Community / Social Justice

Sharing “Unspoken Truths” About Male Sexual Abuse to Break Stigma

Kelli Palfy, Ph.D., M.A. ‘11

Kelli Palfy, Ph.D., M.A. ‘11

A pivotal career moment for Vancouver Campus graduate Kelli Palfy, M.A. ‘11, happened when she was a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer at a training course in Ottawa in 2004. Sheldon Kennedy, a professional hockey player came to speak about his experience with sexual assault. He discussed the abuse he suffered by one of his coaches as a teenager and why he hadn’t said anything sooner.

“He talked about living ‘a double life,’” Palfy said. “On one hand he was a celebrated hockey player, but on the other hand he was a victim of sexual abuse.” Palfy said this event helped her to realize that there are a lot of reasons why victims don’t report sexual abuse and assault, and that there are not enough resources specifically for men going through this experience.

Three years later, she decided to pursue a counselling career and enrolled in the Adler University Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology program in Vancouver.

“I wanted to find a niche where I could help a marginalized population,” Palfy said. “One of my professors at Adler University worked at the BC Society for Survivors of Male Sexual Abuse and it just clicked as a group that I could help.” She ended up doing her clinical practicum there in 2010.

Now a trauma therapist, Palfy recently wrote a book to help increase conversations about male sexual abuse. Men Too: Unspoken Truths About Male Sexual Abuse is a resource for male survivors and their supporters.

The book features stories from survivors that Palfy hopes will promote healing for victims, provide strategies for parents and teachers, and help mental health professionals who are working with traumatized boys and men. Palfy hopes to shed light on the complex and unique barriers boys and men face during and after abuse.

“Research conducted in the United States has shown that approximately one out of every six males is sexually assaulted before the age of 16; yet very few of these individuals disclose, pursue charges, or seek treatment,” Palfy said. “The most recent Statistics Canada surveys indicate that males report sexual abuse at a rate of around six per every 1,000 men, and a very small percentage of men self-report.”

In addition, research and resources traditionally focus on a female victim with a male perpetrator scenario.

“If men are abused even only as half as much as women, we are still doing such a disservice to them,” Palfy said. “My hope is that through reading the detailed stories shared in this book, other boys and men will gain a better understanding of what abuse looks like, come to recognize themselves as victims, and begin to heal and recover.”

The book is not designed to replace therapy but “to supplement healing and inspire men to both seek and accept professional help,” Palfy said. She also wrote it for professionals, as well as the friends and family of male survivors. “My hope is that through increased awareness, that the helping professionals, friends, and families of male victims will become better supports,” Palfy said. “If this group of people can create safer spaces to talk about male sexual abuse, and not shy away from engaging in the difficult but necessary conversations, abused boys and men will have improved access to healing.”

Palfy wants to break down the myths that men who are assaulted might be made to think are true, such as:

  • There is no room in society for men to be victims
  • The victim did something to invite or cause the assault
  • Victims are predetermined to be an offender

Often offenders are people known to family, who first win the trust of the victim. “I want to create the awareness of that just because you liked the person before the abuse began does not mean you liked the abuse,” Palfy said.

Three years after the start of the Me Too movement, Palfy wants to add to that momentum.

“Thank you to the Me Too movement,” she said, “It is a really good thing. With the title of the book, I am just trying to dovetail along with it and say ‘hey, men too.’ I know that the bulk of perpetrators are men. But we have to recognize that perpetrators, who are often men, also target young boys, adolescents, and even adult men.”

She also talked about the distorted idea of what courage is in a society that wants men to be brave.

“We, as a society, are missing the point about how much courage it takes to be vulnerable,” Palfy said. “And that vulnerability does not equal weakness. Vulnerability is actually the definition of courage. The degree to which you are willing to be vulnerable is the degree you are courageous.”

The purpose of the book is “to reduce the isolation and the shame” that victims can feel. “So many men never talk about it, so I want them to know that they are not the only ones that this has ever happened to and that they are not alone,” Palfy said.