Improving policy and practice responses for men sexually abused in childhood

ACSSA Wrap No. 12 – November 2012

Introduction

Child sexual abuse is a well-recognised problem, with substantial evidence indicating many of those victimised experience deleterious effects as adults. It is recognised as a gendered crime, with girls more likely to be subjected to sexual abuse than boys and men representing the overwhelming majority of those perpetrating abuse. Acceptance of the extent and veracity of this problem, as well as awareness of the long-term impacts of sexual trauma, has primarily arisen because of the political and social action by the women's movement over the last 30 or more years. Consequently, most practice and policy initiatives have reflected a primary focus on responding to women as survivors of sexual abuse. Nevertheless, there is now a growing research and knowledge base on both the long-term impacts on men of childhood sexual abuse and on the importance of developing ways to moderate these negative outcomes.

In this Wrap, we discuss improving policy and practice responses to men sexually abused in childhood. A gender analysis is utilised in presenting key aspects of the current research knowledge on the extent and impact of child sexual abuse on men, on barriers to disclosure and on men's preferred methods of coping. In examining service development, we suggest the issue benefits from being conceptualised at a macro level as a public health concern, drawing upon the learning of women's initiatives and recent men's health strategies in ways that attend to diversity. This public health approach is useful in that it emphasises the importance of creating comprehensive and targeted awareness campaigns, supported by the enhancement of practitioner knowledge and skill to ensure appropriate responses at first contact, and at specialist and mainstream services. In noting current interest in improving service responses to men in Australia, we present evidence that highlights the importance of building connections, of actively reaching out and engaging men, of encouraging group work options, of supporting partners and enhancing relationships, and prioritising hope.