“A display of photographs shot in black-and-white and narratives of male survivors of sexual abuse formed a semicircle among the bookshelves of the Centre County Library.
As part of a series of events, the Centre County Women’s Resource Center hosted informational sessions and displayed art and a short documentary from the Bristlecone Project, a campaign aimed at raising awareness about men overcoming sexual assault and abuse.
For the 2017 fiscal year, Family Services Inc. handled 37 cases involving male survivors of sexual assault across Blair County. Twenty-four of those cases involved children, while 13 involved adults, according to Ashley Gay Vocco, victim services program director for Family Services Inc.
Lawrence “Larry” Conrad told audience members that a church deacon started sexually assaulting him at age 8. Four years later, the deacon reportedly began pimping Conrad out to his friends behind a bar. In 1963, when Conrad was 14 years old, the abuse stopped when the perpetrator was caught in the act.
Conrad, now a 68-year-old Carlisle resident and retired university professor, said fear of stigmatization is often a reason why male survivors don’t report sexual abuse.
“The feeling that if you talk about this … you’ll be stigmatized,” Conrad said at Thursday’s event.“You’ll be ostracized. You’ll be mocked. You’ll be excluded. When something like this happens, you have no idea that it’s happening to anyone else, so you feel very alone. So you already feel the sense of being outside your peer group.”
Geoff Landers-Nolan, a CCWRC counselor, told attendees: “What we want to do is break stigma and bring awareness to this issue. Not that it’s more or less difficult for men versus women, there is a different type of stigma. There’s a different type of pressure.”
He added: “Men can end up feeling underserved. They can end up feeling like there is no place for them to go. We want them to know that their stories matter for people who are willing to hear them and that there are services available for them if they do want to step into that healing process.”
Jordan Gibby, prevention educator for CCWRC, said: “Recovery takes work. It takes speaking with other men who’ve had similar experiences, speaking with a therapist. There are a lot of different ways recovery can happen, but men are socialized to just shove it aside, push it down.”
Chris Sims, a 29-year-old panel speaker who shared that he was sexually abused by his mother during his childhood, said he began speaking out despite lack of representation among survivors of sexual abuse.
“In general, guys just have a harder time talking,”Sims said. “For me, nobody I know my age has come forward. I’ve met many male survivors who are Larry’s age or around his age.”
“We’re not represented. It’s as simple as that,” he added. “So if more guys were coming forward, then that would help more guys to come forward.”
Andrew Smiler, board chairman for Male Survivor, said encouraging men to be vulnerable and express their feelings and offering more effective job training for therapists are a couple ways society can help male survivors of sexual abuse.
An estimated 1 in 15 men in the United States have been made to penetrate someone in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared with an estimated 1 in 5 women who reportedly experienced completed or attempted rape. But the CDC website states,“Statistics underestimate the problem” due to underreporting.
Other organizations such as Male Survivor estimate that approximately 1 in 6 males report being sexually abused during childhood.
Felicia Robinson, program coordinator for victim services at Family Services Inc., said other ways to help are emphasizing a “safe space” within the community for male survivors, having compassion and prevention education and increasing representation of male survivors.”