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How the internet helps abuse survivors (especially men)

June 9, 2011 -- As Men's Health Week 2011 focuses on improving men's health using new technologies, Duncan Craig, Founder and Service Director for Survivors Manchester reports on the findings of his recent research into the use of online resources and the internet by adult male survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

In the absence of specific face to face services for men, male survivors of childhood sexual abuse are increasingly turning to specialist websites as a way to safely break the silence and begin their own unique healing process.

That, at least, is the conclusion of the research I've been carrying out for my Masters degree at the University of Manchester.

I was abused as a child and young adult and spent over fifteen years finding ways of blocking out the feelings of shame, guilt, disgust and anger. But in 2007, whilst studying counselling – also at the University of Manchester, I had to deal with the legacy of the past and finally admit to myself that I was a victim.

I suppose I always knew what happened in the past was wrong, but I had retold the story to myself many times as a way to protect myself from the truth. Who the hell wants to remember that! But when I began my clinical practice training and came face to face with the issue of sexual abuse, I knew that I had to face my own demons.

I had briefly hinted at my past whilst working with my clinical supervisor, but it was on the Internet that I first began to really admit that I was a victim, no Survivor, of childhood sexual abuse. I would pretty much wait till I was on my own, then log on to these specialist sites and read the message boards, blogs and stories that men had written, sometimes staying up until the small hours. It was like people who I had never met were somehow able to see inside my head and write how I was feeling.

Having hung around the chat rooms for a while, I soon felt brave enough to speak up, just starting with an ‘hello'. Most of the people on these sites were in America but that didn't matter to me, all that mattered was that I was speaking to someone that knew how I felt and had been through something that I had been through. Someone that understood silence, someone that understood shame, someone that understood how it feels to scrub yourself in the shower so much, your skin hurts but you can still see the dirt.

It was so liberating and if I could, I would have stayed up all night every night and talked and talked. I didn't want to close those windows because it felt like I was breaking a connection.

What starts the healing journey?

As I began to learn more about my own issues and how abuse had affected me, I began to be able to listen more to and understand other men. I started reading key text books, research articles and so began a foray into what is now my Masters degree subject, the sexual victimisation of men.

I knew that I wanted to find out what it was that male survivors find therapeutic in order to begin their healing journey, but I wasn't too sure how to approach it. However, after many conversations and debates with two fantastic and extremely supportive university lecturers, Dr Lennie and Dr Hanley, I decided upon an investigation into the use of the Internet and online resources by adult male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I called the study ‘Virtually Helping'”.

It was important to me and to the integrity of the research project that I carried out the actual data collection online. The research design had to be conducive to the subject. So I designed and built a microsite that used text and audio to inform potential participants of the research and process, enabling them to anonymously make an informed choice about their engagement in the research. I advertised the research on various specialist websites, Facebook groups and through support organisations newsletters and feeds and in April 2010, data collection started.”

I immersed myself in the data. The results were fascinating: 70% of participants were UK residents; 31% of participants were aged 40-49; 30%...

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