Support groups for men who have survived child sexual abuse are being extended to the western suburbs, with the first eight-week group in Parramatta starting on Wednesday, August 27.
Founded in 2010 by two men who are survivors themselves, the Survivors & Mates Support Network (SAMSN) offers men professionally facilitated support within a safe environment with up to 12 participants, an experienced psychologist and a social worker.
"We have saved lives," said SAMSN co-founder Craig Hughes-Cashmore, who says he has invested more than $150,000 of his own compensation from child abuse to establish the network.
He said he and co-founder Shane were inspired to create SAMSN after they realised no similar services existed in NSW.
"Perpetrators isolate kids . . . [but] there's something magical that happens when you meet and get to know another survivor, that's what we want to replicate," he said.
"It's a real mix of emotion. You start to feel compassion and empathy for the other person. All the things you've never been able to feel for yourself . . . Because that's the other thing paedophiles do - they're very adept at making their victims feel complicit."
SAMSN psychologist Mark Griffiths, who has worked with survivors since the '80s, said men often face additional barriers to disclosure of past abuse than women, including confusion about sexuality.
"This is the case especially for straight men," Mr Griffiths said. "They get confused about whether it was gay sex, when clearly it had nothing to do with an adult sexual relationship, it was the abuse of a child. It's the perpetrator that chooses the child, not the other way around.
"In our community, we have a model of masculinity as a male being someone who's tough. They tell themselves things like "I should have been tough enough not to let it happen.They're forgetting they were children at the time."
He said the "victim-perpetrator myth" left many "terrified" of seeking help and being labelled a potential abuser. Survivors can become "tangled in guilt," which SAMSN helps to unravel.
Mr Hughes-Cashmore had this message: "Recovery is possible, you can move beyond the pain and limitations you've been experiencing - you are not alone."