Fathers with a history of child sexual abuse: New findings for policy and practice

CFCA Paper No. 6 – July 2012

Next steps

Very little research has investigated how child sexual abuse influences men's perceptions and experiences of fatherhood, and there is limited knowledge of this issue among practitioners and policy-makers who work to support men, parents and/or families. One of the main purposes of this current paper is to raise awareness of this important issue, which is likely to affect a minority, but still substantial number, of Australian men. It is hoped that by raising awareness more research will be conducted on this topic and greater numbers of service providers, practitioners and policy-makers will begin to consider how the trauma of child sexual abuse can influence men's experiences as fathers. It is likely that service providers, practitioners and policy-makers will need to play a leadership role in promoting awareness of this issue, because, as was explained in an earlier section of this paper, there are strong disincentives to male victim/survivors themselves revealing their difficulties with fatherhood.

Although increased awareness of this issue is important, some words of caution are necessary. We need to investigate and raise the profile of this group of men, whose abusive history often lives on both in their views on fatherhood and their relationships with their children. We need to further investigate the ways in which our society understands and constructs gender and sexual violence and how this may be compounding the difficulties of male victim/survivors of child sexual abuse. Yet too often when men are framed as the victims of violence, the issue is co-opted by what Flood (2004) called "angry men's movements" - socially conservative, anti-feminist men's rights and father's rights groups - in whose hands the recognition of men's pain can easily become an instrument of division, rather than an opportunity for understanding and healing. As Flood argued: "let us acknowledge and tackle the ways in which men are hurt and disempowered, but not do this, as men's rights does, at the expense of women or gender justice" (p. 275). Indeed, many of the insights of feminism - such as the ideas that identity is socially constructed, that it is important to understand the particularities and contexts of peoples' lived experiences (e.g., their gender, race and sexual preferences) and that gender can both constrain and enable life opportunities - offer a clearer understanding of the difficulties faced by male victim/survivors (Foster, 2011). The challenge we face is to explore and raise awareness about this issue without minimising the role that men and dominant constructions of masculinity play in the perpetration of sexual violence, without using language and arguments that create an attitude of competition - of "us versus them" - between men and women, and with methodologies and practices that are informed by nuanced understandings of trauma, gender and sexual violence.