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No More Silence: It’s Never Too Late to Start Healing

This video started with a conversation. Anthony Newcastle and I and our colleague Gordon Glenbar were discussing how to reach out and offer support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men who have been sexually abused in childhood. Many of these men have told us privately and professionally that they will never speak publicly about what was done to them, how difficult it is to access support, how they do not know who to trust, and how they are unsure if healing is even possible.

The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has highlighted the high rates of sexual abuse of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children within government and church run institutions and community settings, and the need to improve responses. Many Australian First Nation communities are dealing with the legacy of colonization, the forced removal from ancestral lands, the placement on missions, the fracturing of clan groups, the denial of language and culture, the stolen generations, and resulting inter-generational traumas. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are 2-4 times more likely to be sexually abused in childhood, 6 times more likely to die by suicide, and male life expectancy is reduced by 10.8 years.

It is in this context that the conversation about raising awareness and improving support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men who have been sexually abused was started.

–Gary Foster, Living Well

Discussions at Didgeri                                                    

Every second Sunday I run ‘Didgeri’ at an inner city park in Brisbane. Didgeri is an Aboriginal men’s didgeridoo group. Didgeri has between 9 and 15 men. Didgeri is a place where we as Aboriginal men gather and learn the didgeridoo wind instrument as a way to connect or re-connect with culture and heritage. It is also a place where we talk about community, identity, culture, raising kids, problems, family, and being a good dad or husband. No alcohol or drugs, no carry on.

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It was at Didgeri, standing with three or four men, all leaning on our didgeridoos, that I raised the idea of the men supporting men who had been sexually abused as children. We talked about community and advocacy responses to women who have been sexually abused, which so rightly exist. None of us could think of a group established for Aboriginal men who were sexually abused as boys. We talked about the idea of us coming together to create a video that would make a public statement as an expression of solidarity and support for our brothers.

We discussed how if we did this, we would be giving voice to something that is almost invisible. We would be saying “No More Silence.” We talked about how the taboo around this issue makes it difficult to speak about, how men found it difficult to talk with their families about why they are coming apart at the seams. Men do what men too often do: push it down, ignore it, drink your way through it, yell at it, yell at others, feel ashamed, feel responsible, feel judged, feel alone, blame yourself, but don’t talk about it. As one man said:

“How the bloody hell do you talk about it anyway, and to whom?”

Making the video                                                                                                

Eleven of us gathered at the Multi-cultural radio station in Brisbane. We started with only one person in the studio, the camera operator, and myself. We wanted to remove any shame-job. But with eleven Aboriginal people together in a waiting room, people started talking about who their mob was and where they were from. Family reconnections were found. “Hey, your mob from Roma? Your uncle is George from that cattle station? That’s my uncle too, that’s my tribe, we cousins.”

As personal connections were made then people started pairing up, saying, “Do you mind if I do it with Wayne, because he is my cousin and we never met before.” Others would say things like, “Brother, I never done anything like this before, can you sit with me and do one together?”

Before we knew it everyone was in the room supporting each other with comments like, “Oh that sounded deadly (really good) what you said then sis.” Or, “You two fellas look and sound good there when you said that.” Ownership had shifted. The participants were making suggestions and talking about how good a project this was.

It was on this day in the studio that some participants first spoke of how personal this was for them, their families and community. Members of the Didgeri had not spoken before about this. The gathering became an opportunity to talk and make a difference. The mood in the room changed, embracing connection, listening, caring, sharing and laughing together, offering support and genuine regard.

I am pleased every day that Aboriginal men stepped forward and with women to put their face and voice to raising awareness and offering support to men who have been sexually abused in childhood, as well as their families. This is the traditional way, our community coming together, taking action and responsibility for our community’s well-being.

–Anthony Newcastle, Natjul.com

We wish to express our appreciation to the men and women who have supported the development of the No More Silence: It’s Never Too Late to Start Healing video. This video reflects the power of everyday community members to make a difference. It is intended to start a conversation—please share!

Gary Foster B.S.W. PhD is the founder/manager of the Living Well service that provides counselling and group support to men who have been subjected to childhood sexual abuse or adult sexual assault, as well as to families and communities (see livingwell.org.au). His Doctoral Thesis ‘Male Rape and the Government of Bodies’ examined the limits of current understandings and governmental responses to the problem of male rape. Gary has presented at national and international conferences on improving therapeutic and practice responses to men subjected to sexual violence. He co-authored Living Well: A Guide for Men and developed the Living Well App for men.

Anthony Newcastle is an Aboriginal man originally from the Northern Territory. He has lived in five states and worked with Aboriginal communities in regional, urban and remote Australia. Anthony has a background in community development with two experiential learning visits to India as part of Community Aid Abroad exchange. A didgeridoo player, actor, playwright and cross cultural awareness programme facilitator, Anthony has worked with government, community and corporate sectors to develop and deliver cultural competency training. He is currently studying for his Masters in Narrative Therapy and Community work, an accredited counsellor and conflict resolution facilitator working primarily with families, men and young men.

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