HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.
Over the past few weeks, I've been invited to speak at a number of conferences and events across the UK on the subject of male sexual violation. Talking about the sexual abuse, rape and sexual exploitation of boys and men is an everyday occurrence for me (including my own survivorship), but standing in front of these audiences reminded me how difficult this subject is for much of society to hear and still very much a taboo to talk about.
Conference delegates and students have asked me a number of different questions, all causing me to positively reflect on various ideas and opinions, whilst a couple have caused some disappointment... I thought 'we' had got past that question.
I hope this doesn't sound negative and defeatist as it's not.
All questions and queries raised are important in building the male survivor - even the ones I was answering six years ago when I first started speaking.
All questions are a stark reminder of how much work we still have to do but also a great reflection point look at where we've come from.
I'm damn sure that even a few years ago, many of these conferences and lectures wouldn't specifically be talking about the issues faced by male survivors. The fact that they are now shows some progress.
The efforts of individuals like Bob at Survivors West Yorkshire, Steve at 1in6, Martyn at Mankind (previously at Survivors UK) and Mike Lew, began this conversation before I got involved and their efforts are certainly paying off now. I've said on a number of occasions that I'm truly grateful to those men and to women like Lee, Shelia and others at Rape Crisis England and Wales for developing a strong political and social movement that ensured the voices of female victims of rape and sexual abuse are heard. As males doing the same thing for boys and men, we have a lot to learn from their strength and determination.
We need to better challenge the voices that spew bile at 'each side' and remind them that ALL survivors, male and female, need the opportunity to heal.
But as I ended one of my recent presentations, I looked at the screen with my projected slide and remembered why I wrote on it "Men have to be the solution" - because we do!
We need to all get off our arses and be the solution, even in spite of the fact that we are often seen as the problem.
We have to safely deconstruct in order to healthily reconstruct!
We have to give ourselves permission to talk about the shame we often feel for "not being able to stop it happening" or "that we should have gotten over it by now" and start talking about the fear that debilitated us then and now.
We need to allow ourselves to feel the emotion we suppress on an hourly basis, no matter how uncomfortable or overwhelming and say what it's like to feel so isolated in order to begin to psychologically connect with others.
We need to be honest about the nightmares we have; the pictures that come into our heads' as we go about our daily business; and ask for help from those whose job it is to help.
We have to let our fellow man time to talk about the pain and suffering by opening our mouths and ears and begin to grow the conversation into one about the antidote and healing.
We have to show the same dedication to change for ourselves that we show for our sports teams.
And finally we have to admit, together, that boys and men do get sexually abused, raped and sexually exploited. Not just 'some types' but one in six of us - 'all types'.
According to research, one in 10 reported rape victims in the UK will be male, whilst conservative estimates state 72,000 men are victims of sexual offences each year.
Which of those one in 10 is someone's brother, dad, husband, best friend? Of the 72,000 men that are directly affected by sexual violation, how many do you know in your work or personal life?
So I write this as a plea, a request for help from everyone.
Please will you help us break the silence? Please will you find some time and give that man space to talk when he needs to. Please will you tell that boy that there is hope and healing is possible. Please will you remind people that boys and men get abused too. Please will you
challenge all notions that to be abused is to be weak. And please will you be as understanding as possible when dealing with us?
I ask this maybe for those that are struggling to find their voice in the hope that they see the silence can be broken. But maybe I ask this for me too. So I can be heard with more clarity, but also because I know what it feels like to carry that silence - I certainly never want to go back there.
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