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Calls to male sexual abuse helpline double in 2021

More than 7,000 calls, texts and emails were received by Safeline's male helpline in 2021 - more than double the number of 2020.

It's one of several services the charity runs for survivors of sexual abuse, and has seen a huge rise in people reaching out for help.

The charity's Chief Executive Neil Henderson tells Radio 1 Newsbeat there was a 110% increase last year.

"We're seeing a lot more younger people seeking support now," he says.

It's estimated as many as one in six men have been sexually abused or assaulted but very few ask for help, according to Neil.

He says it's encouraging to see more male victims come forward for support, and credits programmes like the recent BBC One Drama Four Lives for raising awareness.

The three part series, which aired on BBC One at the start of January, tells the story of serial killer Stephen Port, and his victims - Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor.

Port met the four men through dating apps or sites and killed them by giving overdoses of the "date rape" drug GHB.

He was jailed for life in 2016 and an inquest, which concluded in December 2021, found failures by the Metropolitan Police contributed to the deaths of three of the men.

Neil says Safeline saw around a 50% increase in calls to the male helpline in the week after the programme aired.

"Often these TV shows trigger emotions of people affected - for those who've been abused and their family members," he adds.

"There's also been a big rise in the number of people reporting they've been sexually abused by someone they met through a dating app or site - and more needs to be done to protect people in this area."

Rory Boyle, 28, is one of those who has experienced sexual assault after he met someone though a dating app.

"When I moved to London from Ireland it was meant to be one of the most exciting times of my life, but a lot of problems - like loneliness - started to take over" he tells Newsbeat.

Rory moved to the capital for university and downloaded Grindr, a dating app for LGBTQ+ men, where he says he encountered an 'online predator'.

"One dark, winter night I was feeling low and depressed and started chatting to someone quite a bit older who invited me over to his flat… I was scared but his persuasion and my loneliness led me to agree" Rory says.

When he arrived, he felt pressured into taking GHB, and says it was made clear to him saying no wasn't an option.

"I was as high as a kite and a lot of non-consensual sex acts then took place.

"At one point I was basically passing out and when I came round there was another man there and both of these men were trying to have sex with me again."

Fear of reporting abuse

Rory was able to leave, but says for a long time he didn't know how to deal with it, and didn't feel he could go to the police.

"There was a part of me that thought I wouldn't be believed and the fear of judgement because I chose to go to the guy's flat," Rory says.

Neil from Safeline says worries like Rory's often prevent men from reporting abuse or seeking support.

"We know the police are working to improve in this area, but we still get far too many clients telling us they are unhappy - that officers have been unsympathetic, people haven't been taken seriously, or they've felt judged."

Deputy Chief Constable Vanessa Jardine, the National Police Chiefs' Council Lead, told Newsbeat in response:: "We recognise the importance of clear guidance for officers, as well as of not making assumptions or judgements about whether an LGBT+ person might have used drugs or alcohol.

"In recent years, significant improvements have been made across policing in how we engage with LGBT+ communities."

Alex Feis-Bryce has experienced sexual abuse in his life twice, and now runs a support organisation called Survivors UK, for men, boys and non-binary people across the country.

Like Neil, he's aware of more reports relating to dating apps and sites.

"There's definitely been more people meeting perpetrators through apps like Grindr, and the non-consensual sharing of illicit images is also a huge challenge" he says.

And while he welcomes improving safety features, he says it's important to strike the right balance.

"The slight challenge in asking for verification [on apps and sites] is that people fear they might be outed.

"A degree of anonymity is important for lots of people that use it."

A spokesperson for Grindr told us it publishes a safety guide on the app, and that it encourages people to report any criminal allegations to the authorities.

Consent on the curriculum?

Alex also believes improving sex education would help with some of these issues.

"We need to be teaching young people about consent and their responsibilities when it comes to sex, and to remove shame from sex, because that perpetuates silence."

It's something Rory agrees with, and says he's now done a 180 degree turn on the shame he once felt about his experience.

"These days I want to shout about it from the rooftops to try and encourage others to seek help," he says.

"My advice is speak when you're ready because it really does get better when you do."

Source: Rachel Stonehouse, Newsbeat Reporter, BBC News Online



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