There’s a growing trend in Ontario.
Men are speaking out about the sexual abuse they have suffered and demanding resources, or setting up their own groups, to access support.
“We call it the MenToo movement,” said Bob McCabe, a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest.
The abuse started in 1963 when McCabe was 11. He didn’t tell anyone about it for 29 years, when he finally told his mother. It took another two decades for McCabe to speak out publicly and take legal action against his perpetrator.
“I can take myself there in this moment,” he said, recalling why he kept quiet. “I can’t tell anybody what he did because he is God and who is going to believe me over God?”
The perils of silence
A report done for Canada’s Justice Ministry indicates about 13 per cent of men in Canada are sexually abused. The same report entitled “Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse”, by Susan McDonald and Adamira Tijerina, found that most men don’t tell anyone.
The authors cite shame, embarrassment and fear that no one will believe them as key reasons for the silence.
That was the case for William O’Sullivan (Sully) of Welland, Ont.. He too was abused by a priest when he was a child and then again as a teen.
Like McCabe, he has taken legal action against the church. Like McCabe, it took years for him to admit what had happened.
“Men don’t get raped you know,” said O’Sullivan. “That was the stigma growing up. So I just buried it and put it in the closet and kept it there not realizing how it actually affected my life until I was older.”
The effects for McCabe and O’Sullivan were years of substance abuse and broken relationships.
“At 58 years of age, in 2010, I’m a failure in life,” said McCabe. “I haven’t seen my kids in how many years? I have been through three relationships. I’m a failure as a husband, I’m a failure as a father, I’m a failure as a son, I’m a failure as a brother I’m a failure as a friend or employee. What a waste of flesh.”
Other males survivors express similar feelings, including O’Sullivan, who spent years in-and-out of jail to support his dependency on drugs and alcohol. “I would just rob, con and steal to get my drugs.”
He’s been sober for nine years.
Silent no more
Now, O’Sullivan is demanding action from church leaders in the form of an apology and calling on society to do more to help men.
For more than 18 months he’s been picketing every Sunday in front of St. Kevin’s Parish in Welland. He calls his actions the “Sully Movement.” He wants greater accountability and he wants to be heard. It’s a very public display after years of “…hiding in a closet.”
McCabe is also demanding more action to help male survivors of sexual abuse.
He’s in the midst of a fundraising campaign to open a support group for men. It will be modelled after another group that has two chapters in Hamilton and St. Catharines called “Hope for Men”.
“There aren’t enough supports for men,” said McCabe. “And, how do you help someone when they have nowhere to go?”
But, MeToo for men?
Londoner John Swales has long been trying to help male survivors of sexual abuse after he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a priest when he was a child.
Swales is reticent about piggy-backing on the MeToo movement that was launched by women to raise awareness about the pain and suffering they’ve experienced at the hands of men.
“You know there are challenges,” he said. “It is a contentious hot issue.”
Swales said he sees two key issues: men are more likely to be perpetrators of abuse or violence against women and where would the funding come to support men’s programs?
The London organization that supports female survivors of sexual violence, Anova, said on its website that funding is an issue when it comes to helping men.
“At this time, Anova is unable to provide shelter or counselling support to male-identified survivors due to lack of funding and resources, which is an undeniable barrier to survivors wanting support and healing.”
Support groups starting
Swales is adamant that funding for men “…must not result in women’s programs being cut back in any way,” he said.
But, Swales believes helping men would be good for everyone.
“To support men is to support women, is to support children, is to support their families. We can choose be a non-supportive society or we can be supportive. I mean hurt people hurt people.”
He’s started a peer-support group in London called “Opening the Circle.” It runs on the fourth Wednesday of every month in London and is open to anyone impacted by adult or childhood sexual abuse, including family members of victims.
Bob McCabe said after 50-plus years of silence, he too has started a charitable organization, called “Recovery Speaks”. His goal is to start a support group for men and to pay for professional counselling for those who can’t otherwise afford the service.
“It’s huge to be able to give someone hope. There is life after sex abuse.”