Cameron Conaway sits down with Executive Director Christopher Anderson and Co-Founder Dr. Howard Fradkin
I’m ashamed to say that MaleSurvivor.org didn’t come into my radar until April 2012 when I received a Google Alert that my book was being discussed in their forums by survivors from all backgrounds. Suffice to say I spent the day on the site, combing through countless threads and learning about the history of this organization. I return to the site often and frequently recommend that others do the same. A huge honor it was then for this fan to be able to go behind-the-scenes and ask a few questions to Christopher and Howard. Here’s the interview:
You’ve arguably become the largest online forum for men to openly share their stories of sexual victimization with a supportive community. Tell us, when did you realize that there was a void when it came to helping male survivors? How did this idea come to fruition and grow into what is now MaleSurvivor.org?
Chris: Well I myself was profoundly unaware that there were any resources until 2007. Of course, up until that time I was profoundly unaware that I needed help to deal with this part of my own personal history. Fortunately for me an amazing group of therapists and professionals started addressing this problem long before I came to see the need for help in my own life. MaleSurvivor was founded back in 1995 in order to provide support for surviving and increase the knowledge base for therapists, healing partners, advocates, and law enforcement personnel around this topic.
Howard: We actually created what is now MaleSurvivor in 1994 (at the time, we called it the National Organization On Male Sexual Victimization-NOMSV). I was one of the founding members of NOMSV, and I was responsible for bringing a group of professional therapists and survivors to Columbus, Ohio to hold that “constitutional convention.”
What did you expect would happen when you began MaleSurvivor.org and what has been the biggest surprise to you?
Howard: Prior to 1994, there was no organization; only an amorphous group of therapists who every two years held a training conference.
What we hoped was that by creating an organization, not only could we hold much more effective national and international training conferences, but we hoped we could develop a powerful organization that could help to overcome the sexual victimization of boys and men. We hoped we could actually help men heal and find hope and community. Early on we set out to create a website so that men who were wounded and hurting could find help and resources, as there was very little information out there at the time. In 2001, we created the MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery. I was the Chair of the WOR for 9 years, and since 2001, we’ve had over 875 participants.
The most surprising thing for me is the incredible number of men, allies and professionals who use our website. The numbers are astounding, and especially that we have people visiting our website from all over the globe. I believe we recently had our one millionth visitor to the site.
Chris: I was named Executive Director this past March, and since then my life has been a whirlwind. I’ve been all over the country speaking at professional conferences and to community groups about my story and the work of MaleSurvivor. I would say there have been two things that have surprised me. First – the reception I have received from professionals. I don’t have an advanced degree in any specialty. But I have over 30 years living as a survivor of prolonged trauma and I can speak from my own experiences and on behalf of others who have gone through similar challenges. It has been very fulfilling to hear from both professionals and other survivors that the work that I am doing helps them. The other surprise has been the reception we have started to get from the media. In the span of one month we’ve been quoted in the New York Times twice. I think that speaks both to a shift in our consciousness around the issue of sexual abuse of boys and men, but also the respect that MaleSurvivor has gained over the past decade.
Speaking in a larger context, have you noticed a public shift in terms of awareness about male sexual victimization? What are some of the causes of this?
Chris: Absolutely. Now when I tell people that 1 in 6 males are abused before the age of 16 people express shock and dismay, but not disbelief. Just a few years ago if you attempted to engage people in a meaningful discussion around male sexual abuse most people would have assumed you meant that you were referring to men who sexually abuse women. That was true with both professionals and the general population.
The single biggest driver in the change in public perception has been the Sandusky trial in my opinion. Not only did a scandal of that magnitude serve to secularize the issue (taking it out of the realm of churches and into the locker room), I also think Penn State’s open and transparent response to it has helped the community and our country begin to openly discuss this issue. We can’t underestimate the importance of that.
Just in the past few months I’ve had discussions with major national and regional organizations that are working to address this issue. I’ve talk with legislators in a couple of different states who are working on reforming restrictive Statute of Limitations laws, and just this past week I spoke with officials from the UN who are beginning to look at sexual abuse of men on a global scale as a real problem that needs our attention.
Howard: Another major cause of the public shift has been the willingness of a number of mainstream famous people who have found the courage to speak the truth of their abuse, including Tyler Perry, Sugar Ray Leonard and Keyon Dooling, to name just a few.
Oprah Winfrey did a show in November, 2010, called 200 Men where 200 male survivors were her audience. She casted a wide net. That show was watched by millions all over the globe and MaleSurvivor saw a huge spike in visitors to our site after those shows aired.
Men are much more willing to become public now; and to pursue justice, which is another huge change, and society is providing much more support for men who do come forward.
Thankfully, there is also much more therapeutic help available and even rape crisis centers that in the past only worked with women. They are now training their staff and offering support to men as well.
What role do you belief art–film, literature, etc–has played in this role? Do you recommend any movies or books?
Chris: A very large part. At MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery, art projects are an integral part of some of the healing work that we do. It’s not easy for males to put emotions into words for a lot of reasons, so finding ways to encourage men to communicate in other ways can oftentimes unlock some doors for them. In addition, getting messy and playing around with paint and feathers and dirt and not having any rules is a wonderful opportunity for men to get in touch with a part of themselves that’s oftentimes been shut down for so long.
With regards to art and books, I’m very wary of recommending many movies as more often than not the complexity of the issue of abuse and its impact on a person are not adequately dealt with. That said, I love a couple of documentaries around this issue, particularly Boys and Men Healing by Big Voice Pictures. For books, I highly recommend Joining Forces by Dr. Howard Fradkin, and Beyond Betrayal by Dr. Richard Gartner.
But healing shouldn’t be a full time occupation for survivors, and it’s important to give yourself time off and have music, books, and films that just make you feel good and/or have fun. I enjoy Asian films, for example. I love the artistry and beauty of Chinese historical dramas that combine martial arts with amazing cinematography. I’m also a sucker for samurai movies. I also love old American film noir and early studio system dramas and musicals. Music is also important to me, and there are many songs that have a deep importance to me for my own healing process. I also really enjoy walking around museums and galleries with my wife and seeing the world through the eyes of others. In a way it helps to remind me that there are always other ways to see the world around me and sometimes those ways are beautiful and unique.
Howard: In addition to Chris’s comments, I’d have to say that movies have in the past done a huge injustice to male survivors, having portrayed teenage victims as having been lucky, such as “The Graduate.”
There have been some great documentaries made, including Boys and Men Healing by Big Voice Pictures, which I’d also highly recommend.