11/03/2014 05:32 EST | Updated 01/03/2015 05:59 EST

Why We Need To Remove the Stigma Around Men Who Seek Therapy

I am all too familiar with the cycle of abuse.

At one point in my career I worked as a counselor at a not for profit agency that supported abusive men. As a lead facilitator for group therapy, I worked with men often mandated by our judiciary to attend and complete the program, in hopes of helping them break down their tendency towards abusive behaviour. Often times I, (sometimes the only woman in the room, and in a position of authority) and the 16-week program was what was between them and seeing their children, or returning back to employment or going on to live any semblance of normal for the rest of their lives. Talk about a potentially intimidating experience.

Before that, I briefly worked as a front-line staff member at a women's shelter. The experience was eye-opening, to say the least. Although it was a much different experience than what it was like to work with men, supporting the women on a daily basis was not only one of the most challenging experiences of my life, it was also rewarding to watch and support these women battle the demons that existed in their own lives.

I am a woman. In this context, it means that not only do I have my own firsthand experience with a variety of types of abuse, but I have also been there to watch my sisters around me suffer. When Stats Canada reports that there are about 460,000 sexual assaults in Canada every year, chances are you have been there too. When 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, it's not hard to assume you may also have had your own experiences. What is even more saddening is that because of the stigma and revictimization that many women who do report will have to endure, it cannot be seen as surprising that 80 per cent of women who experience sexual assault do not report. Seeing us mobilize and engage proactively in the social community with hashtags like #beenrapednotreported #IbelieveLucy & #Ibelievethem is truly inspiring and is one of the most pragmatic and truly empowering uses of our sociality in all of 2014.

But, why am I telling you this?

Throughout the week, in light of the Jian Ghomeshi story that is continuously developing, I have been asked both my personal and professional opinion about the situation. The interwebs are chalk full of information about the healthy relationships that are formed in consensual BDSM play. We have also been reminded of the legality of ongoing consent as set by the Supreme Court. Though, as history would contend, legality isn't exactly a deterrent for unorthodox sexual behaviours. Notably, in the vibrant BDSM community -- which is as diverse a people as are the acts engaged in, limit setting is akin to a code in the community. Establishing limits, having a healthy conversation, and consenting to a controlled situation that happens to be pleasurable and devious is really what it's all about. It's about the experience, the journey. As you grow, engage and change, so too will your limits if you choose to participate in the lifestyle.

As it is being reported, what Ghomeshi did to the women that he forcefully engaged with is inexcusable. The initial division amongst us as the story broke was also disheartening. He can be seen as telling the truth via Facebook, but she who does report and has others behind her with shared experiences who choose not to report are accused of being liars or sensationalists.

I started by telling you about my own experience in the world of abuse. I did this because those experiences are what helped me understand the importance of healing in light of a frightening situation. These women -- our sisters -- need our support and understanding to heal. But we cannot forget the men. At some point we are going to have to turn around and help heal this man.

Many will think he is undeserving, but he too experienced trauma in his life which he has had to cope with. I'm not talking about forgiveness, I'm talking about compassion. Jian and the men like him are sick, and we as a society have managed to allow them to develop unhealthy relationship patterns and manipulate the values of power and control. If we forget this piece, we are allowing ourselves to be susceptible to other instances that may or may not be escalated and increasingly damaging. As is to be a woman and deal with the stigma, so too are the men stigmatized. Men also don't find help or seek therapy because of the associated stigma and perceived emasculation.

This story, no doubt, will be in the media for much time to come. It is our responsibility to make sure that the conversations that we continue to have are ones that help us heal and build a better and safer community for our sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. A lot has been lost and a lot has been gained in the war against abuse, but it was never about winning. It has always been about healing. Until we can start engaging in that discourse, we will all continue to all be victims.


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