Aurora aims to help male survivors

Starting this summer, the Center will tailor services to male survivors of sexual assault.

Aaron Job

This summer, the University of Minnesota’s Aurora Center will start offering a support group for male-identified victim-survivors of sexual assault. 

Support and interest in such a group at the center has risen over the past decade, said Jeni Kolb, Aurora’s men’s engagement coordinator,  and the center conducted an informal survey in order to gauge student interest in the group.

“It’s something that we’ve been exploring here at the Aurora Center for a number of years, and we definitely have the information and staffing here to support that now,” said Traci Thomas-Card, a prevention program coordinator at the Aurora Center. 

The Aurora Center recently appointed Kolb as the men’s engagement coordinator in part to provide awareness and services to male-identified victim-survivors. 

The center already hosts four support groups, including three for victim-survivors, but this will be their first specifically for male-identified victim-survivors.

“Particularly for men, there can be more difficulty coming forward,” Kolb said. “There’s shame or stigma that can be associated with identifying as a man who has experienced sexual violence.”

As a 66-year-old University student studying communications, Tom Mahowald has experienced the stigma of sexual assault. He said he was raped twice ¬— once when he was 11 and again when he was 14. 

 “Back in [1961], why would anyone believe a child? I felt the whole town was evil. You talk to people; they don’t believe you. The only solution back then was you got to buck up and move on,” Mahowald said. “I don’t know if they didn’t understand there was long-term harm done or if they didn’t want to admit there was long-term harm. ‘Anybody can get over it,’ they said. ‘No big deal.’”

Nationally, 19.3 percent of women and 1.7 percent of men reported having been raped in their lifetimes, according to a 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey. 

On campus, 32.4 percent of female students and 10.7 percent of male students reported experiencing sexual assault in their lifetime, according to a 2015 Boynton Health Services survey.

Kolb said that statistics on sexual violence against men can be misleading, underpinning attempts to remove the stigma of sexual violence. 

Before January 2013, the FBI defined rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” The new definition does not specify the gender of the victim. 

 “According to the FBI, a man or a boy couldn’t be raped. … It was even codified in our law,” said Kristen Sukura, the executive director of the Sexual Violence Center. “That was the definition from 1929 to 2013.”

She said the old definition was problematic because it didn’t allow sexual violence centers to report sexual crimes against male victims to the government. 

“If our stats are being reported using a bad definition, then it looks like sexual assault isn’t happening to men and boys, and therefore less funding is received for the organization to use toward programs for men and boys,” Sukura said.

Other organizations, like the Sexual Violence Center, offer an array of support groups for victim-survivors of different genders, sexual orientations and backgrounds.  

“What we have found is that male-identified folks prefer to call us rather than come and see us in person,” she said, adding that she felt many men may feel unwelcome at support centers because they may think female victim-survivors view them unfavorably.

Mahowald said he tried for years to find a support group in the Twin Cities area that was inclusive of males. 

Eventually, he discovered a website called malesurvivor.org, which allowed him to connect with other male-identified victims across the world and discuss his traumas in private chat rooms.

And last Thursday, he did an intake for the male support group at the Aurora Center, which began receiving them last week. 

“Recently, things have turned around,” Mahowald said. “I’m feeling pretty good about where things are going. A couple of years ago, you know, it was hard to find support. I’m really hoping this thing at the Aurora Center can take off. It’s finally happening, and I’m grateful.”