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Feature : Avon & Somerset Police

PrideWest spoke to PC Mike Steven of Avon & Somerset Police about his recent work of reviewing the services provided by the Constabulary and its partners to male victims of sexual assault and rape.

It’s estimated that 12,000 men in England and Wales are raped each year. Less than 1 in 10 will report it. Mike and his colleagues from Avon & Somerset Constabulary have recently launched a campaign to raise awareness and increase confidence in reporting rape and serious sexual assault, with the launch of a video aimed at reaching victims who are men.

Mike took some time to speak to us about the campaign and the steps the force have taken over recent years to improve relations with the gay community.

If you’re a gay man and old enough to remember how it was once a crime to be who you are, then it’s more than likely you’ll have a negative perception of the police.

PC Mike Steven

The proactive targeting of cruising and cottaging sites and the methods once recruited to make arrests did not make for a positive relationship between the police and the gay community.

But let’s not forget the actions of the police during this period were not necessarily reflective of individual officer’s views or opinions – they were just applying the law at the time.

So have these negative experiences in the 1950s and 60s had a lasting effect on the LGBT community and do these negative perceptions continue to affect the reporting of incidents to this day? More crucially has it led to a lack of reporting?

In short I believe they have, but I believe the police service has come a long way since those regrettable days.

We understand it’s difficult for anyone to come forward and give full details of a sexual offence committed against them. It continues to be a harrowing experience but we’re getting better at listening, supporting and responding.

Last summer, I set about reviewing the services provided by Avon and Somerset Constabulary and its partner agencies to male victims of sexual assault and rape – my ultimate goal being to increase the reporting of incidents. I believe the key to achieving this is to generate greater confidence among victims, so they feel they can come forward.

This sounds straight forward, but due to the historically low levels of reporting among male victims of rape and sexual assault, not just within Avon and Somerset but across the UK, researching the experiences of those who have engaged with the criminal justice process is difficult. Agencies dedicated to supporting male victims of this crime type were non-existent in the Bristol area this time last year.

As recently as 1994, rape of another male was not even recognised as a criminal offence. Rape could only be committed by a man against a woman.

Stonewall was instrumental in effecting this change. It’s hard to believe this only happened 21 years ago – coinciding with when I came out as a gay man.

Towards the end of 2014, the Ministry of Justice announced it was investing £500,000 (£1m over two years) to support agencies in providing a specialist service to adult male victims of sexual assault.

I’m pleased to announce that our new partner agency here in Bristol is The Greenhouse with further agencies coming on board in Wiltshire and Somerset too.

We already have a long standing relationship with The Greenhouse through their ongoing provision of services to women and children and now, thanks to the funding made available by the Ministry of Justice, to men too.

My message is simple – should you need us, we’re here. You will be listened to and most importantly believed. You will not be judged and you’ll be treated with respect.

If something goes wrong and you have met the other person through one of the many apps now available, such as Grindr or Scruff, don’t ever think you are to blame. We’re not concerned with the how – we’re more focused on the what, where and when.

To find out more, and for information on reporting rape or sexual assault, visit the Avon & Somerset Constabulary Website.

For advice and support if you, or someone you know, has been raped or sexually assaulted visit www.thisisnotanexcuse.org