When a male is a victim of sexual assault, it’s usually something he doesn’t want to talk about— to anyone.
“There’s so much shame around being male identified and having someone overpower us,” explains Jesse Proia, co-facilitator of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s new Male Survivors of Sexual Assault (MSAS) group. “We wonder what it means to our identity. We blame our substance abuse or how we dressed or where we were, rather than letting it come down to consent.”
The Center’s group was launched earlier this year.
“I’m so grateful more conversation happening about sexual assault a social and cultural level,” says Proia, a mental health clinician who runs the group with Shawn Carpenter. “It’s allowed for this conversation to disseminate more into this also happens to men—gay, bi, trans, queer men. A conversation that had been invisible is becoming more visible and we can peel back more layers.”
Whether the assault happened during childhood or recent years–at the hands of a partner, friend, family member, or stranger–what group members have in common is that something traumatic happened against their will and it still affects them.
“If you think something happened that was not okay and you are feeling like it left an impact on you, come and we can talk about it,” Proia says.
During highly-structured weekly sessions, survivors are provided with peer support from people who have also experienced sexual assault.
One participant credits the group with helping him regain control of his life.
“I felt like I was broken from what happened, and the group helped me see that I wasn’t,” he says. “I just needed help healing. Being with other guys who experienced similar events is healing.”
Survivors are also taught healthy coping skills to use in place of drinking, drugs, or behaviorial problems such as angry outbursts, avoidance, and isolation.
“One of the most negative things about sexual assault is how isolating it is for clients,” Proia says. “Going to a group really helps to break out of that isolation. A connection is so hard to find in this demographic and not talking about it can be when the traumatic symptoms can take control.”
The goal is to live in the moment and not in response to what happened in the past or could happen in the future. It’s not about reliving the traumatic details of the assault.
“We increase coping skills even though we don’t discuss exactly what happened,” Proia explains. “This way we’re able to move forward and increase those skills without being re-traumatized by past events. We do a lot of work to develop self-esteem and self-care and make sure that group members are getting their basic needs met.”
The group runs in 14-week cycles, but members can stay in until they feel they are ready to leave. There is a sliding scale fee based on ability to pay. For more information, call 323-993-7500.