One in six men is estimated to be a victim of sexual abuse, yet there remains a reluctance by men to speak out, either due to perceived shame or embarrassment or the perception that sexual abuse is “a women’s issue”.
Yet the effects of sexual abuse can last a lifetime, meaning there is a critical need for both early intervention and ongoing support to address the long-term psychological damage. There is also an increased risk, particularly in the case of physical abuse, that victims go on to be perpetrators, end up in jail or in gangs.
“When you look, there’s not much refuge or acceptance that men can be sexually abused,” says author Gwenton Sloley. “We need to get the conversation moving. It’s like the footballers; some have come out and they’re not worried about their public figure and they want to raise the issue of sexual abuse by their coach or manager.
“We need more people who are looked on by the media as masculine men to be speaking up.”
Sloley aims to get the conversation moving with the publication of his new book ‘Alone With My Thoughts’. The book builds on themes of sexual abuse that were touched on in his first book, ‘From The Streets To Scotland Yard’, which told of Sloley’s move from gang life in Hackney to working as a senior practitioner with local authorities, as well as an expert in setting up witness protection and gang extrication programmes.
Slolely has previously talked about the use of sexual violence towards men as a way of showing power, telling the Hackney Gazette that “Some gang members will use sexual abuse as a tool to degrade a person, film it and then put it on social media as blackmail or to say ‘I’m so dangerous’.”
Often these people will have no place to go, and would be reluctant to speak to the police or local authorities for assistance. “This is one of the big problems,” says Sloley. “There is very little support available – hardly any. It’s the same as domestic violence towards men. There’s no refuges for men. We need to shine a spotlight on it.”
Yet intervention is crucial, if we want to keep the vulnerable out of the criminal justice system, says Sloley: “I wrote my autobiography in 2010 and it touched briefly on the subject of male sexual abuse and although I’ve had more calls and contact with women who have disclosed that they were sexually abused, I’ve had a lot of young men – saying ‘look, if I could have spoken to someone before about what I was going through, I don’t think I’d be in here’ – and most of them were in for murder and violent crime.
“We need to get interventions in place as soon as possible, before these children end up in gangs or in prison, and that’s where what I do links into the work of SharedVision and ChickenShed.
“Early intervention should be an integral part. If you’re doing a risk assessment for other things then it should be holistic. If you’re doing training you should be providing a pathway so if young men start to disclose anything related to sexual abuse then the services are there and in place to help them.”
The partnership with SharedVision and ChickenShed is something Sloley sees as unique, providing innovative ways in which to reach people who would otherwise be reluctant to seek out services.
“The thing with ChickenShed is that it is making everything live,” he says. “You can touch it and feel it. A lot of people respond to the live performance – and the performers also come from a background where they’ve experienced what they are performing. They’re not just on stage performing, they are reliving that moment. You can feel the energy from the performance.”
Yet barriers still remain, and Sloley is eager to get the issue of male sexual abuse discussed and the topic opened up, thus opening the door for SharedVision and ChickenShed to get a foot in and make a difference. “If you look at the whole partnership, there’s no other partnership like what we’ve got here,” he says. “The angle I’m coming at with the book is to make sure this issue gets in the spotlight so we can continue to help those who need it,” says Sloley.