This post originally appeared on VICE UK.
Daniel Wolstencroft was just five years old the first time he was sexually abused by a family member. The abuse went on for years. He started acting out as a teenager, turned to alcohol and drugs, and ended up in prison. No one thought to ask what was wrong, and it was only years later—when another man opened up to him about his own sexual abuse—that Wolstencroft found the courage to break his silence.
As many as 75,000 men are victims of sexual assault in the UK every year; around 9,000 are victims of rape. But this abuse is rarely talked about, and there's a stigma still attached to coming forward. In 2013/14, only 3,000 offenses of male rape or sexual assault were recorded.
That's why Wolstencroft has set up Shatter Boys, a new project to help other male survivors of child sexual abuse and adult rape. The project uses the experiences of men who have been through horrific ordeals themselves to empower other victims. So far he and the group have helped 60 men in Manchester, and the plan is to launch support groups across the country. I spoke to Wolstencroft to find out what stops men from speaking out and why more needs to be done.
VICE: Can you tell me why you decided to set up Shatter Boys?
Daniel Wolstencroft: It's personal. I was abused as a child and as a teen. It started at five. Nobody ever picked up on it. I was running away from home and being naughty, but I was just seen as a little shit. No one ever sat me down and said, "Daniel, why are you behaving like this?" I ended up in drug services—I've been to rehab God knows how many times. I've been to prison. There was a total lack of support. I slipped through the net all those years.
It wasn't until I found a drug worker in 2009 who told me about himself—he'd been through similar things. He was the first person I'd ever spoken to who had been abused. I thought, If he can do it, I can do it. That gave me strength to speak out. After that, I made myself a promise then that I would set up a support group for male survivors.
How does the project work?
We offer one-to-one and group support. We also talk to people online. People can remain anonymous; they don't have to show their faces. They can build their confidence up before coming to see us in person.
We're a peer-support service, not a clinical service. We're experts by experience. You can't put a price on talking to someone who's been through similar things to you—particularly with this stuff because it's so personal. We've got lived experience. That's what works.
Why does that approach work?
Because a lot of people have been abused by people in a position of authority, whether that be a social worker, a teacher… somebody in a shirt and tie. Nearly all the lads we work with have massive trust issues. If we make a disclosure about what we've been through, that builds that rapport and trust.
So few men speak out about their abuse. Why do you think that is?
Men are supposed to be strong and able to deal with stuff. So when a person speaks out, even though it happened to them when they were a child, they're worried that other people will view them as being weak—like you couldn't look after yourself or defend yourself.
Then there's what we call "vampire syndrome"—if you've been bitten by a vampire, then you become one. There's a taboo out there that if you've been abused, you go on to abuse others. Which is far from the truth—there's no research backing that, but it's a major reason why people don't come forward.
The average time for a male disclosing is 27 years; the average time for a woman is five
How do you tackle those stereotypes?
By raising awareness, by putting stuff out there online. And by sharing our truth and our stories with people. The average time for a male disclosing is 27 years; the average time for a woman is five.
One of our clients is a 54-year-old from Manchester who was abused as a child, initially by his brother. He ended up going into care. Then he was sexually abused by his social worker and in care by the older lads. He made contact with us online. I built up a rapport with him, and he gained the confidence to meet in person, and then started coming to the group. He's been flying ever since. He's now helping to support new members. It's all about passing on what we've learned.
Do you think society needs to do more to help male survivors?
Yeah, I do. There's only a handful of services that are specifically set up to help men, and there are many for women—that's the reason we set up in the first place. But we don't want any funding off anyone. Salford University has given us a room for free indefinitely, but we don't want to be tied to the NHS or anything, where they can say, "Right, your funding's stopped now." Survivors UK—Britain's biggest male-rape charity—had its funding cut to zero in 2015, despite a huge increase in men reporting sexual violence.
My main concern is that post–Jimmy Savile and Operation Yewtree, there's going to be loads of people coming forward, and, in my opinion, the criminal justice system isn't set up to help survivors of child abuse, or deal with perpetrators. We're doing what little we can by setting up these groups.
Illustration by Marta Parszeniew