Skip to content

First Step Leicester, Leicestershire & Rutland
Supporting male survivors of sexual abuse and rape (aged 13+), and their loved ones


The developing partnership between Quebrar o Silêncio and First Step

I joined our outgoing CEO, Caroline Freeman, in conversation with Ângelo Fernandes – CEO of Quebrar o Silêncio – as they reflected on the developing relationship between their two organisations and what this means for the sector as a whole.

Quebrar O Silencio LogoQuebrar o Silêncio are a Portuguese non-governmental organisation supporting male survivors of sexual abuse and assault. See for more information on their work.

Where did you meet?

Ângelo and Caroline met in 2023 whilst attending the Global Boys Summit in Casablanca, Morocco, convened by ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking). Attended by over 65 practitioners from over 30 countries, the conference focused on enhancing the support for boys who have survived sexual abuse and exploitation. The pair bonded through shared views and the realisation that – though they hale from different countries, the issues faced by both organisations were strikingly similar.

Angelo and Caroline in Casablanca

Caroline: The conference was good, but exhausting. There was so much energy. It was intense, but there was a real sense of positivity that we were going to change something. Whilst there were lots of children’s organisations there, we gravitated more to organisations like Quebrar o Silêncio who support adult male survivors.

Ângelo: We had a lot of time to have conversations – it was great to have this possibility to talk. It has an immense potential to talk about the same things that we talk here to ourselves, but to get different points of view.

Battling isolation

A running theme throughout the conversation was the isolation experienced in this sector. Despite 1 in 6 men having experience of sexual abuse or assault, it remains an issue that is rarely talked about. In the UK we are lucky to have a handful of organisations that work specifically to support men and boys affected by this issue. Yet, this is still just a drop in the ocean compared to the need. In Portugal, Quebrar o Silêncio is unique.

Ângelo: If we didn’t reach out to international partners we would be alone. We are the only ones in Portugal. We can learn so much from each other. In Portugal the first rape crisis centre opened in 2020, in the year of the pandemic, with us and with the female survivor organisations that we partner. We feel the need to pick up the speed and bring us up to date.

Caroline: It’s a very special relationship because of the sense of isolation. There are very few organisations that only work with male survivors.

Mutual support as a form of self-care

Caroline: It’s been wonderful to have a safe person to speak to. As a CEO of a small organisation you get involved in everything. There are some aspects that are wonderful, but it can be lonely and challenging. I’ve learnt it’s not just me that goes through some of these challenges. I’ve learnt that there are other people out there that feel like me.

Ângelo: People sometimes think being a CEO is going to meetings. I remember one time I was washing the cups for our group. I took a picture and posted it for whoever thinks being a CEO is all roses. This is the reality. When we say everything we mean everything. It takes a toll on you. Sometimes it’s a bit contradictory when we say to survivors that you have to have self-care and don’t apply it to you. I can offload to Caroline. It’s good to have someone you can have an honest conversation with, without impacting on the people you’ve hired.

Sharing knowledge and experience

Ângelo: What we value is a real connection. If we need something, we call. We value the practical side of things. We share knowledge and experience. Working alone doesn’t make any sense. Partnership helps the cause to evolve.

Caroline: Although it has been going for 25 years, First Step is still growing up. It’s developing. I consulted with Ângelo when we set up our Survivor Support Group. Ângelo was really good, talking to me about what that means, what kind of group it could be and how to keep it safe. He shared his experience.

Ângelo: Our service has changed over the years. The core is the same, but how you do it is different. Sometimes you are just struggling with something and you go to a partner and just by explaining what’s happening you are speaking in a different way. And you get a reply. They say ‘oh we’ve been doing this for years, maybe this solution will work for you or you can shape it and adapt it to your circumstances’. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time. We have many partners, but in different sectors. But when I explain to Caroline who does what we do, it’s different.

Hands together

Celebrating shared victories

The cause that drives both organisations connects them in many ways. In addition to sharing the challenges faced in this sector, Both Ângelo and Caroline highlighted the importance of recognising and celebrating each other’s victories – the steps each organisation makes towards realising a brighter future for male survivors.

Ângelo: We struggle with the same things. It’s not just Portugal that writes bad news articles about sexual violence. Whenever we win something it’s a win for other people, it’s a victory for our partners. We feel the same – it’s amazing for you and it’s amazing for us. When we have new material, anyone can use the resources or adapt them. It shouldn’t just be used in our context.

Caroline: It’s really important. It’s because the two organisations are like for like. The successes feel quite personal and you know you’ve had something to do with that.

Looking to the future

With Caroline in her final week as CEO of First Step, I invited them both to reflect on their hopes for the future of the partnership; a partnership that is currently based on actions rather than words.

Caroline: The new CEO, Beverley, will also be able to reach out. I did talk to our Survivors Group about possible future plans of being able to meet another group of survivors; to start the steps on that survivor activism journey.

Ângelo: We would like to continue our connection with First Step after Caroline goes on her own journey. There is an opportunity to talk about processes, procedures and intervention techniques to help both organisations grow. We would like to come to the UK and see how you set up the space, to come and see the office. You cannot put a price on it. It’s invaluable. It’s more than just having meetings via Zoom. It could have different expressions. It could be the sending of a new article that has been written in Portugal, a new resource that we’ve done with English subtitles. It could mean so many things.

Caroline: I really hope it continues and it grows.