While others argue over individuals in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (so debilitating for survivors who seek only for the truth to emerge and for recognition of their wrongs) we have been building partnerships and collaboration.
First, Mankind Counselling, Safeline, Survivors Manchester and ourselves have created the Male Survivors Partnership in which, collectively, we are looking at establishing quality standards for services for male survivors which can guarantee confidence in those who seek our help.
Secondly, we are joining with the Men and Boys Coalition to sustain the growing momentum that’s been building around men and boys’ issues over the past two years. There has been a sea change in the acceptability and recognition within society, the media and the political/statutory sphere that there is a need to address the issues that affect men and boys. Many charities, academics, organisations and professionals have come together to support initiatives such as:
- The focus on suicide/mental health for International Men’s Day including a Parliamentary Debate
- The change in the Director of Public Prosecution’s statistical reporting of its Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy
- The request to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that they recognise men and boys’ issues in their forthcoming strategy
- The request for the Chief Medical Officer that her next Annual Review is on men’s health (In 2014 it was on women’s health)
- A response to a Cabinet Office consultation on Big Lottery Funding to request that a more gender inclusive approach is taken.
As well as concentrating on improving and extending our services for survivors (such as, recently, both online and telephone counselling and, in London, the re-introduction of groupwork) we need to raise awareness nationally about male survivors not least to encourage more to come to us for assistance, knowing that we provide an anonymous, confidential and safe environment in which they can share what has happened to them and find the most appropriate way of dealing with the hurt and the consequences to be able to rebuild their lives. Seeing the messages we receive reminds me daily of the trauma and sense of despair and desperation that are felt by so many survivors.
The capacity for self-harm and disruption to their lives and personalities is enormous – truly, we are dealing with extremely vulnerable people in which we recognise that the slightest off-hand comment or ill-judged word can convey a sense that we do not understand or care or are indifferent to the suffering. We examine daily the way in which we respond to approaches and consider weekly in our team meetings how we might improve the way in which we extend the hand of help and professional expertise.
Yet we must also understand that survivors, were it not for the sexual abuse, have the same skills, abilities and aspirations as other members of society and we have a responsibility to assist them back to that place recognising equal rights and aspirations.
Although we are unique and the principal national charity for adult male survivors we are small in comparison with many big household name charities. So how can we make an impact? It is by working in collaboration with other similar charities so that together we can be more than the sum of our parts. We lose no opportunity to do this and to engage in events which raise the issues.
Stonewall kindly agree to publicise our work to those who may be survivors. I shall be speaking at the annual International Men’s Day Conference in Poole on Monday 14 November. We had a stall at Greenwich Mental Health and Well-being Partnership celebrating World Mental Health Day on 8 October at which one of our clinicians delivered a workshop on ‘Surviving sexual assault and sexual abuse: what it takes to survive and thrive and what it takes to love and support a survivor’. I spoke at a conference on Sexual Abuse & Mental Health in London on 20 September on “delivering recovery orientated services”. We are seeking to arrange mutual training with the excellent charity project in north London called Maytree which provides residential care for those who are suicidal – many of them survivors of male sexual abuse.
I have met with Maria Miller MP, Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Women & Equalities and urged them to institute a inquiry into what are the social and other inhibitions which prevent male survivors from coming forward as well as the paucity of effective and long-term therapy for them.
I have met recently with the Director of Public Prosecutions where I complained about the failure to disaggregate statistics on sexual violence between women and girls and men and boys. The annual publication Violence Against Women & Girls has always failed to distinguish between them – at least this year some advance was made by there appearing (admittedly in very small print but on the front cover) an acknowledgement that the figures do include men and boys (previously there was not even a statement to that effect). I quizzed the DPP as to why the police cannot record these things separately – the answer is too complicated to set out here but I shall not be satisfied until we have a completely separate set of statistics clearly identifying the reported sexual abuse against men and boys.
I have also met with Police Chief Constable Simon Bailey QPM about the efforts they are making throughout all police forces in the country to provide a more caring, welcoming and believing approach when male survivors report male sexual abuse. He is also the Strategic Lead for Child Protection and Abuse Investigations, and Operation Hydrant. He stated that figures released by the Crime Survey of England and Wales in August 2016 demonstrated that there is still uncertainty among survivors about contacting the police – 3 out of 4 adult survivors of child sexual abuse had not reported what happened to them. Among the reasons for this were that victims and survivors felt they would not be believed. He acknowledged that the police service has made mistakes in the past but that they have worked hard to change their approach.
The total number of alleged offenders on the Operation Hydrant database (looking at allegations of child sexual abuse) as at 30 June 2016 was 2,777. 1,084 institutions are on the database including 424 schools, 296 children’s homes, 110 religious institutions, 53 medical establishments, 28 prison / young offenders institutions, 26 sports venues, 18 community institutions (such as youth clubs and community centres) and 119 “other” institutions (military, places of entertainment, guest houses, etc.). This gives some indication of the scale of the problem that needs to be taken seriously by public, politicians, press and police.
He made the point that those victims and survivors who do come forward to the police do so for many reasons. For some it is important to see their abuser face justice. How effective the process of justice has been in respect of non-recent child sex abuse is not always visible. Every week across the country, abusers are convicted in our courts. With a very few exceptions, these cases do not make the national news media headlines, although they are reported in local and regional news media. The knock on effect of this is an ageing prison population with abusers being sentenced who are in their sixties, seventies, and even eighties. Geriatric wings in prison are the reality demonstrating that abusers of children are being brought to justice, no matter how long ago their offences occurred. Other victims and survivors come forward when they see publicity around an arrest or conviction. Many who speak to the police, tell them that they thought they were the only victim until that point. Others tell them that they felt more confident to come forward knowing that they were not alone. Finally, there are those victims and survivors who come forward because, years later, they see their abuser and realise that person remains in a position where they can continue to abuse children. They come forward to prevent harm being caused to others.
These are challenges for us all in which we hope that SurvivorsUK will play a prominent part – but always working together with others rather than in isolation – that sense of solidarity is the way to proceed.