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Feb 13 2014

Breaking the silence on male abuse victims.

You may recall a few months ago I was helping Survivors Manchester to lobby government for access to funding for male rape  victims, who were explicitly excluded from the large Rape Support Fund.

I’m delighted to let you know that today the Ministry of Justice announced a new dedicated fund for male victims or rape and sexual assault. They are also throwing their weight behind Survivors Manchester’s #BreakTheSilence social media campaign. I was asked to write something for the Independent today, which was one of the most gratifying commissions I’ve had for a while.

First published at the Independent

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Today’s announcement by the Ministry of Justice of a new fund for male victims of rape and sexual violence is hugely significant.

The significance is not in the sum of money. While £500,000 is more than welcome, and will make a huge difference to the funded organisations and their clients, nobody would pretend it can do more than scrape at the scale of a problem which impacts an estimated 72,000 new adult victims every year and untold numbers of children. Nor does the significance lie in acknowledgement of the problem – charities have previously been funded for limited work with male victims, and in the light of historic sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic church and social service care homes, no one can plead ignorance as to the extent of horrors involved.

The significance is not even in the campaigning victory of charities like Survivors Manchester, who have fought persistently against the flagrant injustice of male victims being explicitly excluded from funds set up to provide care and support to victims of rape and abuse – although that achievement should not be overlooked. The historic significance of today’s announcement is that it marks the first time that a British government of any stripe has ringfenced any quantity of victim support funding specifically to help men and boys. It may only be half a million quid, but it is a priceless milestone.

Although male victims make up a significant minority of cases of child sex abuse and of adult sexual, domestic and relationship violence, their specific needs and circumstances are often pushed so far to the margins of debate and policy that they all but disappear. In mainstream political and media narratives, the terms sexual violence and relationship violence are taken to be synonymous with the phrase ‘violence against women and girls.’

This has consequences for male victims which go far beyond access to funding and resources. The voices and views of male victims are often excluded from debates about the investigation and prosecution of sexual crimes, despite considerable evidence to show there are specific and complex issues around men’s and boys’ willingness to report and testify. Debates around cultures of victim- blaming often focus exclusively on women’s supposed behaviour or appearance, almost never on men’s sexuality, despite extensive evidence that male victims, just like female victims, are commonly assumed to have been ‘asking for it.’

While our society still has a long way to go before it treats the sexual abuse of women with the seriousness it requires, the equivalent journey for men has barely begun. Prison rape jokes in particular are almost ubiquitous. The ugly reality of that issue is stomach-churning rather than comic. One study drew upon interviews with ex-prisoners. The evidence was that while fewer prisoners are raped in British prisons than some people might imagine, those who are victimised are typically singled out for their physical and mental vulnerability and attacked repeatedly by multiple perpetrators. Detailed data on the extent of the problem in the UK remains elusive however because, shockingly, no one has ever commissioned or authorised the research to find out.

A different issue confronts the sizeable minority of male victims whose abusers are female. Despite clinical literature demonstrating that such victims face similar risks to other abuse survivors of post-traumatic symptoms, guilt, emotional and mental health risks and sexual dysfunction, victims often report feeling entirely isolated by a cultural denial of their existence. Boys who are abused by older women are told they should consider themselves lucky or grateful. While there is a large weight of evidence demonstrating that surprisingly large numbers of adult men can be victims of coercive or violent sexual abuse by women, their needs and situations are all but entirely ignored.

Perhaps the strongest argument for reserved funding for male victims is that if government won’t help victims, nobody will. Charities working specifically with male victims tend to be desperately under-funded, the sad truth is that they are not considered the most sympathetic causes. Social psychologists have found that both genders, but especially men, are more likely to give to women in need than to men, which is generally attributed to socialised notions of chivalry. If ever you wanted an example of the feminist dictum that patriarchy hurts men too, it is right here.

Perhaps things are slowly changing. Similar points were made for many years about funding for research into male-specific cancers, but in recent years initiatives like Movember and Men United have brought glimmers of light to the gloom. Alongside the new funding, the Ministry of Justice have thrown their weight behind the survivors’ charities social media campaign, #BreakTheSilence. Further support has come from the cast of Hollyoaks, which is currently running a sensitively-handled storyline of male rape. It is perhaps this gradual, public unlocking of the issue which, more than anything, can bring hope to survivors.

21 comments

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  1. 1
    lelapaletute

    Great news – as you say, more symbolically than practically, but symbolism is important in issues with as much ideological baggage as rape and sexual abuse. More power to Survivors Manchester, and every other organisation like them trying to undo some of the appalling harm done to the victims of abuse.

    On the prison rape jokes thing, the main reason I have given up watching Have I Got News For You (quite apart from the show’s general decline in relevance and quality) is that the sheer volume of jokes made by the panelists about male on male rape, particularly in the context of prisons, had become noticeable and intrusive, and never failed to jar me with its offensiveness. It seemed every other episode would include some sort of rape joke, which was deemed perfectly acceptable and hilarious by the supposedly left-wing, politically astute audience and panelists, simply because the victim in the joke was a man.

    I will never understand how our culture has come to a place where this appalling, systematic form of sexual abuse is not only publicly acknowledged and dismissed as an inevitability, but actually almost considered a good thing in some way, an additional and acceptable facet of penal punishment. A sort of “serve him right” mentality pervades, particularly pertaining to imprisoned sex offenders (“see how he likes it” etc) but also just generally towards any man found guilty of a crime. A similar attitude towards female prisoners would never be acceptable to disclose in a public forum these days, not even as a ‘joke’.

  2. 2
    Ally Fogg

    Couldn’t agree more, Lela, thanks.

    Can’t say I’d particularly noticed HIGNFY over any of the others. It is so stupidly pervasive.

  3. 3
    mildlymagnificent

    both genders, but especially men, are more likely to give to women in need than to men, which is generally attributed to socialised notions of chivalry. If ever you wanted an example of the feminist dictum that patriarchy hurts men too, it is right here.

    I’d agree with your last sentence, but I have doubts about the general driver of the distinction being one of chivalry towards women. I’d suspect a very large part of it would be that men who are victims in any way (other than from wounds and other consequences of military service) are dismissed and occasionally openly scorned as inadequate or weak or “unmanly” in some way. Women aren’t judged against this vague, undefined, but very firmly held, prejudice in the first place so they’re less likely to arouse the distaste and dismissal that men’s issues can do. I’d be more inclined to the notion that men use chivalrous constructions to rationalise to themselves why they’d support women’s charities rather than men’s. They wouldn’t use the callous expressions that you sometimes hear to denigrate or minimise men’s problems to describe women in similar circumstances. So I’ve argued myself into the position that it’s mostly or entirely PHMT. Not sure that’s where I’d want to be but it’ll do for now.

    A sort of “serve him right” mentality pervades, particularly pertaining to imprisoned sex offenders (“see how he likes it” etc) but also just generally towards any man found guilty of a crime.

    This is appalling. The idea that a rapist, of any category of victim, deserves to be raped is horrible. No one can possibly “deserve” rape and there is no justification for it – in or out of prison. To me, this is part and parcel of the too common notion that people are imprisoned for punishment rather than as punishment and that a sexual or violent offence justifies further sexual or other violence when that person is imprisoned.

    And it’s never funny. Rape jokes just aren’t funny. There are a few, rare, comedians who can make jokes around the subject of rape but they’re few and far between – and the rape victim, imprisoned or otherwise, is never laughed at.

  4. 4
    Paul

    So many issues are raised by the subject of male victims of sex abuse it’s difficult to know where to start.But the fact the Ministry of Justice has announced a new fund to help male victims is certainly a step in the right direction. For male victims need as much help and support as female victims of sex abuse.

    I wonder whether the jokey blokey attitude to male victims of sex abuse has its roots in fear-not that i’m excusing it.Nevertheless i think there’s going to have to be a pretty seismic shift in cultural attitudes before mainstream society accepts that men can be the victims of sex abuse at the hands of both men and women.That straight men can and do sexually abuse other men -the issue for them is one of power and the need to dominate and humiliate their victim rather than one of sexual attraction.And that male victims suffer every bit as much as female victims.

  5. 5
    mildlymagnificent

    One thing we can be – reluctantly – grateful for. The rate of sexual abuse of boys has declined significantly over the last few decades/ half century. 20ish years ago we got some “background for parents” on the sex and personal safety education package for our then primary aged kids. The trainer pointed out that research (recent at that time) showed that men under 30 reported half the rate of childhood sexual abuse that men over 60 reported. They attributed this to more openness in school sex education generally and, specifically in more recent programs, to teaching kids about inappropriate touching and the wrong kind of secrets. I’d be willing to presume that the same sorts of trends would apply in countries similar to Australia – NZ, Britain, Canada.

    My feeling is that with so many older men now publicly talking about their horrific childhood experiences here – because of the Royal Commission into institutional abuse – that it may become more acceptable, but never easy, for men to disclose abuse as adults. Though I don’t expect that to happen tomorrow. It’s going to take a few more years. (And I don’t like to think about how often women are still disbelieved or dismissed and subsequently murdered. I’d like to think that men would be taken more seriously – because that might translate to more acceptance for victims generally – but I suspect they’re even more likely to be dismissed. For the time being.)

    Never give up. Keep on hoping. This tiny financial contribution is a big contribution to the idea being considered more seriously by more people. I hope.

  6. 6
    J. J. Ramsey

    lelapaletute:

    On the prison rape jokes thing, the main reason I have given up watching Have I Got News For You (quite apart from the show’s general decline in relevance and quality) is that the sheer volume of jokes made by the panelists about male on male rape, particularly in the context of prisons, had become noticeable and intrusive, and never failed to jar me with its offensiveness.

    I would proffer that the jokes about male-on-male rape are manifestations of that decline in quality that you had mentioned.

  7. 7
    123454321

    lela,

    Yes, I am sick of these types of sick jokes, too, which are always aimed at men – yet few seem to complain about them. Reverse the sexes and there smacks an in-your-face double-standard. The ‘man getting hit in the crotch for a laugh’ joke is wearing thin, too, and I wonder how many men and boys actually find that ‘joke’ offensive these days. Can’t be just me, surely.

  8. 8
    Mr Supertypo

    good news…. :-)

  9. 9
    WhineyM.

    Social psychologists have found that both genders, but especially men, are more likely to give to women in need than to men, which is generally attributed to socialised notions of chivalry. If ever you wanted an example of the feminist dictum that patriarchy hurts men too, it is right here.

    Woh there – hang on a second. By whom is this “generally attributed to socialised notions of chivalry” , and where is the evidence exactly that this is the primary driver and influence behind this behaviour? Most often, wherever I see the message deliberately being put forward that women are the only victims of domestic violence (and that male victims by implication do not exist), this is mainly done by institutions and people who most strongly associate with the ‘progressive, liberal-left’ (though, of course, we all know that genuine left-wing socialism disappeared a long time ago, and that these moneyed professionals would do better to describe themselves as neo-liberals than anything else.) But yes: the British Broadcasting Corporation; many Labour politicians; the Indy and the Graun – these, among many on this part of the spectrum, are the main sources for the dissemination of these sorts of beliefs.

    For a typical example, one which has raised many complaints, take this for instance:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_arobNtUyU

    So I guess this would be my challenge to you then, Ally: – if these incredibly powerful figures and media institutions are churning out this kind of propaganda on a regular basis, how can you know or hold the belief, that these ‘hidden’, less obvious processes of socialised chivalry make for the more powerful and influential phenomenon?

    I see little evidence or signs of chivalry being consciously promoted in the public realm, apart from by self-titled ‘progressives’ such as Polly Toynbee, who makes quite clear in this piece that women should feel perfectly entitled to expect – and I quote – ‘chivalry AND equality’ at the same time:

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/jul/18/gender.pressandpublishing

  10. 10
    Ally Fogg

    WhineyMalone

    Woh there – hang on a second. By whom is this “generally attributed to socialised notions of chivalry” , and where is the evidence exactly that this is the primary driver and influence behind this behaviour?

    I was mostly alluding to the work of Alice Eagly who has been hugely influential on this topic over the past 30 years or so. See here for starters

    Personally I think there’s a bit more to it than that, and actually,I am not convinced that this is the primary driver and influence which is why I used the phrase “generally attributed to…”

    I’m not sure how you jump from there (a point about who gives most charity to whom) back to the issue of domestic violence, but yes, it is well established that the media and polics consider domestic (and sexual) violence to be a women’s issue. It’s one of those topics, along with childcare and preventative health, that the male establishment are happy to concede to women to discuss, debate and even formulate policy.

    But look at the very first camera shot in that clip. Three middle aged men in grey suits.

    I have no idea what they had been discussing, but maybe economic policy, finance, foreign policy, defence policy – who knows, could be any of them or a hundred things besides.

    When you’ve got three women there discussing the government’s economic policy every night of the week, then I’ll start to believe you that feminism runs the world.

  11. 11
    WhineyM.

    Cheers Ally, although I think it’s perhaps a bit naughty to say I made a leap between the potrayal of domestic violence in the media and giving to charity, and then to link to a paper which self-describes as having gained most of its data from studies done “in the context of short-term encounters with strangers” ! :-) But yep, it’s not so much that I think ‘feminists run the world’, which plainly would be a really silly assertion, but I just think the near monopoly they have developed regarding gender issues has become deeply damaging in so many respects.
    To me the London riots of 2011 were a clear sign of certain aspects of masculinity in Britain experiencing an almost deliberate neglect by the media and governing classes (especially after all the years of ‘New Labour’ socio-economic policy, something which has barely been discussed anywhere, as far as I can see). Shamefully, the only gendered perspective your own newspaper offered on those events was one setting out to denigrate and pathologise masculinity per se, which to my mind was not all that helpful.
    At the moment we’re a million miles from some of the policies which you mentioned you’d like to see put in place, (like a government commission on boys’ education), and I think we need to start questioning a bit more forcefully those vested interests which are preventing such things from happening, other than attributing it all to some vague notion like ‘The Patriarchy’. Well that’s my own take on things, at any rate.

  12. 12
    Adiabat

    Ally (10):

    then I’ll start to believe you that feminism runs the world.

    This isn’t the first time you’ve made this strawman and I still don’t get it.

    This is a blog primarily about gender issues so why is it a shock to you that if there’s an issue regarding gender issues that is causing harm then people are going to blame those that, as you say, “the male establishment are happy to concede to” wrt policy? And let’s face it: it’s not “women” they are conceding to, but feminists who claim to represent women.

    If this blog was about economics then feminists wouldn’t even get mentioned. I even agree with you that “economic policy, finance, foreign policy, defence policy” are in some ways more important and affect people more than gender issues, but again, this blog doesn’t appear to be about those. If it was then I could understand your annoyance with people bringing up the relatively “lesser” harm that those in control of gender issues are causing. But it’s like someone having a blog about the harms of foxhunting then getting annoyed at commenter’s complaining about people who hunt foxes “because of what’s going on in Palestine”.

    Sometimes I completely agree with you but other times it seems like you’re on another planet and I can’t figure out your reasoning at all (though I’m sure you get feminists saying that to you as well :) ).

  13. 13
    W.Malone

    Oh BTW, Ally – sorry, should point out that that last post was written before I’d read your request on the other thread to stay on topic (and the last 2 paragraphs were inspired by your own off-topic meanderings about ‘all male panels’ and ‘feminism running the world’, etc.) :-)
    However I would add if your looking to find a powerful voice, to write to on these issues, on the government backbenches (to maybe gain some traction in the future) then Peter Bottomley, one of the patrons of Parity (http://www.parity-uk.org/) may possibly be a very good bet. I’ve seen him make some amazing speeches on BBC Parliament about the need for a humanitarian and civilised treatment of male offenders in prison (even going so far as to back giving them the vote). So I reckon he’d give you a serious hearing, and who knows perhaps even speak out on these matter should a related subject come up in debate.

  14. 14
    leni

    That is great news, Ally, well done! Obviously not enough, but thank you for your efforts. I will keep my eye on your blog for opportunities to donate.

  15. 15
    Ginkgo

    Ally@ 10 “I was mostly alluding to the work of Alice Eagly who has been hugely influential on this topic over the past 30 years or so. See here for starters

    Personally I think there’s a bit more to it than that, and actually, I am not convinced that this is the primary driver and influence which is why I used the phrase “generally attributed to…”

    Yes there is more to it, the demands of macho posturing are the rest of it, but both come out of the script for the macho role. So they both have the same root.

  16. 16
    Paul

    It’s interesting that this thread has attracted so few comments.And i don’t mean that in any snide or critical way.It perhaps reflects the fact that when addtressing the issue of sexual abuse the idea of men being victims is one we struggle with for a variety of reasons.

  17. 17
    carnation

    @ Paul

    I disagree, I think it attracts so few comments because people can’t think of an angle to perpetuate their particular political stance.

    If I was being more cynical, I would also say that it’s because many self declared male advocates care more about those they deem “enemies” then those they claim to advocate for.

    I would hope that it’s because it’s universally seem as a positive development, a statement to please, rather than a bone of contention.

  18. 18
    Paul

    Hi Carnation.

    Maybe you’re right, i really don’t know tbh.

  19. 19
    Adiabat

    Paul, I think carnation is right in his third paragraph. It’s because it is good news that no-one wants wants to take away from by pointing out any criticisms. I could probably come up with one, but I don’t want to take away from the fact that it’s a step in the right direction.

    carnations other points may have a grain of truth as well, though to add balance another possibility is that people who don’t want resources to go to male victims instead of female victims are self aware enough to realise how bad it’ll look to criticise this. It’ll conclusively expose them as ideologues and bigots.

  20. 20
    carnation

    # Adiabet

    I think the sole commenter who would hold such views (no name, but think of a traditional name for a male teacher and a colloquialism for inhaling cocaine), would not having a problem advertising, at length, their viewpoint.

  21. 21
    4th of July, AP

    Thanks.

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