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Silenced survivors

Research by SurvivorsUK finds that nearly half of gay and bisexual men have experienced sexual assault

Approximately 12,000 men (aged 16-59) are raped in the UK every year and more than 70,000 are sexually abused or assaulted. In 2021, the charity SurvivorsUK conducted the first and ground-breaking research exploring sexual violence experienced by gay and bisexual men in order to gather data on where and how it happens. Centred around consent, the questions in the research have sought to pinpoint sexual violence within the actual experience of gay and bi men. The research was based on a sample of 505 gay and bisexual men from across the UK from various demographics. Although this surely reflects the reality to the wider population, it is important to note that the known difficulties for gay and bisexual survivors speaking out about abuse they suffered may prevent engagement in research such as this one.

Claire Waxman, the independent Victims’ Commissioner for London said “The research shows the shocking proportion of gay and bisexual men who have experienced sexual violence; sadly a seemingly significant higher proportion than among straight men”. Indeed, the findings confirm that gay and bi men are extensively affected by sexual violence in various spaces and in various ways. No less than 45% said they have experienced something they would describe as a sexual assault – of those, half are between 18 and 34 years old.

The research also suggests the existence of significant difficulties with relationships between gay and bisexual men and professional services. Only 14% have reported an incident of sexual assault to the police. Their experience with the police is still too often negative; feeling that their complaint is not taken seriously, that they are disbelieved and judged. A dramatically large proportion of survivors felt entirely incapable to speak about their experiences to anyone and did not access specialised support services at all.

The data further indicates that the abuse often occurs in public venues: bars, clubs, public spaces, and the workplace. This finding will hopefully raise awareness on the need for venues themselves to support survivors, normalising open conversations around consent before incidents occur.

The research calls for a move forward: “we must learn to amplify survivors’ voices and provide platforms for their courage (…) to ensure that all survivors feel seen, supported and taken seriously”.

The full research can be found on Survivors UK website.

Bolt Burdon Kemp provides free initial advice through the Civil Legal Clinic of SurvivorsUK, to enable survivors to speak to us when it suits them, in a space they are used to and comfortable in. You can find more information here.

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