Gender, victimisation, healing and society

Please note: This entry may trigger due to talk of sexual abuse.  When reading this, also consider that our point in the healing journey is still firmly in the intellectual, and it is one of our more unemotional ones writing this.

About a year ago, Matthew (our American friend) asked us if we considered that it was different for males to be sexually abused.  My immediate reaction was to say “of course”.  I said this purely from what male survivors have told me about the reactions of those they have made disclosures to.  The ex-husband was told that he should count himself lucky that he learned about it early, or that he was lucky he “got some” regularly.  To put this into context, he was sexually abused by his sister and her friend from the ages of 7-13.  Matthew has been accused of being homosexual because his abusers included males – his abuse started at the age of 3.

I know that women are also subjected to this sort of minimisation, denial and warped thinking.  But because of the perception of gender roles, many societies do not look at male sexual abuse victims in the same way as female victims.  This inequity can be seen in the stoning of a female rape victim in Somalia and the need for articles about the problems male rape survivors experience in America (e.g. Male disclosure of sexual abuse and rape).  This also makes sense within my culture – I crave secrecy about my abuse because I am an educated middle class woman of European descent, and “they” aren’t victims.  In New Zealand men are expected to play sport, hunt and do all things masculine, they are not expected to be victims.  Victims are that group of people whom no one ever sees, hears or knows.  The perpetrators are unknown “creepy” men in long overcoats whom drive slowly past schools.  Yes, stereotypes are alive and well around the world.

Maybe Rambo-Ronai (1995) and Blair (2002) were right when they compared society … to an abusive patriarch who demands the silence of his children. The groundbreaking work of the feminist movement did much to decode the complexities of violence and abuse, and new service delivery models for trauma have emerged (Goodwin, 2005); however, despite their titles, many agencies that identify themselves as sexual assault centers only serve women. This preclusion of male victimization is no doubt due to the primary mission to address the impact of male perpetration. However, through its inadvertent sole-gender mandate, these centers deny the reality of sexual victimization of men. Thus, male victims are provided with no avenue of reporting or addressing sexual abuse. What occurs is that social stereotypes are indirectly reinforced, and male survivors of sexual abuse remain social enigmas (Goodwin, 2005; Pelka, 1997).

(Lemelin, 2006, pp. 345-346)

We live in New Zealand where as a female survivor of abuse, we can access woman’s support programmes and specialised domestic violence courses for female survivors.  If I was a male survivor, my options for accessing those free programmes would be limited.  Many of the programmes receive funding on the proviso that the programme be targeted to a particular population (predominantly females, youth or a cultural minority).  I can see how this may assist the participants, but I can also see how this may create a barrier as well.  I’m not advocating for the gender specific programmes be disbanded, but rather there be a balance.

It has been interesting writing this entry.  There has been much angst about it internally due to the fear of offending any readers.  I apologise if I have caused offense by what I have written – especially to the male readers of this blog whom I know B and Sophie care about.  I also realise that this may offend woman readers, but I hope you can see that I’m not trying to minimise the woman’s experiences, but rather draw attention to a perceived inequity regarding an access to services and an attitude towards male survivors.

Reference:

Lemelin, R. (2006). Running to stand still: The story of a victim, a survivor, a wounded healer, a narrative of male sexual abuse from the inside. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 11(4), 337-350. Retrieved June 9, 2009, doi:10.1080/15325020600663128

Unfortunately, the article is only available through subscription or purchase.

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8 Responses to “Gender, victimisation, healing and society”


  1. 1 lostshadowchild June 11, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Thank you that you have put the post from yesterday back again. After the post was delete yesterday, I feel a little sad, because I wanted to read the articles in your post in addition. I find the thoughts you has made yourself on this matter very interessting. Indirectly I am also concerned by it.
    In the country where I lives it is just as you describe it.
    A man I know (he is not DID) had difficulties to find a therapist, who has believed him, that the sexually abuse by his aunt at the age of 10 years, was an abuse :(
    Incredibly, but true :( This made me very sad. Difficult subject.

  2. 2 castorgirl June 11, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Hello LostShadowChild,

    I’ve split the post from yesterday up into two parts, but the anxiety about publishing this one was too much so the other will need to wait until things have settled down again.

    The situation you describe with your friend sounds similar to the men that I’ve known over here who have attempted to get help. It is incredibly sad and frustrating when someone is reaching out for help and there are only a few places to get that help.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    Kind regards
    M

  3. 3 mindparts June 11, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    Thank you for writing this. As you know, I’m male and I’m not at all offended by anything you wrote.

    Part of the reason why I’m not offended is that I haven’t seen any of the healing resources discrimination you write about. Since 20 or so I’ve been treated at a hospital setting and been given every help possible. I’ve been inpatient dozens of times and my treatment team is all located at the hospital, which does specialize in DID and trauma.

    I do have problems when I go inpatient and I’m often the only male there on a unit which has 22 beds. I think, “What is wrong with me? Why am I the only one?” I have never settled on a good answer. I’ve had others suggest that many males end up alcoholics or drug addicts and don’t get treatment or end up in the penal system. I don’t know if that’s true or not.

    I am all too familiar with the “male roles”. I am married. My wife doesn’t work (except a small part time job). I have kids. It’s very clear to me that I am supposed to support my family. This is a very traditional role and one that I wanted when we had kids. I wanted my wife to be there for the kids when they got off the bus.

    But aside from that role, I’m also familiar with the “males aren’t supposed to be victims” position. I guess I don’t let that bother me much. It is what it is. I was hurt. Badly. And I’m trying to heal from that. If this means I have to show my vulnerable side, then so be it. My parts have evolved so that there are highly functional protector parts who aren’t vulnerable. And very vulnerable child parts, some female.

    I guess given this internal structure, I identify a lot with females. I always did. Most of my few friends growing up were female. I always felt more comfortable with females, maybe because my abusers were all male.

    When I began my work career, I think I realized that academia is a protected environment where people are more open to the kinds of issues that you and I deal with. Had I been in some cutthroat corporate world, I’m not sure I would have survived so well. I’ve always been given the latitude to heal, and for this I am grateful.

    Sorry to write so much, but you got me thinking!!!

    Paul

  4. 4 castorgirl June 12, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Hello Paul,

    I’m glad what I wrote encouraged your thinking in some way – and that it didn’t offend you.

    I’ve seen that a lack of help for any victims of abuse leads to increased risk of self-destructive and anti-social behaviour. This is also the driver for many of the targeted programmes. So it would makes sense that if males were not “allowed” by society to be victims, they would more likely to be in the forensic rather than the dissociative and trauma wards of a hospital.

    I admit to envying your ability to gain access to the resources you describe. As an example of the type of thinking that we are faced with in New Zealand, try reading Personality disorders: What to do if you suspect one. I’ve been in therapy for nearly 5 years and have yet to find a therapist that I feel any sort of trust in their ability to help us.

    The concept of the “male role” is one that the ex-husband wanted to live by. Unfortunately we earned more than he did and had a higher level of education, he felt that emasculated him to the point where it was another thing to punish us about. He was a victim who didn’t get the help he needed and he didn’t really want to be helped.

    I smile when I hear you describe the world of academia. We are librarians – an even more protected and supportive environment. I interviewed library managers as part of my masters, one mentioned that a high proportion of their staff had mental health issues because it was such a non-threatening and comparatively safe place to work.

    Kind regards
    M

  5. 5 David June 13, 2009 at 8:14 am

    I think there is definitely a different stigma toward male survivors of sexual abuse. I’m not one myself, but I know several, and finding the courage to admit what happened has been hard for them — esp. when the abuse came from females.

    Equally, I agree that there’s a different internal “penalty” for being educated and middle or upper-class, and being a sexual abuse, rape, or incest victim. That’s not supposed to happen to “respectable people,” according to the narrow-minded judgment of society.

    I think that what you had to say here was perceptive and caring, and I’m glad you said it.

  6. 6 castorgirl June 13, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Hello David,

    Thank you for your supportive comments. As you can see by the post immediately after this, Sophie and B were incredibly worried about how this would be received so attempted to distract from it by adding a more casual entry.

    The internal judgement you refer to is one that we suffer from regularly. When we went to fill in the paperwork for the Protection Order against the ex-husband, we said that we couldn’t believe we’d “let this happen”. We are educated after all. The court clerk was a very calm and level-headed woman who responded that they get everyone coming in to fill in these forms – abuse doesn’t care about gender, social-standing or education.

    Kind regards
    M

  7. 7 Paul June 13, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    I read the link on personality disorders. That was really poorly done. We had a high profile case here in Boston (which just concluded in a conviction). The man had a number of aliases and clearly had a personality disorder. He kidnapped his young daughter and there was a huge manhunt. Defense claimed he was not guilty because he was insane. I think this was the first non-murder case where they went with such a defense. Anyway, I got to paying attention to it because my doctor testified for the defense. But the main point was that even if he did have a personality disorder (and the various experts disagreed on what exactly it was), he was still responsible in part because he knew what he was doing. What was interesting was that the defense started to claim that his childhood wasn’t so great (told by a man who is a consistent liar). I don’t know why I’m writing all this… it’s all prompted by the link you put up. The question I would have, based on your original post: would this person have received treatment had he been female?

    Take care,

    Paul

  8. 8 castorgirl June 15, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Hello Paul,

    It’s an interesting question. I’m sure that many victims of sexual abuse commit crimes due to a personality disorder born from abuse. However, there are many more who don’t commit crimes. Yes, this man may have experienced difficulty in getting assistance, but the more pressing quesiton is did he try? Did this man attempt to get assistance and was faced with a system that failed to meet his needs; or did he never genuinely reach out for help?

    Even with the targeted programmes, there are many women who don’t get the help they need because they refuse, or don’t ask for help. In our case, we didn’t ask for help to get out of an abusive marriage because we were unable to see that it was abusive.

    I must admit to having a low tolerance for those who don’t seek help. But this is in part due to knowing how the father and husband reacted to being asked to get help. I also have a low tolerance for those who use the excuse of a difficult childhood on their present crimes or abuse of others. At some point we are responsible for our own actions – we have the responsibility to seek help so that we don’t pass onto others the pain that was inflicted on us. There are sometimes (huge) barriers to obtaining help, but as long as they are actively seeking assistance then there is more tolerance. There is a huge difference between using a lack of programmes as an excuse and doing everything possible to get help, and finding there is nothing available.

    It’s an incredibly sad case, I hope his daughter is now safe.

    Kind regards
    M


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