New? Update – October 25, 2004
This one will be brief. I hope my frustration won't be too evident: I just spent four hours updating this page, and then pressed the wrong key and deleted all that I'd done. An unwelcome reminder to save the work as I go along.
This time I'll focus on three good things, and hope to get them posted before nightfall.
First, we have added a third event to the summer 2005 workshops in England. In addition to "Healing the Healers (UK) II" and "Victims No Longer (UK) II", we will be offering "Women Together (UK) I", a residential retreat for nonoffending female survivors of sexual abuse. This exciting event will be led by the brilliant women of Colchester Rape Crisis. All three events will be organised by Bob Balfour of Purple Phoenix Sexual Abuse Training and Consultancy Services (a Social Enterprise project designed by Survivors West Yorkshire & Survivors Sheffield). Details about these and other upcoming events will be posted on the Events page.
I'm very excited about the ways women and men are continuing to support each other and forge alliances for recovery. Among our future plans are additional workshops for women and men together.
While on the subject of upcoming events, here's another exciting prospect for 2005. I was just invited to return to New Zealand to do more trainings in May or June. Since I love that beautiful country, I didn't hesitate to accept the invitation. This time we will add a male survivor recovery workshop organised by Ken Clearwater of the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust in Christchurch. As this inviation is brand new, there are no details in place - I'll post information as soon as it is available.
Just as people came to the events in England and Ireland to participate, provide support, and forge alliances, I hope folks will take advantage of the New Zealand events and visit that lovely part of the world.
Finally, I've been hesitant to write about last month's conference in Galway, Ireland because I doubted that I could do justice to its power and energy. Fortunately, Caroline Benamza came to my rescue. "Caro" is a French survivor, activist, drama and dance student, and thoroughly impressive individual. She generously gave me permission to post the following article that she wrote from her internship in Montreal shortly after the conference. My thanks to Caroline for her insightful words, dedication to healing, and humanity. [My few additions to Caroline's words are included in brackets.]
Conference Report: “Sexual Violence Against Males: Impacts, Identity, and Survival Strategies”
Galway, Ireland, 25-26 September 2004
This conference on the sexual abuse of boys and men in Ireland was organised by MASC (Male Abuse Survivor Centre) based in Galway. It was the first of the kind in the country and contributed to breaking the taboo in Irish society [against addressing issues of male victimisation]. I am going to try to describe what happened there and what it meant to me. I don’t pretend to write a “professional” article, even though I was there because I will be working with male survivors in the future as a drama and dance therapist. There are still too many issues that I am dealing with as an incest survivor, an activist, and a student to pretend to that level of detachment to write as a professional. Maybe it will be best never to reach that detachment, but, for now, I will write about what I learned and how I felt.
I found out about the conference in June 2004 when I participated in a workshop, “Healing the Healers” held in Kettlewell, Yorkshire, UK led by Mike Lew and organised by Bob Balfour of Survivors West Yorkshire. This workshop aimed to help professionals and volunteers in the field of recovery from abuse deal with compassion fatigue and burnout. In addition, this workshop provided a meeting place for professionals (often also survivors) to talk, exchange views and experiences, break isolation, and build a friendly and supportive network.
Jimmy Haran, a volunteer and organiser at MASC, was one of the participants last summer and he told us about his hopes.
A lot of the participants the “Healing the Healers” workshop came to the conference in Ireland, some travelled a few thousand miles to be there from New Zealand, Norway, England, Colchester (private joke here!), Switzerland, and Spain.
There was a sense of excitement and pride shared by all the participants. For those of us from around the world who met again on the first day of the conference, we shared a special bond of friendship, support, respect, and love. A few Irish participants noticed it right away and wondered where it came from.
Opening speech : Jimmy Haran
The organisers, in their wildest dreams, expected 65 people to come to Galway. On the morning of the 25th of September, the conference room was packed with 95 people: professionals and survivors [and the organisers reluctantly had to turn away people who applied at the last minute when numbers grew beyond the capacity of the venue].
The opening speech was made by Jimmy Haran in a voice broken by emotion. As a true Irish man, Jimmy told us a story. Jimmy told us about an old male survivor who rang only once to tell about his life shattered by the abuse, the silence he kept all his life with his wife and children, his solitude, his pain and his regrets for not having confided in his wife before she died. Jimmy told us how this phone call changed his life, how it affected his work at MASC.
Jimmy thanked everyone in the room for making the conference happen and making it to Galway. Then Jimmy talked about MASC.
MASC (Male Abuse Survivors
Centre) opened in October 2000. It is run by a group of 10 volunteer counsellors.
MASC is a free, confidential voluntary support service for adult male
survivors of sexual abuse, sexual assault, incest, and rape.
Introduction to male survivors movement: Mike Lew
The next speaker after Jimmy Haran was Mike Lew, internationally known therapist and writer, author of Victims no Longer and Leaping upon the Mountains. Mike underlined the importance of this event, read the names of all the professionals coming from abroad and gave them special thanks. He insisted that the sexual abuse of boys and men happens all over the world, every day. He added, “Abuse happens in isolation, recovery happens in the company of others.” Mike addressed the survivors in the room and warned them about possible triggers during the conference and helped survivors with some advice in case of triggers - ways to deal with feelings, emotions, and dissociation, including:
- leave the room to
find a safe place
Mike and Jimmy informed the participants that volunteers from MASC were there outside the room to help survivors during the whole of the weekend.
Mike followed with a short history of the male survivor movement. He emphasised that the movement is indebted to the female survivor groups and the feminist movement. Healing is not solely a matter of clinical environment; it has to be included in a much larger context: a social and political one (e.g., the issue of homophobia).
Mike addressed the survivors and the professionals in the room. He gave the clear message that recovery is possible. Recovery is about freedom: the freedom to decide and make choices that are not determined by the abuse.
Sexist societies divide feelings between men and women. Men are permitted to be angry, women to be vulnerable and express fear and grief. Often, there is confusion between anger (a feeling) and violence (a behaviour), but that confusion is rooted in society. Survival strategies are often labelled as pathologies, professionals forgetting that the only task for an abused child is to get through the experience. We have no right to take away the survival strategies of a child without being able to provide safer and better ways of coping. We have no right to pathologise these survival strategies.
Mike Lew said that very often therapists working with men avoid asking questions about sexual abuse though very often the symptoms are there. For example: a history of victimisation, prostitution, alcohol, sex or drug addictions, depression, or suicidality. The impact of abuse on pathologies is obvious but still ignored.
Some research has shown that survivors who dissociate are less likely to commit suicide.
Mike Lew ended his presentation by reminding us that roughly a third of the population has suffered from sexual abuse (from fondling to rape), so it must be considered a social and political issue. Funding needs to go to proper institutions and as citizens we must address our politicians.
Male survivors and society, presentation of the SAVI Report: Ian Warwick
The next speaker was Ian Warwick, senior lecturer at Huddersfield University (UK) and activist in the Survivor Movement for 20 years. His presentation was based on stereotypes carried on from one generation to the next and the messages of confusion they carry for men who do not recognise themselves within those criteria. The confusion is particularly exacerbated for male survivors because they have internalised the social idea that a man cannot be a victim and if he is, it must be because he is somehow not a man. Ian presented the general clichés of what men are supposed to be in our society: physically and mentally powerful, controlling, not victims, in control of their emotions, active, competent. He went on describing how male clients present themselves in therapy. They are often physically powerful, intimidating, angry, and harder to engage. This is a reaction to the experience of the abuse where they were passive, helpless, victimised. Other common male reactions against the abuse are self-blame and homophobia.
Ian Warwick insisted that abuse can be perpetrated by women, and the taboo [against addressing these issues] is even bigger. Although many male survivors have been abused by women, society covers up this type of abuse with the myth of seduction and focusing on female victims. The sexual politics generally present women as victims and men as aggressors.
Men are always presented as sexually willing: “all sex is good sex” therefore there is no such a thing as a bad sexual experience for a man. During the abuse, the physical response of the male victims is more obvious than for their female counterparts. Erection and ejaculation (when it happens) plunge the boys into a much greater confusion made of guilt, self-blame and shame. Often they conclude that the abuse happened because they are gay and if they cannot make sense of what happened it is because they are denying their sexual identity. This brings doubts and fear at the heart of their identity.
In the context of the Irish society, Ian presented data from The SAVI Report [Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland: A National Study of Irish Experiences, Beliefs and Attitudes Concerning Sexual Violence – by researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in Association with Dublin Rape Crisis Centre]. This research interviewed 3000 people, randomly chosen across Ireland. From the report, it appeared that:
- Irish women are
eight times more likely than Irish men to disclose abuse to the Gardai
Ian gave additional statistics (from the Mental Ill Health Sheffield [UK] Study) linking mental disorders like suicide, self-harm, depression and substance addictions to sexual abuse of men:
- 88% of male survivors
suffer from depression (mainly due to shame and self blame)
Avoidance of situations, emotions, or memories linked with the abuse can be found in male survivors’ lives. Avoidance includes: addictions (sex, alcohol, medications, drugs...), workaholism, self isolation, running away from people or situations...Self protection becomes the entire focus for a survivor with the high level of anxiety about disclosure (“being revealed”). Examples of attempts at self-protection can include hypervigilance, bodybuilding, and homophobia.
Many male survivors act out on their anger through risk taking activities, fighting, offending (burglary, theft, criminal damages...), dangerous sports, speeding...
They feel different from others and their inability to trust causes great relationship problems. These problems include fear of intimacy, excessive need to be in control or be controlled in a relationship, co-dependency, difficulty in assessing another’s trustworthiness.
Sexual abuse in the context of the Irish culture and society: Colm O’Gorman
This talk was presented by Colm O’Gorman, leader, campaigner, founder and director of One in Four, an organisation in Ireland and the UK that supports men and women who have been victims of sexual violence.
Sexual abuse brings up collective feelings, myths, and ideas when addressed by any society. It is linked with stories, history, and a collective unconscious. The scale of social violence in Ireland confronts the country with the questions of identity.
The SAVI report indicated
that 35% of men and women have suffered sexual abuse in Ireland. 27 %
of children suffer from sexual abuse. The perpetrators have been identified
(in order of frequency reported) as uncles, fathers, and members of the
clergy. Sexual abuse perpetrated by the clergy has become “an Irish
disease”. So how do the Irish people feel about that? Answers voiced
by people in the room included: shame, anger, frustration, and hate.
facilitated discussion: Bob Balfour