New report on access to services for male survivors of sexual violence

Tue 21 Mar 2023

MSD commissioned research into the help seeking experience of male survivors of sexual violence and abuse.

photograph of a silhouette of a man standing at the edge of a body of water with a dusk light

Report on the experience of male survivors of sexual violence

The report, Male survivors of sexual violence and abuse (SVA): Barriers and facilitators to reporting and accessing services (2023), summarises findings from research about the experiences of male survivors of sexual violence in reporting and accessing help. The research involved interviews with 52 male survivors including survivors who had experienced SVA in childhood and adulthood, and perpetrated by familial and non-familial individuals. As marginalised groups of men are over-represented in male survivor statistics, the researchers set out to include a diverse range of male survivors. The research also includes findings from an online survey of 13 service providers.

The report includes a brief review of the literature, highlighting the increasing amount of international statistics and research that has demonstrated a significant number of men experience SVA across the lifespan, leading to difficulties for men, their families, and communities. 

The research provides an overview about the help seeking journey for male survivors in relation to disclosing, reporting and accessing services. For the research, disclosure was defined as telling someone who cannot initiate a formal process in response to the SVA and reporting was defined as telling professionals working in entities that could provide a formal action, such as police, ACC, teachers or the Royal Commission.

Key findings about the help seeking journey include:

  • 90.4% disclosed, 65.4% reported and 92% accessed a service for support
  • 73.1% of survivors disclosed as the first step in helpseeking
  • the average time to report was 18 years with only 31.3% reporting in the first 3 years
  • of survivors who reported to a service, 81.3% reported to ACC and 43.8% reported to police and doctors
  • only 16.7% accessed support within the first 5 years
  • of survivors who accessed support, 54.2% accessed ACC registered therapists; 54.2% accessed non-specialist counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists; and 47.9% accessed intentional peer support
  • of survivors who accessed a support service, 83.3% accessed a specialist service
  • it was common to take a long time for survivors to feel ready to report or access support.

When considering these findings, the authors note that “…not all men disclosed or wanted to disclose, and some of the survivors noted that it is important that pressure is not placed on survivors to disclose or report before they feel ready to do so.”

Drawing on the interviews with survivors, the researchers identified 5 key themes related to barriers and facilitators to help seeking:

  • Theme 1: Gendered social norms and myths are a barrier for helpseeking
  • Theme 2: The presence and quality of formal and informal social support impacts helpseeking
  • Theme 3: The complex nature of trauma hinders timely helpseeking
  • Theme 4: Service provision, visibility and design need to be tailored to male survivors to facilitate access
  • Theme 5: Quality support from service workers can build agency and maintain male survivors’ helpseeking.

For each key theme, the researchers discuss findings for practice, policy and services. For the first theme, they highlighted how dominant constructs of masculinity and 'what it means to be man' affected male survivors' experiences. They wrote:

"Indeed, the male survivors put forward the solution of gender-inclusive societal education to change prescriptive norms about masculinity and what SVA and its consequences are. They also signalled the need to provide male survivors with clear ‘how to’ guides to promote know-how about talking to others, reporting, and accessing services for SVA. This theme also showed that male survivors are a diverse group and therefore any education campaigns need to recognise this diversity and embrace a gender-responsive approach to addressing the issue."

In theme 2, exploring impacts of social support the researchers note that informal and formal social support needs to be increased to support men with disclosure and help seeking. However, the social support must be compassionate and engaged to be effective.

Under theme 3, the researches noted that the help seeking journey for many survivors spanned many decades and without intervention or support during this time, survivors experienced the 'long tail of trauma and harm'. The researchers highlight the need for early intervention:

"...a need for a range of specialist and non-specialist service workers to have a gender-inclusive understanding of SVA and be able to provide gender-responsive care, including learning about appropriate ways to invite disclosure from male survivors and routine screening for SVA."

In theme 4, they noted that survivors shared that they were not always comfortable at mainstream SVA services which were focused primarily on serving women or cisgender heterosexual people. It highlights the need for more specialist services to meet the needs of diversity among male survivors, noting that "...survivors preferred to work with people with whom they shared a connection or key demographics, and who they felt could understand their position."

In theme 5, it was clear that compassionate and understanding responses from service providers was essential for male survivors in their help seeking journey. The researchers recommended:

"Specialist and non-specialist service workers who welcomed, listened, affirmed, and validated the survivors’ experience and could cope with disclosure, built trust and furthered engagement with services. As nonspecialist service workers were often described as not engaging with survivors in this way, there is a need to adequately train all service workers who are likely to come into contact with male survivors, in addition to providing men with specialist support throughout the reporting and court process."

Within each theme, several subthemes were also identified. Below we’ve reprinted the themes and subthemes. See table 4.1 in the report for further detail.

"1. Gendered social norms and myths are a barrier for helpseeking

1.1. Gender stereotypes are a barrier to helpseeking

1.2. Gendered myths about the outcomes of sexual victimisation are a barrier to helpseeking

1.3. Gender-inclusive public education can raise awareness and facilitate helpseeking

2. The presence and quality of formal and informal social support impacts helpseeking

2.1. A lack of informal social support reduces recognition of victimisation and hinders helpseeking

2.2 Informal and formal social support with trusted others facilitates helpseeking

2.3. It’s good to talk to caring and compassionate listeners

2.4. Insensitive responses to informal disclosures or reporting are a barrier to helpseeking

3. The complex nature of trauma hinders timely helpseeking

3.1. The complexity of trauma masked its cause and hindered access to support services

3.2. Coercion and control are a barrier to helpseeking

3.3. Recovery and helpseeking are slow and ongoing processes

4. Service provision, visibility and design need to be tailored to male survivors to facilitate access

4.1. Insufficient and unaffordable specialist service provision are barriers to accessing support services and healing

4.2. The visibility of services impacts how easily male survivors can access them

4.3. A choice of services designed to meet the complex needs of male survivors facilitates access

5. Quality support from service workers can build agency and maintain male survivors’ helpseeking

5.1. Attentive expert support is crucial throughout the reporting process

5.2. Helpseeking is facilitated by service workers who understand the trauma of male survivors

5.3. Building agency facilitates effective helpseeking."

The researchers found that the views of service providers endorsed the themes identified by survivors. Service providers also raised the following points:

  • optimism that there has been a recent increase in public awareness about men’s sexual victimisation
  • providers should use sensitive but direct questions to invite disclosure and promote early intervention
  • funding is required to increase bespoke and appropriate services for male survivors
  • services and providers that meet the needs of all genders and who are trained to work with diverse populations can provide opportunities to meet male survivors needs
  • the need for a range of quick and easy ways to access services (e.g. – video call, telephone, face-to-face).

The report concludes with a discussion of 5 key recommendations:

  • Gender-inclusive societal education initiatives
  • Gender-inclusive training of service workers
  • Initiatives to increase social support for male survivors
  • Bespoke and accessible service provision
  • Design of trauma-informed services and activities.

The authors wrap up the report noting that the barriers to disclosing, reporting and help seeking mean it will be difficult for research to determine accurate prevalence rates among male survivors. Instead they write:

"...there is a need to move beyond relying on the data in official reports to determine provision of resources for SVA and accept that surveys and reports will continue to underestimate victimisation rates, especially for male survivors. We propose it is better to simply consider that SVA is a problem for men and move toward understanding and responding to that problem without reliance on reporting rates."

The research was completed by a team from Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, the University of Otago, and the Donald Beasley Institute. The authors are Louise Dixon, Gareth Treharne, Michaela Pettie, Chris Bowden, Tess Patterson, Melanie Beres, Brigit Mirfin-Veitch, Rachel Shaw, Angela Eketone-Kelly and Jacob Ashdown. The Ministry of Social Development commissioned the research to help support the design of services for male survivors and future research.

Recent related research

In November 2022, Male Survivors Aotearoa published the report, Living or merely existing? The experiences of male survivors of historical sexual abuse in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The report summarises findings from an online survey of 46 male survivors of sexual abuse about their experiences including disclosure and seeking help.

Te Rōpū Tautoko Male Survivors Aotearoa commissioned a review of literature focused on a kaupapa Māori approach to the support of Māori male survivors of abuse. Te Rōpū Tautoko is a subcommittee of the Male Survivors Aotearoa Board.

Recently published research from the Dunedin Study identified that people who had unwanted sexual contact before the age of 16, had a higher risk of experiencing adverse outcomes in adulthood including smoking and alcohol consumption, systemic inflammation, oral health, mental health, sexually transmitted diseases, personal relationships, finances, and antisocial behaviour. The researchers also found that "Survivors were also between 2.5 and 4 times more likely than their peers to have attempted suicide in their lifetime, with the highest risk among those who experienced more severe abuse."

Find more research and reports on male victim/survivors by searching the topic keyword abused men.

Related news

The last day for survivors to register to have their accounts heard by the Abuse in Care Royal Commission is 21 March 2023. The Royal Commission will be ending in June 2023. See their pānui for more details.

Related media

Police acknowledge sentencing: Liam Nixon case, Police media release, 06.12.2023

Fotofest Hawke’s Bay 2023: ‘Confronting’ male sexual abuse survivor photos on display, NZ Herald, 08.09.2023

Major study reveals two-thirds of people who suffer childhood maltreatment suffer more than one kind [Australia], The Conversation, 03.04.2023

Government insists abuse survivor redress a 'top priority' after officials suggested delay, RNZ, 22.03.2023

People who experience childhood sexual abuse tell us it affects their entire life – and research backs them up, The Conversation, 14.03.2023

First torture, now solitary - NZ’s shame, Newsroom, 08.03.2023

Courageous kōrero is the first step to overcoming intergenerational trauma, The Spinoff, 06.03.2023

Disabled gang members, abused by state, found welcoming whānau in life of crime, Stuff, 26.02.2023

Gangs meet with Royal Commission, Newsroom, 21.02.2023

Image: Lukas Rychvalsky on Pexels

More news articles about Research