National support for abused men

Members of Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust Aotearoa New Zealand, from left, Stephanie Remirez of Wellington, Colin ...
MARION VAN DIJK

Members of Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust Aotearoa New Zealand, from left, Stephanie Remirez of Wellington, Colin Elliott of Christchurch, Dave Passell of Auckland, Jorgen Knudsen of Auckland, Mike Holloway of Waikato, Philip Chapman of Nelson, Ken Clearwater of Christchurch and Mike Cagney of Paekakariki.

For the first time in New Zealand, a national structure has been set up specifically to support male survivors of sexual abuse.

Members from regional support groups around the country gathered at a hui in Nelson and made a commitment to the body, which would be known as the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust Aotearoa New Zealand (MSSAT).

Philip Chapman was appointed the chairperson of the organisation and is also the manager of The Male Room, a support and advocacy network for men in Nelson. He said the event marked a big moment for men throughout New Zealand.

"We will be looking at how we fit our services around the men instead of how they fit into what we are offering," he said.

Last year, the Government announced services for victims of sexual violence would get $10 million in funding over the next two years.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said at the time the sector required extra resources and the money would be used to support frontline crisis-response and community-based treatment services, as well as male victims and people accessing medical and forensic services.

Chapman said it was the first time funding had been provided specifically for male survivors and the formation of a governing body would enable them to better distribute the funds. Up until now, regional support groups existed independently and relied on the goodwill of volunteers, he said.

Members at the hui focused on meeting contractual requirements, appointing a chairperson, treasurer, secretary and trustees and Chapman said the next steps included developing a business plan.

The Nelson group was set up several years ago with the help of Ken Clearwater, national manager of MSSAT, who said the formation of a national body was the result of 20 years' hard work.

"It is a really exciting time for us," he said.

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Clearwater was on the first trust board for MSSAT in 1997 and has since been instrumental in getting other groups in Auckland, Wellington, Waikato, Canterbury and Otago up and running.

The hui was a chance for the members to define their vision, what they hoped to achieve as a national structure and how best to support the six existing regions, said Clearwater.

"It is very isolating work," he said. "It is important we have a strong structure set up."

Clearwater said it has been a huge battle for people to see men as victims and only in the last 18 months had things taken off.

"Nine out of 10 people don't see males as needing help and in relation to helping there is nothing for men to get help in their lives," he said.

Without funding, creating a national body would not have been possible, said Clearwater.

"It is recognition of the work we have done over the last 20 years," he said. "We would never have been able to do it, we didn't have the resources to help."

The national structure meant they were better positioned to do research. There is currently no data available on the numbers of males who have been sexually assaulted in New Zealand.

Clearwater said as a result they relied on overseas statistics, which varied between countries but indicated one in four girls and one in six boys were sexually assaulted before the age of 16.

"From our work we believe the rate for boys is probably similar to girls," he said.

However, it was important to Clearwater that the work they are doing wasn't perceived to detract from female survivors of sexual abuse.

"We don't want to take money away from the female sector, there should be funding for both and the Government sees that," he said.

"It is about us working side by side."

Peter Chapman, no relation to Philip, has been attending the peer support group at The Male Room since it began three years ago and said it has been a fundamental part of his recovery.

"It is actually something I look forward to every fortnight, it is a survivors comradeship," he said.

"We have all been through the same thing and we all have different stories."

Each meeting began with a shared meal and someone would put a topic out for discussion, then each person had the chance to speak about it if they wanted to.

Based on the statistics, he said there could be others in the community who were in need of the service and he would like to see more groups start up in different parts of the region.

"The biggest thing is people not realising the comradeship and supportship is there," he said.

"If anyone needs support the door at the Male Room is always open, we are always there to support each other."

 - The Nelson Mail

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