1in6 Thursday: What To Say?
“If you wanted to get a message out there in relation to helping men who have been sexually abused, what information would you want put out there?”
That was my question to a group of men who attend a monthly support group in Brisbane, Australia. The group is part of a service designed to assist men sexually abused in childhood, their partners, friends, family and service providers.
I was stuck. I had agreed to contribute to this blog and just didn’t know what to say. That’s not because I couldn’t think of what to say, just that there is so much I wanted to say. I wanted to try and convey some sense of the extent of the problem and the particular difficulties men face. I started writing and paused for a breath at 1,500 words. That’s when I hit on the idea of asking the men what they wanted said.
The men I have consulted first came together in September 2011 for what is now a monthly support group.
By including what the men had to say below, I didn’t want to create an illusion that speaking about sexual abuse—and what they believe is important—is something that has come easy for the men providing comment. Going to a group is not for everyone and getting through the door on the first night was, as one man said, “five times harder than individual counseling.” Even though in the group we emphasize taking it slowly and participating only as much as you feel comfortable, at times it is still tough work.
The group was a struggle in the beginning, however, around the mid-point things started to change (some men chalked it up to me finally purchasing the barbecue for the group). As the men started to relax and get to know each other, more light-hearted comments began to be included alongside the serious stuff. Group members started to gently joke with each other about choices in relation to sports, cars and in one instance, a group member’s struggles to put together unassembled furniture.
The feedback these men have provided is that they welcome having some structure, a check-in and a “flexible” plan with designated topics that prioritize safety and self-care. The men report that they appreciate room to discuss the day-to-day pressures they face as men, practical ideas about how to deal with memories of the abuse, unhelpful thoughts, behaviors and sometimes overwhelming feelings. Additionally, they talk about taking time to examine the silencing tactics of sexual abuse, options for telling others and the challenges of building good relationships. Most of all, the group members appreciate talking with each other and being there for each other.
This is what they wanted said:
- Sexual abuse is real. And it happens to men.
- We need information out there that tells us how child sexual abuse affects men, along with some useful, better ways to cope and manage.
- We need support agencies that deal with this stuff and they need to be out there talking about this stuff in helpful ways, giving us some hope.
- Tell them, when I couldn’t find anything for men that it made me feel even worse.
- We need safe groups where you can say what you want to say without feeling judged, because this was done to you and it hurts.
- We need information out there on the “gender stuff” that talks about the pressures men feel to manage on their own – that the whole “being a man” stuff impacts how we respond and understand being abused.
- The reality is that we are from all walks of life and we were innocent kids. We need help wherever we are at in life: young, old, middle aged, working in business, on the farm or in construction, in or out of relationships.
- We need people to understand the courage and guts it takes to come forward when it’s all stacked against you!
- We need people to step forward, speak up and get involved. It’s not just a question of opening a door and expecting men to walk through, it requires someone reaching out to engage men, to put in the time, to help us get the support and better tools to live life.
The above list reminds me of how much work there is to do. When I look at the list and the work of the Joyful Heart Foundation and 1in6, I know we are heading in the right direction. Please check out 1in6 and The Men’s Project’s Peer Support Guidebook.
In being invited to contribute to this blog, I felt some pressure to say something insightful to wrap things up. However, I just think the men I consulted said all that has to be said. Thanks guys.
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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