A couple of days ago a posted about the reaction I usually get from feminists when I talk about male sexual abuse. I mentioned the level of condescension that many feminists show and how it can have a very clear silencing effect on male victims who may come forward.
The other side of that issue is the reaction from the people running the groups and human services departments that largely exclude male victims. Since the needs of female victims have been established as real and legitimate problems, very few of the people running those services are sympathetic towards male victims who also want access. A recent article best demonstrates this:
Tom Mahowald feels he’s being abused again by a system that doesn’t provide services to men who were abused.
He believes men are 20 years behind women in getting help with peer support groups. “We’re like the silent majority, we don’t speak up,” he said..
“It’s not just me, it’s a national issue,” he said. “There is nothing around here for support groups” in Winona, Rochester or LaCrosse, Wis. Women “get grant money and state funding,” which is good for women, but men need help too. There should be equal services, he said. He said he tried to get something started in the Twin Cities, and had names of 15 men but didn’t get anywhere with those controlling the money. “In many cases, they view us as the enemy because we’re males,” he said.
The response from the Human Services Department? It is rather interesting:
The Minnesota Department of Human Services said it doesn’t fund such groups and doesn’t know of any funding sources for groups like Mahowald wants.
Linda Billman, supervisor of child and family services for Olmsted County, said the county doesn’t set up such groups and wait for people to show up. “Those things just don’t exist for people to show up. You have to show a need,” she said.
Or people in her department might see a trend in their case loads, such as many people having the same issue, and try to find a group that can set up a program.
Her advice to those wanting a program is find others also interested and contact someone, such as the a director of family services in a county, and see what kind of help can be offered. You have to speak out to get help, she said. It’s not that the government is against men, they are often silent, she said. “There is such a shame factor in talking about it,” she said.
The advice Billman gives is rather interesting because that is exactly what Tom Mahowald did and nothing came of it. Likewise, many of the services provided to women are created without an influx of women demanding assistance or without a wave of cases coming before human service departments. Historically, many of the existing services available to women went underused until more women were made aware of them and — more importantly — greater effort was put into getting women to come forward. The impetus was not placed on women, but rather it was placed on society at large to firstly change their opinions about female victims so that women would come forward and secondly to provide those women with help regardless of whether they had requested it or not because women at some point may want it and need it.
Yet Billman’s advice to male victims is for them to prove they actually need it, to earn the support or essentially demonstrate that they really deserve help. In short, Billman’s advice is little more than condescending victim-blaming. This is what many victim advocates deal with on a fairly regular basis. There are literally people who seem to forget that they create services for women even when the services are barely used or not even requested. These people also seem to forget that the way to get more victims to come forward is to give them the support they need so that they have the means and support to be willing to take that risk.
Yes, there is a shame factor that keeps male victims from coming forward and, just like feminists, people like Billman are part of that shame factor. Male Survivor is an excellent example of people realizing that there was a need for a safe place for male victims, so they created the site and it took several years before it became the well-networked organization it is today. Back when it was NOMSV, it had few visitors and few posters. It was only as it site became more public and more men and boys became aware that there was a place they could go that it grew.
The same thing is true offline. If the services were provided and the effort was given to ensure that men and boys knew about them, the services would be used. In this instance there really is no excuse for not providing help to male victims, particularly since virtually everyone agrees that male victims are significantly less likely to come forward on their own. However, this is what it looks like when advocates for male victims try to get funding for services. Rather than being given any legitimate credence or any acknowledgment that male sexual abuse is a legitimate issue and should be prevented, they get Billman’s “if it was a problem more men would come forward” attitude.