At Avon and Somerset Police, we’re trying to raise awareness of male rape and sexual assault with the aim of encouraging more victims to come forward and ensuring the support is there for them when they do.
My name is Mike and, for the last two years I have been working to do just that. I feel quite passionately that services for men are fair less readily available than those available to women and, in most cases, are hard to find.
Through my own personal journey of research and engagement I fully understand the societal barriers that prevent men from seeking appropriate support or reporting the incident to the Police. Any man who has been victim to rape, sexual assault, domestic violence or abuse should feel assured in reporting to the Police that they will not be judged.
I appreciate that this is easier said than done and if anyone decides not to report the incident to the Police I whole heartedly would want them to seek the correct emotional support from an external agency. All too often as men, we keep things ‘bottled up’ for fear of how others will perceive us, but taking this route can often have a traumatic effect on us, often leading to drug and alcohol reliance and in the most severe cases suicide. Before I say anymore, let’s get back on track.
Our campaign to improve services and increase reporting can be summed up in three words – Listen, Believe and Respect – and we’ll be using the hashtag #ListenBelieveRespect to promote it.
We want to encourage all male victims of rape, sexual assault or attempted sexual assault to have the confidence to come forward and report offences to us.
Our message is clear – if you’ve been a victim, you will be listened to, you will be believed and you will always be respected.
Figures produced by the National Crime Survey show there are around 75,000 men each year who are a victim of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. The sad truth is that only 700 of these victims actually reported the incident to police. So why do the Police see such few reports?
When a man is the victim of a sexual assault or rape, there are a multitude of reasons why he finds it hard to come forward.
The societal view of masculinity and gender continues to make it difficult for people to view men as victims of rape or sexual assault. Men are often expected to welcome sexual advances, not view them as unwanted, rendering them less able to identify a sexual assault when it happens, or unwilling to see themselves as a victim.
It’s likely and normal for victims to experience feelings of anger and shame after sexual violence. The important thing for victims to come to terms with is that they’re never to blame.
It’s very common for male survivors to feel as if they should or could have done more to stop the offence from happening, as society and popular media consistently portrays men as being strong and able to defend themselves.
A recent study in the US found 71% of adult male sexual assault survivors cited the reason that nobody would believe them as a reason for not reporting the incident. There’s an additional issue in that heterosexual male victims will often believe that a sexual assault or rape will mean they’ll be considered as 'gay'.
Offences happen to men regardless of whether they’re heterosexual or homosexual. This is not an area of crime which only affects the gay community.
Raising awareness and encouraging male survivors to reach out for support may be challenging, but education regarding sexual abuse and demystifying misconceptions surrounding male rape is essential if we are to do this.
As a Force, we’re committed to tackling the issue of under-reporting and we want to give victims the strength and courage to come forward.
Male rape and sexual offences form a key part of our Rape Strategy and we’re launching a high-profile campaign using traditional and social media channels to spread our message.
Mike Steven is a serving Police Constable with Avon and Somerset Constabulary and has been with the Force for 10 years.
In September 2014, following a funding announcement from the Ministry of Justice, Mike started work on developing a programme to increase reporting of male rape and sexual assault incidents and to challenge the societal and internal perceptions surrounding male victims.
Since the campaign’s launch, the local Sexual Assault Referral Centre has changed its website to a gender neutral appearance and has re-decorated using neutral colours to make male victims feel that the service isn’t just for women. Other local agencies including The Greenhouse Project and SARSAS have also changed their websites following guidance and support.
This year see’s Mike developing the already trialled ‘Can You Keep a Secret’ awareness campaign by working in partnership with Somerset Council and other external organisations, including the Mankind Initiative.
If you want to follow the campaign you can find out more at www.thisisnotanexcuse.org or you can follow Mike on Twitter where he's @ASPMikeSteven. Mike uses this to support the on-going campaign work and to focus on real-life stories and issues relating to male victims.
Mike is the Force Lead for improving services for male victims and creating a joint approach with external partners and he’s worked closely with Survivors UK and Survivors Manchester in developing this programme. His Force is rapidly gaining recognition as the national lead in this area.