Recent government statistics estimate that 78,000 people in the UK are victims of rape or attempted rape each year, around 9,000 of which are thought to be male. Though The Guardian reported an annual rise of 31% in rapes recorded across England and Wales during 2014, indicating a greater willingness among victims to report their crimes to the police, the numbers of recorded crimes remains notoriously low. For 2014, the office of national statistics reported an estimated 38,134 incidents of rape or sexual assault against women and 3,580 against men.
While it could be argued that there are just less instances of sexual attacks against men compared with women, is it more that there is an ever greater taboo surrounding it for men, one that continues to play a part in silencing its victims? As Professor of Psychology at York University, Robert T. Muller notes in his recent article for Psychology Today: “Western notions of masculinity and gender have made it difficult to view men as victims of abuse. Men are often expected to welcome sexual advances, not view them as unwanted, rendering them less able to identify a sexual assault when it occurs to them.”
In a report published by Hayes and Carpenter (2013), the Australian researchers likewise suggest underlying patriarchal assumptions continue to influence sex crime statistics. Employing the age-old stereotype that women are the more vulnerable sex and therefore unable to overpower a man, crimes committed by female perpetrators are reported less regularly, both to the police and by the media.
“Male victims are more likely to attempt to deny that what had happened to them was rape, and to control their emotional response,” agrees Dr Iain McLean of the University of Manchester in his paper, The Male Victim of Sexual Assault (2005). Such an emotional response was explored in the media by Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks in which a male school pupil raped his male teacher. Due to the stigma surrounding male rape, the victim was terrified to report it. Detailing the distress faced in hiding and disclosing this crime, Hollyoaks helped viewers to understand the emotions and turmoil that victims suffer, the complexity of the after-math, and began to make small inroads into breaking the taboo that surrounds it.
“We know many victims... remain quiet, but I think for men it’s particularly the case as there’s many myths and stereotypes,” Dr. Catherine White, Clinical Director of the Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Manchester, explains. “They think it only happens to homosexual men but it does happen to heterosexual men as well and it’s often that the perpetrator is heterosexual. A lot of people are suffering in silence.”
Last year the Ministry of Justice announced that it was to set aside more than £1 million “to specialist rape support organisations across England and Wales as part of the first ever fund to help male victims of rape and sexual violence.” Despite male rape accounting for almost 12 per cent of the estimated national total, counselling services working only with men faced many obstacles in applying for funding. In 2015, Survivors UK, a UK Charity offering individual counselling and group therapy services for victims, finally found their funding cut completely. And yet, Elton Jackson, Clinical Director from Survivors UK, refuses to give up the fight.
“Victims… have had their whole lives shattered,” Jackson begins, “they’ve turned to acting out, self-medicating through drugs or self-harm and some have even committed suicide… Will these cuts lead to even more male rape victims hiding in the shadows of an already underplayed crime? Most victims want the counselling without having to report the crime to the police.”
“Some have had bad experiences due to the stigma surrounding male victims,” Jackson continues, “although, we have now noticed that stigmas are starting to shift. Police are reacting differently to reporting and charities are becoming clearer in what victims can gain from them… so hopefully this taboo is something that will be continuously challenged.”
Hoping to do just that, male rape victim Chris Tomlinson, who was attacked in 2003 by an older man, Nicholas Holbrook, boldly appeared on ITV’s This Morning, stating: “I want to show people this does happen and that they should come forward.” From taboo-shattering storylines to the brave words of Tomlinson, much is being done to challenge the stigma surrounding male rape. And yet, with gender stereotypes inherently ingrained into the psyche of society, many males remain bound by silence and shame. For too long the Government and the media have seemingly underplayed this horrendous attacks. A standoff against the stigma is long overdue; now is the time to start this change.
Words: Louise Squire
Images source: Caiaimage / We Can Stop / No More / SurvivorsUK