‘Breaking the silence is where everything starts’: Men affected by sexual abuse share their stories
February 01, 2018
Women are not the only individuals facing sexual assault, rape or societal stigma — but under the guise of society today one might think so. Approximately one in six men face sexual assault before they reach the age of 18 according to a national page for male survivors.
Yet many of these stories go untold, unshared and buried inside.
Centre County is not above this statistic, and The Centre County Women’s Resource Center (CCWRC) is raising awareness to combat the illusion that men cannot be victims too. Beginning today, and all throughout February 2018, a series of events catering to being inclusive of male survivors of sex abuse will take place across Centre County to combat harmful stigma.
The CCWRC held an event that displayed “The Bristlecone Project,” an ongoing documentary that collects the stories of male sex abuse survivors — along with hosting a panel consisting of male survivors, including teens and local human service professionals. Testimonials and information were provided for the needs of the community.
Jordan Gibby, prevention educator at the CCWRC, explained that there needs to be a sense of vitality in society in regards to being inclusive of all genders that face childhood sex abuse and sexual assault in their adult lives.
“Many men feel very alone in this, especially because some of the difficulties for men in speaking about things like this, [are that] men are supposed to be ‘tough’ and not be vulnerable — to man up and handle it on their own. Right?” Gibby said.
The documentary, “The Bristlcone Project: Men overcoming sexual abuse and assault,” highlights many men who explain they believed they were the only people who had experienced sexual abuse as children and young males.
“They can hurt your flesh, but they cannot hurt you spirit,” David Washington, a man in the Bristlecone Project, said.
There is a strong definition of manhood generated by society that consists of false realities, and Gibby explained that society tends to equate manhood with lack of emotion.
The notion is pushed that men cannot display an ounce of weakness, that they must be stoic and unmoving figures that are not allowed vulnerabilities. The men affected by sexual assault who came forward explained that their live-changing moment came when they acknowledged and announced their stories; however, a public announcement is not a requirement for healing.
Teenagers also took a stand at the event.
Thomas Williams, a 14-year-old male who said he was a survivor of incest and child-on-child rape, from Altoona Area Junior High School, said he “wanted to give a perspective to all kids that they have a voice and that they can speak up.”
Williams said his perpetrator, a half brother, threatened to kill him if he told anyone about the abuse, so he kept quiet.
Founder of the Bristlecone Project, David Lisak, talked of the stigma that men who were abused as children are automatically assumed to transition into abusers as adults.
A sexual abuse expert on the panel discussed how victims of sexual abuse either pull in, isolating themselves from society due to their experiences, or they lash out, and harm society due to their experiences.
“Breaking the silence is where everything starts; that is where the survivor realizes, ‘If I talk about this, the world is not going to explode,’” Lawrence Conrad, panelist and male sex abuse survivor, said
Gibby explained that due to the socialization in society, men often feel isolated and alone in their problems stemming from unwanted sexual experiences, and sexual violence. However, he said he has seen success with men coming forward and speaking up about their past. The act is very powerful, Gibby expressed, due to men’s recognition that they are not as solitary and different as they may individually feel.
One man also affected by abuse as a child, Chris Sims of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, explained that his mother would caress him, put pubic hairs in his cereal, and began making him watch porn with her at age 7. He stated that isolation is the enemy to discovery.
“They recognize that they are not alone, that this has happened to others,” Gibby said. “The Sandusky scandal showed us it happens to boys in our community, and that was just a glimpse”.
The CCWRC provides a 24/7 hotline available 365 days a week for anyone to call who has experienced unwanted sexual experiences, who face post traumatic stress and/or for people who wish to remain anonymous, yet still want to reach someone. The hotline is run by volunteers within the community that go through an 80-hour training course, which certifies them in Pennsylvania as crisis counselors for sexual abuse and domestic violence.
The goal of the CCWRC is to get ahead of the sexual abuse and violence people face, and then prevent it before it can ever begin victimizing people in the first place.
The CCWRC not only promotes awareness, it provides services for both men and women to help combat stigma. Giving those who do not a have a safe space, an area to come and have a voice. Gibby states the name ‘Center County Women’s Resource Center’ may be misleading, but the goal is to shift the narrative of assault being restricted to one gender.
Services such as: 24-hour hotline —1-877-234-5050 — individual counseling, support groups, legal advocacy and representation, medical l advocacy, housing and shelter, sexual violence protection orders and more are all available for men and women. All services are free.
You do not have to have experienced sexual assault yourself to reach out, if you need assistance with someone you know who has, the CCWRC provides help with this as well.
There will be future awareness and information sessions at the following times and locations:
Millheim: Feb. 3 – 1:00 p.m. at the Green Drake Gallery and Arts Center
Bellefonte: Feb. 15 – 6:00 p.m. at the Centre County Library
Philipsburg: Feb. 17 – 11:30 a.m. at the Holt Memorial Library
The CCWRC maintains that all events and services are open to all members of the community, whether or not their lives have been directly affected by sexual abuse.