Common questions

Common questions from supporters

Here are some information and responses to common questions and concerns raised by loved ones seeking to provide support men who have experienced childhood sexual abuse.

Please do continue to prioritise your wellbeing in reading through the below material.


Your concern and support is always valued and appreciated.

You may have noticed behaviours or heard something that has you asking the question, ‘Was he sexually abused as a child?’.   You may be aware that your friend, partner or family member is struggling with:

  • Depression, anxiety, anger, self-harm, suicidal talk
  • Excessive use of alcohol and drugs, risk taking
  • Nightmares and insomnia
  • Avoiding certain places, people or topics
  • Being overly protective, not wanting to talk about his childhood or exhibiting strong reactions to mention of child abuse
  • Difficulties trusting others
  • Touch and Intimacy difficulties

Sometimes our concerns become raised when we hear that a person or place he was in contact with as a child is now identified with child sexual abuse

While these concerns and questions are understandable and valid, there really is no way of knowing for certain if a man has experienced child abuse, unless he tells you (people may exhibit a number of the above difficulties without having experienced abuse).

Barriers to disclosure

It is useful to be aware that there are many barriers to men speaking about sexual abuse.

  • Typically, men do not disclose abuse or access support until some decades after it occurred.
  • The barriers are so strong that even if you ask him directly, he may still say no, even when it did occur.
  • Talking about abuse, even with excellent support, can itself be traumatising.
  • When we consider the barriers, grooming, manipulation, impacts, trauma and isolation of abuse, we move from asking the question ‘Why didn’t he tell me?’, to developing an understanding and appreciation of ‘How could he?’.

We recommend you check out our information on disclosure and how you can help:

Men’s Disclosure: Deciding to tell

Disclosure: How you can help

Let him know you are concerned.  If you become aware that he is struggling, whether you know that he experienced abuse or not, it is useful to let him know of your concern and to enquire how you might help.

We have heard from some men that they do not mind being asked, but they do not like being pressured to answer the question ‘Were you sexually abused as a child?”.

If he does tell you he has experienced abuse:

Believe him and enquire how you can help and assist him to access the support he deserves.

Many people ask themselves the question ‘how could I not have known’, when they find out a loved one experienced childhood sexual abuse (particularly family members who were around at the time).  The reality is that people who perpetrate abuse work hard to silence victims and keep the abuse a secret.

The person offending actively works to groom both children and adults.  Those who offend invest a lot of time grooming the child and those around them.  They actively work and manipulate people and relationships to gain access and trust, to distract attention from what is really going on, to ensure the child doesn’t tell, by purchasing the child’s silence by making them feel responsible or complicit in some way.

In addition, sexual abuse is not a topic that first comes to mind or people want to think about or find it easy to discuss.

Living with blame and pain. Parents or care givers are often horrified when they find out that abuse occurred.  Many blame themselves for not seeing what was occurring or picking up on signs that something was wrong. Sometimes survivors are angry with family members and responsible adults for not knowing what was occurring and failing to protect them.

The question of did my family know or not believe or protect me can be a source of great tension and pain for survivors and their loved ones. Particularly if a survivor tried to let someone know and concerns were not acted upon.

Conversations about child abuse and its impacts are challenging and can benefit from professional support to unpick grooming tactics and people’s sense making in the past and present in a way that prioritises healing and wellbeing.

No, it is not necessary to know the details of what happened, in order to be supportive.  It can however be useful for loved ones to know of possible reminders or triggers and how best to assist if he does become overwhelmed.

Check in with him.  Everyone is different and the best thing you can do is be guided by him.  Let him know that you are interested in assisting and ask him ‘How can I be supportive?’.

Letting him know that you want to be supportive and that you are worried about saying the wrong thing is a good place to start.

It demonstrates your interest in helping as best you can and your sensitivity to the fact that some topics and conversations will be challenging and triggering.  It also provides him with an opportunity to let you know what he wants you to be aware of and how you can best help if he becomes distressed.

While everyone is different and experiences of abuse and its impacts on their lives and relationships vary, we are beginning to understand what can assist male survivors.

What we know can assist men who have experienced abuse:

  • Accessing supportive, relevant, targeted information that assists in reducing sense of isolation, self-blame and shame.
  • Practical assistance. Working to develop concrete life skills that address the impact of sexual abuse, learning to identify, tolerate and manage emotional distress, reducing anxiety, aggression and misuse of drugs and alcohol.
  • Talking with someone who is supportive, partner, friend, worker.
  • Talking with someone who encountered a similar event. Men’s well-being is enhanced through peer support , building connections and helping others.
  • Developing sense of hope, positive re-interpretation and growth. Practicing optimism, self-compassion and self understanding.

We also know that it is helpful for loved ones to have:

  • access to information and resources that directly speaks to their experience and assists them,
  • access to professional support
  • an opportunity to share their experiences and learning with other supporters,
  • their needs acknowledged and met and to invest energy in their own personal wellbeing.

Many men will do everything they can to manage difficulties on their own.  Not only because of the barriers to disclosure, but due to the expectation that as a man, he should be strong, independent, self-reliant, and be able cope with difficulties that come his way.  Some also believe it is better not to burden others. This can leave loved ones feeling distressed, locked out and helpless, unsure what to do.

Express concern and support: Become informed. It can be useful to let him know of your concerns and to enquire whether you can assist directly or by linking him in with appropriate support.  Recognise that while he may not take up the offer of support immediately, it is still useful to find out about resources and support options, so that you have information at hand when he is ready.

Don’t lose sight of his resourcefulness and resilience.  In seeking to support him, don’t lose sight of the fact that he has already found ways to manage the effects of the abuse throughout his life and that he possesses considerable resourcefulness and resilience.  In addressing difficulties, it is useful therefore to acknowledge and build upon his strengths, knowledge and skills.

Learn together along the way.  There is no set road map to recovery.  A person may not always be able to identify what they need or what is most useful.  Partners, friend, family members are not responsible for finding a solution, healing or soaking up pain and distress.  People appreciate someone walking alongside them, being there, and learning together along to way.

Foreground choice and expand options.  An experience of abuse involves a taking away of choice and control from the child.  In seeking to assist him and support his recovery, ideally a focus is on enhancing his sense of control and expanding options to make informed choices.

Empathy and compassion benefit survivors and supporters. Empathy and compassion build connection, provide recognition and acknowledgement of our shared humanity and life struggles that can sustain us at the most desperate of times. (Different from expressions of pity which can make us feel disconnected and less of a person).

We all benefit from expressions of empathy and compassion.  Compassion and self-compassion in particular, act as a counter to blame and self blame, judgement and self-judgement that can so negatively impact our lives.

It’s good to link in with GP.  In looking to support and enhance his wellbeing, linking him in with a GP or health professional is a good thing to do.  A GP can provide general health advice and support and is often a gateway to accessing more specialised support.

Being a role model can work for him and you.  We cannot force someone to get help or change.  One of the most powerful influences and supporters of change, is to have someone walk alongside you, pro-actively addressing difficulties, modelling healthy routines and help seeking.

Prioritise your well-being, gathering information and resources and connecting with appropriate support is not only a good thing for him to see, but for you.  We encourage you to check out our Wellbeing pages.

Abuse and its effects can impact relationships.  The fact difficulties can appear in relationships is not surprising, given that abuse is typically perpetrated in a manipulative relationship context.  However, while relationships can be a place where difficulties appear and they can also be a place where healing, recovery and learning occurs.

We recognise that:

  • All relationships can face difficulties and be challenging, even if a person has not experienced abuse and that every relationship is unique (no relationship comes with an easy read guidebook).
  • sometimes in trying to manage the impacts of trauma and abuse, survivors can withdraw and disengage from relationships, even appear to sabotage a relationship or convince themselves that they are doing a partner, family member or friend a favour.
  • Sometimes partners and family members can end up carrying a disproportionate amount of the relationship, parenting and emotional load and find themselves being placed in a carer/counsellor role, rather than the equal, mutually supportive partner.
  • We all benefit from information and resources that speak to our experience and assist us in developing caring, supportive, respectful relationships.

To assist and support you we have created pages on:

On occasion the impacts of child sexual abuse can overwhelm both survivors and supporters and result in a crisis. It is important that our limits, boundaries and choices are respected and safety is prioritised  If you have concerns about your own or his safety it is important to act.

Safety is always a priority.   Everyone has the right to feel safe.  It is difficult to address problems and improve relationships when one or both of you are feeling unsafe.

Be prepared to call 000.  If you are feeling unsafe, physically or psychologically, or he is demonstrating aggressive, threatening or controlling behaviour it is important to act.  If you can remove yourself from the situation and seek support.  Keep your phone with you and be prepared to call 000.

Take suicide talk seriously.  If he is talking about suicide or you are concerned that he is considering suicide, be prepared to act promptly. Don’t assume that he will get better without help or that someone else will step in. Reaching out and checking in with them now could save a life.  If there is an immediate crisis, stay talking with him and call emergency services on 000.

Check out our information on Helping a man at risk of suicide.

We encourage you to access specialist support if you are feeling unsafe or overwhelmed or just want someone to talk through your concerns or options.

National Crisis Support Services you can call

National Violence and Abuse Trauma Counselling and Recovery Service

National Domestic Family and Sexual Violence Counselling Service.

  • Suicide Call Back Service| 1300 659 467
    24-hour Australian counselling service
  • beyondblue| 1300 22 4636
    24-hour phone support and online chat service and links to resources and apps

Knowledge that someone has been abused and hope for change can encourage some partners to stick in there, even when they are feeling unsafe.  However, safety must always be our priority and therefore it is better to disengage and take a break, if only for a short while, in order for each person to obtain the professional support they need and deserve.

Research evidence tells us that being sexually abused does not cause someone to sexually offend and that the overwhelming majority of boys who are sexually abused do not go on to commit offences

We are aware that the ‘victim to offender’ talk causes survivors and their families great distress and prevents many from talking about what happened and seeking support.  See our page Addressing the victim to offender cycle. 

We are aware that it can be a mistake to think that we can know what an offender looks like, be they male or female, or to suggest that a person with a particular childhood experience will offend. The US Department of Justice notes that while there is some evidence that those who commit offences “present with similar clinical problems or criminogenic needs (e.g., emotional regulation deficits, social difficulties, offense supportive beliefs, empathy deficits and deviant arousal); the degree to which these clinical issues are evident varies among individual offenders (Gannon, Terriere & Leader, 2012; Ward & Gannon, 2006).”

Concern for safety. What we do know is that men who have been sexually abused are very much concerned for the safety and well-being of children.  If anything, the challenge is that men can become overly protective, because they know of the pain, distress and impacts of abuse and they don’t want another child to go through what happened to them.

Keep talking: As a parent or caregiver best thing we can do is create a supportive, caring relationship with children, so that they know that if there is anything worrying them or is happening at home, school, in the local neighbourhood or elsewhere, they can talk with us and we will be there to assist.  If you do have concerns or notice behaviours that worry you, it is important to check it out.  Click here to see the Commonwealth ‘One talk at a time’ campaign video and accompanying information.

You are important and it is important that your wellbeing is prioritised and supported.

You are valued and important in your own right

It is important that you are supported, not because it will put you in a better place to assist a man who has experienced abuse, but because each person should have access to information and support that enhances their personal and relational wellbeing.

  • We all deserve and benefit from access to care and support in our own right
  • Loved ones need to be listened to and provided with information that directly assists them in addressing difficulties that they confront
  • We all deserve caring, respectful, safe, mutually supportive relationships
  • We all benefit from kindness, empathy and compassion
  • Each of us is unique, have our own experiences and story to tell.

Managing the ripple effects.  Being there and offering support to someone who has experienced trauma and abuse can have ripple effects in our own lives, some of which are unexpected.  Do continue to prioritise your wellbeing, to put aside time to stay connected, to engage in everyday activities which help you to recharge your batteries and navigate life.

Everyone is different. It is useful to consider and actively invest in activities that support ‘your’ personal wellbeing:

  • What are the signs that you are feeling stressed and would benefit from support or a break?
  • How do you stay grounded and connected?
  • What and who sustains you?
  • How do you reassure yourself, calm yourself or distance yourself from unhelpful thoughts and overwhelming emotions?
  • What every day routines do you have in place to maintain your physical, mental, relational and cultural health?
  • How do you cultivate hope?
  • What activities support your wellbeing?
  • What activities bring you joy and pleasure?


Perhaps you are reminded of traumatic experiences.

“Suddenly thoughts and feelings about my own abuse came flooding back. I didn’t want to remember it and I was angry with him for dragging it all up… but I couldn’t tell him about it… not now.  He needed my support and I felt like I was drowning.”

If you have been subjected to trauma and abuse as a child or adult yourself, then, as the above quote highlights, hearing about his experience can be triggering and distressing.  As someone who has also experienced trauma, you may be uniquely placed to assist this man, however, it is equally important you are appropriately supported and access assistance that you deserve.

We encourage you to check out and make use of the information and resources in our Wellbeing and Supporters sections and to consider accessing specialist support from a qualified health practitioner.

Build strength and connection. Remember the stronger, better connected and supported both of you are, the more able you are to offer support and encouragement to each other and to create a positive life.

Yes, at SAMSN we don’t just believe, we know that survivors can recover and make a contributions to our lives, relationships and communities.  We know this because survivors, as partners, parents, sons, brothers, sisters, daughters, friends work colleagues, team member are doing this every day.

Sources of strength and resilience. Many men and women who have been sexually abused in childhood have established healthy, successful, emotionally connected, rewarding and fulfilling relationships and lives.

In fact, we know that people who have addressed and overcome trauma and challenges associated with abuse can demonstrate increased resilience and be better placed to offer support and address life’s difficulties when they do appear.

We also now know that people who have worked with survivors in addressing challenges associated with trauma and abuse have reported experiencing:

  • Deeper understanding of the world, suffering and humanity’s capacity to overcome adversity
  • Greater sense of meaning in life
  • Greater value and appreciation of relationships
  • Greater degree of compassion
  • Greater sense of fulfilment, purpose or pleasure.

(Barrington & Shakespeare-Finch, 2013; Gibbons, Murphy, & Joseph, 2011; Splevins, Cohen, Joseph, Murray, & Bowley, 2010 in When compassion hurts; an introduction to vicarious trauma and resilience Dr Angela Dixon Senior Clinical Psychologist Psychological Medicine Children’s Hospital Westmead. 2019)

We all benefit from hope and support during tough times. While it is important to hold onto and draw upon hope to sustain us during the most difficult of times, it is equally important for us to access support. 

Connecting with people and accessing support, expressing and experiencing empathy and compassion, are valuable steps towards addressing and diminishing the influence of sexual abuse in the lives of survivors and loved ones. 

We do encourage you to check out:

Prioritise your safety and wellbeing

Please note: the information contained on this page is general in content and is not a substitute for professional advice.  We encourage you to prioritise your safety and wellbeing at all times and to consider speaking with a qualified health care professional.

If you are experiencing a crisis or are concerned about your personal safety or the safety of another person call Emergency services – 000 or Lifeline  – 13 11 14.