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Mental Health Awareness Month: Male Sexual Assault and the Impact of Richard Gadd’s ‘Baby Reindeer’

by Keisha Myers

The narrative around sexual assault can often silence male survivors. Becoming a victim to a patriarchal society, men often feel a level of shame around sexual assault that makes it difficult for them to come forward, whether that be for a conviction, or to seek support. 

Recent statistics from ‘We Are Survivors’ highlights the staggering truth of male sexual assault victims, and that is that referrals have surged by 53% following the release of Netflix’s ‘Baby Reindeer’. 

‘Baby Reindeer’ is a dark comedy in which Richard Gadd shares his own experience with stalking and sexual assault, written, directed and starred in by the real victim, Gadd himself. The show follows his personal journey, and how he grapples with the aftermath of stalking and sexual harassment. 

Gadd’s candid portrayal of his traumatic experience resonated with viewers, sparking a lot of profound conversations about the societal stigma regarding male victimhood. 

‘Baby Reindeer’ was raw and honest in a way portrayals have struggled to be in the past. It is not an easy watch, but it should not be, instead it highlights how shamed Gadd was for what he went through and it shows the parts we are not usually exposed to, making it hit home even more. 

“We are Survivors” reported an 80% increase in first-time callers seeking support in the aftermath of the series’ release, showing a crucial shift in public discourse, as this programme was giving male survivors a level of empowerment that they had not received thus far, making them much more likely to break their silence and seek help. 

For way too long, the notion of masculinity and ‘lad’ culture has promoted shame and silence amongst male victims, allowing for them to suffer in silence. 

One statistic that is particularly concerning, is the 40% rise in referrals for individuals aged 26 to 35. This demographic represents that even younger generations are caught in the crossroads of stereotypes, and they are still too ashamed to speak up. The disproportionate impact on this age group indicates the dire need for intervention and support services that address the unique and complex challenges faced by male survivors.

It is extremely telling of how honest and true-to-life Gadd’s depiction was, as 53% of those referred to ‘We are Survivors’ cited ‘Baby Reindeer’ as a factor that persuaded them to seek help. The raw portrayal of the horrors Gadd endured almost served as a mirror for endless male survivors, validating their experiences and helping them confront their trauma. 

This response highlights the power storytelling can have in social change, making these things accessible to as many people as possible through platforms like Netflix, as the impact can only be felt if it is as accessible as possible.

While the surge in referrals indicates progress in the destigmatisation of male sexual assault, it also shows the inadequacy of support systems in addressing the needs of male survivors. Support services have been geared primarily towards female survivors thus far, leaving male victims marginalised in this sector. 

This disparity indicates that it is crucial, in order to promote justice against perpetrators of sexual violence, to acknowledge how diverse the experiences of survivors can be. 

Moving forward, it is pivotal that we move with the momentum generated by ‘Baby Reindeer’ to affect change in how male sexual assault is perceived, and how victims are treated. This can only happen if the harmful stereotypes regarding male victims being weak, vulnerable and not being ‘manly’ are dispelled, and replacing this culture with one of empathy and understanding, regardless of gender. Men need comprehensive, accessible support services that they are not ashamed to use. 

As activists, allies, and advocates for all humans that have suffered, we have a responsibility to amplify the voices of male survivors and challenge myths that often destroy their self-worth and confidence to speak out.

Edited by Emily Duff

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