Male survivors of abuse need enhanced services, says social worker

TC Media
Published on April 28, 2014

Rick Goodwin, national manager of 1in6 Canada, says good therapy can diminish the distressing elements connected to past abuse but cautions a person has to "go through hell to find recovery.''

©Guardian photo by Jim Day

Imagine a sign, hanging prominently outside a building in Charlottetown, calling out clearly to men who had been sexually abused as children or sexually assaulted as adults.

Rick Goodwin not only envisions such a beacon, he is actively promoting the concept here and Canada-wide.

Goodwin is a registered social worker behind a national initiative called 1in6 Canada — a comprehensive, two-day training program designed to enhance effective engagement with men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood.

He spoke with The Guardian after providing the training conference in Charlottetown last week to almost 100 local service providers, a group including healthcare professionals, counselors, justice workers and Victim Services workers.

Goodwin stresses the need to contour programming to serve men, and then shout it’s availability from the rooftops. Men in need of help need to know that services exist for them, and for them specifically.

Goodwin sees the need for a shingle that conveys a welcoming place for men where they can receive the best service, treatment or other assistance needed to get through such a heavy, at times crippling, life issue.

“Until we do that, it will be difficult for men to come out of the woodwork,’’ says Goodwin, who co-authored in 2009 the guidebook Men and Healing: Theory, Research and Practice with Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse.

Many men, for many reasons, do not reach out for help.

A concerted effort is being made to change this culture of silent shame on Prince Edward Island.

Sigrid Rolfe, organizational coordinator of the P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre, says a timely research project called Enhancing Services for Male Survivors of Sexual Trauma on P.E.I. was launched in October 2012 with funding from the Department of Justice Canada.

“I think there was just a growing awareness and acknowledgement of the fact that there’s a lot of men out there needlessly suffering,’’ says Rolfe. “We needed to understand this more and find ways to better engage men.’’

So input was sought from male survivors of sexual assault/abuse through a survey conducted in May 2013. Thirty-eight male survivors completed the survey, a much stronger participation than Rolfe anticipated.

Respondents listed among the barriers and challenges for male survivors to access services and supports on P.E.I. as embarrassment, shame, fear and stigma.

“Well we know there’s incredible shame with the experience of abuse and shame as emotion results in hiding essentially,’’ says Goodwin. “So there are a lot of very valid reasons why men will continue to hide this issue from those who love them.’’

Respondents also cited a lack of awareness of what services and supports are available as well as a lack of male specific services as keeping them from seeking help. Some shared additional thoughts on services and supports they would like to see on P.E.I., including peer support groups and more outreach services.

“I want to see everyone healthy: men or women. It’s not a gender thing. Because if we’re not all healthy, we all pay the price.’’Sigrid Rolfe, organizational coordinator of the P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre

Some of what the male survivors say is lacking, however, is readily available, says Rolfe.

For instance, Victim Services can assist male survivors in pursuing legal action against their abuser.

Rolfe says only about one in 15 clients at the P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre is male. She encourages men to reach out to the centre. There is no waiting list.

Call 368-8055 to receive help through the centre or to be directed to the most appropriate resource, such as Community Mental Health, Catholic Family Services or Victim Services. Callers will be asked to leave contact information but the call will be promptly returned.

“I want to see everyone healthy: men or women,’’ says Rolfe. “It’s not a gender thing. Because if we’re not all healthy, we all pay the price.’’

Goodwin says many, many men are in need of help. He estimates more than three million Canadian males have been victims of abuse, thus the name 1in6 Canada for the program he serves as national manager.

“That’s a big number for sure,’’ he says. “And you think of the social problems that untreated trauma causes: family break-up, family violence, addiction.’’

Goodwin wants victims that are hesitant to seek help to realize that trauma recovery works, but not without time, effort and plenty of pain.

“Good therapy can diminish much, if not all, of the distressing elements that’s connected to the past abuse,’’ says Goodwin. “But it is an experience of going through hell. You have to go through hell to find recovery.’’

A workshop presented last fall presented the findings from the male survivor survey as well as the service provider survey conducted in the first two months of 2013. Rolfe says three areas emerged as requiring attention and action:

— A need to raise awareness about the realities of male victimization in order to break down barriers and reduce stigma and shame for men.

— A need to provide training for service providers to become better informed about male victimization.

— A need to develop direct therapeutic services for men in a safe and male friendly environment.

Time - and the ability to tap into funding - will tell how well these areas are addressed, suggests Rolfe.

Mike Avery, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, lauds the efforts of the P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre. However, he wants to see more concrete action.

“We’re (heading) in the right direction,’’ says Avery, who sits on the Provincial Child Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee.

“We just need to do more ... victims need help today, not tomorrow or the next day.’’