I found powerful and surprising insights from my involvement in sexual abuse support groups.
I had assumed that Sexual Abuse Support Groups would typically divide based on gender. However, my research found that some abuse support groups merged male and female survivors. I imagined the drawbacks of mixed groups, but I had never considered the potential benefits.
I had previously described my disappointing and somewhat humorous attempts to locate a local sexual abuse support group.
I'm calling to see if you have a support group for victims of sexual abuse?
"Yes, ma'am we have support groups for women," she said. "We have the knitting circle, the Facebook chat group, or the chocolates and coffee abuse book group. The books cost 10 dollars but the chocolates are free."
"Pardon the interruption, "I said, "but I'm not a ma'am. I'm a sir."
After a period of extended silence she said, "Well, you wouldn't be able to attend any of the groups since they are for women only."
"I understand", I said. "I do not want to attend that group. I'm looking for a group for men who are survivors of sexual assault and abuse."
"Well, we don't have one of those", she said.
"Do you know where I might be able to find one, I asked?"
She said she had never heard of one for men and abruptly ended the call.
I decided to try again and called the next organization on my list.
But I had learned my lesson and I lowered my voice a full octave to make sure they knew I was male.
With the advent of the pandemic, many groups went online and I made connections with one. I am delighted with my experience but admit that it was not what I expected.
Sexual Abuse Support Groups Are available for women and men.
If you read the Google and Bing search results, you might conclude that sexual abuse support groups were solely for women based on the sheer volume and the targeted audience.
But if you look a little deeper, you will eventually discover 1in6, an excellent resource for men who have experienced sexual abuse or assault.
I was interested in the 1in6 program, but a friend recommended a different group.
I called the recommended group and was immediately impressed by their friendliness and professionalism. In addition, they had recently switched to Zoom meetings that I could quickly attend.
I asked if there were groups specifically for male abuse survivors. I don’t know what I expected, but her answer surprised me.
Some abuse support groups Intentionally merged men and women.
I was invited to a group designed for mixed genders to meet.
I admit I had some reservations. I could see some potential drawbacks based on my own experiences.
Several years ago, I helped deliver food to a battered women’s shelter.
The volunteers were warm, friendly, and grateful, but the shelter residents viewed me in fear, confusion, and mistrust because I was a man. I represented the face of their abuser.
I assumed that I would raise the same response in the abuse support group. But I was still a man.
I fretted that I would trigger them unintentionally and invade their safe space.
I worried that I wouldn’t be vulnerable or honest due to the presence of women in the groups.
I feared they would view my suffering as somehow less than their experiences.
The benefits of mixed-gender sexual abuse support groups.
I finally decided to attend one of the mixed-gender groups, and I am glad.
As a man, I learned to listen, empathize, be fully present in the moment, and ignore my instinct to try and fix things immediately.
In the process, I learned a new vocabulary to describe what I had experienced and a safe place to share it without shame.
I saw the healing power of a vulnerable, vocal, and fearless community on behalf of its members.
As women, they became a part of my healing community.
I observed the impact that the presence of men in the group had on women. I saw women learning to interact with men not as potential predators but as fellow survivors.
In the process, they encountered men who did not see them as damaged goods but as individuals worthy of honor and respect.
I saw the healing power of a story that was heard, believed, and grieved by both genders.
As men, we became a part of their healing process as well.
One word of caution. A mixed-gender group is not for everyone. Some individuals need to be in the same gender group. Attending a mixed group is not better or a sign of maturity; it’s another option.
There are a variety of organizations that are available for sexual abuse and assault survivors. I highly recommend SASA Worldwide and 1in6 for additional resources in finding a sexual abuse support group near you.
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