About a dozen male survivors of sexual abuse are starting a weekend of recovery near Thunder Bay on Friday.
They’ll hear that healing is possible, especially when men do not try to do it alone. That's Jim Struve's message to men in the northwest who have suffered sexual abuse.
Struve’s own abuse started when he was just six years old. Now he's a psychotherapist based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has facilitated more than 140 recovery retreats in the US and Canada. This is the first retreat he's facilitated in northern Ontario.
"A lot of what we're doing ... is helping men to feel safe socializing with other men. Sexual abuse isolates," he said.
Struve noted survivors battle painful stereotypes.
"Even if you were six years old like I was, [people think] I should have been strong enough to not let someone hurt me. And if I did, I'm not a man because I didn't stop it," he explained.
It’s powerful when men arrive at a retreat and realize they're not alone, he added.
Breaking the silence
According to statistics from the Thunder Bay Counselling Centre, one-in-six men experience sexual abuse in their lifetime.
Clinical services manager Abi Sprakes said victims in northern Ontario grapple with specific challenges.
"One … is the size of our communities, so that often becomes a barrier [for] men coming forward because they are concerned about … anonymity or confidentiality," she said.
Many men in northern Ontario are dealing with sexual abuse suffered in residential schools.
Sprakes added the weekend's retreat is one way to break the silence.
It’s also a time when the abused can unload some burdensome baggage.
"When a girl is abused by an adult, they're raped or sexually assaulted," Struve said.
"When a boy is abused, [people say]
, 'well you must have liked it, well what did you do that you asked for that?’"
In addition to the Weekend of Recovery, the Thunder Bay Counselling Centre has a program for male survivors of sexual abuse that offers individual or group counselling and support in-person, by phone or online. The program was established in 2011.