I specialize in working with sexual addiction and problematic sexual behavior. Most of my clients are men. Working with male addicts for over a dozen years has taught me, in person, that many more boys are sexually abused than the numbers tell us. These boys do not tell anyone and do not seek help. These boys turn into men who are profoundly affected by their sexual abuse experiences as children and most of the time, don’t even know it. They do not name what happened to them as abuse, or they don’t want to. They feel so much shame about being abused that they lock part of themselves away so tightly it can take years (like 5 to 7 years) of therapy before they even acknowledge to a trusted therapist what happened to them. These men who were abused as boys suffer in silence.
I realize that many people (myself included) will respond to this by saying that many girls and women do not disclose their sexual abuse and that they too live lives that are deeply affected by their abuse histories. Having spent time working in a Women’s Trauma and Addiction PHP and IOP program, I do not dispute this. However, I see a difference.
When women finally find the courage to come forward to seek treatment for their sexual abuse, they can find resources. There are many group, individual and support resources for women who are survivors of sexual abuse. Finding help is not so easy for men. I will share an example from my practice to explain.
I have a male client who came to me last year who I will call Tom. Tom has a pornography addiction and came to treatment after the problem began to cause a great deal of disruption in his life. He had never gone to therapy and near the beginning of our work together, he disclosed that, when he was a boy, he was sexually abused by a neighbor boy who was near his age. He had never shared this with anyone in his life and as soon as he acknowledged the abuse, the floodgates opened. He started to have flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms. Tom is a take charge kind of guy and we nearly immediately started to look for resources for him to do trauma work outside of our individual sessions.
First, we looked for men’s specific groups. There was nothing and we are directly outside of a major east coast city. Then we looked for trauma groups. Tom talked to a few places that had groups for trauma survivors and was told that, as a man, he would make the women in the group uncomfortable so they could not have him join the group. He then had an intake with a county resource for group trauma work. After his intake, they told him that his case was too complicated and he could not join the group. After months of looking, we literally could not find a group for sexual trauma survivors that was either all men or that would allow men into the group.
Tom continues his trauma work in individual therapy but craves the connection and understanding that one gets in group work. He wants to know he is not alone and the therapeutic community was unable to tell him that, as a man, he is not alone.
Tom is just one example of many that I could pull from my case load. To me, he is the loudest example of how we, as a treatment community, fail male survivors of sexual assault. I have had other clients walk out of public events for sexual abuse survivors because, as the only man in attendance, they felt unwelcome and uncomfortable.
Why do we treatment professionals who work so closely with trauma not offer more resources to men? Are we uncomfortable? Is there a reason we focus more closely on female survivors of sexual abuse? These are questions to which I have no answers. I have only heartbreak. I can only do my part to welcome male sexual abuse survivors into therapy when they come and to start group programming for them in my practice.
I challenge other treatment professionals to process this issue and see what we can do to create more resources for men and to be more welcoming.
For a good online resource for male survivors of sexual abuse, please see www.1in6.org