Rick Goodwin, executive director of the Ottawa-based Men’s Project, oversees one of the few freestanding agencies in Canada with a focus on men.
We need to start seeing sexual assault as a human problem. This is not a condition that affects only women or only girls.
Men fleeing violence need somewhere to go. But when it comes to victim needs, on many issues there’s a discriminatory policy across Canada. Female victims of sexual violence and physical violence are recognized, but men cannot access the same services. It’s archaic.
There is not a shelter bed in Ontario for a man or his kids. There’s no shingle in most communities that says, “Hey, men, this is a good place for you,” or provides services in a male-friendly, male-centred way. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticizing women’s services or the need for them. That’s not the issue. But a feminist framework speaks to women. It doesn’t speak to men.
The common interest of all of us, from the feminist services to men’s rights, is that we want to end violence in our community, find a place of safety and provide evidence-based treatment for victims of all genders.
Sexual abuse has a huge array of negative effects on men. Many suffer from PTSD or depression and a good percentage have issues with rage and violence. They’re prone to self-harm and suicide attempts. But it looks different for men than it does for women. Women tend to cut or burn themselves while men tend to punch walls and get into fights. That’s still self-harm. We also see cognitive impairments like flashbacks and dissociation—what you might call “spacing out.”
Some survivors we work with believe they’re failed men because they allowed themselves to be abused. They go through life with a sense of being a non-man. They don’t ask for help and or look out for their own needs. On the opposite side of the spectrum is “hyper-masculinity”: men who avoid their problems by putting on a tough exterior.
We see a lot of risk-taking. Male survivors have five times the rate of alcohol and drug use compared to those who have not experienced abuse. They also may take sexual risks: having a high number of sex partners, failing to use protection, or using sex trade workers. They can’t negotiate sex with a partner. Others can’t handle authority, which leads to trouble in the workplace and conflict with the law.
— As told to Genna Buck. This interview has been edited and condensed.
This story is part of #Project97 — a year-long conversation about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Visit Project97.ca for more details on this collaborative project by Rogers-owned media outlets, and join us on Twitter with the hashtag #Project97.