We need more male survivors of childhood sexual abuse to come forward and we need the media to report their stories.
Boys and young men need role models too, so it is time to ask the question, why do the media ignore male survivors?
On 24th November 2015, Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner for England, released her report into child sex abuse, Protecting Children From Harm.
Her team compiled data from every police force in England over a two year period and referenced it with data from other agencies.
They also conducted the largest ever adult survivor survey, with over 700 respondents.
The key findings are shocking and have been widely reported:
- 1 in 20 have survived child sex abuse
- 85% of those abused don't report what happened
- In the last 2 years it is estimated 400,000 cases of abuse were not reported
- 2/3 of abuse takes place in the home by a family member or trusted adult
- 75% of victims were girls and the vast majority of abusers were male
That last finding is significant as it is potentially damaging for male survivors.
The report goes on to say that the number of male and female victims is relatively equal until adolescence (13-18), when the gap widens significantly.
The report's authors summarise their evidence on gender and age as follows:
"The proportion of male victims is likely to be under-represented in the data gathered for the Inquiry. For example, boys and young men are less likely to tell someone that they have been sexually abused.
Experts who participated in oral evidence sessions stated that there are additional pressures on boys not to tell, as male victims of sexual abuse may be stigmatised by the perceived impact of abuse on their masculinity."
From my own experience and talking to other male survivors, the impact (perceived or otherwise) on masculinity is real and damaging.
Redefining masculinity was a key theme of International Men's Day last week and now we have evidence that boys and young men have 'additional pressures' in coming forward and breaking their silence.
Male centric survivors charities have know this for a long time and have been pushing the issue, which is why the coverage about Anne's report is so concerning.
Journalists need to bring statistics and numbers to life and make them more palatable.
They interview survivors, talk to representatives from survivors charities and use stock photos as header images in print and online.
In all the mainstream media, I've not read about one male survivor and his story.
I've not heard a male professional or male centric charity have the opportunity to talk about issues facing male survivors and I've not seen a stock photo featuring a boy or man in an online article.
Of course this isn't a criticism of female survivors or professionals but an observation of how the media appear to prefer talking to female survivors.
Perhaps based on the statistics the sexual abuse of boys a minority interest story compared to sexual abuse of girls?
Or, as a male survivor, am I especially sensitive to the reporting of childhood sexual abuse and am I looking for issues where none exist?
To their credit, survivors charities have done a lot to support women who waive their right to anonymity and talk publicly about being abused.
Rachel Isaac, star of The Office, talks openly and bravely about the man who abused her as a child for a Sky News today. Rachel is a fantastic role model for all survivors but her story will inevitably resonate with more women than men.
Sue Crocombe took part in an enlightening interview on BBC Radio 4 about her experience of abuse when she was four years old.
So where were the male survivors being interviewed?
It seems they are sadly absent and yet another opportunity has been missed to engage with boys and young men on this difficult issue.
They need to know that they are not alone and that they don't have to suffer in silence.
There is support if they want to access it, such as the newly launched Safeline telephone service.
So here is a request to journalists and media professionals:
When covering issues around childhood sexual abuse (and let's not kid ourselves that this is going away anytime soon) please consider talking to a male survivor of abuse.
When seeking a comment from a professional working in this area, please consider reaching out to a male centric survivors charity as well.
Finally, please consider the 'additional pressures' boys and young men face when telling someone they are being abused and where possible highlight this in your reporting.
Tom Leavesley is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, UK Ambassador for Survivors Manchester, fundraiser and volunteer. He writes for his own website, TomSurvivors.UK where this article was originally published