I attended a screening and panel discussion of “Boys and Men Healing,” a documentary about male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The event was held as a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and organized by the Men’s Peer Education Program at Columbia University and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Crime Victims Treatment Center (CVTC). It was co-sponsored by the Columbia University School of Social Work Men’s Caucus and MaleSurvivor.org.
Phew…credits done. Now the meat. What a film and what an event. Overall striking in a number of ways especially in bringing to light the unique and profound experience of males who have been sexually abused and the needs they have that go largely unmet or unrecognized. In addition, as a social work student I became aware of the pivotal role social workers can and do play in this area. Social workers should feel empowered to know that a social worker founded the CVTC at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital and social workers are very involved with MaleSurvivor. But the need is still there.
The film followed three adult survivors. It explored the history of their abuse, how it affected them and where they are now. All three men are doing work to heal themselves and others. At the beginning of the film was a poignant line from one of these three, Tony Rogers; “Childhood rape separated me from my spirit.” This quote embodies the disempowering effect of such heinous acts. A common theme for male victims is the fear and discomfort in seeking help and the emasculation that is associated with reaching out for assistance. But Rogers put it best when he stated “I didn’t know asking for help would make me powerful.” He went on to help form a group of male survivors who share their experiences and support each other. The footage of the group was especially moving and was a hopeful sight.
Survivor David Lisak is currently a successful forensic psychologist. Perhaps the most compelling moment of the film for me was watching Lisak visit a client in prison who was on death row. This man was also a survivor of sexual abuse but clearly his life took a very different path than Dr. Lisak’s. Watching them communicate and share through safety class and bars made me wish I could paint or draw to truly capture that image and feelings I had from observing it. Both men had vicious acts perpetrated against them and it lead to their being on opposite sides of those bars, opposite sides of life, one man became a healer and advocate and the other a murderer and silenced even further. Dr. Lisak made it clear though that it is a fine line that separates these two paths.
Near the end of the film Mark Crawford, one of the men featured in the film and a panelist at the discussion stated, “Men need to have hope, and when you have hope you will heal.” Hope is key but those labeled victims often have trouble finding that hope and they should not be alone in trying to attain it.
- Mark Crawford – founding director of FixTheLaw.org and NJ State Director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and survivor.
- Louise Kindley – Clinical Coordinator of the St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Crime Victims Treatment Center
- RJ Maccani – co-founder of Challenging Male Supremacy, partner organization of generationFIVE and survivor.
- Ernesto Mujica, Ph.D. – supervisor of Psychotherapy at the William Alanson White Institute of New York.
- 1 in 6 men and 1 in 3 women are survivors of sexual abuse
- Men can be and have been abused by women including their own mothers. A common barrier faced by these victims is the taboo of blaming their mother.
- Abuse is about power and it is an issue that affects PEOPLE, no matter the gender
- When there is an imbalance of power there is the potential for abuse and this includes parents
- It is a cultural myth that abusers are always male
- Rape Crisis Centers are geared towards women – when a male victim goes to them they are often looked at questioningly or with hostility
- Dr. Mujica worked with a man who went to a Rape Crisis Center after being raped and when he stated that he had been raped the counselor said that was impossible
- When Tony Rogers from the film sought help from rape victims organizations they would immediately assume he was a perpetrator and he was referred to groups for perpetrators multiple times because of his gender
- Louise Kindley: “There is no shame in being hurt, only in hurting people.”
- Mark Crawford: “Listen! Let them tell their story.”
- Listening to people is so important and more often than not, whether we are aware of it or not, our discomfort with the issue of sexual abuse turns victims away from seeking help.
- Mark Crawford: “Silence is the glue that keeps sexual violence firmly in place.”