Pictured are our panelists: (left to right) Alan Doherty, Alan Robertson and Marco Narajos. Photo credits go to Alexandra Kimmons, our Disabilities Rep.
In Hilary Term 2016, February 19th, It Happens Here organised a panel discussion to raise awareness of sexual violence towards men. In this discussion we were joined by Alan Doherty (service manager of the Thames Valley SARC), Alan Robertson (Independent Sexual Violence Advisor from SurvivorsUK) and Marco Narajos (former co-chair of Mind Your Head).
Sexual assault is often presumed to only take the form of a female victim and a male perpetrator by many people. Indeed, every survey suggests that the majority of victims of sexual violence are female. However, as a campaign which works to stop sexual violence by raising awareness and providing a platform to all survivors, “It Happens Here” believes that it is crucial for us to listen to male survivors equally. The psychological trauma and pressure suffered by male victims can manifest in different ways from that of female victims and through this panel discussion, we were able to bring to surface an issue that is not discussed often enough.
According to the report produced by the Ministry of Justice and the Office for National Statistics, 0.4% of men said that they have suffered some kind of sexual violence in the past 12 months- this amounts to 72,000 men per year on average.
This calculation also does not consider the unreported incidents, which should not be ignored since the government speculates that only 4% ~ 6% of sexual assaults against men are actually reported. This is a figure much lower than that of female rape, which is estimated to be around 10%.
Alan Robertson told us that a large fraction of men who seek for help from SurvivorsUK are men in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s who have been assaulted many years ago but have never discussed their experiences with anyone before. Both Alan Doherty and Alan Robertson agreed that these men come with a crushing sense of guilt accompanied by some confusion over their masculinity and sexual orientation. According to Alan Doherty, one of the most common phrases he has heard was “I feel like less of a man”. This highlights the standards of hyper-masculinity that is imposed on men, which insists that “real men” are always sexually active and looking for sex. It was this exact standard, which inhibited these men from acknowledging what had happened to them and seek for help for all those years.
Many men also came forward and asked “Does being raped makes me gay?”. This question was particularly common among victims who had an erection when they were raped. However, Alan Doherty stressed that erection is simply a physical reaction, which in the cases of rape is often due to stress. Having an erection does not suggest that he wanted or enjoyed rape- the notion is absurd. Rape leading to such confusion of sexual orientation seems to reflect once again the standards of hyper-masculinity but also the general misunderstanding of the nature of sexual violence. Sexual violence is not about lust and desire but is about violence, anger and power.
Marco also discussed the existing barriers that face male survivors, along with miscommunication and lack of training among the police officers, which take the form of social pressures and various mental disorders. Common mental disorders among male survivors include depression and body dysmorphia. Further to the guilt that the victims often place on themselves, it is not unusual for them to feel betrayed by their own bodies. Unfortunately men are also less likely to seek for help from mental disorders, which is likely to be related to the denial and the difficulty in acknowledging what had happened to them in the first place.
During the questions, we also discussed the effects of social media on sexual assaults. Applications such as Tinder or Grindr have, in some cases, exposed people to dangerous environments in the privacy of other people’s houses, and therefore should be better regulated. Another issue we must take note of, according to Alan Robertson, is “chemsex”. Chemsex is a subculture, most popular among gay men, which is a binge of sex and drugs, often happening over as long as three days. This phenomenon is growing alarmingly in cities such as London and receiving any legal help against rape in such cases become incredibly difficult for these men.
All of our panellists agreed that more men are sexually assaulted than what what is commonly conceived, and there is a clear lack of dialogue regarding this issue. Meeting the victims and seeing such horrific things happening to their clients on a daily basis is upsetting to say the least. However, there is hope. Even for us, the members of “It Happens Here”, to meet these people who have dedicated their lives to help the victims is inspiring and their commitment to the cause is infectious to us all. Alan Doherty shared with us that every client he has come across came with the mind-set of “I don’t want what’s happened to me to happen to anyone else”. To have gone through such experience, and yet still manage to show such strength and care for the rest- it is hard to believe that this is not a worthy cause that he is fighting against.
Dabin Kwon, Events Team