It is never easy to come out as an abuse victim.
It is understandably terrifying. We have all seen the way that victims are demonised. However hard it is to open up, speaking to somebody can be vital, both to the recovery of the victims’ mental health and possible future victims.
Unfortunately, opening up seems to be harder for men, who typically take around 26 years to talk about the abuse faced as children, where it takes women an average of five years.
And the problem doesn’t stop there. One in three victims of domestic abuse are men. However, men are over three times as likely to avoid speaking up about it. 1in6 is an organization that works tirelessly with the families and friends of male abuse victims. Along with the above harrowing statistics, they list many more on their website including the fact that at least one in six men have been sexually abused or assaulted.
This raises the question: why is it so difficult for men to come forward?
Tom, a male survivor of abuse who preferred to remain anonymous, said that he suffered in silence for twelve years before he finally decided to come forward, after being inspired by the #MeToo movement.
He told Daddy’s Digest, “I really thought that it made me less of a man. That I shouldn't be so upset because I was supposed to want to have sex. But, at the same time, while I was telling myself that, I also lost interest in dating and in meeting new people. I started to find it hard to even hang out with my friends. I was just so hurt, so angry. I thought no one would understand what I was going through, and I was furious at them for it, even though they had no idea.”
The ManKind Initiative, a UK based national charity supporting male victims of domestic abuse, have been supporting the cause for seventeen years by providing a helpline, training, and support for statutory agencies such as the police and local authorities. The charity believes that the way people think about abuse is generally focused on female victims.
Mark Brooks, Chairman of the ManKind Initiative said that there needs to be a real step change in supporting and recognising men, who make up one in three of all victims. Brooks has been working with the initiative to lobby for laws that are more inclusive of the male victims who often slip through the cracks and are not heard.
A 2011 study of child sexual abuse around the world showed that around one in thirteen boys globally are sexually assaulted. Although this equates to less male victims than female overall (around one in five globally), each and every one of these children have been hurt and they need to know that they are heard and that their stories matter.
Male victimization rates are rising globally, with 16% of high-risk boys falling victim to sexual assaults and attacks. Clearly, this is not an isolated issue, with boys all over the world who are greatly affected. They need to be able to feel as though they can speak out.
The way that the public perceives sexual abuse could be having a massive impact on the way that abuse victims see themselves, which is why charities such as Survivors UK have been working tirelessly to remove the stigma around sexual abuse for both adult and child victims. The charity aims to change public perceptions of abuse victims and help support those men so they know that they have somewhere safe where they can talk about what they have been through with people who understand.
Katherine Cox, Supervisor, Counsellor and Group Work Co-ordinator at Survivors UK is concerned that not being able to open up about their story could lead male victims of abuse to suffer from mental health conditions later on in life.
She said, “At Survivors UK, we support male survivors of sexual assault and rape. Contemporary and traditional gender norms and expectations mean that there are particular barriers to men coming forward to speak about their experiences. Our research suggests that it takes on average twenty-six years for a man to tell anyone about their abuse. This silence can compound and exacerbate the original trauma, leaving men vulnerable to being further abused, to risk-taking, addiction, mental health difficulties, self-harm and suicide. We find that when men feel able to speak about their experiences, they can begin to break down the shame, stigma and pain rather than merely surviving, they can begin to thrive.”
Charities such as the ManKind Initiative and Survivors UK are popping up and growing in more and more places throughout the world, helping victims of abuse like Tom to process what they have been through and help them move forward.
But it is clear that a lot needs to be changed in the public perception of abuse, so that we can all support these men who are still finding it hard to come forward with their stories. Tom believes that had there been less stigma around the sexual abuse of men, the woman who hurt him could have been behind bars by now. “It just really infuriates me that had I had the confidence to come forward that night, maybe something would have been done about it, but now she just gets to live her life as though she’s done nothing wrong. We need to fight the stigma so that nobody is in my position again."