Men Healing collaboration with the Rape Recovery Center
This month, as part of the Tools for Healing series, the Rape Recovery Center wishes to cultivate more awareness for male survivors not only at our agency but also in the field of sexual violence. What better way to highlight healing and community for male survivors than to interview and spotlight the work of Jim Struve. Jim is the founder and Executive Director of Men Healing, an organization dedicated to Inspiring Hope, Changing Lives. We hope the interview below brings about an increase in awareness, healing and overall more tools to incorporate in your healing process.
Save the Date: Men Healing in collaboration with the Rape Recovery Center will be hosting an event on Thursday, November 14th from 6:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.. More details will become available in the next few weeks.
What are some of the barriers that you have seen with male survivors accessing services?
Less so now that in the past, but services for sexual violence have historically been gendered, with minimization or outright exclusion of services for males. Many of the laws were also gendered and not applicable to males. Luckily, these areas of barriers have diminished – although not yet fully overcome. In many ways male survivors remain a “Visible Invisible” population – in other words, 1 of every 6 males is a survivor; yet most male survivors are invisible or perceive themselves to be one of a kind, live in secrecy – and many of us do not know that males in our lives may be survivors. “Male” and “victim” remains an oxymoron – this creates a cultural barrier that personally impacts most male survivors.
Also, sexual victimization is pathologized by the mental health professionals, thereby the media - and public perception – have a distorted view of trauma = pathology. Post Traumatic Stress is portrayed as a “disorder” – which creates a barrier for men who fear being negatively diagnosed if they seek help. We need to change the paradigm and more accurately approach sexual victimization as an “Injury” – therefore, Post Traumatic Stress Injury. Changing the paradigm may reduce a significant barrier that discourages men from seeking healing resources.
What is something you wish general media would consider when highlighting sexual violence issues?
I seek gender parity; I wish for equality in media exposure that sexual violence impacts males as well as females. I also wish the media would devote more attention to the inspirational stories of healing rather than the tragedy of trauma. The narratives of what survivors discover in their healing are profound and the changes/accomplishments/possibilities that are released through recovery are sometimes invisible – I wish the media would cover more journeys of healing to inspire other survivors to take the leap into their own recovery.
(MenHealing has launched a video project “Beyond Survival: Voices of Healing” – in which we feature narratives of healing and hope. ( Access: https://menhealing.org/page-18176 )
In your perspective, why is community impactful to the healing process?
Most male survivors still perceive they are alone; lacking awareness of how many other males share this unfortunate life experience. Therefore, male survivors internalize acceptance of isolation and aloneness. Others view these behaviors as typical traits of masculinity. Healing in a group or community for male survivors is essential to break through this experience of isolation and aloneness. Discovering a sense of belonging with others is one of the most impactful aspects of healing for male survivors. It also provides the foundations for male survivors to become better husbands, partners, fathers, friends, etc. as they heal and can expand their capacity for connection and intimacy.
What is your message to others looking to explore healing and recovery following a sexual assault?
If you are a male who has experienced sexual victimization, know that healing resources are now available – take the leap to seek help; join a listserv or social media feed so you can become more aware of resources that are available. Try to find a way to make it safe enough to seek healing resources sooner rather than later.
If you are an ally who has a family member, friend or loved one who is – or who you suspect is – a male survivor, explore how you can make it safe enough to engage with him to talk openly. Don’t be afraid to be curious and ask; male survivors are often afraid to initiate disclosure but made be receptive– and appreciative – of “asks” that are delivered with care, compassion, and safety.
What are some of the ways that men can engage in a healing community?
There are resources for men – like support groups through local Rape Recovery Centers; healing retreats such as the MenHealing Weekend or Day of Recovery events; through participating in social media networks and on-line support services for male survivors; etc. Do google searches for the topics related to male survivors and men will discover lots of resources that are now available in 2019/2020.
What motivated you to get involved in the work you do?
I attended college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during the late 1960s. Experiences during those formative years catapulted me into becoming a lifelong social justice activist.
In my late 20’s, I was hired - with no real social work experience - by government Child & Family Services in Atlanta. Relatively soon into that job, I was promoted to the Emergency Services Unit, working with abused and neglected male youth: I worked in that position for about 4 ½ years; then worked for 3 years in a Residential Treatment facility with Troubled Boys, most of whom were victims of abuse or neglect.
Although I lacked any official clinical degree, I surprised myself and my employers by my degree of competence and effectiveness in working with victims of sexual victimization. A supportive employer allowed me to secure more official professional credentials while I maintained full-time employment. (I was too poor to quit my job so attended graduate school while maintaining a full-time job.) I was fortunate to attend the School of Social Work at Atlanta University, a Historically Black College that had a strong emphasis on training Social Workers to be social justice advocates. I received my MSW at age 32. With my advanced degree, I obtained employment as a Social Worker in a Psych Hospital setting. Within a short period of time, I was promoted to Director of Clinical Services, positions I held at 2 different hospitals
I became involved with the Georgia Council on Child Abuse and began to challenge the lack of services for male survivors, resulting in me beginning to conduct clinical services to adult male survivors. Along the way – at about age 34 - I had the self-realization that I was also a survivor. I had never forgotten memories of sexual violation during my early childhood and thru much of my adolescence – it was just so normal that I never considered it to be victimization. Even during my early career working with survivors, I failed to connect the dots that I was the same as many of the males I was working with. But my realization provided insight into why I had been so effectively working with male victims/survivors during the preceding years, without any formal training.
Once I embraced my identity as a survivor as well as a Social Worker, I quickly mobilized my energies to address social justice issues related to sexual victimization. I was outraged that an issue so important to my core was so invisible and by the lack of services. I had the unexpected opportunity to meet 2 wonderful men who were also both Social Workers and survivors. We combined our energies and committed to organizing a public conference to leverage more visibility for male survivors. One of the men lived in St. Paul and was able to persuade organizers of a conference on male offenders to add a second day during which we could address issues relevant to male survivors. 200 people attended. This was 1988.
I committed to organizing a conference in 1989 that would focus exclusively on non-offending male survivors. We conducted a 3-day conference in Atlanta that was attended by 450 people from 14 countries. To my knowledge, this was the first free-standing male survivor-only conference anywhere (in other words not an add-on or combined with offender conference). I helped to form a planning committee with the mission to organize a series of annual conferences in several cities around the country. By 1995 (after 5 additional male survivor only conferences, we incorporated as a national organization to continue the work. That organization still exists as MaleSurvivor.org. In 2001, some members of MaleSurvivor launched a Weekend of Recovery (WOR) program to conduct 3-day healing retreats for male survivors. I joined the WOR program in 2003. In 2017, we incorporated the WOR program as an independent 501c3 entity, now known as MenHealing, and I began my tenure as Executive Director of that new organization. As of October 2019, we have conducted 77 WOR healing retreats.
My motivation to do this work is integrated into my identity. I am deeply committed to ensuring that males are able to receive healing resources that were never available to me; I believe that healing from sexual trauma may reduce toxic masculinity and allow new models of masculinity; I am excited to use my years in “retirement” to be more fully available for social justice work, free of the worries about paying my mortgage and therefore more fully available to change the world for male survivors and those who love us.