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What is known about effective recovery services for male survivors of sexual abuse?

Twelve percent of men in Aotearoa New Zealand experience one or more incidents of sexual violence at some point in their lives, according to the latest NZ Crime and Victim Survey.

In 2018 MSD commissioned an evidence review to understand the effectiveness of different approaches to support for male survivors of sexual abuse.

The research was funded by the Ministerial Social Sector Research Fund and was undertaken by Dr Sue Carswell, Dr Elaine Donovan and Hector Kaiwai. The authors conducted a non-systematic literature review which included academic and grey literature, and also consulted five experts – two from New Zealand and three from overseas – who had extensive experience in the sector.

The findings of the review will help inform the continued development of MSD’s services for male survivors of sexual abuse in Aotearoa New Zealand.


  • The psychological impact of sexual abuse experienced by men can include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, self-harm/suicide and self-blame.
  • Gender stereotypes that perceive men as dominant, tough and sexually driven compound the effects of sexual abuse on men and can increase feelings of shame, anger and psychological distress.
  • Sexual harm affects different groups of men in different ways. For Māori men, sexual harm is considered a violation of mana and can cause not only physical and psychological distress, but also cultural and spiritual distress.
  • Men disclose sexual harm at lower rates than women. Harmful myths that persist about the sexual abuse of men and boys serve to delay or prevent disclosure. Māori men and Pacific men may be discouraged from seeking support due to a lack of culturally responsive services.
  • Currently there are eight organisations in New Zealand funded by MSD to provide specialist support to male survivors in the form of peer support services. Most other services, including crisis services, counselling and helpline support, are available to everyone rather than men specifically. There are not enough culturally appropriate services for Māori, and particularly for Māori men.
  • Peer support for people with mental illness has been found to lead to improvements associated with hope, recovery and empowerment.
  • Cognitive and behavioural interventions have been found to decrease symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety in survivors of sexual harm. However, the majority of participants in these studies are women.
  • The evidence suggests a range of support options are needed, including long-term support tailored to men’s individual, social and cultural needs.

The review makes several recommendations which have been shared with the Sector. Based on the findings of this evidence review, further research will be conducted in 2020 examining the barriers men face to disclosing abuse and accessing support.

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