After St. George’s: Responding Differently, Together
The revelation this week about decades of unaddressed sexual abuse and assault at a New England school offers some important reminders about the power of community.
The voices of more than 40 men and women—all former students at St. George’s School, a prestigious boarding school in Middletown, Rhode Island—were represented at a press conference this week. They chronicled decades of sexual abuse by faculty and staff members of the school, as well as other students, and the school’s failure to take the allegations seriously.
Students place their trust in their teachers, coaches and mentors. The shame, secrecy, blame and/or fear that all survivors experience, can be even greater for children.
Having carried the weight of what was done to them alone, each of those St. George’s School alums first broke their silence about their experiences individually, and then within the embrace of a community of fellow survivors.
Chances are that there are more—more survivors from the school who will add their voices, more people from across the country—world, even—who are reading about their stories and will think of their own experience. Tens of millions of men and women in the United States have been sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Not one of the 1 in 4 women and the 1 in every 6 men who have had that experience should ever have to feel alone again.
So often, the shame—the sense that “I am the only one, so it must be my fault,’’—perpetuates silence and isolation. But the odds are that you or at least someone you know is a survivor too. Someone you work, pray or eat with. Perhaps someone you confide in. Someone you love.
Each of us has the potential to help create a community of belief and acceptance. A community of support and non-judgment.
The list of institutions that have failed the children under their care is long, from the Catholic Church, to Penn State, to the Boys Scouts of America, and numerous other schools and athletic organizations. Despite these tragic failures, we do have the knowledge and the means to respond differently.
To address sexual abuse effectively and appropriately, institutions and organizational leaders must muster the same courage shown by survivors by:
- Taking allegations seriously and conducting full investigations—initially and no matter how much time has passed;
- Providing access to knowledgeable, survivor-centric resources;
- Identifying and removing individuals who have been accused of abuse and preventing them from working with young people; and
- Establishing comprehensive prevention programs within all organizations to create a culture that recognizes risk and promotes intervention before abuse occurs.
1in6 offers a wealth of tools and resources for men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences, as well as those who care for them. Among them: our Online SupportLine, which is available 24/7 for those looking to talk, and our free and anonymous Online Peer SupportGroup, which meets every Tuesday and Wednesday.
And anyone can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE to be connected to a resource in your area, or access RAINN’s online Hotline here.
The Joyful Heart Foundation website offers in-depth information about sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, as well as resources for survivors and for those looking to be supportive to someone.
You can also explore and distribute the Joyful Heart NO MORE PSAs, or the print PSAs Joyful Hear and 1in6 developed together for men, in your community. Our series of ads produced in partnership between Joyful Heart and 1in6 speak to some of the myths and excuses male survivors in particular are faced with.
And lastly, we invite you to practice care and compassion for yourself as this news continues to inundate our feeds, streams and screens. We have shared some ideas here.
The St. George’s School’s investigation remains ongoing. Regardless of how many more come forward, how many never will, and whatever the final findings, of it, there is one thing we know for certain: The healing journey is life-long. It is different for everyone. But it not something we have to go through alone. You are not alone.
By Steve LePore and Maile Zambuto
Steve LePore is the Executive Director of 1in6. The mission of 1in6 is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives. 1in6’s mission also includes serving family members, friends and partners by providing information and support resources on the web and in the community.
Maile Zambuto is the Chief Executive Officer of the Joyful Heart Foundation. The mission of the Joyful Heart Foundation is to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues.
Joyful Heart and 1in6 invite you to visit 1in6.org for info, options and hope, and to learn more about our partnership and Engaging Men initiative here.
Read more on the Joyful Heart Foundation blog