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.
It is widely known that male non-engagement is common in the world of mental health services. Men encounter a number of barriers in accessing the services they need and although there has been positive progress in helping men to come forward, there is still a long way to go to battle the stigma attached to mental health. Sexual abuse often leads to a number of mental health difficulties, which can cause long-term problems for survivors. Sexual abuse is traditionally seen as a female issue and this is continually influenced by the way the issue is addressed and presented in the media. This only increases the difficulties that men experience in identifying and disclosing their abuse.
I started working at Mankind six months ago and have quickly become very familiar with the barriers that prevent men coming forward or seeking support. Male survivors of sexual abuse often report that the stereotypes of masculinity influence their decision to share their stories. This is the belief that men should not show emotions, or should be able to protect themselves, so many find it difficult to identify as a 'victim' of any crime - but especially of sexual abuse.
Through working with Mankind I have become more aware of how often we see this in our daily life. I hear phrases like 'man up' when someone is feeling low or in pain, and have experienced people laugh at the suggestion that men can experience sexual abuse. These stereotypes of masculinity have become so imbedded in our society that it is often not considered as offensive or as a deliberate attack against men, but it is not acceptable.
Men who have experienced sexual abuse often fear homophobia and confusion regarding sexuality. If a man has experienced abuse from another male he may fear people will consider him homosexual, and that he will experience discrimination attached to this assumption. If a male is abused by a female, people often don't recognise this as a traumatic event, and even suggest that the boy or man is 'lucky' for his experience. This has been another shocking realisation for me since working with Mankind, the naivety in the assumption that it is impossible for a man to be sexually abused by a woman is surprisingly accepted by many people. If the man does identify as homosexual, he may fear that he is in some way to blame for the abuse.
Men often highlight a fear of being considered a perpetrator or a danger to others. This common myth can have a detrimental impact on the individual and their relationships. The lack of visible support available to men also influences men coming forward, they may feel that they will not be supported by people around them and services if they disclose. This also contributes to the theory that male sexual abuse does not happen.
In the past year, Mankind has received 151 requests for our service from men who have had unwanted sexual experiences, and we are aware there are many more out there that would benefit from some information and support. Using the internationally agreed figure of 1 in 6, we estimate that approximately 30,000 men across Sussex have been affected by sexual violence. The average age of our client group at Mankind is 43 years old, and these men are mostly reporting sexual abuse that took place a number of years ago.
I have joined the team at Mankind to begin helping young men to speak out at a younger age to enable them to engage with support services and lead fulfilling lives. My own learning from previous job roles has shown me that young men are particularly difficult to engage, but that this is not an impossible task. I have found that taking the time to listen to the wishes of young people is the most important way of involving them successfully in achieving their goals and that a great deal of care must be taken when working with young men. While it is important to challenge young people to reach their goals I have also found that putting pressure on young men to share their thoughts and feelings too quickly can have a detrimental impact.
I would like to learn, through working with young people, how we can develop Mankind to offer support to boys and young men from an earlier age. The consultation work that has been completed so far has highlighted that 'the direct approach doesn't get direct results' which suggests that offering support in a more indirect way may be more appealing for young men. Many projects that aim to engage and work with young men are often unsuccessful but I am determined to listen to young people to hear what they want from a service to prevent this from happening.
One way that we are hoping to encourage conversations about the issue of male sexual abuse is through our Spoken Word event on Thursday 26 November at the Emporium in Brighton. The experimental event aims to try something new to explore 'being a man' and analyse any feedback from the event. We have invited five talented artists to answer the question 'what does it mean to be a man in 2015' using spoken word poetry. The evening aims to provoke discussions about the impact of gender stereotyping and the societal pressures that may influence male behaviour. Please join us for the evening and get tickets here.