'It's my job to convince a survivor of sexual abuse that it wasn't his fault'


My run to work – at Survivors UK, a charity that supports men who have experienced sexual violence – is crucial in setting me up for the day. When I arrive, I wash in the basin (there’s no shower) and meet with one of the independent sexual violence advisers.

His client, Bernie, has made a suicide attempt and we think together about how we can help. He’s going through the criminal justice process; it can often leave everyone feeling angry and helpless.

Then I counsel some clients. I worry about Mark – his thoughts of suicide are increasing because he can’t see his kids. Terry is terrified to have children at all, in case people think he will abuse them. Jay is really struggling with drugs and sex, and is now injecting crystal meth on a weekly basis. These are all different ways of trying to live with the impact of being sexually abused.


Today I am working with clients who are in supported accommodation, usually placed straight from being homeless. Gary’s use of heroin and crack is worryingly high. Homeless since he was 13 after running away from a violent alcoholic father who sexually abused him, he was gang raped on the street when he was a teenager.

Gary sobs at the loss of contact with his mother, who chose his father over him. He is angry and also feels he failed to protect his mum from his dad. “I let him rape me so he wouldn’t hurt her but he raped her too.” How do I convey to him that he was a child and his dad is the one responsible? I feel angry too. I go home and chop carrots for soup. It helps.

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There is an on-call message from the person staffing our webchat service. She had a WhatsApp conversation with a 16-year-old living in Wales who said he had just been raped. He was distraught and very unsure what to do. We ensure he is given all the relevant local agencies as well as a chance to speak about what has just happened.

In the evening I attend a play followed by a Q&A panel discussion. The play covers sexual trauma, HIV, chemsex and homophobia, and the struggle to create meaningful relationships with these as a backdrop.


Back to Westminster, this time seeing people who are in hostels or on the streets. I am staggered at people’s ability to survive given their history and currentcircumstances. Barry is 50. An only child with a mother who had serious mental health problems, he was taken into care and abused in a children’s home.

We meet at Pret. He shouts at a business man in a suit who is staring at him. Barry is 6ft and very obviously homeless with an addiction problem. He and I make a striking pair in the lunchtime crowds. His use of spice is spiralling. I add “sort spice???” to my to-do list.


Back at the office. We are advising a TV production company on how they might best develop a storyline about male sexual abuse. The internet is down and we are out of teabags. I speak to an angry woman who believes we should be doing more to stop childhood sexual abuse and another caller who might well be suicidal but, as it transpired at the end of the call, was masturbating – assisted by the sound of my empathy. I fail to cross one thing off my list.

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In many ways, Saturday is my favourite day of the week. I facilitate a group session of male survivors. The room is electric. Shame, isolation and self-recrimination falter and fail in the spark of connection, care and healing.


A day off with friends, the solitary walks that feed heart and soul, the reading that takes me to magical places, running and the cats with whom I share my home. I check my work phone to see an abusive text. I make a cup of tea.

  • In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

If you would like to contribute to our My working week series about your job in public services, get in touch by emailing sarah.johnson@theguardian.com



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