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Male survivors are an “afterthought” in Home Office policy document

The Victims' Commissioner criticises the Home Office document on male victims as "devoid of ambition" and "disappointing in the extreme".

On 30 March 2022, the Home Office published a long-awaited policy document on supporting male victims.

The document sets out the government’s position on and work to support male victims. In a new statement, the document has been heavily criticised by the Victims’ Commissioner, who took issue with the document’s framing and its lack of ambition.

The document, titled ‘Supporting male victims of crimes considered violence against women and girls,’ was quietly released on the Home Office website. Also published on that day was the government’s Domestic Abuse Plan. The lengthy press notice which accompanied the DA Plan made no reference to the male victims’ policy document, and there was no separate news article or social media announcing its publication.

Responding to the publication of the Home Office’s male victims policy document, the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, said:

“It is estimated that one in six men will experience sexual violence or abuse at some point in their lives. As survivors of abuse, these men and boys deserve to be fully supported in a way that is tailored to their needs and helps them cope and recover.

“The Home Office’s refreshed ‘Supporting Male Victims’ document – notably not a ‘strategy’ – will do shamefully little to advance the interests of these victims and, through its confused and contradictory language, is at risk of actively promoting the very harmful stereotyping the document cautions against. It’s hard to escape the impression that male survivors are an afterthought.

“The document is frank in acknowledging the misconceptions and stereotypes, including around masculinity, that can act as barriers for male victims when it comes to reporting and seeking help. There is some useful and illuminating analysis, with a welcome focus on intersectionality.

“Yet the title alone neatly sums up the incoherent language and framing of this document: ‘Supporting male victims of crimes considered violence against women and girls’. Such clumsy phrasing is not helpful and could be considered harmful. Male survivors will not identify with this labelling, nor should they have to.

“These concerns are not new and have been voiced regularly and vocally by male victims’ organisations. Amidst the very necessary work last year to develop a government strategy that acknowledged the gendered nature of violence against women and girls, I was concerned that insufficient attention was being paid to the need for a separate strategy for male victims of similar crimes.

“In response to these concerns, the Home Office opted to include questioning pertaining to male victims in the VAWG consultation itself, a document targeted almost exclusively at women and framed around gendered crimes.

“As Victims’ Commissioner, I found this wholly insufficient: not only was it not realistic nor practical to expect men to respond to such a survey, it was also capable of being triggering and offensive to those victims, who already face harmful stereotyping.

“The final product – much delayed and issued without fanfare – is disappointing in the extreme.

“The ‘commitments’ to male victims are devoid of ambition – and, given their framing within VAWG, may even serve to be counter-productive. Male victims and survivors have unique needs and we must ensure these needs are met.

“It’s time for a dedicated men and boys strategy with specific policies, strategic targets, milestones and funding. This document doesn’t scratch the surface.”

First trailed in the government’s Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, published in July 2021, the Home Secretary had committed in her foreword to publishing a document on men and boys in 2021.

At the time, Dame Vera Baird used her annual report to argue for a dedicated strategy for men and boys. She expressed concern that insufficient attention was being given to male victims and criticised the decision to incorporate questioning for male survivors into the public VAWG consultation.

Commenting at the time, Dame Vera said: “Adding men and boys into a VAWG strategy is not realistic or practical and any attempt to do so is capable of being offensive and exclusionary.”