How can we help more men speak up?
An estimated 12,000 men are raped in the UK every year and more than 70,000 are sexually abused or assaulted. Yet hardly any of these men will tell someone; approximately 4 per cent! On average it takes 26 years for a man to speak out about sexual abuse or rape. (Survivors UK – 1)
I am one of those men and it has taken me 32 years to speak out.
12,000 Men Every Year
The school holidays are a time to relax and recover from working in schools, something every teacher will recognise. For me, during most holiday periods there has been room for family, relaxation and sometimes deeper reflection (when I allow myself to face my demons). This post, having written almost one million words on this website and in books, will be the most personal account of my life I have ever written about publicly.
I want to explain why I am now ready to stop hiding behind my past.
In my 25-year teaching career, leading staff professional development for thousands of colleagues in schools, safeguarding training is now compulsory, and in my experience sometimes undervalued by some teachers. In 2011, sitting in one school hall listening to a teacher-trainer talk about sexual abuse in children, the presenter said to the 100+ teachers gathered:
“One person in this room may have been a victim of sexual abuse.”
A male colleague sitting next to me quietly laughed it off and said: “Yeah, right!” It was a very difficult moment for me because as a school leader, I failed to challenge the comment. Why? Well, simply because it was an issue I had not yet personally come to terms with and it was clear I was not ready to talk about the subject with anyone outside of my personal circles. It is a moment that will stay with me forever.
32 Years Later
Here are some comments on the things I have been reflecting on (without the details about what happened):
- At the age of 17, I started to understand what had happened to me and that sexual abuse is a heinous crime.
- Even though I associate identity, relationships, and confidence as issues every young person faces when growing up, I did have some difficulties into my late 20s. It has taken me 32 years to be able to speak to my family about something that happened to me as a 13-year-old boy in 1986. I finally managed to tell them during May half-term 2018. I have thought long and hard about the impact it would have on my parents.
- It has taken me 32 years to report this crime to the police – a process which has taken longer than anticipated and at the time of writing has not yet reached its conclusion.
- Over the past 5 to 10 years, you will know as much as I do about all the high-profile celebrities who have been named and shamed; Jimmy Saville, one of the most high-profile cases in the U.K. after his death in 2011. Each time I have watched or heard the news, my 32 years of silence has been awakened, desperate to speak publicly on social media about the crime. Each time, I have remained silent, frustrated inside that people do such horrific things to children.
- Over the past two years, I have watched and listened to countless men in sport speak about their childhood. Stories are yet to be told; paedophiles such as Frank Roper of Blackpool F.C. and Eddie Heath of Chelsea Football Club; then Barry Bennell of Crewe Alexandra F.C. in February 2018 really stirred up past memories for me.
- As the stories have become increasingly more common from the 70s and 80s, the survivors hoping to encourage others to speak out, I have gradually hoped that I would one day too, contemplating what would happen and the emotional stages I would pass through.
- With or without social media, and with or without a blog, this is something I have wanted to be able to talk about with fellow educators for as long as I can remember. I know sharing this may bring some negative feedback for me and for my family, all which I have considered, but it will never outweigh the burden of silence I have been carrying for a lifetime.
- With a such a huge social media profile, I want people to know the ‘real me’ and I hope to be able to use this going forward to support others …
- In my recent work in schools across the U.K., I want to use my influence to support teachers and school leaders to address sexual abuse; sexual abuse in boys and men and quash some of the stereotypes.
- In the last 6 months, I’ve been wearing a #WeSeeYou green button on my suit lapel at conferences and education events. This has slowly given me the confidence to ‘learn how to talk about what happened’ more and more as people ask in casual conversation: “What does that green badge mean?” It’s been hard, but it has helped.
Research shared by Survivors UK indicates that up to 25% of sexual abusers of all children are female and that women are responsible for about 40% of sexual abuse of boys (2). Below I share some of the myths associated with sexual abuse, particularly the ones I have considered over the past three decades. The full list can be read on Survivors UK.
- Men cannot be sexually abused? Any man or boy can be sexually assaulted regardless of size, strength, appearance or sexual orientation.
- If you were drinking or taking drugs, it was your fault? Nothing you do entitles another person to take sexual advantage of you.
- Only gay men and boys are sexually abused? Heterosexual, gay and bisexual males are equally likely to be sexually abused. Being sexually abused has nothing to do with your current or future sexual orientation.
- Only gay men sexually assault other men? This fact helps to highlight another reality — that sexual assault is about violence, anger, power and control over another person, not lust, desire or sexual attraction. (3)
- Sexual abuse makes you gay? It is very common for men who have been sexually abused by another person to have questions about the effect that experience might have on their sexuality. What research there is points to sexual abuse having no significant effect on adult sexual orientation.
- Men cannot be sexually abused by women? Although the majority of perpetrators are male, men can also be sexually abused (though not legally raped) by women.
- Being sexually abused will make you an abuser? The vast majority of men who have experienced childhood abuse or adult assault rape do not go on to sexually offend against children or other adult men. Statistical analysis is unreliable and current thinking is that the figure is around 5%. (4)
As I was writing this, the Department for Education tweeted this video – I actually displayed none of the signs explained in this video and I hope to challenge it publicly, but I will delve deeper into the research as I know I only represent one of the thousands of children who are at the hands of sexual abuse. Thankfully, their website has more robust guidance.
There are some people I would particularly like to thank.
Firstly, my wife for supporting me no-matter-what. For asking all the hard questions and for making me deal with the consequences of my thoughts and actions – not just for myself, but also for my friends and family. Two, to Dean at The Salvation Army in the pursuit of justice, safeguarding and protection for vulnerable children who once lived in social circumstances in the 70s and 80s when families (with their children) lived on-site with homeless people who were either mentally ill, or former drug and alcohol addicts or crime and sex offenders. This is no place for a child to grow up and although it gave me a unique childhood, today is no longer permitted. Thirdly, to Jaz Ampaw-Farr who has continued to support me on my journey towards breaking 32 years of silence. I am confident the rest of my social network will be surprised and supportive …
To my parents; my father who passed away in 2004. A loving father who I think about every day and model his values in my day-to-life with my family. In my field of work, this is emulated in my provocations within the state school system and my desire for a better society for all. I regret not speaking to you when I was 13 years old or in my early 30s when I started to become more confident about speaking out. To my mother for not judging me. Thank you for not ‘telling me off’. Thank you for loving me no matter what and for helping make the past 32 years less of a burden than I ever thought it needed to be. The short conversation we shared (about this issue) will probably be one of the most significant in my entire life.
We See You
One in 20 children in the UK will experience child sexual abuse – that’s at least one pupil in every school classroom! Teachers will all be very aware of the safeguarding procedures for schools – I am sure of that – but believe me when I write it here, not every teacher takes it seriously! Please do take a moment to familiarise yourself with the ‘signs that a child is being abused (in your classroom)’ (5) and make safeguarding a priority in your everyday conversations.
If I have inspired you to be more aware of sexual abuse in men, then please support me by wearing the #WeSeeYou Button Shaped Pin, designed to break down the barriers of stigma, silence, shame, and isolation surrounding male sexual abuse and assault. It would mean so much to have your support if you are an avid reader of Teacher Toolkit.
Having pressed the ‘publish’ button on this post, finally, I can talk about this with a wider network of people. It’s not been an easy thing for me to deal with, and writing and publishing this has been much, much harder. So, if you are challenged by my story, and in keeping with the nature of my website and our collective educational purpose, please could you immerse yourself in some academic research and place ‘safeguarding’ much higher on everybody’s radar in your school.
“I didn’t choose this horrible [situation], but I do get to choose how to live with it; I have to choose how to live with it.” (6)
I am a survivor.
SurvivorsUK are the only male-centric service (in London) that supports the emotional and mental health needs of survivors – want to help end this silence and to give men the confidence to tell someone what’s happened to them. They want men to know that they do not have to cope with the potentially devastating effects alone and that they are here to support them.
- Survivors UK Resources
- Ogloff, Cutajar, Mann, and Mullen (2012)
- Groth and Birnbaum (1978)
- Tsopelas, Christos, Tsetsou Spyridoula, and Douzenis Athanasios. “Review on female sexual offenders: Findings about profile and personality.” International journal of law and Psychiatry 34.2 (2011): 122-126.
- NHS: Spotting Signs of child sexual abuse (2016)
- The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck, by Mark Manson (2016)
- See me wearing my Green Button.