Male survivors of sexual abuse find support with Charlottetown group
Men Matter program offers space for men to come to terms with sexual abuse they suffered
A P.E.I. support group is helping men open up and come to terms with sexual abuse they suffered.
The Men Matter program, which is funded by the P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre, has been around since 2015. Since that time, it's helped about 40 people, according to Ian Forgeron, one of the facilitators of the program and a clinical social worker who works in mental health.
"It's very unusual to have a standalone program for this type of service for male survivors of sexual abuse. There were only three in the country at the time that we had done the initial needs assessment and research," Forgeron said.
1 in 6 men
Forgeron said one in six men have experienced sexual abuse, a figure that might be underreported. Part of the problem is that men are told to keep things inside and not show weakness, he said, so admitting to being a victim takes a lot of courage. The common time someone discloses sexual abuse is in their mid-40s, he said, while the abuse typically happens when they were children.
It takes a long time sometimes for people to pick up the phone and make that first phone call.— Ian Forgeron
"A lot of men wouldn't have disclosed any of this information to anybody about sexual abuse from their past," he said. "It takes a long time sometimes for people to pick up the phone and make that first phone call."
The program, based in Charlottetown, works in two phases. The first is a 10-week education program that is aimed at increasing knowledge of the impacts of abuse and expand coping skills. The second, which is optional for men, is a more intensive group session that goes deeper into healing strategies that focuses on sharing stories and working through challenges.
Forgeron said there are a lot of emotions that come up with addressing past sexual abuse and it can be retraumatizing for the men.
'Absolutely worth it'
"When the men start sharing some of their story, it's really about getting them talking in a safe and stable manner," he said. "But when they do feel safe, when they feel comfortable, it's very interesting. They all are very supportive of one another. The group allows people to feel normalized ... that their reactions are normal to a very abnormal situation."
Every week, he said, people tell him they didn't feel like coming and it was difficult to attend, but they're grateful they do go. He said sometimes the men don't say anything for weeks but in the end find the courage to talk about their past and the challenges they face in everyday life. The program is free and offered based on when they reach a critical mass of eight to 10 men to hold the weekly sessions.
"It's terrifying," he said, "but it's absolutely worth it."
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With files from Island Morning