February 1 – 8 is the sexual abuse and sexual violence awareness week. To mark the week, we will post a series of blogs exploring what it means to be a survivor when you’re a man, and how we can all work to better support survivors.
This blog is written by one of our followers, a man who was raped as an adult. Please note that this story may be upsetting to read. If you feel you need to talk to someone our helpline is available every day 12 – 8 pm. Just click ‘Talk to Us’.
I follow SurvivorsUK on Facebook. Why? Because I benefit hugely from their support. Why did I seek their support? Because I was raped as an undergraduate by another student.
I only ‘realised’ over twenty years later – the trauma at the time had blocked my memory. It was ‘reassuring’ to discover that apparently on average it takes twenty six years for a man to speak out about sexual abuse or rape. (If you want to learn more about memory and trauma, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk is a great place to start).
SurvivorsUK put out a post to give male and non-binary survivors the opportunity to tell their stories as part of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week. Some comments about the post questioned why SurvivorsUK didn’t include women in the call-out, and suggested that women survivors were being left out.
People are entitled to their opinions. But you know what? I am entitled to be irritated by their opinions – and irritated by what I take to be the tone of their comments. They are missing the point. Or at the very least not seeing the opportunity for the stories of male and non-binary survivors to have a particular impact on shining the light on sexual assault.
Adult male sexual abuse is different from child sexual abuse. It is different from the sexual abuse of women. I have been fortunate to meet some trans survivors through SurvivorsUK: I cannot make any comment about their experiences. Don’t get me wrong, sexual abuse and rape are horrendous – of people of any age, gender, sexuality, and by people of any age, gender, or sexuality. But why and how is adult male sexual abuse different?
We live in a patriarchal society. Men are (at least considered to be) dominant. So for a man (be he homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual), to admit or even acknowledge to himself that he has been assaulted or raped as an adult brings an additional layer to his identity as a survivor. Not a different layer, but an additional layer. That doesn’t make it any more or less horrendous than being a female or trans survivor, but an additional layer nonetheless.
Am I less of a man for having been raped as an adult? Maybe not. Maybe not in my eyes. Maybe not in the eyes of my male family members. Maybe not in the eyes of my female family members. Maybe not in the eyes of my male friends. Maybe not in the eyes of my female friends. Maybe not in the eyes of my gay or lesbian friends and family members. Maybe not in the eyes of my new trans friends. But you know what, maybe it does matter. Does it matter that it might matter? Why does it matter? Why would it matter? The fact is it does matter. Or at least I think it might matter.
A bit of a muddle? You bet. And there you have an additional layer. The issue of masculinity in a male-dominated world.
A consideration of the vulnerability of an adult about circumstances that occurred as an adult is not the same as a consideration of the vulnerability of a child. And this is compounded by assessing the relative weight of vulnerability of and as an adult male. ‘Big boys don’t cry’, as society tells us.
There is a need for a united voice, as the comments suggested. But there is power in acknowledging the distinction of experience, the additional layer, the nuance in the difference in vulnerability. And part of that power exists because our governors (executive, legislative and judicial) are predominantly male and predominantly sceptical about matters of gender (even perhaps still sceptical about sexuality). Utter the word ‘cisgender’ in the corridors of power and I can almost hear eyebrows being raised, foreheads creasing and shoulders being shrugged.
I generalise, of course. There are passionate advocates of change and progress among the great and the good. But I’d venture that the majority of our governors are conservative, ambivalent, unaware.
They may, just may, be more convinced to introduce and enforce meaningful legislation for all survivors if they hear from survivors who may look like them, who share their gender, and whose vulnerability may be more ‘accessible’ than that of a survivor of child sexual abuse.
What difference can you make? Start by telling a friend that you read this article. Tell them about Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.
Join us as we tap away at the wall of taboo surrounding male sexual abuse – and by that, with no apologies for any perceived bias, I mean adult male sexual abuse.
What else can you do? Support SurvivorsUK. They are gold dust.