Last week, I had the extreme fortune to go to a conference in Madison, Wisconsin entitled, “Paths to Healings: A Conference on Child Sex Abuse Survival With a Focus on Addressing Male Survivors.” A survivor I have come to know here in Wisconsin keyed me into the conference, for which I am extremely grateful since I haven’t gotten “plugged in” here yet.
The conference was organized by Callen Harty, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. His hard work and dedication brought together about 75 people – covering the spectrum of church, community, activists, survivors, rape crisis center workers, and other folks willing to give a day of their time to learn about childhood sexual abuse. For some, it may have been just a part of their job, but I would like to thank every single person who came. This is not an easy topic to spend a day discussing and I am thankful for all that we learned and were able to say together.
After an introduction by Kelly Anderson, Executive Director of the Dane County Rape Crisis Center, we had the option of attending two workshops – one entitled Male Survivors’ Safe Space and Discussion, led by Callen Harty and Joseph Weinberg or Sexual Abuse Survivors 101, lead by Stephen Montagna and Lynn Johnson. I chose the second workshop listed.
As we talked and sort of got a scope of who was there, I was struck by one woman who raised her hand and said she was a member of the public. I was totally floored that someone from the public would want to learn about sexual abuse. At lunch, I thanked her for coming. We had a very good conversation and I am pleased to know that people are willing to learn about sexual abuse. It has recently affected a member of her family, but I am still extremely grateful that she took the time to learn and ask and listen. She believes the member of her family and is trying to learn the best way to support that person and be an ally for other survivors.
During the workshop, there were several interesting things put forward. First, I’ll list what I found very informative and insightful. We talked about safety first. If you need a break, take one. We know there are survivors in the room because there are more than three people in the room. It is ok to have your cell phones, but please put them on silent. Survivors come first. What is said here, stays here, but what is learned here leaves here. Please use real language, not euphemisms. There are support people in the room in case anyone, survivor or ally, needs someone to talk to. (Just because someone needed to talk doesn’t mean they are necessarily a survivor. Allies need support too.)
This next bit will be a list of things we discussed, all of which could be an entire post of its own. I’ll try to just list things, but expound a little on things that may not automatically be clear.
Males/people who identify as male:
- as (potential) predators
- as victims
- as (potential) allies
- duplicity – be a man
- men have consequences for not being dominant enough
- women have consequences for being sexual
Issues for having men in the anti-violence against women movement
- no research on young male survivors
- how do you collect information?
- we don’t ask the question (of abuse)
- legal ramifications – used as a disguise
- judgment and shame
- no one is predestined to abuse, even if they are survivors
Institutions were abuse occurs:
- boarding schools
- prisons – just because they are in jail doesn’t make it ok. (that means that jokes about dropping the soap are not ok ~ this parenthetical is mine, it was not said at the conference.)
As male victims, what are the similarities to female victims?
- impact on trust
- people are afraid being abused makes them gay (being gay is not bad, it just has a lot of cultural stigma)
- what does it say about me that I was abused?
- sex and sexuality are not easy topics to discuss
- medical concerns
- loss of faith
- what will happen to my family?
- economics (if I tell and my father goes to prison, how will we survive?)
- coping mechanisms
- the element of special-ness (yes, she touches me and it hurts, but at least she tells me she loves me.)
- it’s about power and it’s about sex
- rape culture
- lack of education
- minimization among peers
- feelings and boundaries – men have them as well
The issues for male and female survivors are different, just as they are for each individual survivor, but many of them have common roots and complexities.
At lunch, Representative Chris Taylor spoke to those gathered. She reminded us that 30% of people who are abused never tell anyone. 90% never go to anyone in law enforcement. One of her closing comments was, “We have to do everything possible to stop childhood sexual abuse.” I wholeheartedly agree.
Please check out my next post to learn about the rest of the day. I will go back and talk more about my reactions to the day and what I learned. Please stay tuned for that as well. I always think I know a lot about childhood sexual abuse, which I do. I am also always reminded that I still have a lot to learn.