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Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Safeguarding Survivors of Sexual Violence

Safeguarding Survivors of Sexual Violence | Alex Feis-Bryce

Alex Feis-Bryce

CEO of SurvivorsUK

The tragic reality is that in the UK, only a small proportion of people who experience sexual violence ever report it to the police, and of those who do, only a tiny proportion ever go to court. The latest figures show that only 1.5% of those cases reported to the police are prosecuted – this shames us as a society. People don’t report because prosecution and conviction rates are so low, and the whole process can be extremely invasive and traumatizing. For a range of reasons, including how men are seen as perpetrators and women as victims of sexual violence, men are even less likely to speak out, seek support and report to the police. “We estimate that it takes male survivors an average of 26 years to speak out about their experiences of sexual violence,” Alex Feis-Bryce, CEO of SurvivorsUK— helping men, boys and non-binary people deal with the impact of rape, sexual abuse, or assault whether they experienced it as a child or as an adult. “In general, survivors from structurally oppressed communities, such as LGBT+ and people of colour, face even greater barriers to accessing support or reporting to the police and when these identities intersect this silencing effect can be multiplied.” 

SurvivorsUK was first founded in 1986 by Martin Dockrell and Richie McMullen. In their work with other organizations, they had come into contact with male survivors of rape who were looking for support and struggling to find any.  To meet this need, they decided to set-up a specialist helpline to support male survivors. Since then, the organization has grown significantly, and we now provide support to around 4000 survivors each year.

“I’m a survivor myself and many members of the team have experienced sexual violence. That’s not absolutely essential but it certainly helps to have that in the team. I often ask myself, “How would X have benefited me when I was coming to terms with what happened to me? What did I want most of all?” and so on,” explains Alex. “For me, just speaking to someone who experienced something similar would have made a huge difference. That’s why it is at our core as an organization to do what we can to create a safe and welcoming space to survivors from all backgrounds, celebrating difference and uniqueness in a way that statutory services and the criminal justice system may not. In a sense, we strive to create a community of survivors.”

SurvivorsUK was set-up to support people who are often left out of many conversations about sexual violence and feel like there’s nowhere they can turn to for support. “When I first became CEO it was clear to me just how genuine the commitment to being inclusive, welcoming and non-judgmental is throughout the whole team – one of our clients once described SurvivorsUK as being like a warm hug and I really believe that,” adds Alex. It’s hard for an organization to communicate that. “As one of a handful of specialist organisations in the UK supporting men and non-binary people who experience sexual violence we have a responsibility to speak out, raise awareness and challenge the prevailing myths and I think we do this well.”

Alex prides himself on being an approachable leader who listens to and makes time for everyone in the organization. “I believe passionately that we’re at our strongest when we feel valued and are united by a common purpose. That’s particularly important for an organization like SurvivorsUK where we’re supporting people who have experienced something horrible and may feel like they have nowhere else to turn.” He adds, “The work is hard and emotionally challenging so it’s really important that we feel a passion for what we do. Being generous to myself, I’d say that one of my strengths is being a good, thoughtful decision-maker but I also really value input from my team and surround myself with clever, ethical people who both challenge and support me in different ways.”

The sorts of interventions SurvivorsUK delivers as an organization are evidence-based. They evaluate them on an ongoing basis to assess their impact to improve their services and demonstrate their worth to funders. Simon, who is someone we can all find extremely inspiring, was silent for 50 years before telling anyone about the sexual abuse he endured. After finally building up the courage to talk, he sought out help from SurvivorsUK. According to Simon, “The impact of abuse is lifelong and life-threatening – there is no magic wand to change what happened. SurvivorsUK provides trauma-informed expert support and facilitation of groups of men like me, who have suffered sexual abuse. At long last, we are not alone. It changed both my and my family’s lives for the better.  Survivors UK has gradually transformed me into a less depressed and more vibrant human being. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and my continued healthy growth is something that my family appreciates as I am able to love them more than before – we cannot thank Survivors UK enough.”

“I’m also really proud of how well we’ve adjusted to the global pandemic which is underpinned by the desire for us to continually adapt and innovate to provide the best services we can to those who need it most. One of my ambitions this year is for us to establish new partnerships with the private sector to help us raise awareness and reach even more people,” says Alex. “Sexual violence can happen to anyone and it can be prevalent in places with inherent power imbalances like the workplace. We’re currently undergoing a rebrand and website rebuilt which will really help us communicate our values as an organization and remove any barriers to survivors who learn that we exist in getting in touch and finding the support they need.”

Alex Feis-Bryce award

“It is at our core as an organization to do what we can to create a safe and welcoming space to survivors from all backgrounds, celebrating difference and uniqueness.”

Alex Feis-Bryce

CEO of SurvivorsUK

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