Session #7 Justice/injustice, revenge, telling, and getting on
- To consider the injustice of sexual abuse, and options for obtaining justice.
- Confront thoughts of revenge that can weigh heavily on men.
- Reflect upon ideas of forgiveness.
- Identification of topics/difficulties to be resolved - considered important for 'getting on'.
- Review options and productive ways of naming and 'telling'.
Housekeeping, announcements, & check in
Telling and getting on
Wrap up: Check out
Resources & materials
- Name tags.
- Notepads & pens.
- Whiteboard markers.
Housekeeping & announcements
The previous session focus on relationships and intimacy is often fertile ground for discussion. A check in that invites men to reflect and share their thoughts or takeaway from the previous week's discussion can be particularly welcome.
Module content 1: Justice/injustice
This session focuses on justice/injustice, and what participants identify they need to do or sort out for them to get on. It is about acknowledging and working through expectations re justice, revenge and forgiveness, with a focus on foregrounding what is meaningful and important for each man. It is about determining whether there are people the participants feel it is important for them to inform about their experience, and how they might do this in the future. It is an opportunity to introduce and discuss topics that the group has identified as important that have not been covered to date. It is about centring the interests of the participants by supporting them in building an improved future for them.
In our society, there is a rightful expectation that justice should occur, in that those who commit sexual offences are held responsible, brought to account, and properly punished. However, seeking justice through the criminal justice system is a difficult process, and is for many reasons not available to everyone. The whereabouts of the person perpetrating the abuse may not be known, they may be dead, they may have been a stranger, it may have been determined that there is insufficient evidence to secure a prosecution, or the man may choose for personal or family reasons not to pursue a prosecution. Even when someone is prosecuted through the criminal justice system, found guilty, and sentenced, for some men this is not considered justice. For some men, a sense of justice is never possible. However, what can be useful in the men's group is a conversation around how men deal with and respond to the 'injustice' of sexual abuse.
A challenge in talking with men about the injustice of sexual abuse is to do so in a way that is productive and useful, and prioritises the men's long term well-being. There is no one way for men to 'resolve' the hurt and sense of injustice. It very much depends on the individual, on what is 'meaningful' for them, and what options are available to them. Because of the silence and secrecy around child sexual abuse, many men would not have had the opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings, or hear what steps others have taken to deal with the sense of injustice. Taking responsibility for working out how to 'deal with the injustice' is useful in that it places the 'locus of control' with the man. For some this may mean taking action, for others, it will mean finding ways to live with the sense of injustice. In talking through the options, it is useful for facilitators to introduce examples of steps other men have taken to firmly allocated responsibility with the person abusing, and bring about a sense of justice for themselves.
In seeking to get on, men are only too aware that there are expectations that they should 'confront the offender' and hold them to account. For some men this is seen as an important step in 'standing up to the abuse'. It is seen as a way to take back control, to firmly allocate responsibility and give it back where it belongs. But for many this is not possible. It can also be a tricky step to take, in that it is unknown how the accused person will respond, and how this will impact on the man. Thoughts of confronting the person who committed the offence can also quickly lead to thoughts of revenge.
Although discussions of thoughts of revenge, and how to deal with them, can be important for women who have been sexually abused, it is especially important when working with men.
Research tells us that it is quite common for men who have been sexually abused to have 'fantasies of revenge and homicidal ideation' running in their mind (Walker & Davies 2005). Men who have been sexually abused comment that, 'as a man', they feel considerable pressure to personally confront, punish, and enact revenge on those who sexually abused them. Men report being only too aware of expectations to personally 'sort out' or 'pay a visit' to any person who has sexually offended against them, or hurt someone close to him. Men report that 'thoughts of revenge' can consume them. The Hollywood model of manhood is quite unhelpful, in that it places unnecessary pressure on men to take revenge themselves, or his manhood can be called into question (the stereotypical model of the lone man taking revenge in the face of an ineffective criminal justice system is the subject of many action movies, like Clint Eastwood's westerns and Dirty Harry series). Add to this the understandably appealing idea associated with revenge, that if the person who perpetrated the abuse is punished and made to feel pain, then the victim/survivors pain and suffering will be diminished or cancelled out (an eye for an eye). It appears that the greater the sense of pain and anger (and sense of shame), the more appealing the idea that 'revenge' will make things better.
Spending time with thoughts of revenge:
- Can become overwhelming.
- Puts life on hold (focusing in on the past, rather than present).
- Can become a barrier to getting on with improving 'your' life (focus is on the person offending, not self).
- Could lead to violent behaviour (Homicidal ideation is like suicidal ideation, when someone moves to putting a plan in place, it become necessary to take action).
- Can increase general agitation, feelings of anger, hurt, pain, frustration, and hopelessness.
Drawing on the above information, introduce discussion on managing justice, injustice, and revenge. A useful way to introduce the topic of revenge, and how feelings of anger can become overwhelming, is to watch the scene of Tony talking from 00:45:00 to 00:43:53 of the Boys and Men Healing DVD. Be sure to debrief content from this scene.
Questions to consider:
- How do you deal with the injustice of sexual abuse?
- Have you considered taking the person who offended against you to court?
- Is going to the police and seeking prosecution an option for you?
- Have you considered 'confronting the abuser'?
- Are you aware of pressures and expectations to seek revenge?
- When you spend your time thinking about revenge and the person/s who abused you, what thoughts and feelings come up for you?
- How does thinking about the person who committed the abuse distract you from focusing on your own well-being?
It can be useful to share thoughts and comments of other men in relation to justice and revenge. Facilitators can print out copies of men's testimonials (Kevin's letter) and either invite men to read these out or read them themselves.
One man, who was sexually abused in childhood, acted on thoughts of revenge. He is now spending time in prison himself, and had this to say to other men considering revenge:
“Well I look at it like this, I mean, I’m doing 4 years, right, minimum, with a top term of 10 years, so at best I’ll be doing 6 years parole, and at worst I do 10 years of jail and I get out with straight release, right. Now, I’ve been living with this shit since as far back as I can remember. I’m 26 years of age, and as far as I’m concerned I’ve suffered enough. I just want to go home and get on with my life, right. And that’s what I would like to say to every person who is thinking about killing their perpetrator. Cause and effect. Everybody’s responsible for their own actions. You kill somebody, regardless of what they’ve done to you, murder is murder…” (O’Leary 2003).
Kevin, a man who has excelled internationally in his chosen professional, has shared the steps he took to confront the person who abused him. This is a powerful letter that men often appreciate.
The person who abused Rob is now dead. Rob found his own way to let other know of what this man had done.
Some men find writing a letter to the abuser useful for them in 'getting on'. Some find writing a letter therapeutic, some choose to read this out, some choose to burn it, and some choose to send it to the abuser (registered mail). The importance is that the steps taken are meaningful for the person involved, and helping them to focus on what is important for them and what helps them to get on.
A man who has been sexually abused, who has spent some time thinking about what was done, the hurt he experienced and the question of revenge, came to a conclusion about how he might focus the energy and thoughts he has for revenge to improve his well being. For him:
“Living well is the best revenge.”
Men who have been sexually abused have often heard of the idea of forgiveness. They may be aware that forgiveness, on occasions, is presented as something people 'do' or even 'need to do' in order to get on. If this is an identified interest or concern of group members, it is useful to facilitate a discussion on this topic. In doing so, facilitators will be sensitive to the fact that some religions (Christianity in particular) place an emphasis on the practice of forgiveness, and that, alternatively for some participants, even introducing the topic of forgiveness (be it in relation to self or others) is viewed as irrelevant and insulting. The facilitator's role is not one of suggesting a need to consider forgiveness, but supporting a discussion to examine and reflect upon the relevance and meaning of forgiveness for each individual in relation to them getting on, and living a life according to their values and priorities.
A fifteen minute break is held following this module.
Module content 2: Getting on and telling others
This module invites the participants to consider the most beneficial ways for them to 'get on', and how and when to make the decision to tell others about the abuse.
Refresher activity: Square breathing
Utilising the basic steps of conscious breathing, have participants visualise drawing a square, with each side of the square represented by inhalation, brief hold, exhalation, and then brief hold.
This session is about centering the concerns and well-being of the participants. It is an opportunity to address and work through any topics that the men identified in their initial hopes and aspirations that have not yet been addressed. It is an opportunity to examine any questions or concerns the men have, and to consider and talk through any particular actions the participants feel they need to take in order to get on.
- What is it important for you to discuss, or what actions or steps is it important for you to consider or take, in order for you to get on?
- What are the barriers to getting on?
- What ideas, thoughts, or behaviours are impacting negatively on your sense of self?
- What ideas, thoughts and behaviours would it be useful to let go of, or distance yourself from, in order for you to get on?
- What thoughts or questions are important for you to resolve in your mind?
Facilitators play an active role in supporting a productive discussion. Some of these questions may be useful for the larger group, and some may be something the men may wish to identify and discuss in individual counselling. Where there are identified topics that have not been covered, facilitators have a role in gathering relevant material, and developing inclusive exercises that support discussion.
This is an opportunity to for participant’s to introduce or return to topics that they wish to discuss or comment upon.
For some men, sorting it out in order to get on involves telling others about the abuse, and acknowledging the struggles that they have experienced. This working out how and who to tell is different from initial disclosure of the sexual abuse. It is about letting people know what the man considers is an important piece of information that he wishes to share. Telling people about an unwanted or abusive experience is not necessarily a one-off event. It is typically more of a process, involving a lot of thinking, hesitations, 'checking out' people's responses, and so on. Having said this, there is no suggestion that a man needs to tell people about the experience of sexual abuse, if he does not wish to, in order to get on. It is also important to flag that if a relationship has previously been difficult or problematic, care needs to be taken to manage the hopes and expectations of participants, in that telling about the abuse will increase understanding, and lead to an improved more compassionate and supportive relationship.
Deciding to tell someone about sexual abuse?
If a man has already tried to tell someone, either in the past or recently, and they did not respond in a very helpful or supportive way, it can be hard to work up the courage to tell someone else. Not everyone will be ready to hear about a man's experiences or what he is dealing with. Even friends or family who he gets along well with are not always going to be able to support him in the way he would like. If a discussion of telling others is considered useful, participants might consider and discuss, in dyads or in the group, the following:
- What am I looking for from this person?
- What kind of response would I like?
- What tells me that this person will be able to hear what I am saying?
- What are my worries and concerns?
- How might I prepare them for what I am about to say?
- How might I take care of myself, and not place too high an expectation on this person?
Unfortunately, sexual abuse is such a secretive issue that a participant might have to educate his 'supporters' about how to help along the way. Some people might want to be there, but simply don’t know what to do. Providing supporters with copies of material or the Living Well app can be a useful way to help them. In order to support this discussion, facilitators might present information, help role play, and talk through options.
Option: Introduction to 'Life change exercise and list'
See Session #8 for description of exercise, and list of questions. The 'Life change exercise and list' is about inviting each participant to consider a life where the impacts of the sexual abuse are less influential. The group members are invited to consider, individually or in dyads, 'If you were to make changes to your life that meant you were living more of the kind of life that you want to live, what would be different?' Where considered appropriate, participants can be introduced to this exercise and provided with a take away copy of the 'Life change list' to reflect upon as a preparation/warm up for the final session.
Option: Guest speaker
Invite a past participant who has benefitted from the Foundations program previously, and is maybe someone who currently attends subsequent group programs, be it a monthly support/drop in group, or next level structured group. Their task would be to present participants with an overview of their personal journey towards enhanced personal and relational well-being. Typically the initial presentation will cover the following account of their life experience and learning, and take approximately 15 minutes.
- How they came to join a group. What were their initial thoughts, concerns, expectations, hopes, aspirations?
- A few sentence on their family/childhood context, and the circumstances in which the abuse occurred (this is not the place for details of sexual abuse).
- Impacts on their life – how did they cope at the time and later on?
- What got in the way of talking about what happened and accessing support?
- The steps it took to access counselling, and to attend Foundations.
- What attending Foundations was like, including after they graduated.
- Further steps they took to enhance their personal and relational well-being after Foundations.
- A snapshot of what their life is like now.
- Steps they plan to continue taking in terms of personal growth.
Facilitators are to introduce the speaker, and outline intended purpose and process. Remind the group about confidentiality, and ask the same for the guest speakers.
Allot adequate time for the presentation and questions. Once the initial presentation is over, invite participants to ask questions to the guest speaker, reminding the guest speakers they can always pass on any question.
Another option is to bring in two guest speakers who know each other – possibly being co-participants in a previous Foundations program. They would need to share the talk time and the questions. This arrangement provides the participants with two different expressions of trauma and recovery to consider, and also provides greater support for the guest speakers, prior to and after the session is over. Always be mindful that such speaking opportunities may be stressful, despite past participants' enthusiasm and wish to 'give back' in order to help others.
The introduction of a guest speaker, here or in Session #8, will depend upon the availability/viability of ongoing support group, and current participants expressed interest.
Wrapping up Session #7, and introducing Session #8
Review: Processes/content covered/reflections
Mindfulness, relaxation, or grounding exercise
Depending on the needs of the group, the following options for grounding may be beneficial prior to closing the group:
- Awareness of Difficult Thoughts and Emotions (Living Well app).
- Walking Mindfulness (Living Well app).
- Diaphragmatic breathing.
Provision of handout or resources
Introduce upcoming session content
The next session looks at consolidating learning, and building a valued life. It is an opportunity to review and reflect upon the experience and learning of participating in the Foundations group. In acknowledgement and celebration of completion of the Foundations group, participants are invited, if they wish, to bring a plate/food share at the final session. Whilst facilitators take steps to ensure there are basic refreshments available for Session #8, it is not unusual for the men to provide a smorgasbord of food options of their choosing.
Closing circle exercise: Comments/reflections/self care
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