It’s not often a positive can be drawn from the areas of sexual abuse and rape. However, the bravery of football players who have recently denounced sexual abuse – triggered by former Crewe player Andy Woodward – have the potential to change the lives of many for the better and act as a true game-changer.
In November 2016, former professional footballer Andy Woodward went public about the ghastly horrors he suffered at the hands of convicted paedophile Barry Bennell. Such revelations are very positive for the future of support for sexual abuse victims, and far more optimistic than allegations against celebrities such as Jimmy Savile.
The chance of being believed is absolutely critical for males. If footballers can go on TV and say, “This happened to me,” other victims believe there is a chance someone may believe them too. The impact of the footballers’ revelations is thus seismic.
While we know that sport is not to blame, we cannot ignore the fact that Safeline has had recent victim approaches from every conceivable sport, including rugby, golf, tennis, ice-skating and athletics.
What the football collective have started is momentous. It is helping so many to feel empowered, to come forward and finally seek support. Often men have been concealing feelings of guilt or shame for decades, thinking they may not be believed.
But this issue goes beyond the top-league football players of the beautiful game, who will likely gain the support they so need. Many more have come forward from non-football related fields, with allegations originating at school, in children’s youth groups and in amateur sports clubs.
This is grassroots. This is a national crisis. Who will deal with the consequences, with the counselling and support that is required?
A leading charity
Safeline, a leading specialist charity for sexual abuse and rape, has the ability and experience to meet this need. It offers online counselling that provides an accessible route for men, with much-needed private support. The charity is already pro-active in prevention, working with numerous schools and children’s programs. Support and care are provided to tens of thousands of adults.
Safeline is pleased to report: The positives seen.
- A record level of calls to the helpline
- 6000% increase in visitor rates and engagement with Safeline on social media since the launch of a recent short marketing campaign. (sexualabuseinfootball.co.uk)
- An increase in 50% of calls since the footballing story broke
- 400% increase in the number of males contacting us directly through our website
- 25% increase in the number of people wanting to know how to report abuse to the police
- 150% increase in males wanting online counselling (we have had to limit online counselling to disabled people whilst we build additional capacity)
- Over 1000% increase in tweets which will result in increased calls to the helpline.
Safeline was originally established by victims. It has been operating for over 30 years and is now sponsored by the Ministry of Justice as the official UK’s national sexual abuse and rape helpline for men. The challenge now is to help even more people by gaining national acknowledgement.
As more sports governing bodies come forward, we want to be recognised as the first port of call, the go-to support charity for victims of sexual abuse and rape. We want to be there, and not lose first-time victims.
While other charities deserve congratulations for their work in bringing these matters to the nation’s attention, many only divert calls rather than directing a victim’s phone call to a trained counsellor.
For us, this is devastating. If a victim has found the courage – perhaps because of a male footballer’s story – to believe that their own account of abuse might be believed, it is a huge thing to make that dreaded first contact and call a helpline such as Safeline. If they then get signposted to call another number, it is not guaranteed they will actually do this.
From experience, we know that when a victim finally takes the plunge and calls, this initial contact with a trained counsellor can be dramatic. Often closure can be gained within minutes. Asking that victim to wait on hold or make yet another referral only prolongs or defers their pain. It is a huge missed opportunity to alleviate potentially decades of turmoil.
Recent Victims’ stories
A 60-old-male who was abused as a young child – so had been silent for 50 years* – tried reporting the incident years ago and was told the perpetrator would “just get a slap on the wrists”. He felt society did not want to know, and covered it up. Clients like this feel validated by the football-related stories, where abuse was also swept under the carpet.
A 55-year-old male who had been abused at school 45 years ago felt encouraged to talk after many years of silence, following footballers’ disclosures. He is now hoping to start a journey of healing. He spoke to various authorities but was signposted and unable to get through. After years of telling himself he was stupid to think of reporting it, he now feels better able to report the matter to the Police.
A 30-year-old got in touch to ask if police would believe him, and was informed of the ISVA service.
A 40-year-old male who was abused by his scout leader enquired about how to report his experience. He now feels more confident about doing this as he feels he may be believed.
A 70-year-old male who was abused 60 years ago felt it painful to see reminders on the TV about child abuse. He would prefer TV reports not to sensationalise this story, but to be respectful that this touches a lot of people. He says it opens up wounds every time it is mentioned.
*Our stats say men disclose sexual abuse on average 20 years later than females. Victims may speak out anything between 30 and 80 years after the event. This has massive impacts on their life experiences. This is sometimes linked to the fact that victims wait until their parents have passed away before daring to report abuse.
This massive social problem is likely to eventually lead to cultural implications, for example:
- Parents will be less likely to let their children out to play (this is already occurring)
- Workers may avoid careers working with children.
This, along with the other reasons laid out in our article, is why our work at Safeline is so vital.
Media reports on sexual abuse can open up buried wounds for thousands of people. Tens of thousands of people will be exposed to tales about abuse. Disclosures can be re-traumatising, so TV, radio and internet sources must remain sensitive to readers as well as the people in the articles. There is unlikely to be any other issue that can affect an entire population like sexual abuse can.