"This service is for women only": Male survivors of sexual assault need help, too

A UK survivor organization claims its funding has been slashed -- while assault reports are rising

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published May 26, 2015 7:03PM (EDT)

   (<a href='http://www.istockphoto.com/user_view.php?id=743622'>peepo</a> via <a href='http://www.istockphoto.com/'>iStock</a>)
(peepo via iStock)

Congratulations to the UK, which has apparently eliminated the problem of sexual assault against men. Why else would a UK organization for male rape survivors claim it has had its state funding for counseling services "slashed to zero"? What's that you say? Reports of sexual assaults against men have actually been rising, and dramatically? Well, that makes this a little puzzling, doesn't it?

As the Independent reports, Survivors UK — the largest and one of only a handful of its kind — received £70,000 a year for the past four years from the Ministry of Justice victims' fund for its services for survivors of both "childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual assault/rape." The organization offers in-person counseling and advisor services for London-area clients, as well as chat services for individuals further afield, and a forum "for Survivors and their friends and family to interact with each other." But starting last year, its counseling funding was switched to the Mayor of London’s Office for Policing and Crime — and not renewed. Survivors UK says it received £33,666 for a six month period, which ended on March 31. The charity has now launched a Change.org petition asking to "to recognize and support male victims of rape and sexual abuse," and notes that in London alone, there's been an increase of 120% increase in male rape reporting over just a two-year period. The past few years have also seen a rise in revelations about sexual abuse toward men and boys — when the decades of sexual abuse perpetrated by late entertainer Jimmy Savile were uncovered, the final investigation found a staggering "214 offenses, including 34 rapes," a figure that included assaults on young boys.

Survivors UK spokesman Michael May told the Independent this week that the charity has "heard nothing" from the Mayor's office and received "no indication" the funding is being renewed, and adds he feels "utterly betrayed" by the development. But the Mayor's office says that "We are investing over £4.1 million in specialist services for all victims of domestic and sexual violence by 2016. This includes male victims."

The issues around male survivors of sexual violence are unique — and often uniquely difficult to address. Men and boys who are assaulted by females are frequently brushed off and dismissed — or worse, treated like they somehow got lucky. And male on male rape is regularly treated for laughs as a joke, and victims who come forward can find themselves bullied and further abused. Yet here in the US, the fact that one in ten prisoners are raped — and that gay and bisexual men are more often the targets of rape — just somehow doesn't seem so funny. Nor is the long ignored and brutally serious problem of male rape in the military. And it's a problem that both in the US and the UK, the laws surrounding rape too often don't take into account that men can be victims and women can be offenders.

In a feature this week in the Telegraph, a survivor named John Lennon, who in 2010 endured a rape and beating so severe he needed plastic surgery to rebuild his face afterward, says that when he initially called a rape crisis center, the woman on the phone said, "This service is for women only," and hung up on him. He says now that "I don’t blame her, but I felt so angry and rejected that they turned men away. Luckily, I used my anger to get help." He was fortunate to find it. And if we want more survivors to be able to come forward and get services, if we want justice for all of them, then we have to acknowledge that sexual violence happens to women and men, girls and boys. That requires education and support. And as May explains, "This isn’t about men versus women: it’s bigger than that. It’s ensuring equality of treatment for victims of sexual assault and rape, irrespective of gender."

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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