Men’s disclosure of child sexual abuse or sexual assault: How you can help
Barriers to disclosure
- Threats, physical, verbal - fear of what people will think or do
- Guilt, shame, embarrassment, believing that they were in some way responsible or complicit
- Having no-one to tell, especially if they have tried to tell in the past and not been believed
- Confusion about what happened – not having the words to tell
- Believing people already knew and weren’t concerned
- It feeling too painful to talk about, wanting to just forget about it
- Having to explain what he was doing there in the first place
- A wish to protect others, to keep it a secret in the hope that someone else won’t also be harmed or upset
- Dominant stereotypes of masculinity that suggest that boys and men should be strong and able to defend themselves - even against overwhelming odds -make it difficult to talk about sexual abuse or assault. In addition, the idea that 'as a man' he should be able to cope with anything that is thrown at him ("stand on your own two feet", "big boys don’t cry") can leave a man feeling bad about himself if he is struggling and stop him form seeking help.
- Homophobia and confusion regarding sexuality can inhibit men speaking about what was done. If a man was sexually assaulted by a man he may be concerned that people will think he is gay and discriminate against him or if he was abused by a woman that people will not take his complaint seriously. Also, if at the time of the assault the man became physically aroused in some way, this can make him even more reluctant to speak about what was done.
- Concerns that a man will become a 'perpetrator' of abuse following an experience of sexual abuse are disturbing to men. Men worry about how they will be perceived or treated if people know about what happened and this stops them from speaking with and obtaining assistance from family, friends or support agencies.
- Lack of visible support for men who have experienced sexual abuse or sexual assault limits opportunities for men to speak about what was done. They are understandably reluctant to 'open the can of worms' without some sense that they will be supported and it will result in a positive change.
Events that may promote disclosure
- Seeing a film about abuse or hearing a public discussion about sexual abuse (Kids Helpline advertisement, Films like 'Mysterious Skin')
- Disclosure of abuse by a friend, partner, family or men's group member
- Seeing the person who perpetrated the sexual abuse or sexual assault
- Hearing about or visiting the place where the abuse occurred
- Becoming a parent, or having contact with a child who is the same age he was when he was assaulted
- When a relationship breaks down or when a partner insists that for a relationship to survive he must see a counsellor
- Fear of harming a child or adult
- When there are public inquiries into sexual assault (e.g. Wood Royal Commission)
- If the police contact him seeking evidence for a prosecution
- Reliving the assault through flashback, nightmares etc.
- Health problems or a physical check up (e.g. suggestion of a prostate examination)
- When a partner offers support and understanding
- When a man feels he must deal with it or die!
How you can help
As a supportive person you can play a significant role in helping a man who has experienced sexual violence. There is no set way to support someone. Each person will react differently to what happened and will seek different kinds of help at different times.