We are men.
We are men who have families, are married, have children. We coach youth sports. We are artists and musicians. We are involved in our communities.
We are men who embrace each other’s vulnerabilities; who listen to each other’s fears and confusion, to voices of scared children long since passed but still so present.
We are among the men who were sexually abused by confirmation sponsors, Boy Scout leaders, family members, older neighborhood boys. We represent the one in six men who are victims of sexual abuse as children, and we live in this community.
How did we get here?
We are here because a man who is a survivor of sexual abuse came to a local rape crisis center and asked about services for men. He came after attending a 12-step meeting, where 12 people (one female) were in attendance.
At that meeting, with the encouragement of his sponsor, that man disclosed that he was a survivor of sexual abuse. Then, seven of the other 10 men disclosed histories of sexual abuse and identified it as one of the reasons they abused substances.
The group started because of a need, not only for that man, but for the hundreds of men in this community who are survivors of sexual abuse.
Originally, several men from the 12-step group agreed to attend the male survivors support group. But, when the group started, only two members of the original group of disclosures began attending the group. Others who attended heard about the group through newspaper articles and word of mouth.
The group is now celebrating a year of offering a safe place for men who are survivors of sexual violence. In whatever way men have arrived at the group, what has happened during the past year has been truly remarkable.
Men have been able to share in a group their experiences of abuse and to move through the negative effects of these events; to talk about the isolation they have experienced; and to listen to each other, have empathy, embrace each other and have hope for peace for each other.
In addition, members say that what is more valuable than being able to tell their story is the power of listening to others' voices — the confirmation that they are not alone in their abuse.
We laugh, joke and play. We work to not only eliminate the guilt and shame that we have harbored for years, but also to remove those things in the greater community; to encourage other male survivors to seek help and find supportive places to heal.
We know, above all else, how difficult it is for men to talk about their experiences of sexual abuse — what courage and strength is required to take the first step and say, “I was sexually abused.”
We know, firsthand, the shame, humiliation, guilt, confusion and unparalleled fear of disclosure that male victims of sexual abuse feel.
We also know that hiding, ignoring or denying the sexual abuse ultimately hurt us more than accepting and disclosing it. And it kept us from years of healing that could have begun much earlier.
We are here to encourage other male survivors to speak up. Maybe, at first, in a cautious whisper, but then in voices growing ever stronger with the understanding that this was not their fault, that the shame and humiliation is not theirs. And, with a recognition that asking for help is a sign of strength and a commitment to growth, to healing, to life.
Jim Mello and Travis White, on behalf of the men’s group.