Martyn Sullivan, won funding from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to travel to Australia, the US and Canada to explore how other countries are dealing with male victims of rape and childhood sexual abuse.
One of the key themes to emerge from his report – which you can read by clicking here is the challenges of supporting male victims within the context of a predominantly feminist sector.
Here we present a heavily abridged version of Martyn’s report:
“The emergence of the male victim came about as a consequence of the Women’s Movement and creation of Rape Crisis as an organised campaign against the sexual victimisation of women. The fact that men began to contact Rape Crisis organisations was an unexpected and politically difficult occurrence.
“I have heard many stories from men over the years about receiving a very negative reception when contacting Rape Crisis centres. Conversely I have heard many positive stories and talking to the women that work within these agencies, I have also heard about the difficulties they have had in not being able to help men they empathised with, as that would be at odds with the agency remit.
“The emergence of the male victim has challenged many of the predominantly held views of the feminist position that explains sexual violence as a gender based phenomena and brought the realisation that there are also other causes of sexual violence that yet have to be fully explained.
“In working with male victims some aspects of feminist theory can act as a barrier to successfully engaging with men and we need to develop different ways of working that address the complexities, subtleties and uniqueness of the male experience.
“The dilemma for men as victims of sexual violence is that unlike women, there is no separate, defined oppressor as the perpetrator is also male. In cases where the perpetrator is female (which in my experience is about 30% in child sexual abuse) there is also confusion as females are supposed to be the nurturing caregivers in society and are also seen as the oppressed, so cannot be dominant.
“This can make it difficult not only for men to recognise, acknowledge and disclose sexual abuse, it can also make it difficult for others to hear and accept what is being said. This is particularly pertinent in the medical and psychological services where practitioners in a ‘helping’ role hold negative or misinformed beliefs about men and sexual abuse.
“The issue of female offenders is an area that feminist organisations struggle with as it contradicts the core belief that men are the sole perpetrators of sexual abuse. This can be reflected in agency literature, websites and advertising that advocate a pro-feminist stance, which does not include the possibility of female abusers.
“Like feminism, profeminism does not have an absolute meaning, it is open to interpretation, and in it’s most negative interpretation may deter men from engaging. My discomfort is that at its core, feminism is not ‘pro male’ (and) treats males differently which is usually in the form of negatively questioning or anxiety about male behaviours. This can result in a split or conflict of interest when delivering service to both males and females within a feminist informed agency that can negatively affect male clients.
“The findings highlighted further the difficulty in not being able to separate the male survivor from the male perpetrator. Male survivors (said that) when asking for help as a victim, they would be directed to men’s violence programs or not understood and have to be explicit about what had happened to them.
“With the emergence of the male victim and the rising reports of female perpetrators comes the threat of challenge to the gender based hypothesis of sexual violence, which is at the core of feminist theory.
“In this report I have challenged this, not in an effort to discredit, but more to point out that there are other occurrences of sexual violence that do not fit this hypothesis which equally deserve attention.
“I found a lot of examples of mutual and supportive work between the male and female sectors. This was very pleasing and a good sign that as we move away from the ‘hardcore’ politics of gender down to the grassroots agencies, there is a lot more discussion and cooperation going on that can only lead to better informed client services.”