Survivors Manchester tackles stigma and silence around sexual violence against men

A Manchester charity is breaking the silence around sexual violence against boys and men by helping male survivors to talk about their experiences and build healthier lives.

Survivors Manchester provides psychological therapy (IAPT) to men and those who identify as male, helping them to recover from their trauma even where rape or abuse happened decades previously.

Therapy is offered at its Manchester base, as well as in secure and criminal justice settings or through other providers, such as a GP practice, as required.

Founder and chief executive Duncan Craig, who is a survivor of sexual abuse himself, said: “When someone walks through our door, they don’t have to explain they are survivors of sexual abuse, because the very reason they’re here means they are. They don’t have to explain as they would have to in a mainstream IAPT service.

“We’re dealing with the trauma of someone being sexually violated, having their power and control taken away from them. But you’re not treating sexual abuse, you’re treating the impact of it and that might mean someone has anxiety, depression, or PTSD symptoms.”

The organisation has seven therapists, including Duncan, who are trained across a number of disciplines, as well as an independent sexual violence advisor, who acts as an advocate and advisor for older boys or men who have or are considering reporting an offence to police.

A dedicated outreach worker supports the charity’s wider programme. This includes the Safer Streets initiative, which works to raise awareness, offer support and disrupt sexual exploitation on the city’s streets.

“We’re using the most appropriate tool in the toolbox, sometimes that might be eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, sometimes trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy,” Duncan added. “Sometimes that might be recognition that they’re not quite ready to deal with the incident and what they need is about trust and relationships.”

Since launching in 2009, most of those using its services have self-referred by ringing the charity’s switchboard number. Referrals from across Greater Manchester can also be made by friends, families, or professionals and clinicians from public or third sector organisations.

Initial assessments are arranged within one week, and therapy typically begins 10 days after a referral is received. That can be one-to-one, with additional peer support group meetings available every two weeks. Clients may also be offered art therapy and group therapy.

In 2015, it received 198 referrals, 122 of which came from Manchester where the charity is one of three specialist third sector IAPT providers.

From January, when it began uploading to the national IAPT dataset, to mid-September, it had 186 referrals from across the Greater Manchester area. Of these, 67 were for Manchester CCG’s commissioned IAPT service, with a recovery rate of 61 per cent.

The charity works closely with the region’s crisis services, and between sessions therapists will arrange to check in with anyone who is felt to be at risk, either to themselves or to others. Those people will be given safety cards detailing where they can get support 24/7.

International research suggests one in six men were sexually abused during childhood, but experts believe the figure could be higher because males are less likely to report or talk about their experience. Recent Home Office data evidences 1 in 10 reported rapes come from males.

Helping to combat these issues, Survivors Manchester works with organisations across the UK, offering training and expert support. Its training on male survivors and male rape victims forms part of Greater Manchester Police’s official training programme around sexual violence and offences.

Manchester CCG has commissioned Survivors Manchester for two years. Juliet Eadie, its commissioning lead for mental health, said: “The need for support for men has been identified through a number of public enquiries and there’s recognised link with criminal justice services as well.

“Survivors Manchester ticks all the right boxes for us, and they are really helping a very hard to reach group of the population.”

Tom Leavesley is a Survivors Manchester ambassador who walked up Kilimanjaro a week after completing therapy to celebrate his progress and raise money and awareness.

Mr Leavesley, 32, first got in touch with them when the case against the man who abused him when he was 12 was reaching its conclusion. He rang the charity after seeing Duncan on television discussing a Hollyoaks storyline the charity helped to develop.

Duncan offered peer support during through the preparation of his victim statement but it wasn’t until Tom’s abuser was jailed for five years that he realised he needed help to resolve issues around how the abuse had affected his feelings about his sexuality and his relationships.  He saw Adam at the charity once a week for 20 weeks last year.

“It felt like it all came crashing down on me,” he said. “I hadn’t dealt with everything and I’d started drinking quite heavily. I’d had therapy before, but I think I had needed that to get to the next step. About six months into that therapy I’d told my family and very quickly made the decision to go to the police.

“I’d been kidding myself that I was on top of things for two years, through the case and the trial. This time, Adam helped me to pick all the issues apart, and I really think it was potentially life-saving.”

Tim Kendall, NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Mental Health, said: “The trauma associated with sexual violence is not limited by time or gender. Many men suffer in silence for a lifetime, which can leave them and those close to them at risk of serious mental health problems and even suicide.

“Survivors Manchester is helping men to break that silence, to heal and rebuild their lives and relationships.”