Official blindness to sexual abuse of men and boys is costing lives – Tom Wood

An unusual story made the inside pages the other week. A male musician, a piper with the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, broke the customary silence to complain about the regular groping and upkilting he and his band mates suffer at the hands of women attending their gigs.

Groping of men who wear kilts is a problem that is not treated with the seriousness it deserves, says Tom Wood (Picture: Getty Images)

Nothing new really, kilt-wearing men and boys have long been used to this kind of behaviour, some light-hearted, some not so much. One well-known restaurant had to stop its waiters wearing kilts, so persistent was the problem.

It wasn’t the revelation that this problem existed that caught my eye but the reaction to the piper’s concerns. I watched social media carefully. Had the piper been a woman the outrage would have been instant. Politicians and celebs would rightly have piled in to condemn the behaviour. But in support of our piper, nothing, a couple of bad penis jokes, but apart from that the silence was deafening.

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I was not surprised, for in 21st-century Scotland, men and boys are considered unworthy victims of many forms of abuse.

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Upkilting isn't a laughing matter '“ Jane Bradley

You can laugh off our piper’s plight but it’s less easy to ignore last month’s research findings by the Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration ( SCRA) and Barnardo’s Scotland.

They concluded that boys at risk of sexual abuse were often invisible because of ‘cultural barriers’. In other words, even professionals are so programmed into the stereotypical view of female victims, male perpetrators, that they are blind to the plight of boys at risk of harm.

How has this cultural bias come about? Dr Liz Bates, carrying out research into domestic violence at Cumbria University, has gone a long way to answering the question. She concludes that the rise in feminism has brought about "powerful and longstanding gendered discourse, influencing policy, practice and funding. This all acts as a barrier to men and boys getting help.”

The rise in awareness and action to address violence against women is wholly positive but that does not mean only women can be victims or men and boys cannot be.

This mindset now runs deep. Although male victims of domestic violence represent up to 20 per cent of reported incidents, Abused Men in Scotland, the only dedicated service for male victims of domestic violence, gets no support from our government whatsoever. Instead, for some inexplicable reason, they fund a helpline in England.

Some of this bias may now be so deep-rooted as to be unconscious. Last week our Justice Secretary began a consultation on whether misogyny (hatred of women) should be included in his ill-starred Hate Crime Bill. No mention of misandry (hatred of men) whatsoever.

How can this pass as acceptable in a country that prides itself on equality?

In time, of course, the pendulum will swing back, as it must. Let’s hope it happens soon. For if we don’t address both sides of our harassment and abuse problem equally, we will never succeed. There can be no unworthy victims in Scotland.

Why so important? Well in another silo of our dislocated civic society we are genuinely bemused as to why so many of our young men take their own lives, self-harm, and suffer from low self-esteem. We only have to join the dots.

Tom Wood is a writer and former deputy chief constable.

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