Fatherhood Programs and Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Assault (April 19, 2013)
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. At the beginning of the month, we explored ways that fatherhood practitioners can talk about healthy sexuality and healthy relationships within their programs as an important step toward preventing sexual assault. We discussed that men who attend fatherhood programs are important leaders in their families and communities and that by modeling healthy relationships, they can help reduce sexual violence. This post considers the same group of men from a different angle. In addition to being leaders, many men in fatherhood programs are adult survivors of childhood sexual assault.
While it might be beyond the scope of a fatherhood program to directly address this issue, it can be helpful for providers to be aware that some of the men they work with are survivors; that for some victims, the trauma of childhood sexual abuse can have lasting effects well into adulthood; and that support is available for adult survivors.
To begin, what does “adult survivor of childhood sexual assault” mean? According to the national Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are raped, molested, or incested against before they turn 18 years old. Children who experience sexual abuse grow up to be adult survivors with past histories of sexual victimization.
If we know that 1 in 6 boys are assaulted against, we can assume that some of the men who participate in a fatherhood program are survivors. What does this mean for fatherhood practitioners? Obviously, practitioners are not expected to be trained to address histories of childhood sexual abuse. However, practitioners can do two simple things to make a difference for survivors in their program. First, know how to respond if someone discloses past abuse (see below). Second, provide referrals to programs that can help men heal from past traumas.
For a variety of reasons, many adult survivors carry the secret of their abuse without ever telling anyone. If someone does tell you that they have experienced abuse, the most helpful response can be as simple as letting him know that you are always there to help and support him. You can express that you are sorry it happened to him and that he didn’t deserve it. Sexual abuse is never the victim’s fault. If you feel you don’t have enough experience or training to know quite what to do or say, it’s okay to share that too. Just make sure he knows you are there for him, that you are concerned about his well-being, and that you will work with him to find the support and resources he needs and deserves.
Far more survivors of childhood sexual assault will access fatherhood programs than will share their stories of victimization. As a result, it can be particularly helpful to include information about local agencies and services for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse in a resource packet, along with all the other services in the community.
Finding a local sexual assault or domestic violence advocate who understands the challenges that men in your program face could be a valuable resource for providing services or referrals for participants who are survivors. Advocates who understand the nature and need for fatherhood services might come to your program to provide education or workshops to your staff or participants. They may be able to work with survivors in your program. And/or they may be able to help you identify other useful services in the community that respond to the needs of adult survivors of childhood sexual assault.
Being a survivor of childhood sexual assault does not mean that a man cannot or will not heal or be successful. At the same time, support and counseling can be helpful and make a positive difference in the lives of adult survivors who are struggling with the lasting effects of childhood trauma.
Fatherhood programs and Sexual Assault Awareness Month (March 29, 2013)
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The purpose is to raise awareness of the problem and educate individuals and communities on ways to prevent sexual violence.
There are multiple ways that sexual assault awareness is relevant to fatherhood program practitioners. For the beginning of the month, we’ll discuss healthy relationships. Later in April, we’ll have a post reflecting on adult survivors of childhood sexual assault.
Practitioners can contribute toward the prevention of sexual violence by talking about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality with the men in their programs. A recent study by the NO MORE campaign found that half of the young men surveyed don’t know the signs of sexual assault.
Some people may find it difficult to say for sure what is and what isn’t “sexual assault.” Where do you draw the line? Mostly simply, it comes down to knowing and communicating consent. “Consent” means “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” Having conversations with fatherhood program participants about communication, consent, and talking with their girlfriends or partners can help promote healthy sexuality and contribute to healthy relationships.
Fatherhood programs can also talk with men about healthy relationships more broadly. In general, how do men treat or see the women around them being treated? What do they hear being said to and about women? How do these words and actions reflect respect – or disrespect – toward women? How do these words and actions model healthy or unhealthy relationships for children, youth, and others in the community?
Taking the time to think and talk about how women are treated provides a chance to discuss how men would like the women who are important to them to be treated. These conversations don’t need to only be about wives, girlfriends, and partners, but also their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts. How are the women they love treated? This reflection might give men ideas about ways they want to act toward the women in their lives or how they can be leaders and role models for boys and other men. Participants might want to talk about ways they can support one another in their efforts to create, model, and sustain healthy relationships and healthy sexuality.
For more information or ideas on promoting healthy sexuality and healthy relationships, fatherhood practitioners can consider working with a local women’s advocate who understands the nature and need for fatherhood services. Such an advocate could come to the program to talk with staff or present a workshop to program participants on sexual assault, prevention, and/or healthy relationships.
More resources on Sexual Assault Awareness Month can be found on the National Sexual Violence Resource Center website. Two short papers that might be useful are:
“Ban the Box” to Increase Employment Opportunities for People With Criminal Records (February 21, 2013)
Increasing employment opportunities for people with criminal records is the goal of “Ban the Box” efforts in states, counties and cities across the nation. The “Box” refers to the question—often a checkbox—about a job applicant’s criminal record on an employment application. Policies to “Ban the Box” aim to remove this question from initial job applications and to postpone a criminal background check, if any, until the job applicant has reached the point of being considered for an interview or has a conditional job offer. The idea is that applicants would have a better chance of being evaluated on their qualifications for the job, rather than not even being considered due to a criminal record. “Ban the Box” policies also give individuals the opportunity to explain their criminal record, if any, during the hiring process and to dispute any information that is incorrect.
Social service providers and low-income noncustodial parents may consider becoming involved in “Ban the Box” advocacy campaigns in their state, county, and/or city. The National Employment Law Project maintains a webpage with resources about the Employment Rights of Workers with Criminal Records. According to NELP’s reports from the fall of 2012, six states have “Ban the Box” policies—Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Mexico—as do 43 cities and counties including major population centers such as “Chicago, Jacksonville [Florida], Philadelphia, San Francisco, Memphis [Tennessee], and Baltimore.”
The following list highlights local organizations that practitioners and parents can contact to get involved in efforts to “Ban the Box.” These include cities and counties which have already enacted policies, but where statewide action is still needed:
- California: All of Us or None, a project of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, with chapters across the state, including the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego; and A New Way of Life in Los Angeles.
- Illinois: Heartland Alliance and Safer Foundation in Chicago.
- Maryland: Job Opportunities Task Force in Baltimore.
- Michigan: Fair Chance Coalition.
- New Jersey: New Jersey Institute for Social Justice in Newark, andWaypoints’ Integrated Justice Alliance in Madison.
- North Carolina: Southern Coalition for Social Justice in Durham.
- Ohio: Ohio Justice & Policy Center in Cincinnati.
- Pennsylvania: Community Legal Services of Philadelphia and thePennsylvania Prison Society in Philadelphia; and Formerly Convicted Citizens Project in Pittsburgh.
- Tennessee: LifeLine to Success in Memphis.
- Texas: All of Us or None chapter in Austin and San Antonio.
- Virginia: Good Seed Good Ground in Newport News.
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