Silent Suffering: Supporting the Male Survivors of Sexual Assault

The Greater London Authority (GLA) Conservative London commissioned a study on male victims of sexual violence. The study collected the reporting rate of male victims to local police. The results showed a stark situation:

On Wednesday, the GLA Conservative Group issued a thorough study that highlighted the gulf between adult male sexual assaults and the amount that get reported to the police.

Titled “Silent Suffering – Supporting the Male Survivors of Sexual Assault”, the paper highlighted the fact that between 2010 and 2014 there were 26,483 recorded incidents of males being victims of sexual assault or rape. This is contrasted with research conducted by SurvivorsUK, the largest and longest established specialist male sexual violence support charity in the UK, which evaluated five years of self-referral data (more than 600 individual entries) to establish that less than 4pc of the sample had reported their experience of adult sexual assault to the police.

The study provided an estimated numbers of victims:

Figures collected from all the UK’s police forces show that between 2010 and 2014 there were 26,483 recorded incidents of males being victims of sexual assault or rape.

This includes 3,748 incidents recorded by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) – the highest rate in the UK.

Using these figures alongside the research conducted by SurvivorsUK, we can estimate the number of males over the age of 16 who were sexually assaulted or raped between 2010 and 2014, who did not report their experiences to the police.

These numbers suggest that across the entire UK between 2010 and 2014, 679,051 sexual assaults and rapes of males took place. Of these – 652,568 were not reported to any police force.

In the geographical area covered by the MPS this would equate to 96,103 sexual assaults and rapes of males between 2010 and 2014 – with 92,355 of them not being reported.

The study also analyzed why men do not come forward. It mentioned social attitudes towards male vulnerability, attacks on masculinity, and people questioning their sexuality. The study also noted how police attitudes affect whether men will come forward:

Academic research has clearly suggested that in some cases, the poor treatment of male rape victims by the police has left them feeling under suspicion and therefore unlikely to be believed.

Heterosexual victims were frequently labelled as gay and police officers presented the same misconceptions about why a victim was unable to fight off their attacker. There were also some suggestions within the research that some police officers labelled those with known mental health problems as automatically having falsely reported their experiences.

Societal and police misconceptions urgently need countering. Only by doing this will more victims gain confidence to come forward and receive the support they need.

Absent from the study is any mention of organizations refusing to assist male victims. It is a curious omission given how frequently it occurs. The study does acknowledge that there are a lack of services for male victims and that many of those that do assist men may not make that apparent. However, there is no mention of the negative, often misandrous attitude present in the support community. The closest the study comes to talking about that is this:

In 2013, the Mayor of London launched a refreshed Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy which saw the provision of Rape Crisis Centres quadrupled and the establishment of a specialist command within the MPS to tackle rape. This VAWG strategyworks alongside the one established by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to improve prosecutions and support victims.

However, while the titles of these strategies appear female-centric, the one released by the CPS included male victims within the statistics, yet no direct reference was made to their inclusion. The CPS confirmed this, and suggested in future it would still include male victims within the statistics, but clarify introductory remarks about their inclusion. The rationale for this was that it felt men could also be victims of crimes which fell under the VAWG strategy.

The fact that male victims are included alongside female victims, in a strategy which appears to specifically look at females, will not help men to come forward, nor will it help those agencies and organisations offering support in attracting male victims to come forward.

One would think this would deserve a deeper investigation because those female-centric strategies erase male victims. One can understand why the study would avoid criticizing that aspect more harshly. The backlash from the feminist community would be swift. However, failing to talk about the misandrous attitude in the support community as part of the problem, particularly as one of the barriers keeping men from reporting their assaults, is a gross oversight.

That said, the study does point out that even if more men come forward, many of their rapists would not be brought to proper justice because according to UK law women cannot commit rape:

One of the key drivers of the criminal justice system often appearing unsympathetic to male victims – and at times reinforcing the myth that sexual assaults against males is just a problem within the gay community, is how current laws are drafted.

Legally a woman is unable to rape a male. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines rape as something which must involve penetration with a penis.

Therefore it is only possible for a male to commit the crime of rape, on either a male or female victim. However, should a woman engage in unwanted sexual activity with a male, which included some form of penetration, this would be considered the offence of sexual assault by penetration, not rape.

The study cites the FBI’s new definition of rape as an example of a law that recognizes female perpetrators. While it is technically true that the FBI says the definition applies to female-on-male rape, the study is incorrect in claiming that this is a law. The FBI definition applies to how the FBI categorizes data collected from police departments. It does not affect any state prosecutions, which are the majority of the prosecutions, although it may apply to federal cases.

Using the FBI’s convoluted definition would be unwise, however, changing the UK’s law to include female perpetrators is necessary. Under the current law, even when women prey on children they cannot be charged with rape. This often results in women receiving significantly low sentences regardless of the severity of the assault. Changing the law would prevent such a travesty.

This study is a tremendous statement on the seriousness of this issue. Male victims do not receive the support they need and deserve in large part because of social attitudes against recognizing their victimization. We have the resources to help them, but as the study states, we must actually implement them. We also must do something I have been attacked by feminists for years for suggesting: tailor the services to men’s specific needs.

The idea that what works for women will work for men is simply false. As the study notes:

Men are known to “dip in” and “dip out” of support services provided to victims of sexual assaults and rape. This means that while they often make an initial form of contact, they frequently fail to pursue follow-up appointments or further support. Therefore, it is important that the provision of services for male victims is based not only on the amount they need, but the manner in which they choose to engage with such services.

Joined-up working should form a key aspect of any support services available for the male victims of sexual assault and rape. It is important that service providers are aware of each other’s work, and know in what circumstances it would be appropriate to assist a victim in accessing other organisations’ services.

While this already often takes place informally, there is room for the hosting of a convention-style meeting where all interested stakeholders – including support services, healthcare services and the police – should come together and map what support they offer and how male victims could be directed towards it.

Again, this is what victims advocates and men’s rights activists have stated for years only to be attacked for it. Yet it proves to be true that men do not use support services the same way as women. If it works better for men to use services for a short time or in moments when they feel they need extra support, there is no reason not to provide men with those options. Doing so will help use understand not only what men need, but also how the trauma actually affects them.

Hopefully this study will lead to change. It would be terrible for the UK to have all this information showing the extent of this problem and then do nothing.

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4 thoughts on “Silent Suffering: Supporting the Male Survivors of Sexual Assault

  1. I think men would benefit greatly in getting support if there were follow-up or check-in calls to them to make sure they are OK. For some reason men only seek help when the situation is very desparate or when they have an advocate assisting them in getting needed assistance.

  2. “Therefore, it is important that the provision of services for male victims is based not only on the amount they need, but the manner in which they choose to engage with such services.”

    The RCC (rape crisis center) where I was a volunteer had little success engaging men after an initial call (if they weren’t refused service). They required a follow-up appointment with an immediate rather invasive disclosure of all kinds of personal information for insurance payment/sliding scale, including employer. I pointed how after a huge violation of trust, this is a very high barrier. They had something like a 10% showing up rate for years but never thought to change the approach. I discovered this was typical with other RCCs.

    So I ran an anonymous (if you chose) free, well attended, drop-in group with the idea it would serve as a “toe in the water”/welcome mat for an offering of further services. I made it quite clear there would be no questions, no name, no fee expected for quite a while attending, but they would actually quickly enough open up once they saw their issues taken seriously. Quite a few I think sought other engagement with the mental health profession as a result.

    It’s just one example of seeking something that works, “respecting cultural norms of the community you serve”. It of course garnered very little interest, zero dollars by agencies and professionals.

    As for change…. I guess I firmly believe this is a political problem. Change will occur when it’s demanded and right now, there is no constituency even asking for change.

  3. Allan, thanks for the comment. The disclosure issue is one of the reasons I tend to prefer online groups for men just coming forward. It allows them to maintain their anonymity until they are ready to seek therapy or a support group without asking anything from them.

    I also found it odd that the centers would want so much personal information from the start. I suppose it makes sense from a legal and service standpoint, but I can see how that request could turn many people off.

  4. Vic, I think that is an interesting idea, however, it could also be a hindrance for some men. They may not want to give out their personal information, let alone be contacted by a crisis center. This is particularly true if the man has not told anyone about the assault.

    That said, once there is established trust I think follow-ups are very important. They not only help ensure the man had a safety net in case he withdraws, but it also shows that people do genuinely care and that can often help men be more willing to open up.

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