The Bristlecone Project Expected to Help Survivors Come Forward

By Oliver Lewis
November 3, 2017

Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust manager Ken Clearwater with some of the Bristlecone Project portraits waiting to be hung at Canterbury Museum.

An installation telling the stories of male survivors of sexual abuse is expected to help other men open up about their own trauma.

The Bristlecone Project exhibition, featuring black-and-white photographs of 24 New Zealand men abused in childhood, opens at Canterbury Museum on Monday.

"People have been trying to hide this for so long, and now it's going to be in the public's face," said Ken Clearwater, manager of the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust.

"We're taking the lid off a can of worms and throwing the lid away. We've been carrying this shame and guilt for so long, it's time people understand the damage it does."

The Bristlecone Project was started by United States clinical psychologist David Lisak, who had photographed male survivors from around the world to raise awareness of the issue and celebrate their resilience.

A portrait of Clearwater, who was groomed and abused by a paedophile when he was 12 years old, featured in the exhibition along with images of other men who were abused by family members, a priest and fellow school students.

It was believed to be the first exhibition of its kind in New Zealand and Clearwater said it would be triggering for those who had suffered sexual abuse.

He had briefed museum staff on how to support survivors, and ACC had provided brochures advising people how to access funding for therapy.

"If we can be a party to helping some of the healing that would be an amazing thing to have contributed to," museum spokeswoman Vicki Blyth said.

Research from the United States showed one in six boys were abused before their 18th birthday, something Clearwater said could be extrapolated to New Zealand.

Despite the number of men affected, abuse often went unreported and undealt with because of societal expectations placed on males, he said.

"We live in a patriarchal world, so the idea is we've got to be tough and staunch and therefore you're not going to tell people this happened to you."

As a result, many men who had been abused turned to drugs, alcohol and violence as coping mechanisms a situation Clearwater said was exacerbated by a lack of male-orientated support services.

The launch of the exhibition was timed to coincide with the South-South Institute on Sexual Violence Against Men and Boys conference, which would run from Monday to Friday in Christchurch.

The conference, hosted by the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust in partnership with ACC, would bring together about 130 survivors, researchers and advocates from around the world.

Clearwater said one of the goals of the third conference, which had previously been held in Uganda and Cambodia, was to help ACC better meet the needs of male survivors.

The Bristlecone Project exhibition runs from Monday, November 6 to April 1, 2018, at Canterbury Museum.








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