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Confronting Stigma and Stereotypes Around the World – Helping Men Heal: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog

Though together, I and my colleagues Gary Foster from Living Well, in Australia and Rick Goodwin, from 1in6 Canada have logged more than half a century working to help men heal from childhood sexual abuse, we traveled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia this past week, not to impart wisdom, but to learn from others.

We gathered with more than 200 delegates, including over 50 overseas representatives from around the world, at the second South-South Institute on Sexual Violence against Men and Boys. Hosted by First Step Cambodia, the Institute has focused on the ongoing urgent need for changes in the way that Gender-Based-Violence is conceptualized, responded to and prevented by national and international humanitarian, development and human rights organizations, and on the contribution that research can make to this paradigm shift.

The conference organizers had asked me to do a workshop on the impact of sexual abuse on men, something I have done countless times. But stepping off the plane at Phnom Penh International Airport I was embraced, simultaneously, by hot, tropical air and the reality of the vast cultural differences that grace our planet. What could I possibly know or say about the experience of male survivors in Cambodia? Or Nepal?

So I scrapped everything. Instead of “doing” a workshop, I facilitated a meeting of experts, practitioners and activists from 13 countries:

…stigma remains a powerful force in the United States, but in many parts of the world it is exponentially more powerful. So powerful, that disclosure can mean complete and utter ostracism
  • Afghanistan
  • Cambodia
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • Nepal
  • Philippines
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Serbia
  • Uganda
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Vietnam

We sat in a circle and for three hours we talked about two issues that confront male survivors all over the world — common issues — but issues that manifest themselves in vastly different ways. We talked about the profound stigma that men face, the shame that silences male survivors, that drives them into isolation. That stigma remains a powerful force in the United States, but in many parts of the world it is exponentially more powerful. So powerful, that disclosure can mean complete and utter ostracism.

We also talked about masculinity issues, about how so many male survivors perceive themselves to be “less than” because of the abuse they suffered; about how striving to prove themselves “real men,” many survivors see any effort to get help as a sign of weakness. These themes were very familiar to everyone in the room, but the solutions — the way we confront these constricting stereotypes — will be very different.

Under the heading ‘Addressing the Long Shadow’, the overall conference agenda included discussions about topics as diverse as the history of sexual violence under the Khmer Rouge, post-conflict patterns of sexual violence, and the importance of survivor voices being heard and seen through the medium of film. Other conference sponsors included The Refugee Law Project Uganda and MSSAT from New Zealand.

Many of those in attendance are the sole activists or represent the only service in their country supporting boys and men who have been subjected to sexual violence. They are all working to create change and to offer support at a local and global level.

Our “workshop”/discussion was just a small part of a remarkable 5-day experience. But those three hours together ended in an act of profound hopefulness: we created our own list serve.

As of 12 noon Phnom Penh time, May 26, 2015, activists from 13 different countries and cultures have begun sharing ideas, perspectives and expertise in the service of a common goal: to confront the stigma and the stereotypes that prevent male survivors from getting the help and connection they need to heal their wounds.

David Lisak

David Lisak
1in6 Board Chair

davidlisak Dr. David Lisak is the President and a founding member of the 1in6 Board of Directors and a retired Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He has studied the long term effects of childhood abuse in adult men, and the relationship between early abuse and the later perpetration of violence. His research has been published in leading journals in psychology, trauma and violence, and he was the founding editor of the journal, Psychology of Men and Masculinity. In addition to his research and teaching, Dr. Lisak has served as faculty for the National Judicial Education Program and the American Prosecutors Research Institute and he consults frequently with law enforcement and prosecutors on sexual violence and homicide cases across the country. Dr. Lisak has conducted workshops in all fifty states, and he also consults widely with universities, the U.S. military, and other institutions regarding sexual assault prevention and policies. To find out more about David, visit his website.


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