Viola Davis’s speech at last month’s Women’s March in LA showed yet again the impact of the #MeToo movement in opening our eyes to sexual victimisation. Although women make up the majority of victims of sexual harassment and violence, it’s time to open up the conversation to include men as victims as well as perpetrators. Apart from accusations involving Kevin Spacey, most of the conversations have been aimed at hearing and empowering women; conversations that are long overdue. However, this is also an important conversation for men and for queer men.
Estimates suggest as many as one in six British men are victims of some form of abuse during their lives. Stonewall report that 50% of gay or bisexual men have experienced abuse by a family member or partner. A recent BBC documentary Male Rape: Breaking the Silence gave voice to a number of male rape victims. Raising public awareness is crucial but so is taking action to change the sexual culture and to end the stigma victims too often face.
My shame kept me in the shadows, afraid that the truth would mean that I was less of a man. I feared I was complicit in my abuse and that I deserved it. My partner made it clear that I should be available to him for sex whenever and wherever; in the shower, while cooking, it didn’t matter. Though there were times I enjoyed the attention and felt special, there were times it was unwanted and made me feel devalued and violated. I felt obligated. To not give may have been the end of our relationship. Sex should never be an obligation but an experience shared and agreed on by all participants. My ex-partner demanded a lot but he failed to cultivate an environment of mutual enjoyment and consent. Sex was used as control, a reminder of the power he had over me. Even after our relationship ended, the power lingered over me like a heavy fog in the early morning. It clouded my decisions and my view of reality. Clarity only came when I started sharing my experiences first to a counsellor and then my best friend.
The danger of silence about sexual assault and violence is that it drives isolation instead of airing our wounds to allows healing. Sharing our stories as men can offer hope to others who feel they are alone. I hope that we as men follow the lead of our brave female counter parts and with the same strength say #METOO, #TIMESUP, and #ITSNOTOK
February 5-11 is sexual abuse and sexual violence awareness week. The week kicks off with a march across London’s Millennium Bridge on Monday 5th February. It would be great to see more of us there, supporting women and fighting the stigma that means too many men remain silent about the sexual violence and harassment we too face.