After the recent catastrophic reporting of Reynhard Sinaga, contributor to UK SAYS NO MORE, Simran Dhillon, highlights the little spoken about occurrence of sexual violence against men:
Recent media coverage of Reynhard Sinaga has shed some light on the serious issue of male rape, sexual assault and abuse in the UK. It is unfortunate that it has taken this case to bring this issue to the forefront. Rape against men is not as commonly discussed as it should be and for this reason, the following post will focus on this subject in the hopes to provide readers with some information and contribute to the wider discussion that needs to be held.
Statistics and Myths
In March 2017, the Crime Survey for England and Wales found that 4% of men, which is 631,000 male victims, have experienced some form of sexual assault since the age of 16. Approximately 12,000 men (aged 16-59) are raped in the UK every year and more than 70,000 are sexually abused or assaulted. We should bear in mind that in reality the figures are likely to be higher, as many feel unable to report this crime to the police.
Survivors UK, an organisation that offers support to men, outlines some common myths that we must begin to break down in order to create a safe and welcoming space that will encourage male survivors to seek support from family, friends and the authorities. The myths outlined below are only a few of the long list that Survivors UK runs through:
Men can’t be sexually abused is a myth that stems from society’s patriarchal structure which defines masculinity, and therefore men, as independent, tough and powerful. In contrast femininity, and therefore women, is understood as weaker, sensitive and passive. These ideologies have deep roots in our society which impacts the way we perceive the world. Unfortunately, survivors of rape are still seen by some as defenceless and weak. Taking on this logic means taking on the view that ‘real men’ cannot be raped. This statement is simply untrue, unkind and dangerous. Such ideals may leave some men reluctant to come forward out of fear for not being believed1.
Men cannot be sexually abused by women is another unfounded myth. Although the majority of perpetrators are male, some are female.
Only gay men and boys are sexually abused. Neither a person’s sexual identity nor gender identity is connected to sexual abuse.
What could be the cause of limited discussion?
Arguably, there are a number of factors that have stunted conversation on male rape and while this blog seeks to outline some contributing factors, it does not provide a comprehensive overview.
First, the social stigma that ‘real men’ cannot be raped discourages survivors from coming forward and increases victim blaming culture1.
Second, up until 1994, UK law did not recognise male on male rape as a criminal offence1. It is likely this denial caused detrimental effects concerning men’s ability to report their abuse.
Third, the remnants of UK law classing male on male rape as a non-criminal offence, may have seeped into the UK’s current approach which places male sexual violence as a subcategory within the government’s “Ending Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG)” strategy. Siobhan Ware, a lecturer in Law at Lancaster University, discusses in her article why this subcategorization is unhelpful. By placing male sexual violence under VAWG supports the myth of male invulnerability as it hides the experience of male survivors. This fails to consider how masculinity and gender stereotypes play a role in preventing men and boys discussing their experience. Siobhan is working alongside other organisations and activists to push the government to create a national “ending intimate violence against men and boys” strategy. This is not intended to divert energies and efforts away from VAWG but rather an attempt to provide a more suitable strategy for approaching the experience of male survivors.
Fourth, there is still limited research regarding the ideologies and beliefs that formulate male rape myths, which once defined and understood, could help us create educational tools to combat them1. Within UK universities, the work to create an effective strategy to support male survivors has not really begun and any work being done to help men is 20 years behind that of the work being done for females.
UK SAYS NO MORE has a page dedicated to this subject which covers how to support men and provides links to organisations that can help. The campaign asks members of society to Believe, Respond and Refer victims of sexual violence to the correct services.
1 Elizabeth S, Miss Laura R. An Exploration into the Acceptance of Male Rape Myths within the UK. J Forensic Sci & Criminal.
Inves 2018; 9(3): 555763. DOI: 10.19080/JFSCI.2018.09.555763.