By Valerie McMurray – firstname.lastname@example.org – Staff Writer
Sexual violence is pervasive in our society, affecting men and women equally, although sometimes in different ways, according to Ezra Post, a licensed clinical social worker, OurVOICE counselor and coordinator of the One in Six support program for male victims.
Post said he is concerned about the effects of insidious trauma.
“That’s trauma that’s all around, that’s oppressive. It affects us physically. It’s a public health concern as well as public safety concern for everybody, whether you’ve been raped or you know anyone who’s been raped or anything like that. You still live in a society where it affects the air, and so it affects you. The fact is, it’s not just a women’s issue, it’s everybody.”
Post spoke alongside Jill Moffitt, assistant vice chancellor of student life at UNCA, at a training seminar for fraternity members in Highsmith Union’s Alumni Hall on March 3. The annual training, hosted by SPEAK Up, a student organization whose mission is to educate the campus community about sexual violence, initiated prevention and provides support for affected students. Members presented hypothetical scenarios to a male audience, intended to help the students identify where they can intervene and prevent sexual violence.
Moffitt said all athletic teams are slated to receive a similar talk at the end of March. She and her collaborators intend to spread the event to a wider, all-male audience, but a concrete plan isn’t yet set.
As a counselor for a men’s sexual violence support group, Post said he deals with the disparity between resources for male survivors and those for women, as well as the major issues that prevent men from speaking out about their trauma.
“The men’s programming here basically fights for its survival. It’s more prolific now than in the past 40 years of its existence, so it’s way behind,” he said.
Fifteen year’s worth of national studies from 1990 to 2005 concluded an estimated 16 percent of boys experience unwanted sexual experiences before age 18.
“More men than not, in my experience, don’t talk explicitly about it to anybody until it gets bad enough, and that’s when I see them,” Post said. “They’re not encouraged to do expressive arts or expression in most ways, except violence, anger and sexuality. I have clients who have experienced incest, rape, assault; men who have, simply by virtue of existing in a sexually violent culture, come here because it’s just intense, for different reasons probably than for women,” Post said.
According to Post, men are generally not raised or encouraged to speak on an emotional level and struggle to find the words to express their traumatic experiences. They often feel their own masculinity or sexual orientation is called into question by the abuse and it brings up issues with vulnerability. Victims generally fear the reactions of others, but men also encounter pervasive cultural attitudes that can be a block for them to get help.
“The whole masculinity thing, ‘I’m a man, that’s not supposed to happen to me,’” said Anna Bauguess, a counselor and case manager at the UNCA health and counseling center, who said she hears reports of recent and childhood sexual trauma at least every other day from her clients.
“They feel like they should be in control,” Post said. The stigma is men who cry are weak, but women have more latitude to cry, because ‘women are emotional.’ This thinking leads to the gender paradigm misconception.
When men don’t seek help, pressure can build up internally, which can cause intense symptoms that make it difficult to recognize and treat the cause: difficulty with confidence, cloudy judgment, being unable to think straight, problems with planning things out and increased short-temperedness, among other issues. It affects how they relate to women and other men.
Trauma manifests physically and is communicated through behaviors such as substance abuse, workaholicism and porn addiction, whereas women find themselves more likely to struggle with personality or eating disorders.
According to Bauguess, victims of any gender may frequently experience mental health-related symptoms, including post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive episodes, panic, anxiety and increased likelihood of substance abuse.
“Suicidal ideation comes up, like, ‘I’d rather just die than have to deal with this pain,’” Bauguess said.
Counseling aims to create a safe space for survivors to talk about their experiences and get support for their own healing process, whether or not they choose to file a crime report. Bauguess emphasized counseling services are confidential and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“A common theme that shows up for folks who have been through sexual trauma in some way is a loss of power and control, and I am not going to be the one who takes power away from them. I want them to know that they have options and when they are ready they can make a decision,” Bauguess said.
According to Bauguess, telling a counselor or health care practitioner does not mean it will be reported on campus. If it’s reported to an administrator or anyone outside the health and counseling center, there will be an investigation.
“The person who went through the trauma may not want to press charges for whatever reason, and they don’t have to,” she said.