What's New? Update – October 25, 2004

This one will be brief. I hope my frustration won't be too evident: I just spent four hours updating this page, and then pressed the wrong key and deleted all that I'd done. An unwelcome reminder to save the work as I go along.

This time I'll focus on three good things, and hope to get them posted before nightfall.

First, we have added a third event to the summer 2005 workshops in England. In addition to "Healing the Healers (UK) II" and "Victims No Longer (UK) II", we will be offering "Women Together (UK) I", a residential retreat for nonoffending female survivors of sexual abuse. This exciting event will be led by the brilliant women of Colchester Rape Crisis. All three events will be organised by Bob Balfour of Purple Phoenix Sexual Abuse Training and Consultancy Services (a Social Enterprise project designed by Survivors West Yorkshire & Survivors Sheffield). Details about these and other upcoming events will be posted on the Events page.

I'm very excited about the ways women and men are continuing to support each other and forge alliances for recovery. Among our future plans are additional workshops for women and men together.

While on the subject of upcoming events, here's another exciting prospect for 2005. I was just invited to return to New Zealand to do more trainings in May or June. Since I love that beautiful country, I didn't hesitate to accept the invitation. This time we will add a male survivor recovery workshop organised by Ken Clearwater of the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust in Christchurch. As this inviation is brand new, there are no details in place - I'll post information as soon as it is available.

Just as people came to the events in England and Ireland to participate, provide support, and forge alliances, I hope folks will take advantage of the New Zealand events and visit that lovely part of the world.

Finally, I've been hesitant to write about last month's conference in Galway, Ireland because I doubted that I could do justice to its power and energy. Fortunately, Caroline Benamza came to my rescue. "Caro" is a French survivor, activist, drama and dance student, and thoroughly impressive individual. She generously gave me permission to post the following article that she wrote from her internship in Montreal shortly after the conference. My thanks to Caroline for her insightful words, dedication to healing, and humanity. [My few additions to Caroline's words are included in brackets.]

Conference Report: “Sexual Violence Against Males: Impacts, Identity, and Survival Strategies”

Galway, Ireland, 25-26 September 2004

This conference on the sexual abuse of boys and men in Ireland was organised by MASC (Male Abuse Survivor Centre) based in Galway. It was the first of the kind in the country and contributed to breaking the taboo in Irish society [against addressing issues of male victimisation]. I am going to try to describe what happened there and what it meant to me. I don’t pretend to write a “professional” article, even though I was there because I will be working with male survivors in the future as a drama and dance therapist. There are still too many issues that I am dealing with as an incest survivor, an activist, and a student to pretend to that level of detachment to write as a professional. Maybe it will be best never to reach that detachment, but, for now, I will write about what I learned and how I felt.

I found out about the conference in June 2004 when I participated in a workshop, “Healing the Healers” held in Kettlewell, Yorkshire, UK led by Mike Lew and organised by Bob Balfour of Survivors West Yorkshire. This workshop aimed to help professionals and volunteers in the field of recovery from abuse deal with compassion fatigue and burnout. In addition, this workshop provided a meeting place for professionals (often also survivors) to talk, exchange views and experiences, break isolation, and build a friendly and supportive network.

Jimmy Haran, a volunteer and organiser at MASC, was one of the participants last summer and he told us about his hopes.

A lot of the participants the “Healing the Healers” workshop came to the conference in Ireland, some travelled a few thousand miles to be there from New Zealand, Norway, England, Colchester (private joke here!), Switzerland, and Spain.

There was a sense of excitement and pride shared by all the participants. For those of us from around the world who met again on the first day of the conference, we shared a special bond of friendship, support, respect, and love. A few Irish participants noticed it right away and wondered where it came from.

Opening speech : Jimmy Haran

The organisers, in their wildest dreams, expected 65 people to come to Galway. On the morning of the 25th of September, the conference room was packed with 95 people: professionals and survivors [and the organisers reluctantly had to turn away people who applied at the last minute when numbers grew beyond the capacity of the venue].

The opening speech was made by Jimmy Haran in a voice broken by emotion. As a true Irish man, Jimmy told us a story. Jimmy told us about an old male survivor who rang only once to tell about his life shattered by the abuse, the silence he kept all his life with his wife and children, his solitude, his pain and his regrets for not having confided in his wife before she died. Jimmy told us how this phone call changed his life, how it affected his work at MASC.

Jimmy thanked everyone in the room for making the conference happen and making it to Galway. Then Jimmy talked about MASC.

MASC (Male Abuse Survivors Centre) opened in October 2000. It is run by a group of 10 volunteer counsellors. MASC is a free, confidential voluntary support service for adult male survivors of sexual abuse, sexual assault, incest, and rape.
MASC offers a one to one counselling service, telephone support, advice on related legal issues and information about other agencies that can advise on matters relating to social welfare, housing, and marital problems. The organisation receives little money from the government and is in great need of a permanent and regular funding. [This important force of change and healing, MASC, is in serious financial straits. They receive a total only 3000 Euros from the government and about 3600 from lottery funds. This is shockingly inadequate – it doesn’t even come close to paying their rent. We urge anyone who has access to sources of funding - or influence with those who do – to help keep MASC and its vital services from disappearing.]

Introduction to male survivors movement: Mike Lew

The next speaker after Jimmy Haran was Mike Lew, internationally known therapist and writer, author of Victims no Longer and Leaping upon the Mountains. Mike underlined the importance of this event, read the names of all the professionals coming from abroad and gave them special thanks. He insisted that the sexual abuse of boys and men happens all over the world, every day. He added, “Abuse happens in isolation, recovery happens in the company of others.” Mike addressed the survivors in the room and warned them about possible triggers during the conference and helped survivors with some advice in case of triggers - ways to deal with feelings, emotions, and dissociation, including:

- leave the room to find a safe place
- come back to the here and now
- find out what was the trigger

Mike and Jimmy informed the participants that volunteers from MASC were there outside the room to help survivors during the whole of the weekend.

Mike followed with a short history of the male survivor movement. He emphasised that the movement is indebted to the female survivor groups and the feminist movement. Healing is not solely a matter of clinical environment; it has to be included in a much larger context: a social and political one (e.g., the issue of homophobia).

Mike addressed the survivors and the professionals in the room. He gave the clear message that recovery is possible. Recovery is about freedom: the freedom to decide and make choices that are not determined by the abuse.

Sexist societies divide feelings between men and women. Men are permitted to be angry, women to be vulnerable and express fear and grief. Often, there is confusion between anger (a feeling) and violence (a behaviour), but that confusion is rooted in society. Survival strategies are often labelled as pathologies, professionals forgetting that the only task for an abused child is to get through the experience. We have no right to take away the survival strategies of a child without being able to provide safer and better ways of coping. We have no right to pathologise these survival strategies.

Mike Lew said that very often therapists working with men avoid asking questions about sexual abuse though very often the symptoms are there. For example: a history of victimisation, prostitution, alcohol, sex or drug addictions, depression, or suicidality. The impact of abuse on pathologies is obvious but still ignored.

Some research has shown that survivors who dissociate are less likely to commit suicide.

Mike Lew ended his presentation by reminding us that roughly a third of the population has suffered from sexual abuse (from fondling to rape), so it must be considered a social and political issue. Funding needs to go to proper institutions and as citizens we must address our politicians.

Male survivors and society, presentation of the SAVI Report: Ian Warwick

The next speaker was Ian Warwick, senior lecturer at Huddersfield University (UK) and activist in the Survivor Movement for 20 years. His presentation was based on stereotypes carried on from one generation to the next and the messages of confusion they carry for men who do not recognise themselves within those criteria. The confusion is particularly exacerbated for male survivors because they have internalised the social idea that a man cannot be a victim and if he is, it must be because he is somehow not a man. Ian presented the general clichés of what men are supposed to be in our society: physically and mentally powerful, controlling, not victims, in control of their emotions, active, competent. He went on describing how male clients present themselves in therapy. They are often physically powerful, intimidating, angry, and harder to engage. This is a reaction to the experience of the abuse where they were passive, helpless, victimised. Other common male reactions against the abuse are self-blame and homophobia.

Ian Warwick insisted that abuse can be perpetrated by women, and the taboo [against addressing these issues] is even bigger. Although many male survivors have been abused by women, society covers up this type of abuse with the myth of seduction and focusing on female victims. The sexual politics generally present women as victims and men as aggressors.

Men are always presented as sexually willing: “all sex is good sex” therefore there is no such a thing as a bad sexual experience for a man. During the abuse, the physical response of the male victims is more obvious than for their female counterparts. Erection and ejaculation (when it happens) plunge the boys into a much greater confusion made of guilt, self-blame and shame. Often they conclude that the abuse happened because they are gay and if they cannot make sense of what happened it is because they are denying their sexual identity. This brings doubts and fear at the heart of their identity.

In the context of the Irish society, Ian presented data from The SAVI Report [Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland: A National Study of Irish Experiences, Beliefs and Attitudes Concerning Sexual Violence – by researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in Association with Dublin Rape Crisis Centre]. This research interviewed 3000 people, randomly chosen across Ireland. From the report, it appeared that:

- Irish women are eight times more likely than Irish men to disclose abuse to the Gardai (police)
- 1/6 men of Irish men (16.2%) reported experiencing contact sexual abuse in childhood
- 60% of all young men (under the age of 30) had not previously disclosed the sexual abuse they experienced in childhood.
- 1/5 of abused Irish men in the SAVI research reported moderate to extreme effects on their lives overall. 1/6 of the men reported PTSD symptoms
- Abused men in Ireland are 8 times more likely to have been a psychiatric impatient that those who have not been abused.

Ian gave additional statistics (from the Mental Ill Health Sheffield [UK] Study) linking mental disorders like suicide, self-harm, depression and substance addictions to sexual abuse of men:

- 88% of male survivors suffer from depression (mainly due to shame and self blame)
- 25% of psychiatric male inpatients and 50 % of outpatients were survivors of sexual abuse
- In 1991 a study undertaken in Sheffield on self harm showed that when a question on sexual abuse was added to the questionnaire, the number of two disclosures a year increased to two disclosures a week.

Avoidance of situations, emotions, or memories linked with the abuse can be found in male survivors’ lives. Avoidance includes: addictions (sex, alcohol, medications, drugs...), workaholism, self isolation, running away from people or situations...Self protection becomes the entire focus for a survivor with the high level of anxiety about disclosure (“being revealed”). Examples of attempts at self-protection can include hypervigilance, bodybuilding, and homophobia.

Many male survivors act out on their anger through risk taking activities, fighting, offending (burglary, theft, criminal damages...), dangerous sports, speeding...

They feel different from others and their inability to trust causes great relationship problems. These problems include fear of intimacy, excessive need to be in control or be controlled in a relationship, co-dependency, difficulty in assessing another’s trustworthiness.

Sexual abuse in the context of the Irish culture and society: Colm O’Gorman

This talk was presented by Colm O’Gorman, leader, campaigner, founder and director of One in Four, an organisation in Ireland and the UK that supports men and women who have been victims of sexual violence.

Sexual abuse brings up collective feelings, myths, and ideas when addressed by any society. It is linked with stories, history, and a collective unconscious. The scale of social violence in Ireland confronts the country with the questions of identity.

The SAVI report indicated that 35% of men and women have suffered sexual abuse in Ireland. 27 % of children suffer from sexual abuse. The perpetrators have been identified (in order of frequency reported) as uncles, fathers, and members of the clergy. Sexual abuse perpetrated by the clergy has become “an Irish disease”. So how do the Irish people feel about that? Answers voiced by people in the room included: shame, anger, frustration, and hate.
That collective shame, instead of being dealt with, has been projected onto the innocent victims, the children.
In Ireland, because of its history, people have learnt to value the income and not the person. The projection of anger is rooted in shame. There is a general belief or suspicion that recovery is not possible, that male survivors turn into abusers.
Men, in the Irish society, are celebrated as predators. The value of male sexuality is to possess thus making it difficult for the survivors to make sense of the victimisation and the social message. The Irish society is built on the almighty power of the father. The family civil code established that women and children belong to the father.
Male sexuality is generally seen as blunt, crude and violent. There is no positive message about the beauty of male sexuality.
A lot of the anger is currently directed at the Church. Nevertheless, society abandoned its power to the Church a few centuries ago. So what did Irish society of the time get out of it? The Irish people abdicated responsibility for what is right or what is wrong, they abdicated in a way their own conscience and moral values. Forty percent of the people still believe that abuse reports are false. Priests who reported the abuse within the Church have been sent away to other countries and were blamed.
Addressing the issues of male sexual abuse, and sexual abuse as a whole is to question social behaviours like homophobia, misogyny, sexism, and treating children as property.
(Mike Lew added the question of what is a man? What is masculinity? In our society, a boy who is delicate, academic, caring, gay, or not interested in sports is isolated and made vulnerable. Our gender based society pressurise people to conform and not to value diversity.
When abusers are women, we expect boys to behave as men: to be sexual in all circumstances. This experience is less likely to be considered as abuse and it may be generally romanticised.)
O’Gorman insisted that all these related issues must be addressed by the Irish people, government, organisations and institutions while tackling the problems of sexual abuse in Ireland. As citizens, as people, we need to value the vulnerability of the children who were abused, we must value the victims who have not survived or who are not surviving. We must support and value the survivors in recovery because we can learn a lot from their experience: they can help us defining who we are, were we came from and were we want to go as a people. In that sense, the Irish context and issues are not so different from the ones in other countries.


As part of the conference, several workshops were offered to survivors and professionals. I decided to participate in two: one as a survivor and one as a professional.
The first workshop I attended was run by Ian Warwick and was based on “Breaking the Silence”. Originally thought of as a “male survivors only” group (because of the title of the conference), the group was opened to female survivors when Ian was asked about it by two female survivors (including myself) who participated in the conference as professionals.
I had decided before coming to Galway to participate only in the workshops designed for professionals. In that way I hoped to avoid the confusions of being both. I realised at the conference that denying my feelings as a survivor and activist was not a good idea to deal with the problems. Whatever I do in the future in my work as art therapist, working with male and female survivors, I will always be a survivor. I have to learn how to handle this and transform the confusion into a meaningful interaction between the two.
I was particularly interested in experiencing Ian’s work. I had found the man truly inspiring when I met him in England and I was curious to know more. I did not have much to say about breaking the silence (I had done my work of disclosure over the past two years) but I was very excited about experiencing being a minority in a group talk. In all the groups I participated in in France, there were usually 1 or 2 guys for every 15-20 women. I had heard guys complain about the situation or worse I have seen guys coming once and never returning to the group. It broke my heart every time because all together there are a lot of male survivors out there. I wonder about what they could feel in such a situation: shame, uneasiness, discouragement, confusion, guilt... I often wondered how I would feel in the same position. Galway was the place to experience it.
When I first entered the room I felt uneasy: afraid of disturbing something special, intimate and secret. A guy looked at me. He was not hostile but I believed he truly thought I got in the wrong room! As men started to fill the room, we said hello, some men introduced themselves with a smile, and others just sat down in silence. Some men I had met at lunchtime and during the coffee break were there. Ian gave an introductory talk about what he wanted to achieve and explained that the group was opened to female survivors. Then Ian asked us to remain silent for one minute and explore what was going on inside of thus. This was very important because it gave more solemnity to what would follow “breaking the silence”. In regard to being one of the two women in a group of 15 male survivors, I felt anxious and afraid during that silence. The fear had to do with my own abuse. The irrational fear of being vulnerable to attack was there. I think I had never before been in a room full of men. Touching this vulnerability was a very important moment. It made me realise what it can be like for men seeking help, looking for answers about what being a man means and feeling uneasy in a group talk full of women. We were then asked one by one what kind of clothes we would like to pick up in a jumble sale and tell about it. This very gentle exercise helped the men to start connecting to their emotions. After that each man was able to share (on a voluntary basis in a very safe way) about breaking the secrecy of incest or sexual abuse. Some men were speaking out for the first time. After sharing part of my own story, I felt first a lot of relief coming from some men. But the most wonderful feeling was the acceptance I got from the group. The sharing was very honest and open. People listened respectfully to one another and some men nodded to agree to what was being said. Ian closed the group with one last exercise asking each participant what sort of car would they like to treat themselves with. Then again, this exercise is very symbolic and carries more meaning to men than just asking about their feelings of worthiness. It suddenly made sense about how different can be a female and a male approach to therapy and probably more so in art therapy. This experience was for me very touching but it also taught me very valuable lessons.
The second workshop I participated in focused on male survivors whose recovery was hijacked by addictions (drugs, alcohol, sex, food...), self harm, violent behaviours...This workshop gathered professionals from all backgrounds and was run by Colm O’Gorman and Therese Gaynor. This workshop was run as a brainstorming exercise and thus is difficult to synthesise.
Sexual abuse usually creates two sorts of wounds:
- a developmental wound (linked with cognitive development)
- a traumatic wound (whose impact is more physical)

It is generally known that there are four responses to sexual abuse :
- fright
- flight
- freeze
- trauma
In view of these elements, multiple addictions can be understood as a cycle of shutting down emotions. The survivor adds to a failing coping strategy another. It is very important to understand that these behaviours are survival strategies. In order to cope with the trauma, a victim needs to shut down emotionally. These coping strategies become addictions when they are repeated so often that they become automatic and compulsive. After a while, one single coping strategy is not enough and the trauma keeps intruding into the present generating symptoms of the post traumatic stress disorder.
As part of their work, therapists need to recognise their emotions related to the survivor’s strategies. They need to identify their fear as part of their own family history or personal experience. When unprepared, the therapists’ own fear will “de-skill” them.
It was agreed within the group that rage and violent behaviour, especially when it happens with a therapist is a form of dissociation. Anger, on the contrary, is a fully integrated feeling or emotion. The therapist needs to establish with the survivor that rage has to do with destruction and death whilst anger has to do with protection, boundaries, and emotions and is healthy.
As part of the traumatic transference, it is to be remembered that [the presence and influence of] the perpetrator are in the room with the survivor and the therapist. Often the therapist can feel what the survivor cannot articulate. The therapist must be aware of this transference. At all times the survivor’s body language can be a strong indicator of what’s happening.
[Other workshops presented included “Moving Forward” (for survivors) and “Stress, Compassion Fatigue, and Burnout” (for survivors and professionals).]

Film and facilitated discussion: Bob Balfour
Thanks to Bob Balfour, the participants to the conference could meet during the evening of the first day to watch a film directed by a male survivor [Ethan Delavan]. The film, “Voices of Silence”, consisted of portraits of and interviews with about twenty-five male survivors in America. A discussion followed the screening and allowed the survivors to speak out and exchange views about the issues raised by the film (secrecy of the abuse, pressing charges, understanding the dynamics in the family, healing....)

In Conclusion
During the whole weekend, I was able to share stories with a lot of male survivors. I have been touched by their courage, their openness and their gentleness. I have learnt a lot; they taught me a lot. I have seen Irish professionals eager to tackle the issue in a more honest manner. Participants from public organisations were actually very surprised to see how other countries were facing the same issues and how important it is to exchange views and ideas. Some people have decided to organise other meetings and conferences in Ireland, others have decided to address the politicians. The conference received a surprisingly warm and well documented support from the media (local and national radio interviews and articles in national papers like the Irish Times) For survivors, it was an amazing experience of being heard for the first time by therapists and government officials, standing up for themselves, sharing. I believe it is good to remember that in terms of healing, the expert is the survivor himself (as Mike Lew put it). A therapist is just a guide and should have the humility and respect to recognise that - whatever the trauma, psychological abuse, and pain - the child has survived on his/her own. And that is already truly a victory. MASC is in great need of support to continue its essential work. I cannot do much about that, but writing this article is a way to help. Networking is a powerful way to break isolation between survivors and organisations across the world and sharing knowledge is power.
Finally I would like to thank all the people (friends and professionals) whose support was essential in allowing me to participate in the conference. Thank you to Jimmy and MASC for making us so welcome in Galway. Thank you for your faith and dedication. I would like to give special thanks to Mike Lew for his support, for letting me know that I, too, can make a difference. A few months ago, I was writing him for the first time. What a year since then! I would always remember the day we spent in Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands, and the warm dinner that followed that evening in Galway. Most of all, I would like to thank the Irish male survivors I have met in Galway. Thank you for your acceptance, trust and support. You are showing me the way.

Caroline Benamza,
Montréal, Québec, October 19th 2004

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