Monday 21 January 2013

Helping a Male Survivor Speak Out #childabuse #survivors

Men’s disclosure of child sexual abuse or sexual assault: How you can help

Photo of supporting hands
Strength in support
If you are reading this information sheet it is likely that are interested in learning more about how you can help a man you know who has experienced child sexual abuse. Or alternatively, a man you know might have given this sheet to you because he believes that you are someone who can offer him support. Telling someone that you have experienced child sexual abuse or sexual assault is not easy. How disclosure of child sexual abuse or sexual assault occurs and how it is responded to can significantly influence a man’s future well being. Unfortunately, research indicates that over 70% of men who have experienced childhood sexual abuse haven't told anyone. Listed below is information on what can influence men’s disclosure of sexual abuse or sexual assault, along with some suggestions as to how you might be able to help him whilst continuing to take care of yourself.

Barriers to disclosure

Boys and men, like girls and women, commonly do not speak of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault due to:
  • 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
Men’s ability to speak about sexual violence is further impacted on by:
  • 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.
Be aware that the above list of barriers to disclosure is by no means complete. Every man will have his own personal story to tell.

Events that may promote disclosure

Just as men and boys can be discouraged from speaking of abuse or assault, certain events can also lead men to speak of their experiences. Disclosure of sexual abuse can be prompted by:
  • 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

You do not have to be an expert or know all the right things to say to be able to help a man who has experienced sexual violence. The fact that the man has raised the issue with you indicates that he believes you are someone who 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.

Practical help

It is not only emotional support that a man may require. Some simple practical ideas which may be useful to offer include company, transport to appointments, child care, grocery shopping or cooking a meal. It is important that you talk with the man and check in with him about what he would like. By being available, patient and understanding, you can assist a man to reduce the impact of sexual violence on his life.


Photo of people talking
Listen and believe
Listen carefully to what he is saying. Let him speak at his pace, and reveal as much information as he is comfortable with. Try not to interrupt him or ask lots of questions. Being asked a lot of questions can feel like being interrogated. Don't worry if he stops talking for a while - silences are okay. You don't have to rush in to fill the gaps. You do not need to know all the details, try not to ask for more information about the actual events than is volunteered.

Believe him

It is important that you let him know that you believe him. People rarely make up stories about sexual abuse. It's also important to think about what you say. You will have been influenced, as we all have, by the many unhelpful myths in our society about sexual abuse, therefore it might not be helpful to immediately say what instantly comes into your head. Try to avoid reinforcing any unhelpful myths. (See the page on Unhelpful Beliefs).

Stay Calm

Try to contain your own feelings. Don't allow feelings of shock horror, anger, outrage or disgust to stop you from offering support. A man could misinterpret expression of these feelings as a rejection of him or support for a belief that sexual abuse is a shameful/awful/disgusting topic that he should not be mentioning.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, say so and take time to breathe and collect your thoughts. Tell him that you understand that what he is talking about is hurtful and painful, but that you are willing to spend time with him. Be aware that if the person who committed the abuse is a family member or someone close, the man may have conflicting feelings towards them and it may not be useful if you say damning things about them. It can be useful to explain that your expressions of emotions relate to what he has been through and that you are not upset with him.

Reassurance, consistency and reliability

Tell the man that you are glad he has spoken with you. If he tells you of feeling responsible for part of what happened, take time to listen and try to understand how he could think this. Recognise that this is something he might talk through with a counsellor in the future, don’t discount what he tells you. Tell him that you appreciate that speaking about his feelings and concerns is difficult, however that you are pleased that he trusts you enough to talk with you.
Just being there providing consistent support is important, given that there can be ups and downs, good periods and difficult periods, even in a single day. If things aren’t improving right away, don’t assume that he is becoming mentally ill. Remember, sometimes things appear to get worse before they get better. Being consistent and dependable can have a positive impact in and of itself.

Offer confidentiality with limits

It is important that information which is disclosed to you is treated with respect and held in confidence. Make sure that you consult with him about what his expectations are before sharing what he has told you with anyone else. He probably will not want you to say anything to anyone else without his express permission.
In talking through his expectations regarding confidentiality, it is important to consider if anyone is in any present danger and to discuss how you might need to talk in confidence with a counsellor or a trusted friend for your own well being. If you have a concern that a child or adolescent is currently in an abusive or potentially abusive situation then the young person's wellbeing must be a primary concern. You might need to consider talking further with someone who knows about child protection. Try not to make promises that you cannot keep.

Obtain support for yourself

Supporting someone who has experienced child sexual abuse or sexual assault will place extra demands upon you. It is therefore important that you take care of yourself. Put aside time to relax and ensure you engage in activities which recharge your batteries. As someone offering support you may also benefit from talking with a counsellor who can help you process feelings and explore your choices. Remember the stronger and better supported you are the more able you will be to provide assistance to someone.

Information for intimate partners

If you are an intimate partner of a man who has been subjected to sexual violence, be aware that actions in the present can bring back uncomfortable memories and trigger strong emotions. Sometimes he will not want to be sexual or even close and physically affectionate. At other times becoming physically close and sexual activity may be welcomed. If you are unsure about what he wants, ask before acting, and recognise that what he wants may change quite quickly. Also, it is important to ensure that your choices are also respected and to remember that there is no excuse for abusive behaviour. The reality is that relationships work best where both parties feel supported, able to discuss options and have their preferred ways of doing things respected.
Find this and other excellent articles HERE at Living Well 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank You! This gift has already helped me tremendously!!!


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