By Kate Hawkins
Paul Leduc was about five years old when a close family friend and neighbour first sexually assaulted him.
“I didn’t dare tell anyone what happened… I just kept it to myself, and things got worse and worse for me,” Leduc told Men’s Health last October.
“I had constant nightmares, couldn’t sleep. I was so full of shame and guilt and embarrassment. I just felt worthless,” he says.
“Survivors always do.”
With the growing attention on sexual assault and the victim blaming of women, “rape culture” is a common theme in North American media. Very rarely, however, do stories about the sexual assault of men receive news coverage, according to author Philip W. Cook.
In his award-winning book, Abused Men: The hidden side of domestic violence, Cook says “abused men fail to complain to police at an even greater rate than their female counterparts. Males are 11 per cent less likely than women to report any type of violent crime in which they were victims.”
Cook claims “the commonly held [belief] that men are almost always more physically aggressive than women and that women display more indirect or displaced aggression [is] not supported.”
According to Statistics Canada, “an estimated seven per cent of women and six per cent of men in a current or previous spousal relationship encountered spousal violence during the five years up to and including 2004.”
Cook’s research suggests that male sexual abuse is happening. Not just to children, but to adults as well. Not just by male abusers, but also by female abusers.
Now 24, Leduc is a lively University of Ottawa student pursuing his second undergraduate degree in health sciences. And he is responding to the trauma he experienced as a child in a new way.
Leduc’s experience has motivated him to start his own non-profit organization, the Canadian Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse (CSMSSA).
The organization funds counselling services and provides legal support to male victims who choose to confront their abuser in court.
“As a survivor of sexual abuse, I had great difficulty finding affordable therapy in order to begin my healing. [CSMSSA] has since grown to include community support and court preparation… we offer methods of complementing traditional therapy,” Leduc says.
Although services for male victims are limited, there are other organizations in Ottawa that are dedicated to helping male survivors of abuse, such as The Men’s Project.
The Men’s Project was founded in 1997 when its organizers recognized the lack of specialized services for male victims, according to Wesley Moore, clinical services coordinator at the organization. He says the Project engages 150 to 200 victims every year.
Its services include individual and group counselling for male survivors of childhood sexual abuse and individual counselling for men who have been sexually assaulted as adults.
“Occasionally we run a partner program for partners of men who have been sexually abused as children and we can offer them individual counselling support as well,” says Moore.
Moore is quick to address the stigma most male victims of abuse face.
“Traditionally, there has been more support and attention paid to women’s services and the reasons for this are both cultural and political,” he says.
“We still have a long way to go. As far as we know at this time, Ontario is the only provincial or state jurisdiction in North America to provide government funding specific to male victim services,” says Moore.
While resources in Canada are limited for male survivors, 1in6 is an organization based in California that strives to fight this stigma as well, and often works in partnership with The Men’s Project.
The organization provides resources to help victims heal, including a 24/7 hotline.
Steve LePore, co-founder of 1in6, says the organization addresses male abuse primarily through its awareness programs.
“There are so few organizations that serve men specifically… [1in6] really came out of a collective of a group of folks who saw the need for services for men, understanding there were so few available,” LePore says.
Currently, 1in6 has two international awareness campaigns, including the 1bluestring project.
“The idea is to distribute blue strings, the low e-string on the guitar. It’s based on the statistic that one in six men suffer childhood abuse, so one in six of the guitar strings are blue,” LePore says. “We ship thousands and thousands of them out for free.”
“We created a campaign where you could show your support and carry the message, without having to say a word,” he says.
The project has been a success so far, with the participation of celebrities such Guns N’ Roses lead guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal.
The second awareness campaign is The Bristlecone Project, which records the biographies and healing journeys of men who have been abused. Survivors have their picture taken, and then their photo and narrative are published on the 1in6 website.
“We have a long waiting list… Survivors are really encouraged, and non-survivors are really taken by the courage that these guys have to put their face and their words… on to the website,” says LePore.
He emphasizes the importance of these projects in helping men in the healing process. Although there are numerous ways sexual assault survivors can heal, LePore says therapy is another way that has been proven to work in the past.
“We do know that therapy is almost always a good thing, if you have the right therapist. We do know that group [therapy] can be a good thing, if you feel encouraged and liberated by the discussions. Sometimes groups are not good, because it’s just a rehashing of war stories, and guys leave groups feeling triggered,” LePore says.
“Because we’re all individuals and because each of our situations are so different it’s hard to say that there is one thing or another thing that is best and works in all cases,” he continues.
Michael Dorais, a professor at Laval University and author of several books on sexuality, writes in his book Don’t Tell: The Sexual Abuse of Boys, that “to be an ex-victim or to share the life of an ex-victim is somewhat like having to relearn the business of life and how to live it. In short, it is to dare to educate ourselves out of our own pain and the pain of others.”
As Dorais explains, overcoming sexual abuse is a lengthy process, and one that can affect not only the victim, but those who surround the victim.
For Leduc, coming forward with his story was an important first step towards healing.
He says by sharing his story, getting therapy, confronting his abuser in court, and now moving on to help other men, he feels as though he has reached a place of healing.
“One of the messages that was delivered to me that I will never forget was: ‘You’ve done nothing wrong, wrong was done to you,’” he says.