By Phillip Millar
Far be it for me to proclaim expertise on gender issues. There are whole university departments dedicated to studying gender issues. But as a professional dealing with survivors of sexual abuse I can’t help but notice how gender pervades the dialogue about the treatment care and recovery of survivors of sexual abuse.
As a starting point we can all agree that the vast majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated at the hands of males. This reality has resulted in the victim community for the most taking the anti-male stance and the support networks forming around female based centres, quite understandably. Womens’ shelters were an important first step in creating a safe place for women to go when involved in an abusive relationship. But today we are facing a despairing absent center for male survivors of sexual abuse. Often it is forgotten that males are also abused, that they hide their suffering and that they need a place to go to find counsel, comfort and treatment. Current sexual assault shelters cannot meet their needs and the presence there would not be welcome.
In our society today there are very few places a male survivor can go for treatment and counselling. Now there are those who believe a male can simply walk into a centre that has focused on Women’s issues for twenty years and he will be just fine dealing with his abuse in that environment. I believe this is naïve, first of all women who have been abused, need and deserve a safe place to go for treatment where their issues can be dealt with, having men come into that environment would likely be very disruptive. In addition, like it or not, the atmosphere is many of these centres is decidedly anti-male, whether conscious or subconscious. A male survivor trying to deal with abuse issues cannot feel comfortable in this environment.
The powers that be in the abuse counselling network need to recognize this, not as a power play for grabbing funding dollars away from women, but as a reality that acknowledges that victims are not gender based, women, do not own the concept of being sexual abused, males are abused in huge numbers and in many cases do not come forward because of a lack of support resources.
Why is this important beyond the standard feminism debate? Because I believe the ostracization of male victims, the effectual abandonment of their needs because they happen to be the same gender of the perpetrators hurts recovery and may in effect perpetuate future abuse. Some women’s advocates believe they hold the monopoly on victimhood and would deny male survivors the same rights as female victims: separate and dedicated male shelters, male counsellors and support services
I am not interested in casting blame, but rather dealing with the reality that many/most abusers were abused themselves as children. Perhaps the absence of a destination for them to seek refuge and healing isolates them from treatments that could reduce sexual abuse in the community. My concern is that the politicization of abuse into anti-male camps keeps survivors from the treatment they need to heal and may in some cases cause further abuse.
It is time to remove the gender politics from the dialogue of who has the right to govern the healing and treatment of survivors. The reality is that men and women suffer horribly from sexual abuse, they both need somewhere to go to start the healing and recovery process, there are no gender boundaries to who can be abused and the suffering is the same, I believe that just because the first outlet for dealing with abuse was female focused does not mean that the development of the way ahead is owned by the feminist advocates who started the much needed process. In fact, I may even go so far as to say that they are not suited for many of the requirements needed to build the male healing model. Unfortunatley, the battle for funding, political encampments and petty empire issues can get in the way of building the right models to heal and prevent abuse. I hope the dialogue can continue and that we can move the markers forward in providing a place for men to heal in an environment suited to their needs.
If you have been a victim of sexual assault or abuse and seek counselling of any sort, please don’t hesitate to Contact Us.