Changing Perceptions: Why Do The Police See Such Few Reports?
At Avon and Somerset Police we’re trying to raise awareness of male rape and sexual assault with the aim of encouraging more victims to come forward and ensuring the support is there for them when they do.
Our campaign to improve services and increase reporting can be summed up in three words – Listen, Believe and Respect – and we’ll be using the hashtag #ListenBelieveRespect to promote it. We want to encourage all male victims of rape, sexual assault or attempted sexual assault to have the confidence to come forward and report offences to us.
Our message is clear – if you’ve been a victim, you will be listened to, you will be believed and you will always be respected. Figures produced by the National Crime Survey show there are around 75,000 men each year who are a victim of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. The sad truth is that only 700 of these victims actually reported the incident to police.
So why do the Police see such few reports?
When a man is the victim of a sexual assault or rape, there are a multitude of reasons why he finds it hard to come forward.
The societal view of masculinity and gender continues to make it difficult for people to view men as victims of rape or sexual assault. Men are often expected to welcome sexual advances, not view them as unwanted, rendering them less able to identify a sexual assault when it happens, or unwilling to see themselves as a victim.
It’s likely and normal for victims to experience feelings of anger and shame after sexual violence. The important thing for victims to come to terms with is that they’re never to blame. It’s very common for male survivors to feel as if they should or could have done more to stop the offence from happening, as society and popular media consistently portrays men as being strong and able to defend themselves.
A recent study in the US found 71 per cent of adult male sexual assault survivors cited the reason that nobody would believe them as a reason for not reporting the incident. There’s an additional issue in that heterosexual male victims will often believe that a sexual assault or rape will mean they’ll be considered as gay. Offences happen to men regardless of whether they’re heterosexual or homosexual. This is not an area of crime which only affects the gay community.
Raising awareness and encouraging male survivors to reach out for support may be challenging, but education regarding sexual abuse and demystifying misconceptions surrounding male rape is essential if we are to do this. As a Force, we’re committed to tackling the issue of under-reporting and we want to give victims the strength and courage to come forward.
Male rape and sexual offences form a key part of our Rape Strategy and we’re launching a high-profile campaign using traditional and social media channels to spread our message.
You can follow the campaign here: thisisnotanexcuse.org
Mike Steven is a serving Police Constable with Avon and Somerset Constabulary and has been with the Force for 10 years. Mike is the Force Lead for improving services for male victims and creating a joint approach with external partners and has worked closely with charities that provide services.
You can follow his work on Twitter.