By Peter Pollard
I’ve now attended the National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC) for enough years in a row that I’ve come to associate the end of summer with the annual opportunity to share information about helping men heal from childhood sexual abuse with colleagues from across the country.
1in6 is privileged for the second time to be sponsoring a conference track (this year with FORGE), featuring four workshops focused specifically on working with males who have experienced sexual abuse or assault. About 1,400 civilian and military advocates, law enforcement, medical, child-protection, legal and other professionals were registered for the 2015 NSAC in Los Angeles.
Every year, I’m reminded afresh at how far the field has come in a relatively short time.
In 1986, when I first came to terms with my own experience of having been sexually abused by my parish priest 20 years earlier, I had only ever heard one other man disclose having been sexually abused as a kid. We know now that at least 1 of every six adult men in the United States also had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences when they were growing up….that’s 19 million men.
But as recently as the 1970s, many schools training psychologists, social workers and other clinicians taught their students that childhood sexual abuse was a rare event for both boys and girls ….literally one in a million. The introduction of laws that mandated professionals who became aware of children who were being abused report the abuse to authorities exploded that misunderstanding.
By the mid-1980s, the relatively few professionals who had been researching and speaking about the issue had gained many new colleagues. A quickly expanding number of providers embraced the urgency of recognizing the scope of the problem, and finding new ways to help those who’d been abused to heal and the people who were sexually abusing children to be held accountable and stop their abusive behaviors.
In the ensuing decades, experience and research has helped us fine tune our understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
For many years, men’s experiences of being sexually abused and assaulted were overlooked in favor of a narrative that cast males primarily as perpetrators of abuse, and women and girls as the victims. Most professionals (though perhaps not yet most members of the general public) now recognize that the abuse of boys and men is widespread as well.
The discoveries inspired by the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study have taught us about the strong correlation for both men and women between negative childhood experiences, including sexual abuse, and a heightened risk for a startling range of harmful physical, emotional and behavioral outcomes.
The concepts associated with trauma-informed responses to negative behaviors, including addictions and violence, have given us a different lens with which to view many of the coping strategies men often adopt, when masculine social norms prohibit them from expressing feelings like vulnerability, fear, lack of trust and sadness.
Our thanks to the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), the host for the 2015 conference, and its partners, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), for the opportunity with FORGE and our track presenters from Peace Over Violence and RAINN to provide professionals at the conference with information and resources about helping men who were sexually abused in childhood, or as adults, to live healthier happier lives.
Hope to see you next year at the NSAC conference in Washington, D.C.!
Photo Credit: simpleinsomnia/Flickr