On the evening of November 21, 2013 Dare to Dream U of M presented at Kraus Natural Science Auditorium a special screening of the 2010 documentary film “Boys and Men Healing”, directed by Kathy Barbini. The film was followed by a panel discussion amongst male survivors of sexual abuse led by survivors Chris Anderson and Jim Struve. Not aware of many events dealing with this issue I decided to attend in the hope of learning something to improve my skills as a medical interpreter. I believe it did.
The American Psychological Association defines sexual abuse as “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats, or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent. Most victims and perpetrators know each other. Immediate reactions to sexual abuse include shock, fear, or disbelief. Long-term symptoms include anxiety, fear, or post-traumatic stress disorder. While efforts to treat sex offenders remain unpromising, psychological interventions for survivors — especially group therapy — appears effective.”
The numbers of abuse victims asking for help show that 70% are women and 30% are male. It has been established that these numbers are not related to the actual numbers of abuse victims but to the social stigma among males concerning disclosing abuse. More than one in the audience seemed stunned that perpetrators of sexual abuse on males were 60% male and 40% female.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape exposes some Common Behaviors of Survivors of Sexual Abuse:
- Victim privacy is a basic need. The identity of sexual abuse victims should be protected.
- It is common for survivors of sexual assault to initially deny they were abused.
- Delayed reporting of sexual abuse is a common, normal reaction from someone who has experienced traumatic events.
- Many victims continue to have a relationship with their abuser.
- A victim’s view of the offender’s actions change over time.
- It is normal for a victim’s story to evolve throughout the investigative process.
- Victims may deny the abuse they’ve suffered, or misrepresent parts of their story.
- It is normal for victims to freeze and be unable to physically fend off their abuser.
To those ones, especially in the case of male victims, it can be added that:
- All touch becomes seen/ perceived as sexual.
- There might be post-traumatic stress thought by victim – not connected with abuse.
- In case of female abusers on males, being abuses regularly related/ involved to hygiene/care (bathtub, babysitting), the victim becomes confused about his role of victim.
- Sexual abuse on males by males creates a barrier/wall between male victims and other males (distrust); there is a psychological trauma related to predation.
Healing is a process conducive to recovery where for the victim it is important to talk. The victim has to understand that manhood is not diminished by weeping or crying and, more important, that asking for help does not imply weakness; on the contrary, it is an act of kindness for oneself. Breaking the silence induces liberation!
Additionally, any guilt should be definitely saved for the perpetrator, not for the victim; there is a strong need for victim to shed off the guilt. Therefore, to provide victims with the most needed support to heal it must be understood, according to The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, that: “No victim – whether a teenager, adult, male or female – should have their instinctive response to being sexually assaulted called in to question. No victim should be expected to prevent or interrupt their abuse. The fault for abuse lies squarely on the abuser.” A repressive society victimizes victims!
Stress was placed in four points for the victims to internalize to help themselves to heal: (1) victims are not alone; (2) the abuse was not the victim’s fault; (3) it is possible to heal; (4) it is never too late to heal.
And, as stated in Male Survivor, in order to heal any male who has been sexually abused, the survivor has to become free of existing male sexual victimization myths and learn the facts, an essential part of the recovery process:
- Boys and men can’t be victims.
- Most sexual abuse of boys is perpetrated by homosexual males.
- If a boy experiences a sexual arousal or orgasm from abuse, this means he was a willing participant or enjoying it.
- Boys are less traumatized by the abuse experience than girls.
- Boys abused by males are or will become homosexual.
- The “Vampire Syndrome” that is, boys who are sexually abused, like the victims of Count Dracula, go on to “bite” or sexually abuse others.
- If the perpetrator is female, the boy or adolescent should consider himself fortunate to have been initiated into heterosexual activity.
All in all it was established that healing is a personal process and there is the victim’s choice to ask. However, there is the need to provide a safe environment for the victim to open up. And as medical providers (and here I would like to include medical interpreters) we can never assume the gender of the perpetrators. When dealing with a case of sexual abuse, there is the strong need to make non-gendered questions to be absolutely gender neutral.
- American Psychological Association
- Film “Boys and Men Healing”
- Male Survivor
- The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
- It happens to men too… (survivorstothrivers.com)