I was having a little look at Facebook the other day when I noticed that someone had posted a link to this, Project Unbreakable – The Beginning of Healing Through Art . It’s the brain child of Grace Brown, a 19 year old photography student who decided one day that she wanted to do something to help give a voice to victims of sexual abuse, something that would help vic tims become vic tors . The project is designed to help victims take the power back of the words that were once used against them.
I’ve looked through every single one of the photos and I’ve got to say, it’s pretty heavy going and quite confronting. I wouldn’t look at the website if you’re easily offended. But then again, maybe you should. Maybe the only way to get us all to take seriously the problem of child sexual abuse (CSA) is to offend the delicate sensibilities of the general community and maybe this will shock us in to action.
The Extent of Child Sexual Assault
You will find that figures differ in terms of what’s reported in the research. In part that’s because CSA remains one of the most under-reported crimes in Australia. It’s also got to do with how we define CSA, but I won’t go in to that right now. Figures suggest that 1 in 3-5 girls will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18. Figures for boys are lower and often suggest around 1 in 6-10. However, some suggest that this is grossly underestimated and that it may be as many as 1 in 3 boys that are also sexually assaulted before the age of 18.
The Effects of Child Sexual Assault
Where there is a consensus of agreement is in recognizing and validating the impact that CSA has on the person. I personally am very interested in understanding the impact that CSA has on men, on their long-term self-esteem, mental and emotional health, physical health, drug and alcohol use and relationships with both men and women. When we start investigating the effects we see that they are far reaching and often debilitating and soul destroying for the man who survives. The long term effects we see in men include, but are not limited to, fear, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor self-image, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide itself, and problematic sexuality. Added to this the man may feel guilt, shame and anger, develop post traumatic stress disorder and have problems with trust and the ability to form stable and healthy relationships.
The ripple effects of these problems then start to wash over the man’s own extended family and friends. Suicide for example has far reaching effects on the family and friends, drug and alcohol abuse, debilitating symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder that may include avoidant behaviours, obsessive or compulsive behaviours, problematic parenting, dysfunctional sex lives, and the list goes on. Helping the man work through the CSA not only has the potential to improve his quality of life, but also the lives of those around him.
Where do men turn to for help?
This is where it can get problematic. Talking about this stuff can be a daunting task. Who do you trust? How is the other person going to react? What impact might it have on my relationship with my wife or partner? Will you judge me? Will you write me off? Will you reject me? What about the shame and the guilt that I feel? How do you talk about that kind of stuff? Am I more likely to become a paedophile if I’ve been abused? What does it mean that I was sexually aroused by the abuse?
The list of questions is as unending as each circumstance is totally unique. Personally, I think a great place to start is with gaining some knowledge. And a great way to gain that knowledge and ensure your safety and anonymity is via the internet. Below are a list of websites that contain helpful information that will answer at least some of your questions and address some of the myths around men and CSA:
Living Well : This is an excellent site from Queensland that’s easy to navigate with lots of great information.
Abused Empowered Survive Thrive : This is a site from the UK that contains lots of good information.
Male Survivor : This is an American site that also has some excellent information on it.
Service Assisting Male Survivors of Sexual Assault : This is another Australian site that has some great information on it.
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network : This is an American site and is for both men and women.
After you’ve done this, you might want to think about talking to someone about it. You could start with a person that you trust, or you might want to contact a counselor or psychologist and see someone outside of your own circle of friends and family. You can make an appointment with your GP and organize a referral to a psychologist under a Medicare rebate.
Another option is to see a psychologist via the NSW Governments Victims Services Website. Free counseling can be offered via this site and the criminal act (the abuse) does not have to have gone through the legal system.
If you’re not quite ready to take that step and don’t have anyone that you feel you can trust then consider sending me an email. I promise anything you tell me will be kept in the absolute strictest of confidence. Sometimes it helps to start talking to someone via email because it’s incredibly safe. I’m not a counselor or a specialist but I can certainly take the time to listen. I assure you I won’t judge you or think any less of you and you could probably hazard a guess as to why.
Taking some action might prove to be the watershed moment in your life. If you’re reading this as a woman, you might have been wondering about your husband or partner. Do the reading and then make a time to talk to him. He might need you to bring it up first and promise him that you won’t judge him and that you will support him. You could be the catalyst for change in his life.
Here’s to good mental, emotional and physical health.