All too often, male survivors of sexual assault do not come forward or have support. Hope keeps them going. Hope kept me going.
The people who abused me told me that no one would believe me.
The isolation I felt while growing up chilled me to the bone. I did not know what was happening to me. I did not know boys could be raped. I did not know which words to use to describe my feelings.
I often was picked on at school for being different. I was seen as "gay" or "not male enough."
Throughout this rejection, the adults in my life told me that I should learn to toughen up. They did not think to ask if I was ok. They said I was "going through a time" and implied that I should be "more of a man."
I guarded a flicker of hope for a better day, a day when I would be loved by others and feel a sense of belonging. I would turn to the safe ones in my life, my pets and nature. I would not let others in. If I was going to be without other humans, I at least had the love of animals.
A realization came to me while healing from child sexual abuse: Hope is guarded in isolation and from rejection. Hope grows through honesty, trust and loving relationships.
I began to meet rejection with sarcasm and wit. It was easier to laugh at myself and keep a shred of hope for a future full of love than to be silent and alone.
During my journey, I found an honest person. It wasn't the first person I turned to. It was a sexual assault counselor. The type of honesty I am talking about is the honesty that comes with truly seeing a person, truly being present and being open to saying "I don't know everything."
This counselor did not try and make me feel better about what I was going through by using statistics. She believed me. This belief in me fostered me to trust her and, more importantly, to trust myself down the road. Sexual violence creates mistrust, not only of others but of oneself. The question, "Was it my fault?" took so much from me. Her ability to listen and show compassion helped me find my way to hope again.
Hope is what keeps us all going: That hope for making a connection with someone. Hope that the world can be a better place. Hope that the pain stops and you find joy. Hope that it is not all in vain.
When males come forward to speak about being a survivor of sexual violence, believe them, listen to them, be honest and show them compassion. This will create space for them to grow hope.
We all play a role in changing the world for the better.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about the NSVRC and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.