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Male rape: Cumbrian charity highlights 'taboo issue'

The Cockermouth-based West Cumbria Rape Crisis Unit will launch a publicity campaign next month to bring the issue of male rape out into the open.

Carol Tindall photo
Carol Tindall

Starting next month, the unit will distribute leaflets targeted specifically at men and set up a self-help group for victims.

The move follows an increase in the number of male clients contacting the charity’s helpline over the past four years.

“We have always dealt with male clients,” says chairman Carol Tindall. “We just haven’t publicised it. We are now looking at starting a big publicity campaign to drive home the message that we deal with men.

“We want them to know that they are not on their own and that they have somewhere to go.”

At least 80,000 women suffer rape or attempted rape every year in the UK, according to the British Crime Survey, while reported cases of male rape appear to be on the increase nationally. But such are attitudes towards male rape, Carol says, gathering specific number has not possible.

She says: “It’s such a taboo subject because it’s been under the radar for so long that we don’t have accurate figures.”

It is a situation which many people find difficult to imagine happening outside of prison.

Many male victims will not report an attack for fear of being stigmatised.

It is not just an attack by one man by another, but an attack on the very essence of what many think it means to be a man.

Traditionally, men are considered to be tough and always in control. Rape can turn this gender stereotype on its head, leaving the victim feeling emasculated and ashamed.

Says Carol: “It makes him question his whole being, his whole way of behaving, and whether he gave off ‘gay signals’.

“If the attacker is known to him or part of his social group he will ask ‘How did they take me in?’ and ‘What was it about me in the group that made me their target?’

“If it’s an unknown assailant there is still the [question of] ‘What was it about me that made them single me out?’”

A male victim of rape may wish he hadn’t worn a pink shirt, for example, in the same way that a female rape victim may regret wearing a short skirt in the mistaken belief that she was somehow “asking for it”.

But rape is not about sexual attraction: it’s about power and violence.

Carol, 52, was a volunteer for CADAS (Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services) when she realised that the counselling provided by charities was not adequate.

“It’s being in control of another person,” says Carol.

She worked to become a qualified counsellor and met some of the people starting what was to become the Rape Crisis Unit, becoming its chairman in 1993.

The charity offers free support to anyone over the age of 16 who has been affected by rape, sexual assault or sexual abuse.

Rape Crisis’s work is arguably just as important as more mainstream charities like Cancer Research and the Great North Air Ambulance. But it is not always easy to get people to support a cause like this.

“We are not a pink, fluffy charity,” says Carol.

“When you volunteer for some charities, like breast cancer or the blind, it’s easy to raise the money because people know about those things. They know people affected.”

With blind charities, for example, a donor can see where his money has gone. There are tangible, measurable results. The cash may have helped pay for a guide dog or a talking book.

Rape Crisis members know they make a vital difference in the lives of rape victims, but it is difficult to quantify what they have achieved.

“We can’t tell people what we have achieved because that makes public what that person has been through.

“That doesn’t mean that they don’t need help, understanding and care as much as anyone who has got a physical disability. In fact they need it more.

“We know that their lives are improved. People learn to cope with what’s happened and hopefully move on, but they never forget it.

“It doesn’t stop them having a life that they want. With Rape Crisis we are helping people to take that step forward after something really traumatic.”

Service users include victims of historical and recent rapes.

But family members of victims can also seek help and advice through the charity.

Carol says: “Everybody assumes when you talk about rape crisis and men you are talking about perpetrators.

“When a woman is raped, her partner or her father or her brothers will suffer in different ways, and we offer them help to cope with what’s happened.

“A typical reaction is that it’s their fault because they should have been protecting their family member better, but you can’t be protecting someone 24 hours a day.”

The charity has three staff, six trustees and more than 20 fully trained volunteers.

Clients frequently make the first contact through the helpline but can also be referred through their GP or by the police. The charity has an Indecent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) who talks with clients about their needs and begins the long process of helping victims come to terms with what has happened to them.

Says Carol: “When you are raped you get a lot of people trying to help you all at once. There are medical teams, police teams, rape crisis teams. You have a constantly changing landscape of people, but the ISVA is one point of contact that you always have.

“She is always there, a point of continuity for two months or two years.”

Rape victims are never pressured into going through the courts, but they are encouraged to get samples taken in case they do.

Carol says: “We offer them help, full stop. Whatever they need, it’s client-orientated. If the client wants to go through the courts and the police we will support them, but also if they don’t.”

West Cumbria Rape Crisis offers a helpline on 01900 829729, a call-back service if requested, and one-to-one confidential support from a trained volunteer.

Have your say

Through our preventative work, we promote personal safety and encourage the use of "Spikeys" which prevent anything being added to the bottle. Please remember that alcohol is not the only way you can be "spiked" tea, coffee, soft drinks even food can have a drug added to it to incapacitate you.Men and Women can be drugged raped. Many of the drugs used can lower inhibitions and make the person act out of character. The affected person often feels humiliated and ashamed after the attack. DON'T be, the drug affected everything that you did or did not do. The attacker is responsible not you!

Posted by Anne on 24 January 2012 at 10:28

As an online counsellor and therapist I am often supporting the healing of men who have experienced rape and sexual assault. There is a distinct lack of services in this area. We can support these men to find ways to resist and refuse the disempowering effects of such an attack. I support the work of this charity in raising awareness about this important issue and providing therapy.

Posted by Ash Rehn on 23 January 2012 at 20:12

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