Lack of Resources at the Only Men’s Sexual Abuse Clinic in Montreal
Long Wait Times Discourage Men From Speaking Out
At the corner of Jarry St. E. and Gaspé Ave. stands a plain two-storey building. Its exterior is wrapped in white brick and aged vinyl panels turned beige. The side door of the building holds a loosely taped sheet of paper with a pixelated print of the Centre de ressources et d’intervention pour hommes abusés sexuellement dans leur enfance logo, and a red arrow pointing to the office to the right.
The tiny waiting area only fits two chairs, and one is already occupied by a grey-haired man. He has helped himself to a lollipop from the coffee table between the chairs and holds pamphlets in one hand. The man is slumped on the chair and looks exhausted, but his physical description can be summed up as ordinary.
CRIPHASE is a non-profit organization that provides services for male victims of sexual abuse in their childhood. It is the only centre exclusively for male victims in Montreal. In comparison, there are three clinics for victims of sexual abuse that are exclusively for women in the city. The centre is struggling to keep up with the demand for male-victim oriented services.
“We are overwhelmed,” said Martine Poirier, the general director of CRIPHASE. Poirier handles the administration of the clinic, which includes managing the funding, the services, and the employees. She said how in the last couple of years there has been an increase in men seeking treatment at the centre.
According to the government of Quebec’s Information Guide for Sexual Assault Victims, one in six men will be sexually assaulted over the course of their life and only one in 20 of all sexual assaults, where either men or women are victims, are reported to the police.
There is currently a six-to-eight-month waiting list—an issue that is met with a deep sigh by Poirier. “My God, it’s sad, because we know that when men call, they need help now,” she said. “All the latest polls or psychological tests in men show us that if they are placed on a waiting list often […] they will not come [seek help]. They will not. They will put it in a small box, close the door, and then it’s just until the next crisis. Or they will take up solutions that are not good.”
While it is general knowledge that sexual abuse profoundly affects its victims, why some victims wait to seek help isn’t. De-stigmatizing the issues associated with the traumatic experience and how victims react is important to creating an environment where all can feel comfortable seeking help.
One aspect that is rarely divulged is the shame victims feel from the experience. In particular, the uncomfortable details that constrain them from seeking help. They fear they are alone in their experience. They fear others may not be aware of these intimate issues. They fear being victim-blamed when they share. One aspect of the trauma is how their body reacts—some victims are involuntarily sexually aroused from the experience.
This detail can lead to severe mental health issues for victims, due to the shame and guilt associated with feeling like they should have had control of their own bodies. This detail has a particularly difficult affect on men. The province’s information guide states any physical sign of arousal for men is completely normal, and not an indication of consent.
Even so, admitting to any shame associated with the trauma is difficult and extremely harrowing, because victims aren’t sure who they can open up to.
A male-oriented clinic provides a safe environment where men who are victims can speak openly about their trauma and its effect on their lives.
Samuel Dussault appears in the waiting area and begins a quick, informal tour of the office by apologizing for its small size. In total, the whole centre takes less than 10 seconds to walk from one end to the other, and one can look into all five offices from the middle of the hall.
Dussault works as an intervention worker at CRIPHASE. He is responsible for returning calls of potential clients and hosting one-on-one or group sessions with victims. An intervention worker is not a therapist or psychologist. Instead, they are like a stepping-stone counsellor.
“Men need help in a faster way, to have faster access to services, just because the difference is that men will wait longer before coming to ask for help. They will wait until the consequences are more serious.” —Samuel Dussault
The centre provides 20 one-on-one sessions, with each weekly appointment lasting 50 minutes. Intervention workers listen attentively during the meeting and map out issues with their clients and help encourage their well-being and healing. They also help to determine what kind of follow-up care best suits each individual client. CRIPHASE can help refer victims to psychologists, to clinics for help with addiction, or can propose continuing sessions at the organization through the group program.
“Men need help in a faster way, to have faster access to services, just because the difference is that men will wait longer before coming to ask for help. They will wait until the consequences are more serious,” Dussault said.
Dussault said men usually take at least 20 years before they ask for help, and the average age of men at the clinic is 45 years old.
Waiting a long time before reaching out for help exacerbates the long-term consequences of the traumatic experience. “The consequences are very broad. There is not one kind of consequence in particular,” said Dussault, before listing the variety of detrimental habits that lead male victims to seek aid.
Approximately 69 per cent of the clients at CRIPHASE have addiction issues, ranging from substance abuse to sexual addiction. When the men finally reach out for help, it is because they have reached a crisis.
Poirier said CRIPHASE receives 92 per cent of its funding through a provincial subsidy called the Programme de soutien aux organismes communautaires. The current funding allows them to charge clients in proportion to their salary. Some clients aren’t required to pay, while others pay as little as $5.
The recent growth in demand started a couple of years ago, during the first year of the #MeToo movement. Both Dussault and Poirier credit the movement with affecting the centre’s increased traffic.
“I think the #MeToo movements will increase the demand from men—it [means] less prejudice, less taboo,” said Poirier. “They can speak about it more because they have a bigger voice. There are men who have spoken more in front of a camera. There are many things that we have done with the media that have really had an effect on—there is not more aggression, but it’s that men are less uneasy to come for help. It has opened doors.”
Dussault said he ultimately remains optimistic that the #MeToo era will help men who are victims of sexual abuse. “It’s a change that brings a lot of good things to redefine everything, between guys, gender issues between men and women, and all the real categories of genders that appeared that have exploded a bit of the stereotypes we had for a very long time between men and women—I think it will help a lot.”
If you are a victim of sexual assault and would like to speak to someone for help or advice, anonymously or not, please one of these toll-free helplines.
Everywhere in Quebec: 1 888 933-9007
Montreal region: 514 933-9007