The recent conviction of Reynhard Sinaga, described by the media as the most prolific rapist in British history, has brought into public consciousness what for many had previously been invisible or inconceivable: the rape and sexual abuse of men.
When I was raped as an 18-year-old Manchester University student in circumstances uncannily similar to those in the Sinaga case, all the socialisation I’d been subjected to throughout my life told me that rape wasn’t something which happened to men. There was a part of me that knew that I had been the victim of sexual assault – yet it didn’t even occur to me to seek support or report it to the police. Even then, if I had sought help I suspect I would have struggled to find it considering local charities such as Survivors Manchester simply didn’t exist.
Published in The Guardian
Rape myths, including the notion that rape is something that only happens to women, are prevalent in our society and – despite the genuine ongoing efforts of the Crown Prosecution Service, the Ministry of Justice and the police – permeate every level of our criminal justice system. These myths work to silence rape survivors irrespective of their circumstances or gender identity and reduce the likelihood that justice will be served.
That is why the estimated one in five women and one in six men in the UK who have experienced sexual violence, and the organisations supporting them, are less surprised than the wider public and the media that Reynhard Sinaga was able to get away with his crimes for so long. It is true that most of the victims didn’t recall being raped because of the drugs he had given them; but it would not be surprising if others might have recalled the incident but felt unable to go to the authorities. The vast majority of incidents of rape and sexual violence still go unreported because of the shame and stigma that is attached to being a victim of sexual assault. Sinaga was able to exploit this fear to act with impunity.
When it comes to men’s silence, the numbers are stark. Research suggests that it takes an average of 20 to 30 years for men and boys to disclose rape and sexual abuse and, according to sampling by the Male Survivors Partnership, 21% took over 31 years. SurvivorsUK client data, based on over 600 records, found that less than 4% of men who had experienced sexual violence as adults reported their abuse to the police.
Yet in recent years, with increased awareness across society and significant resources being channelled into support services, there has been a huge increase in the number of people seeking support. Overall reports of rape have tripled in the past decade and data collected by the Ministry of Justice shows that there was a 200% increase in the number of men and boys accessing support services between 2014 and 2018. However, savage cuts to the police and the criminal justice system has meant that the proportion of rape cases that are charged, prosecuted and result in conviction is the lowest in a decade. Justice is hard to come by.
Why do so many people think women are the sole victims of rape and sexual assault? While the increased focus of policymakers and the media on sexual violence in the wake of the #MeToo movement is undoubtedly a positive thing, the narrative and language used can sometimes propagate the myth that this is something that happens only to women. Policy discussions and funding for rape services typically fall under the banner of the “Violence Against Women and Girls” agenda, which includes men and boys implicitly. It is not uncommon for male rape statistics to be used in official statistics of “violence against women”. This language matters. Overlooking the particular experience of male rape victims can have a silencing effect – but there are also practical implications. There are only a handful of organisations throughout the UK that are able to provide tailored support to the thousands of male survivors.
Many of Reynhard Sinaga’s victims were thankfully able to access support from Survivors Manchester and St Mary’s sexual assault referral centre. But the real tragedy is that we know some of the victims are still out there either unaware of what happened to them or suffering in silence.
This case has led me to reflect on my own experience. If I was raped as an 18-year-old in Manchester today, would I speak out and seek support? I know now as an adult that support would be available and that I would be believed – which reflects positively on the fact that resources have been made available by local and national government – but I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t still be silenced by the false notion, deep in my psyche, that rape simply isn’t something that happens to men.
I sincerely hope that in the wake of this tragic case we are able to have a more open and inclusive conversation about sexual violence. Rape is not about sex or sexual attraction: it is about power, and it has a devastating effect on people irrespective of their age, gender identity or sexual orientation.
– Alex Feis-Bryce is CEO of SurvivorsUK, an inclusive service supporting men and boys who have experienced sexual violence and anyone else who feels their gender identity is a barrier to them accessing other services
By Alex Feis-Bryce
Published in The Guardian
9 January 2020