One of the counsellors who works at SurvivorsUK, Sarah Van Gogh, has written a book about helping male survivors of sexual abuse to recover and move on in their lives. The book is published this month. Here is a short extract from the introduction:
“Men who have experienced sexual violation often have a kind of invisibility in the world. They are not prominent in literature about therapy, in research about sexual violation, or even generally in the public awareness, although this has begun to change recently in the aftermath of the revelations about high-profile predatory figures in the media world and the abuse of young males in football and other sports. But, on the whole, the idea of a man or a male child being raped, sexually abused, manipulated or used by another is still a deep taboo for many people.
If we cannot face this taboo, we are collectively failing to look into the reason behind an enormous amount of suffering …
Sadly, even some in the caring professions continue to feel that there is something so grotesquely awful and unthinkable, so incomprehensible – or even downright unbelievable – about a man or boy being sexually hurt or objectified, that they fear they do not have what it takes to be able to work with this issue or do not wish to even attempt it. In a systematic review of research published online in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, only 22% of people using statutory mental health services are ever asked by mental health staff about previous experiences of abuse. Of those who were asked, women patients were far more likely to be asked than male patients (Read et al. 2017).
In nearly 20 years of working with male clients who have experienced sexual violation, I have seen a common factor which enabled them to feel less in pain, less alone, more hopeful, and better able to look after themselves and heal from their trauma. This common factor was that the man coming for help was offered a combination of three things. First, warmth and care from whomever worked with them. Second, the opportunity to think rigorously about whatever they are bringing into the consulting space. Third, that the work can happen in the context of a boundaried relationship with a person whom they trust and by whom they feel respected.
I have written this book to encourage and embolden those in the helping professions who think they might not have the capacity or skill to support this client group, to trust that they certainly can be of use to them, whenever they offer this combination of warmth and rigorous thinking within the context of a secure therapeutic relationship.”
So far the book has received some extremely positive reviews, including one from Professor Brett Kahr, Senior Fellow, Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology, London, and Senior Clinical Research Fellow in Psychotherapy and Mental Health, Centre for Child Mental Health, London. Professor Kahr says: “This key text provides a valuable resource for all those working with male survivors of sexual abuse. Sarah Van Gogh has written with great intelligence, with tremendous sensitivity, and with distinct literary flair. Readers will be extremely moved by her unique compassion for male survivors of abuse and trauma, and clinical practitioners will learn a great deal from her many years of experience … this book has the potential to save lives.”