For Men Only

By Robert Janelle


Originally Published in The Ottawa Citizen, February 12, 2006

An Ottawa group is hoping a new inquiry into an alleged Cornwall pedophile ring, set to begin tomorrow, will focus attention on the underlying issue of sex assaults against males.

The Men’s Project, a group dedicated to providing mental health services for men, say the Cornwall inquiry will presumably raise awareness of what they describe as a rarely discussed topic.

“I think it (the inquiry) will be very healing for the community and the survivors to able to speak about it in a public forum,” says Peter Gahlinger, president of The Men’s Project board of directors. But “I think primarily it will bring the issue into the public arena.”

The Men’s Project has been granted partial standing in the first part of the inquiry and full standing for the second part, where Justice G. Normand Glaude is expected to make recommendations based on his findings.

“Out of this (inquiry) they may make recommendations on male survivors,” says Men’s Project program development co-ordinator Antoine Quenneville. “It has huge implications, not just for The Men’s Project, but for other possible centres like this.”

According to social worker and Men’s Project co-founder Rick Goodwin, one in five boys are molested before the age of 18. However, the accuracy of this statistic is uncertain because many men never report the sexual abuse they’ve suffered. “Men report at a lower rate,” says Mr. Goodwin. “Half that of women.”

Currently, The Men’s Project, which is located on the third floor the YMCA/YWCA in Ottawa, offers the only sexual assault support centre in Ontario that is funded by the Ministry of the Attorney General. The Victim’s Services Division of the ministry funds 34 sexual assault and crisis centres across the province. Most have a specific mandate to help women, although some receive private funding to support men.

The issue of sexual assault against men was highlighted in 1993, when Cornwall police began an investigation into accusations of sexual abuse against many high-profile members of the city. Police said they came up empty-handed in the investigation, but allegations of a cover-up were widespread.

This led to an inquiry dubbed Project Truth in 1997. The inquiry investigated 69 complaints going back as far as the 1950s and 115 charges were filed against 15 people. Only one person, a bus driver who plead guilty, was convicted.

The Men’s Project was created in 1997 as a reaction to the original Project Truth inquiry when Mr. Goodwin recognized a lack of support services for men.

Mr. Gahlinger, an Ottawa contractor, knows all too well what the victims in the Cornwall area went through. He has his own story. As a young boy, Mr. Gahlinger was a devout Catholic. When he was eight- years-old, his father died and he was taken under the wing of the priest at his parish. Although he now had a new male figure to look up to, the relationship turned into something else.

The priest would take Mr. Gahlinger to his parents’ home in Windsor for the weekend, where he would make the boy undress on a bed and fondle him. He’d then expect the young Mr. Gahlinger to fondle him. As a child, Mr. Gahlinger didn’t know what was being done to him was abuse.

“Living in a small town in 1960, I wasn’t aware of homosexuality or pedophilia.”

The abuse continued for five years, stopping only when Mr. Gahlinger was 13 and realized he was being used as a sex object.

He left the church when he was 16 and only goes to the occasional mass to see how he feels about the Catholic Church. These days, he fulfils his spiritual needs with Buddhism and Hinduism.

But he still suffers psychological consequences from the abuse. He says he’s susceptible to being taken advantage of and has difficulty with normal relationships with other men. He kept his own abuse a secret until he was in his 30s, but talking about it wasn’t enough because of his distrust toward his own gender. When other men would offer to help him work through his feelings, he’d get scared and cut them out of his life. In one instance, he quit his job when a supervisor offered support. He underwent therapy in the early 1990s.

In 2001, Mr. Gahlinger entered The Men’s Project’s group program. “I went into there and I felt I was with guys who, to a certain extent, were shaped like me,” he says. “I could talk about what happened to me with guys who could understand.”

One of those who understands is psychotherapist Andy Fisher. In 2002, he worked with The Men’s Project to start a group program for men who’d experienced sexual trauma in Lanark County, but it folded two years later.

“We had difficulty keeping it going because the numbers were dwindling,” says Mr. Fisher.

He cites myths, such as a man who has been abused will automatically be an abuser, a man who’s been sexually abused is suddenly homosexual, or “you’re a guy, you should have been able to stop it,” as among the reasons so few men come forward and deal with the trauma they’ve suffered.

“It’s a big challenge, it takes tremendous courage,” says Mr. Fisher.

Another reason the Lanark County group folded was a lack of funding. “There’s very little public knowledge about the rates (of abuse),” he says. “There’s a need but there hasn’t been a demand.”

Along with sexual trauma counselling, The Men’s Project offers a variety of services for men, the most popular being anger management classes.

Mr. Fisher emphasizes the importance of anger management for men who have been victimized.

“The traditional male code says you aren’t supposed to have vulnerable feelings like shame,” he says. “So it becomes anger and you get a guy with an anger management problem.”

Male abuse victims have also been known to become workaholics or dependent on drugs and alcohol. “They experience shame and inadequacy,” says Mr. Fisher. “Drugs and alcohol are their way to cope in a society that doesn’t acknowledge what they’ve been through.”

Despite the facilities available at The Men’s Project, co- ordinator Antoine Quenneville says he still feels more is needed. They aren’t a walk-in clinic and they don’t have a 24-hour crisis line like other sexual assault centres.

“Not that long ago, we had a call from a man who had been recently sexually assaulted,” he says, adding that the man was lucky to have reached someone in the office at the time.

The man in question had tried to call other support centres and did not receive any help.

This was not the first time Mr. Quenneville had heard this from a man who had experienced a recent sexual assault. “Anecdotally, I’ve had people come in and say they went to an emergency room and the doctors laughed at them,” he says.

However, that is not common behaviour in an emergency room according to Elyse Sevigny, a sexual assault nurse examiner at the Ottawa Hospital, Civic campus.

“We want to see more men, we’re not a women’s organization,” she says.

Ms. Sevigny will be paged if anyone, male or female, comes into the Civic emergency room and says they’ve been raped. After someone checks the victim for injuries, she’ll offer STD testing and can administer antibiotics to prevent STDs.

However, she says the administration of HIV post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) treatment, which can significantly decrease the chance of contracting the virus if administered within 72 hours after exposure, is especially important with men. In a case where a man has been raped by another man, his chance of contracting HIV from his attacker is much higher than it would be with a woman due to higher odds of lacerations during anal penetration.

After the administration of the PEP, the victim will be referred to the infectious disease clinic at the General Campus.

Ms. Sevigny saw three men in 2005 and four in 2004. She also believes that stigmas and myths prevent many men from coming forward. “The one thing I’ve heard and I believe is that it’s an issue of male pride — men don’t get raped.”

However, in the last five years, more men like Mr. Gahlinger have been coming forward about their abuse. “People are coming to me to deal with their victimization in an way they weren’t really a decade ago,” says Mr. Fisher, who still sees men in his private practice in Perth who have been sexually assaulted.

With increased public awareness from a high profile inquiry, the people behind The Men’s Project hopes more men who have suffered sexual trauma will come forward.

Mr. Gahlinger knows the importance of re-opening feelings to deal with them. While going through his treatment, he filed charges against the priest who abused him 40 years ago. The priest plead guilty, but Mr. Gahlinger said facing his abuser after all that time was part of the healing process.

“It was very powerful,” he says. “Kind of an amazing moment.”

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