The Military’s Breaking New Ground – Helping Men Heal from Sexual Trauma: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog
Those of us working in the field might dream about a day when sexual abuse abruptly comes to a stop. We often talk about the cultural shift needed in the movement to validate and be inclusive of men who have had unwanted or sexually abusive experiences. I envision the ‘cultural shift’ as a wave of services, enlightened policies, and competent resources suddenly becoming available for our 1 in 6 male survivors of sexual abuse.
SAAM (Sexual Assault Awareness Month) is chock full of events addressing the myths and misconceptions surrounding abuse, catchy slogans and presentations from organizations like… well, like 1in6, Inc.
Our clinical trainer, Rick Goodwin, from 1in6 Canada, and I were recently invited to provide a few days of trainings and a keynote presentation by the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Program (SHARP) office at Fort Gordon in Georgia, as part of their annual Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM) event.
In preparation for the keynote, I mulled over the various ways I could validate, honor and connect to a group of 700 people, which would include Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine service members along with many Department of Defense civilian workers, and civilians from the surrounding Augusta and Central Savannah River Areas. How do I get these men and women to empathize with the needs of male survivors?
Then I realized, I didn’t have to.
I am so programmed to find ways to instill an increased understanding about the issue, that I completely overlooked the fact that they called us! They were already on board.
In fact, they have direct authorization and orders.
The recent focus on sexual assault in the military has revealed that a significant number of men, as well as women, are among those sexually assaulted while serving.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Psychiatry) in March 2015 adds another dimension. The study found that men with a history of military service had twice the prevalence of all forms of sexual abuse than their non-military male peers. The researchers suggested that “that enlistment may serve as an escape from adversity for some individuals, at least among men.”
Include the long-established knowledge that both men and women who experience childhood sexual abuse are at a higher risk for re-victimization as adults, and it’s not difficult to see why the SHARP advocates were interested in learning more about working with men who have experienced sexual traumas.
What I discovered over two days is that we are at an historic moment. The military’s monumental step in highlighting this issue will be, without question, a turning point in this movement.
Starting from President Obama, all the way down to the individual base commanders, unit commanders and SHARP advocates – they are all seriously addressing their capacity to prevent abuse in the military and to provide competent resources to male survivors.
Capt. Robert Bergdorf is the full time SHARP Action Officer at Fort Gordon.
“For the longest time we have worked hard to maintain a gender neutral approach in our training, outreach and informational products,” Captain Bergdorf told us. “But based on a survey of recent research, input from subject matter experts, and collaboration with 1in6 in the field of male victims, we have dramatically increased our efforts to create a strategic foundation in which will soon lead to education and messaging that includes a specific focus on male victims.”
“Fort Gordon continues to bolster its commitment to ensuring that all service members and civilians in our community are aware of their ability to find hope and healing through multiple resources found on and off post,” he said. “I want them to find safe spaces that allow them to feel comfortable reporting and also trust and have confidence in their chain of command or supervisors to take the appropriate steps necessary.”
I was inspired repeatedly during my stay at Fort Gordon.
I found the words of Major General Fogarty, the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence Commanding General, particularly poignant when he spoke about “trust,” – trust as the foundation of the military; trust of fellow soldiers as the key ingredient for strength; and the importance of maintaining the American people’s trust in the integrity of the services.
I can only say that after two days exchanging ideas with a dedicated cadre of service members and civilians working in the field about how to prevent sexual assault and to help male survivors heal from experiences of sexual trauma, I was very moved by their commitment and leadership, and very proud to be an American.
– By Martha Marin, Managing Director for 1in6
Martha is a Colombian native raised in L.A. and South Florida where she received a B.A. in Business Management from the University of North FL. She brings us a unique set of skills acquired from many years of for-profit management and a deep dedication to human rights. As a Program Coordinator for the Women’s Center of Jacksonville and FL Dept. of Health, she taught thousands of students on topics related to the prevention of sexual assault including cyber bullying, LGBTQ/sexual harassment and teen dating violence, as well as human trafficking. Martha is a public speaker, consultant and professional trainer.