#DenimDay to end the myths like “it can’t happen to boys” Patti Giggans @PeaceOvrViolnce TY!
April 17, 2014
“A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback, transporting the person back to the event of his/her original trauma. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli that they think triggered the flashback. They may react to this flashback, trigger with an emotional intensity similar to that at the time of the trauma. A person’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.”1
This article is about triggers and it may trigger readers, so please go slow and back away if you need to for self care.
I have had over five years of therapy, speak publically at least twice a month, write over two dozen articles a year and hear from survivors every day, yet I still find I get emotionally triggered at times. We moved back to Portland recently and I found a street near our apartment that made my stomach get in a knot every time I drove there. There is a retirement center on that street where my abuser took me once. I waited in the car while he went in. I don’t remember what happened before or after that stop, but whatever it was, it wasn’t good. The memory makes me feel like someone else’s property. A thing.
Since my realization, I have made it a point to go to the coffee shop across the street from that center to change how I feel about being in that place on earth and to take back my power. I don’t want him to own that space or me.
Two days ago, my wife and I drove to the Oregon Coast. She drove a route that took us through Corvallis where we both attended college. I originally went there six months after my abuse ended. I have discussed this period in my life with my therapist and written about it in my book, but when we drove down that road I went to a place I did not remember. I felt overwhelming despair and oppression. Even my breathing became shallow. I don’t think in all my recovery work I have ever really gotten in touch with just how disconnected I was, with no direction or grounding, and completely out of control. In hindsight understanding that explains a lot.
It turns out that one of my longest standing triggers (and most destructive) has been my aversion to people who I perceive have power over me. I have changed careers six times. Each time I felt like power was being used over me, I literally walked away from everything, including moving my family to a different town.
I recently found myself in a similar situation and, with the help of some loving friends and family, I changed my response. I sat down with the person in power and told them how it made me feel and then a true miracle happened. I set limits. I told them what I needed going forward. I actually protected myself in a healthy way.
Remember in the first paragraph how there is a tendency for survivors to avoid activities that trigger their trauma? In my life, I want to identify my triggers so I can learn to change the outcomes. There are places no one should have to go, especially without support. Safety is critical to address these issues. For me it feels like the right time, and I have the need to go back to reclaim my life. I need those pieces to feel whole again. A healing journey leads to hope and grace. May it be so.
1 PsychCentral. “What is a Trigger?” http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-a-trigger/0001414.
- By Randy Ellison
Speaker, writer and author of the book Boys Don’t Tell: Ending the Silence of Abuse, Randy Ellison is a child sexual abuse victim’s advocate and an activist promoting cultural change working with local, state and national organizations. He addresses abuse prevention and healing for survivors from a survivor’s perspective. Randy is a member of the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force. He is a founding member and former board president of OAASIS, Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service.
Randy recently received the Diane Sandler Award for his work in education, awareness and prevention of sexual violence in Southern Oregon.
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.
The views expressed above are not necessarily those of 1in6.
Taking back the week & Posing with our @1BlueString guitar at #Oxy Come get a string! @projectsafe @peaceOvrViolnce
April 4, 2014
Many people have asked me how I came to “work for men.” Meaning, men who had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood. I often describe it as my aha moment. It truly felt like a part of my brain suddenly turned on. With a spark of energy—no—a lightning bolt, my purpose (and my mistakes) were exceptionally clear to me! I realized, men are a vulnerable population, worthy of healing and not just for the purpose of preventing violence against women. The statement alone is easy enough to get on board with, right?
I’m sure we all feel pretty special when we experience a moment of enlightenment. I’m confident that I’m not the only person who realized that there is a true need to develop trauma-informed services for men who experienced childhood sexual abuse, or other childhood traumas. But this moment, for me, was pivotal and life changing.
As a young advocate, I was working for the Women’s Center of Jacksonville in Florida. I took my job, and myself, very seriously. I lived in the environment of “the movement”. I worked for and with women who were pioneers in the struggle for women’s equality and the battle to end violence against women. Everyday, I felt as if I was literally walking the halls of history. I had purpose. I attended my allotment of protests and spoke on my soapbox when given the opportunity. With a fist in the air and a picket sign in the other, I would end sexual violence.
I genuinely carry this enthusiasm and purpose with me to this day. Only today, I carry it better informed and with a wider lens, thanks—in particular—to a group of students in Jacksonville, Florida.
In those days, I was teaching Sexual Violence Prevention Education (to anyone that would listen). My students varied—from professionals interested in improving their programs to sixth graders learning how to assert their boundaries. I felt informed and appreciated by them. Little did I know, the students that would teach me the most would be behind bars.
Every Friday morning I taught two sexual violence awareness and prevention classes for an addiction rehabilitation program at a correctional facility. My first class was a group of 80 men, the second class was comprised of 50 females. We gathered in a small mess hall for 60 minutes to discuss the various types of abuse and how to prevent them. For many, a small room with 80 male inmates might feel very intimidating. I was intimidated by the responsibility and the challenge. Sure, there were times when I felt less than 100 percent safe, but it didn’t take long to create rapport and a safe environment. There were very few instances of inappropriate behavior.
I felt safer than I’ve ever been. I acquired 80 big brothers intent on protecting me from the new entries who were yet to feel the validation and empathy our class provided. Sometimes, a new student would wink, blow me a kiss or call me “baby.” As unsettling as that may seem, I knew I was on the right track when one of the old-timers stood up and said, “We don’t talk to Ms. Martha that way, she is here because she cares about us and reminds us that we are worthy.” New students quickly learned and adopted the same attitude as the others.
Everyday, we closed our classes with a rousing group mantra, “You are my brother and you are worthy.” We yelled, loudly, like we wanted the world to know it. Indeed, we did.
For many, abuse has a way of obliterating the self-worth of the survivor. It was common for students to feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame due to the decisions made while in the grip of a numbing addiction. And so the cycle continues. They saw themselves as unworthy, as so many survivors of sexual abuse do.
So by safe environment, I mean to say, a safe space for adult men to accept information about an issue they are mostly held as responsible for, sexual abuse. I walked in with the intention to teach men not to be abusive and to help the women cope.
Looking back, I feel that my lack of awareness was deplorable. Sure, I educated and I validated the oppressive nature of male stereotypes, gender roles and their negative relationship to sexual abuse. I pointed out the social norms that forced men to live up to hyper-masculine ideals, leaving many silent and emotionally stunted.
I was validating to create empathy.
I quickly introduced the female version and its negative stereotypes, and watched them empathize. I saw genuine understanding for women and the effects of sexual violence.
It was a sham. Not intentionally, not with malice. But it was. My intentions were to create a safe space to talk about women and prevent violence against women.
Yet as soon as they were able to identify women as victims (not that many didn’t already), so were they able to identify their own experiences as abusive.
The disclosures started pouring in and despite the program staff’s best intentions, the intensive mental health options were next to minimal. With our eyes now wide open, we carefully created a curricula for healing. Yet, we all knew it wasn’t enough. We knew they were at high risk for relapse and recidivism. We knew we had opened up a can of worms and that there would be no resources for men who had experienced sexual abuse.
We were bringing wounded people into a correctional facility and sending wounded people out.
Our conversations changed, we explored healing, assertive behaviors and self-esteem. For both the men and women, we taught each other to stand again. Regardless of their recent actions, they were worth healing. We didn’t fix the system, we acknowledged a need. I created what I could to address that need. I addressed my own ignorance and I found my worth in the lessons they taught me.
Years later, during an early morning run for coffee I heard a faint yell, “You are my sister, You are worthy! You are worthy!” A repetitive chant seemingly directed at me. As the the sound came closer I saw him, the employee came close and repeated the phrase. I recognized my former student.
I recognized my brother’s worth.
- By Martha Marin, Managing Director for 1in6
Martha is a Colombian native raised in L.A. and South Florida where she received a B.A. in Business Management from the University of North FL. She brings us a unique set of skills acquired from many years of for-profit management and a deep dedication to human rights. As a Program Coordinator for the Women’s Center of Jacksonville and FL Dept. of Health, she taught thousands of students on topics related to the prevention of sexual assault including cyber bullying, LGBTQ/sexual harassment and teen dating violence, as well as human trafficking. Martha is a public speaker, consultant and professional trainer.
Most recently she served as the Chair of the Northeast Florida Human Trafficking Coalition. Her international projects include a large-scale bi-lingual internship for the USAID Scholarship for Economic Education and Development at FL State College at Jacksonville.
March 28, 2014
In a very surprising and rare occurrence in a debate about Child Sexual Abuse Prevention trainings on the floor of the Utah State Senate, three male Senators disclosed their personal experiences of sexual abuse and attempted abuse as children. The three men disclosed openly and publicly during a floor debate on bill (HB 286) proposed by Angela Romero of Salt Lake City. The bill would allow public schools to teach children, age-appropriate instruction on how to recognize and report abusive acts. The new law was up for a full vote after having passed unanimously through the Utah House and a Senate sub-committee. The bill would provide instruction to children on how to be alert to inappropriate touch, keeping secrets, and telling a trusted adult.
The disclosures came during a debate on a challenge to amend the bill from a parent-permitted class, “opt-out,” to an “opt-in,” where parents would have to sign a note allowing their children to attend the session. This change would severely “gut” the bill because parents may not notice the note, children sometimes forget to bring notes back and forth, or parents potentially refrain from signing permission because there may be abuse in the home.
Senator Aaron Osmond from South Jordan, UT said “as a child, I was the recipient of abuse by a non-family member. It was a devastating experience to me personally.” He discussed how his family didn’t talk about these things and he guessed that his parents would have probably missed the notices from school. “This isn’t a discussion about sex or sexuality,” Osmond said, “this is about recognizing that it is okay to say “no” and to stop an adult in any setting, whether it is in the home or in school or any other environment where they feel unsafe… but there are multiple parents in our society who are so stressed out, working multiple jobs, they will not engage on this issue and the child will be vulnerable”.
Another Senator, Daniel Thatcher spoke about his assault in 7th grade. He fought back and screamed and someone heard him and came to his rescue but not before the male assailant had “ripped the zippers off my pants.” “This is happening ‚“ added Thatcher, “andstatistically, Aaron and I are not the only members of this body who have had these experiences as children.”
A few minutes later, another Senator, Todd Weiler, talked about a “grooming” experience he had while at a Mormon Scout Camp. He said it took him about 5 years to figure out that the incident was probably a practice to molest.
The role of parents in giving permission for child abuse prevention classes and the way that they give it or withhold it has been an issue discussed for many years and the general wisdom is that “opt-ins” don’t work and school districts usually give parents the right to “opt out.”
What was striking in this debate, was that three adult men in one Senate session were moved to disclose that they were familiar with the issue of child sexual abuse and had been directly affected as young boys. They made very powerful statements in a very public space and they stood up for children gaining information and knowledge about a subject that needs to be discussed in schools.
To me this is a clear sign that abuse of boys is finally coming out of the shadows as men disclose, discuss and stand proud to protect children — all children. Thank you Senators from Utah, for OPTING IN and SPEAKING UP!
- By Patti Occhiuzzo Giggans
Patti Giggans is the Executive Director of Peace Over Violence. Peace Over Violence is dedicated to building healthy relationships, families and communities free from sexual, domestic and interpersonal violence. She is also the Vice-President of the Board of Directors for 1in6.
NO MORE. Strong words.
We’ve thought them, we’ve said them, we’ve worked on getting up the courage to speak them, we’ve shouted them, we’ve gone back into our pasts and spoken them to those who perpetrated against us. NO MORE.
No more what? No more abuse. No more sexual violence. It must end.
To bring an end to these epidemics, much has to change: societal attitudes, funding priorities, misplaced shame that survivors carry around with them every day. Over the past several years, activists, professionals and leaders from across the country have joined together to create NO MORE, a mutli-faceted movement to end domestic and sexual violence against women, men and children.
Today we’re highlighting a part of the NO MORE movement that points to an important reality—1 in 6 men in the United States had an unwanted or abusive sexual experience in childhood. Those 19 million men—men from every race, ethnic group, social class and region of the country—are our fathers and our sons, our brothers and our life partners; our friends and our colleagues.
The Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by actress and advocate Mariska Hargitay, in partnership with NO MORE and 1in6, a leading organization providing support and information to male survivors of childhood sexual abuse, today launched a new print series of the groundbreaking NO MORE PSA campaign.
In recent years, we’ve begun to hear more from men about their experiences of being sexually abused as children in families, neighborhoods, schools, athletic programs and faith communities. But, despite the diversity of these disclosures, our fixed and narrow ideas about how “real” men should respond to abuse can still limit our understanding about its actual impacts. What’s often lost is the fact that even the seemingly successful, strong, stoic and unemotional men we’re taught to admire, may very well be dealing with the effects of childhood sexual abuse.
This campaign is designed to challenge those mistaken ideas about men’s emotions, their successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses, their courage and shame.
If we are to become a society that engages openly about these issues, if we are to be a society that prioritizes healing, that makes it safe for a man to say “I was sexually abused as a child,” that celebrates a man’s decision to speak out without the concurrent belief that he is somehow weak, or damaged, or beyond repair, or that he owes some kind of explanation for how such a thing could happen to him, if the vision of such a society inspires us, we must say NO MORE to the prevailing attitudes that have cemented these issues in place for so long and made them so intractably difficult to change.
A most vexing feature of those attitudes is that they are so often unspoken, woven deep into the fabric of our thinking—and our interactions with survivors. If we answer that statement with “We don’t have contact with any survivors,” let us think carefully about that 1 in 6 statistic. We interact with people who have suffered this kind of violence every day. And it is often those distorted expectations about men, which we’ve all learned, that keep us from creating—and being—a safe setting where a survivor can let his guard down.
The spirit of this campaign is counter-cultural: it seeks to reverse the silence and stoicism that is imposed on boys as a norm at an early age. And make no mistake, those same standards are often already at work within the survivor, who may reprimand himself with destructive messages like, “If I’d been a real man, this wouldn’t have happened to me,” “I just need to get over it,” “It wasn’t that bad, and it was a long time ago, so why am I making such a big deal about it?” By joining in and reinforcing those attitudes as a society, we practically guarantee men’s silence, and can postpone the possibility of healing.
And so we say: NO MORE.
All survivors—women and men, boys and girls—have suffered enough. It’s time we spoke openly, intelligently and compassionately about the men who have suffered the trauma of abuse, trauma that is often locked, powerful and raw and unprocessed, in the core of a person’s being.
We know that with support, men are healing, men are changing and living full emotional lives.
There is much to say and much to learn, and it begins with NO MORE.
Steve LePore is the Executive Director of 1in6. Peter Hermann is a founding board member of the Joyful Heart Foundation.