3 Jun 2019

Rare voice for male sex abuse victims recognised

12:24 pm on 3 June 2019

A Queen's Birthday Honour recipient hopes his award will bring the challenges faced by male sexual abuse survivors into the spotlight.

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Ken Clearwater says many New Zealand men and boys will be carrying the trauma of sex abuse and need to be listened to instead of being locked up. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

Male Survivors Aotearoa national advocate Ken Clearwater has been formally invested as an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

He has been working for decades to ensure all male survivors of sexual trauma receive appropriate and timely support.

Men were predominantly viewed as perpetrators of violence, which means male survivors were often not on anyone's radar, he said.

He wanted to help others by sharing his experiences as a male survivor of sexual abuse.

"It never goes away, it happened to you, it's going to be with you for the rest of your life. It doesn't just disappear because you've talked about it. What you've got to learn is how to live with what happened to you and move through that and that's the work we like to do," he said.

"We've got this incredible system in New Zealand where we punish men and boys and it's time to stop the punishment side of things and have a look at how can we help. These young boys are misbehaving at school or out on the street, why are they misbehaving?

"Sit down and listen to their stories, listen to where they've come from because they'll be carrying a trauma and if we don't accept and acknowledge that trauma and we just keep locking them up, nothing is going to change."

Mr Clearwater was targeted, groomed and sexually abused as an adolescent and then he was assaulted by soldiers at the Burnham Military Camp in the 1970s.

"I was very violent, right into drugs and alcohol, and I discovered why I was as angry as I was. I was able to look at that and get help and then start looking at how I could help other men in this country," he said.

"I just had a vision that eventually we'll have services throughout New Zealand for male victims of sexual trauma."

Providing support to other survivors was something he had to do for his own well-being, he said. But speaking up hasn't been easy - especially not at the start.

"It was like walking through mud, it was just a constant battle to be heard so now this award, it just throws it right out into the spotlight."

He was excited to receive the recognition, but hoped it would bring more attention to the challenges faced by male survivors and the support they needed.

Male Survivors Aotearoa involves a community of men who have experienced sexual trauma supporting each other.

Mr Clearwater said some male survivors have been trained to support others, but there was a shortage of men doing this work.

"If we can encourage other men to accept and understand that this is a pretty powerful thing to do and if we can get the right resources, I think we can make a huge difference in this country.

"We've got a long way to go, but we're at the start line now."

He was pleased the government had accepted and acknowledged there was a problem. But male survivors needed to have better access to services designed to support them.

More professionals - psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, university staff - needed to be trained to work with male victims, he said.

"Pills are not always the answer and a 10-minute session with a psychiatrist and pills are not good enough. You need time and that time is with people who have experienced it and people who know what you've going through.

"Schools need to understand that there will be boys at their schools that are victims of male sex abuse and have never been able to talk to anyone so our whole system really has to acknowledge there is a problem before there will be any more changes."

Where to get help:

NZ Police 111

Male Survivors Aotearoa https://malesurvivor.nz/contact/

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Education

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0

Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour

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