Support group for male sexual assault victims resumes meetings at Penn State

For the CDTMarch 1, 2014 

— A counseling group for male victims of sexual assault and abuse is meeting again at Penn State after a semester’s absence.

First offered in fall 2012, the group had difficulty getting started last fall because most of its members graduated the next semester, and it did not have enough new members, said Andrea Falzone, of Penn State’s Counseling and Psychological Services, known as CAPS.

The CAPS male survivor group is for those who continue to be affected by “unwanted or abusive” sexual experiences of the past, according to CAPS’ website.

The group at Penn State was created with the help of MaleSurvivor, an organization committed to addressing the needs of men who have dealt with and are still dealing with experiences of sexual assault or abuse.

Chris Anderson, executive director of MaleSurvivor, said he believes that male survivor groups like that offered through CAPS are needed at every university.

“The things that people need to start being aware of is that we are surrounded by survivors of sexual violence anywhere we go in our lives,” Anderson said. “The fact of the matter is we need to ask ourselves what is happening on a daily basis on campus to help survivors get the support they need.”

Falzone, a licensed psychologist and sexual assault specialist, and Michael Lute, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology, work with the group and guide its Tuesday afternoon meetings.

While those knowledgeable on the subject are hesitant to call it a double standard, society seems to push the idea that sexual abuse and assault are women’s issues. Lute said he “believes ideas of masculinity and the way we socialize men can potentially make it more difficult to ask for help or to seek assistance.”

“Men are often taught they can’t be victims,” Falzone said.

“Having worked with both male and female survivors, I don’t want to seem as if I am comparing along gender lines,” Lute said. “There are countless factors that make it difficult for any survivor to come forward.”

The group is near its capacity of eight members and is modeled in the style of a support group, Falzone said.

“It’s their space, their time to use as needed (and) themes emerge naturally,” she said.

To become part of the group — or any support group offered through CAPS — those dealing with personal issues first meet with Falzone to learn more about the program. Then Falzone and the person seeking help decide whether the group is a fit.

“After the first several weeks of the group running, we close it to any new members for the remainder of the semester,” she said. “Also, we require that group members make a commitment to attending consistently for the semester (and) group members can continue in the group across semesters.”

MaleSurvivor’s website, malesurvivor.org, also provides links to support groups, therapists and other outlets of healing, such as books and other survivor organizations.

Located in New York City, MaleSurvivor provides services that aid men who have been socially victimized, according to its website.

Anderson cited statistics that 1 out of 5 people — men and women — is a survivor of sexual violence, assault or abuse.

Though CAPS’ male survivor group found its footing around the time the news of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case broke, Falzone and Lute said they do not assume that the group serves as a direct response to it.

As news coverage of the case circulated, it triggered memories and issues that men who had suffered from sexual assault and abuse thought they had forgotten, Falzone said.

“Each survivor is at his or her own stage in their process, and seeing media coverage of the case could trigger each person in a different way,” Lute said.

Recently, the Obama administration announced the creation of a task force to combat sexual assault and abuse on college campuses. Though the task force’s main responsibility is to bring awareness to the subject, Falzone said that much of the talk surrounding the task force was about women and lacked an outlet for men.

Anderson said society must move to “a paradigm of response to sexual violence that includes both genders.”

“Statistically speaking, there are more female survivors than male survivors,” Anderson said. “But that doesn’t, in any way, mean that any single survivor is any less deserving of the full measure of our support.”

Paulina Cajigal is a Penn State journalism student.

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