Let’s start by acknowledging that 1 in 6 boys have had unwanted sexual experiences.
The idea that we should help male survivors of sexual violence because it will lower their risk of engaging in abusive behavior towards women is as much a barrier to progress as any other oppressive stereotype that correlates to sexual violence. When we say we will help one group for the benefit of another, we fail at teaching the very principle that will move us forward in the movement to end sexual violence. When we say, “help men to help women” we are in essence oppressing men the same way women have been oppressed. The message is that they are not independently worthy.
Men are worthy. Men are worthy of being protected as children, worthy of showing emotion, nurturing and healing. You wouldn’t help your son merely for the fact that it would help your daughter, would you? Acknowledging the inherit worth of a human being allows us to feel the empathy needed to limit the programming we are all susceptible to. We are, in MOST societies, taught that some groups, races, religions, sexes, heights or body images are better than others. We then perpetuate these stereotypes by exposing our friends, co-workers, partners and children to our beliefs. “Oh, but I would never… I am not a… I just love everyone…” Better to admit that we are affected by our societies than to lack the awareness and unwittingly pass on the stereotypes.
1in6 helps men who have had unwanted sexual experiences in childhood, as well as those who love them. Survivors need support on their path to healing because they are inherently worthy. And yes, even if they have exhibited abusive behaviors or have hurt another human being. I don’t believe people lose their worth because they hurt someone. I believe they are acting out because they were failed. We have failed our young men by forcing them to be stoic silent sufferers of sexual abuse. For some, the outcome of this silence is the use of unhealthy coping skills like substance abuse and anger management issues, which negatively affect their work and relationships with others. Teaching men that they must, “just get over it,” take it like a man” and “not cry like a girl.” These ideas are the very stereotypes we must break.
So, what’s the next step? Let’s start by acknowledging that 1 in 6 boys have had unwanted sexual experiences and that the effects of these experiences certainly present themselves in various ways later in life. We should train our parents, service providers and student resources staff to know the signs and learn how to respond to them. Include male-specific education in our mental health curriculum. We should also ensure that our definitions of sexual violence and correlating policies accurately represent the various types of forced or coerced sexual acts, as well as add intensive mental health therapy for the effects of sexual abuse in our correctional institutions. Lastly and most importantly, we must stop forcing men to live hyper masculine gender roles. These stereotypes are merely exaggerated facets of the human emotional spectrum. Crying and vulnerability are not negative or feminine traits. Tenderness is a human trait. By imposing boundaries on what emotions and responses the men in our society are allowed to express, we are asking them to be only half of who they are. We must validate and support men who have had abusive experiences—not for the sake of women but for the fact that boys and men are indeed worthy.
Martha Marin, Community Education, Outreach & Awareness Director for 1in6, is a Colombian native raised in L.A. and South Florida where she received a B.A. in Business Management from the University of North FL. She brings us a unique set of skills acquired from many years of for-profit management and a deep dedication to human rights. As a Program Coordinator for the Women’s Center of Jacksonville and FL Dept. of Health, she taught thousands of students on topics related to the prevention of sexual assault including cyber bullying, LGBTQ/sexual harassment and teen dating violence as well as human trafficking. Martha is a public speaker, consultant and professional trainer.Most recently she served as the Chair of the Northeast Florida Human Trafficking Coalition. Her international projects include a large-scale bi-lingual internship for the USAID Scholarship for Economic Education and Development at FL State College at Jacksonville. Martha first identified the lack of services for male survivors while teaching at a correctional facility. The need was overwhelming. In response she developed the life skills and healing curriculum, “YOU ARE WORTHY”!The mission of 1in6 is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives.
Posted by 1in6, Inc. More information available at www.1in6.org.
The mission of 1in6 is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives. 1in6′s mission also includes serving family members, friends and partners by providing information and support resources on the web and in the community.