By Courtney Jones, Exeter BTV Campaigns Manager
*Trigger Warning: this post discusses sexual assault, rape, rape culture*
Raising awareness of sexual violence is often talked about in terms of women’s issues. However, opening up the discussion to people of all genders is essential to empowering survivors and bystanders to break the silence on sexual assault and rape.
To enable communities to raise awareness of sexual violence, Become The Voice has launched a new campaign based in Exeter to empower people to tackle the issues that they feel are important.
In Devon, only 2,000 sexual offences are reported to the police in a year. However, About 84,000 women have experienced some form of sexual violence. And that’s just women. (Devon and Rape Crisis)
Men experience sexual assault and rape too. People don’t like to talk about that fact, arguably out of fear it will set back women’s movements (mainly extreme men-hating feminists…if you can call them that). Or maybe it’s because society has created this expectation for men to be tough, masculine figures that are only capable of protecting the vulnerable or being aggressors. Well it’s not true.
Around 12,000 men are raped in the UK per year.
Almost 70,000 men will experience sexual assault per year. (Survivors UK)
Recently in the news, there has been a man who has been called “Britain’s most prolific rapist” in legal history. Reynhard Sinaga was convicted of 159 offences against 48 people from 2015-2017. Police estimated that he could have up to 195 victims who he sexually assaulted and/or raped by luring his victims in through good-will, drugging them and taking advantage of their unconscious state. (Halliday, 2020. The Guardian).
What was most interesting to me about this case was that Sinaga’s victims were men.
Britain’s most prolific rapist targeted men.
Rape culture is something I studied a lot at university and something I’ve seen first-hand during my experiences as an undergraduate student. One of the main discussion points for analysing rape culture is how women’s experiences have shaped our understanding of how locker-room banter (etc) has created a culture where we normalise, and to some extent encourage, about sexual abuse and rape.
In the last three years, the number of reports, across UK universities, of sexual assault and harassment has trebled (BBC, 2019). Exeter has a rapidly growing student population, which is why we’ve chosen this campaign, to bring together the community and students to work on increasing sexual violence awareness and ending toxic cultures, such as rape culture.
While sexual abuse and rape against women is a massive issue and the UK criminal justice system needs serious reform on the way it treats survivors, the victimisation of men as rape victims is more taboo.
Breaking the stigma around men who experience sexual assault is important in challenging the silence that survivors feel they are burdened with. Attitudes towards rape shouldn’t be trivial or normalising, we need to be more supportive, as a society, of people’s experiences and help create safe spaces where people can feel safe enough to tell their story – men and women.
Become The Voice’s Exeter campaign is working to understand what issues the community is facing regarding sexual violence and what is being done about it. We want to equip the community with the knowledge of what support is out there and empower people to challenge issues like rape culture to create a safer Exeter for everyone.
If someone trusts you with their story, then listen to them. Understand the strength it takes to tell it.
Here are some links to some great charities that support survivors, and their friends and family, who have experience sexual assault or rape:
SurvivorsUK: Support for male survivors of sexual assault and rape.
First Light: Support for victims of any gender affected by rape or sexual assault in Cornwall, Devon and Wiltshire.
RapeCrisis: A network of independent Rape Crisis Centres.
Samaritans: Non judgemental listening service.