Support service for male victims of sexual violence in West Yorkshire: what they do, how they can help
“You are not broken, you have an injury, and that can be healed.”
Simple, yet powerful words, sum up the message at the heart of Survivors West Yorkshire (SWY), which has been providing support for non-sexually offending male survivors of rape and sexual violence in West Yorkshire since 2000.
SWY was founded by its CEO Rob Balfour, who is himself a survivor of early childhood sexual exploitation and sexual violence in the ‘looked after’ care system during the 1970s. He has commissioned and co-authored academic research looking at the service needs of sexual violence victim-survivors.
This means he has the personal experience and empathy to help, but also the professional qualifications. He is an Honorary Supervisor at the University of Liverpool’s Department of Clinical Psychology and a qualified psychotherapist. He co-authored a paper for the British Journal of Social Work in 2016 that explored co-production with survivors of sexual violence as well as being a co-author on a series of papers exploring Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). He is currently writing a book on his reflections and experiences of social change around sexual violence gained during nearly 24 years of male survivor activism.
He has particular interest in research which shows men are often perceived as either perpetrators of sexual violence, or allies to women, but not victims themselves, and that deep-rooted belief can make it hard for men to seek help.
The West Yorkshire Mayor’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Board’s report highlighted how this creates a cultural bias and a lack of equity in providing resourcing to develop professional ‘by and for’ services to meet their support needs.
Rob said: “My hope is now the debate has moved to a more informed strategic level we can begin to explore creating a system-wide strategy, perhaps via the NHS led: West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board (ICB) to begin to collectively co-design a 21st century West Yorkshire system wide strategy for male survivors of interpersonal violence.”
Men aged 16+ can self-refer to the service, or be signposted via NHS professionals, family members or friends. By raising awareness SWY hopes to free men to be able to talk. During September 2023 SWY ran a West Yorkshire wide public awareness campaign focused on its Ben’s Place free counselling service across TV, radio, bus and billboards, making it possibly the largest-ever multi-channel UK advertising campaign to raise service support awareness for male victims of sexual violence.
The campaign coincided with the 20th anniversary of the service’s first public awareness campaign.
During November SWY is supporting a public online fringe film festival during Leeds International Film Festival under the title: Overcoming Sexual Violence. The Kintsugi Conversations, with both films and debates.
SWY strategic work in Leeds also includes supporting the work of The Visible Project and its mission create a sexual violence survivor informed city and also bring survivor led creative projects to Leeds like Upfront Survivors.
Rob added: “SWY believes that survivors are not limited by their sexual violence experiences, and they just need safe and specialist informed services to explore their individual possibilities of recovery and growth.”