Blue Light Derby Hill Camp
For Female Survivors, Male Survivors
The Blue Light Derby Hill Camp in Maldon recently played host to an intensive weekend workshop for victims of sexual abuse. Some two dozen abuse survivors travelled from across Victoria and as far as Canberra and New South Wales for the event.
What made this group different was that all the victims were men. Two things to unite a disparate group: All men; All victims of sexual abuse - each with a desire to travel their own difficult road towards recovery. There could hardly be a more dissimilar group in terms of ethnic background, social status and age. Talking with these guys, I heard stories that will haunt me for a long time - like being at an accident and not being able to look away in time.
We were encouraged not to judge each other's experiences in terms of severity; surprisingly we were all able to leave our competitive spirits behind. I never once heard the likes of "You think that's bad listen to what happened to me."
What I did hear was "Thank God I didn't have to go through that." There was so much acceptance: We are guys with a difficult episode in our personal history that severely affected our ability to trust; to enjoy life; to experience intimacy. For some it was a single event; for others the abuse had gone on for years. For some it happened when young; children and adolescents, others were adults.
Some perpetrators were male; surprisingly many were female - sisters, mothers and school teachers. Some of us were abused by strangers; most were not - we suffered at the hands of brothers, fathers, uncles, grandfathers and family friends. As well as foster home and orphanage employees, teachers, employers and clergy.
Yet we are united in our desire to go beyond merely existing. We want to go from survivor to thriver where we can acknowledge the experiences we have endured but refuse to let those experiences define us as men. We are men of worth who want to be victims no longer.
So we consider ourselves the fortunate ones; we have been able to find help. Like many male survivors of sexual abuse - adult or child - we know what it feels like to have our story not believed, belittled and trivialise, or ignored. That's why so many men are not in a position to get - or accept - that much needed help until 20, 30 or even 40 plus years later. At Maldon, I saw men weep who hadn't been able to cry for decades - at last they were in a safe place to release some of the hurt.
We are grateful for the World Wide Web, that can teach us that there is something called 'Male Rape Syndrome'; that there are experts out there who can help. More importantly we learn that we are not alone - there are others out there who have gone through similar experiences. We have sought help and found it. We have found safe places - facilitated by organisations like CASA - where we can retell our experiences.
As we progress on our journey towards recovery, some of us have been fortunate to be able to meet up with other men in self help groups and have found valued validation of our feelings.
As we talked and listened to each other into the small hours of the morning, one thing struck me that I had heard but not really absorbed: Every one of us used the language of violence in describing what had been done to us. Sexual abuse is violent abuse - ALWAYS, EVERY TIME, WITHOUT EXCEPTION.
As a child, I had no-one that I could turn to for help. No-one that I could rely on to defend me from my abuser. At Maldon, we had the opportunity to release some of our anger by hitting a punch bag with pick-axe handles. It meant so much more to me to be able to ask another person to metaphorically stand in and confront my abuser for me. The hug we shared afterwards will last a lifetime.
It was truly cathartic to hear similar stories of threats, fear, control, intimidation and isolation. To be able to finally accept that I was - am - in no way responsible for the wrong that was done to me has been a major step for me in my recovery journey.
It feels good to know that it is normal to ask for help to get through the living nightmares that follow being sexually abused. It feels good being able to share with fellow victims some of the small steps of progress that you have made. It feels good to be accepted - even when your secret is out.
Highlight of the weekend? Sunday morning - before breakfast - outside the dining hall, talking with one of my fellow survivors - a scary, hardened aboriginal guy who, 36 hours before, claimed never to have cried in the previous 18 years - next thing I know he's choking back the tears, asking for a hug. For the next 10 minutes he's crying like only a grown man can - sobbing his heart out as 18 years of pent up emotion spills down my shirt. I'm glad I was there.