Bob Balfour was sexually abused at the age of six. As an adult he has become one of the UK’s leading advocates for male victims of sexual abuse. Here he talks about the importance of human kindness.
—This is article #2 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
Some days, I dream of a sexual violence/abuse victim-survivor activist protection programme, just like you see in those US films, with marshals flying in to rescue you from the bad guys – because you’ve done the right thing and challenged their power. When I watch those films and such an elite force goes into action to supply the witness with a new identity, I feel for both myself and the many others who’ve taken the decision, not only to disclose their childhood sexual abuse, but also very publicly to advocate and campaign for change in the ways we support its victims.
When you assertively challenge decision-makers and others who believe themselves to be professionals by asking them to step up to the plate and take a good, hard objective look at the evidence for change, the resistance you face as a survivor, male or female, is deep and well entrenched – especially when the call for change comes from male victims. You often find that people in power, in all its forms, resist considering paradigm shifts in intervention strategies for sexual violence/abuse crime victims. That resistance brings up unique issues for the male survivor, in my experience – fed by the taboos and myths which surround sexual violence/abuse.
My first sexually abusive experience occurred when I was aged six or seven. I now realize, aged 54, I’ve been searching since that moment for what it is to be male – in the sense of how maleness can help me to be more human than my abusers. In many ways, I’ve been investigating how to move beyond the constructions that build cloaks of gender – cloaks which are empowering of inequalities/abuse for both males and females. Does that make me a feminist? Perhaps – perhaps not… who knows? I prefer to think it makes me an explorer in humanness. The question is: what is humanness?
The legacy of sexual abuse is deep fear
I’m a big fan of Doctor Who and have been for a very long time. In a recent episode (available to watch in the UK at BBC iPlayer), the Doctor had to face his deepest fear, and he initially explores everyone else’s – even looking under the bed for that which stalks us in our dreams… fear itself. The legacy of sexual abuse in childhood is often a deep fear made up of so many dimensions even the Time Lords would struggle to unpack them easily.
In many ways the Doctor is looking to escape his fear and, given all the scandals and ongoing debate with the Home Office around who should chair a National Inquiry into sexual violence/abuse, it’s tempting to wish for that elite unit tasked with rescuing activists, especially as you see the pressures building on survivors and the resulting infighting and projection. Anger will always find a target if denied a voice within a safe transparent space. Power is situational and, at all levels of engagement with sexual violence victim-survivors, informed kindness is needed to allow survivors the freedom to discover their own paths to voice and recovery.
As I watched the end of the episode ‘Listen’, my liking for Clara, the Doctor’s companion, increased massively. We all need a Clara, I would suggest. I was lucky; mine was a First-World-War widow who lived on my Wallasey street in the 1960s. She made me bacon butties on a Victorian range every Sunday morning – she told me to always be kind. Her name was Mrs Rizten and I’ve always tried to do as she wisely advised and have never forgotten her.
Fear can make you kind
Finally, in ‘Listen’, Clara finds a way to free the Doctor from his fear of his fear. She whispers, in his lonely and scared childhood ear, the following:
‘If you’re very wise and very strong, fear doesn’t have to make you cruel or cowardly – fear can make you kind.’
I realized then I didn’t need a rescue unit – I just need to remember those words, and Mrs Rizten, when my fear creeps out from under the bed and I feel the threat of becoming cruel or cowardly. All I need to do is remember to be kind, both to myself and others.
Soon I will need that kindness, as I will be in court to help bring a little more justice for my childhood peers and myself, hopefully. However, mostly I’ll be there for all those who didn’t make it to the point where they could find kindness from the fear. It would also seem the Doctor is a Time Lord ‘care leaver’ – thank you, Steven Moffat. A timely and very kind gift. The Doctor is now even more special for some lonely little boys and girls, frightened of what lies under the bed.
Hopefully, they will also find that kindness really is the root of being human, regardless of gender, and that fear is a companion of us all indeed. In that lies our pathway to humanness and real justice against all abusers – it can ‘bring you home’, as Clara tells her Doctor. Brene Brown sums that up well and I suspect Mrs Rizten would approve:
‘To be authentic, we must cultivate the courage to be imperfect – and vulnerable.’
—Picture credit: BBC
About Bob Balfour:
Bob founded Survivors West Yorkshire in 2000. It operates a self-help website, www.matrix-west-yorkshire.info. He recently obtained a BSc (Hons) Psychology with Counselling at the age of 53. He is currently commissioned by West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner to develop the capability and capacity of third-sector agencies in West Yorkshire to bid for funding to deliver a West-Yorkshire-wide service for adult male victims of sexual violence from 2015. This is in collaboration with Rape Crisis services in West Yorkshire. He edits a sexual violence/abuse report series called A View From Inside The Box – copies can be found at: www.slideshare.net/Survivorswy.
To find out how the stories of Doctor Who supported Bob’s sense of hope as a child at, see How Dr Who Helped Me Dance.
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men’s Day 2014 by clicking on this link—#100Voices4Men—and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
The views expressed in these articles are not the views of insideMAN editorial team. Whether you agree with the views expressed in this article or not we invite you to take take part in this important discussion, our only request is that you express yourself in a way that ensures everyone’s voice can be heard.