*Trigger warning: this article talks about abuse against children.
A 2019 Polished Man beneficiary, Survivors & Mates Support Network is helping men who’ve lived through abuse with a community-focused approach.
Twenty-five years. On average, that’s how long it takes men who’ve experienced sexual abuse as children to tell anyone. And nearly 60% of survivors are aged 50 or over at the time of their first private therapy session.
“There are many men who don’t know where to turn for help,” says Craig Hughes-Cashmore, CEO and founder of the Survivors & Mates Support Network (SAMSN), a not-for-profit that provides direct support to men who have experienced child sexual abuse.
A 2019 Polished Man beneficiary, SAMSN was founded in 2012 with the goal of building a support network; a place for survivors to turn to, speak freely, share their experiences and begin to recover. SAMSN employs psychologists and social workers who have in-depth experience of working with male survivors.
One of the reasons for the quarter-century silence is the difficulty of coming to terms with the idea of being a victim of child sexual abuse and a man, says Hughes-Cashmore. “It challenges the traditional notions of manhood,” he adds. “This societal mindset leaves many survivors ashamed, silenced, confused and ill-equipped to deal with the challenge of managing this alone.”
Other contributing factors include outdated stereotypes and notions of hypermasculinity (a psychological term for the overemphasis of stereotypical male behaviour), much of which is taught to boys from a young age (have you ever heard ‘boys don’t cry’?) and carried unknowingly into adulthood. Then there’s the common misconception that sexual abuse only happens to women and girls.
To help fight this largely invisible and hard-to-detect problem, all SAMSN services are free of charge. They include professionally facilitated peer support groups as well as one-to-one counselling.
SAMSN follow a trauma-informed approach, which leads with the question ‘what happened to you?’ as opposed to ‘what’s wrong with you?’. SAMSN’s eight-week support groups help survivors recognise that they reacted to something that was done to them, something that should never have happened to them. “They are victims of crime,” says Hughes-Cashmore.
SAMSN also offer supporters workshops, to give friends and family members tools to offer the best support possible to the male survivor(s) in their lives.
The access to other survivors through the SAMSN groups and broader network means survivors are able to share stories with people who’ve lived through similar experiences. “Isolation is the enemy to recovery,” says Hughes-Cashmore. “Being connected to other survivors breaks down isolation and self-blame and gives men a voice not to be ashamed.”
Stuart, a 59-year-old survivor and client of SAMSN, found comfort in the community aspect of the groups. “At the first night of my SAMSN group, even before a single word was spoken, I knew that here were nine men who understood more about me than all of my psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health nurses – even my wife,” he says.
To date, SAMSN has facilitated support groups across New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and South Australia. Of the attendees, an enormous 82 per cent have gone on to complete the eight-week groups.
As well as supporting organisations like SAMSN and getting involved in initiatives like Polished Man – which at time of writing has raised over $1 million towards ending violence against children – there’s a lot the average Australian can do to help.
On a personal level, it’s important to listen, says Hughes-Cashmore. “Really listen,” he adds. “And if someone tells you they have been sexually abused, believe them. Stand alongside them – be a mate. You can’t undo what happened, but you can make a big difference in a survivor’s life if you stand with them, through the ups and downs of recovery.”
And if you suspect someone of being a perpetrator of abuse, or of being the victim of ongoing abuse, report it.
For men dealing with the effects of childhood sexual abuse, SAMSN suggests first reading about the topic. This is a non-threatening way of exploring the issue, and allows survivors to explore themes in a safe space. Seeking help from a qualified professional and experienced therapist is the next important step.
“Recovery is not about forgetting,” says Hughes-Cashmore, who was in his 30s when he went to the police about sexual abuse he suffered as a teenager. “It’s about learning how not to let your past define who you are and dictate your future. And being able to access both professionals and those with lived experience – who have survived – provides a model of hope; of belief that recovery is achievable.”
When joining the Bank Australia fundraising team this October we’ll chip in $10 once you raise your first funds, and an extra $10 when you raise $100.
f you are worried about unhealthy, abusive or violent behaviour in any of your relationships, or or someone you know, contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au for online chat counselling, information and referrals. This service is free, confidential and available 24 hours, 365 days.
In an emergency, call the police on 000.