A couple of years ago I came across the US-based organisation 1 in 6 which works with and campaigns for male survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation. I was particularly taken by their campaign #1BlueString, which invites guitarists to show solidarity with the 1 in 6 men and boys who have lived through sexual violence, by replacing one of the six strings of their guitar with a blue one.
As an enthusiastic amateur fret-botherer myself, I emailed the campaign at the time asking if they could ship to the UK and was told no, for the time being it was strictly a US initiative. Shortly after, during one of my regular chinwags with Duncan at Survivors Manchester we found out that we had both, separately and independently, been badgering the team at 1in6 to bring their blue strings to the UK.
So, to cut a long story short, this morning Survivors Manchester launched the UK wing of #1BlueString.
Let me share a few thoughts on why I wanted to help out and why I think this campaign is so important and could potentially make such a huge difference.
It’s no great revelation that we blokes are generally pretty rubbish at doing things like talking to people about our problems, asking for help when we need it, or admitting to our vulnerabilities. Now we could have a long chat about why that is or just how damaging it is, but that wouldn’t really get us very far very quickly. The bottom line is that there are literally millions of men and boys in the UK who have lived through sexual violence or abuse and most of them have never told anyone.
For many of these guys, that is OK. They don’t need to tell anyone if they don’t want to. There are many, many survivors who are getting on with their lives and coping just fine, rarely give it a second thought, and that is brilliant.
There are many others (I don’t know the estimates, but I’d hazard this is the majority) who are getting on with their lives and most of the time are coping just fine, but then comes the occasional spell of anxiety, sleeplessness, the knot in the stomach, the burst of random anger, whatever. Again, there is no obligation to speak to anyone and many survivors are happier to cope on their own, have no wish to speak to anyone and that too is absolutely fine. But it is vitally important that they know that if and when they do feel like they want to talk, someone is there who will understand.
And then there is also another group of survivors who would like to speak to someone, would like to get help and support and either aren’t sure who to approach or just need a little nudge of encouragement to pick up the phone. This is particularly true for male survivors, who may have (wrongly) come to believe that all sexual violence recovery services are run by women for women.
The real beauty of the #1BlueString project is that it speaks to all of those people. To those who feel ready to pick up the phone and talk, it says that someone is here, someone will listen, someone will believe. When you click through to the 1Bluestring.org it will direct you to helplines and to a choice of different organisations that provide support, healing, counselling etc. To the others, it says very simply that people care. That alone is a hugely powerful message and it is the kind of thing that in a bleak moment can make the difference between someone perking up or spiralling down.
The other real strength of #1BlueString is that if blokes are bad at talking about ourselves, we can be equally bad at talking about sensitive, intimate and embarrassing topics, and lets face it, topics don’t get much more intimate and embarrassing than sexual abuse. Someone can put a blue string on a guitar and never say another word about it. The more the campaign grows, the less needs to be spelled out. A lot of the most effective 1BlueString videos that I’ve seen don’t say anything at all, they just encourage people to check what it is about and find out for themselves. There is a subtlety to #1BlueString which makes it all the more powerful.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be releasing a new #1BlueString contribution from guitarists who have already promised their support. Dammit, I’ll even pluck up the courage to do one myself, I promise. After the first big push, we very much hope it will pick up its own momentum and spread like a wave (or at least a ripple) through musical communities.
So if you have a guitar, do please pop to the site, order yourself a string (we’re doing them for the cost of P&P, no profit) and share a selfie or a video or whatever you can do to spread the word. If you’re not a guitarist, why not approach a musical friend or your favourite musician, however famous, and ask them if you can arrange to send them a string? Or at the very least, please help to share the videos, spread the word, pass it along. Chances are that you know someone – a friend, relative, follower, whatever – who will find this more relevant than you could imagine and you just might make a huge difference to someone’s life.