'Netflix's Baby Reindeer captures the messiness of being a survivor of male sexual assault'

Richard Gadd wrote and created Netflix's latest mega-hit Baby Reindeer
Richard Gadd wrote and created Netflix's latest mega-hit Baby Reindeer -Credit:Netflix

Less than 24 hours after Netflix’s latest smash hit Baby Reindeer was added to the streaming platform, Manchester-based charity We Are Survivors became inundated with emails, social media posts, and calls to its hotline asking for advice and support.

Providing advice and support to men who are victims of sexual abuse, the organisation said it was receiving messages from men who had seen glimpses of their own experiences in the show, which was created, written and based on the real life experiences of Scottish actor and comedian Richard Gadd.

Rising to the top of the global streaming charts upon its release on April 11 (with 13.3m views this week alone), and going viral on social media and through think pieces in the weeks since, the show tells the story of how one man becomes stalked by a woman over a period of years as he tries to make a name for himself in the world of comedy and acting.

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Taking on the fictionalised character of Donny, but still based on real events in Richard’s life, the limited series is based on his acclaimed and award-winning 2019 stage show of the same name. But also incorporated in the show are themes from his 2016 play Monkey See Monkey Do - tackling the sexual abuse he suffered.

In the show, Richard’s character is piled with drugs and alcohol and then sexually abused by a male writer under the guise of helping him workshop his comedy show. It’s one of the most hard-hitting scenes in the show - especially when viewers know it’s based around a similar experience.

Baby Reindeer is inspired by Richard Gadd's 2019 stage show of the same name
Baby Reindeer is inspired by Richard Gadd's 2019 stage show of the same name -Credit:Netflix

Duncan Craig OBE, CEO of We Are Survivors, said there is a strength to be had in survivors speaking up and ‘reclaiming’ their trauma. “Professionals will often say that people don’t want to relive these experiences, but the reality for those of us who have experienced abuse kind of, in some way, is to relive it every day anyway. There’s usually always going to be something that can trigger people.

“So, in that regard, there’s something really unique when someone expresses themselves through creativity - whether that’s in art, music, writing or performance. Through that, there’s often so many things that you can say, process and experience that maybe you can’t in therapy.”

Richard has been an ambassador for We Are Survivors for six years now, and has spoken in recent interviews about how the organisation helped support him in the time after the abuse. In a statement to the M.E.N, Richard said: "We Are Survivors are an incredible organisation who have helped me enormously down the years. Duncan Craig and all of his staff change lives on a daily basis and it is an incredible thing to witness.

"I will never personally forget all the amazing things they have done for me down the years. Above all else, I am so proud to be a (very small) part of this wonderful charity. I have made a television show. But they do the stuff that matters.“

In addition to its work supporting male survivors, the organisation, which celebrated its 15th anniversary earlier this year, has also helped productions in creating scenes depicting sexual abuse including key storylines on Coronation Street, Hollyoaks and EastEnders. But Duncan says, already, the reaction from people who have watched Baby Reindeer has been completely different.

Shows like Baby Reindeer are helping open up the conversation, says We Are Survivor's CEO Duncan Craig
Shows like Baby Reindeer are helping open up the conversation, says We Are Survivors CEO Duncan Craig -Credit:Netflix

“You can really tell that there’s a difference in the way that the public are receiving stuff and having conversations today,” he explains. “When we did the David Platt storyline in Coronation Street, we spoke about how we’d seen a massive increase in calls to sexual abuse hotlines in the space of three days but now, with Baby Reindeer, we were inundated with social media messages, referrals, people asking for help, and visits to our website in like 24 hours of it dropping.”

In interviews to coincide with the release of the seven-episode show, Richard has spoken about how he felt he had to adopt a ‘stiff upper lip, don’t cry, shoulders back’ approach to how he tackled the abuse he experienced. It meant keeping quiet in order to live up to a particular perception of what it means to be a man. It’s something Duncan says We Are Survivors sees a lot, in the men who come for advice.

“Gender norms can be so toxic,” Duncan says. “The pressure to conform in a particular way is dangerous. Over the years, I thought that we were going to cast aside all of these ‘pull your socks up, young man, and get on with it’ approaches. In some ways it has gotten better but there’s still many who think and act that way.”

Richard said he was 'so proud to be a part' of the work We Are Survivors do by being an ambassador
Richard says he's 'so proud to be a part' of the work We Are Survivors do by being an ambassador -Credit:Netflix

But Duncan says he is seeing how today’s generation are becoming more open about their experiences. He explains: “What I think is great is that there are so many men’s groups that are way more visible now. Organisations like Mandem Meet Up do some phenomenal stuff. And it’s usually the young lads that are potentially stereotypically not the people you’d most associate with thought, reflection and feeling who are attending them. In that respect, younger generations are definitely getting more able to talk and share stuff.”

One of the biggest cases of male sexual violence in British legal history took place here in Manchester. In 2020, Reynhard Sinaga was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of 159 counts of sexual offences against 48 different men. His crimes took place after luring his victims back to his home and offering them a drink laced with a substance which rendered them unconscious.

Greater Manchester Police said at the time that evidence linked more than 190 potential victims to him, with many still not identified. “I can never not talk about sexual violence in Manchester without commenting on Raynard Sinaga,” Duncan said.

“But how often is it talked about really these days? There’s a big question mark over that. Is it because the overwhelming majority of the men that were raped were straight and therefore we’re not able to talk about it? I think there’s something about them being male and heterosexual. It’s like the final frontier.”

Richard Gadd's Baby Reindeer is an unflinching tale of a man who, whilst coming to terms with the aftermath of being sexually abuse, finds himself being stalked by an obsessive
Richard Gadd's Baby Reindeer is an unflinching tale of a man who, whilst coming to terms with the aftermath of being sexually abused, finds himself being stalked by an obsessive -Credit:Netflix

Duncan said that, since the public attention of Sinaga’s crimes, he feels Greater Manchester Police have tried to understand best approaches when it comes to supporting male victims of sexual abuse.

“I certainly do think the police are getting better,” he explains. “I remember someone high up in GMP once said that I was the first person to criticise them but I was also the first to compliment them when they did something right. What Mancunian charities do really well is that they hold authorities to account.

“There’s been some terrible failings, there’s also light at the end of the tunnel. Things are certainly getting better. I have an input when it comes to training all police officers when it comes to dealing with male victims and talking about male sexual violation.

“We are currently in the process of developing a Nightingale project, which will put things like Achieving best evidence (ABE) suites in some of the community organisation centres, so if a male survivor wants to report a crime to the police, they don’t have to go to a police station - they can do it in community centres, like ours. That’s stuff that’s supported by the police and they’ve made investments into that.

“They are certainly getting better. Without a doubt, there’s still a way to go, but I will give them credit and say that, actually, the leadership within GMP recognises where the problems have been and are doing what they can now to change that.”

And Duncan says that, even just a few weeks after Baby Reindeer’s premiere, he’s hearing from the men who use the services of We Are Survivors on how the show has helped them with their own experiences.

“We put a public call out to male survivors and people who access our services to see what they think of the show,” he explained. “We’ve started having people sending us comments and reviews. It seems like it’s really captured people’s attention because it’s not a black-and-white story of a good person. Richard has very openly spoken about some of the mistakes he’s made during this whole process.

“I just don’t think there’s been a cultural anchor point before where the reality of survivorship and the complexity of survivorship behaviour has been shown before. The show manages to capture the often messiness of it all.

Richard Gadd's 2016 show Monkey See Monkey Do tackled the sexual abuse he suffered when starting in the industry
Richard Gadd's 2016 show Monkey See Monkey Do tackled the sexual abuse he suffered when starting in the industry -Credit:Mat Brooks

“I’ve seen people compare it to Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, which was praised for tackling female rape in a way that hadn’t been seen, and I think we’re seeing a shift where these stories are now starting to be be told like never before.

“It gives us a reference point for us to say that, yes, this is really messy, but this is the realities of survivorship and we’re not alone. And it’s authentic.”

During a 'Making Of' special, Richard said of the show's themes: "It kinda shows a side of abuse that I don’t think we’ve seen before. I still think there’s an idea that sexual abuse is a kind of a pill in a drink and someone wakes up, and they don’t know where they are. And that does happen, and that is a big problem, but a lot of abuse occurs in very intimate relationships. I think I wanted to show just how complicated and psychologically messed up situations can get to.

"And so I hope that when people see it, who’ve been through similar things, that they feel less shame around it and that they feel emboldened to take it on in their life and deal with it in a way where they don’t see it as a dent to their character in some way. I hope it provides peace. I think it would have provided peace for me."

Baby Reindeer is available to stream on Netflix now. For nationwide support and advice, you can reach out to We Are Survivors directly here.