In conversation: Male therapist on how men can be allies against sexual harassment

  • Watch: Meridian In Conversation with Scott Willis, a Therapeutic Services Coordinator at Yellow Door in Southampton

Words by ITV News producer Grace Williams

ITV Meridian's Andrew Pate met Scott Willis at Yellow Door, a therapy centre in Southampton.

The organisation was founded 35 years ago as a Rape Crisis service and has since expanded to offer support to anyone affected by domestic abuse, harm or discrimination.

Scott joined Yellow Door 8 years ago as a youth worker, going into schools and talking to young people about remaining safe in relationships. He then trained as a therapist, working within the field of social and domestic abuse and recognised that sexual harassment is an issue more prevalent among women than men.

Discussions surrounding male violence against women have been more prominent since the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021, by off-duty Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens. He was sentenced to life behind bars.

In 2021, UN Women UK commissioned a UK-wide survey on sexual harassment. It found that sexual harassment in public places happens frequently, with 71% of women of all ages having experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space.

Only 3% of women aged 18-24 said they had not experienced sexual harassment.

More than half of the 1,089 women surveyed, said they have experienced cat-calling, while 44% have been stared at and 37% been touched or groped.

According to the recent UN Women UK report, over half of women of all ages "didn't think the incident was serious enough to report”, while 45% believed reporting it would not help.

Andrew Pate interviewed Scott Willis at Yellow Door Credit: ITV Meridian

Scott, why did you want to become a therapist? And more specifically, work with vulnerable women?

So I came to work at Yellow Door as a youth worker initially, working with our STAR Project, which is our educational outreach programme, where we go into schools, colleges and universities and talk to young people about how to stay safe in relationships. I noticed through my work that this particular issue around sexual and domestic abuse was something that I was incredibly passionate about and I wanted to help support clients that have gone through that experience.

Sexual and domestic abuse affects everyone. However, what I found is that it disproportionately affects women. So, it wasn't a choice to work specifically with vulnerable women, but more working in the field of sexual and domestic abuse and by nature of that, being exposed to more women, in terms of those who are accessing our service.

What sort of response have you had from women who've come to you for help?

It's been mixed, if I'm honest. What I'm mindful of is that as a man, I represent a lot of the power that perhaps they have lost throughout their experiences. At times, clients have been a bit resistant or a bit reluctant to work with men, which is totally fine. Something we're really strong at at Yellow Door is to make sure our clients have choice. Giving clients the opportunity to say yes I want to work with a male, or no I don't, is really important.

I've been told I wouldn't look out of place on a building site but I think that's part of the importance of my role, is to represent a 'traditional' or a 'stereotypical' male and not be pigeon-holed into what a therapist should or shouldn't be like. I think because of my appearance, that can often be an advantage to me because actually what's really important is that is doesn't matter what someone looks like. It doesn't matter whether I'm a big guy or if I look like a stereotypical counsellor, a woman is given the opportunity to wrestle back the power that's been lost from them throughout their experience.

How do you get women to trust you?

I think that's a really difficult question to answer. I think there isn't a single sentence or action that anyone can do, let alone a man, to try and encourage that trust and relationship with a woman. I think there's something about taking the time and making sure there's no expectation placed on a woman with sexual and domestic abuse, as a client's choice has been taken away from them. I think that's really important to have that in the back of my mind when I'm working with a client that I don't want to replicate the experiences that they've had. It's about letting the client know that they are in control and they are in the driving seat. It isn't my agenda, it's their agenda.

Sometimes my female clients won't want to continue to work with me and that's absolutely fine. It's important that they are allowed to have a choice because the very reason that they're sat in front of me, means that their choices were taken away from them in some respect. That's not something that society should condone, least of all me when they're coming here trying to access support. It's about empowering them to make sure that they trust me, so our therapeutic journey can begin.

What do you feel they get from speaking to a man?

A lot of our clients' experiences they've had with men has been really damaging for them and I think working with someone like myself, or some of the other male colleagues that work here, we hope to offer them an opportunity to challenge that stereotype that they've had access to. We want to give them an opportunity to reconcile their experiences of men and to give them a different experience of what a relationship with a man can be like.

Scott works as a therapist at Yellow Door in Southampton Credit: ITV Meridian

What's your own experience? You say you grew up around strong women. What do you feel that's given you?

It's given me a great balance in life and a great appreciation for what it's like to perhaps be a woman. Now obviously, I'm a man, I can't fully understand or will I ever fully understand what it's like for a woman to live with the pressures that they live with. I think growing up around the women who've been involved in my life, has really given me a firm footing as to the importance of giving women a voice and giving women a platform.

I think there's also something around recognising, as a man and a white British male, my privilege. Growing up with women, I've been made aware that my view of the world is very different from their view of the world. I think this really helps me to empathise with our female clients.

I know you think it's very important to call out harassment of women. Is that something you do?

I think when I have challenged it in the past, sometimes there's a question of my masculinity. There's a question of being "part of the boy's club" where everyone is expected to have the same views, where actually, my masculinity at times has been questioned about being too sensitive or too soft. Often, when we sit with that and unpick it a little more, what comes to light is more that there's a lot of social bravado. A lot of men, when they're in a group, can be a bit "lad-like". Actually, when you sit on a one-to-one basis and really discuss what's being said, there is a realisation that it isn't okay.

It comes back to the fact that we've all got relationships with females. When we make it personal and recognise someone that they love and care about may be subject to that, then I think sometimes they then start to realise that their behaviour needs to change.

What is your advice to men about how to help women and how to be their ally?

I would love to be able to be the person to answer that question effectively but I think by answering the question more directly, I'm perhaps taking away the importance of a female's voice.

My advice would be: talk to your female friends, relatives and colleagues and see what they need and want. Do what you can but don't be part of the problem by looking the other way and hoping that it might go away because this isn't new, this is something that's been around for a long time. Until we all and I mean humanity irrespective of genders, start to have a conversation that it's not okay to be violent against women and girls, then the problems are going to continue.

How satisfying is it when you are helping somebody on their journey, to see them really flourish?

It's a bit of a cliché thing to say but it's priceless. I reflect on some of the clients I've worked with and if I think of the lady that walked into the therapy room at the start, compared to the woman that walked out at the end, it's like night and day. I have to stress that that's not everyone's experience but as a therapist, I've been wowed by their courage, their strength and their tenacity. It's been an absolute privilege to be part of that journey. I will never lose sight of that. It's incredibly rewarding and I'm incredibly lucky to be part of that with the clients that have trusted me with the inner parts of their world.

For a woman watching this, that might have had difficulties in the past, there is help out there. You've felt that taking a step forward has really helped people?

Absolutely. I don't want to underestimate how challenging that is but what I would say, is that there is help and there is support. Yellow Door is one of those agencies and there are other agencies as well.

It's very important that the person gets the opportunity to have their voice heard because what happened to them wasn't okay and it wasn't their fault. No matter whatever way you try to spin things, if a person didn't say yes it was okay and they weren't enthusiastically consenting to something, then it's not okay.

What's important is that coming through to a service like Yellow Door, that clients know that they will be believed and will be heard and they will be given the control. This will help them to start to take back ownership of parts of their life that perhaps have been withdrawn since their experience.

If you have been affected by the topics discussed here, the following organisations can provide support:

Victim Support

0808 168 emotional and practical support for people affected by crime and traumatic events.


0808 802 0808 (freephone)07717 989 022 (textline) for survivors of rape and sexual abuse, and anyone supporting them.

The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC)

0808 801 adult survivors of any form of childhood abuse. Offers a helpline, email support and local services.


0207 704 2040 (LGBT+ hate crime helpline)0800 999 5428 (National LGBT+ domestic abuse helpline) helplines and other support for LGBTIQ+ adults and young people who have experienced hate crime, sexual violence or domestic abuse.


116 123 (freephone)