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Dear Christine, Sworn to Secrecy in St. Clair Shores

| December 18, 2017

Dear Christine,  A gay male friend of mine told me in confidence that he was sexually assaulted by an older gay man who is a fairly well known member of the community. He made me swear never to tell anyone. I know as a woman, that feeling of sweeping it under the rug all too well, however, I’m older and less easily intimidated today. I guess I should keep his promise but what do I say to someone who shares that kind of story with me? And what is my responsibility, if any, do I have to report the abuse? With stories like this hitting the airwaves lately, I just don’t know what to do.

Thanks, Sworn to Secrecy in St. Clair Shores

Dear Sworn,

I have been hearing versions of this question from my clients that past 6 weeks. Our society has ignored victims and survivors of sexual abuse and harassment too long! And not all of the survivors are women, as your gay male friend proves. I believe truth needs to come out, but being a survivor of sexual abuse, myself, I also respect the survivor’s process in coming to grips with the abuse. Telling anyone (you) is a huge step and I encourage you to keep your friend’s confidence in this. When someone confides in you about sexual assault, you do not have any legal responsibility to report this abuse unless you are in a profession that requires reporting abuse. Even then, I would encourage you to talk to your friend about what he expects of you now that you have this information. Find out if he wants action/justice or whether he just wants to unburden himself of the entire weight of the abuse. If you have no legal or professional responsibility to report this, talk with him about whether or not he might want to make this incident more public and support him in whatever he decides. If the assault just happened and he wants to report it, that may involve a physically invasive physical exam and endless questions from police, detectives, hospital nurses and doctors. If charges are made, there is a potential court case and having to face the abuser in court. If the assault happened long enough ago that there is no physical evidence, it often comes down to the survivor’s word against the prominent abuser. That is a harrowing experience, as the survivors of Donald Trump and Roy Moore, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer and some 50 others who have been named since reports of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse surfaced in the last 2 months.

If your friend wants to go public with the assault, he will need your support. There may be other survivors out there who will come forward because of his courage to report what happened. At this point, it is your friend’s choice to come forward or stay silent. Encourage him to get support from a pastor, rabbi or therapist as he deals with the aftermath of assault. The cost of being the support person is that you listen with love but you also get to experience some of his helplessness in this situation. Take care of you and your friend,

Christine C. Cantrell, PhD

Licensed Psychologist

Christine C. Cantrell, PhD
1026 W. 11 Mile Rd,
Suite C
Royal Oak, MI 48067
248-591-2888

Click here to email Christine.

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