Actor Anthony Edwards speaks with Tarrant County leaders about male survivors of abuse

One in 6 men have had an unwanted or abusive sexual experience by the time they were 18 years old. This includes 2.5 million survivors in Texas and 641,000 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, according to 1in6, an advocacy organization.

Anthony Edwards, the actor known for his roles in “ER,” “Top Gun,” “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Inventing Anna,” and Matthew Ennis, president and CEO of 1in6, spoke to Tarrant County leaders on Thursday about how to better support male survivors. They said stigma can keep many men from speaking out about their abuse.

“Telling our stories can change lives,” Ennis said. “Being willing to listen can change lives as well.”

Edwards and Ennis were keynote speakers for The Tarrant County Sexual Abuse Advisory Council’s annual conference. TCSAAC has helped multiple agencies in the area learn and network for 40 years to provide better support to survivors. It includes advocacy organizations, mental health providers and law enforcement.

“Each victim of sexual abuse responds in a different way,” said Jaya Davis, chair of TCSAAC and a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “But every victim needs a strong support system, from family and friends, as well as medical, law enforcement people and social service personnel.”

One in 6 men

In a 2017 Medium post, Edwards accused Gary Goddard, a producer and director, of sexual abusing him as a child. Several other men have accused Goddard since.

Abuse affects people of all backgrounds, and a child sex offender can be of any gender. Many things can be counted as an unwanted sexual experience, including hazing, conversations, humiliation and pornography.

During Thursday’s presentation, leaders were taught why words can have a significant impact on a survivor. Ennis said language can cause survivors to trust someone or decide to not share their story.

“We need to create an environment where men feel comfortable having a conversation,” Ennis said. “Sometimes, that is not a cold and empty room.”

Society has taught men they must be tough, be strong and not ask for help or show emotion. Many survivors minimize what happened to them. This can cause survivors to keep what happened inside.

Many survivors of child sex abuse may not report the experience until they are in adulthood. The average age survivors revealing their abuse is 52, according to Child USA. The advocacy organization says the delay in disclosure can be for several reasons including not being able to articulate what happened and not being believed. This has caused a national push for statute of limitations to allow survivors to have justice through criminal and civil litigation.

Multiple agencies working to help survivors

A holistic approach is needed to help survivors heal, according to 1in6. Several Tarrant County agencies are working to provide healing and justice.

“When it comes to sexual assault and sexual abuse, failure is absolutely not an option,” Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes said.

Recently, Alliance for Children expanded its Fort Worth operations to help serve child victims of abuse. The advocacy center acts as a central place for medical providers, law enforcement, state agencies, counselors and social workers to work together to help a child and their protective guardian through the criminal investigation process. More than 62,000 children have been served by Alliance since 1992 in Tarrant County and surrounding areas.

The Women’s Center, which is a part of the Tarrant County Sexual Abuse Advisory Council, served 81,322 women, men and children from 2020 to 2021. The center provides rape crisis and victim services, violence prevention and education, counseling and employment solutions.

The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office has two teams that work to prosecute those who’ve committed sexual offenses: the Special Victims Unit and the Adult Sexual Assault Team. It told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in a statement that sexual offenses can impact victims of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Victims commonly report feelings of embarrassment or shame,” the office said. “The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office is committed to supporting victims through the justice system, while vigorously prosecuting sexual offenders.”

Resources:

Texas Abuse Hotline: 800-252-5400

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

1in6 Helpline: https://1in6.org/helpline

The Women’s Center Hotline: 817-927-2737.

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