1in6 Thursday: Let’s Talk…
One of the challenges organizations working with men who have been sexually abused in childhood face, is to find helpful ways to enhance public awareness, discussion and support around this issue. 1in6 and Living Well hope that the “Let’s Talk…” Poster/Visual Media Competition will help broaden the public conversation on this issue in new and interesting ways.
The Competition title ‘Let’s Talk…’ was proposed by a man who was sexually abused. For him, the logic is simple: “Bottling it up and keeping it in, isn’t helpful. Change happens when we start talking.”
Research tells us that 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused in childhood. We also know that over 70% of those men who have been abused do not tell anyone at the time and that on average men will take 22 years to tell someone about it—10 years longer than women.
Men report that their reluctance to speak is heavily influenced by restrictive masculine stereotypes, by unhelpful questions relating to sexuality, by suggestions that they will automatically go on to perpetrate abuse and difficulty finding and accessing positive support. Often, when men do come forward, they speak of how limited public discussion of this issue adds to their sense of isolation and desperation. So in seeking to better understand and address why men disclose so little and so late, and in why men can be apprehensive to seek help, we are required to look beyond the threats, coercion and blame by the person perpetrating the abuse and the silencing effects of fear, confusion and shame.
Clearly the public conversation and intolerance of sexual abuse of males is building. A spotlight has been placed on clergy and institutional abuse. Cover-ups are being exposed and those in positions of influence are being called to account for failures to act to prevent abuse and bring those criminally responsible before a court. However, we know sexual abuse happens outside of institutional settings: we know boys are sexually abuse by older family members, by siblings, by neighbors, by members of their local community and by strangers. And while we know that the majority (80%) of sexual abuse of males is perpetrated by males, we must ensure that we create spaces and opportunities for those men sexually abused by women to also talk. The silencing effects of limited public focus and discussions around this particular kind of abuse was recently brought home for me by a man in our support group. He told us that when watching recent news and current affairs programs he kept asking himself: “Where do I fit? How can I speak? I was not abused by clergy, by a football coach or community leader.”
Speaking about sexual abuse is never simple or easy. A challenge we face is to find ways to publicly name and acknowledge the profound impact that sexual abuse can have without adding to men’s sense of hopelessness. It is not that we ought not to speak about what was done and the negative effects on people’s lives and relationships, it is that we ought to prioritize speaking in helpful ways. As one man has said:
“The media image of guys who have been abused is often that his whole life is wrecked. This doesn’t give us hope. Because basically, we need inspirational work and stories to be told, because otherwise we get the sense that we can’t deal with things, that we don’t have it within ourselves. It’s sort of like a constant underestimation of our ability to deal with things and to find peace in the midst of it all, in the midst of the pain and suffering.’
At 1in6 and Living Well, we see the ‘Let’s Talk…’ Poster/Visual Media Competition and public forums like this blog, as opportunities to broaden the public conversation, to reach out and engage people in new and interesting ways.
The ‘Let’s talk…’ competition invites artists, graphic designers, film makers—anyone, where ever you are in the world—to create a unique and meaningful poster or video that will increase public discussion, awareness, support and hope for men who have been sexually abused in childhood.
I am looking forward to seeing what will be produced. Oh, and did I mention there’s $1500 in Prize Money to win?
Dr. Gary Foster established and manages the Living Well Service in Brisbane, Australia. For more information see www.livingwell.org.au.
The mission of 1in6 is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives.
1in6′s mission also includes serving family members, friends, and partners by providing information and support resources on the web and in the community.
The views expressed above are not necessarily those of the Joyful Heart Foundation or 1in6.
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