THE Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse has brought news about the sexual abuse of children in institutions – in the past and present – into hard focus. Many of those known to have been so abused are boys, an unknown but likely large number of whom tell no one or delay reporting it for years – on average 25 years, according to both local and international research.
Four years ago Survivors & Mates Support Network (SAMSN) was established as the first national not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing emotional and practical support to male survivors of childhood sexual abuse and their families.
Since 2011 the network has conducted groups and workshops for men and their supporters. A significant number of men who have completed one of our eight-week groups have engaged with the royal commission and still others are considering making contact.
Survivors & Mates Support Network was established by our own fund-raising efforts and a small community grant from the City of Sydney. What we didn’t anticipate was the avalanche of disclosures triggered by the state inquiries in NSW and Victoria, and the national royal commission and the sudden demand that would create for our service.
At a public forum late last year, the head of the royal commission, Justice Peter McClellan, reported that on average, 10 victims are registering with the royal commission every day. The five commissioners have heard over 1100 personal accounts of childhood sexual abuse with another 1000 survivors already registered to attend private sessions.
Last month, the royal commission’s chief executive, Janette Dines, went public with the first official statistics released by the commission. These revealed that 65per cent of the people attending private sessions have been men, thereby backing up the research that shows that it is more common for boys to be abused in institutional settings.
Not all survivors have supportive family and friends to lean on. Nor can they afford to pay for professional help. We know that victims of abuse are over-represented in our jails and that this kind of trauma can lead to a lifetime of depression, failed relationships, isolation, drug and alcohol dependence, compulsive gambling, and in many tragic cases, suicide.
Men sexually abused in childhood are particularly vulnerable to suicide, reporting suicidal ideation at 10 times the rate of a community sample of Australian men. Forty-six per cent of male survivors report suicide attempts.
Newcastle has been rocked by a number of suicides by male survivors. In Ballarat the death by suicide of 34 men sexually abused as schoolboys at the hands of two perpetrators has been substantiated by the Victorian inquiry.
The exact numbers of suicide by survivors of childhood sexual abuse will never be known but the fact that children are losing their fathers, wives their husbands and parents their sons, in many cases without really knowing why, is tragic. This is the insidious nature and hidden social and economic cost of childhood sexual abuse.
With the right kind of professional support, understanding and mateship, men struggling with the adverse effects of childhood sexual abuse can recover to lead a full and rewarding life. Contrary to popular belief, when men feel safe to do so, they do open up and talk. We have witnessed the incredible healing power that occurs when the isolation is broken and men start to realise that they are not alone and not to blame.
As public awareness grows, our hope is that politicians, the general public and community leaders will appreciate the need for specialist services for both female and male survivors of childhood sexual abuse and do what they can to help us to continue to deliver our service to men and their families.
Please consider helping us to work with survivors or contact us for more information at samsn.org.au
Craig Hughes-Cashmore is co-founder and director of Survivors & Mates Support Network