Supporting Young Black Men to Heal From Child Sexual Abuse By RJ Maccani, LMSW
“Even amidst the openings of the last several decades, the longing to appear normal—and not be seen as gay—leads many boys and men to keep the abuse to themselves.”
It is estimated that one in six boys in the U.S. is affected by child sexual abuse.  Black children and adolescents may have even higher rates of victimization due to increased exposure to poverty.  These statistics have spawned a national movement to expand victim services to better address the needs of young men of color.  This new movement must address the specific needs and experiences of young Black men sexually abused as children.
What do we know? We know the array of impacts that child sexual abuse has on boys and men. We have some sense of how racism exacerbates and extends these impacts for young Black men. While there is no manualized method for healing the wounds of child sexual abuse in any community, we know that long-term, skillful practice that supports survivors in making meaning out of their lived experiences and meets their need for positive attachment yields great benefit. Based on a broad review of both contemporary research and practice-based literature, this article discusses the various tools that clinicians and agencies can use when working with young Black men who have been victims of sexual violence.
Therapeutic Approach Clinicians need to articulate approaches to healing from child sexual abuse tailored to the gender and race experiences of survivors. Therapists must embrace a slower process toward creating an authentic counseling relationship with young Black men and include practices outside of traditional intervention strategies.  For example, therapists should consider self-disclosure as a means to build trust as well as meeting clients in more familiar spaces, such as a family or sports-related gathering.  Furthermore, therapists should emphasize an active, strength-based approach and acknowledge the importance of family and having a flexible relationship to time in working with Black clients.  We must maintain our curiosity in our exchanges with clients, aware of the historical and cultural forces at play while not holding too tightly to any perceived insights this awareness seems to grant us.
Addressing Barriers to Disclosure Even amidst the openings of the last several decades, the longing to appear normal—and not be seen as gay—leads many boys and men to keep the abuse to themselves. [14, 22] Research shows that young men who have experienced multiple forms of violence were found to have had difficulty identifying as victims.  Additionally, historically negative experiences with law enforcement and social service institutions, as well as an aversion to explicit conversations about sexual matters, inhibited disclosure among Black children and their families. 
Taking all of this into account, disclosure of child sexual abuse among young Black men—as with most people—will often be a complex and nonlinear process. The pressure to report sexual assault as a crime is actually a barrier to disclosure and alternative venues—ones that also tend to client’s needs for jobs and housing—should be made available to provide the stability that supports the disclosure and treatment of these traumatic experiences. 
Support Healthy Narratives Disclosing and discussing the experience remains the best process for survivors to move beyond their childhood understanding of the abuse.  When clients do share their experiences of child sexual abuse, practitioners must also consider any prior negative experiences with disclosure.  Hovey, Stalker, Schachter, Teram, and Lasiuk (2011) believe that therapists should embody the following qualities when working with male survivors: “[r]espect, taking time, rapport, sharing information, sharing control, respecting boundaries, fostering mutual learning, understanding nonlinear healing, and demonstrating awareness and knowledge of interpersonal violence” (p.43).  In group work, it is important to make space for black men to share the race and gender challenges they face. Groups ought to begin with less charged experiences and build toward harder issues.  Therapists must simultaneously guide clients toward the work of disclosure, cognitive restructuring, and re-narrativizing, while supporting, sustaining or consolidating what they have achieved in the therapeutic process.
Tools for Individual Treatment Individual psychotherapy can be incredibly helpful in supporting young Black men to heal. Child sexual abuse is a fundamental betrayal of relational trust that can disorder an individual’s attachment. Allen (2012) describes a number of characteristics and functions that the therapist can embody to foster a relationship with the client to internalize a positive attachment. The characteristics of such a therapist include “comfort with long-term, emotionally intense relationships; patience; tolerance of feelings regarding the patient and treatment process; open-mindedness, flexibility, and creativity; and specialized training” (p. 168). Furthermore, Allen suggests that the therapist must have a high capacity for empathy, elicit the client’s collaboration in the therapeutic process, and be able to tolerate the patient’s negative feelings and seek repair of ruptures to the relationship.
Tools for Group Therapy While individual therapy addresses the specific client’s needs, group therapy can complement interventions particularly well suited to young Black men. Groups should welcome race-related discussions and challenges facing participants and encourage family-centered, supportive relationships amongst survivors and/or their family members. [2, 17] Group therapy supports forms of sharing and psychoeducation that break down the isolation typically associated with child sexual abuse. This setting allows the group to utilize high profile disclosures of child sexual abuse by Black men as a shared reference point and means of normalization and encouragement for further disclosure.  Their openness supports young Black men struggling with their own abuse by breaking the silence and acknowledging the painful effects of the experience.
Agency Practice In addition to constructing individual and group therapeutic settings that address the fullness of young black men’s experiences, agency practices can also shift internal practice to support their healing. We should consider ways of buffering processes of disclosure from triggering legal responses.  Women who may have harmed others but seek victim services may also benefit from a therapeutic setting that recognizes the complexity of their lives. For the sake of supporting disclosure and quality treatment of child sexual abuse, agencies can cultivate a willingness to engage in frank conversations about race, sex, sexuality, sexual orientation, gender, masculinity, and violence among staff. Treating people living in contexts of complex trauma and adversity, requires agencies to increase their capacity to respond to the pressing need for jobs, housing, and other symptoms of poverty and social neglect.
 The experiences and particular needs of Black gender-non conforming or transgender men with respect to healing from child sexual abuse are not addressed in this article, nor in the cited literature.
“We must maintain our curiosity in our exchanges with clients, aware of the historical and cultural forces at play while not holding too tightly to any perceived insights this awareness seems to grant us.”