By Ally Fogg
There are many lessons to be learned from the unfolding scandal of sexual abuse claims in professional football. Perhaps the first of these is a simple truth: people do care.
The men who courageously broke their silence are said to have been overwhelmed by the support they have received from the public, even among such sharp-tongued crowds as social media users and football fans. There should be little doubt that this public display of sympathy and support has been a huge factor in encouraging literally hundreds of other men to contact advice lines or police to report other offences.
The significance of this should not be understated. Many survivors of sexual violence stay silent out of fear they will not be believed or will somehow be blamed for what happened. Women may worry about being judged for their sexuality or being told they led their abuser on. Rape myths abound, sometimes even for the youngest victims.
But male survivors have their own reasons for caution. Many fear they will be shamed for failing to physically resist the attacks; if they are gay then they will be told they wanted to be raped, if they are straight, that they secretly want to be gay. Society's relationship with sexual violence against males is at times ambivalent, to say the least. Consider newspapers reports of the sexual abuse of boys by older women, invariably under headlines about 'romps' or being 'hot for teacher.' Look at how our media and culture considers prison rape – as either a comedy punchline or just desserts for criminality.
Against this background, one can easily imagine the relief of these footballers as the dust begins to settle on the revelations. Yes. People do care.
The next lesson to be learned, however, is a harsh one. Sometimes to care is not enough. The men who have reported abuse in football now return to a society where male survivors really are considered second class victims.
This month, in the very week when claims of abuse in football dominated national news headlines, the Home Office published their key policy document which described how service commissioners should provide for men and boys who are victims of sexual violence, domestic abuse and other intimate crimes. The document is called 'Violence Against Women and Girls: National Statement of Expectations.'
You read that correctly. The British state has no policy or strategy for supporting male survivors. Instead they are bundled into a category called 'violence against women and girls' and expected to be content with policies that are designed entirely around female experiences and needs. The document states "men and boys can also be victims of violence and abuse and the approaches set out in this national statement will benefit all victims of these crimes". It is difficult to imagine how boys and men benefit from the provision of female-only services which are decreed elsewhere in the document.
This is not merely a semantic slight. The Home Office runs a Violence Against Women fund worth £80m over five years, a paltry sum given the needs of the sector and the wholesale slashing of budgets for women's services such as domestic violence shelters. If a local authority wishes to fund services for male survivors, this is the fund to which they are told to apply. The consequence of this is to pit services for men and women against each other in an unseemly scrabble for cash, not to mention salami-slicing those much needed resources for women, robbing Petra to pay Paul.
With other funding opportunities there is less ambiguity – funders simply say no. Charitable funding trusts, even those as major as the Big Lottery Fund, often channel their funding to sexual violence survivors through streams with names such as the 'women and diversity fund.' The result is that sexual violence recovery charities can support women, gay men and transgender men but if their client group even includes heterosexual males, they suddenly become ineligible for funding.
The reality, of course, is that most local authorities never even think to apply in the first place. In many parts of the country, gender-specific services for male survivors are minimal to non-existent.
There may be a local helpline, but if a male survivor needs access to support groups, therapy or long-term specialist counselling, he is likely to face an unfavourable postcode lottery. When one friend of mine reported his childhood abuse to police, he was referred to an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA), whose job it was to support him through the investigation and trial. The ISVA told him they would have to meet to discuss intimate details of his childhood sexual abuse in a public coffee shop, because her office was on women-only premises. This can never be considered acceptable, but accept it we are told we must.
Services for all survivors of sexual violence, whether gender-specific or gender-inclusive, had already been stretched close to breaking point by years of austerity policies. In the wake of the football scandal, the National Association of People Abused in Childhood have seen their caseload soar so wildly that their helpline received over 10,000 call attempts in five weeks. Their overworked staff were able to take only 654 of the calls. Normally they would expect around 100 calls per week.
Just how desperate is the situation for male survivors in different parts of the country? The truth is we don't know because no one has ever been tasked with finding out. There is no map of service provision because there is no national support strategy.
It is always easy to wave an angry finger at society, accuse the public of failing to care about sexual abuse, about male survivors, about cuts to services. Sometimes it may be justified, but in this the public only take a lead from politicians and authorities. Again and again, men and boys who have lived through sexual violence have been systematically excluded from policy debates, made invisible by media coverage and overlooked by funders. Politicians of both parties have actively colluded in making this happen.
Since news broke about claims of abuse in football, there have been widespread calls for the authorities of the game to fully investigate any part they may have played in enabling, allowing or concealing abuse. If real progress is to be made, it is long past time that politicians must examine their own role in neglecting those very same survivors.
Ally Fogg is a journalist and writer. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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