SurvivorsUK provide counselling, helplines and emotional support. They help survivors come to terms with their experiences and access support to rebuild their lives. In October this year, SurvivorsUK confirmed they had worked with EastEnders on a childhood sexual abuse storyline, which millions will view.

As we saw with the Coronation Street storyline, visibility is key. If male survivors see their experiences reflected in the media and in day-to-day conversations, it could make them feel more validated and less alone. If support resources are clearly publicised, they become more accessible. If these services are open to all men, regardless of their sexuality or ethnicity, more survivors will feel empowered to come forward.

Is this enough? As of June this year, 1 in 10 UK charities were facing bankruptcy and domestic violence charity Refuge saw demand for its services increase tenfold during the first lockdown. Arguably, the sector is under more pressure than ever before. Yes, the government doesn’t have a money money tree (at least, not according to Theresa May), but investing in anti-violence services is vital. It will give victims safe spaces to go or even just a friendly voice at the end of the phone. it will also allow charities to pay their staff and keep services running.

Another commitment we found interesting was number 6. By making campaigns “inclusive of men and boys” the government can help to break social myths about victims of violence. As the report showed, shame is a powerful barrier for men. Having to maintain a stiff upper lip because only women get hurt is dangerous. Male suicide is at its highest for 20 years. Conversations around physical and sexual violence are undoubtedly difficult and painful for survivors, so the government needs to lead by example. We’d love to see how it plans to do this. Will it run TV ads, start a hashtag or pass the mic and promote survivors’ stories? We don’t remember seeing anything about it so far. We’d love to know if the government still plans to do this.

Finally, commitment number 8 is dedicated to education. It wants schools to promote issues of consent, gender stereotypes and victim support in classes like Sex Education. As of September 2020, these classes are compulsory in the UK. For Scotland, this is down to school, which also decides the content of Sex Ed classes in Northern Ireland; Wales will make these classes obligatory from 2022. So, how does the government plan to promote these issues across the UK’s different regions?

Whilst we support this suggestion, we also think that a joined-up approach is important. Let’s keep the conversation going in Higher Education too. As of 2019, two thirds of UK unis offered consent training, but it’s mostly optional. Moreover, our research reveals that not all universities have dedicated sexual misconduct policies. Therefore, there is a gap between government “commitments” and practise. Yes, having those things in place won’t always prevent violence from taking place, but it shows survivors that what they’ve experienced is unjust and that there is support available.

All in all, the government’s promises are a good starting point. The report was released pre-COVID, so the situation will have undoubtedly worsened due to the pandemic. Therefore, it’s more important than ever for the government to stick to its promises and support male survivors.

Where to seek support:

LGBT community - Galop

Male Survivors Partnership

The ManKind initiative

Ben’s Place (North Yorkshire, for victims of childhood abuse)

Safeline (also for children)

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