This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal.
One in six males is survivor of sexual abuse, but there’s limited conversation about male sexual trauma and only a handful of services for male survivors in Ontario.
This past Tuesday, Queen’s University Sexual Violence Prevention and Response held a discussion on the realities of male sexual trauma, inviting Rick Goodwin, founder of Ottawa’s Men and Healing clinic, to lead the discussion with students, staff, and community members.
“There are many conversations about sexual violence that are really important,” Barb Lotan, sexual violence prevention and response coordinator, wrote in an email to The Journal. “Acknowledging that men are also survivors is essential.”
“Our students, staff, and employees want to be supportive and help to create a safe environment for survivors, but sometimes people are unsure how to do it. Offering some workshops provide opportunities for those conversations to happen.”
The first workshop, Sexual Violence Against Males: What We All Need to Know, addressed the misconceptions surrounding male sexual trauma.
In a phone interview with The Journal, Goodwin said many people believe sexual arousal during sexual assault or abuse makes the survivor an equal participant.
“One could be sexually terrorized and yet could experience arousal,” he said. “For the boy or the man, when he knows, when he recognizes that his body is being aroused, then he also believes this isn’t abuse, this is not assault, that there’s a part of him that’s agreeing to it or else he wouldn’t be aroused.”
Goodwin said a traumatic consequence can be a dislike or distrust among male survivors for their physical bodies. “That becomes a presenting issue for men even years and years after the abuse or the assault,” he said.
Goodwin also touched on the intersection of toxic masculinity and victimhood, which results in a reluctancy among male survivors to report sexual assault or abuse.
“If someone is invulnerable, it’s impossible for them to be victimized,” he said. “And yet we know that males are victimized. It’s a painful, painful contradiction [men] have in the experience of vulnerability and victimization.”
Goodwin’s second workshop, Male Sexual Trauma: The Essentials for Those in the Helping Professions, aimed to teach professors, counsellors, and other members of public services about male trauma sensitivity.
Goodwin said it’s important for instructors and other members of public services to understand there could be “a much bigger story” to certain kinds of male behaviours indicating trauma symptoms, such as drinking, low self-esteem or the inability to complete goals.
“[If people] become trauma sensitive in their understanding, then we’re going to be able to help folks out much better than we have done in the past,” he said.
People are only just beginning to create resources and services for male survivors of sexual violence, according to Goodwin. Meanwhile, upcoming events and workshops can be found on Queen’s Sexual Violence Response and Prevention Facebook page.
“I think, unfortunately, we leave a lot of victims of sexual violence behind so far in our community services,” he said. “If you believe the campus community needs to be supportive, not just academically but in terms of mental wellbeing, we’ve got to address these issues, and we can’t leave anyone behind.”
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