Child sexual abuse has a significant impact on all survivors. Today, we look at the specific impact on male survivors and the support that is available for them, including:
- The definition of child sexual abuse;
- The general impact of child sexual abuse;
- The emotional consequences of child sexual abuse;
- Male child sexual abuse and the barriers to coming forward;
- Counselling and support available for male survivors;
- How the National Redress Scheme and civil claims can work to provide financial redress to survivors.
Understanding Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse is not easy to precisely define: It covers a broad range of behaviours, and is sometimes not completely remembered or understood by survivors. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) offered the following definition of child sexual abuse:
Any act which exposes a child to, or involves a child in, sexual processes beyond his or her understanding, or contrary to accepted community standards.
Expanding on this definition, the Royal Commission identified sexually abusive behaviours as including:
- Fondling of genitals;
- Oral sex;
- Vaginal or anal penetration by a penis, finger, or any other object;
- Fondling of breasts;
- Exposing the child to or involving the child in pornography; and,
- Child grooming. This means actions taken with the goal of befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, in order to lower the child’s inhibitions prior to intended sexual activity.
Often child sexual abuse is accompanied by other forms of child abuse, including physical and emotional abuse. Where the child abuse occurs at an institution, such as a church or school, it is often referred to as ‘institutional abuse’.
The Impact of Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse affects every survivor in different ways. Many individuals suffer significant consequences to their:
- Mental health. Survivors commonly experience post-traumatic stress disorder (‘PTSD’), anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation;
- Physical health. This may result directly from the sexual abuse itself, or indirectly due to the impact of mental health and addictions on physical health;
- Economic circumstances. Evidence shows that survivors often experience a significant negative impact on their earning capacity throughout their life;
- Sense of culture and connection to their community. In some cases, there is a stigma within the community for survivors of child sexual abuse. In other cases, individuals feel compelled to reject their religious community where abuse occurred.
The Emotional Consequences of Child Sexual Abuse
In Psychology Today, Beverly Engel set out some of the common emotional responses to child sexual abuse experienced by adult survivors. These include:
- Confusion: Some survivors are not sure what to make of their experiences, and whether they should be classified as abuse. In some cases, pleasure from stimulation is interpreted as ‘wanting’ or ‘inviting’ the abuse. In still other cases, survivors have ‘dissociated’ from the abuse –feeling as though it didn’t happen to them;
- Shame. Some survivors experience a sense of shame with respect to their abuse, and feeling ‘dirty’;
- Fear. It is common for adult survivors to retain a residual fear of the abuser, or society’s perceptions of them;
- Denial. As a coping mechanism, survivors may deny that abuse has occurred, or while accepting what has occurred, deny that it was abuse.
For more information see Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse: It's Never Too Late to Start Healing
Male Child Sexual Abuse and Barriers to Coming Forward
There are some special challenges that face male survivors of child sexual abuse. While the proportion of those reporting sexual abuse who identify as male is increasing, there are still significant barriers for those survivors.
A 2013 report (the Report) from Victoria’s Department of Human Services It happened to us Men talk about child sexual abuse shed some light on male child sexual abuse in Australia. As for female survivors, that report identified that it was common for abuse to be carried out by older male family members or trusted adults such as teachers and members of the clergy, rather than by strangers.
The Report identified, however, a range of barriers to coming forward and seeking help which are somewhat or wholly male-specific. Barriers that were identified by male sexual abuse survivors included:
- A perception that male survivors themselves going to become abusers;
- A stronger implication compared to female survivors that they must have ‘enjoyed’ or ‘wanted’ it;
- The notion that survivors were likely to be homosexual;
- A suggestion that survivors must be ‘weak’, or have diminished masculinity to have allowed the abuse to occur;
- Societal conditioning which discourages males from seeing themselves less as ‘victims’, making them less likely to come forward.
The report also identified that many male survivors of child sexual abuse reported difficulty in forming mature relationships as an adult. Some of the reasons reported for this include:
- A general reduced ability to trust others;
- Difficulty and confusion in intimate and sexual relationships. For some survivors, sex triggered memories and emotions related to prior abuse;
- The impact of mental health issues, and related issues such as alcoholism and drug abuse on relationships.
Many also reported that it has impacted on their parenting, including:
- Difficulties in physical closeness with children; and,
Counselling and Support Available for Male Survivors
A lack of support mechanisms for male survivors of child sexual abuse has been recognised as a gap in current provision in Australia. However, important sources of support include:
- National sexual assault, domestic family violence counselling service. This provides confidential counselling 24 hours a day, seven days a week;
- Blue Knot Foundation. This provides phone and email-based support to adult survivors and is available 9-5pm seven days a week;
- NSW Health Sexual Assault Services. This site sets out the support services available, facilitated by the NSW state government
- Survivors & Mates Support Network (SAMSN). This non-governmental organization provides group support to male survivors of child sexual abuse.
It is important that in supporting anyone who has suffered abuse, survivors are treated with sensitivity in order to prevent revictimization. For more information see How Can You Help Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse?
Redress Schemes and Compensation
If you would like to make a criminal complaint about child sexual abuse, we encourage you to go to the Police who have vastly improved the way in which they deal with sexual abuse complaints in recent years.
If you suffered child sexual abuse in an institution, it may be possible for you to apply to the National Redress Scheme (‘NRS’).
The NRS is a support scheme created and administered by the Commonwealth Government to provide redress to adult survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. The NRS, instituted as a response to the Royal Commission may provide for:
- funded counselling and psychological services;
- a direct response from the institution;
- and/or a redress payment. All redress payments will be between $10,000 and $150,000.
Note that this scheme is only available for child sexual abuse (not for other forms of child abuse), and only where it was committed at or in association with one of the institutions (such as a church or government department) that has signed up to the scheme.
In some cases, you may also be able to bring a civil claim in the courts for personal injury or negligence at an institution. Note, that accessing the NRS will limit your ability to bring a civil claim in court.
If you are considering the NRS or suing an institution or individual for compensation, it is recommended that you seek the advice of an abuse law specialist.
Child sexual abuse happens to both males and females. In the case of male survivors, there are some specific barriers to coming forward. All survivors should be encouraged to access free counselling and psychological support from the sources listed in this blog post.
Survivors should also consider seeking a financial payment from the National Redress Scheme, or, in some cases, bringing a claim for compensation in the civil courts against the abuser or institution. For more information on these options, it is recommended you seek out professional legal advice.