Nova Scotia

Halifax social worker calling for more help for male sexual assault victims

Social worker Robert Wright says conservative statistics show about one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, which highlights the need for more funding to help male victims in Nova Scotia.

'There really has not been any focused service delivery for male-identified victims,' says Robert Wright

Social worker Robert Wright says conservative statistics show about one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, which highlights the need for more funding to help male victims in Nova Scotia. (CBC)

Amidst a funding and staffing crisis at the only sexual assault centre for women in Halifax, a social worker is calling for more help for male sexual assault victims.

Robert Wright, who works in private practice, runs a confidential support group for men who have been sexually abused. The group meets twice monthly.

In the last fiscal year, ManTalk and New Start — another group that provides counselling to men who have experienced sexual assault — received $26,000 each from the province's sexual violence strategy.

Wright said the funding for those two groups is a fraction of what the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre receives from the provincial government. Avalon provides a wide range of services to women and is the only sexual assault centre in the Halifax area.

Sexual assault statistics

Wright said conservative statistics say that one in three women and about one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

"That means that the incidence of sexual abuse of men and boys … it's not a small number, it's about half as many as women," Wright said.

"And yet despite that high level of incidence, other than the services I've mentioned, there really has not been any focused service delivery for male-identified victims."

Wright stressed he's not advocating that Avalon get less money.

This is an illustration used in ManTalk, a Halifax support group for male sexual assault victims in Halifax. (www.robertswright.ca)

"We always want to affirm the need for services for women who have been sexually assaulted," he said.

"We're just adding to that conversation to say that as we address those issues, we also need to be aware that the fathers of those women, the siblings of those women, the partners of those women and the sons of those women are being sexually assaulted at just about half the rate of women — which is still a sizable number of men —and that we need to find ways to support, treat and advocate on behalf of those men and boys if we do not want the harm to continue."

According to its annual report for 2016-2017, the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre received $409,000 from the provincial government and its counselling program provided 1,872 individual counselling sessions to 391 clients.

Since 2011, more than 70 men have attended ManTalk. Wright's practice also provides individual counselling and advocacy work and training with men, but on a much smaller scale than Avalon provides to women.

'Would probably be dead'

One Halifax man who has been part of ManTalk for the past 7 ½ years said without the group, he "would probably be dead."

He said he was sexually assaulted by a friend's older brother when he was about 11 or 12 and then raped by a male acquaintance when he was 25-26.

"It's one of the few places ... where I can go and feel myself, be myself without being anxious ... I hear the stories that they talk about," said the man, who asked not to be identified.

"I can talk about my own and I'm … comfortable enough to do that. If I'm out in public around other people, I'm just not comfortable."

The retired nursing home worker is now in his 60s and said he did not pursue criminal charges in either case.

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca