Even a few years ago, who would have imagined that the opening plenary panel at the 2013 End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) conference (last week in Baltimore) would focus on supporting men who have experienced unwanted or abusive childhood sexual interactions. It’s difficult to overstate the value of a shift in thinking that exposed nearly 1,200 conference participants—including advocates, investigators, prosecutors and clinicians—to the notion of engaging men as direct beneficiaries of efforts to end sexual violence. What a long way we’ve come!
The speakers on the panel, facilitated by 1in6 Founding Board member Dr. David Lisak, included 1in6 Founder, Steve LePore, and 1in6 collaborative partners, Rick Goodwin of The Men’s Project of Ottawa and 1in6 Canada, and Gary Foster of Living Well in Australia. Dr. Howard Fradkin of MaleSurvivor also spoke. All have devoted their lives to finding ways to help men who experienced childhood abuse to live healthier, happier lives.
Former San Diego police detective, Joanne Archambault, founded End Violence Against Women International in 2003, to provide “affordable training for all disciplines with an emphasis on the law enforcement investigation and proper criminal justice responses to sexual assault and domestic violence.” In the intervening years, EVAWI has become a leading voice in the international effort to create safer, violence-free communities. EVAWI’s mission and stature made the inclusion of male survivors on the panel all the more powerful.
Historically, programs to end gender-based violence have understandably focused on ending violence against women and children. Women and girls have been—and continue to be—the most likely victims of sexual abuse or assault. Men, usually seen through the lens of being participants in masculine culture, have most often been viewed by the movement principally as bystanders, with a duty and potential to intervene to end violence against women by other men; or as perpetrators of violence against women and children.
What’s always been lost in that model (and was highlighted by the panel) is the reality that 1 in 6 men were among those children sexually abused in childhood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that “more than 1 in 4 (28.5 percent) men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime” and the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study suggests that nearly two-thirds of men (62 percent) may have experienced some kind of emotional, physical or sexual childhood trauma.
Let me be clear. Having a trauma history never excuses abusive or harmful behavior.
But how might our violence-prevention conversations shift if we were to operate on the assumption that a given man is at least as likely to have experienced trauma himself as he is likely to become a perpetrator of sexual violence? What an opportunity for eliciting empathy for other victims of violence!
And how might that notion expand our view of the benefits of reaching out to male survivors of childhood sexual abuse? Or even to men who have behaved offensively?
At the conference, hundreds of participants stopped by the 1in6 exhibit booth after the panel to express support for expanding services to men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood and as adults. Many said the panel presentation had opened their eyes to a new way of looking at their work and the people who are affected.
The question of how best to reach those men, how to get them to engage in services, remains one of our biggest challenges. But EVAWI’s cracking open the dialogue to include men as legitimate recipients of services for sexual trauma represents an enormous step toward healing and change for all of us—men, women and children.
Thank you EVAWI, for your remarkable vision.
By Peter Pollard, 1in6 Communications & Professional Relations Director
Should you have any questions about our progress and future plans, feel free to contact peter(at)1in6.org
Founder, Executive Director