Learning LIST-Learning

Celebrating life

It is worth noticing that despite whatever abuse you have experienced and whatever problems this may have brought into your life, you are still here.

Not only are you still here, but you are doing things to build the life you want, not a life that is determined by your experiences of abuse.

Take time to acknowledge what you have achieved. What do you feel good about? What are you proud of?

It could be a relationship, parenting, success in work, or sports achievements. It could be something you have done to help someone else.

It could be standing up against injustices, no matter how small or large.

It could be anything that reflects the life you want to build for yourself, based on your own values, beliefs and preferences.

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When the abuser(s) do not face court or they get found not guilty in court, this can cause immense frustration and anger. It is completely legitimate to want those who commit sexual offence held to account, and to have the injustice of the abuse acknowledged by the courts (which hold a special position as a kind of ‘representative’ of society). When this doesn’t happen, ideas of revenge and retribution can start to appear.

Men can often feel pressure to take matters into their own hands and personally seek revenge from those who commit abuse. Revenge can get confused with justice and when this happens it rarely leads to a positive outcome. It may result in further abuse and violence, increased frustration, or, at the extreme, can result in you appearing before a court.


Some people may feel that they need to confront the person who committed the abuse, to have them acknowledge their actions and to hear the impacts. In our experience, this is only helpful when it has been carefully planned with professional support. The person who committed the abuse must be willing to acknowledge their crime and take some steps towards publicly accepting responsibility, such as making admissions to police and undergoing counselling.

If the person is not willing to admit their crimes or to respectfully hear the people who have experienced abuse speak, such confrontations have the potential to increase distress, anger and feelings of powerless.

‘The best revenge is to live well’

It is important not to lose sight of the bigger purpose of these thoughts about justice, revenge, and so on: to live a satisfying, fulfilling life. Try to focus on your own priorities and preferences for your life.

Questions to consider:

Before taking any action, it can be useful to slow things down and to consider:.

  • What am I thinking?
  • What am I feeling? (Grade the intensity of each feeling from 1-10)
  • What steps do I need to take to first reduce the level of distress and intensity of feeling in order to carefully consider options, prior to any actions?
  • Is there someone I can talk to assist me in carefully examining options and the costs and benefits of each for me, in the short and long term?
  • What action is going to help me to live the kind of life I want to live?
  • The last question “What is going to help me live the kind of life I want to live?” is important in that it helps focus on what is important for your well being. It can acts as a kind of compass for our life.
  • Is there someone who has my interests at heart who can help me work this through? If you can’t talk with them right now, what do you imagine they might invite you to consider in giving you good counsel?
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Sexual abuse is a crime. Unfortunately, it is still the case that the vast majority of those committing sexual offences are never convicted in court, even if they are actually charged. However, there have been big steps forward in the way our legal systems deal with crimes of sexual abuse, and you have every right to pursue prosecution through the legal system.

Prosecuting those who commit sexual offences

It is very common for people who have suffered sexual abuse to delay reporting it to the police.

Thankfully, the law in most Australian States recognizes this, and child sexual abuse that happened in the past can still be reported to police and investigated even if it was many years ago. It’s entirely your choice about whether to report sexual abuse to the police or not. The first step can be talking to a friend or counsellor who will not pressure you one way or another, but help you to think through in a realistic way the reasons for reporting or not reporting.

There are now specialist police who are trained to understand and be alert to how well you are coping with the process. In order to do their job, the police will ask you about details of your experience. Some of these could be the very details you have been trying your best not to think about for years.

Generally, giving a statement to police about sexual abuse is an exhausting and painful process. It is common to feel quite depressed or distressed afterwards. It’s important to have realistic expectations about both the process and the eventual outcome, and to have a good support team in place.

In some states, there is a ‘Code of Conduct’ that police must adhere to when handling sexual assault investigations. This generally includes that you are kept informed about the progress of investigations in a timely manner, and offered referral to appropriate support.

The laws about sexual assault are different from State to State and Country to Country, so it is important to explore the options in your local area.


In some cases, a court can order that compensation be paid as part of sentencing. Where the accused person is found not guilty or not prosecuted, some Australian States have systems in place to provide compensation to victims of serious crimes, including sexual abuse (check out Victim Assist Queensland and the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal in Victoria). It may also be possible to pursue ‘civil’ action to claim compensation from those offending , especially if the abuse happened in an institution such as a school, church or children’s home.

While the amount of compensation will rarely feel like it comes anywhere close to adequate, it can help with the cost of things like counselling, safety measures, or other expenses related to recovering from sexual abuse.

Note that the laws governing compensation varies from state to state and these laws are subject to change,

In any legal matter, it is worth getting quality legal advice. In cases where lawyers offer to waive up-front fees, it is useful to keep an eye on legal costs being incurred and how much will be deducted from any compensation obtained.

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Becoming a parent can be a challenging time for anyone, and men who were subjected to sexual abuse as children commonly face some added pressures.

Key times that can trigger difficult thoughts and feelings can include finding out about the pregnancy, the birth of the child, and when then child approaches the age that you were when the abuse was happening. Difficulties might be related to memories of the abuse itself, about your abilities as a parent, or both. It might also be fears about your child’s vulnerability to abuse.

Some men worry they will hurt or abuse their children and limit their involvement, especially with tasks that require close physical contact such as bathing and nappy changing. Sadly this can lead to men missing out on important parts of their child’s development and life.

Remember that parenting is a challenging and sometimes overwhelming experience for most people. Despite the challenges, many men, including men who have experienced sexual abuse, find ways to be caring, protective, and nurturing parents and grandparents.

Take time to work out your own thoughts about the kind of parent you want to be. We are not born with parenting skills; there is information available to support you in becoming a parent (Link to support).


When worries about parenting become overwhelming, they can feed into a general feeling of inadequacy or incompetence as a parent.

To help get a handle on these worries, be specific and write down what are the current concerns you have about your parenting abilities.

Are there specific skills you feel you need to learn (e.g. changing a nappy, soothing a crying child, discipline?).

Once you identify these, you can take steps to find someone that can help you learn them, just like you learn any other skill.

It can be helpful to consider where your own ideas about parenting and how to do it have come from. Parents that have grown up within an abusive environment often have a clear picture of how they don’t want to be as a parent.

What kind of relationship do you want to have with your children?

Spend time thinking about the values and qualities that are important to you as a parent.

Some people find it helpful to think about people they know and admire, to take time to observe and learn from their ways of parenting and to use this as a guide to put into practice themselves.

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What am I feeling?

When you are asked ‘how are you feeling?, it can sometimes be difficult to know how to answer. This not because men don’t have feelings; obviously we do.

When thinking about sexual abuse, sadness, shame and confusion are common emotions. These are normal feelings to have when treated in such an unfair, criminal way. Yet it is also quite understandable to want to avoid these intense emotions.

Distraction, ‘numbing’ or avoiding emotions are strategies for dealing with intense emotional pain that are sometimes useful in stopping us from feeling overwhelmed.

One emotion that men are often quite familiar with is anger. Anger can be useful in encouraging action against injustice, however, it can also lead to aggression and become a ‘cover’ for some uncomfortable yet important emotions.

What we hear from a lot of men, however, is that eventually these difficult emotions find ways to grab your attention, often at a time of crisis. We also hear that when shutting down has become a habit, it can make it more difficult to experience pleasant feelings or any sense of joy in life.

Tips for making sense of emotions

The idea of making space, room, or time for all of life’s emotions can be helpful. It is not about some emotions being good or bad, but being able to tolerate and experience a range of emotions as part of living life to the full.

You might be ready to start taking some risks with allowing yourself to really notice what you are feeling.

This can be extremely challenging, because it can initially feel like things are getting worse. Feelings that have been buried or ignored for a long time are starting to be noticed and experienced.

As we said before, this is why it can be important to have a reasonably ‘solid base’ that builds your well-being when doing this work. By building a solid that enhances your well-being on a number of fronts it becomes possible to experience distressing feelings without getting thrown off course.

As you get used to recognising and naming feelings, you slowly begin to realise that you can actually cope with them. Over time they will become less daunting, and you might even find that you experience other, more positive feelings, in a different way too.

Exercises to get to know your emotions

  • Try to pay attention to your physiological responses to different situations. This includes your heart rate, breathing, sweating, shaking/trembling, tension in some muscles, ‘the hairs on the back of your neck standing up’…all these are clues to what’s going on emotionally.
  • Start noticing what is going on in your body core and head. Is my heart beat fast or slow? Is my breathing deep or shallow? Does my face feel hot or cool? Then try narrowing it down with more precise descriptions (cool as tap water or cold like ice?), or making a visual scale rating how fast or slow (from 1-10), how hot or cold, etc.
  • Once you’ve noticed and described these physiological sensations, try naming the emotion that goes with it. Again, start big (e.g. sad), and get more detailed (grief, regret, disappointment…).
  • Emotions are sometimes grouped into four ‘BIG’ categories, ‘mad – bad – glad – sad’. Each category can be broken down into smaller groupings and descriptions of a range of different emotions.
  • Once you have given it a name, ask: Is it OK for me to feel this? Why/why not?
  • Are there social judgments about men expressing this emotion? Who with/where would it be OK to express this feeling without being negatively judged?

Getting to know your feelings and emotions in this way can gradually help with making decisions about whether to try and ‘stay with’ your feelings. We are not suggesting that there is a wrong or right decision, but that you can make your own decisions.

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Alcohol, drugs and self judgment

If you have made a decision to stop or cut down on alcohol or drug use, congratulations! This is a very positive step. Keep in mind, however, that using alcohol or other drugs is a common coping strategy for dealing with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This means that when you take the ‘numbing’ effect of alcohol and drugs away, memories can return with force. It can get tough if there is nothing else to fall back on. (Hint – Make use of the well-being section in building a ‘solid base’).

Depending on the extent of dependence on alcohol, medical assistance may be required to assist the body to adapt.

The challenge of stopping the use of alcohol and drugs can be added to by negative judgments about yourself or about the process of change. Common self judgments include:

  • I’m too damaged to get through this.
  • I’m not strong enough to handle it.
  • I’m really losing the plot/going crazy.
  • It’s easier not have to feel all this.
  • I wanted to feel better but this just makes things seem worse.

Some men have spoken about the benefit of taking a questioning position to self judgment, checking in with themselves and asking ‘Is this judgment useful for me right now?’, and ‘Do I want to spend time with it? ’

If the answer is no, then it is best to leave the judgment and to focus on doing things that are useful for you right now.

Remember that these judgments are not truths about you; they are ideas and pressures that men can face. It’s OK for you to decide that some judgments are not really useful for how you want to live your life.

If it doesn’t feel possible to directly change or challenge these self- judgements, another strategy is to use a mindfulness exercise that teaches the skill of not getting ‘caught up’ in these thoughts.

Give this a try

One antidote to harsh self-judgements is a caring, supportive connection with another person. When you are with such a person in your own life, an interesting question to reflect on is:

‘I wonder what this person knows and appreciates about me, that they would choose to spend and enjoy time with me?’

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When someone is hurting themselves, it is not always an attempt to kill themselves.

Self-harm can be a way of both expressing and managing the physical and psychological pain you are experiencing. Many people say that self-harm serves a purpose, usually to do with the idea that feeling physical pain seems easier than dealing with intense emotional or psychological pain. Other people describe self-harm as a way of feeling something.

Self-harm can be quite controlled and deliberate with the specific purpose of causing pain and/or injury. Some forms of self-harm are easily hidden, such as over work, over-training, limiting food intake, or taking extreme risks.

Self harming behaviour is something to confront and address, even if, initially it not linked to an intention to kill yourself. Self-harming behaviours can escalate over time, as both tolerance and desire for pain increases. In some cases it can lead to permanent injury and disfigurement.

The difficulty is that self-harm often only works for a short period, when you are looking for more effective long term solutions that allow you to get on with your life.

Learning some techniques to tolerate and contain distress can be helpful alternatives to self-harm. The relaxation and mindfulness exercises in this app might work for you. Writing or drawing, talking with someone, setting and achieving small goals, and staying healthy can reduce distress.

It is useful to encourage yourself to ‘surf the urge – learn to ride the wave’.

Questions to consider:

  • Do you notice that the urge to self-harm is more present at some times compared to others?
  • Are there places or people that seem to decrease these thoughts and urges to self-harm?
  • How long do the urges last for?
  • If you can predict how long until the urge passes, it can make it seem more manageable.
  • If there are places or people who help the urge to self harm, how can you keep this awareness with you?
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Suicidal thoughts

Thoughts of suicide are more common than you think, especially among men who have experienced sexual abuse.

Suicidal thoughts can range from fantasies, through to detailed plans. Even if your thoughts seem like they are ‘just’ passing ideas or fantasies, it is still important to find someone to talk to. The more detailed your thoughts about suicide, the more important it is to get help.

Thoughts and actions are not the same thing. Suicidal thoughts are one way of your mind telling you ‘I am not happy with things the way they are’. The important thing is that you talk with someone who is going to help you improve the situation.

Be persistent. Keep asking until you find the help you need.

Finding help

  • If you think you might harm or attempt to kill yourself, get support immediately.
  • Access the support contacts and links in this App
  • Reach out to someone you trust and ask for help.
  • Tell them honestly how you feel, including your thoughts of suicide.
  • Call emergency services, ambulance, police, fire (000 Australia) or;
  • Call Lifeline 13 11 14 (Australia);
  • Go, or have someone take you to your local hospital emergency department.
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Deciding to tell someone about sexual abuse?

At one time, keeping the abuse secret might literally have been a matter of life and death for some people. The person that carried out the abuse might have made threats to hurt or kill them or people they cared about, or some other awful threat. The decision to not tell may have been the safest thing to do.

If you have 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.

Who can you tell?

While it can be helpful to find someone you can tell about your experiences, it is also important to take care about how you do this. Not everyone you know will be ready to hear about your experiences or what you are dealing with. Even friends or family who you get along well with are not always going to be able to support you in the way you would like. It can be useful to ask yourself :

  • 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 you might have to educate your ‘supporters’ about how to help along the way. Some people might want to be there for you but simply don’t know what to do. Let them know that just being there to listen or to be with you IS helping; that takes the pressure off both of you. You might like to show them some of the information in this app.

Words of encouragement from a professional man, aged 51, sexually abused from ages 9-15…

“Do not feel you are alone – there are (unfortunately) thousands of us out there who share your pain, hurt and grief. Find someone you can trust – partner, friend, counsellor, doctor – and tell them what happened. This will not be easy the first time, but it is better talk than to keep it bottled up. The hardest part of the whole experience is keeping the secret – once you begin to talk about it you can begin on the road to recovery. Know that there is hope, recovery, a better life.”

Remember it is your decision if, who, when and how much of your story you want to tell. If someone presses for details that you are not ready or willing to share, it’s OK to let them know this.

If you feel unsure about what someone is thinking, try asking them; sometimes their silence might be because they are uncertain what to do, not because they are making judgments.

Telling people about your experiences of abuse is not necessarily a one-off event. It is often more of a process, involving a lot of thinking, hesitations, ‘checking out’ people’s responses, and so on.

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Recent sexual assault

Although it is rarely discussed, rape and sexual assault can and does happen to adult men as well as to boys. The below information is designed to support men who have been sexually assaulted, within the last few days, weeks or months.

Medical treatment

You may need medical attention. You are entitled to have a support person with you if you need to attend hospital. You can also choose whether or not you want a forensic medical examination, where the doctor will collect medical evidence that might be able to be used to prosecute the offender(s). After the assault occurs, there is a time limit within which forensic medical evidence needs to be taken. If you are not sure, you can talk to a counsellor/advocate from a sexual assault support service

Legal options

You have the right to make a statement to the police, but no-one should force you to do so. A police statement usually involves giving a lot of detailed information, so it can be distressing and re-traumatising. Having a counsellor or advocate from a sexual assault support service can be a valuable support through this process, whether you decide to make a statement shortly after the assault, at a later time, or never. Different states have different legislation, including the timeframe after the assault when you can make a statement to police.

Coping with trauma

Extremely traumatic events can leave you feeling as if your world has been turned upside down. You have been in a dangerous or life threatening situation that was beyond your power to control.

Sexual assault can produce physical and emotional responses or unwelcome thoughts from “out of the blue”. You may feel and experience emotions and physiological sensations that you have never felt before.

You might feel severe pain, shock, tremors of arms and legs, stomach problems, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, constipation, diarrhoea, nightmares and/or sleeplessness, headaches and dizziness.

You may find yourself spacing-out as a way of coping. Some people have flashbacks, when memories of the rape intrude at different times.

These responses to trauma are often called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The three main signs of PTSD are 1- re-experiencing the trauma (though flashbacks, nightmares, etc); 2- actively avoiding reminders (triggers) of the trauma (which can result in isolating yourself from others or cutting off from your own feelings); and 3- increased physiological arousal (feeling irritable, hyper-alert, sleeping problems, etc).

To be diagnosed with PTSD, there are specific criteria that have to be met, and the diagnosis can only be formally given by a clinical psychologist or a suitably qualified medical practitioner, including psychiatrists. The word ‘disorder’ may be a little misleading. As strange as it may seem at first, this is your body and mind coping the best way they can; they are normal reactions to out-of-the-ordinary events (although not everyone has any or all of these responses). The experience differs for everyone.

Remembering this can help keep at bay thoughts that you’re ‘going crazy’ or becoming ‘mentally ill’.

Looking after yourself after sexual assault

Try to restore some normality and control while the world may previously have felt like a reasonably safe place, it might now seem dangerous and leave you feeling insecure. It can be helpful to try and get some parts of your life back to normal. This can help to get back some sense of control and choice in your life. It will probably take some time to get any sense of routine back. It can help to try small things such as taking a walk, breathing exercises or making a favourite meal.

As you manage to take these steps, take time out to recognize that you are taking back control of your life – it is an achievement worth noticing.

Seek support

You might feel like shutting yourself away from the world. This is a normal response. However, if you can let someone know what’s going on, it can help you to feel less isolated. It can also be good to know that there is someone to make sure you are looking after yourself in practical ways, like eating.

Go easy on yourself; it might take some time to get back to a routine. This isn’t because you’re doing something wrong, it is because people naturally need time to recover from the overwhelming, frightening and confusing reality of sexual assault.

Tips for regaining control

Take things slowly and don’t pressure yourself with unrealistic expectations. It usually takes some time to restore some sense of normality. Remember that all the feelings and physical sensations listed above are common responses to a traumatic event. They are not a sign that you are ‘going crazy’; you are processing an extremely distressing violation of your personal integrity.

Some people find the following things helpful:

• Exercising
• Studying
• Reading
• Working
• Drawing or painting
• Listening to music
• Playing sport
• Writing (writing can be particularly useful for getting stuff out of your head and organising your thoughts)

Others find counselling, meditation or spiritual practice and prayer to be sources of strength.

This is the end of the section dealing specifically with recent assault. However, the information in the rest of the App is still relevant whether the assault(s) was recent or in the past.