L'Oréal Blackett speaks to Survivors Manchester about their distressing research

"WHEN you feel less of a man why would you want to tell anyone that?" asks Duncan Craig, CEO of Survivors Manchester, a vital initiative which provides support for men and boys who’ve been victims of sexual abuse. “Sexual abuse attacks the very idea of your own masculinity or maleness. Why are people surprised that for many boys it’s hard to speak out and it takes years?”

It’s a question which reveals a troubling truth; taboo, stigma, humiliation, jaded views on masculinity all play a part in silencing male victims of sexual abuse. It comes as no surprise that society is largely unaware that women aren’t the only victims of this crime.

Survivors Manchester’s recent research that one in six men has had abusive sexual experiences before the age of eighteen, is as startling as it is distressing.

The results, taken from various sexual health charities including the Office Of National Statisticssuggest that over 3 million men and boys have been victims of sexual abuse and violence in the UK. Survivors Manchester also believe that due to the number of unreported assault cases this figure could be much higher.

The findings were revealed during Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week (6 – 12 February), a social media scheme which aimed to encourage open conversation about sexual abuse. For Duncan Craig and Survivors Manchester, it provided a much-needed platform to talk about men’s experiences within this difficult subject, as well as encourage more men to seek support.

“Sexual abuse affects us all, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, economic status or disability. The statistics around the number of victims are high and worryingly understood to be even higher,” says Duncan.

Why are people seemingly oblivious to sexual violence against men?

“There are a whole number of reasons why people aren’t aware about the number of men suffering; from the charity awareness campaigns, media stories, to government initiatives, that all tend to only focus on women. As a result, we then don’t engage in the much-needed conversations that could help bring awareness and encourage more men to seek support.”

One in five women in the UK has experienced sexual violence and women are still predominantly the main recipients of abuse. Of the 78,000 rape cases committed in this country each year, roughly 9,000 are male victims. While there is a disparity in the number of reported cases, remaining blinkered to men’s experiences with abuse is damaging to vulnerable men.

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Survivors Manchester worked with Hollyoaks cast member James Sutton during a recent sexual abuse storyline

In March 2016, the government launched its Violence against Women and Girls fund, increasing its funding to £80 million to protect women and girls against violence. Launched on International Women’s Day it was both a huge monetary and symbolic gesture. Yet Duncan believes the fund ignores male victims.

“The very name suggests men and boys aren’t included in this important government strategy in this country,” he says.

“Unless we start finding ways of changing these ideas and helping boys and men speak up then the pain will continue. Don’t our brothers, husbands, sons, fathers, boyfriends, granddads and best friends deserve the chance to speak out? Awareness campaigns give us all permission to talk about stuff, to break the silence.”

Duncan is an accredited counsellor/psychotherapist and as a survivor himself, his work with Survivors Manchester is a subject close to home.

“I was studying to become a psychotherapist and I was counselling a young lad who had suffered from abuse. It then triggered me to realise my own experience of abuse between the ages of eleven and sixteen. I began having nightmares. I was lucky enough to have a support group as I was in an NHS environment and I went to see my own therapist. Yet I really wanted an outlet to meet other people like me and I decided to set up something up in Manchester.”

Based on Chapel Street, he started the not-for-profit organisation in 2009 and works with men across the Greater Manchester community.

“There are stigmas that need to be addressed,” he says. “With more visibility, we’re able to tackle perceptions that this only happens to gay men and that assault is somehow connected to sexual orientation.”

Survivors Manchester has supported more than 1100 men since it opened eight years ago and Duncan has been surprised by the number of men that have sought their professional support. The charity also has a number of high profile ambassadors, including actors, footballers and comedians who have spoken out about their experiences. They also worked with Hollyoaks cast member James Sutton when his character faced sexual abuse in a recent storyline.

Both Survivors Manchester and their members are finding a voice as a result of much more open discussions. In today’s unsettled socio-political climate, where disenfranchised voices are beginning to rise up and speak out against increasingly oppressive forces, Duncan and his team are committed to empowering those men who feel locked into this gender-based issue.

“We have a fantastic team. Many of which are survivors themselves," says Duncan. "When someone comes in to see us, we let them know that everything is done at their pace. We provide support through the entire court process  - or not if they don’t want to. They are in charge of what they do or don’t reveal. With us, they gain back control.”

Find out more about Survivors Manchester on the website or give them a call on 0161 236 2182.