Alan Robertson is an independent sexual violence advisor at SurvivorsUK, the UK’s biggest charity that exclusively supports male survivors. Last week he was one of the panelist for our event “It Happens to Men” tackling the issues men face as survivors of sexual violence.
He kindly accepted to be interviewed.
The interview was conducted by Asta Diabaté, our Digital Manager, and transcribed by Rhiannon Thompson, part of the publicity team.
The picture was taken by Alexandra Kimmons, our Disabilities Rep . It includes Alan Robertson (left) and Dabin Kwon (right), part of our events team.
Asta: What is Survivors UK?
Alan: Survivors UK is an organisation, a charity, which works with men over the age of 18 who have experienced sexual abuse or rape. We include child abuse and adult sexual assault in that. We have three different services, one is the one I’m from. I’m an independent sexual advisor; we support men in London who are reporting to the police and going through that process. The second is a face to face counselling service, which is again based in London. We also have a telephone counselling service which is available to anyone in the UK, which can last up to a year, so it provides long term support. And the third service we have is a webchat service, so a kind of online helpline where men can log on and speak to someone anonymously, if they want, and get support; emotional support and also finding out about different organisations in their area.
Asta: So what’s your main job?
Alan: So my role is independent sexual violence advisor, it’s a bit of a ridiculous title, but my role is to support men who are reporting to the police or thinking about reporting to the police, to provide them with emotional support in that process but also to give them information and practically tell them what should happen, how you can report to the police, what will happen once you have reported, how things should go, and also liaising with the police and other organisations to make sure that they’re supported.
Asta: Have you noticed something that the survivors have in common?
Alan: I think the main thing is just a sense of shame and guilt around sexual violence, which is applicable for both men and women. That feeling of not wanting to talk about it, and feeling that they have to stay silent because they don’t feel comfortable talking about it or because they feel that there’s no-one that’s going listen to them properly, and a sort of safe space to talk.
Asta: What do you think are the most prominent issues surrounding sexual assault towards men today?
Alan: I think it’s with a lack of awareness and recognition that there are male victims, first of all, and again going back to that silence, there’s a huge silence around it. So we should be making sure that its something that we talk about, making sure that people know that there are support services out there and that they can get support.
Asta: What do you think that we need to do to make this less of a problem?
Alan: I think there could be more people talking about it, so there need to be more events like this. Universities are a great place to start the conversation or carry on the conversation. I think there need to be more services which support everyone, but also support men, and to make sure that there are services that they can access.
Asta: What does count as evidence?
Alan: In terms of reporting to the police?
Alan: It’s difficult with sexual assaults a lot of the time because often its one person’s word against another person’s word. There’s lots of things that can be counted as evidence, whether its forensics, if you’ve reported it to the police or gone to any SARC within the forensic window, which is quite short. There might be other things around CCTV, or other people that have been around and witnessed the kind of conversations or whatever that people have been having. There are lots of different things and I think it varies a lot with each case.
Asta: How common do you think sexual assault towards men actually is?
Alan: I think it’s a lot more common than we think it is. I think especially amongst adult survivors of child abuse there are a lot more cases of childhood sexual abuse than we know, or than society’s kind of willing to accept. This makes it very difficult to get stats unfortunately on male sexual abuse because it’s not talked about very much so a lot of the time it’s not recorded in the right way, but there are stats from the home office and things that are around. It’s a lot less than women, but it still exists, and it’s still an important, we still need to be giving people support around it.
Asta: How much do you think sexual violence towards men has to do with culture?
Alan: I think it has a lot to do with society’s ideas, I think all sexual violence as we know is a show of power and a show of control and I think it’s the same when it comes to male sexual violence , it’s a way of exerting control and power and a way of violating someone else. So I’m not really sure about culture, but it has a lot to do with society, and I think definitely when it comes to silence and not talking about it, it has a lot to do with ideas about masculinity and stuff like that.
Asta: What is the most common form of sexual violence towards men?
Alan: I don’t really know, I’m not sure to be honest.
Asta: Do you think it’s also kind of a hard question to answer because of what you said about silence?
Alan: Yeah , I think the lack of stats around it, I think a lot of the clients we see are men who have experienced abuse as children, and are now in their fifties or sixties and are coming forward to talk about being abused by generally father figures, uncles, and teachers, priests, things like that, so that’s a large part of what we work in. Statistically, I don’t know If that’s the largest part or if it’s just the majority of people that come forward, I’m not sure.
Asta: Well, thank you so much!
Alan: No worries, you’re welcome.
For more information about Survivors UK visit their website.