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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.
This is Part 2 in a series based on ideas from my book, (Follow the Yellow Brick Road: How to Change for the Better When Life Gives You Its Worst) applied to the world of men in recovery. In these first two articles, I outline the first principle from the book: We don’t change in Kansas, we change in Oz! (If you missed Part 1 you can read it here.)
The key to a successful journey through the Land of Oz is not what you do but what you don’t do. Don’t leave! The typical reaction to going to Oz is to panic and to try to get out of the Oz experience. If you remember, Dorothy wanted to get back to Kansas, ASAP. However the key to a successful recovery is to not panic, don’t react and don’t exit. Dorothy eventually chose to stay in the Oz experience and because of that she acquired all the benefits of staying (she melted one scary inner witch, got rid of a deceptively destructive wizard and developed and integrated Tin Man-love, Lion-power and Scarecrow-mindful knowing. She grew up).
Most individuals, when they are thrown into the Land of Oz, react with old Kansas (default) behavior patterns. Many people resort to addictive behaviors to get away from the Oz experience such as by excessive drinking, eating, sex, etc. Others use manic behaviors like over working. Still others become chronically depressed or identify as “victims” for the rest of their life.
John, a man I worked with who experienced ongoing sexual abuse by various men in his youth, reacted like Dorothy; he wanted out of his unsolicited unbearable dark-Oz experienceJohn held the experience at bay as a remote vague memory until the fateful day when a metaphorical tornado dropped him in the Land of Oz. He tried to escape. Unlike many in this situation, John did not use substances to escape. Instead John became manically involved in “working out.” One of John’s inner witches was the tremendous fear that he might be homosexual, a sexual orientation that did not fit with his sense of himself. So he manically tried to make himself “more male” by body-building. Of course, this did not work. So, like Dorothy, he eventually decided to stay on the Yellow Brick Road.
And if you stay in the process and see the Oz experience as an opportunity to grow and change, you have a fighting chance as well. Over the years, I’ve come to understand:
Oz happens! Life is difficult; we need to accept it. Instability is just as much part of life as stability. We get both. Interestingly, there is an uncanny power in shameless acceptance of what is. Remember: Pain faced with love will not harm you. Paradoxically, pain faced (thus felt) will eventually lessen the pain in the long run.
Face your witches. They melt. Witches can stay hidden in good times. However, like a virus, when life gets tough (tornados) the witches come out. If we run from them, they get BIGGER. If we face them, they melt.
For John, one witch was the fear that he was gay. In therapy, we faced this fear. As it turns out John was not gay—not that it would be a wrong if he were. But like so many men who experienced sexual abuse as boys, he was deeply confused by the experience. He also had to face the painful sense of betrayal, boundary confusion and distrust so common to adults sexually abused as children. And as he did, his inner witches began to (slowly) melt.
Can’t do it alone. Seldom can we stay in the Oz experience alone. Dorothy needed friends to be with her. And we need the support of our friends, organizations like 1in6, The Joyful Heart Foundation and The Good Men Project and often the help of a trained professional.
When we can endure the difficult or painful parts of the Land of Oz, we are then able to enjoy the wonderful aspects of Oz! People who can stay on this road less traveled—write the lyric, paint the work of art, love the beloved and sing with passion. In the Land of Oz we find Our Self and the Beloved. For those of us who can endure, the Land of Oz is a truly wonderful place
–By Sam Alibrando, Ph.D.
Sam Alibrando Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, CA. He has worked for over 30 years with individuals and families using a “collaborative healing” process, where the client and the professional team-up to achieve a therapeutic and growing process—together. Specializations include adults abused as children and sex addiction. Dr. Alibrando is nationally respected as an organizational consultant, speaker and author of Follow the Yellow Brick Road: How to Change for the Better When Life Gives You Its Worst. He served as President of the San Gabriel Valley Psychological Association and liaison to the California Psychological Association (CPA); Director of Fuller Psychological & Family Services; and as an Adjunct Professor at Fuller’s Graduate School of Psychology. Read more on the 1in6 Blog.
The mission of 1in6 is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier,
“Of course I need to feel ashamed,” I said sharply to the would-be healer of my soul.
“You don’t need to feel guilty,” or “You have no reason to feel ashamed,” are two statements that irritate me. I wonder how individuals can say those things. How can they possibly say what I need?
The people who say such things imply that if we see the logic of their statements—that we were innocent and did nothing to bring about the abuse— we simply flip the shame button to the off position. If only it were that easy.
If I could have cleansed myself from those negative emotions, I would have done so long ago. Instead, it took me years before I knew the freedom from those enslaving feelings. I don’t think I’m unusual.
People who try to talk us out of our emotions don’t understand us. Shame. Guilt. Low self-esteem. Loneliness. Pain. Those are natural reactions to what happened to us who were sexually assaulted in childhood. No one explained to us that something bad was done to us and we were innocent-but-needy kids. The neediness is where they exploited us.
For us as children, if something was wrong, it was our fault. If our perpetrators said they loved us, we believed them. When they no longer wanted us, we were certain that we must have made them angry. Why else would they reject us?
Too often, we rationalize the situation. For instance, at one time early in my healing journey I was a member of a group of 15 men who had been sexually assaulted in childhood. One man named Rob said, “If I hadn’t been such a good-looking kid he wouldn’t have bothered me.” He had been in therapy for more than a year and he was still blaming himself for being victimized. He was vocal about it; too many of us remain silent with similar (but false) explanations.
As young children, we didn’t have the maturity to know that we had been chosen by perpetrators because of our innocence and our neediness, and that it wasn’t our fault.
The testimonies that came out in the trial of Jerry Sandusky sounded like the story of which many of us could have related. A lonely boy, especially one from an impoverished background and certainly someone who didn’t feel loved or wanted, gravitated toward an adult who showed him attention. And why wouldn’t the child respond to kind gestures and to someone who asked questions and actually listened to him?
The perpetrator groomed the boy with gifts and even more attention. The adult listened with a show of sympathy to the kid’s sad tales. Unknowingly, the child’s “skin hunger” was so severe the boy was probably open to anyone who expressed interest in him. The perpetrator touched the boy—in the beginning, a pat on the head or a clasping of his shoulder. Sometimes a hug, but nothing more. The “more” came later to that love-starved child who felt special for the first time in his life. The “more” came at different times for each of us, but as our perpetrators gained our trust, we naively trusted him.
Regardless of when we felt the shame, we experienced it. We didn’t know the proper terms, but we certainly felt the emotions, and thought of ourselves as unworthy of true affection. Consequently, we felt bad. We weren’t mature enough to grasp that we were innocent.
If people want to help us heal, I wish they would say, “I’m sorry you feel ashamed. It must be a terrible burden.” If they speak to us like that, they not only show they understand, but they offer us comfort.
- By Cecil Murphey
Cecil Murphey wrote, When a Man You Love Was Abused and Not Quite Healed with survivor Gary Roe. Murphey is the author or coauthor of more than 130 books including international best-sellers, 90 Minutes in Heaven and Gifted Hands: the Ben Carson Story.
1in6 Tumblr turns 2 today! 1in6 Thursdays #Blog Posts. Take a break, educate yourself and find #hope.
“In memory of our dear, dear friend, Heidi”, from the Founder and Executive Director of 1in6.
February 27, 2014
Founder, Executive Director