This video started with a conversation. In fact, it started with many private and professional conversations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men who have been sexually abused about how difficult it was to speak about what happened to them as a child, about how their lives and relationships had been negatively impacted and about how isolated and alone they felt. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has highlighted this over representation and sexual abuse of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children within government, community and church run institutions and the difficulties they face in being heard and accessing support.
Anthony Newcastle, Gordon Glenbar and I were discussing how to reach out and offer further support and encouragement to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men who have been sexually abused in childhood. Many of these men have said they will never speak publicly about what was done to them, they have said how difficult it is to access support, how they do not know who to trust and how they are unsure if healing is even possible. These men have also said how important the connection to community and country is for them and how the encouragement and support of fellow community members is particularly meaningful and important for them. —Gary Foster, Living Well.
A starting conversation with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander men
by Anthony Newcastle, Natjul.com.
In late 2015, I met with Gordon Glenbar, an Aboriginal man working as a special projects officer for Link Up, supporting community members to engage with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and Gary Foster from Anglicare: Living Well Service who works with men who had been sexually abused in childhood. Gordon and I have known each other a long time. We’ve always talked about our community, about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and about the ongoing challenges our communities face confronting the negative impacts of colonisation and resulting inter-generational traumas.
Gordon, Gary and I spoke together of how to raise awareness and offer support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait men who have been sexually abused in childhood. We spoke of how individuals, families and communities are so often struggling to cope and live life in the present that the subject of helping men sexually abused as children is not talked about. We discussed how difficult it was to raise this subject, how the men themselves struggled to talk about it. We acknowledged the importance of qualified and connected individuals and organisations to lead discussions and negotiate community workshops and the extensive work done by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in addressing sexual violence. We also discussed how important it was for local Aboriginal men to take responsibility to start supportive conversations with Aboriginal men and their communities about this issue.
The didgeridoo group
Every second Sunday I run ‘Didgeri’ at an inner city park in Brisbane. Didgeri is an Aboriginal men’s didgeridoo group. Didgeri has between 9 and 15 men. Didgeri is a place or gathering where we as Aboriginal men can come along and learn the didgeridoo as a way to connect or re-connect with culture and heritage. It is also a place where we talk about community, identity, culture, about raising kids, dealing with anger, about family and about being a good dad or husband.
All the men who come along know they are welcome to bring a son or nephew, grand-son or friend. Didgeri is a place where Aboriginal men can build and enrich connection. No alcohol or drugs, no carry on or yukai. The boys and young men are encouraged to show respect to older men, to each other and to the purpose of the gathering. At times wives, mothers or grand-mothers do come along. They generally come to drop off family and say hello, but they don’t stay as part of Didgeri.
It was at Didgeri that I raised the idea of the men putting their voices to supporting men who had been sexually abused as children and now living with the consequences. We discussed the idea of us, as every day community members acting to help raise awareness and offer support.
The discussions at Didgeri
On a couple of occasions I found myself standing with three or four other men, all leaning on our didgeridoos talking about what to do about this, and how to support the men and families who suffer as a result of this issue. We talked about community and organisational responses to women who have been sexually abused, and of the advocacy groups, which so rightly wrap around these. None of us could think of a group or advocacy organisation established for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men who were sexually abused as boys.
We talked about taboos and silences within the community. The idea of creating a video that makes a public statement addressing this issue started to sound important. It would be an expression of solidarity and support, by community members, for community members. It would be a way to start a conversation.
There was some talk about approaching well known footballers to see if they would like to participate. I’m happy now that talk lasted about 10 minutes before we moved on. Real happy. We had some quiet respectful discussion about who would be involved, we did not want the message being misunderstood, or not responded to, because we included men facing domestic violence charges or public nuisance charges. What was significant here was that ‘we as men’ from the community were talking about supporting men who had suffered sexual abuse as boys and young men – something we had not discussed before.
We talked about how men struggled, how many had attempted suicide, some dying. We talked about the guilt and pain many men carry about not being able to protect their friends, brothers and sisters from the abuser when they were children.
What became part of our discussions, is that by putting our voices and our images to this, we are giving voice to something that is almost silent, something almost invisible. We are saying silence is no longer OK. We want to lend our voices to acknowledge this as a challenge in the lives of men in our community. We very much wanted to offer support to families that are falling apart, where wives and children are seeing their husband and fathers become changed men because the demons from the past visit them late at night and torment them during their day.
We talked about how men found it difficult to talk with their families about why they are coming apart at the seams. Even though these men love their families dearly and would die without them, the taboo around this issue means it is difficult to speak about. Men do what men too often do. Push it down, ignore it, drink your way through it, yell at it, yell at others, feel ashamed, feel responsible, feel judged, feel alone, blame yourself, but don’t talk about it. As one man said:
“How the bloody hell do you talk about it anyway, and to whom?”
We want to find ways to talk about sexual abuse of males that invite participation. We want to communicate this in a way that invites empathy, understanding and respect, and says no more. Over the weeks we discussed how, if people aren’t talking about it, then nothing is being done. Some of our discussions had long pauses, or some changing of subject, before resuming. Some men stood in silence. We concluded that if nothing is being done about it and our brothers and our sisters lives are falling apart because of it, let’s do something.
We wanted to address the isolation and silence. We wanted to say,
“We know this happened to you and we are sorry it did. We want you to know that you are still our brother.”
We want to help address the fear of being judged and the feelings of shame. The shame is not yours to carry.
We talked about the importance of speaking, not just to men who have been sexually victimised, but to men and women across our communities.
Over the following weeks I rang, met with, and talked to about 20 people. All of the Didgeri group wanted to participate in some way. There were men who said straight away, “Yes, I want to support that and I will say it to camera.” Some said that they really wanted to offer support in some way, but because of family, work or how their involvement might be seen, they couldn’t be part of the video at present. There were men who said that although they felt for the fellas, they didn’t know if they could do it, as any talk of sexual abuse of children was hard for them to be around. Those who did not appear on camera, shook our hands and said, “Good on you for doing this.”
Making the video
Eleven of us gathered in a studio at the 4BE Multi-cultural radio station at Kangaroo Point to record our bits. We decided that in the room we would have only the person speaking to camera, the camera operator and myself, in order to help people relax and feel comfortable. We wanted to remove any shame-job. But with eleven Aboriginal people together in the waiting room, among the chats and yarns, people talking about who their mob were, and where their people are from, as always, family reconnections were found. “Hey, your mob from Roma? Your uncle is George from that cattle station? That’s my uncle too, that’s my tribe, we cousins.”
As people felt more comfortable with each other, as personal connections were made and a feeling of being in this together came over the group, then people started pairing up, saying, “Do you mind if I do it with Wayne, because he my cousin and we never met before.”
Others would say things like, “Brother, I never done anything like this before, can you sit with me and do one together?”
Before we knew it everyone was in the room supporting each other with comments like, “Oh that sounded deadly (really good) what you said then sis.” Or, “You two fellas look and sound good there when you said that.”
Ownership had shifted. Now the participants were making suggestions and talking about how good a project this was to be involved with.
It was on this day in the studio that some of participants spoke of how personal this was for them, their families and community. This issue impacted on members of the Didgeri and had not been discussed before that day. The gathering became an opportunity to talk and make a difference. The mood in the room changed, embracing connection, listening, caring, sharing and laughing together, offering support and genuine regard.
Talk turned to, “When this being released, we going to get to see it before?” and, “Do you think we can do another one?”
Six weeks later
It is now NAIDOC week and this Sunday afternoon we will have a first public showing of the video on a big screen at the Musgrave Park Cultural Centre in South Brisbane, where the guests of honour are the eleven people who participated, their families and friends. Over the weeks I have been constantly asked by those involved about when everyone gets to see the video.
This Sunday many of our Didgeri group will bring their didgeridoos and we will have our didgeridoo lesson aside before the video showing. My wife is making sandwiches, a curry and rice and some finger food. Gordon has been a constant source of encouragement and Gary has had almost boundless energy to keep pace, to bring this project together.
Now only days from the launch of our video I think about our first meetings (Gary, Gordon and I). I think of how appreciative I am of those individuals and organisations who work to address sexual violence and its impacts on our communities. I am however, particularly pleased that this project and these discussions happened in and amongst a group many would call grass roots. I am pleased that Aboriginal men and women stepped forward and put their face and voice to raising awareness and generating discussion that offers support to men who have been sexually abused in childhood, as well as their families. Community taking action and responsibility for community.
I was reminded of a discussion about suicide prevention and response I had with a 72 year old Aboriginal man on a remote Cape York community some years ago. When I asked him, “What can we do about this lack of counsellors and social workers and psychologists who can support people in remote places like this?” The old man said:
“When someone is finding it hard to live, we all know they might be finding it hard to live because we are a small town. Sometimes the best thing you can do for somebody else is go and see them, and sit on their porch and sit down and have a cup of tea with them. Even if you don’t know what to say about that thing that is a problem for them, you can still have a cup of tea with them. And they will know.”
–Anthony Newcastle, Natjul.com
A big thank you
We wish to express our appreciation to the men and women who have supported the development of the No More Silence: It’s Never Too Late to Start Healing video. This video reflects the power of everyday community members to make a difference.
We are only too aware of the profound impacts child sexual abuse can have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys and men, girls and women and their communities:
- Isolation, feeling alone and different.
- Guilt, shame, self blame, distrust.
- Feeling overwhelmed, hurt, angry, not good enough.
- Disconnection from family, community and country.
- Mental health problem, depression, anxiety.
- Flashbacks, nightmares, sleep problems.
- Suicide, self harm.
- Relationship and sexual difficulties.
- Drink and drug abuse.
- Involvement with police and criminal justice system, prison.
- Physical health problems.
Barriers to speaking
Men sexually abused in childhood report multiple barriers to speaking about what happened and accessing support:
- Fear he won’t be believed or will be judged.
- Sense of shame.
- Concern his sexuality or manhood will be questioned.
- Worry he will be seen as less of a man or people might think he will go on to abuse.
- Distrust of authority, police, of anyone.
- Fear of being blamed or that he will face payback for speaking up.
- Worry that he will fall apart if he starts talking.
- Being told to keep quiet that the community is not ready to talk about this.
- Wanting to protect family members and others who were abused.
- Having no-one to talk with.
- Pressure from the abuser and others to keep the silence.
As well as hearing how difficult it is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men to speak about childhood sexual abuse, we hear that the pressure not to talk increases the sense of isolation, and makes it difficult to get the help they deserve.
A conversation starter
The video is designed as a conversation starter. Sharing the video is one way for community members to raise awareness and offer support, encouragement and hope to those who have been sexually abused in childhood. It sends a message to all those who have been sexually abused or sexually assaulted across Queensland and throughout Australia to say:
You’re not responsible for what happened to you as a child.
You are not alone.
The blame is not yours to carry.
The shame is not yours to carry.
Keep talking until you get the help you deserve.
Take care of yourself, you’re worth it.
It’s never too late to start healing.
A developing conversation
Our hope is now to continue to develop this conversation and further improve responses to those who have been sexually abused.
Further information and support
If you are a man who has been sexually abused, or someone who cares about him, and you want more information and support. Check out the many support articles we have on the website:
- Men’s disclosure: Deciding to tell
- Get information about male sexual abuse
- Managing common difficulties
- Contact us for direct support and counselling
As well as the Living Well resources you can find more information and support by contacting the below services.
A national telephone and online support, information and referral service for men with family and relationship concerns.
Phone 1300 78 99 78 (available 24/7)
Online counselling: https://mensline.org.au/want-to-talk/
Statewide Sexual Assault Helpline
Lists a range of support services across QLD.
Phone: 1800 010 120
24/7 telephone and online crisis counselling, information and referral for anyone in Australia who has experienced or been impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence. Staffed by trauma specialist counsellors.
Phone: 1800 737 732
Online Counselling: 1800respect.org.au/telephone-and-online-counselling
24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention.
Phone: 131 114
Link Up (QLD) Aboriginal Corporation
Provides counselling, healing and culturally appropriate support for indigenous Australians.
Phone: 1800 200 855
The Healing Foundation is a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation with a focus on building culturally strong, community led healing solutions.
Phone: 02 6272 7500
Micah Projects Inc / Lotus Place (Find and Connect QLD)
Support and resource service for Forgotten Australians and former child migrants.
Phone: 1800 161 109
Relationships Australia QLD
Family, children and relationship counselling. Relationship Australia are committed to offering the best possible counselling, mediation, education and support services in a professional, relaxed and confidential environment.
Phone: 07 3423 6890
Phone: 1800 552 127
Specialist case management, counselling and telephone counselling for child and adult survivors, non-offending family members and friends. Services include counselling, support engaging with the Royal Commission, preparation of written statements, attending private sessions and public hearings.
Phone: 1800 272 831 (8am – 8pm AEST/AEDT, weekdays)
Blue Knot Foundation
(Formerly Adults Surviving Child Abuse – ASCA). National professional phone counselling, information and support for adult survivors of child abuse with referral database of experienced professionals and agencies. Provides workshops for survivors, family members, partners and friends. Professional development for health professionals is also available.
Phone: 1300 657 380 (9am-5pm AEST/AEDT 7 days)
Murrigunyah Family & Cultural Healing Centre is a community based sexual assault support service run by Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander women of Logan City.
Phone: (07) 3290 4254
BeyondBlue has programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and general information on mental health, including how to recognise depression and where to get help. Phone 1300 22 4636
Lifeline’s Mental Health Resource Centre offers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People specific resources. Download PDF files on:
Your local hospital or doctor may be able to help you with counselling and support.
Social and Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health Services in Aboriginal Australia allows you to search a map to find Indigenous-specific mental health services across Australia.
Have a yarn
Have a yarn with:
Other mental health support services to talk about your feelings and get help.
Indigenous family support and healing groups and others in your mob to try to help reduce the stress of raising children.
Community health services
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service (ATSICHS)
Call the ATSICHS Healing Centre on (07) 3240 8907 to access culturally appropriate counselling services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Brisbane affected by mental illness.
Townsville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Services (TAIHS)
The TAIHS Social and Mental Health Unit offers mental health counsellors and run regular men’s and women’s groups to help cope with:
- Mental illness.
- Family business.
- Prison and court matters.
Phone TAIHS on (07) 4759 4022 to book a counselling session or join a group.
Palm Island Mental Health Service
At the Palm Island Mental Health Service Indigenous health workers support people with mental health issues in the local community.
Other remote support
Mental health support and counselling services are also available in these remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities:
- Gregory Downs
- Mornington Island
- Thursday Island
For more information phone the Vincent Campus – Cambridge Street Facility on (07) 4775 8100.