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At Least 1 In 6 Men Have Experienced Sexual Abuse, But Too Many Aren't Talking About It

Poppy Bilderbeck

| Last updated 

At Least 1 In 6 Men Have Experienced Sexual Abuse, But Too Many Aren't Talking About It

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

This week marks Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, and to mark it, the NHS has launched a new campaign to help both male and female victims.

Unfortunately, cases of sexual abuse and assault are far too commonplace, and more often than not the ones we hear about in the news involve female victims. However, at least one in six men will have experienced some form of sexual abuse or assault at some point in their life.

This week, the NHS launched a new campaign to raise awareness of sexual assault referral centres (SARCs), after a survey revealed 44% of people don't know where to go for help after being sexually assaulted.



The survey, which consisted of 4,000 people in England, uncovered that 56% of people who've been sexually assaulted don't seek help, and that 72% of people are unaware of specialist sexual assault services run by the NHS.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), 'male survivors face unique challenges'.

'When it comes to sexual assault, abuse, and harassment, men are taught to not identify as victims. Men tend to be taught to suppress emotions, avoid vulnerability, and not ask for help. Men may feel the need to be silent about their abuse because of the internalized belief that men can’t be victims, or that men should not express weakness. This type of socialization depicts victimization as feminine, and uses shame as a tool to suppress behaviours and feelings associated with femininity,' the NSVRC says.


Within the survey, nearly a third of the 500 male respondents aged between 18-25 said they have been sexually assaulted and never told anyone about the incident.

Nearly a quarter of men also said they would not know where to get help if they had been sexually assaulted or abused, while 24% say they have been sexually assaulted or abused but did not seek help from any organisations or services. 

'When a man does want to reach out to ask for help related to his victimization and healing, he may not have the language to understand or talk about what happened. Men may even express an attitude of 'no big deal' related to sexual violence,' NSVRC explained.


Calls to male sexual abuse helplines doubled in 2021, according to BBC News. However, when questioned whether they would tell anyone if they had been sexually assaulted or abused, 27% of men surveyed said they wouldn’t tell anyone.

The survey indicated the biggest barriers for men aged 18-25 seeking help after sexual assault are fear of being judged (22%), and fear of not being believed (22%).

'Some men may not identify what they experienced as sexually inappropriate if it took place as part of a ritual or tradition, as in the case of hazing, for example. Some men may question that sexual assault could have happened if part of it was enjoyable, or if they became physically aroused,' NSVRC added.


Less than half (44%) of men ages 18-25  think you can get help from the NHS if they have been sexually assaulted or abused.

71% of men aged 18-25 who said they had been sexually assaulted or abused did seek help from an organisation or service. 

However, the NHS's new campaign, which is backed by a £20 million boost to sexual assault and domestic violence services over the next three years, is aiming to boost these numbers further.


The funding hopes to improve support services for victims, survivors and those left with trauma-related mental health issues.

The campaign has also seen the formation of two new clinical lead roles for domestic violence and sexual assault.

Kate Davies, CBE, the NHS director of sexual assault services commissioning, said: 'Sexual assault or domestic abuse can happen to anyone – any age, ethnicity, gender or social circumstance – and it may be a one-off event or happen repeatedly. But sadly, thousands of people aren’t sure where to turn to get the help they need, and today the NHS is making it clear that you can turn to us.

'We provide confidential emotional, medical or practical support at our sexual assault referral centres, a dedicated safe space for anyone who needs it, regardless of when the incident happened.

'We know it can take a lot to pick up the phone and take that first step – we are here at any time of day or night, and we will support you through the whole process, whatever you decide to do.'

Tania Woodgate, Chief Executive Officer of the Male Survivors Partnership, said: 'It is so important for men, who are least likely to seek help and support, to be aware that SARCs are available to everyone regardless of gender. We support any campaign that helps to ensure male survivors are treated appropriately, sensitively and fairly within their centres.'

Though the awareness week only lasts seven days, sexual abuse and violence will unfortunately continue, so it is paramount that inclusive conversations, awareness and learning around it carries on.

Sexual assault referral centres provide a safe space and dedicated care for people who have been raped, sexually assaulted, or abused. If you want more information on what help is available after rape, sexual assault or abuse, search 'sexual assault referral centres' or visit to find out more.

Topics: Features, Mental Health

Poppy Bilderbeck
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