The headline in Wednesday's Manchester Evening News read "Glamorous teaching assistant escapes jail despite admitting having sex with teenage pupil"
The story was of Caroline Berriman, a teaching assistant at Manchester's Abraham Moss Community School who, according to the newspaper, "admitting to having sex" with a teenage student and described their "sexual relationship".
An interesting use of language when writing about a boy, a child, who had been targeted and groomed over a period of time whilst in the 'safety' of school, by this older female, now a convicted sex offender - albeit one with a suspended sentence, 250 hours of unpaid community work, and a £100 fine!
Shortly after making a very public challenge to newspaper about the articles language through social media platforms, the headline changed to "Teaching assistant escapes jail..."
Did the editor genuinely see the language as problematic? Was the author of the piece told to change the language to stop any backlash?
It's certainly an interesting use of words and would a male paedophile ever be referred to in the media as 'handsome' or 'hunky'? Would a male teacher grooming and sexually abusing a girl ever be seen as a 'relationship'? Would the pictures used to illustrate the article be so "glamorous"? Or is this another example of how we negate the psychological pain and suffering of male victims of sexual abuse, particularly when the perpetrator is female?
And this, in the same week when Marie Black is jailed for life after "'utterly depraved' rape and sexual abuse of children over 10-year period"
So where is the research on female perpetrators? Where are the campaigns' highlighting female perpetrators and male victims? Where are the teaching resources aimed at boys as victims of sexual exploitation? Where is the national policy that specifically looks at what we do about the sexual abuse, rape, and sexual exploitation of boys and men? Not the one that has a paragraph somewhere in its ad agency designed report that makes a mention to boys, but the one that says the words BOYS and MEN on the front cover?
I often find myself asking these questions in training, conferences and workshops I attend and deliver; in many articles I've contributed to or written; and nearly always in various local meetings and national forums focused on mental health and sexual violation.
Being the founder of a service that deals specifically with the impact of male sexual abuse, I am all too acutely aware of the issues. I'm also aware as a male survivor myself.
In fact, only a few weeks ago I found myself challenging a statutory agency on the development of a sexual abuse campaign that had not included male victims. The press officer told me
"we didnt intentionally ignore male victims"
and there lays the most honest statement I've heard for a long while.
I have no doubt that these examples of when male victims are ignored, it's not done intentionally. I have no doubt that on the occasion that articles are written about male victims, the language is unintentionally flippant... because we still don't take the issue seriously enough for it to stick in the forefront of our collective and social conscious.
We have to not only #BreakTheSilence but also #WatchWhatWeSay to ensure we don't #CreateSilence
We have to reflect on what part we can play in bringing the subject to life. We have to each commit to being more aware of the language we use. We have to actively yet respectfully challenge ignorance and educate to ensure mistakes are not repeated.
I have reached out to the Manchester Evening News and offered to run one of our workshops on understanding the sexual abuse of males in the hope that this will create greater understanding when reporting.
The young man abused by Caroline Berriman is himself reaching out, having appeared on This Morning to talk about how this has affected him. I hope he reads this and knows that if he wants help, we will provide it at Survivors Manchester. I'd personally like to say a huge thank you to him for standing up and speaking out - "you're not alone mate".
I'm still waiting for anyone from the paper to respond but I'm hopeful they will and the next time (yes, sadly there will be a next time) a journalist commits his or her words to print, they might be more considered and prevent that silent male victim from remaining silent.
Do what you can to make sure that every boy knows that he doesnt have to suffer in silence... please.