The #MeToo movement has given survivors of sexual assault and harassment a voice to share their stories. The majority of those who have stepped forward are women, yet researchers estimate that at least one in six men have had unwanted sexual experiences, including abuse and assault, before age 18*.
“This figure is extremely concerning, yet still quite low. This is because men are less likely to disclose their experiences due to stigma, coupled with a lack of awareness around the support services available to them,” says Riaan Norval, Project Manager for Young Heroes – a campaign being run by Anova Health Institute and funded by the Elton John Aids Foundation to empower adolescent LGBTQ youth, specifically those who identify as gay or bisexual, as well as those questioning their sexuality.
He continues: “According to the Human Rights Campaign, ‘as a community, LGBTQ people face higher rates of poverty, stigma and marginalisation, which put us at greater risk for sexual assault. We also face higher rates of hate-motivated violence, which can take the form of sexual assault’. This has been evidenced in a recent study – titled The Facts Behind the #MeToo Movement: A National Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault- which has revealed that 42% of men who have sex with men (MSM) have experienced physically aggressive sexual harassment, compared to 25% of straight men. In addition, 19% of MSM have suffered sexual assault, compared to 6% of straight men.”
Studies have found that men who have endured such experiences are at far higher risk of serious mental health problems such as: post-traumatic stress disorder and depression; alcoholism and drug abuse; suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts; problems in intimate relationships and underachievement at school and work*.
Young Heroes aims to equip young MSM with psychosocial tools and support for better health outcomes while they are in their teens. The campaign does so by providing them with information, safe spaces, resources and a supportive community through its social media, website and mobile platforms. It also ensures that young men have access to healthcare services that include sexual and mental health support should they need it.
“Survivors of sexual violence are encouraged to contact Childline, Lifeline, the Teddy Bear Foundation or South African Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse to get help and support. You do not have to deal with this alone, there are other heroes here to help,” concludes Norval.