A special education and awareness program being undertaken by UniSA's Research and Education Unit on Gendered Violence may be making all the difference for male victims of child sexual abuse.
The program to educate health care workers and professionals about the impact of child abuse on male survivors is targeting the complex psychosocial outcomes that are the aftermath for the one in six men believed to be survivors of child sexual abuse.
Led by Dr Patrick O'Leary, the program has taken as its starting point some of the troubling facts about the impact of child sexual abuse on men.
"What we know is that children suffer from being sexually abused but men and women have different ways of expressing that trauma in later life," Dr O'Leary says.
"For male survivors, sexual abuse undermines their very sense of what it is to be male. Because the dominant notion of masculinity in society is heterosexual - men who have been sexually assaulted by an adult male feel confused by the experience and can be hesitant to talk about it for fear of being labelled homosexual."
Dr O'Leary said while almost 70 per cent of male victims remember that they would have liked to talk to someone about the problem at the time, only about 30 per cent of them did.
"The pattern we find for men is that they keep quiet about it," Dr O'Leary says. "And generally this is because they are afraid of the perpetrator, who often uses violence and threats as part of the abuse, and they are afraid that people will think they are less of a man or homosexual. This is especially the case for boys who have been repeatedly abused. The victims tend to believe that as males, even if they were only young, they should have been able to fight off the assault or they should have been strong enough to resist the intimidation."
Dr O'Leary says research shows men who did disclose what had happened were often met with an inadequate or inappropriate response.
"Many men don't disclose for decades, and many others report that when they did tell people as a child, they were not believed or the whole thing was brushed under the carpet with no support offered to help them deal with it," he said.
"It is within that context that we have found male survivors have ongoing problems related to the abuse."
And as Dr O'Leary reveals the statistical picture is bleak.
Research samples show that up to 90 per cent of male victims of sexual abuse don't finish high school and other socio economic disadvantage follows. Only 10 per cent are in paid employment and just three per cent own their own homes. Victims are 10 times more likely to report strong suicidal thoughts and almost 66 percent qualify for a clinical diagnosis of depression or post traumatic stress disorder. Many victims also report an overriding fear that they will go on to become abusers as a result of the sexual abuse they experienced.
"The recurring themes for male victims of sexual abuse are confusion, feeling things will never improve, feeling afraid to tell, feeling that they were to blame, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, intense anger and suicidal thoughts," Dr O'Leary says.
"Our education program, being conducted in conjunction with Women's Health Statewide, Uniting Care, Adelaide and Respond SA, is an effort to share this information about the experience of male survivors with people at the front line of human services and health care so that support can be offered to men."
The education project includes a seminar series with an outreach into rural South Australia. The seminars have been delivered to more than 200 human services workers in metropolitan Adelaide, the Riverland, Mt Gambier and Port Pirie, and 4000 copies of a brochure dealing with the issues, Things can change for the better, has been produced for distribution across the state.
"The project is helping to break down what have been some intransigent stereotypes for both male survivors of child sexual abuse and for those health and welfare professionals who may be able to help them," Dr O'Leary says.
"Men who reveal their experience of abuse need to know some key things - that they are believed; that they are not freaks or alone in their experience; that it was not their fault; and that there is support and help they can access. If we can educate more people about the impact of child sexual abuse and how to support male victims I think we can help men on a path to emotional recovery."
A conference for professionals and interested members of public entitled Building Capacity for Understanding and Working with Adult Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Assault will be held on November 10 and 11, 2005 at UniSA's Magill campus.
As part of this ongoing UniSA research, adult male survivors are invited to participate in an anonymous questionnaire about their experiences with human service, health and welfare workers and to assist in evaluating the brochure. Survivors are further invited to take part in a focus group which aims to highlight information that they regard as essential for workers to understand when engaging with adult males who have been subjected to childhood sexual abuse. For further details please contact the Project Officer, Tammy Hand on 8302 4066 or email firstname.lastname@example.org