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October 3, 2016 – The Challenges of Male Survivors

Teresa HuizarGood morning and happy Monday.  I hope this finds everyone well.  Those of us working in the field of child abuse prevention and intervention often take for granted that when we talk about victims and survivors, that is not limited to only female victims and survivors.  But is that really the case?  Some would argue that both the research and the literature have focused almost exclusively on female victims and survivors, sometimes to the detriment of others. 
With that in mind, I’d like to direct your attention to a study recently published in the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, titled “The Disclosure Experiences of Male Child Sexual Abuse Survivors.” 

The researchers in this study begin by noting that male survivors of CSA face “challenges that differ from females, largely in relation to stereotypes and expectations of masculinity placed on men.”  Id., p. 222.  These stereotypes and expectations cast men as “dominant, powerful and even aggressive, so that being a victim goes against gender norms and challenges society in what is regarded as weakness.”  Id.  Such gender norms “reinforce the tendency for male victims of CSA to blame themselves and feel ashamed of the abuse….” Id., p. 223.  As a result, far fewer male victims disclose abuse than are actually abused.

In addition to, and perhaps as a result of, the decreased rate of disclosure, “the lack of attention to male victims of CSA in the literature has rendered them almost invisible.”  Id., p. 222.  So the researchers in the present study sought “to expand on the existing literature on male CSA disclosure in order to answer the following questions:  What are the experiences of male CSA survivors when disclosing their abuse?  How do these experiences differ or resemble one another?”  Id., p. 225. 

To do so, researchers used participants who were already part of a larger Canadian study on CSA disclosure.  Of the 69 participants in the larger study, 17 were male.  In working with these men, two main themes emerged:  the first related to the disclosure trajectory of the men, and “encompassed a wide range of experiences in terms of the time frame for participants’ first disclosure as well as the factors that hampered or discouraged disclosure.”  Id., p. 235.  The second theme “focused on the actual disclosure experience of the participants and addressed the positive and negative experiences with disclosure, the level of support they received when they shared their story, and the impact not disclosing had on their lives.”  Id.

Not surprisingly, the disclosure trajectories as well as the experience differed from individual to individual, but virtually all the men delayed their initial disclosure.  The reasons for delay also varied, but all were marked by the “fear of repercussions and fear of judgment based on stereotypes associated with sexual abuse and males.”  Id.  And the researchers made a point of noting that “[t]he participants who were abused by a woman also faced specific stereotypes that limited their disclosure.”  Id.  For most of the men, the invisibility of male victims was also a significant factor in their delay, but “[p]ublicized stories of CSA, especially those involving well known public figures, contributed to breaking the isolation and taboo.”  Id., p. 236. 

Like the disclosure trajectories, the disclosure experiences were both positive and negative.  Despite the fact that “the majority of men described having at least one positive disclosure experience,” the researchers note that “the negative elements cannot be ignored.”  Id.  The impact that the negative experiences lasted, for some, for a lifetime. 

I am confident that none of these findings will come as a surprise to any of you–but this study serves an important function nonetheless.  It is a conversation-starter, and as providers and practitioners, we need to be having many more discussions about the differences between and among genders when it comes to disclosures and the experiences associated with disclosures.  And it should be a catalyst for future research – for example, “on positive disclosure experiences as well as on the elements that lead survivors to feel more at ease disclosing… in order to provide additional knowledge regarding how this difficult experience can become a positive step for survivors.”  Id., p. 238.  Moreover, for practitioners, “[n]ormalizing the intense fear of judgment associated with disclosure should also be incorporated into practice.”  Id

I encourage you to download this article and read it in full, and to share it widely with your team members, colleagues and agency community.  We need ensure that we are promoting a nuanced approach to our clients’ needs, and not simply promoting a one-size-fits-all solution.

As always, I thank you for all your hard work and dedication and for all that you do on behalf of children and families.

Warm regards,  
Teresa

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