This is part two of the description of the Paths To Healing Conference I attended last week. It felt strange to be a blogger with a notepad, but written notes work better for me. In the previous post, I described the conference up to lunch. If you’d like to read it, click here. The choices of workshops after lunch were “Ten Things You Should Know about Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse” led by Christopher Anderson, From MaleSurvivor and “Healing Families: When Sexual Abuse Hits Home” led by Chris Wirth and Rainbow Marifrog of Canopy Center. I chose the first workshop. What are ten things you need to know? I wrote down many more than ten, but here they are.
- there is no comparing, better or worse.
- self-care. self-care. self-care. Being a survivor and/or providing support to survivors is an act of love the REQUIRES you to participate in self-care.
- behavior survivors use may not be wrong or bad.
- according to the Adverse Childhood Experience (ASE) study, the majority of people have experienced trauma. All of us are survivors of some kind.
- a part of us is always that kid within who was hurt.
What is sexual abuse? It is the non-consensual interactions of a sexual nature.
- what are the effects?
- how many have experienced this?
- David Finkelhor has recently said male abuse rates are going down. We all hope this is true.
- what do we know?
- 1 in 6 boys are abused before the age of 16. That is 16% of the population, or 25 to 30 million men.
- it can take a minimum of 20 years to come forward.
- it is minimized.
- when men come forward, they are told men can’t be raped.
- that they are supposed to defend themselves.
- after they come forward, they are told there are no resources for them.
- the myth that they are more likely to become a perpetrator after being abused.
- men will disclose when they feel safe.
- what can we help make them feel safe?
- plant certain seeds. Abuse is never the fault of the victim. You are not alone. It is not your fault.
- it is possible to heal.
- many men who have been abused are emotionally emaciated. It takes a long time to build up from there. There is a strong need for slow, measured nourishment.
- abused men are hungry for: love, attention, support, guidance and protection.
- many are angry, but not necessarily in the immediate moment.
- the anger may not come out as expected.
- anger is the only allowable emotion for men, but they many not be allowed to feel it.
- many men are lonely. They feel false intimacy, normalize their feelings and shut down.
- many men need to be taught interpersonal dynamics. They want to show and share healthy and appropriate relationships, but need help re-learning what they have been taught.
- many men are tired. The effects of stress are exhausting and living with stereotypes every day is overwhelming. Give men time and permission to recharge.
- healing is an active effort.
- stabilizing can’t be the end. How do they move to thriving?
- give them permission to feel bad, but not to wallow. Group therapy is a good way to help them recognize patterns and keep working to change them.
- through repetition, patience, and lots of time, men can create new skill sets, new pathways in the brain and a new sense of self.
Did you learn ten things? I certainly did.
The last set of workshops for the day was “Choose Your Difficulty: Survivor Activism as a Path to Justice and Healing” led by Peter Isely, of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests or “Healing Through Creative Expression” led by Callen Harty. I chose the first one listed.
Peter Isley attended St. Lawrence Seminary Boarding School here in Wisconsin. From this presentation, I learned a lot about the sexual abuse young boys were forced to endure right here, essentially in my own backyard. This is one of the topics that I know a little about, but don’t know enough to speak about with any great amount of detail. I know a lot more now than I did last week. Here are some of Peter’s quotes I found the most profound.
It (talking about sexual abuse) is difficult no matter what you do. It is difficult to speak up. It is difficult to be silent.
The path to truth is part of the truth.
First you do what’s necessary, then you do what’s possible, then you do what’s impossible. (St. Francis)
We’re on our own.
The speech of it (sexual abuse) brings it into the world. It doesn’t happen until it’s heard, in part because you are still saying it to yourself until you can hear it. (This doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. As with so many secrets, it doesn’t seem real until it is spoken to yourself or another person.)
Speaking about it is a moral struggle. When you speak about it, you can really move beyond victimhood.
Survivors have to struggle with that speaking. They feel responsible because the crime itself creates shame. The perpetrator usually does not feel the shame and the shame gets poured into the body of the child, who carries it. They (the children) think it’s theirs.
Speaking allows it to go back where it belongs – to the perpetrators, law enforcement and organizations that allowed it to happen.
We have each other and that’s enough. It’s more than enough.
There is no solution without survivors’ voices. Survivors’ voices push and move.
If you’d like to know more about SNAP and the priests who abuse children, search Donald McGuire, one of the most prolific child abusers. It is my hope to post a sermon by Peter as soon as I can find a link.
That is a play by play of my experience of the day. This isn’t a review of my emotional experience of the day, but I hope it has helped you learn, as it did for me, more about male sexual abuse survivors. My reflection and response is still coming, but if you have the opportunity to see or hear any of these folks that spoke at the conference, or hear counterparts from their organization, please take the opportunity. You will learn so much and education is such a key to stopping sexual abuse in its tracks.